It was a few days before Passover when I first heard the horrific cackling. “What,” I asked family members, is that? It sounded just like the longtime leftist agitator Shulamit Aloni. But it wasn’t.
Soon thereafter my wife came running into the house.
“There is a peacock downstairs in the yard,” she proclaimed.
Hmmm, just in time for Passover, I said to myself.
Down I went to investigate. And there standing in our yard was a giant turkey, like something out of a Thanksgiving poster in a Walmart store.
We live not far from the Haifa zoo, and various critters, especially those in possession of wings, tend to escape the place in search of friendlier, quieter surroundings.
The zoo, you see, is rather noisy. Late at night throughout our neighborhood one can hear the elephants in the zoo making loud noises. And – how shall I put this delicately – the noises they are making are not from their mouths.
Zoology is not my wife’s strong point, so you will have to forgive her classification error in ornithology. But she had good reason for mistaking the turkey for a peacock. Years back we actually had a male peacock refugee – long blue peacock feathers and all – take refuge in our yard.
The kids were young back then and nicknamed the peacock “Notsi,” from the Hebrew word for feather, notz. The yard guest lost a feather, which we saved and still use to this day in the late-night search for any crumbs of chametz the night before the Passover Seder.
The kids discovered that peacocks really like Bamba, a peanut butter-tasting Israeli puffy snack. Bamba, by the way, is kosher for Sephardim during Passover, and it seems peacocks must be Sephardic because they love gobbling up Bamba even during Passover. We know, we fed it.
The newest “Notsi” was, however, an obnoxious and aggressive male turkey. The various cats on the street found themselves intimidated and chased down the block by the monster whenever they came to investigate and got too close.
No one quite knew what to do with the turkey. Being the only American around, I of course proposed fattening it up and trying to keep it around until the last week of November, when all Americans know just what the proper use for such yard guests should be.
The neighbors, however, cringed at the thought of the noisy gobbling lasting that long.
Meanwhile, the children all along the street were carrying plastic bags full of chametz out to the garbage containers. I invited them over to feed the scraps to our Passover turkey instead of dumping or burning them. I am sure it was the highlight of Passover for many of them, and for years they will remember feeding the beast far better than they will recall reading about Pharaoh in the Haggadah.
The Passover turkey did have some problems during the actual days of Passover, though. It was not crazy about matzah – not even egg matzah or French toast-style matzah.
Anyway, the parking situation near the zoo was horrendous during Passover, with some cars stopping as far away as the front of our building just to get to the zoo. But the lazier families halted their climb up the hill when they got to our yard. They let the kids chase and photograph the Passover turkey.
Alas, the turkey did not last very far into the counting of the Omer. One morning it was just gone, and I suspect one of the other critters that lives in the Haifa wadis or gorges came out one night and had its own snack. There are wild boars and huge porcupines down there.
There went my plans for Thanksgiving!
But all is not lost. I went for a climb up the Carmel today to get some serious coffee, and a few buildings up the hill from my own I heard a new but different cackle. It wasn’t Shulamit Aloni this time either. (She has never quite recovered, by the way, from letting Hansel and Gretel escape her clutches.)
This time it really was a peacock, the newest refugee from the zoo, though a female this time, meaning she did not have any of those glorious blue feathers. If she hangs around until Shavuos, I’ll let you know if she eats cheesecake.
Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.