Turning Water into Wine

It is the season of atonement. Footy clubs all across the land are in the process of review and reflection as they promise their members that next year will be different. We will be fitter. We will be stronger. We will be more dedicated. And our recruits will make all the difference. We will boost our coaching panel. Our Board is united. Our values will hold fast. We can challenge for the flag!


Alas only one can win.


The other day I was invited by a good friend of mine to celebrate Yom Kippur with her and her family next week. Yom Kippur is the Jewish feast of atonement. After fasting for 25 hours, spent in prayer and reflection, they feast. I’m quite touched to have been invited into this occasion. The Jews take this time to repent and look to the coming year. Yom Kippur takes place after the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of great renewal. Its not dissimilar in some respects to the period of Lent in the Christian calendar.


So, you see, footy clubs are hardly unique. Most cultures, as far as I can tell, go through periods of reflection and repentance. They look to the horizon and hope (pray) for good fortune. Most cultures strive for atonement through thought and contemplation. Footy clubs strive for atonement by sacking the coach.


My initial thought was that this would be the first Yom Kippur celebration that I had been involved in. But it isn’t. I recall another.


In October 1987 I found myself in Israel as part of a year of international walkabout. I traveled largely alone through parts of Europe, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece. From Crete I caught a ferry to Haifa and set foot in the Holy Land.


I’d always wanted to go to Israel. My great uncle lived for a decade in Jerusalem and when I was a young boy, he would visit our family from time to time and regale us with his adventures of exotic places like Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Nazareth, The Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, The Wadi Kelt and the Judean Desert.  I was utterly enthralled.


As a bum backpacker in 1987 I spent a week or so taking in the marvels of Jerusalem (which included the delightful experience of being tear gassed), then headed south to the Dead Sea and Masada. Floating on the still waters of the Dead Sea is like being perpetually suspended in the state of “mid-hanger”; that exhilarating moment when you launch onto the shoulders of some poor sod and get propelled towards the heavens and the beautiful red Sherrin in flight. It defies physics and logic and yet it is so.


I wanted to climb Masada the next morning and follow in the footsteps of the Romans and Sicarii who fought over this geological strong hold back in 70 – 74 AD. It is now a sacred place in Jewish tradition. The story goes that Masada, being a high rock plateau towering over the surrounding Judean Desert, was controlled by the Romans until the Sicarii (often described as Jewish zealots) took it by cunning and stealth in 70AD. It was a time of great unrest between the Romans and the Jews. Once in control of Masada the Sicarii slaughtered the Roman garrison there. Shortly after, the Romans laid siege to Masada but could not dislodge the Sicarii rebels from their elevated stronghold, so they commenced building a huge ramp up the side of the escarpment between 73 AD and 74 AD. The Sicarii knew their days were numbered. It was just a matter of time before the Roman legions reached and breached the walls of Masada. So, days before the Romans reached their goal in 74 AD 960 Sicarii rebels either killed themselves or killed each other. Only women and children were left alive. The Romans surged over the fortifications with a lust for blood and found only silence. Their thirst for revenge and satisfaction went unquenched. Can you imagine the rousing three quarter time speech required to convince the Sicarii men to undertake this action? What a powerful history.


As night fell, I needed to find a place to sleep and contemplate my climb the next morning. It would be another night on the ground and in the open. But I didn’t care. I was 23 and indestructible. I searched through my backpack and found only pita bread and water. It was a very unsatisfactory meal. After scratching around I settled on what could only be described as a carpark/picnic area and found a spot leeward from the wind next to a picnic table where I could feast on my bread and water and sleep. Moments later vans and cars began to arrive.


I watched as people set about unloading tables and chairs and food and wine. Lots of it! They sat along the tables and began to sing and chant and eat. One chap saw me lurking in the shadows and came over.


“Would you like to join us?” he asked. “We are celebrating Yom Kippur. You must come and eat with us.”


With pita bread and water in my belly the thought of a full feed was fabulous. I joined them at the table and we ate and drank and conversed well into the night. They were from a local kibbutz and had people from all corners of the world in their number. It was an extraordinary evening.


The next morning as the sun rose over the ancient land and across the parched desert, I made the sacred climb up Masada to the ruins on the summit. Halfway up I was passed by Jewish soldiers who were making the steep ascent in full pack and at double time on their way to a military graduation at the peak. I wondered what the Jews were thinking as the Roman rampant got closer and closer to their walls? What conversations took place? Whose idea was it to leave the Romans empty handed?  Sacking the coach and moving on was not an option.



So I say in this time of reflection, congratulations to Richmond. They were by far the best team, but I hope the Cats can atone next year. Once the grand final is over in our little and peaceful place it is like the end of a time and start of another. And it’s a time of our year that I just love. We are told to celebrate what we have, not crave what we don’t and to look to the times where our pita bread and water gets turned into food and wine. These things are much easier to say than to do.


Shana Tova.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. John Butler says

    Dips, puts a whole new perspective on “don’t think, do!”.

  2. Anna Sublet says

    Just loved this! Fabulous mingling of history, images and possibilities. Especially loved the image of the Dead Sea mid-hanger. Time to take stock and reload with hope.

  3. Nice reminiscences, Dips.

    I bet you that it all feels like a lifetime ago.

  4. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved it Dips! There is something special about travel!

  5. A great tale Dips. I have to wonder how the men in Masada trusted the invading Roman legion to be respectful and genteel with the women and children left behind. A historical curiosity.

  6. Oh, O’Donnell, you’ve done it again. Made me laugh and tear up, my jaw drop several times, all the while reflecting on what matters and what should matter more. Beautiful writing and storytelling. It took me here:

    “the dance forever the same — the elderly still
    loyally crying Carn… Carn… (if feebly) unto the very end,
    having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation.”

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Magnificently written Dips. A series of wonderful stories linked in with tales of your own. What an experience you had.

    I’m already looking forward to the Pies climbing Masada in 2020.

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