Literally meaning on the fire, Al-Ha-Ash(barbeque) is more or less the national event on Independence Day. The special thing about the Israeli Independence Day is that they commemorate Memorial Day the day before. So appropriately honoring the lives precedes the celebration of the sacrifices made for the nation. Ready for the celebratory aspect after days of poignant, but melancholy ceremonies, Reut picked me up midmorning with her sister in tow. We drove from Na’an to a little park near Beit Shemesh in the middle of a vineyard. Gaping all the way up the mountainside, I was in awe of the amount of families celebrating in this little slice of paradise. Our spot was overlooking a valley with rows of grape trees between two towering mountains full of lush greenery. We parked next to the lively game of volleyball and I quickly noticed in Israel, volleyball is a male phenomenon. I asked Reut why no girls play and she responded- “girls don’t know how. They kind of teach us in school, but girls here don’t play.” (leave it to me- later that day I was the only girl playing)The day was one of total relaxation and enjoying family. Spreading out big blankets and surrounding several picnic tables, we indulged in an Israeli breakfast followed by great stories, a game of volleyball with a neighboring family and, of course, the preparation for the big lunch. A family that we were camping with were the owners of all the vineyards, and, knowing the area well, brought with them their ATV and an off road jeep. For a good hour, we bumped up and down along the pot-marked holes of the mountainside roads. At some places only 4 feet wide, maneuvering far enough away from an edge with a drop straight down to the valley left my heart racing. On the ATV we sped down the mountain, breathing in air that only exists in places like this. Drooping trees, fields of blooming flowers and vineyards covered the mountain like a watercolor painting. Blending together seamlessly, the nature we were surrounded by reminded me of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Surreal, like the trees were dancing, the flowers were bending to whisper replies-we sped by, tickled by the prospect of escaping reality, even only for a moment.
Returning for lunch, the table was exploding with all kinds of salads, and the men cooked different types of meat for at least 2 hours. I tried hearts for the first time. A bit apprehensive when it was offered to me, I slowly bit into the heart of the chicken- and guess what? It tasted like chicken! Delicious actually. Listening to music, hearing stories of the families’ travels and learning some new Hebrew words was how I spent my Independence Day. One of the best things about spending time with my Israeli friends- there is never English. Every once in a while, if I look really lost, I’ll get a quick translation, but generally, everything is in Hebrew. Israeli Independence Day It is similar to our Fourth of July, minus the watermelon. We even roasted marshmallows. Though, believe it or not, Israeli’s have never had s’mores. In Italy it was the same. We just ate roasted mellows. Clearly missing out, I informed them of the necessity of adding the chocolate and cracker. Probably changed their lives. On the drive home, we noticed the sky had a covering of smog as far as we could see. The weather that day was beautiful, but by the end it was a fully covered in smog- from the barbeques alone! Apparently, every Israeli family barbeques today. I don’t think we saw one stretch of shady space that wasn’t occupied by a celebrating family. Well, Yom Hatsmaut Sameach (Happy Independence Day!)