Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > Israel
Woman Wades into Jordan River to Save Dove Discarded by Clergy

February 22, 2012

Written by Judith Sudilovsky of Jerusalem, Israel

Working as a journalist in Jerusalem for more than two decades, I have covered many a religious ceremony, including the Greek Orthodox Epiphany Ceremony at the Qasr el Yahud baptismal site on the Jordan River. It is always packed with Orthodox pilgrims from all over the world, most of them Greek Orthodox. The ceremony also involves the release of three white doves.

Last year, the site had been renovated by the Israelis and included a wooden platform near the water's edge. As always, the site was packed with pilgrims with barely any walking room. Through this throng the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and Archimandrites (Orthodox ranking just below bishops) made their way with three white doves perched on the tops of three tall golden staffs.

Unfortunately, as they approached the water's edge one of the doves was knocked off the staff. He was scooped up quickly and put back on the staff and the procession continued to the water's edge. At the end of the ceremony, the doves were released into the sky, but the dove who had fallen off the staff apparently had broken a wing and could not fly. He fell right into the river. Luckily, he fell close to some water plants and was able to pull himself to the plants where he clung on to the reeds. It was a a cold rainy day. I was sure one of the priests would arrange for the dove to be rescued. After all, the dove had been a symbolic part of their religious ceremony.

But as the patriarch and others began leaving the site, I saw that nobody was giving the dove a second thought. I approached one of the clergymen and asked him what would happen to the dove who was stuck in the water and could not fly. He looked out into the water and said "I don't know. Maybe he will die." I asked him if he could send someone into the river to get the dove and he said no. I then approached one of the young Israeli policemen who was dressed in head-to-toe rain gear if he would go into the water to get the dove, but he too said no.

So I, a middle-aged woman in jeans, asked one of the photographers who was there to hold onto my purse and, clinging to a handrailing leading down into the river, I felt my way with my feet slowly down the stairs leading under the water until I was almost hip-deep into the water.

I was afraid that the dove would be startled by my appearance and try to escape before I was able to catch him so I quickly scooped him up from the reeds and clutched him to my chest as I made my way back up the stairs.

I was surprised to see that the thousands of pilgrims there � and also who had been watching from across the Jordan on the Jordanian side of the river a few hundred yards away � began to applaud me and the dove. As I made my way through the crowd, they began to bless me and reached out to pet the dove.

At the office of the Israel National Parks Authority near the parking lot of the site, I found a ranger who also was an animal rescuer and he took the dove, telling me he would take the bird to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo where they have a rehabilitation center for injured birds. When possible, they later release the birds back into the wild. Though I do not know the fate of "my" white dove, I like to think that it healed well and is now in a place where he is safe and comfortable -- whether it is in the zoo's sanctuary or other bird sanctuary or in the wild.

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