Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Blood of the Maccabees flower

That is correct, we have a small wildflower here in Israel called the Blood of the Maccabees. I agree that this is quite a macabre name for such a cute little flower. However there is a long history behind this local wildflower and its unusual name. 

Which actual sums up nearly anything of interest in Israel - the ancient history of this land continually soaks into our everyday lives.

Apart from its unusual look, like I can totally get the ‘drops of blood’ thing, this Israeli wildflower has another claim to fame. It is the symbol of our annual Memorial Day. On this day we cry for all the fallen soldiers in all of the wars and also for the victims of terror attacks.

The symbol of the Israeli Memorial Day

During the Israeli Memorial Day places of entertainment are closed and flags are lowered half-mast. Nearly every municipality has a wreath-laying ceremony where it is customary to wear white clothes. Small stickers are handed out at these ceremonies with a picture of a small red flower and the words “I will remember.”

Every year the Defense Ministry's Commemoration Division gives out about four million stickers with a drawing of the Blood of the Maccabees flower. Like most of the wildflowers in Israel, this plant is protected by law and cannot be picked. 

This small flower with its unusual petals is called the Blood of the Maccabees flower, in Hebrew it is known as דם המכבים (Dam haMaccabim). It’s Latin name is Helichrysum sanguineum and apparently it is known in English as the red everlasting flower. Though I have never heard or read of anybody referring to this wildflower by this name.

It blooms here in the springtime, just like most of the other wildflowers in Israel. As coincidence would have it, or maybe it is not coincidence, this is also the time that we have our annual Memorial Day. 

A flower of our own

The Blood of the Maccabees flower officially became the symbol of Memorial Day in 1955. This was definitely inspired by the Remembrance Poppy that was sold to raise funds for the families of fallen veterans in the Commonwealth countries. The red colour of the poppy is a symbol of the blood of the British soldiers who fell on the Flanders Fields during World War I.

However a new symbol, or flower, was needed in Israel. Something that is not associated with the previous British rulers but rather represents the connection to ancient Jewish life in Israel.

Going back into history

This sweet little innocent flower was named in 1923 in Israel by Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni because it looks like small drops of blood. This was long before the Holocaust, Israel’s declaration of independence and the all wars fought to keep this independence.

The reason, I think, that they called this flower the Blood of the Maccabees and not the Blood of the Hebrews or anyone else was because the Maccabees fought so hard for self-rule.

The Maccabees were a group of Jews who organized a successful rebellion against the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV and reconsecrated the defiled Temple of Jerusalem. In 174 BC Israel was then part of the Syrian-Greek Empire. It’s ruler Antiochus wanted to unify the entire kingdom via a common religion and culture and punished the noncompliant Jews by forbidding the practice of Jewish law.

After several years and many lives lost, the small Jewish army managed to beat the much larger, and professional Greek army. Apparently there is a legend that says that a small flower instantly grew and bloomed wherever a Maccabee warrior’s blood was spilled.

It is no surprise that these round small flowers with its deep-red color are associated with drops of blood. 

Jews ruled over the land of Israel again for the next 80 years...until the Romans showed up in 63 BC.

Though the Maccabees did not rule for that long, they fought hard to bring the spirit of freedom and independence to the people of Israel. Their steadfast determination and strength is still celebrated until this day.

A small and tough flower for a small and tough country

The small Blood of the Maccabees flower may look skinny and delicate but don’t let its looks deceive you. I found it growing happily on a rocky hilltop.

Israel is a tough country for all its inhabitants, also for the flora of this land. Our summers are hot and cruel and half of the country is a desert. It often does not rain enough in the winter. And if it does rain, the rain can be relentless and severe - not a civilized drizzle. 

I think that this tough and pretty little flower is the perfect symbol to remember the people who have died defending this harsh land.

I found these flowers growing on a rocky hilltop between the rocks and weeds. 

Here are a few other blog posts about the flowers of Israel:

Ten tips for photographing wildflowers in Israel

The yearly pilgrimage to Cyclamen mountain

The wild mustard flowers of Israel

If you are looking for any photos of the Blood of Maccabees flower, you can have a look at these photos that I have uploaded to PublicDomainPictures.net.

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Remembering the Holocaust during a pandemic

Every year in Israel, exactly one week before we celebrate Independence Day, we remember all the people who have died in the Holocaust.

From sunset the previous day until the first three stars show up in the sky the next day, the entire country is in mourning. Restaurants, theatres and coffee shops are closed. Most of the television channels are paused while the others play Holocaust documentaries or movies such as Schindler's List.

Many national institutes - schools, the Knesset (Israeli parlement) and army bases hold a special ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance. These ceremonies are usually organized in such a way that they coincide with the sirens.

At ten am, loud sirens throughout the entire country bring everyone to a standstill for two minutes so that we all can remember the dead.

