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Noah: The Dove

The Hoepoe bird. Credit: Hans Veth on Unsplash

In Parsha Noah, a dove is the messenger that the flood is over and a new world will begin.

Ever since, in religions and cultures around the world the dove represents humanity's quest for harmony, goodwill and peace.

So when Israel was declared a state in 1948, of course the dove became the national bird, right? Wrong! No official bird was named.

It was a bird-brained omission. Israel is a bird watcher's paradise! Five hundred thirty different species, or an estimated 500 million birds, fly round trip through Israel annually from Europe and Western Asia to Africa. Israel carefully monitors the birds' migration routes. Aircraft are forbidden to fly in their path.

Israel is the only country in the world with a bird sanctuary on the grounds of its government. Right next to the Knesset is a garden, a section of which is designated just for birds.

Finally, on Israel's 60th birthday, and in conjunction with the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, President Shimon Peres, who emigrated to then Palestine in 1934 and took the name of the peres bird, decided Israel needed a national bird.

To him the dove was perfect: it was biblical, a symbol of peace, and had a unique homing ability. He said, "The dove can find its way home from anywhere it may be, despite limitations and long distances. It is a true Zionist."

It was his decision to make, but President Peres declared Israelis would choose the national bird.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel ran the contest. Hundreds of birds were nominated. Tel Aviv University hosted a seminar where 1,000 bird lovers studied the candidates. They narrowed the nominees to 50, which were further screened by a select committee until nine finalists were chosen. The dove didn't make the cut!

One hundred fifty-five thousand Israelis voted. Thousands of soldiers texted their votes from army bases. Seventy thousand children voted in their schools. Some accused the winning bird of campaigning. It hopped beside children on their way to school.

When the votes were counted, the winner was …. the HOOPOE!

Are you kidding! The bird is TREIF! It smells. It bobs its head up and down at a frantic pace. It's moody.

On the other hand, the Hoopoe has been described as stunning: dazzling black and white with a liberal dash of pale orange, a long, sabre-like bill and an extraordinary fan on its crown. Some say the Hoopoe looks like it's wearing a tallis.

The Hoopoe is considered observant, wise, monogamous and protective of its young. An Israeli air force unit is called "Hoopoe" because the bird flies higher than any other bird in Israel.

The Hoopoe appears in a classic Sufi poem called "The Conference of the Birds". The verses tell how all the other birds of the world select the Hoopoe to lead them in their quest to find the king of birds. Which is interpreted as finding the spiritual meaning of life; the bird that would lead them to G-d.

It is said the Hoopoe carried messages between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, making it well suited as the symbol of Israel's attempt at shuttle diplomacy.

And, according to the Talmud, iron tools could not to be used to cut the stones to build the Temple because iron was the material of weapons and the temple was to be a place of peace. Only a worm called a Shamir could eat through the stone and cut it in just the right shape. The legend continues that only the Hoopoe, with its long beak and clenching claws could catch the worm that cut the stone that built the Temple where the people would pray.

Ethiopian Jews called the Hoopoe the Moses Bird because they believed it would carry them to Jerusalem one day.

In Parsha Noah, an elegant, graceful white dove heralds a new world of peace. Today Israelis have a foul-smelling, head bobbing, love-note carrying, school children-escorting, tallis-wearing, Ethiopian-returning, G-d-finding, high-flying, family-protecting Hoopoe. They are pragmatists.

Some day perhaps the Dove will replace the Hoopoe, not only as the national bird of Israel, but also as the reality of the Jewish state under which it flies.



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