A prelude in two parts.
1. Nathan Rapoport’s Scroll of Fire sculpture was the first sight I visited on my first trip to Israel in 1989. The part of the sculpture that resonated with me was the menorah representing the reunification of Jerusalem, the converse of the Arch of Titus in which Roman soldiers are carrying the same precious (in every sense) metal menorah away from the Second Temple (in the year 70) as a spoil of war. The long-standing history of the Jewish people in a piece of metal, carried out and symbolically returned.
2. Fast forward a few days – we had many discussions with local political leaders, those establishing new development towns, and homeowners who were required by law to build bomb-proof safe rooms, about “security.” It’s a term we toss around quite loosely in the States: we have home alarm systems, we lock our cars, we park in well-lit spaces and we affix “safely” to our wishes for driving, flying or even participating in weekend sports, all to build a sense of security from some well-understood threats of theft or recklessness. The Negev counterpoint: five or six times a month, a Qassam rocket carrying 20 to 40 pounds of explosives is fired from Gaza.Ten inches of solid concrete, or a two-layer steel roof with blast deflection is the bare minimum to sustain a nearby impact. There are warning sirens that sound as soon as a rocket launch is detected, and if you’re in Ofaqim or a nearby town, you have fifteen seconds to get to shelter – about as long as it takes to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a clear voice. You wait for the ground-shaking boom that serves as a metallic “all clear”.
And now the story….
While we were walking around the Turkish fort in Ofaqim park, we heard a rocket launch siren. Without a single syllable of raised voice, with a calm and collected demeanor that has to be experienced to be believed, our Israeli group member walked us around a fort wall so we’d be facing away from Gaza – the safest aspect without an appropriate shelter. He said quite simply “We have a few seconds, let’s go.” My body reacted in the way it does when you experience severe pain – first the adrenaline rush, my limbs moved in roughly the right way, and then my brain began to process the potential for danger and my heart was racing. It was a false alarm; we hopped back in our car and continued on our way within a few minutes.Now extrapolate my adult reactions to the children who live in Ofaqim, Beer Sheva and the towns and moshavim (farming communities) in between: they develop fears, they won’t go to the bathroom at night, they won’t sleep alone. This is a fact of life in southern Israel, where you wish for winter rain and get metal from the sky instead.
One of our group introduced us to Yaron Bob, an Israeli artist who collects rockets that have fallen in the Negev and turns them into pieces of art. His business, Rockets Into Roses, returns half of its gross to the local communities to invest in shelters. Once a rocket has detonated, we were told, “it’s just metal.” That statement took on a new meaning after personally hearing a rocket warning siren. Yaron’s work has an intense, visceral feel to it – his flowers and candlesticks are beautiful objects that are equally heavy and dark. Each flower is a single piece of metal, cut, twisted, bent and rolled into art. Yaron turns attempted destruction into an intricate scroll forged with fire.
It’s more than just metal – the Hanukah menorah I purchased from Yaron reminds me of courage, strength, bravery and of my newest friends who stand tall on a daily basis.