Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gandolf Worked Hard to Always Be With The Family

Gandolf was a glutton for attention and jealous that Sussi and the cats were allowed in the house and he was not. He did everything he could to try and find a way to get in. When the kids would go out to feed him and play with him, when Sinai and I would go out to be with him, he was always right behind us as we opened the glass doors to come back into the house. A few times he actually succeeded and there we were, with a two and a half year old donkey standing in our living room / dining room. It made us realize how very big he was.

Then one of us got the bright idea to pull the tress doors shut so we could have air and light, but not have to worry he would come through the screens. Well that was almost as smart. Gandolf finally solved the problem of not being included in the family gatherings INSIDE the house by trying to poke his head through the plastic tressim ... and broke enough of them in the process to be able to get his head in, like a window.

Sussi generally kept him company at these times. There are no words describe our reaction the day he did this, but suffice to say it was a memorable experience. Posted by Picasa

A Team Effort for Lag B'Omer 2006

Gandolf schlepped, Sinai and Avi led, and Sussie came along while they all took the spruce branches down to the wadi for the evening's festive bonfire.......... Posted by Picasa

Amazing Graze

Zalmy riding Gandolf, with Goldy, Estee and Sussi along for company. They used to go out to the wadi after school every afternoon so Gandolf could get a little grazing in .......... Posted by Picasa

Goodbye Gandolf

Gandolf is gone.

His mitzvot, however, will not be forgotten.

He came to us on Israel Independence Day, and on Lag B'Omer he schlepped the spruce tree branches for our Lag B'Omer bonfire down to the desert for us.

Two days later, when I took him to the wadi for a bite to eat (he loves to graze), the sun sank beneath the hills and the breeze became a wind. I knew it was time to go home and walked up to Gandolf, reaching for his lead rope. But he wasn't ready to leave yet, and so he moved away from me. The more I followed, the more he led.

And then he began to make a break for it, and headed down the rocky slope.

I could not keep up, and he headed toward the river bed where green shrubs still grow, far below the ridge where we usually sit and watch the hills. It was treacherous going and when I realized I could not get down there to catch him, I began to climb back up in the fast-fading light.

It was no good and I slipped and fell halfway down the hill, bouncing on sharp flint outcrops along the way. It hurt and I realized I somehow had to find a way back. I was foolishly alone and had forgotten my cell phone. Sussie was already heading down toward Gandolf, pacing him and trying to herd him back home. It didn't work and they stayed together for a while....

I climbed slowly, painfully up the slope and made it back home, panting and upset. Sussie had stayed in the wadi and I told my husband and daughter what had happened. By the time they got me into bed and themselves back down to the wadi, it was dark and Gandolf was gone.

Sussie came home an hour later, without him.

Goldy and I got up early the next morning to search the wadi, looking for him. We didn't find him.

So I know he is gone. We will miss him. I hope he finds his way back home to his Bedouin family and avoids the people who beat him up. I hope he finds food and water. I hope he survives.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Before Sinai got home, we had all decided to call him Jonny (except for Zalmy who wanted to call him Black Socks). All, meaning me and Lily and Goldy. But then Sinai came home and after the shock wore off, he wanted to call him Silver, from the Lone Ranger series. I said no. He didn't look like a Silver, "Hi Ho!" notwithstanding. Then Sinai wanted to call him "Trigger" (I am sure you are getting the drift..... unless you are too young, in which case -- it is from an old TV series whose star was called "Roy Rogers"). I didn't like that one either. Then we thought about Pokey. Then Pookie. And then at last.... Poogy. But he has not remained Poogy. After two Shabbat dinners, the new name is Gandolf. Dontcha just love 'im? Posted by Picasa
You know, some days are just more special than others.

Take Israel Independence Day, for example. Fireworks begin the evening before, and it just snowballs from there – even here in the Negev.

Our family went with our friends, the Mouallems (you know, Becky’s “parents”) to a barbecue picnic at the nearby reservoir just outside the Yattir forest, a ways up the road from Tel Arad.

