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The birds of Oranit

Looking back on a migratory path that brought him from Leeds to found a village in Israel

Where I was born, they said: ‘Ah, the birds fly backwards there’.

Leeds is known to be ugly. ‘Dirty Leeds’ refers to the football and the city. Both are untrue. But why spoil a good story?

Leeds is supposedly the epitome of ‘where’s there’s muck there’s money’. A Lowry picture with its billowing smoke stacks is Leeds. It’s as authentic as all Leodensians have cloth caps; rhubarb filled allotments & whippets.

But the remark about birds flying backwards has endured. I like it. In fact, it captures my whole philosophy. I view my life in the same way the birds view Leeds. Both the birds and I say in common ‘Thank God that’s behind me’.

With the birds, it’s a joke. With me, it’s a reality. I enjoy my doings in retrospect.

I identify with birds. My favourite film is Mary Poppins. My favourite character in Mary Poppins is my namesake Michael. Like me, he causes havoc with the best of intentions. And my favourite song? Well of course – it’s ‘Feed the Birds’.

I, like my birds, migrated. I went to Israel. There is a beautiful song about birds in Israel. A group left Tel Aviv on horseback. In the evening, they decamped at a place where there was not a bird to be heard. All but one had fled. The absence was a bad portent — it meant death. But in the morning, the lone Doctor Solomon was greeted on awakening by the singing of birds. He founded, on the banks of the Yarkon River, the first settlement outside Tel Aviv. Petaq Tikva, literally the glimpse of hope.

‘ — and till this day,
there are those who say,
that the length of the Yarkon,
the birds all sing their song,
to Moshe Solomon.’

Like my medical colleague Dr Solomon, I was a co-founder of a village, the wonderful yishuv, Oranit. As then, there were no birds. We planted 1,200 trees and every house added another two or three of their own. Two thousand trees. For each tree, there are now many chirping birds.

There are seasons in life. I am now in my golden autumn and this old birds has a lot to look back on. The seasons change quite quickly. A lot to look back on and enjoy in retrospect.

Last month, I looked up. Every year, twice yearly, the birds flock. The most awesome are the storks. No one has seen so many storks circling in a pure blue sky.

Oranit, our village, is directly under their flight path. The most amazing of sights. The most eternal of events and we are part of it.

From Leeds, where they fly backwards, to Oranit, where they will fly forever.

They will fly long after I have flown away.

A lesson learned: don’t look back, look to the skies.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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