On my stairwell wall, a 1930’s woodcut poster, red, green stripes, smiling in buxom form and framed in bold colour, declares: Avatiach Ivri or Hebrew Watermelon.
I’ve always loved the enthusiasm of it, a humorous and delicious sense of building Israel in achdut, or brotherly love. The 1930’s Israeli Ministry of Agriculture was encouraging consumers to go and buy home grown produce and products to assist the Hebrew watermelon competing with those from its neighbouring countries.
Avatiach Ivri has held a place of honour in my home for some years, but only on Thursday did its naivety and sweetness shout out at me in new anthropomorphic significance.
You know when there’s a war : the radio music changes and before more casualties are formally declared, we know, because there’s a shift in radio mood. There’s a new lexicon in advertisements too, and there are many more community announcements. The most widely heard these days are on the procedure of drivers in their vehicles during a missile attack on the highway . Another less threatening message is to support Israeli agriculture and commerce by buying Israeli products. We are encouraged to keep to our normal routines as much as possible. It’s not easy. We need to keep the economy buoyant. We consumers are the army on that front.
There’s an overwhelming sense of responsibility that we cannot leave our young soldiers to fight this battle alone, and all the nurturing instincts, including self reliance and a national survival together against all odds, typify Israel today. People are focused on buying local products and supporting local industry, and we support one another emotionally where possible. Most people like me in the international tourism industry have no work right now. But this is nothing at all compared with our children at the front in the most difficult defence situations. This is my fourth war here. When my generation went to war it was terrible. When our children go to war, that’s perceived to be an act of our failure to protect them and future generations. The pain and concern is often unbearable.
Attempting to remain sane, and in seeking some way of contributing and helping the army, I listened to my watermelon poster now shouting its message very clearly at me. What was I waiting for? GO DO IT ! Go buy hebrew watermelons ! Go take the watermelons and visit the wounded. With serval of the best speciments purchased from the Avatiach ivri specialist in Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s produce market, I tenderly cut into cubes, iced and boxed these little pink jewels and set out. I was not alone, but the unique watermelon contribution got its message through. It was beaming refreshing wholesomeness at the soldiers in hospital, who were surrounded by mountains of candies and sweets, family and balloons. The soldiers were struggling to get some rest, surrounded by well-wishers demonstrating concern and affection. People of varying shapes, ages, walks of life all over Israel and even some from abroad, were not just buying Israeli products, they visited every hospital with an outpouring of togetherness, support, love and kindness. Most of us were perfect strangers to each of the soldiers, but not strangers to the love we shared, and embraced in the achdut.
For anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, food and its cooking is a metaphor for the human transformation of raw nature into cooked culture. For Jews, food and preparing it, is the expression of transformation of love, and the obvious cure of any problem or time of tension and danger. Prayer and food: the antedotes. I remember as a young student during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, radio messages beseeching mothers to stop bringing knitted socks and chicken soup to the front !
In a situation we have no control over, food is something tangible, achievable and the shortest and most finite way beyond a smile, of communicating love to strangers. But we’re now in a new phase of the extended war, and our soldiers on the front are in need of things other than culinary delights.
The serendipitous action of an erstwhile driver, taking me from the hospital back downtown, dropped me off on King David Street, past the King David Hotel [now devoid of tourists] to be left standing opposite the realtor’s office I generally just walk past. There at Alex Losky realtors, I saw a parking space delineated at the curb by 8 six-packs of mineral water. There were cigarette cartons piled high near the office window, as a protective wall to almost 400 large plastic carry bags.
The photo file I had to insert here was rejected by the blog site for some reason and I’m sorry it’s not shown here.
With communication at its sophisticated peak, within the parameters of national security and discretion, word was out on the street that the combat soldiers had been sent too much candy and too many cakes, and that our army was at risk of becoming diabetic !! What they really needed was clean underwear , socks, torches deodorant and cigarettes.
Alex Losky realtors had asked all their friends to donate funds and their response team was quickly formed. An encounter as this was, facilitated my need to immediately jump in and help somehow. I joined the project and then began loading the van that was to transport the gifts to the front. These acts of kindness are prolific all over Israel today, adapting to the call of each group in our society that is in need during the abnormal situation of war. Passers – by in this case saw an old beat-up van arrive, and each one asked how they could help. Young men and women from the Avis and Thrifty offices, bankers, and tourists all came out to help. We piled that van so high with the bags that it’s doubtful the brave driver would have enough oxygen to get to the Gaza front. Each day there’s a new call to help. No other country would so actively protect and care for its army and citizens. We are really a family here.
Tomorrow’s call is for toys for the children in protective shelters in the south of Israel who, together with their families, have been running from attacks for too many years.
This column usually features a recipe. The best i can do for now is to say eat as much Israel grown watermelon , as much Avatiach Ivri as possible! It has to be perfectly chilled and is good with fetta cheese or fresh sprigs of mint. You can make beautifully refreshing gazpacho by blending watermelon, peaches and a dash of chile and chopped mint together. Avatiach Ivri chai !