According to a recent news article, the Israel Defense Forces is voting to choose a national bird for Israel. It sounded like an interesting idea and then I realized that to pick a bird, we must first understand the very nature of our country, its location and standing in the world of man.
Israel stands as a crossroads both to humans and birds. The birds fly south in the winter, resting briefly on our land. Israel is a refuge for these birds, as it has always been for the Jewish people. No matter where we have wandered, Israel has always been our home. This is not so for many of the birds that seek brief refuge here.
In the winter, they travel further south, once they have been rejuvenated and gained strength. And then, in the summer, they seek the cooler climate of Europe, while we remember the coldness of another period and slowly learn that we have no other home. We are not like the birds, who migrate from place to place. But Israel has its own birds that do stay here. Perhaps the army will focus on these.
There is the eagle. Majestic and powerful in its glory. It spreads its wings over the land and hunts its prey with diligence and determination. This would be a worthy choice, but for the fact that other nations too have chosen the eagle and, in any event, the breadth of our skies, over our tiny land, might not do the imagery justice.
There is the mockingbird. The mockingbird is known for the great amount of noise it can make, sometimes all day and night. They are also territorial birds, and they will fight with other bird species. No, we don’t want the world to associate us with the mockingbird, and so the search continues.
There are the hummingbirds – gentle and small, they threaten few. But would these sweet little beings survive in a world of predators such as we have for our neighbors? No, we do not want our enemies to compare us to the hummingbirds.
There are the warblers. These birds too are small and generally weak. Preyed upon by greater enemies who easily attack their nests, this is not a lifestyle we would want to imitate.
According to Wikipedia, there are 534 species of birds found in Israel. The army has its work cut out for it. One has to wonder if perhaps there might be a better time to focus on this worthy task. But perhaps not, so let’s continue.
The ostrich is found in Israel. The ostrich is the largest species of bird. That alone might give our enemies ammunition to say that we are expansionist. The ostrich cannot fly; thus our air force would be insulted. Its greatest talent it seems, is the ability to run fast. While this may well represent many of our politicians, certainly our prime minister, no, the people of Israel and its army cannot afford to bury its head in the sand and hope our enemies will go away, as our government does.
Only one type of albatross exists in Israel. It is known as the Shy Albatross. Almost driven to extinction, we must not identify ourselves with the albatross.
There are three species of pelicans in Israel. In flight, the pelican is an elegant soaring bird, but on the ground, it is awkward with its webbed feet. We as a people, must soar to great heights, but we must be grounded too and so, perhaps, the pelican is not ideal.
I thought of the common chicken. While it fits the Olmert government so perfectly, the chicken, like Olmert, lacks dignity. It is ignoble. Unlike Olmert, the chicken does seek to protect its young, but it can be vicious in the process and heaven help anyone who attempts to hurt one of its offspring. Eggs and chicken are the base of much of what we eat, but no, we do not want to be compared to food. So the chicken cannot be used.
The dove is quite common in Israel, but a dove speaks of a time when peace will come to our land. “For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs).
To delude ourselves into believing we can live at peace now, when there are rockets launched at our cities every day, when our northern border is tense and we are once again mourning the victims of a vicious terrorist attack in Jerusalem is absurd. The dove will have its day, but only in the future, when the wolves and chickens allow it.
I thought of the hawk, which guards against predators but is that all we ever want in life? Must we always be on defense? It has been our reality for 60 years, but shouldn’t we leave the door open by choosing a bird that might, at least some day, do more than hunt and be hunted.
And then, don’t laugh, I thought of the owl. The owl appears so wise and strong. He doesn’t appear to do more than sit and watch. But beware. They come in many sizes, but are universally recognized as solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak that carries its own warning. To some, they symbolize wisdom, while other cultures liken them to harbingers of doom and death.
Owls are homebodies. They like to mark their territory and then stay there forever. The Jewish people too have their land and we too would stay here forever. Like Israel, the owl is dedicated to protecting its young from harm. The owl is feared by many birds, who recognize its strength and its willingness to attack those who would do it harm.
Smaller birds often group together to attack the owl, knowing that individually, they cannot defeat it. They harass the owl, hoping to provoke it to violence and yet, the owl rarely responds. Only when the threat is real and violence unavoidable, then will the owl attack with determination.
I was about to settle on the owl, when my father, the collector of great wisdom and little known facts, told me that ultimately, the owl is thought of as a stupid bird and sure enough, in my quick research, I found that to be true. It seems, if harassed enough, the owl will simply pick himself up and move to another area hoping to be free of those who hate him. Alas, he is often followed and hounded there as well. No, we do not want to be thought of as an owl that can be pressured into abandoning what is ours.
The search continued, until my father recommended the sparrow. I rejected the notion. Were they not as small and weak as the hummingbird? Would we not better be represented by a bird known for its glory, its power, its conquests? No, ultimately, I think my father is correct. It might not be romantic, but it is an accurate comparison. The sparrow is small, so very small and yet for all its size, it protects its young, defends its territory and stands up to the many larger birds that would destroy her. Like the Jew, the sparrow is native to Israel and understands this is her home.
I don’t know what bird the Israeli army will choose to represent it and the people of Israel, but perhaps the sparrow, small, dignified and determined to protect its young and its home, would suit the country as it enters its 60th year.