It was wonderful. There was a moonwalk for the kids on the other side of the “lake”, music (which of course made no sense, it being sefira, the period in which the Jews made their way from Egypt to the Holy Land – we don’t listen to music)…

And later we went to visit Avi’s friend Avshalom, who lives in an abandoned transit camp called Machane Yattir, where he grew up. He has about an acre of land, two dozen chickens, half a dozen ducks and geese, a dog, several cats, a handful of goats and some sheep. He is an artist, of course. He works in wood.
This is the Arad reservoir in the area of the Yattir forest, on the edge of the south Hebron Hills. Isn't it beautiful? It was not as full as it needed to be, because there was much less rain than usual this year in the south, unfortunately....... still, every little bit helps. Posted by Picasa
Beautiful spot for a picnic, isn't it? You wouldn't believe how many people turned out for it. Over in the distance there across the "lake" you can see the moonwalk thingie they set up. There was a horse and carriage ride also -- 10 shekels per person, which is the equivalent of $2.50. Not bad for once around the block.... US prices at Israeli salaries........... yeah right. Now my kids will have their own "pony" rides, for free! Posted by Picasa
But the highlight of the day came later.

Lily and I took my two little ones (Zalmy and Goldy) and our two dogs, down to the wadi a few doors away from our house. The shadows in the hollows of the hills were a dusky rose and the dogs frolicked while we enjoyed the cool breeze.

And then our dog Sussie went nuts.

She barked and didn’t stop staring at something down at the bottom of the ridge we were standing on, the place my kids call “The Table”. And suddenly Goldy said, “Look! There’s a donkey down there!”

And indeed there was, a small white donkey slowing picking its way carefully between the stones, looking tired and weak. It appeared he had not had anything to drink or eat in quite a while.

I sent our reconnaissance team down to have a look, of course. Goldy and Zalmy (ages 9 amd 8 respectively) move much faster than I do these days, and are more agile.

The dogs followed, barking like crazy, clearly disturbed.

When they reached the little donkey, the dogs circled around, not quite daring to get any closer (they are such cowards). Goldy looked up and called, “He is quiet. Should I see if he lets me pet him?”

By now, Lily was having her doubts about this whole thing. “Are you crazy?” she demanded when I nodded my approval. “What if it bites her?” But I know Goldy. She is pretty smart about things like this. She wouldn’t touch that thing if it seemed even a little dangerous. At least, I don’t think she would.

Meanwhile, she had made friends and was petting it, and so was Zalmy. “What should we do now?” she called up to me. And that was when it dawned on me that we could not just abandon this donkey. After all, it was homeless and just as clearly too little to survive on its own.

Lily looked at me sternly. “You are NOT thinking to bring it home with you, are you???” She knows me. “No no,” I reassured her. “I am just going to go down and check out the situation.” I took Sussie’s leash with me and handed my cellphone to Lily. She slowly shook her head.

Down the rocky slope I climbed, slipping once but making a grand recovery. I had to trot the last few steps – you know the ones at the bottom of a hill when it’s just a little too steep…?

Amidst hysterical barking, I went up to the little donkey and petted his head. He was very quiet. Too quiet, it seemed to me. I sighed, and looped the leash around his neck, made the Bedouin sound for “let’s go!” and led him back around the hill and up the ridge. He instinctively found a tiny trail I had not even noticed, which made the hike a little easier. By the time we reached the top, Lily was doubled over, laughing her head off.

“What are you going to do with him?” she gasped, trying to control the laughter. “I don’t know,” I muttered. “I guess I’ll figure it out when we get home.” And we walked home together, Lily, the dogs, the kids, the donkey and I.

I brought him into the backyard and tied him up to a tree. Lily and I regarded him and then each other. “Now what?” she said.

I shrugged. “Guess I’d better call Abdullah, “I said. “He knows about these things.” I didn’t dare to tell Younis, of course. Or his son Mazen, either. But Abdullah has a better sense of humor and is more tolerant. The conversation was memorable.

“Hello, Abdullah?”

“Hello neshama! How are you?”

“Um, I’m okay…………… but we have a little situation here and I need your help. You’re the only one I know who will know what to do.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a donkey.”

Silence. And then, “Say that again? I didn’t quite hear you.”

“We have a donkey,” I repeated. “It’s in our backyard. We found it in the wadi and it came home with us. It was too little to just leave him there and there was no one around. I was afraid he would die.”

Disbelief rang in his voice. “You are telling me you have brought a donkey home from the wadi?”

“Yes,” I confirmed, a little apprehensively.

“But Hana,” I could hear him trying to keep his voice steady, “it might belong to a Bedouin there, one of the people in the tents. You can’t just take someone’s donkey like that!”

I knew he was right, but I had looked around A LOT and I know that the Bedouin never abandon animals – or lose them, for that matter – just like that. Clearly, this one had been excommunicated. There had been no one around, human or otherwise. Not even a dog, let alone a camel.

“It’s not,” I said flatly. “It was alone and it would have died.”

