Time ends when a child dies, as it does in the dark heart of a galaxy. The eternal moment, when I dropped Niot off at the bus stop at Fureidis Junction, and he opened the car door to receive a farewell assurance, ask a last question, when I touched him whole for the final time.
I have no time. I limp across Agrippas Street, right foot landing lower than the left, high heel in hand, looking for the last lonely cobbler in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, to whom I had been directed by the leering cucumber hawker I left The General with. A cab, horn blaring, tries to swerve around me just as I get to the other side, nearly colliding with a groaning bus wending its way in the opposite direction down the sluggish street. Shiloh, that’s the name of the alley where the cobbler plies his obsolescent trade.
Yehoshua decided that on the first of Shevat he would stop believing in God. That would give him two weeks to get his life in order.
Getting his life in order meant, first, breaking the news to Kinneret that their marriage was over. Yehoshua was fairly certain that she did not yet know this. Second, it meant a difficult conversation with Rav Moshe Franck in which he would argue that he should continue to be allowed teach Gemara to the girls at the midrasha as long has he kept his private beliefs to himself. Third, it meant telling Tani, his ardent suitor, that he should direct his attentions elsewhere.
Hey, I need a smoke after that, let’s stand here in the shade of this tree, yeah, this olive tree, you always had to say exactly what tree we were sitting under between exercises, but then you’re from a moshav, for us in the city all that’s important is shade on a sweltering day like this. It’s a beautiful tree, though, fine specimen, olive trees are my favorite, they’ve got strong roots, they’re rugged. Let’s stand under that round thing up there, exactly covers the sun, looks like the tree has sprouted a green basketball. I love trees with those things. They’re like a flare that suddenly appears in the sky and guides you through the night. Witch’s broom? Really? That’s what it’s called? Doesn’t look like a broom at all.
It’s a shame about Ilan. Salt of the earth. A warrior like from the old days. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood, I tell you, until he didn’t have any left. Did you see Kochava, that’s class, no screaming or wailing like in my family, strong and silent, with the kids standing by her, and grandkids, dignity, I tell you, dignity, that’s what we used to have here in Israel and don’t any more.
Charge! I keep hearing him call out, Forward, charge! And we’d run up the mountain and shooting at those targets as if filling them with holes was going to save the Jewish people. There was something in his voice that made running up a steep slope on a freezing winter morning and plopping yourself on a bunch of thorns the thing you wanted to do more than anything else in the world. And it wasn’t just play. Remember, in Marjayoun, or was it Hasbayiyya, in Lebanon, I don’t even remember anymore, when he saved the entire platoon by spotting the mortar swiveling our way on that bastard Shiite’s roof? And with a single command he got us under cover and firing like maniacs until we took it out. He was a hero, in the pure sense of the word, the greatest hero I ever knew. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood. Did you see Kochava? She’s at least fifty but she could pass for thirty-five any day, dark and slender, I’d say sexy but it would sound wrong, you’re not allowed to say stuff like that these days. My heart goes out to her. She doesn’t deserve it. The kid’s don’t. Ilan certainly didn’t deserve it, should have been put on a pedestal, given the Israel Prize.
In memory of my younger son, Niot, seven years after his death at the age of 20, during Pesach. From the Pesach 2018 issue of Shabbat Shalom, the weekly Torah portion sheet of the religious peace movement, Oz Veshalom.
“Take, for example, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony,” says Lahav Shani, the twenty-nine-year-old conductor who was recently chosen to lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “It may well be the work that the orchestra has played more times than any other. The musicians can perform it in their sleep. But, precisely when you play something so much, there are things that become routine, and I saw in the music the possibilities of a different balance and a somewhat different point of view” (Ha’aretz, Galeria Shishi, Feb. 16, 2018).
The same can be said for the Pesach Haggadah. Many of us could practically recite it in our sleep. That’s why we need a young “Lahav Shani” on Seder night to freshen up the all-too-familiar material that the traditional Haggadah provides.
Two sit in a café. The cold penetrates the windowpane. Their gaze is not on each other but on the moon, shining through the eucalyptus leaves in a cloudless sky. The woman speaks.
Because you followed me in the wilderness, she says, in a land unsown. They are both trying to be polite, to the point. Their oldest son’s wedding is next month.
The man wears a uniform, with a colonel’s insignia. Why don’t you stop fondling your gun, she suggests. He had not realized that his left hand had wandered there, and quickly removes it.
He clears his throat. There must be some sort of protocol for this. We can’t be the first. The hand that had been on the gun is now on his head, playing with the clip on his kipah. He brings it down, carefully intertwining its fingers with those of its counterpart, keeping both under control.
The woman shrugs. It’s not up to us. It’s what Eliav wants. And Sivan.
He lets out a long breath, very slowly, focusing on control of his breathing.
