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The Elephant in the Room

Fighting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic—in America fighting ingrained racism too, and in Israel the threat of annexation—I myself am facing the extra burden of walking, eating, and sleeping with an elephant. No kidding, stay with me please. It’s not only in my room, mind you, it goes everywhere with me. The few people I interact with these days, and those I pass by on my walk in the park, don’t seem to see that I walk with an elephant by my side. And after reading, hearing, watching millions of words being spoken, coming from the mouths and minds of people much wiser, educated, and knowledgeable than me—some of whom I truly admire, though none can equal Albert Camus, whose ‘The Plague’ I’ve read in my teens and again in my twenties—I’m still completely baffled by the fact that no one ever mentions the existence of ‘The Elephant in the Room.’

Why so? I wish I knew. Though this much I do know: This Elephant belongs to all of us. Only most people, for reasons that escape me, cannot see it. Or are too scared to admit seeing it. So let me tell you also this: I see them, too, and I hear them. I know where most of these people are coming from. After all, this world of ours suffers greatly from our collective misbehavior and ignorant. Our abuse of nature and wildlife—especially our cruelty towards animals and species of all kinds, not the least our own kind—is well documented. This teenage girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who keeps shouting that “the emperor has no clothes” is my hero long before she’d been named Time’s person of the year.

Which brings me to admit this: If it were up to me, I would elect a triumvirate of women—say Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen—to lead the world in this epic, pandemic war. Their brains are much superior to any man leader alive today, and their hearts are in the right place. We can add the doctors, the specialists—most, but not all, are still men—to work under them. To be their soldiers. Let these women generals command the battlefield in our fight against nature’s long-overdue revenge. Because only those who are capable of compassion and compromise, have the faculties to deal with this enormous challenge.

But what’s worrying me, and keeps me awake at nights, is that even they might not see this Elephant. Or that if they would see it, they might not acknowledge its existence. Because otherwise, how can one explain that this, the most wondrous of animals still walking the face of the earth, also represents our downfall? It leads us, obediently so, to the edge of the cliff. And why, you may rightly ask, I don’t mention it by name? That’s a good question, I give you that. But you see, the nature of the ‘elephant in the room’ metaphor is that when you mention it by name—since it’s so obviously available for all to see—it disappears. And when it disappears, we have the tendency—being human and all—to believe it has never existed.

Yet it does. And it carries on its wide back the climate change crisis. Racism and injustice, it carries too; abuse of natural resources, starvation and desolation, it carries too. Income inequity, class divide, abuse of power and resources… you name it, it carries. Our elephant, beautiful creature though it is, is also the foundation for all the ills in this world. It’s very prominent, for instance, in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York, London, Jerusalem and elsewhere. In these communities in particular, where the commandment to procreate (“be fruitful and multiply”) is so fundamental (it’s common rather than the exception there to have seven/eight children in a family), the coronavirus has inflicted an unusually great amount of suffering and death.

In one television newscast I watched lately, there was a story about how people are suffering economically in America due to the pandemic. A poor, down on her luck woman who lost her job was complaining and crying—my heart was aching for her, believe me—that she’s a single mother with seven children. How can she feed them all? How indeed! And yet, the reporter didn’t see the elephant standing so tall behind her, and had asked her not a single question about it. Neither did the anchorwoman in the studio. But I saw it right away: A single mother with seven children to feed, to clothe, to educate. Help me here, people: How is it possible? Even allowed?

They have their share of elephants in Africa and India, of course. And they have many hungry children and adults to feed there. But they too don’t see the Corona Elephant in their midst. No wonder they keep trying to infiltrate Europe and find a decent living for themselves and their families overseas. I guess they simply don’t want to see it. And BTW: I love children, don’t get me wrong. But we are doomed if we don’t see this elephant and take appropriate action. We will destroy this planet, or it will destroy us. Maybe the three ladies, the leaders I’ve mentioned above—who share three children between them, and also share some of the lowest rates of deaths due to the pandemic in their countries—would see it. Would understand it. And would do something about it.

