The first redheads’ convention in Israel took place on Thursday at Kibbutz Gezer – a fitting name for such an event since “gezer” is the Hebrew word for “carrot.”
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It looked like a classic concluding item for a news broadcast before going to the weather report. It was a fun project after a wearing and discouraging war that brought no joy to anyone.
“We went from covering battles to classic items for the ‘cucumber season’” – the Hebrew expression for the silly season, or a slow news day – “or the carrot season,” said one journalist attending the conference and counting the numerous cameras there. (The journalist, incidentally or not, had a red beard.)
But the feeling that the whole country was on the front line this summer managed to trickle into the redheaded sphere as well.
The conference had already been a big success on Facebook, with about a thousand redheads registering. However, no doubt fearing that a single rocket strike might render the redhead gene extinct in Israel, Home Front Command officials limited the event to 200 participants. Instead of an open gathering, only a few lucky ones with invitations were allowed through the gates at the kibbutz in central Israel.
Many redheads who had felt the conference was giving them some recognition, finally, were hurt when they were not allowed to attend – as if they were second-class redheads.
“It was stupid of you not to postpone it. What is this, that only some of the people can attend? If you had postponed it, at least 2,000 people would have come,” one keyboard warrior named Roy wrote on the event’s Facebook page, getting nine likes. “No, no, no! I want to go,” said Hen. “It’s not worth it for 200 redheads. I want the satellites to see us.”
Those in the know said the war was not the only reason for the restriction. Events with more than 200 participants require security and an ambulance, which cost money and require planning. Kibbutz officials almost called off the conference because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to meet that challenge.
The redheads who had been turned away tried to put on a competing event in a place with another appropriate name, with Ma’aleh Adumim (“Red Ascent” in Hebrew) topping the list. The designer Odin Shadmi even created a Hebrew-language group called “Redheads Unite” for “all those disappointed by the Redheads’ Conference.”
A local newspaper in Rishon Letzion also got on board, offering to organize a similar event. It seems the organizers made quite the blunder when they tangled with the redhead nation – which, according to conventional wisdom, is quick to anger.
I expected stormy demonstrations in front of the sleepy kibbutz, in a region where no drama had reared its head (red or otherwise) since 1908, when the Gezer Calendar – a small limestone tablet with ancient inscriptions – was discovered in nearby Tel Gezer. But I was pleasantly disappointed.
When I arrived, the redheads – children, teenagers and grandmothers – were sitting next to one another in excitement. It was as though people had found their long-lost siblings after years of suffering persecution and slander.
The conference was conceived and organized by kibbutz resident Ofri Moshe, a 9-year-old girl with fiery red hair, with help from her family and the kibbutz. “I was sitting at dinner, talking about the annual redheads’ conference in The Netherlands [in Breda]. It’s obvious to me that I can’t go there, so I thought a redheads’ conference could be organized on Kibbutz Gezer.
“Later, as I lay in bed, I thought about it again and suddenly it seemed like a good idea to me,” she continues. “My parents thought I was joking, but when I told them I was serious, everybody helped me.”
I ask whether she sees herself as the Barack Obama of Israeli redheads, but she doesn’t understand the question, saying only, “King David was a redhead, too.”
She has this to say about the embittered people on the Facebook page: “It’s because of the security situation. They wrote that it wasn’t nice that there could only be 200 people. I’m sorry that the conference isn’t open to everyone, but 200 is still a lot.”
I compliment Ofri’s father, the painter Naor Moshe, on his daughter’s successful venture. “It’s not the success I like, but her initiative,” he says. “We don’t look for successes, and I’m very excited about what’s happening.”
During the interview, a bashful redhead admirer approaches us, accompanied by his mother. The young admirer, who had T-shirts printed with the phrase “Being redhead is a way of life” (a quote from the song by Dan Almagor), wanted to give one to Ofri, the queen of the redheads. But he is too shy to speak, so his mother gives Ofri the shirt, apologizing that it is too large for her. Ofri hurries to the stage, where she stands with her mother, Merav Oskayo Moshe (who is not a redhead).
Ofri directs the conference smoothly, saying “Wow” when necessary, alongside appropriate jokes (“A conference of redheads on Kibbutz Gezer is like a conference of elderly people in Kfar Sava” – which in conversational Hebrew is pronounced “Kfar Saba,” saba being the Hebrew word for “grandfather”).
Later on, she leads the crowd in various humorous competitions, such as carrot-sharpening or a competition for the redhead with the longest hair – the hair to be measured in carrots.
A young girl named Gili Avisar from Nes Tziona wins, with hair three-and-a-quarter carrots long, and receives a paper medal. Avisar tells me she doesn’t know whether she will bring it with her to school, since the medal might have ripped by then.
The winner in the oldest redhead category, 82-year-old Esperance Asher, seems a controversial choice to me. Asher’s hair is dyed blonde, but she brought photographs proving her status as a true redhead, and claims to be the matriarch of several generations of redheads.
“I suggest that you never dye your hair,” the Iraq-born Asher says from the stage, which serves at other times as a Reform synagogue, concluding, “You’re all super-good-looking.” She leaves the stage carrying her prize – a hot pepper plant.
‘Being normal is boring’
Yoel Weingarten, who lives on Kibbutz Gezer and lost the competition for the oldest redhead to Asher, didn’t seem too disappointed. “I was once an agent for a glue factory. The phrase ‘Call the redhead guy’ was written on my business card,” he says proudly. He compliments Ofri, his fellow kibbutznik, noting, “She’s got pepper!”
Ron Mendel, 14, of Kochav Ya’ir, wins the redhead heritage quiz. “I’ve gotten some awful comments in my life, too” he admits, “but that doesn’t mean anything. Being normal is boring. It’s amazing here! There’s redheaded energy here. It’s the first time I’ve seen more than four redheads in the same place.”
He denies that redheads are in danger of extinction, saying, “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Superintendent Amos Davidovich of the Israel Police, who volunteered to supervise the event, tells me, “I came here because I’d heard that a little girl organized it, and I wanted to help it happen so she wouldn’t be disappointed.” He took pictures of the participants to send to his friends on the force, who had not believed him when he told them he was going to a redheads’ conference.
The artistic program is over. Everyone heads for the highlight of the conference, which is a great success: A group photograph of about 200 redheads in the area next to the kibbutz cemetery. The photographers stand on a tractor to document the event for posterity.
“We’re the top carrot,” shouts a woman sitting on her husband’s shoulders. Ofri’s mother, Merav, stands proudly on the sidelines, saying that her great-grandmother’s sister was a redhead, too.
Although Merav has lost her voice, she manages to croak, “The event was a good thing for many redheads, who had been embarrassed about being redheads before, and made redheadedness something to be proud of.”
Even though the conference has ended, one redheaded boy refuses to leave. “Maybe it isn’t over,” he pleads with his mother.