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Dec 2007 Journal

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Letter from Israel

Oasis of serenity
Israelis like spending Saturdays in the open air. The working week begins on Sunday and Friday tends to be a day for running errands, so that the weekend is all too brief. Thus Saturday is the only day many families can spend time together, as is evinced by the clogged state of the roads. Of course, those who consider Shabbat a day on which to pray and rest are not part of this equation, but they are a minority.

So on Saturdays the beaches are crowded and parks are full. Those shopping areas and markets which remain open are thronged with families out shopping, eating in crowded restaurants or hunting for bargains. Picnic areas abound with barbecues, or mangals; these are traditionally men’s work, though I confess that the sight of bare-chested males sweating over hot coals does not arouse my appetite.

There are, however, one or two oases of serenity where one can spend a Saturday outside without being subjected to the cut-and-thrust of life en masse. Deep in the heartland of Israel, in the area known as the Elah Valley, close to open fields and the JNF’s Britain Forest, there is an old Turkish building which was once a khan or way-station for travellers.

The building houses a musical family. The mother, Kochava Taragan, an accomplished flautist, arranges chamber concerts which are held on the terrace or in the large living room every Saturday at noon. Before the concert everyone is treated to a bowl of nourishing soup with home-made croutons. The chamber ensembles, often including Kochava herself, play a selection of pieces for an hour or two, often interspersed by some words of explanation. Sometimes the birds outside add their own contribution to the music. Afterwards most of the audience repairs to one of the local restaurants for lunch, though if you haven’t booked a table in advance you might find yourself obliged to go home.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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