“Sweetheart,” he tried to reason with me, “What do you think you are going to do with a donkey at your house? Your neighbors will kill you. Do you know how much noise a donkey makes? The smell? The amount of feces he will leave, all around your yard? And he will tear up your beautiful garden and destroy your yard. He will eat your trees. There will be nothing left of all your hard work there.”

I stubbornly replied, “My neighbors have a dozen chickens, four ducks, a couple of geese, two dogs and three cats,” I said with some asperity. “They wouldn’t DREAM of saying anything to me. And their next door neighbor has two runty Chihuahuas that yap all night along, and a ferret to boot. And the entire neighborhood has a chorus of dogs that bark their heads off all night. It would be a BIG chutzpah for any of them to say anything!”

“Where is Sinai?” he inquired gently. I could tell he was going to offer some male support to my husband who was obviously saddled with a crazy wife.

“He is not here yet.”

“Aha. I see,” he said.

“He’s hungry, Abdullah. What should I feed him?” I had no idea what donkeys eat, of course. But I knew he did need to eat.

Abdullah agreed. “Give him a little bread,” he instructed, “and some water.” His voice became stern. “And then call the police.”

“The police?” I was incredulous. “Why the police? He didn’t commit a crime!”

“They have a special unit for animals like donkeys and livestock,” he explained. “They will come and take him away.”

“No!!! I was horrified. “They will kill him!”

“No they won’t,” he said. “They will have a vet look at him, they will feed him and take care of him and then find a Bedouin family to give him to. They know a lot of them, and there are many who could use such an animal.”

“Isn’t there someone in the village who might want him?” I asked plaintively.

“We have enough asses in the village, of both genders,” he returned. “No way."

“Okay. You’re sure they won’t kill him?” I asked again.

“I’m sure,” he replied. “And you call me as soon as you hang up from them.” I think he wanted to make sure I actually did call them.

So I did. The conversation did not go well.


“Yes, what is the emergency please?”

“There is a donkey in my yard.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“A donkey.”

“What about a donkey?”

“It’s in my yard.”

“I see. And how did it get into your yard?”

Here I was on shaky ground. I could not tell them, according to Abdullah, that I had brought it home from the wadi. So he said to tell them it wandered into my yard. And I did, but the policewoman did not believe me.

“How did it wander into your yard?”

I could tell she was not taking this seriously, and time was short. Soon my husband would be home.

“It just did. And now it is here. And I don’t know how to take care of a donkey. I have never had a donkey before.”

“I see,” she said. She switched to English, thinking perhaps I did not understand this situation or that maybe she didn’t understand my Hebrew. I could hear another cop in the background, laughing.

“Where is the donkey now?”

“It is in my backyard.”

“Your backyard?” It was clear to me that she was repeating my answers for the enjoyment of her audience. It must have been a slow night at the precinct.

“Yes.” I also switched to English. “I mean, after all, I can’t have a donkey in my front yard, can I?” I said reasonably. “It wouldn’t be nice. What would the neighbors say? Donkeys do not belong in front yards. I put him in the back.”

“So he is not in the front now?”


“I see. Well, don’t worry, we will send someone over. What is your name?”

I gave my first name only, my address and my cell phone number. She repeated the information carefully, and assured me that someone was on the way. And we waited, fully believing that redemption was at hand.

An hour later, reality set in. I guess the cop thought I had been celebrating the holiday a little too enthusiastically. Just then, Sinai and Avi and Lily’s daughter Lior and my older daughter Esty (age 11) arrived. Lily left, still chuckling.
We have a little fishpond -- a wannabe, anyway -- that seems to fascinate the animals. Maybe it is because it is right behind the olive tree, I don't know.... Even Gandolf liked it. Posted by Picasa
This is my husband, who has a lot of patience and who is used to dealing with unusual circumstances. He likes Gandolf now ... I think! Posted by Picasa

Poogy is Gandolf

And then Sinai came through the back door to the patio where we all stood.

His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He looked from me to Poogy (now Gandolf) and back to me and then to Gandolf again, stunned.

“Ann,” he whispered, “who is that? And what is it doing here?” I could tell that he was having trouble taking it all in. It took about an hour, in fact, before he did.

But by that time, Gandolf had won his heart. He threw up his hands. “Ann,” he said with a deliberate attempt at calmness, “we have a donkey in our backyard.”

I was managing things better by then, feeding Gandolf bits of stale bread I had been saving to make breadcrumbs. “Yes,” I said with aplomb, “we do.”

The discussion lasted into the night. I went to bed at about 1:00 pm, with Sinai still at the computer, trying to put some sense back in his world. Gandolf stood outside, his face at the glass of our French doors, gazing longingly into the house. Sussie lay facing him, grimly determined that her turf would remain hers.

