Despite coronavirus, Israelis barbecuing for Independence Day

“Instead of having customers buying for bigger parties, we have customers buying meat for the barbecues with their immediate family.”

Butcher in Jerusalem ahead of Independence Day. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Butcher in Jerusalem ahead of Independence Day.
Coronavirus or not, on Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut) Israelis are not giving up on their barbecues.
After 24 hours of mourning and deep reflection honoring all fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism in the history of the country during Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron), Independence Day is marked by joyful national and familial celebrations, with the country usually pouring to streets, beaches and parks.
However, the coronavirus emergency has forced Israel’s 72nd birthday to be observed in subdued tones. The official celebrations will be held without any public and other public events that usually attract hundreds, if not thousands of people have been canceled or switched to online. A general lockdown has been also announced by the government starting on Tuesday at 5 p.m. until Wednesday night. Intercity traveling has been banned and people are required to stay with their nuclear families.
One thing however seems to emerge clearly: if street parties, Israeli folk dance in squares and day trips in parks and nature are not going to happen, people are not giving up on another beloved Independence Day unofficial tradition: al haesh (literally “on the fire”), as it emerged by speaking to several shoppers and butchers in the Jerusalem Bakka-Talpiot area.
 “No matter what, it is still Independence Day and people buy meat,” Shlomi from the butcher Yitaliz told The Jerusalem Post. Shlomi is his family's fourth generation in the profession, as his family started the business in 1947, even before the original Independence Day in 1948.
“Instead of having customers buying for bigger parties, we have customers buying meat for the barbecues with their immediate family,” he said.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, the store does not allow anyone to enter but instead takes orders on a table just outside the door and has also started a delivery service.
“We are definitely not selling less meat, if anything we are selling even more than usual,” Ofir Chacham, an employee of the beef company Adom Adom, part of the Tnuva Group, told the Post.
“It is not only about Independence Day: it think that because of the lockdown, people are buying more meat and barbecuing a lot more now that the weather is improving,” he explained, adding that the regulations enforced to contain the emergency are not preventing them from working at the necessary level to provide for the demand.
As it happens every year around this time of the year, supermarkets offer a wide range of coals, disposable grills and skewer sticks.
“People are buying equipment and food for barbecue, maybe a little less than usual, but it is definitely still happening,” Shalom, who works at Super Deal, explained.
Shoppers confirm: the parties might include just the nuclear families and be held on balconies instead of parks, but they are going to happen.
Shmuly went to the supermarket to buy steaks and spring chicken for the holiday. He and his family of five live in the Arnona neighborhood and they usually have a big party with family and friends.
“This year, however, is going to be just the five of us,” he told the Post. “One is a vegetarian…”
He explained that things are good for them in spite of the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown.
“I see a lot of positive and inspiring things happening,” he said.
Daniela is one of seven children, but she is the only one living with their parents and therefore this year Independence Day will be rather small.
“We are not really a family for barbecue, so I’m buying things to make falafel,” she said, while picking up also some fruit.
While she waited in line to enter in a supermarket in Arnona, where an employee made sure that the store did not get too crowded and measured the temperature of each customer, Elise, who made aliyah from New York about 30 years ago, explained that she was hoping to find spring chickens and chorizo.
“You never know if you will find what you need ahead of Independence Day,” she pointed out.
She explained that in their household they are four but they also have some children living by themselves.
“I’d rather say no comment,” she said when asked about who she was going to celebrate the holiday with.
However, some businesses are feeling the impact of the crisis.
“People are buying less meat for Independence Day and many are buying cheaper cuts, like ground meat,” Muchi, a butcher at HaBen shel Hakazav told the Post. “Especially young people have less money to spend right now.”