The Story of Mr. In-Between– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The SS Rizwani of the Mogul Line
The SS Rizwani
On Monday, January 29, 1945, by swerve of shore and bend of bay, the SS Rizwani sailed into Alexandria and Tally Clerk Elias David Levy went ashore. The photo on his leave pass shows a dark youth with intense eyes, broad shoulders, and oiled hair, carefully parted on the left. He’s wearing a heavy crew sweater. The only features that belie the experienced, masculine image he was clearly trying to present are his ears, which stick out from his close-cropped temples in a decidedly adolescent way.

He’d been on the boat for three weeks, sailing from India’s west coast across the Arabian Sea, into the Gulf of Aden, through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the cosmopolitan Mediterranean port. Apparently there were no stops along the way — on his pay slip, nothing is listed under “cash advances during the voyage.” Or perhaps there were and he chose not to disembark. The Rizwani, merchant carrier of the Mogul Line, Bombay, was built in Glasgow in 1930 expressly to ferry Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. While the pilgrimage season had been the previous month, the ship might have stopped at an Arabian port, and Tally Clerk Levy might have thought it best to stay on board.

After being cooped up on what was, by merchant marine standards, a small boat, he was probably eager to get off and explore. The port he’d landed in had a reputation for offering exotic adventures and pleasures that would not get reported home. Bing Crosby was on the radio that day, singing “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” with the Andrews Sisters. The good-times, Father Divine-inspired prosperity gospel sermon had hit Billboard’s charts: “You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive/E-li-minate the negative/Latch on to the affirmative/Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

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My Big Fat Iraqi Hummus Joint–“Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Hummus from Robobby's photo streamIlana’s got that look on her face.
“It’s August,” she says, “and all our friends are going to Corfu, Barcelona, and Antalya. But us?”
“If you wanted fancy European vacations, you shouldn’t have married a freelance writer,” I reply. Although, I have to admit there was something quite enticing about exploring the Island of Corfu in a rental car from
“J.K. Rowling is a freelance writer,” Ilana observes, “and I bet she’s not vacationing in Baghdad this summer.”
“Who wants to go where everyone’s going?” I say. “Seasoned travelers know that the best spots are the ones no one’s discovered yet. Besides, don’t you want to reclaim your inheritance?”
“A burned-out store in the shuk? What good is that going to do me?”
“It may not be much now, but it’ll be prime downtown property in a few years when Iraq is a flourishing Western-style democracy and staunch Israel ally.”

Read moreMy Big Fat Iraqi Hummus Joint–“Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

The Oud Plays for Peace

It’s become dangerous to play the oud in Baghdad, the New York Times reports today. Religious extremists of all stripes apparently agree that secular music is unacceptable. No matter that the oud has been part of Islamic life for centuries. Fundamentalism (in all faiths) is a modern creation claiming to be old – a sort of Piltdown Man of the spirit.

One flaw in the article: Reading it, one could think that the oud is purely an Iraqi instrument, threatened by extinction – when in fact the voluptuous pear-shaped lute reigns from Morocco to Iran as the queen of music. The beauty of the oud may be the one thing that Greeks, Armenians and Turks agree on.

The article also cites a legend that the oud was invented by a descendant of Cain named Lamak. The basis of that legend is obviously the verse in Genesis 4, referring to Yuval, son of Lemekh, as the "father of all who hold the harp and pipe." One way to understand the story is that Yuval created a salve for the tear in the human soul that Cain left. I’m sure there’s a scholar out there willing to write a doctorate on whether the legend linking Lemekh to the oud is more Jewish or more Muslim,

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