My friend Baruch and I wended our way up into the northern Galilee in Israel, up into the mountains. Just a few kilometers from the Blue Line – the UN determined border between Israel—we drove past an Israeli Army outpost and its patrols dressed in their heavy uniforms in all that heat. The day hovered at 45 degrees Centigrade.
But as we drove higher, a brisk wind began to blow—hot but at least the air was moving. We had come to visit Baruch’s brother-in-law, Chananiya, who lived on the goat farm he built, structure by structure—a place surrounded by blooming olive trees and verbena, wild flowers and goats whose bleeting punctuated all the deep silence that surrounded us. Two Israeli flags that once flew over the clay structures painted in Moroccan blues and yellows were ripped to shreds.
The weather up there, like everything else about the place, was different, more intense than the rest of the country, saturated with heat and wind. The silence was so thick it felt like a blanket draped over the noise of the world. Way down below the few cars I could see wending their way through the verdant green of the north looked smaller than toys. Now and then I heard a goat bell tinkling, then more silence, then trickling water traveling through the single pipe that ran across the dusty earth from a nearby Moshav. When we arrived Chananiya was cooking—Moroccan fish stew drenched in tomatoes and tangy spice, sweet too, and rich, thick home-baked bread, fresh goat cheese, verbena tea. We three sat and ate and laughed. We laughed at the wind, laughed over the pleasure of this place and this quiet. Chananiya, the brother-in-law, told stories of just one year ago, almost exactly, the way his goat herding dogs, parents of the white Russian Samoyed that ambled around just outside the wide open windows, had dug holes in the earth to shelter their sensitive ears from the sound of exploding ketushas.
Heaven or hell, I thought. Countries at war are both, and I said so, out loud, trying to imagine my own dogs back home, in Los Angeles, digging holes to protect themselves from rockets.
“It’s a state of mind,” Chananiya said. “And what alters things are the number of bombs exploding.”
We three laughed some more and ate our stew, but I kept thinking about living there, poised on the lip of danger, within touching distance from those who wish to see every Israeli—no, every Jew and every other so-called infidel, dead. That is to live minute to minute. That is the only choice. I saw that choice in Chananiya‘s smile. The fish was tender, the air sweet, the olives ripe, the goat cheese delicious.
“The danger makes each minute sweeter,” Chananiya said.
Perhaps, I thought. Perhaps that’s how sky divers feel, and crocodile wrestlers, and prisoners of war, like my dad.
“This may all be over in one moment,” Chananiya said. “The best thing to do is to savor the taste.”
Read more from Amy Friedman, Desperado’s Wife: A Memoir.
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