From a homeschooling perspective, today was pretty good. E actually attended a couple of her Zoom classes and enjoyed them; N did all his math and cursive writing; K had some trouble focusing, but she did her best and, best of all, she did it independently. Actually, so did N.
Today was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. In non-pandemic days I would have sent my children off to school dressed in blue and white, where they and their similarly-clad classmates would have ceremonies and parties. They would be folk dancing, singing songs, and eating Israeli treats.
I have traveled to Israel on 15 separate occasions. I’ve been there as a teenager with my family; as a young adult with my peers; as a young adult leading my peers; on a bible study trip with my Mum; and together with my husband. I loved the country from the moment I stepped off the plane for the first time at age sixteen.
What made the biggest impression on me in that early trip? The realization that in Israel, I was in the religious and cultural majority for the first time in my life. I could go into any restaurant anywhere and not have to ask, “Does that dish have pork in it?” (This is no longer strictly true, but twenty-four years ago it still was.) Sitting in a food court in some small-town mall I could hear idioms that came from Jewish texts and liturgy. The country’s foods, rhythms, and holidays were mine. I felt like I had come home.
Obviously, Canada is my home. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I’m raising my children. But Israel is home in a different way: when I’m there I don’t have to explain my food choices, my holidays, my sayings. I don’t have to explain myself. And I don’t have the niggling feeling that sometime, somewhere, someone will hate me and hurt me for being Jewish. I mean, Israel has hostile and anti-Semitic neighbours; that’s a given. But as a Jew there I can feel secure that the country will defend me and my right to exist, which, in my opinion, is something to celebrate.
This year we couldn’t go to a giant party with fireworks. There were some online events, but I couldn’t get myself in gear to choose one and log on. Instead we celebrated with my favourite thing about Israel (and there are many things I love about Israel, but this one is top of the list) — the food.
We made fresh pita and hummus from scratch. By “we” I mean that E helped me dump flour into the bowl and mix it with water and yeast, and then wandered off, leaving me to do the rest. K and N flitted in and out of the kitchen to see whether there were any tasty bowls to lick.
I had envisioned it as one of those activities that homeschoolers do where they learn about fractions, chemistry, history, and culture while bonding over a baking project. You can picture it, right? Good. Now forget that picture; it is NOT what happened. Nothing went wrong, but it wasn’t the homeschooling love-fest I had imagined.
Nevertheless, when our pita (some plain, some topped with olive oil and za’atar) came out of the oven, everybody converged on the kitchen and offered to taste-test it. Only half of the pita made it to our table; the other half had already found its way into our bellies. I feel fortunate to have gotten some photos before it was all gobbled up.
It feels strange, after a few days of intense sadness and grief, to have such an ordinary day, but that’s how today was. Memories of how my aunt celebrated Israel and marked Yom Ha’atzmaut (in a place with a tiny Jewish community) intruded, but they weren’t unwelcome. My aunt and my mother were raised by parents who had seen the result of the Jews having no homeland to go to; they were raised to love Israel. So was I, and so are my children — who, by the time they actually visit Israel for the first time, will already know the language, the food, and the music, and will feel at home there too.
Happy Birthday, Israel! חג עצמעות שמח!