Salvation from the cows

I observed the mother, who stood by her calf calmly, obviously protecting her baby yet giving her distance and independence as well.

January 29, 2010 22:03
4 minute read.
cow 88

cow 88. (photo credit: )


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Just a 15-minute drive from our new home, Kibbutz Hanaton, lies Tel Yodfat, where Yosef ben Matityahu (also known as Josephus Flavius) and his rebels held out under siege during the Great Rebellion of the Second Temple period, and Mount Atzmon, where they were defeated in a bloody battle in 70 CE. The timing of our hike (the fifth day of Hanukka) made the history all the more relevant.

As we descended the side of the tel, it started to drizzle. But we kept going, bemoaning the fact that we had left behind us the caves where the rebels hid and that could provide us shelter from the rain. I was surprised that none of the kids asked to turn around and head back home. Usually we have at least one nay-sayer in the group on family activities – especially when they involve physical exertion and especially discomfort.

When we reached the top of the mountain, the rain had already stopped and we sat looking out at the breathtaking view that spanned Lake Kinneret in the east and the Mediterranean in the west. Hallel (who turned nine on the seventh candle of Hanukka) and Nahum ran down ahead of us so that they could be the “leaders,” which was fine with us – until we heard Hallel scream.

When we caught up with them, we discovered that Hallel had slipped and scraped her arm. But there was nothing to do but continue. So I walked with Hallel by my side as she moaned and groaned about how she wanted to go home, and I repeated to her that that was exactly what we were doing, but that it would take time before we got back to the car. But she continued to whine, as I tried to distract her by pointing out the acorns and mushrooms on the path.

Hallel can certainly make more of a situation than is necessary to get attention, but I wondered if I was not being sympathetic enough. She was obviously hurt. On the other hand, what could I do? When you get hurt out in the wild with no way to get to civilization other than your own two feet, you have no choice but to continue. Even if it hurts. This is a difficult yet important lesson to learn in life on so many levels – literal and metaphorical. So I continued to walk by her side, but did not offer any solution or try to fix the problem. I left that up to her to work out.

It seemed that the hike would continue with Hallel crying to the end, until, suddenly, salvation came in the form of a family of brown-and-white cows grazing alongside the trail. I observed the mother, who stood by her calf calmly, obviously protecting her baby yet giving her distance and independence as well. This approach to parenting is one I myself attempt to emulate. I try not to be overprotective, yet I also try to convey to my children that I care deeply and will be there for them should they get into trouble. I hope that this approach encourages them to go out into the world with confidence and a sense of security.

In fact, this approach is being tested to the extreme this year, with my 16-year-old daughter Michal, who decided to stay in Jerusalem to finish her last two years of high school. She lives in a rented room during the school week and spends Shabbat with us on the kibbutz. Letting her do this was a heart-wrenching decision for me, but as Michal pointed out to us, moving to Galilee was our dream, not hers. And she proved that she is independent enough to live on her own when she traveled alone to the US this summer.


Still, knowing this did not make it easier for me to let go.

I looked into the mother cow’s eyes (a cow’s eyes are especially expressive, I think) and gave her a knowing smile as I noticed Hallel coming out of her funk. Her aches and pains were quickly forgotten as she pointed out to me how adorable the calf looked. I wondered if Hallel connected with this calf the way I did with the cow. The calf seemed to feel safe grazing independently and did not look especially perturbed or frightened by our presence. Perhaps that sight gave Hallel the fortitude to decide to enjoy the rest of the hike, since the decision was hers alone to make.

When the cow family started to walk away from us, Hallel ran ahead to take her place once again among the “leaders.” The “climber” of the family (Hallel trains twice a week for and competes in the national wall-climbing tournaments), Hallel led us up the rocky side of the tel when we lost our way for the final part of the hike and got off the marked trail. Then she led the way with Michal through brush and thorns to the car. Hallel did not mention her bruises as she went straight to her karate club when we got back to the kibbutz. And I did not cry when Michal left three days later to head back to Jerusalem after her Hanukka vacation.

The writer is the founding director of Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage and Shmaya: A Ritual and Educational Mikve at Kibbutz Hanaton. She is the author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination

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