The cats ignored them both.

At 2:30 am, a neighbor’s cat found its way in through one of the windows…. A hurricane ensued that involved the dog fiercely chasing the cat, the cat literally climbing the wall till it hit the ceiling, according to my amazed husband, and then jumping out the window.

The dog streaked out the back door when Sinai opened it. Sussi barked viciously at Gandolf, although she stayed out of reach anyway (she really is a coward) and Poogy, awakened like that, was frightened and began to bray – LOUDLY – into the night. Sinai found himself shushing the donkey and trying to coax the dog into the house. She was having none of it, however, and ran to the middle of the street, barking.

At that point, it occurred to my husband that there was no reason he should be suffering this alone. And he went and woke me up. Zalmy, of course, had already woken up when the donkey started yelling.

So there we were. Sinai hid behind the door so the dog would not see him (she wouldn’t come into the house if she did, you see) and I went out into the night, with Zalmy, in my nightgown and into the street to sweet-talk Sussie into coming back inside. After lying on the street regarding me suspiciously for 15 minutes, she finally acquiesced. The three of us returned home, to sleep the precious few hours remaining to the night.

We won’t discuss the veterinarian’s reaction when I showed up in his office in the morning to ask him how to take care of a donkey. He knows us. And soon he will know Gandolf. His “big animal” expert will be here tomorrow. And in the meantime ………. Well, the man at the nursery said that donkey poop is worth a lot and people come to his place to BUY it. It will make my garden grow, he said. Of course, if Gandolf EATS my garden, at least he will be replenishing the nutrients to make it grow back again.

And my kids will have the pony rides they always wanted, as many as they want, for free – sort of. Smell and sound notwithstanding…….

Monday, January 30, 2006

My son is surrounded by Jewish mothers on the Big Green 0730 Number One Local Morning Bus in Arad. They keep an eye on him and the other kids when I am not on the bus....... Left to Right are: Rachel, Zalmy and Tzipi. And thereby hangs a tale....... Posted by Picasa

Trudging up the hill to the corner, turn left (if there is time) and walk down the hill to the bus stop. If there is no time, Coby or Shlomie will stop at the corner to pick everyone up. We are so lucky to be in Arad....... Posted by Picasa

Big Green. Meet the Number One 0730 Egged Bus in Arad. That guy stepping into the picture is my husband. Coby is in the driver's seat. He very kindly pulled the bus over (blocking traffic, of course, in the finest Egged tradition) so that I could take this picture.  Posted by Picasa

Shlomie. He is REALLY the top gun in the driver's seat. He and Coby have got it covered. If Shlomie is there, everything is under control --- even our kids. Posted by Picasa

Coby. Top gun in the driver's seat ---- together with Shloime, the other top gun. He's the MAN! Posted by Picasa

Alicia is sitting with our daughter Goldy. She is VERY patient with Goldy. Posted by Picasa

We all actually made it to the bus this time! My youngest, Zalmy is sitting next to my husband Sinai. Our daughter Estee is in front of them, wondering why I am taking these pictures... Posted by Picasa

The Number One

The morning rush for the bus is a special experience on the Number 1 Line in Arad. It sets out at 7:30 am and is not listed on the regular bus schedule. You have to really hunt for it. It’s listed under “1-א”.

The 1-א runs only twice a day, actually, and the afternoon route is totally different. Unless you are a kid, it is impossible to understand. I have missed that bus while standing in the center of town at least half a dozen times because I couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was.

Like today, for example. I got lucky because the driver saw me sitting at the wrong stop as he passed by on the way to the starting point for the route. He waggled his finger at me to let me know that I had blown it again, and then pulled over to let me on anyway. And it wasn't even one of the morning drivers.

“This is NOT the right stop at this hour,” he scolded me.
“Well, where is it then?” I threw back at him, exasperated.
“Where your kids are standing,” he said, as if I should know where that is. “Next to the bakery across from that alley that leads to the mall, the one near the town square,” he elaborated, seeing my blank look. He shook his head. Clearly convinced that I should know better by now. “But only at 1:50 pm,” he added.

I would never have known, of course. I begin now to understand my small son’s frustration with trying to catch the bus to come home from yeshiva. It’s like trying to catch a mink in a rainstorm while it’s swimming in oil.

But that’s not what this story is about.

We are talking here about the Morning Bus, the one that my kids too often “almost miss”, the one with drivers who will someday earn the Medal of Honor.

