Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Time to Rejoice

“My favorite animal is steak.” 

One of my all-time favorite Disney movie scenes is from Jungle Book, where the four buzzards are discussing what they want to do. 
It used to be my favorite scene because the vultures were supposed to be the Beatles and the Beatles were my all-time favorite band, but now it’s because they (the vultures, not the Beatles who are actually half dead) so closely resemble my kids. It’s not just the long hair, or the funny accent (supposedly Liverpudlian, which my kids decidedly do NOT have – just an accent in which most words are indistinguishable one from the other). It’s not even that the kids, like vultures, eat anything that’s dead. It’s the “Whatcha wanna do?? “I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?” and then one of them comes up with an outlandish idea, which the others ignore, and they all go back to the “Whatcha wanna do?? “I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?” which so closely resemble my kids.  
My kids can have this conversation 14 times a day on subjects as diverse as what to have for supper, (Kid 1: whaddya want for supper?” “Kid 2: I dunno, whadda YOU want for supper?” Kid 3: “Steaks!!!” me: “We’re not having steaks.” Kid 1: So whaddaya want for supper?” Kid 2: “I dunno, whadda YOU want for supper?” etc.); who is going to wash the dishes/hang up the laundry/sweep the floor (Kid 1: You wanna wash the dishes or the floor? Kid 2: I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?” Kid 3: “I wanna eat steaks!” Kid 4: I washed the dishes last week!” Kid 1: “So, whatcha wanna do?? etc.); what movie to watch (Kid 1: “whatcha wanna watch? Kid 2: “I dunno, what do YOU wanna watch? Kid 3: “Dictator!!!” But let’s get some steaks first.” Kid 4: Seen it. Whatcha wanna watch? etc.). I could go on, but I hope you get the general idea.

Most of the time, I don’t hear any of it. I’m busy eating supper (usually not steak), doing the dishes, or watching a movie (with no steak). However, at times, this excess verbiage gets frustrating, especially when we are planning to take a trip for the day. “Where ya wanna go?” I dunno, where do YOU wanna go? “Let’s go eat steaks!” Etc.

During Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Pesach, the State of Israel is awash with places to go, things to see, and festivals to partake in. It seems that every town, moshav, village, park, zoo, library, mall, movie theatre, and laundromat has some sort of festival or special 'happening' going on. We've been to a potato festival, a tomato festival, several other vegetable festivals, a fruit and vegetable festival, wine festival, beer festival, a vegetable shuk, a flower shuk, a Nabatean shuk, dances, animal shows, finger puppet theatres, a butterfly display, and a garbage festival. We've been to archaeological digs, art galleries, museums, and memorials. We've had picnics at the beach, in national parks, and next to rivers and lakes that were full of camel pee and probably the polio virus. You would think that after so many years in Israel, we’d have about covered just about everything there is to do here. 

But this is Israel, and miracles happen. Just as there was always room for all of the People of Israel in the courtyard of our Holy Temple during the holidays, so there is always something to do during Chol HaMoed in a place we've not been to in the State of Israel today.

30 minutes south of Beer Sheva is the town of Yeruham. The best directions to get to Yeruham are: drive south and just when you begin thinking “who in their right mind would live out here”, turn left.

One of Israel’s first development towns, Yeruham was founded in 1951 near the site of what is said to be the well from which Hagar (Abraham’s second wife) drew water to save the life of her son Ishmael. The town’s first residents were Romanian immigrants, closely followed by immigrants from North Africa, India, and Persia (Iran). Today, the population numbers close to 10,000 with more immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia.
There are no traffic lights in the town, and rumor has it that there is only one elevator, which is situated in the health clinic. I think they charge money for kids to ride up and down. Notwithstanding traffic lights and elevators, Yeruham has some of the best high schools in the south. In addition, every year during Sukkot, the town hosts both a Music and Poetry Festival and an Ecology Festival.

Who can pass up an Ecology Festival? Officially named Green by the Lake, the festival is held next to Yeruham’s lake – an impressive body of water, considering its location deep in the Negev desert. To sweeten the deal, neither my daughter nor I had ever been to Lake Yeruham.
Lake Yeruham with a desert view
There were several hundred people in the park by the lake when we arrived. The festival was in full swing. There was a bird watching corner, and a guy selling magnets, a tent with dozens of drums where dozens of kids banged away with delight, bike riding, arts and crafts made from recycled garbage, and the other such entertainment. In addition, there were performances by various entertainers. We went to hear the group Tararam, which turned out to be a lot of fun.
Afterwards, we strolled near the lake and watched the fishermen standing just down from this sign:
No fishing
 The book Kohelet, which we read on the Shabbat of Sukkot, says that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; (Kohelet 3:4). Sukkot is called the Holiday of Rejoicing – a time to laugh and dance. What better way than at Israel’s myriad festivals, where we celebrate G-d’s gifts to us whether they be animal, vegetable, or mineral (steaks, cakes, and lakes).
 The Jewish holidays are meant to be celebrated in the Land of Israel. Here, one generally doesn't have to worry about the weather, or vacation from work and school, or the availability of kosher food. The last thing we have to worry about is finding something to do. The only problem is deciding which festival to attend. Oh, and where the best steaks are. May our year be full of such dilemmas!

Chag Sameach!!

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