March 19, 2002 Update

Letters from Israel

As I'm preparing to send this, just after 7am on Wednesday morning, news is coming through of a bus bombing in northern Israel. Initial reports say a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus en route to the northern town of Afula from Tel Aviv. There are many wounded and several killed. This is the third time this bus route has been attacked by Palestinian terrorists.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Dear family and friends,

We've had an unusual late February/March heatwave, dry, dusty winds blowing in from the Sahara, bringing with them sand and days with temperatures over 10 degrees above the seasonal averages. In between we've had the odd cooler day with some drizzle, a reminder that this is still supposed to be the rainy season.

Today the heatwave finally broke. The morning air was heavy with dust and a thick sandy haze. By the afternoon the gloom had lifted somewhat, only to be replaced with storm clouds and some light rain. A welcome return to the wet season.

I was out on my balcony pruning my geraniums this morning when out of the yellowish murk flew a magnificent flock of white storks, thousands of them milling around in an untidy cloudlike formation, a few loose stragglers bringing up the rear.

That's right, storks, not helicopters.

Spring is certainly here, at least if you're a bird.

Through the open doors of the living room the radio chattered on about the latest attempt to broker a ceasefire. Here we go again. American envoy Zinni is here again, along with US Vice President Dick Cheney, and surprise, surprise, they're not managing to get Arafat to stop his terror war. Meanwhile Palestinian gunmen have killed two Israelis this week, wounded dozens more and luckily for us, several suicide bombers have either been caught or have blown themselves up prematurely, killing only themselves.

As the Israeli saying goes, we've all been part of this movie before. It's nothing new, and few of us expect it to bring about anything new. Save that Israel will stop fighting terror for a bit while the Palestinians will keep on bombing and shooting.

Much nicer to think about storks and spring, as the classic Hebrew song goes, as though there were no wars in the world.

The annual spring migrations are well under way. Hundreds and thousands of birds are journeying between Africa and Eurasia, via Israel, the only land bridge between the continents.

This morning's storks are only the confirmation of the signs of spring I've noticed in recent weeks. Other seasonal birds have also been flooding in: huge alpine swifts careening through the sky, the high pitched "sis, sis" of the smaller European swifts swooping between the apartment buildings, a short-toed eagle hunting snakes in a nearby field and the first of the summer wheatears with their dazzling black and white plumage.

Every other bird seems to be courting or building its nest. An elegant palm dove has its eye on one of my flowerboxes, while a colony of sparrows are, as every year, building their nests in the laundry grate of the building opposite. Yup, the birds definitely think it's spring.

On our Shabbat walk this week I counted at least two dozen species of flower in bloom. Jason's aunt and her daughter spent the Sabbath with us and that afternoon the four of us visited the most promising hillside in town, eagerly looking out for the season's newest blooms, savouring the carpets of bright yellow dotted with red, pink and purple.

All around the wild barley is ripening, a sign that Pesah (Passover), also known as Hag Ha-aviv, the spring festival, is almost here. In ancient times, before the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Pesah was the festival of the omer, the barley offering.

On television the usual seasonal ads have been around for weeks. Commercials for cleaning fluids, detergents, paint, polishes, grape juice and olive oil. Commercials with ancient Egyptian motifs. Commercials featuring Moses. Of course commercials for seder wine.

On the radio they're advertising events for Pesah. The kibbutzim of the northern Jordan Valley will be holding a Hebrew music festival with top choirs from around the country and a special tribute to Israel's legendary song writer, Naomi Shemer. In Holon the children's museum will have special activities. On Nitzanim beach they'll be holding the usual "new age" Boombamala festival.

Pesah is the Jewish festival of freedom, commemorating our Exodus from Egypt, our liberation from slavery. It is the festival of deliverance from oppression, of miraculous renewal, of hope even in the darkest hour. This Pesah will be our second celebrated in the dark days of Yasser Arafat's terror war. Please God next year we'll merit to celebrate Pesah free from terror.

May we all be blessed with a happy and quiet Pesah.

Pesah kasher vesameah,


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Copyright 2002 by Leiah Elbaum.