The “Big Green” bus roars its way down the hill toward our stop approximately seven minutes after it leaves its starting point, the Yefeh Nof Hotel. My kids time their wake-up, breakfast and leaving the house in precise milliseconds in order to make the bus without having to wait at the bus stop. I know this makes no sense, but this is an ADHD household, where the time spent getting from “here” to “there” is never taken into account. “Between times” do not exist for the ADHD person, be he child or adult. Trust me.

Anyway, the bus winds through our neighborhood, picking up the early commuters, driven on alternate days by two Arad natives, Shlomie and Coby. Both are the most friendly, tolerant and patient bus drivers I have ever seen. I know this first-hand, having occasion to test that patience more mornings than I care to remember.

The first time we “almost missed” it, we actually thought the driver wouldn’t wait for us. Laughable thought, I know, but there it is. Newbies to the Number One always think this way, coming from cruel cities where bus drivers don’t know and don’t care.

Our entire bus knows better, of course. Both Coby and Shlomie now stop at our corner and look down the block to see if we are straggling up the hill, late again. If we are, they wait. So does everyone else.

One of the regulars, Tzipi used to get very irritable. She scolded my kids at least twice a week for being late to the stop. “But she lives between two stops,” my kids complained. “She can always catch the bus at the second one if she is late for the first,” she said. Somehow my kids consider it an inalienable right to be late for the bus and still expect it to be there.

“What can you do?” shrugged Coby the first time it happened. The next time, Shlomie just sighed and then chuckled. “Kids,” he said philosophically in the way that only Israelis have. The rest of the riders nodded. They’re Israelis too.

Today they all just laugh when they see us struggling toward the bus. I am not sure this is better. Even Tzipi has come to pity me as I race up the hill toward the corner of our street, (forget making it around the corner to the bus stop), urging my kids to keep moving. My harried, bedraggled look as I drag myself up the stairs to my seat, panting like a cat in labor, is too much even for her tough Israeli attitude to chide.

Every rider has their own story. We’re a little community. When one is missing, everyone else wonders why – and asks the driver. Today Tzipi didn’t come. So we asked Coby where she was ----- as if he could possibly know. It felt like a piece was missing.

Tzipi has been a metapelet and ganenet (babysitter and nursery school teacher) for decades. Red-haired Rachel (who has to be over 50) fought valiantly with the Egged office over the lack of a Friday 7:30 am bus, which meant my kids were late to school every week. She was magnificent. (No, it didn’t change anything. You need the Ministry of Transporation to harass national Egged to do that.)

Alicia, a Black Hebrew and a native-born Israeli, is also a regular. She is a member of the large community from Chicago that settled in Arad several decades ago, and is bilingual. Alicia is used to dealing with kids and lateness; she is a dental assistant and X-ray technician in the local clinic.

There are, of course, others. Rachel’s daughter and grandson used to come and Rachel would take the baby while her daughter caught the #386 to Beersheva with the rest of the commuters. She moved recently, partly because she couldn’t take the suspense of wondering if she would make it to the #386 every day.

It’s always a race to catch it, in truth, since the routes intersect at only one point, literally within two minutes of each other. Getting us to the stop on time is an art form which Coby and Shlomi have both mastered. We do not have a good day when there is a substitute driver.

I am sure that Rachel’s daughter left Arad because of the substitute driver. He is unfamiliar with the route (read: chooses not to learn it) and drives like a snail. Worst of all, he absolutely refuses to vary the route to make the shortcut, even when there are no other riders left. That is not in keeping with Arad etiquette. And he doesn't smile. The ultimate transgression.

Even the drivers who take the evening run back from Beersheva know how to behave better than that. (After 7:00 pm, the Beersheva-Arad bus makes the rounds of the entire town, because the local lines quit at 5:30 pm – another silly Egged quirk in Arad).The evening route trundles through some neighborhoods but doesn’t even enter others, stopping instead at the intersection where the offending neighborhood begins.

There are ways to deal with this, however, as any Aradian knows.

“Anyone getting off in Neorim?” calls out the driver when we reach Arad.
“Nope,” answers one of the riders after polling the others.
Scratch that neighborhood, on to the next.

“Maof?” Silence.
“Check and see if anyone needs Maof,” the driver quietly requests.
I go down the aisle, waking up sleepers and asking the rest: “Nu? Maof?”
Heads shake negative. I return to my seat behind the driver.
“No one for Maof.”
Scratch that one too.

If it’s a quick ride, sometimes you can talk the driver into “adjusting” the route to enter the excluded neighborhood. Yeah, okay, it’s breaking the rules, but...

Aradians gotta stick together, after all.