Archive for June 9th, 2012

Lag B’Omer in Be’er Sheva

The very last day of our trip, we laid low in Be’er Sheva.  Unfortunately, around the time Lag B’Omer bonfires would start that evening, we would be taking off from Ben Gurion airport on our way back to the US.  I hadn’t thought to consult a Jewish calendar when I originally booked our tickets, so the realization that we’d be missing the celebrations came as a sore surprise.

The day before, the municipality had done a lot of neighborhood tree-trimming.  With the dearth of scrap wood in Be’er Sheva, they knew they wouldn’t have to haul the fallen boughs away – children and parents anxious to build impressive bonfires would take care of that job for them.  Indeed, by the next day, the massive piles of downed branches were completely gone, and in vacant lots there were several piles of wood and assorted scrap – basically people grabbed anything flammable, appropriate or not – just waiting for the touch of a match.

Fortunately my daughter’s nursery school decided to make a little Lag B’Omer celebration that day, so we visited her at gan.  Posted on the door were The Rules.

1. In our gan we speak calmly
2. In our gan, we don’t hurt feelings
3. In our gan we don’t tattle
4. In our gan we give lots of compliments
5. In our gan only nice and appropriate words come out of our mouths
6. In our gan when we want something, we say “please” and when we receive what we’ve asked for, we make sure to say “thank you”
7. In our gan if we make a mistake, we request forgiveness
8. In our gan we don’t hit, bite or kick
9. In our gan there are many smiles
10. In our gan, we are especially careful to fulfill the mitzvah, “You shall love your friend as yourself” to the highest level

Her class was huge – some 35 children ages 3 – 4, and at the time we visited there were also two part-time aides.  It was a pleasure to see how well the staff managed the large class size and it was clear the children were happy, and learning, learning, learning!  This was both a joyful and loving place.  The smiling, pleasant teacher frequently hugged the children or held them in her lap, and somehow managed to give them personal attention.  The children were in the  middle of davening when we came, saying a few blessings and psalms and then the prayer on behalf of Israeli soldiers, which was quite touching when heard from such small children, and then some dancing.

A few days before, the teacher had sent home a note asking parents to send wood scraps for the bonfire, as well as a foil-wrapped potato for baking in the fire.  The bonfire at the perimeter of the gan was a mess of wood, cardboard, and broken furniture, including a formica-covered broken bookshelf made of pressed wood that would surely send off toxic fumes when lit.

The foil-wrapped potatoes, baked in the bonfire

The teacher was thrilled that my husband had come because now she could designate him to start the fire.  Several matches later (the wood from the tree cuttings had not been seasoned, so it would not light), he got it going with some assistance from one of the nursery school aides, a young Ethiopian woman whose work at the nursery school was part of her National Service (Sheirut Leumi), an alternative for religious women who do not want to serve in the army.  She had been in the country for only 4 years and her Hebrew was completely fluent.

The fire-baked potatoes were served, along with popsicles as a final treat.

After the celebration and after school let out, we all went to Australia Park, Be’er Sheva’s nicest municipal park.  The park commemorates the Australian cavalry’s capture (under the British)  of  Be’er Sheva from the Turks in 1917.  It’s beautifully landscaped, has a fantastic, tent-covered playground, and a labyrinth that is fun for children to get “lost” in.

(click to enlarge)

The massive tented playground area

We came home, ate a quick dinner, said our goodbyes, and traveled by train from Be’er Sheva to Ben Gurion airport.

I am convinced that they tell you to get to the airport early not because of security, but because they want you to spend money at the duty-free shops.  And spend we did (I hadn’t bought souvenirs until now).  We bought some contemporary Israeli music CDs, and a couple of middle-eastern music CDs that I could use as background music for my djembe (drum) playing.  I bought two copies of a  beautiful Israeli cookbook for wedding gifts, and a wonderful “coffee table” book with gorgeous photographs of Israel. (Ultimately this proved to be a mistake.  I hadn’t realized that books published in Israel were available new and used on Amazon for a fraction of the price.  Live and learn.)

Because we were anxious to continue hearing and practicing our Hebrew (an unlikely event in rural Maine), I bought a set of DVDs from a popular Israeli TV series, called Srugim.  Although we don’t have a TV at home (although I do on occasion watch shows on my computer), I have to say this show is completely addictive!  It chronicles the lives of “older” singles living in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem.  I’ve heard it compared to “Friends” but I’ve never watched that show so I can’t say . . . but it certainly does cover complicated contemporary issues of modern Orthodox Israeli Jews with the right mixture of Jewish angst, humor, and sensitivity, plus it’s fun to recognize or try to identify the many streets, cafes, and landmarks of Jerusalem.

I’ve learned all sorts of new Hebrew slang thanks to watching the show, and picked up some nice expressions as well, which show the inherent beauty of the Hebrew language – even modern Hebrew (i.e. “Chalomot Paz!” – – translated as “sweet dreams!” but really it means “Golden Dreams” – and the type of gold – “paz” –  that is spoken of, is gold in its purest form).