Crossing an Ashdod street, early yesterday, was a sodier holding a different kind of weapon.
I came here to meet him. Israeli newspapers only carry patriotic stories these days, even on the culture pages. I've made several sacrifices, choosing not to write in a way that goes against my conscience. It ended up so that soon I'll be starving.
I finally agreed to go south and write about military entertainment troups who perform for kids in the bomb shelters, not fully happy about it. Then, following the guitar yielding sodier into the shelter, I bumped into Amir.
We were both stunned. Amir is a friend of Flashky and one of Israel's most talented young concert musicians (he appears in a photo on this blog, two posts ago, playing the double bass with Merhav Yeshoron). Currently doing his regular service, Amir and his talent were conscripted to bring some joy into this region. I decided to join him for the day. He was headed for the bus. I boarded too. There was combat gear on the vacant seats.
On other seats sat Israel's youngest and brightest musicians. The military accepted them as "excelling musicians" sending them to perform classical music to soldiers in times of peace. Now, at wartime, they must switch repertory in order to please a much younger audience. Amir swapped the bass and the Baroque recorder, his usual instruments, for a "darbouka" Arab drum. Him and his troup mates: Inon the guitar player and Gilli the flutist spent the ride trying to figure out what songs Ashdod's kids would like.
We soon arrived at a shelter in Ashdod's working class "Gimmel" neighborhood.
The kids liked theme songs from television programs, they liked Mizrachi songs, they loved playing along,
but most of all, they completely adored the performers.
The irony is obvious, a qassam shot away, young people wearing the same uniforms are actually killing children. This is painful to percieve, yet is hardly the fault of the "excelling musicians", who chose to spend their military service making music rather than war, nor certainly of the kids who are living now for weeks in a scary, difficult situation, without school or much of a sense of normality. I decided to give a hand myself and taught them how to sing Arik Einstein's "My Mommy". Call it unjournalistic behaviour.
Back on the bus, we were joined by members of the IDF's theatre troup. Their improv show, designed for soldiers, had to be adjusted to fit seven year olds. It worked! they were all high on the experience, playing around with the combat gear and being goofy with the musical instruments.
I, too was still inspired.
The landscape around us was spelendidly peaceful (we were instructed that if an alarm sounds we must leave the bus, go as far away from it as possible and lie with our stomachs to the ground and our hands over the backs of our heads).
Finally we arrived in Sderot, a mere 5 kilometers from the fence surrounding the Gaza strip. While Sderot isn't exactly a ghost town, most of the people around were memebers of the media. the street leading up from the main shopping center is a forest of television cameras. I haven't been to Sderot in a year or so. It has changed in another way: the bus stops have been fortified with concrete and can serve as shelters at an emergancy.
The musicians were brought into the bomb shelter of an apartment building in a socio-economically weak neighborhood. Many of the residents here are of Ethiopian origin and at least one family is actually Arab - of Bedouin stock. What the Ashdod kids have been experiencing for a week, the kids here have grown up with. Add to this the usual problems kids face in slums, and you have a nice coctail.
Their parents received the soldiers as gods, instantly showering them with requests for militant songs these pacifist Tel-Avivians have never heard of. Actually performing was futile, this became, instead, a party.
Again, it was difficult to decide who's cuter, the kids or the musicians. I have my nominee for cutest of the day, and perhaps cutest of the war. I found him at a far back room of the shelter, building a winged car out of Legos. There were only so many Lego pieces there and only so much light and the room smelled moldy and a war was going on, but he was focused on creating, oblivious to it all for one sweet, brief moment, like we all were.