April 23, 2021

Independence Day: Forks, flypasts and the joy of being Israeli

By Barbara Sofer

The smooth sand warms my bare soles on the long expanse of Ashdod’s Eleventh Neighborhood Beach. No sign of the recent tar pollution. Israel’s southern beaches were less badly hit than the northern, but not a tar clump remains, thanks to the volunteers and – of course – the ever-ready IDF who have cleaned beach after beach.

Egyptian soldiers marched through Ashdod in the War of Independence, but were eventually pushed back in the little-known Operation Ten Plagues. The modern city was founded in 1956, and received municipal status only in 1968. Ashdod Port, Israel’s largest, was opened in 1965. A third of the city’s 220,000 citizens are immigrants, most from the former Soviet Union. Today it is a beautiful city on the sea with towering buildings, many replacing the block immigrant houses of early decades. 

On the beach family clusters have kept social distancing one from another. The water is chilly and red-flagged for currents, so few do more than dip their toes in the Mediterranean. The IDF flypasts have drawn the crowds. The beach is a great setting for what you call flyover flyby or flypast depending where in the English-speaking world you live. In Hebrew it’s matas. Leaping to our feet and waving, we remember also the fighter jet pilots flying over Israel’s hospitals last year to salute the doctors and nurses just at the beginning of an exhausting year of unending hours in astronaut-suits fighting for the lives of COVID-19 patients. Last year on Independence Day we were confined to a perimeter of 100-meters from our homes. 

This year’s flypasts are more inclusive. Showing appreciation for the citizenry who, on the whole, have cooperated with lockdowns, wearing masks and forgoing intergenerational hugs, the pilots will cover the country. 

NO COOKOUTS are allowed on the Ashdod beach, but a grassy area abutting the ample parking lot is lined with a variety of groupings, from young couples with modest grills, to a family that has brought an electric generator which is powering a restaurant-level grill and an inflatable bounce house. Others have set up canopies, tents and gazebos. These are likely local citizens without the luxury of a private back yard or rooftop balcony. The scents of the cooking bring to mind the descriptions of the fragrances of Temple offerings of yore. 

For those of us gathering at the Ashdod beach there is an extra treat. Not only will the planes fly by the beaches before noon but they will return to perform acrobats after 2 p.m. Who would want to miss this? Staying will postpone our planned noontime family barbecue, this year in Rehovot. In our car – baking in the sun – waits the contribution that my husband and I have made to the family barbecue. The hamburgers, chorizos and minute steaks have left Jerusalem deep-frozen and will withstand the delay, but the ice surrounding the labor-intensive, colossal salads and frosted chocolate cake is starting to melt. We’re also all getting hungry in the sea air. 


The grandchildren burying their cousins in the sand are showing the edge of restlessness associated with lack of food. An easy decision: we’ll set up one of the light portable tables we’ve acquired in a pandemic year of eating outdoors and serve the salad course and dessert on the beach. We have the blue and white plates in the car.

WHAT WE don’t have, my professorial husband points out, is forks. Before Passover, we generally have an eclectic assortment of what we called in Connecticut plastic silverware leftover from take-outs or cookouts. They have all gone the way of Bisli wrappers with the Passover car-cleaning. Although our family has gathered at the beach in four different cars, there’s not a fork among us.

This particular beach has a kiosk and a restaurant, neither of which has any disposable flatware. The only option is to ask for fork donations from better-prepared families on the beach.

Our adult children are horrified at this suggestion. They may be Sabras with unaccented Hebrew, but I’ve lived in Israel longer. I know this will work. Earlier in the day at the swimming pool a stranger in the locker room had asked me for some shampoo and conditioner because she’d forgotten her cosmetic bag at home. I was delighted to fill her upturned palms.

 When I explain our predicament to the family closest to us, the matriarch donates seven forks to get us started. We learn that they’re from Beersheba. 

Then one daughter and I walk up to the barbecue enclave near the parking lot. This time I let her talk – she’s a psychologist and expert at setting the right tone. She tells them how we happen to find ourselves fork challenged. She speaks softly, but from right and left, good men and women come forward. We get an avalanche of forks, each accompanied with a giant smile and happy holiday blessing.

A woman runs after us – with tablespoons and a knife. She guesses we might need those as well!

I hold up our bounty with a shout of thanks and Am Yisrael Chai! 

The exuberance of this Independence Day goes beyond our usual robust patriotism with the thankfulness and national pride of being inoculated against the coronavirus

We use the spoon to dish out plates full of salads, those with abundant Israel-invented cherry tomatoes and others, like the pasta salad, more representative of our American-olim past. We cut the chocolate cake with our precious plastic knife.

Five-year old grandson Noam spots them first: the planes are here!

The fighter jets dive and loop above our heads as all along seaside there are cheers at the thrilling display. 

Their white trails leave a giant heart in the sky.

Below, my own heart pounds with pride and appreciation – and the joy of being an Israeli.