My Word: Missiles and Bamba

The Bamba baby has accompanied Israelis through the good times and the bad but won’t make it to London for the Olympics.

Bamba baby 370 (photo credit: Osem website)
Bamba baby 370
(photo credit: Osem website)
The country has just been through one of those peculiarly Israeli periods: More than a million people were forced to seek shelter as hundreds of missiles were launched from Gaza last week, yet the topic of the day was not whether the government should launch a ground offensive à la Operation Cast Lead. Nor was it about the cost of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, although each interceptor costs around $50,000 to $100,000. It was about Bamba, the peanut-flavored snack that is so much a part of the local diet that most Israeli parents aren’t even aware of possibly lethal allergic reactions to the main ingredient.
Every now and again, I recall something that poet and writer Haim Gouri once told me about the extremes of Israeli life: “We are a people of ups and downs, euphoria and pathos, pride and pique.”
The last few days have been one of those periods. Even the weather seems to be suffering from mood swings.
Jerusalem went from snowstorm to heat wave within a week.
This was abnormal life at its most normal, or vice versa.
Those of us who don’t listen to the news on Shabbat didn’t even realize that a mini-war had broken out between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza until last Saturday night, by which time scores of missiles had landed on the South and the Home Front Command ordered pupils to remain at home – which averted what could have been a tragedy when a missile scored a direct hit on a school in Beersheba on March 11.
Only educational facilities equipped with missile-proof safe rooms, mainly those in the area close to the Gaza Strip, were allowed to operate, leading my son to comment about friends in Sderot: “That’s really bad luck for them. Not only do they have to suffer the missiles, they don’t even get time off school.”
From past conversations, I know my friend is scared for their safety when her children travel to and from school but is less concerned once they are in their bomb-proof classrooms. If kids in Sderot got a day off school any time a missile landed, the entire town would still be trying to complete first grade.
Young Jerusalemites, on the other hand, got let out from school early at the beginning of the month as the first few flakes of snow began to softly land and it looked like there might be just enough material to build a midget-sized snowman.
At some point midweek, I realized the news broadcasts were reporting that only three or four missiles had landed. I don’t remember when we got so used to missiles that that passes for “normal.”
In conversations with the press, Sderot Mayor David Buskila often emphasizes that the biggest problem is post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects thousands of residents, particularly the children. Even the pets in Sderot are traumatized.
In the event of a warning, local residents have just 15 seconds to get to the nearest shelter. “That’s why we are probably the only town in the world where there are times that it’s considered too dangerous to wear car seat belts,” says my friend Channa.
I asked some French speakers spending the year in Israel whether their parents hadn’t called and demanded they come back home. “No. I don’t think they have understood that something is going on. France is too busy with the elections,” replied one, as her friend nodded in agreement.
Thanks mainly to the success of the Iron Dome and the fact that most residents in the area under attack heeded the Home Front Command call to stick indoors, there were no Israeli fatalities as I write these lines. Hence the lack of international headlines.
The news photos captured Israeli children living their unique version of the phrase “a sheltered existence” while showing Palestinian children bleeding and battered. They are all inarguably innocent victims – the Muslim and the Jewish children. I would argue, however, that they are all victims of the same terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees that were responsible for the latest missile onslaught; Hamas that ostensibly controls Gaza; and Iran and Syria which provide the weapons.
It’s clear that it’s going to be many, many more years before, instead of investing in defensive measures – building more shelters, missile-proofing more schools, acquiring more Iron Dome batteries – we can sit down with the neighbors across the border and work out how to better all our lives. In fact, we might never reach that stage.
In the meantime, turning those proverbial bitter lemons into something more palatable, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which manufactures the Iron Dome, hopes its nearly 90 percent success rate over the past few days will lead to an increase in international sales.
WHICH BRINGS me back to the subject of Bamba, another international hit.
The Bamba baby, the trademark symbol of the snack, is as recognizable locally as a Disney character. But the cute, diaper-clad child with one tooth, and a golden curl will not be heading to London this summer as the mascot of the Israeli Olympic team. This follows a massive online campaign against the use of a commercial symbol to represent the national delegation. Even Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat weighed in on the issue, criticizing the decision to use a commercial figure. Osem reportedly paid the Olympic Committee NIS 150,000 to have the baby represent the delegation, although sportingly the company apparently did not withdraw its sponsorship.
Perhaps as a diversion from the missile attacks – or maybe because Bamba has accompanied us through so many wars – the story of the grounded mascot received huge local coverage. Of course, Bamba is considered such an essential ingredient of Israeli life that in 2003, as the country prepared for possible Iraqi missiles, the Knesset declared it to be a vital staple food, meaning that the Bamba factory in Holon would have to operate even in wartime conditions.
“What? You mean workers would have to risk their lives to produce Bamba?” spluttered an acquaintance recently when I told him of the snack’s special status.
Put that way, it does seem rather strange. But it’s hard to imagine how kids would have got through the First Gulf War in 1991, spent in sealed rooms, without it. Most young Israeli kids can’t get through a day in peacetime without Bamba.
The snack actually received its first commercial boost during the 1967 Six Day War when army canteens gave soldiers a taste for it which they later gave their families. With or without an Olympic appearance, the ageless Bamba baby is already well traveled, with homes throughout Diaspora communities and wherever Israel backpackers have gone.
More than 10 years ago, I was greeted in an impoverished village in Kenya by local children calling out for the snack that had been introduced by previous Israeli visitors. While it can’t be considered a health food, it is full of vitamins, and although I’d prefer to see children in Africa filling up on something more wholesome, I’m aware they could do worse (well-intentioned Americans were handing out candies at the time).
Few Hebrew advertising slogans have been as successful as “Ain, ain, ain kmo Bamba” (There ain’t, ain’t, ain’t anything like Bamba) and the manufacturers like to boast that Bamba is a little taste of Israel. It’s a pity the Bamba baby is not allowed to live in peace.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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