Independence spray: holiday hilarity and hijinks

When did Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, get so violent?

I’m not talking about the heightened security alerts aimed at stopping suicide bombers. No, the violence I’m talking about is a matter of shaving cream.

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

Yes, this is the new tradition of Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel, which begins at sundown Sunday, April 25. Never mind the barbecues 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 actually started awhile back with plastic hammers, which were used for bonking people on the head. In the late 1980s, the hammers were supplemented and eventually replaced by silly string. But how did it evolve to shaving cream? Or “snow,” as it’s known in Hebrew.

It does make a sort of logical sense, I suppose. Letting loose with a can of snow is a form of release. Like at Purim, it’s a way of momentarily blocking out the reality of what type of neighborhood we really live in.

Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine some TV news pundit solemnly explaining that this is good, this is necessary for the Israeli soul. And if people like me don’t like it, they should shut up and stay inside.

Still, there is something distressing about the way the kids target the less 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 more often than not run crying to their parents.

In our neighborhood, the centerpoint is the local school playground. Unfortunately, that’s also where our synagogue has traditionally held its annual Independence Day prayer service. We went two years ago and all three kids got sprayed. All three departed in tears. I swore I would not return.

But last year my wife, Jody, wanted to go. The prayers on Yom HaAtzmaut are meaningful to her, she says. I can appreciate that. But not at risk of life, limb and permanent clothing stains.

So Jody went. And I felt guilty.

After about half an hour or so into my grand stand at home, I called down to my then-12-year-old 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. Just walk and talk.

And talk we did: about the nature of freedom. How proud we were that our small little country was now pushing middle age.

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

The scene was familiar from the year before: Dozens 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.

We entered the schoolyard. 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.

It didn’t take long. Before we knew it, the basketball court was covered in white. 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 the raging battle that was taking place only blocks from the safety of his bedroom window.

And then we smiled at each other. And laughed out loud. 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.

Brian Blum writes the syndicated column “This Normal Life,” available at E-mail him at [email protected].