Two weeks after the holiday of matza (Pesach) and a month before the holiday of milk (Shavout) comes the holiday of meat. I’m referring, of course, to Israeli Independence Day, which we celebrated last Wednesday.
As on American Independence Day, meat burned on an open grill is the traditional fare. To celebrate in true Israeli style, however, you have to get in your car and drive somewhere else to set up your grill. If you wanted a picnic bench under pine trees or nice bit of green lawn in a park, you’ll have set off early, since two-thirds of the country’s population headed for one outdoor site or another. If you started out after the parks were already full, you likely ended up crouching over a grill on a strip of grass near a roadside, your family stretched out on blankets breathing in the fumes.
You needed at least one, if not two or three little hibachi-type grills – the kind that are sold all over the country at this time of year for a few shekels – coals, lighter fluid and a little plastic fan called a “nafnaf” for fanning the coals. Packed in a cooler, you should have brought a selection of chicken parts, steaks, kebabs and hamburgers — at least twice as much as you and your family could possibly eat. Add to that hummus, several bags of pita, various packaged salads, canned corn and bags of junk food for the kids to munch on while the meat is cooking. Watermelon and beer were optional, but large bottles of soft drinks weren’t. Hopefully, you didn’t forget the plastic table cloths and blankets, or the radio. (Just because you’re outdoors doesn’t mean you should only listen to birds.) If you had extra room in the car (meaning your kids weren’t sitting on top of the meat cooler) you could even bring a card table and chairs and games. After all, once all that meat is cooked and eaten, who has the energy for walking? (Frisbees and soccer balls are optional for groups with lots of kids. But you didn’t as much as think of leaving even one of your umpteen cell phones at home, especially those of any teenagers in your group.) The meat should have been cooked till nicely blackened, hopefully wafting as much smoke into the air as possible. If you were in a forest with lots of others, the smell alone should have summoned the fire brigade. Though fewer people are keeping the tradition these days, you may have left your garbage behind to mark your spot for next time.
On the way back, of course, you left the rest of the bags of snacks in the back seat with the kids. If you’d been at one of the more popular parks, it probably took you several extra hours to get home, since you almost certainly left just at the same time as everyone else. No matter, the next day was a work/school day, and then there was another weekend.
(I also grilled on the holiday — tofu and veggies — but in my own backyard. It’s one day that I refuse to get on the road.)