For a few months in the spring, and again in the autumn, it seems that every week in Israel there’s at least one day that’s a Day. This week it’s Yom Haatzmaut, ha-atz-ma-uht, four syllables, Independence Day, and this year it falls on 1st of May, which I find pleasing. Anniversaries and religious festivals in Israel are mostly set by the lunar calendar, so are a different date to the Gregorian calendar, which is used for everything else. This almost never causes confusion to visitors or the newly arrived. Don’t get me started on the leap month.
The anniversary of Israel becoming a nation is, naturally, a public holiday, with many celebrations, like Bastille Day, in its way. We used to have such days in Britain. I remember Commonwealth Day, maybe it was Empire Day, when I was a child, but they’ve fallen out of fashion, are unknown, probably, by anyone younger than me.
My father came to Israel illegally in 1948, a few months before its statehood became official, to join the army. He had to be smuggled in. I have a photo of him I love, the one at the top of this post, sitting on top of a ship’s mast, taken in Marseilles. This was less than three years after his liberation from concentration camps. That generation, the tiny part of it that survived, were quite something, weren’t they. His best friend Ben, also a camp survivor, went on to represent Britain at the 1958 Olympics at weightlifting. What guys they were. Ben is still alive, I saw him just the other week, so, what a guy he is.
The evening before Yom Haatzmaut I would have gone to Rabin Square to watch the fireworks, but I’d been told I’d be able to see them from Bograshov. I was told wrong, and I’m sorry I missed the display. There were parties and barbecues all over Israel that I wasn’t invited to. One started up somewhere near my flat, and I fell asleep to 120 bpm.
The next day was beautiful. Comfortably warm, still weeks before the summer heat really begins. There’s a haze in the sky that continues to the horizon and blurs it. The sea was as calm as a pond.
I went to the beach to watch the Air Force flyover with Nathan, and Rufina’s husband, Kostya, who gave me a tiny jar of Marmite. I was overjoyed to receive it. The beach was packed, of course, like Memorial Day weekend in Jaws, but the display was disappointing. Every five minutes, for half an hour or more, a formation of three planes would fly overhead, whoosh. I once went to Paris just to watch the last stage of the Tour de France. I glimpsed the peloton as it sped past, along the Rue de Rivoli. It was over in seconds. Well, the planes went by almost as quickly as the cyclists, and were as interesting to look at. They made more noise, though.
I came home and ate the Marmite with soft, white cholla and cold, hard butter. Heaven.
The next day we went to the Ministry of the Interior, opposite the Azrieli Centre, to get our temporary passports. Nathan, Rufina and Kostya arrived 25 minutes after the doors were opened, so we were at the back of a very long queue. Nathan was furious with me for telling him that there wasn’t a bus from Ben Yehuda to the Ministry, and with himself for being late. If you’re thinking of seeing the Ministry for yourself, it is probably wise to take sandwiches, a thermos and maybe a sleeping bag. We waited over two hours and the business was done in three minutes. Nathan, for some reason, was given a biometric ID card, while we had non-biometric cards. Unbiometric? Whatever. Rufina turned it over in her hand and decided she wanted one, too, so went to the back of the queue to wait for it. She has lived in Moscow, so I suppose this was like home for her.
I left to meet Erez, who I’d spoken to on Atraf the night before. Glamorously, he is a pilot, had been in the Israeli Air Force, and now lives in Germany, flies for Lufthansa, and is home for a few days. We should meet somewhere neutral, he said. Switzerland? was my suggestion, but we met at his car and drove around for a while looking for a parking space. Much of life in Israel, especially if dealing with bureaucracy or parking, needs patience.
I don’t drink while I’m driving, Erez said, let’s go to your apartment and sit on your sofa getting to know each other. As lines go, it wasn’t the most subtle, but that’s almost what we did.
Today’s word: lah-toose – to fly – לטוס
See also:Loop de loop