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, December 20, 2007

Dead Turkey, Frozen in the Time

THIS is what should have been taking place in my oven on the last Friday in November. THIS is what a proper turkey should be, and wasn't. We had no Thanksgiving this year.

I have instead a dead, divided turkey in my freezer. It has been there since the fourth week in November, and today is December 20.

It arrived as promised by Shimmin the Kfar Chabad turkey guy, via Eli Bardugo the mitzvah man who arranges the meat delivery every month.

Eli delivered it personally to my door, proudly set the special case on my table and stood there waiting expectantly. "It is just as you ordered, a 9-kilo turkey," he announced.

"And since I spent so long and worked so hard on this project," he grinned, "I just have to see the turkey we have all been fighting for."

Assured that I have been provided with a whole turkey, I am nonetheless apprehensive as I examine the case. It is flat and long – nothing there to indicate the beautiful round bird that I have been told would arrive.

It was with a sense of doom that I cut the cords binding the box and slowly lifted the cover.


It looked like a coffin, with the victim stretched out lengthwise, frozen solid, and cut in half at the waist. Not even sewn with special thread, and I am screaming again. Eli tries his best to calm me down, pointing out that it is indeed a whole turkey, as promised. "Look," he said reasonably," the spine has not been touched."

He was right of course. This victim of the Israeli Chabad-Lubavitcher poultry processing system had been humiliated in its final form, with a fragile bare backbone connecting the top and the bottom.

I knew it was just not meant to be, but I was enraged all the same. Shimmin the Schochet had broken his promise to me and sneaked this travesty of a turkey into the box and sent it to Arad without even a warning.

Again I am screaming. At this point Eli Bardugo is distraught himself, because I am hysterical and my husband is in New York – he has no logical male here to back him up, and it is already almost 9:00 p.m.

He is tired, bewildered, and again on the phone trying to straighten out the misunderstanding. Again, Shimmin the Schochet explains that the necessity of thoroughly koshering the turkey has precluded its eligibility for uncut status. I do not believe it, and I say so. If they can kasher whole chickens, I insist, there is no reason they can't kasher a turkey, which is bigger and therefore must be much easier to disembowel.

Eli offers to take it back, sensitive to my crushing disappointment and frustration with the entire system – but says he has nowhere to store the turkey. I in the meantime don't want to lay this burden at his doorstep; he has done whatever he could do, gladly and promptly, despite his lack of understand of the holiday. "I thought it was a gentile holiday," he said. "I don't understand why you as a Chossid are celebrating this thing, although I know there are others who do as well."

So I explain the concept and history of Thanksgiving, and my background growing up in New Haven, Connecticut.

I grudgingly agree to keep the turkey, for which I have paid more than $50. But I refuse to cook it.

Instead, I spend the next two hours denigrating Shimmin the Schochet and the entire system of Israeli schechting. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!" The mutters rise to a shout by the time an hour has past.

I empty the freezer, transferring the meat to a smaller one lent to us by Avi and Lili, and find a way to stuff the corpse into the big freezer, now transformed into a morgue.

"I am not touching that turkey," I inform the kids. "There will be no Thanksgiving this year."

All three of my little darlings are on the floor laughing their heads off. Gasping for breath, they repeat my litany as I wander around the house muttering "Stupid! Stupid! STUPID!!"

They try to convince me to cook it anyway. "Look Mommy, it really will taste just as good. I know you can't stuff it and make it that way you usually do, but we will still like it. Take it out of the freezer," my 13-year-old cajoles. "We will help you cook it."

No dice. So they bring out the heavy guns and call my second eldest daughter Coby, at boarding school in Migdal HaEmek some three to four hours away and tell her all the gory details.

After she gets the laughing under control, she too tries to command and then wheedle me into treating this turkey with culinary respect.

But I won't. It resembles a corpse delivered in a cardboard coffin. A body severed at the waist, right to the backbone. A little like the State of Israel once was and may be once again if the Palestinian Authority and the world has its way.

So it sat there, because I am the boss of the kitchen, and it sits there still. I will have nothing to do with it, and even my husband was unable budge me on this one when he returned from abroad.

