The rhythm of life in Israel has its own way of beating.If you weren’t living in Gaza, last week began in a promising manner in Israel. Despite Operation Days of Penitence – which was being conducted by the IDF to combat the firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza into Sderot in the south of the country – most of the country was on vacation for the Succot school holiday.
The weather was ideal, the mood cautious but relaxed, and the country was on the move – traveling to the Galilee, the Golan, Eilat, and the coast in pursuit of normalcy.
Stretched out on the dock of the Dolphin Reef beach just south of Eilat, and north of the Egyptian resort of Taba just over the border in Sinai, I couldn’t have imagined a more idyllic environment: dolphins swimming right up to me doing pirouettes and flips in exchange for applause, swimming with my family amid schools of brightly striped fish, and lolling in the bohemian environs of the palm tree-lined beach.
But it wasn’t just all lackadaisical fun in the sun. Staying at Kibbutz Ketura, a half hour north of Eilat, I was given a guided tour of the kibbutz owned and run startup Algatechnologies.
They’ve developed a fascinating and unique process which extracts from algae the carotenoid Astaxanthin, which has in the past been manufactured mainly for feeding to farmed salmon to enhance their color. Recent studies have suggested that astaxanthin is a more powerful antioxidant than the vitamins C and E, and even other carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene, so Algatechnologies ship off the extracted raw red algae to the United States where it’s made into pills and sold to health enthusiasts in health food stores around the country. And you thought kibbutzim were still raising cows and growing oranges.
The final vacation day on Wednesday brought with it the news that two Israeli scientists had won the Nobel Peace Prize for chemistry. Professors Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, from the Technion-Israel Institute had brought home the scientific ‘gold’ only a couple months after Gal Friedman brought home Israel’s first Gold medal in the Olympics, and only a week after Israel’s Paralympic team brought home 13 medals at the Athens Paralympics.
But there’s something in the Israeli experience that doesn’t allow for too much celebrating, as only twenty four hours later the achievements of the country’s best and brightest had to be stored away for future contemplation.
Just two miles away from where the Eilat dolphins were still jumping and flipping, terror struck the Hilton Taba killing over 30 people including 12 Israelis. Israeli rescue units do what they do best – taking over the rescue operation from the much less-experienced Egyptians.
“I took command and that’s it,” Eilat fire company commander Danny Harari told Haaretz. “I didn’t ask questions. No Egyptian official, great or small, approached me. I went in to save people, together with my firefighters, who literally risked their lives to do it.”
It’s the Israeli way, and sadly, we know how to do it all too well.
The terror attack in Taba occurred on Thursday night at the same moment I was in downtown Jerusalem with a friend who was visiting from a small community in the Galilee. As we approached the bustling Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall – alive with music, diners and shoppers – he asked me if I was ever wary of a possible attack in such optimal settings.
After pondering for a moment, I decided not to enter the revelry there, and we instead retreated to a more out of the way Irish pub for an on-tap Guiness. We didn’t find out about the attack until later, but both of us commented later how eerie it was that we were contemplating it just as it happened.
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Israelis celebrated Simchat Torah by dancing wildly outside of synagogues throughout the country. And at sundown Thursday night, many people began to dismantle their succot – their temporary dwellings erected for the festival. The rhythm of life in Israel has its own way of beating, and attacks against its people have entered into that rhythm.
There’s a pivotal scene in the Ron Howard film Parenthood in which Steve Martin figures out that life is like riding a roller coaster with all the ups and downs which come with it – the trick is to ride out the bumps and enjoy the thrills.
The Israeli roller coaster we’re on goes to every extreme imaginable, and at twice the pace as anywhere else.