The Torah portion, Balak, tells of Balak, king of Moav, and Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet. Balak feared the Jews, who after almost forty years in the desert were approaching the Land of Israel. He hired Balaam to curse them and hopefully repel the Jewish nation from coming into the land. Eager to set out on the mission to curse the Jews, Balaam rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey. However, HaShem did not want His people cursed and set an angel to stop Balaam. Three times his donkey saw the angel. Three times the donkey refused to move onward. Three times Balaam beat the donkey until HaShem opened his eyes. Finally he saw what his donkey had seen, an angel with a drawn sword.
Zebo was another donkey who lived several thousand years later.She came into our life after we had been living in Israel for ten months. Although I believe that moving here was one of the best things that ever happened to us, the first year here was anything but easy. The Jewish agency representative in America had assured us that children would have an easy time adjusting. However that was not so accurate. True, they picked up the language quickly, but in the beginning it was just as hard for them to acclimate to all the new customs, rules, and conventions as it was for their parents. And they could not discuss their complicated feelings like the adults could.
We spent our first eight months in Israel in an Absorption Center with about one hundred other new immigrant families. More than forty of those families were from English-speaking countries. During school hours the children often felt as if they had been thrown to the wolves. Once school ended they found a wonderful support group with each other.
Then we moved to Shilo. Just a few of the kids spoke English. Even less understood an American mentality. Their parents were kind and compassionate. Children can be mean, though. Any child who was different was a good target for taunting and teasing. Our ten-year-old was especially made to feel like an outsider. So we decided he needed a pet.
A friend took my husband and son to a nearby Arab village where they purchased a donkey for only fifty shekels. Together they made a pen for Zebo, as my son named her. The following day he rode Zebo down the hill to school and his life changed for the better. All the boys wanted to pet and ride and feed the donkey. As they worked together grooming her, the other boys got to know my son as a person, not just as the new kid with the strange accent. As they began to accept him as a person they began to treat him as a friend. Summer vacation started and Zebo was a big part of the boys’ entertainment.
At least once a week Zebo would break out of her pen and go trotting down the hill to freedom. That freedom would last only a matter of minutes. Invariably there would be a handful of boys playing outside and they would give chase. Whoever caught Zebo would proudly bring her home. I never felt that she was too upset to be led back to the pen. She really had a good life with plenty of food, attention, love, and no work.
No work, if one did not count giving rides to children on her back. Towards the end of the summer there was a festival in Shilo. Among the activities was a donkey ride run by my son and his best friends. They made enough money for a nice amount of treats and they had a good time.
All good things come to an end and summer vacation was no exception. The kids were back in school when Zebo pulled free from the rope that tied her to the school fence. As usual she ran down the hill but this time there was no one to give chase. Even though the boys had spied her from the classroom window they stayed in their seats. Perhaps it was because it was the first week of school and they were still listening to their teacher. Maybe it was because they assumed they would bring Zebo back during recess. Recess came, though, and there was no Zebo to be found. Rumor had it she had been kidnapped by an Arab. No doubt her life of leisure was over. As she spent the rest of her years plowing fields I’m sure she fondly remembered the easy life she had in Shilo.
I have fond memories of her, also. She may not have seen an angel with a flaming sword but she also served HaShem. Today our son is a happy adult with his own family. They are living in the Land of Israel as HaShem commanded. It was Zebo who helped him adjust to Aliyah. I will always be grateful to her.