Friday, May 05, 2006

Independence Day

So, yesterday (Wednesday) was Israel's birthday, celebrating 58 years of Jewish autonomy, falafel, and vacations abroad. The traditional, nay, almost the required activity on Yom Ha'atzmaut is a mangal (barbecue). The Independence Day barbecue is so entrenched that someone once sent me a revamped version of the National Anthem, Hatikva, in which the lines "we have not lost our hope/ the hope of 2,000 years" was replaced with "we have not lost our grills/ the grills of 2,000 years." It brought to my mind an image of generations of wandering Jews, travelling from Spain to Tunisia, from Amsterdam to New York, carrying huge bags of Match Light charcoal on their backs, waiting for the miraculous day when every city-dwelling Jew could stake his claim to whatever bit of grassy spot he could find -- including, I should note, the landscaped roundabouts at major intersections -- and cook up kabobs to his heart's content and blast Shlomo Artzi music at full volume.

This year, my friends Beth and Simcha invited me to attend their family barbecue at Park Canada, a camping grounds near Bet Shemesh, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Simcha's parents are here from America to visit, so they gave me a lift from Jerusalem.

The place was packed. As in, hardly anywhere to park, and hardly anywhere to set up our gear. We located the group of American and Canadian immigrants with whom we'd planned to meet up, but discovered that a) we didn't know anyone in the group and b) they were not only sitting in the sun, they were sitting on the ground.

I should explain here that when Israelis make barbecues, they bring, as Beth says, "their entire kitchen and dining room." The Israelis were spread out all over the park, each family with a long folding table, plastic chairs, a tablecloth, real silverware, pots and pans, and a rope to cordon off their own private space among the trees. Several families had brought long cushions to sit on, or pergolas to create shade, and one had set up a huge hammock. In addition to the grills, they'd brought boom boxes, playing cards, kites, and all other manner of entertainment.

The American immigrants, by contrast, were sitting in a pathetic group on blankets, looking ill-prepared compared to the clearly professional barbecuers who are the natives.

Since Beth is very pregnant and really wanted to sit up normally, we found a spot next to a low wall just the right height for sitting on. Next to the wall was a tree for shade, under which we set up our blankets (having not yet assimilated to the folding-table level). The weather was gorgeous, the park was full of people relaxing and happy, and the kabobs were amazing.

We stayed for a few hours, grilling and eating and talking. The kids, ages 4, 3, and 1, enjoyed watching the fire, taking in all the kites and people and bugs, and running around on the grass. We bought them popsicles and tried to teach Sophie, the one-year-old, that you hold onto the stick and put the ice in your mouth, not the other way around. Simple pleasures.

That was it. That was the day. And you know what? It was a great day. You don't need amusement parks or professional entertainment or other flashy, packaged fun-in-a-can they try to sell these days. Just a nice day, a park, a blanket, and a grill, the grill of 2,000 years.

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