Happy birthday Israel: Al haaish



The park in Or Akiva is separated from ''Kvish Arba''  (a major freeway that joins Ashdod to Haifa) by a small cluster of trees. It sits between the busy freeway and the parking lot of an insignificant canyon that for some unfathomable reasons attracts busloads of Anglo tourists. It is here, on this island council parkland, that I spend Yom Haatzmaut, celebrating Israel''s Independence.


To secure a ''good place'' in this bustling park (''good'' meaning, close to a garbage bin, under a tree, and in spitting distance to a hung-over teenage DJ blasting bad Israeli rap), our friend''s brother pitched a tent and slept here last night, so at least the decision of where to camp for the day was not put before the United Nations, to be negotiated and vetoed by the loudest Israeli mother as is the common Israeli way. The other common Israeli way is to celebrate every public holiday from Pesach to Independence Day ''al haaish'' – which means ''on the fire'', with a good old fashioned barbeque.


As we sat around the barbeque, discussing all things cooked on fires, I was fascinated to hear how one friend''s grandfather routinely purchased a sheep, which his son in law trucked home to the family moshav every Pesach for slaughter by the local shochet.  The hind leg was used on the Seder plate, the meat was cooked and served for the Seder, and for the rest of the week, grandma stood in the kitchen conjuring up all manner of lamb based delicacies, from lamb kebabs to lamb soup, ending the week with lamb chops al haaish on the last day of Pessah. He said his grandfather would wipe the blood of the sheep on the doorposts of the house with his hand (as instructed by Moshe on the night the Hebrew slaves left Egypt), and grandma got a brand new sheep skin floor rug every year.


The conversation moves on to foods and the spending habits of the modern tribes of Israel and again I am fascinated by the open racism I hear around me as generalisations are shamelessly thrown around with what feels to me like an understone of intention to lightly wound. Remarkably though, while no one is spared, no one is insulted. As fires heat up all around us and the smell of cooked meat rises up toowards the sky  and a blanket of smoke temporarily conceals our view of the freeway, the conversation heats up too.  But like the shrill sound of children demanding frozen ice pops called ''shloochies'' and the sweet fizzy sound of coloured soda being poured into plastic cups, the conversation cools off again by outbursts of laughter and friendly looks of murder.


The generalisations go something like this: ''Yemeni'' is a profession; they turn one dollar into two, meaning the very nature of Yemenites is to make money. The Kurds are stingy; they know how to save money. Everyone agrees; I myself look around nervously to check that there are no Kurds in the immediate vicinity and everyone laughs at me. Even if they were here, we would say this to their face, they assure me. Moroccans play like they are not stingy but they are half stingy and they are big ''posers,'' they like to show they are wealthy even if they aren’t. I learn that there are two kinds of Moroccans; those who are educated and civilised, who came from the cities, and the more ''primitive'' Moroccans who came from the mountains. These latter Moroccans cast spells and issue curses using menstrual blood and the like.


Ashkenazi is a balagan, a mess. They just eat one leg of chicken and gefilte fish and pickle cucumber. Not salad, not nothing. Everybody laughs as I recount a picture of a Seder table posted recently on Facebook by my Ashkenazi friend, with pretty square plates, matching purple napkins, and three small salads sitting neatly next to the Seder plate. Something about the decorum of the setting reminded me of home. I look across to our table full of salads and pots, meat slowly mounting to one side and a million plastic bowls filled with foods no one will ever finish. Yes, it''s true I admit, even my mother''s full table, by comparison looks tame. Kavkas change their money for US dollars and put that money to the side and they buy a lot of meat, apparent by the amount of meat our Kavkas hosts have bought and cooked today. If you want to insult a Kavkaz, call them a Gruzini. Russians also know how to eat. They know how to live on a little money. Tripoltait have big heart (says my Tripoltait friend) and they love to eat too.


They all agree that Ethiopians suffer: They don’t have any money, but they are good people--yet none of them have Ethiopian friends. Arabs know how to welcome guests into their home and to show respect. Everyone agrees that both the Farsi and the Iraqi''s are kamtzan (stingy), but confusion arises as to who exactly the Farsi are, because as far as I know Farsi is the language spoken by Persians.  The Drusim know how to spend money and to welcome guests, they also know how to cook, I can vouch for that myself having been warmly welcomed into a Druse restaurant our hosts opened just for us one day when we came to visit.


The conversation moves on to sex. Yemenite women are hot and Moroccan women are very cold. Everyone agrees on this poin except the Kavkas married to a pregnant Moroccan. Kurdish men are hot and the women love the kitchen. Kavkas love sex but they smell from eating too much onion and garlic, which brings up a chorus of objections from the young women who have left the conversation to feed hungry children. The men break up into small groups of private conversations that I am not privy to hear or understand; I believe they are swapping combat stories. Russians'' love love love to have sex someone translates to me quietly, and Ashkenazi have a mix, they have a lot of cold women but they also have some who know what to do. I can live with that balance. Ethiopians are good but they smell of Amba - an Ethiopian spice. Tripoltait love sex but some are cold. Arab women love sex, everyone agrees, but the men can do what they want with their ''dicks'' but if the women just talk to someone, the family kills them, which is probably true. Farsi women are hot, Iraqi nothing special. Druse--they love to "do sex" like all the Arabs.


That insightful conversation over and several plates full later, I go for a walk. The day is coming to an end. I sit and watch a ''good year'' truck being stacked high with plastic chairs and plastic fold up trestle tables. It looks like a rental company packing up after a wedding but the driver assures me it''s only the wares of some six families who have gathered for the days celebrations. Women arrive with huge empty pots stacked high into each other and plastic bags filled with empty Tupperware containers. Two men carry a mattress and load it into the truck. Everything but the kitchen sink has been schlepped out for the day to ensure maximum comfort for all. Tables and chairs, umbrellas and bedding, bicycles, tricycles, roller blades and scooters, meat, beer, wine, salads, couscous, pita, hummus and music. Israeli''s know how to Barbeque in style--whether that style be Persian, Kurdish, Russian, Druse, Yemenite, Moroccan, Kavkas, Tripoltait,  Ethiopian, Arab style.


Happy Birthday Israel.