in the garden


Jul 2008 Journal

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Letter from Israel

A tale of four chickens
This story was told to me by one of the dramatis personae, so I can vouch for its veracity.

It was the day before Pesach, and all over Israel people were preparing for the Seder (in Israel we have only one Seder - which is another good reason to live here). Almost everyone holds, or attends, a festive meal of one kind or another. For weeks before the festival a frenzy of preparations descends over the country, houses are scrubbed, recipes exchanged, explanations brushed up. In effect, Pesach and the Seder become the focal point of life.

The turkey which friends had ordered for the festive meal from the local supermarket had failed to materialise. ‘Choose any meat you like, and you’ll get it at half price,’ the manager said. So the friends, who originate from the USA (possibly explaining the decision to plump for turkey), decided to take four chickens instead. Yes, they decided, they would roast four chickens and that would constitute the main course for the Seder, providing sufficient meat for them and all their guests.

Once the four chickens had been brought home, quelle horreur! It transpired that they could not all fit into the oven. Actually, you would be hard put to find an oven in any home in Israel large enough to take four chickens at once. Panic. Visions of a Seder with no main course passed before our friends’ eyes.

‘I know what to do!’, said the husband, whom we will call Robert in order to protect his identity. ‘I’ll take two of the chickens round to Susan and Mike, who will be our guests at the Seder, and ask them to cook them in their oven. When they come in the evening they can bring the chickens with them, and that will solve the problem.’

Robert’s wife - let’s call her Ilana - agreed to this solution. Susan and Mike were duly informed of their luck and accepted readily. After all, isn’t that what friends are for? Ilana got the chickens ready, put them in a roasting pan and sent her husband on his way.

Wearing the ragged shorts and T-shirt in which he had been helping with the last-minute preparations, Robert jumped into his car and sped over to their friends’ house. The round trip was not expected to take long. Susan and Mike live not far away from them, in the same dormitory suburb just outside Jerusalem.

As fate, or policy, would have it, this was just the time, day and place that the police had decided to check drivers’ licences. In Israel, it seems, drivers who have had their licences revoked because they have accumulated too many serious traffic violations tend to carry on driving regardless. A terrifyingly large proportion of accidents appear to involve drivers whose licences have been revoked.

Robert was stopped by a policeman and asked to show his licence. He did not have it on him, as he had just popped out of the house for a minute to take the chickens to the friends’ oven and had not thought to take his documents with him. Driving without a licence is a grave offence. What was he to do?

‘But, officer, this is an emergency,’ Robert said, pointing to the chickens and explaining the situation - the possibility of a Seder with no main course and the host in the lock-up looming large before his eyes.

The policeman listened patiently while Robert told his sorry tale. ‘Yes, you’re right, it is an emergency,’ he agreed at length and waved Robert on, wishing him Chag Sameach.

I wonder whether an English copper would have seen matters in quite the same light. 

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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