I enter the grey and baby pink girl’s locker room, laughing so hard at an inside joke that I find myself gasping for air. When I finally take a deep breath in through my nose, I instantly become lost in a memory.
“Hey, it smells like Israel in here,” I say confidently, as though this aberrant observation will be understood by everyone around me. Immune to my idiosyncrasies, my friends simply nod and offer me sidelong glances.
In the intense heat of the summer of 2014, I walked through an outdoor market in Israel, the heavy smell of smoke inescapable. Cigarette smoke, wafting from stands filled with fresh fruit, smoke floating around the fires that cook fresh pizza, smoke inching its way through the delis and falafel shops. The smoke picks up the scent of these various foods, and creates a melody of smells that blurs into one unique, slightly oppressive scent. This smell caught my attention more than the cacophony of sounds, the haphazard array of tables and benches and shops and stands, the mass of people from all around the world pushing and shoving. The smell of smoke pervaded the shopping areas, hotels, streets, and buildings all around Jerusalem.
It was one of the first things I noticed when we stepped into our hotel, after having spent twelve hours on an airplane, and an additional hour lurching on a speeding bus.
For the first hours in Israel, I breathed through my mouth in a futile attempt to bypass my olfactory senses. Finally, I waved the proverbial white flag, and accepted my fate as a slightly nauseated tourist. However, as I resumed normal breathing my senses acclimated. The smell of smoke seemed to dissipate into the sunny skies.
Three years later, in the comfortable cool of New Jersey in autumn, I checked the news on my computer, and a headline caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, the words captured not only my attention, but my very breath.
“Wildfires Spread Across Northern Israel”
My thoughts drifted to the bustling city of Haifa, the quiet kibbutzim, the lush forest where I planted a tree with my family. The only thing binding all these memories is that smell I will forever associate with Israel.
As I read about the raging fires in Israel, as I watched videos and saw photos of a country with limited water burn before my very eyes, all I could think of was the smoke.
Smoke which became a call to action. Countries from around the world sent aid to Israel: the United States, Russia, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority.
Smoke always was, and always will be, part of the Jewish story. Jews who burned in the flames of Nazi cruelty, a biblical bush that burned before Moses’ astonished eyes but was not consumed. So Israel burned, but like that biblical bush it was not consumed. The show of unity among those nations that rallied to quench the flames were the sparks of hope. They surely are evidence that a more peaceful future lies ahead.
Accompanying Photo: “Mountains with Sunset” by Aliza Abusch-Magder
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