Monday, March 28, 2011

Homework in how to save a life

My kids' idea of an emergency: a child chased by an airplane and a man with a gun

My middle child is currently in the second grade of school (Kitah Bet); she's very bright but not too diligent in the hours after school. Well she really hates doing homework. She'd rather build castles from Lego or have a tea party for her many, many Barbies; which is understandable but highly unacceptable in our household. I sometimes have to act as the "bad cop" and make sure that she accomplishes all her assignments in Math, Science and Hebrew. Today she wasn't allowed near the TV unless all her homework was done. We had our usual quarrel about work before fun (a concept she totally refuses to accept) and then she sat down finished her tasks and handed me the booklet for inspection.

The headline of the booklet is: "I am always prepared." It is issued by the Home Front Command of the Israeli Defense Force, and its' subject is not science or English but how to prepare second graders to emergency situations. One of the home assignments is to draw what in the child's opinion is an emergency situation. My daughter drew a kid that missiles fall on his head from a plane. The booklet lets the kids know what do to in cases of an earth quake, a sudden fire or a missile attack. Now I know I should be pleased that my kids will be raised to respond calmly and responsibly to any unfortunate situation that they encounter in their young lives. My daughter knows by heart the emergency numbers in Israel (we have three different numbers here for the police, fire department and ambulance). We also live in an area of the world that is not famous for its tranquility, and kids here have missiles falling on their heads sometimes on a daily basis, it is necessary to be prepared. But in a small corner of my heart I ache for the innocence that is lost so quickly. That my girl, not yet 8 years old already knows that there are people out there that want her gone and she needs to be ready for the worst case scenarios.

Now I am a born Israeli and grew up like this. I was a teenager in the first Golf war when Iraqi missiles presumed chemical, fell something like 1km from my house and shook the whole building. I grew up with warnings from terror attacks and with my bags being checked each time I enter a public place. I am excellent in Paranoia. Now my kids grow up like this and I can't help but feel that it is not really normal.  I think there is something a bit askew in all of us that grew up like this. I remember when I first entered a mall in the US and no one checked my bag. I was appalled, how can they just let anyone in?
This is our way of life. Knowing that it is insane but pretending that all is normal. I'm trying to stay optimistic and hope there will be other days in the future. Hope that my grandchildren or great-grandchildren won't store gas masks in their closets only clothes and homework only in math.   

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A very short Israeli Spring

Anemones, cyclamens, Iris, and asphodels in the Judea Hills, Israel
At this point in time horrible disasters are happening to people, both far away in Japan and very close to us here in Itamar, Israel. We are flooded with terrifying images of what nature and what human (or non-human) nature can cause. I am taking a break of that for a while and try to find consolation in the beauty nature brings to us sometimes. I don't write about politics in this blog so I'll just share with you my hopes that the dark days will be over soon for all the suffering people.

Israeli Spring is like a magician performing the disappearing act: now you see it, now you don't.  There are a few (so very few) days that are warm but not too hot, when the sun is pleasant but not scorching and the light is gentle as opposed to blinding. It is a time of beauty when one feels that this is indeed The Promised Land. At this time of year many types of trees, bush and herbs bloom. Their blossom is beautiful and intense; as if the plants know that soon they'll wither and they must take advantage of this short period of grace when there is just enough water and not too much sun.  I am always thrilled to go hiking this time of year because I know I'll almost always find something wonderful like rare orchids, wild tulips or even meet a nice lazy turtle.
wild orchid

wild tulip
At this time of year even the unimposing low hills not far from my town are magical places of color and lush green. I don't even need to drive in order to see lovely green pastures dotted with the red of a thousand anemones, just take a nice few minutes' walk from my doorstep.  All this loveliness will disappear soon enough when April's Eastern winds will desiccate the land and by June all will be yellow and dusty again for a long while. So for the few weeks left I'll enjoy those pretty colors, hope you will too. 
The Turtle

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some more almond blossom before it'll disapear

Almonds on the hills in the afternoon
I've discovered a very pleasant fact on the area I'm living in. It is surrounded by hills that are covered in almond trees and they all bloom right now. In addition to that there are cultivated almond orchards in the settlements 5 minutes' drive from my door step. All this beauty is intoxicating. I got addicted to taking pictures of almond blossom. I found myself taking pictures in the rain because the light on the flowers was a bit different from the light in the afternoon or mid-morning. I've also found out that taking pictures of this loveliness has a therapeutic effect.  For example someone made me very angry, in fact full of rage. So instead of shooting that horrible person, I went almond tree shooting.  I know I'm in danger here of completely exhausting the subject, but look how pretty is everything.

Almond orchard in mid-morning

Almond orchard in the rain

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The almond blossom – The Israeli Sakura (?)

Almond blossom near Beit-Shemesh

In Japan this time of year is when the Sakura is celebrated. The Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) as it moves northward up the archipelago. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April.  Japanese turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami (flower watching) festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many it is a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. The custom of hanami dates back many centuries in Japan, there are records showing hanami festivals being held as early as the third century CE.

Now clearly Israel is very far from Japan and not only geographically. There are many differences between the countries for example the weather, the food and even the way people greet each other. There is a talented American blogger living here that writes about the cultural differences between Israelis and Japanese. But in March, Israel also goes through a season of bloom, when the almond trees all over the country blossom in beautiful ethereal whites and pinks. Almond trees can be found growing wild on hills and mountains or planted in people backyards and municipal gardens. Though there is no official festival marking the event of almond blossom in Israel we do celebrate this time of year by going out to the parks and nature reserves for hikes and picnics. And we do have a special name for the almond tree, it's called Shkedia (almond in Hebrew is "shaked").
Almond blossoms from all over the country

Almonds and cherries like Israelis and Japanese are different but they belong to the same botanical family of The Rosaceae or rose family. It is a large family of flowering plants. The name is derived from the type genus Rosa. The largest genus by far is Prunus (plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds). Roses can be herbs, shrubs or trees. They have a worldwide range, but are most diverse in the northern hemisphere. Several economically important products come from the Rosaceae, these include many edible fruits (such as apples, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, and strawberries), almonds, and ornamental trees and shrubs (such as roses, meadowsweet, photinias). So almonds and cherries are cousins. And like the Sakura the almond blossom is short lived and when the flowers disappear new green leaves appear and the formation of the fruit.  The Almond (Prunus dulcis) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. The fruit of the almond is not a true nut, but a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed ("nut") inside. The almonds we eat are usually shelled  and the blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seed coat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.
Pistachio and Chocolate Macaroons made with grounded almonds