Elah Valley, Israel — Driving down the winding blacktop to the nearby kibbutz in my 23-year-old jeep dubbed “General Lee,” I’m in search of meat. My son’s coming home for Independence Day and he requires meat. A shepherd, he dreams of lamb but on this day he’ll settle for pork chops. I pass the old ruins of a couple of Palestinians villages, emptied in 1948 and bulldozed years later, and soon pull to a stop at the small grocery in this commune of Kibbutz Beit Nir amid these gently rolling hills off the Elah Valley in central Israel.
I stock up on pork chops, bacon and shrimp and dump it on the counter.
“Where’re you from?” the attractive cashier asks, smiling at me with her blue eyes.
“Srigim, the moshav down the road,” I say.
“No. Before. Where are you from before?” she asks, as if everyone out here has a secret, other life.
I tell her I’m from Mississippi, before, because I’m buying shrimp and thinking about the cheap crustaceans I used to get down at the port in Ocean Springs, that coastal hideaway where my father was once chief of police.
“I’m from Livorno, Italy. It’s in Tuscano not far from Pisa, on the coast. I love the shrimp and we used to make a great foccacia smothered in seafood,” she says, and tells me how the boys from her town hated the rival football team from Pisa and whenever there was a match they’d cover a coffin with their team flag and march over to the stadium there for the game to taunt them.
I told her I had to get my frozen shrimp back soon because I had work to do yet in my olive grove. She told me her husband, Jim, didn’t like shrimp.
“Jim’s from Scotland,” she says apologetically.
“Not Jim, the fellow with the gingy beard who runs the olive mill?”
“That’s him,” she says, and we laugh and enjoy the Zionist moment.
It epitomized for me the ingathering of Jews from such eclectic backgrounds, redeeming the Promised Land, buying pork chops and shrimp and other treif, rushing to get in the shopping and chores before Independence Day out here in the rural hinterland.
As we celebrate Israel’s 64th anniversary of its independence I ponder the myth of the motherland and contemporary rootedness. Heading home the radio is tuned to FM88 out of hip Tel Aviv, playing Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles,” followed by The High Windows’s “Ezekiel,” a song about that epileptic prophet:
He dreamed he was flying on a wheel He was hugging and stroking two angels That prophet Ezekiel sure did know how to have a good time
Sacrilege got it banned for years on Israel Radio in the good old days of the 1960s, when it was spunky Israel defending itself against Arab states vying to drive the Jews into the sea. As we celebrate the fulfillment of Zionism this week the hills will be filled with picnickers who’ll ignore the periodic mounds of rubble in the Jewish National Fund forests or grey stones poking out of the weeds in pasture lands. Perhaps they will, like my 16-year-old daughter, take a dip in one of the cool wells that survived. They represent some of the 46 Palestinian villages that once existed in this general area of Lachish and Adullam.