Finally, he says he will cook it himself. I refuse to eat it. I will pay for it, I tell Bardugo, but I will not deal with it. They can do whatever they like.

Next year, I will know better. This year, I was STUPID, the shochet was STUPID and nebuch, Eli Bardugo was just uninformed – a situation which has since been rectified.

He has already begun the research needed to locate a proper turkey for our family. Bardugo is tenacious. He is The Man.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Raz and Adva's Duck in Better Days

The Mysterious Case of the Duck in the Night

What do you do when confronted first thing in the morning with a veritable snowstorm of fluffy white duck feathers sprinkled around the backyard?

My husband and I were stunned. And dismayed, because it was clear there had been violence in our peaceful little corner of the Negev in the night.

Within a short time we tracked down the source -- a dead duck lying pitifully in the parched brown earth of our backyard. Its feathers were matted with blood and dirt, its poor little legs were stretched out and stiff.

A strange sight, to be sure, but one made even weirder because it was without its head. This made no sense.

"It looks almost as if it were shechted (ritually slaughtered)," said my husband thoughtfully. "Look at how it's been gutted."

It did look a little like a split chicken with its feathers still on. We looked around for the head. It was nowhere to be found.

I looked long and hard at our dogs. Sussie, the older and gentler of the two, innocently returned my gaze. Brooklyn, on the other hand, was skulking guiltily among the drooping leaves hanging from the broken branch of our olive tree. She raised her eyes as she lay there, chin on the ground between her two front paws, trying to make herself inconspicuous.

"It doesn't make sense," I said aloud. "Even if she did murder this poor bird, there should be blood on her muzzle, no? Besides," I added with a rising sense of panic, "WHERE IS THE HEAD?"

We searched the backyard, we searched the front yard. We frisked the dogs, we asked the cats. We peered through the chain link fence that protects our backyard from the yawning ravine that meanders behind our house in the wadi below.

No head. "Even if Brooklyn ate it," commented my husband, "there should at least be a beak."

Finally we decided that maybe Brooklyn had found it in the wadi and brought it into the yard. I went down to the desert to investigate further, and on the way stopped off at Raz and Adva's house – the one next to the wadi, with the two dogs, a cat, three chickens, two roosters, a few chicks, and a duck.

"Did you lose a duck?" I asked Raz.

"Why, yes," he responded with a smile. "Did your dog get it?"

My jaw dropped. "I don't know. We think that might be….. Could it be? We didn't see a head…." Confused, my brain whirling with all the possibilities, I wasn't sure where to take the conversation. "We found it in our backyard." I felt bad.

"It might have been a sho'al," he said soothingly. Raz is a very peaceful person. He exudes serenity. He is about half my size, with beryl eyes and caramel dreadlocks down past his shoulders. His wife Adva is twice his size, equally friendly and could be his spiritual twin. Is, in fact. It's a perfect shidduch. Their new baby looks like them both.

"What is a sho'al?" I wondered if it was ferocious enough to rip the head off a duck.

"It is a foxe," said Raz in English. He had to repeat it a couple of times before I realized he meant "fox".

I was doubtful. "Do we have those here?" I had never seen one in our wadi. Dorbans (huge African porcupines), yes. Camels, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, snakes, scorpions…yes. Foxes?

Adva joined us. "Of course we have them," she said impatiently, "but it is also possible your dog got it. But don't worry," she added hastily, seeing my face fall, "it's okay, it really is." She looked sternly at Raz. "I told you not to leave the gate open," she scolded him. He appeared resigned, but with no remorse.

I offered to pay for the duck, or buy them a new one. It's not like a car, I know, but what else could I do? Their duck was now dead in the dust of my backyard, and my dog had done the deed.

"No, no," they both said in unison. "Frankly, I don't care either way," said Adva with a shrug. "I didn't care that he was here, and I don't care that he is not here."

Raz smiled gently. "We didn't buy him. A friend gave him to us. We won't miss him." I thanked them for clearing up the mystery, apologized for my murderous pet, and turned to go.

He called me back, and said reassuringly, "Don't be so sure it was Brooklyn. I still think it was a foxe."