Thursday, May 08, 2003

Independence Spray

When did Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, get so violent?

I’m not talking about the heightened security alerts aimed at stopping suicide bombers. Or the inevitable reprisal attacks on Gaza or Jenin.

No, the violence I’m talking about is a matter of shaving cream.

Shaving cream in the hands of babes, that is. Pre-teens brandishing oversized cans with super-strength nozzles, ready to fire on any unsuspecting bystander.

Yes, this is the new tradition of Yom Ha'atzmaut. Never mind the barbeques in the JNF forests or the patriotic sing-along evenings. For many years now, the best known custom of the holiday has not been what you do with your buddies, but what you do to them.

It started with plastic hammers, which were used for bonking people on the head. In the late 1980s, the hammers were supplemented by silly string. A form of release, I suppose. Like at Purim, a way of letting your guard down and forgetting for a moment what type of neighborhood we really live in.

But how did it evolve to shaving cream? Or “snow” as it’s known in Hebrew?

I did a quick Google search on the “origins of shaving cream on Yom Ha’atzmaut.” I got some odd responses. Such as:

“Rav Gorin permitted shaving and haircuts on Yom Ha’atzmaut” on the same page as “don’t forget to send ice cream to a friend.”


While the Internet wasn’t much help, I’m afraid the reality is that our new custom of Independence Spray has more to do with the matzav again – the “situation” in Israel that we blame everything on.

Indeed, with insanity and danger lurking at every bend, kids need an outlet to blow out pent up frustrations and anxiety. The psychologists and social scientists would probably tell me to lighten up and stay inside if I don’t like it. This is good, I hear them pontificating. This is necessary for the Israeli soul.

But there is something about the way these kids target the lesser-abled among their peers, the way they chase them mercilessly across the playground, projectile hurling white froth at high velocity. In the hair. In the eyes. Drenching kids who sometimes fight back with snow of their own but just as often run crying to their parents.

When I am in the midst of the shaving cream scene, it doesn’t at all seem like simple fun and games. It is too intense. It’s almost as if the kids with the cans are emulating how they imagine their parents would act if they were pointing a gun at the head of a terrorist.

In our neighborhood, Ground Zero is the Efrata School playground. Unfortunately that’s also where our synagogue holds its annual Independence Day prayers. We went last year and all three kids got sprayed. All three departed in tears. I swore I would not return.

But Jody wanted to go. The prayers on Yom Ha’atzmaut are meaningful to her, she says. And she relishes every chance to be with community. So do I. But not at risk of life, limb, and permanent clothing stains.

So Jody went. And I felt guilty. We hate splitting up, especially for important holidays and celebrations.

After about half an hour or so into my last stand at home, I called down to Amir (who took the brunt of the spray last year and also refused to go back) and told him I was having second thoughts. Maybe it will be better this year, I suggested.

I proposed we go for a walk. We would explore the neighborhood – that seemed like a clean patriotic act for Independence Day.

We strolled through the streets of Baka and talked. About the nature of freedom. How proud we were that our small little country had reached 55. Practially middle age!

As I suspected (and planned) our route took us in the direction of the battlefield, er, the school playground.

The scene was too familiar: tens of vendors were set up outside selling hundreds upon hundreds of spray cans. There were glow in the dark bands, too, and cotton candy and popcorn by the bag. A real carnival atmosphere.

Except for the police. At this point, still early in the evening, there were probably more law enforcement officers than revelers. Who were they here to protect us from? Terrorists…or each other?

We entered the school yard. So far so good. No major incursion by spray can wielding ruffians. Our tension lifted a bit.

Too soon.

A jet stream of cream whizzed past us and landed splat in the hair of an innocent little girl. Well, not so innocent. She fired back. Had we just witnessed the opening salvos?

It didn’t take long. Before we knew it, the basketball court was covered in white. The police were cowering.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Amir took a hit.

His first reaction was rage. Then anguish. He turned and ran to the gate, past the vendors hawking the tools of his defeat, across the street, and eventually up the stairs to our apartment. He stripped down to his underwear to free himself of even the slightest hint of a battle that undoubtedly was continuing full force only two blocks from the safety of his bedroom window.

And then we smiled at each other. And laughed. At the absurdity of it all. A holiday commemorating what it means to be free had imprisoned us in our home. Here we were quaking in fear at what was probably no more than a couple of seriously hyperactive kids with non-toxic shaving cream.

We resolved to get back out into the fray and show our neighbors, no our fellow countrymen, what stuff we were made of. We would not be intimidated. We would not be cowed. Yes, that’s exactly what we would do.

Next year.

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