Let me put it to you straight, he says. Eliav hates me. The two of us are divorced. Now he’s located his father and invited him. Do you really want me to come?
She sips her cappuccino. The left side of her mouth goes up. He doesn’t know if it’s a smile or an attempt to hold a tear back.
Abel surveyed my massive suitcase, carry-on wheelie, and backpack as if he’d never seen luggage before. It had taken a lot of knocking to get him to the door, and I was losing patience.
“You’re going away?” he asked.
“I’m cashing in the chit, my Eritrean friend,” I said, pushing my way into the tiny living room of his mildewed housing-project apartment. “Even a bleeding-heart leftist like me has his limits. For the last two years I’ve held your hand in the line to get your residence permit renewed, recommended you for menial jobs, taught you English, and invited you over for Friday night meals. It’s time to pay up.”
“But Haim,” he said, still confused. “Where are you going? How will I manage without you?”
I pulled the brochure from my pocket and threw it expertly so that it covered the large hole in the upholstery on Abel’s flea-market sofa. “If there’s one value I hold by, it’s justice,” I said. “If I’ve done good, I should get rewarded.”
Abel’s high forehead furrowed as he picked up the brochure and unfolded it.
“Your Future in the Third Country,” he read.
“It arrived for you in the mail. In my mailbox, of course.”
Abel looked confused. “What Third Country?”
“The one our government intends to deport all you Africans to, on the grounds that you are not really refugees. See, according to our government, at the age of twelve you braved death by walking all the way to the Negev from some godforsaken village in the Horn of Africa because you heard you could get a job here washing dishes in a falafel joint.”
Maya is in her room screaming. It’s long after a second-grader should be sound asleep. Long after I need to be sound asleep. I’m so exhausted that I can’t remember what set off the tantrum, and who cares, the tantrum is almost a nightly event.
She’s so loud that Didi, who is doing homework in the kitchen with something he calls music blaring through headphones into his ears, gives me a helpless look. He’s just started junior high school and is having a hard time.
“I’m sorry that this is the kind of home you have.”
He nudges the right side of the headphone a bit off his ear and shrugs. “It’s not your fault.”
I cast desperately around for an explanation. “Maybe it’s because she needs a father.”
“She’d probably scream anyway, and there’d be three of us suffering.”
I sigh. “I guess it’s not the kind of little sister you dreamed of having.”
“I don’t remember any dreams. One way or the other.”
“Baruch! Cheer up! You look like your mother just died!” The shouter of this greeting is Tzefanya, my new locker neighbor at the Jerusalem YMCA Sports Center, which I just joined, after the Jerusalem Pool closed. So I’m actually his new locker neighbor. Actually, we’re both new, because while Tzefania has swum and worked out at the Y for, he claims, at least 50 years, it was at the old facility, which has just been replaced by this spanking new one.
Baruch is probably half Tzefanya’s age, so thin that his tzitziot barely have a shoulder to hang from. Tzefanya is large and hearty and always calls, never speaks. He sounds like the guy who makes the rounds in my neighborhood at 4 a.m. during the month of Elul shouting “Se-li-hot! Se-li-hot!” I’ve never seen that guy’s face, because I never get up that early, even to ask God’s forgiveness, but he probably looks a lot like Tzafanya.
Baruch, Tzefanya, and I are packed onto a bench a meter and a half long, between two banks of closely-placed lockers, along with Nayal, a super-fit software engineer of about Baruch’s age, with close-cropped hair and blue eyes. He’s just putting on his glasses so as to better glare at Tzefanya, which is his usual attitude toward the Tunisian-born grandfather with the muezzin’s voice.
“That’s a really insensitive thing to say to Baruch,” Nayal reprimands him, “given that his mother has, in fact, just died.”
I implore—I demand—you immediately to cease sending me letters and to stop asking after me at Fink’s. It was a fling and it is over. I do not wish to see you again.
Capt. Hugh Fitzsimmons
PS—Bright Star, I am sure that a girl of your qualities will quickly find a love worthy of her. With affection.
Saturday, July 20, 1946
I can understand our Saviour’s reluctance to come to Jerusalem. The heat is oppressive and one can barely breathe, especially here in this inner room at the King David Hotel that no breeze can find. The Galilee’s air is much fresher and cooler. Would you believe that I would welcome a dismal London drizzle? Could you be a dear and send some? Anything to bring relief.
But what do I care if my body is liquefying into pure perspiration? I have come here to be near my Hugh, and to keep an eye on him, for I know very well that he is no more likely to keep his hands and other parts of his body to himself than are the other uniformed men and officers here at headquarters. Vicky, if each British woman who has been fondled, propositioned, and asked to bed by a member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces were to sign her name, we could roll out a petition from my room in Talbiyeh to your place in Bloomsbury.