Entire highways come to a standstill as drivers pull over, get out of their cars and bow their heads in silence. School children, shop owners, factory workers, office workers, hospital staff and police men and women - nearly every single person in Israel stop what they are doing and stand quiet for as long as the sirens sound.

These sirens, that are placed throughout Israel on poles and buildings, have a special wail to its sound. They are usually used to warn everyone of danger from incoming missile attacks. You can hear their sound deafening loud or a bit muted, depending on where you are. But you will definitely hear them.

Here in Israel we are all Pavlovized to their shrill sound - when you hear that special wail ringing in your ears, you grab the children and you run for the safe room. Or the stairwell or the designated shelter in your area.

But on Holocaust Remembrance Day that same wail means that you freeze right where you are. You stand quiet and you remember all the men and women and children who didn't have a safe place to run to.

Every year it is the same. We stop and we cry and we remember.

We remember the lost mothers and fathers. We mourn the dead aunts and uncles. The murdered grandmothers and grandmothers. The hidden grandchildren who were found and killed. The nieces and nephews who weren't able to escape. We remember the lost and the unknown and the faceless and those who thought that nobody will ever think of them.

We remember because nobody should ever forget the Holocaust.

And then, as soon as the sirens stop wailing, we carry on with our lives. The office workers return to their desks and carry on with their work, the school children go back to their classrooms and the drivers get in their cars and carefully drive off again. We continue to LIVE here in Israel, also for those that have died.

This year however it was different.

The loud sirens pierced a silence on the streets instead of the noise of living. The silence already preceded the sound, continued throughout the wail and stretched on afterwards.

Nobody went back to the classrooms because the schools are already empty. There was nobody to switch on the machines in the factories again. No traffic resumed because the roads are all empty and the office workers didn't return to their desks in the tall office buildings.

However, we still stood still and we remembered the massacre of the innocent. We may not have stood in ceremonies, in the streets or next to each other but we got up quietly and bowed our heads and remembered.

As we stood alone in our isolated homes, we stood together because nobody must ever forget the Holocaust.

Not even when there is a pandemic.

If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Ten things that I hate about life in Israel

I wish that public smoking would be banned already

If you have read any of my blog posts, you must have realized that this South African has learned to love the land of Israel and all the crazy Israelis inside it.

It took awhile, probably because it took me so long to learn Hebrew, but it has become a place I call home. A tourist may think that the locals are kinda rude, I think that they just have a tendency to speak their minds

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Special things Israelis say in specific situations

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

What happens in your country when a waiter drops a tray in a packed restaurant and everything on the tray shatters to pieces?

Is there an awkward silence? Does everyone avert their eyes from the embarrassed waiter as he quickly sweeps up all the broken pieces? Maybe there are a few softly muttered curses from him or the floor manager..?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The tumuli field of Ramat haNadiv

Ramat haNadiv is a small nature reserve nestling close to my town, Zichron Yaakov, in the northern-ish part of Israel.

The reserve was established in 1965, and is actually a burial place for the Baron Edmund Rothschild and his wife Ada. The baron supported the early settlers in the area with money and advice from the leading scientists of the day. 

That is also why the park is called Ramat haNadiv, it means more or less 'Benefactor Heights'. The tomb, that you can visit during the weekdays, is surrounded by a beautiful garden.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The amazing clock collection in Jerusalem

In the attractive and characteristic neighbourhood of Rehavia in Jerusalem, not far from the president's residence, there is this a small museum called the Museum of Islamic Art

It is a gorgeous museum filled with amazing artifacts. Personally though I think that the museum should be called the Museum of Eastern Art. Most of the artifacts pre-date Islam and/or originate from non-Arab speaking countries such as Turkey, India and Iran. 

It is very likely that this watch was part of the loot of one of the greatest robberies in the art world.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The subtle art of standing in a queue in Israel - a survivor guide

This is NOT queue in Israel, it is waay to calm and orderly

If you visit Israel as a tourist, or are a new immigrant you may get the conclusion that Israelis do not have the queue-standing gene.

They just seem to stand around in a bunch and then use their elbows to move forward when the train or bus arrives or when going through a building's security entrance.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Praying for rain

As a South African living in Israel, I cannot help but constantly compare the two countries. Of course there are many differences but one of the major similarities is our dependence on rain water. 

And since most of South Africa (though not the Cape area) gets its rain during the summer months and Israel gets its rain during the winter months, we are waiting for the rainy season at the same time. More or less during the month of October. It is then autumn in Israel and springtime in South Africa.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Timeline of a 'situation' in Israel

The word 'situation' has a special meaning in Israel. It is usually used when talking about the security situation in Israel but actually compass quite a wide range of things. Such as the situation that Israel is surrounded by not too friendly neighbours. Or the situation that there are a network of sirens throughout the country to warn us about incoming missiles.

Two weeks ago another type of situation unfolded in Israel and this blogpost describes my own personal experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Rockefeller Archaeological museum

For some odd reason, the Rockefeller Archaeological museum is NOT on the list of must-see museums in Israel.

And it definitely should be.