Updated: May 9, 2021
The Corona crisis brought so many different challenges to so many people. From the tragic loss of a loved one or job, to being plain bored for months on end, or suffering daily desperation to have your hair roots colored.
When people ask me “how did you cope with the Corona year?” the truthful answer is
“I spent much of it with a talking, cape wearing carrot, and his friends!”
Well, a series of Corona circumstances took me to a place where imagination met inspiration.
Following months of lockdown in our Jerusalem apartment, we decided to relocate to the paradise of Caesarea for the summer. Originally an ancient Herodian port city located on Israel’s Mediterranean Coast about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Caesarea is a national park where amazing ancient harbor ruins, beautiful beaches, and a verdant residential area sit side by side.
I rediscovered myself in a socially-distanced, mask-wearing heaven. Running on the beach, cycling, drinking in the natural beauty, feeling roused. My creativity was re-energized. The color was returning to my life, in spite of the constraints of the Corona situation and its crushing impact on our family and fellow citizens. I was actually feeling like a kid again.
But I also needed to feel useful and purposeful in this new setting.
So one Tuesday morning in July, I went to volunteer sorting and packing at the weekly Food Bank in the yard of the Meir Panim community center in the neighboring town of Or Akiva. Established in 1951 as a development town, Or Akiva has an exemplary multi-ethnic, multi-cultural population of about 20,000, but with above average rates of people living below the poverty line and unemployment at the best of times. The Corona crisis was hitting Or Akiva hard, and Meir Panim was coming to the rescue.
What I experienced that morning was so inspiring. It took my breath away, and it has changed my life.
I arrived to a market atmosphere reminiscent of the buzz at my regular Jerusalem Shuk, but with a homely intimacy about it. The shoppers were lined up with their shop carts, waiting to receive a warm, personal welcome and bags of fruit, vegetables and other food essentials to take home for the week. They were served as regular market customers, yet they did not have to pay for their wares. There are around 500 registered shoppers who come each week, although I have even witnessed that number rise to 700 pre-Passover, during one of the worst periods of the pandemic’s economic reverberations.
The mixture of volunteers who were industriously sorting and packing donated and rescued produce included school leavers, members of the local police, some unemployed chefs, and a random collection of individuals like myself, some of whom had children or grandchildren with them. I noticed that some of the local volunteers were either inconspicuously taking produce for themselves, or discreetly asking the Manager, Ilanit- known as a “Professor of Kindness”- if they could do so. Either way, they had felt compelled to choose the perceived dignity of volunteer status over literally being “on the other side of the fence”.
The sights and sounds and energy. The colors and textures of the crated produce. The sense of togetherness and love and relief in the air. The buzz and chatter and sociability of the atmosphere ignited so many emotions and thoughts in me.
I knew that I had to do something in order to share this experience. To give a taster of this model of resilience, this tango being danced between people in need and people who give, in our Land of Milk of Honey. I also felt that there was a need to change the labeling of “receivers”/ “clients”/”people in need” to something more egalitarian and respectful. After all they were simply “shoppers” at the market. The fact that they were not required to pay for the food they received was a detail that should not be defining their status.
Not long afterwards, Meir Carrot was born.
A symbol of hope and unity. An ambassador of the wonders that can happen when nature’s bounty and the majesty of man interact in the Start-Up Nation, to effect systems for kindness and nourishment. Raw love. Brightness and optimism. Rescue.
“Meir Carrot and the Happy Shopper” was intended not only as a tale, but as a tool to raise awareness and funds for the food bank.
I shared the concept with the team at Meir Panim, and they gave it their blessing and support. The process of giving birth to Meir Carrot and company together with them has been a joy. Getting to witness and to understand the day to day, hour to hour of the Meir Panim center in Or Akiva has made Caesarea/Or Akiva feel like home and like family. Ilanit is my new friend and hero. As an immigrant to Israel of fourteen years, being a part of her team has completed my “coming home” experience.
Once I had the storyline mapped out, I was able to write the first draft within a couple of hours. I could see the scenes and the characters in my mind, and I put together an illustration brief.
Finding Shirley Waisman to bring the scenes and characters to life so beautifully has been such a pleasure and a privilege. Working together with this talented and loveable lady brought charm and sweetness to my vision. Seeing her illustrations was a game changer.
Reading the finished piece to my grandchildren for the first time was a particular highpoint.
Creating Meir Carrot, Danny, Mrs Onion and their adventure at the Food Bank in Or Akiva has filled my Corona year with meaning and vitality. Yet our journey together is only just beginning.
Up, up and away…!