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September 1, 2014 | 6th Elul 5774

Cyclamen

Galilee Diary #363, November 11, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

“O cyclamen, cyclamen,” a bird is chirping,
“Look up for a moment at me!”
But the beautiful cyclamen is hiding in the rock,
Hiding from the eye of every living thing!
           
-Levin Kipnis, “Rakefet”

Recently, Israel was invited to submit its national flower and its national tree to the Beijing Olympic Committee, for an exhibition of the national flowers and trees of all the participants in the games. And lo and behold, it turned out that Israel had never designated a national flower or tree. The National Parks and Nature Preserve Authority teamed up with Ynet, an internet news portal, to conduct a public poll. While the number of votes cast does not exactly represent a true national referendum (under 20,000), nevertheless, Israel now has a national tree and a national flower.

Not surprisingly, the olive tree won with no serious competition. It is really hard to think of another tree that so symbolizes our landscape, in the eyes both of natives and of outsiders. The olive and its products have played a major role in our material culture and our religion ever since Noah’s dove. That was easy.

Among the flowers, the race was close, and the rakefet (cyclamen) beat out the kalanit (anemone) by just two percent. Among all the wildflowers of Israel, those two are probably the best known, even by people who don’t know flowers. They are both national symbols of their seasons – the cyclamen blooming already in the winter, the anemone being one of the early signs of spring. The anemone is bright red, and grows quite densely in some areas, so it lends the fields a brilliant blaze of color set off against the green of the spring foliage all around it. It grows plentifully all over the country, from the mountains of the north to the fields of the northern Negev, and there are many places where, on a sunny day, the display is truly breathtaking. There are actually three red spring field flowers, that bloom in succession. The mark of a true aficionado (or someone who was paying attention on the third grade school trip) is to be able to distinguish from a distance among the kalanit, the nurit (turban buttercup), and the pereg (poppy).

Interestingly, the winner was the cyclamen; while some cultivated cyclamen varieties have large, showy flowers, the wild type common in Israel is known for its delicacy and its tendency to peep out from among the rocks. The flat leaves are patterned in two shades of green; the flowers range among a very short spectrum of pale pinks. And since the flower seems to be hanging its head, the popular image of the cyclamen as shy and bashful was immortalized in the classic children’s song by Levin Kipnis, one of the most prolific and influential writers of songs that today are perceived to be folk songs. Knowing what we all know about Israelis and Israeli culture, it is somehow surprising that we chose the rakefet, a flower best known for its humble, modest image, as opposed to the flamboyant, attention-grabbing kalanit. But then, the vote was very close.

There are already cyclamen in our area in full leaf; they were apparently waiting for the first rain as anxiously as we were. It’s nice to see them again after a long hot summer. I am sure they will do us proud in Beijing.

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