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Chanukah in the Kibbutz


To end the year and the decade on a positive note, here are my recollections of how beautiful, how meaningful, how special celebrating Chanukah was in the kibbutz when I was growing up. As a ten-year-old kid, let’s say, we classmates we’ll be very excited all day ahead of lighting the first candle of the menorah. We’ll get ready for it in our class, which—you may or may not know—was at the common house where we all lived together. We did not live with our parents, but in our house where we studied, played, ate, and slept. On that day we would decorate the classroom with our holiday ‘artworks,’ and of course will study the story of the Maccabees, their heroic revolt against the Syrian-Greco army, the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple, and the miracle of the oil that lit the menorah for eight straight days.

Later that afternoon all the kibbutz schoolkids will get together in one large hall, where we will sing all the Chanukah songs, light menorahs with the first candle, play games and eat latkes. The big deal would be that we actually would cook the latkes ourselves. Following that, we will walk to our parents’ home, which was called a ‘room,’ where we again would light the menorah, turn off the lights and sing the songs. We will wait anxiously, because along the main dirt-road of the kibbutz a tractor will pass with a cart, and volunteers will deliver carefully counted sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) to each home. We’ll devour them, as they were a real ‘expensive’ treat. We’ll then play the dreidel some, and leave our homes to a main gathering place. From there we will walk with flaming torches leading the way to the big swimming pool on the slope of the mountain. It was Mount Gilboa, the Biblical Mount where Saul and his sons fought the Philistines and where they died.

In later years, the flaming torch procession would include especially made water lanterns kids and adults created, with bright colors cellophane paper surrounding a lit candle. Upon arriving at the swimming pool these torches would be placed in the water, and float there majestically during the ceremony. There will be a choir singing, and readings about the glory of the Maccabees. Coincidingly, signs and a large menorah would be lit up on the mountain. I was lucky once to be on the mountain, in the dark and cold, waiting anxiously to put fire to one of these signs. Oh boy, it was the most beautiful sight: the fire and light, up on the dark mountain.

Following this ceremony we will go down to the bottom of the kibbutz, where the main asphalt road passed. By that time, eight o’clock already, there will be a torch race competition, involving runners from other kibbutzim and from different age groups. It will start somewhere far from the kibbutz, and runners will race along the road carrying a lit, fiery torch. The whole kibbutz will wait anxiously to see who will arrive first, carrying the torch. Obviously, if he would arrive and the torch is not lit, then it’s not a win. But again, it was a glorious sight waiting for runners to appear carrying the torches, as I myself did once or twice.

We will then go up to the outside basketball court, where the people of the kibbutz would gather with their kids. There will be all kinds of games and races involving the adults and kids. Looking back now, I believe our parents brought those type of games from Europe. We will jump inside empty potato sacks, for instance; men would carry children on their shoulders and will race from one end of the court to the other. Games like that, involving food too, were fun galore.

At this point there will be an announcement, probably some singing, to close the first day of Chanukah. Schoolkids will disperse to their houses, with or without their parents, depend on age. The parents might go home, or might go down to the common dining room for an adult only party. We kids could hardly sleep, of course, following all the fun we had in this long day of celebration, and the good food we ate.

The next day, whether it would be a regular school day or a holiday vacation, we kids will have the greatest pleasure of all. As I said in the beginning, I was a ten-year-old kid. And so, together with my friends we’ll go down to a bomb-shelter, located not far from our building. By that time we were already able to snatch away quite a number of Chanukah candles, and some matches too. We will light the candles and will collect the colorful burning wax in the palm of our hands. It was a test of bravery, of resisting pain. The trick was to see who could be the toughest of us boys, and be able to collect the most candlewax in hand and knead it into the biggest, most colorful ball of wax. We will hang on to these wax balls, for games and decoration, long after the holiday was already over.

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