2014 December


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Aliyah 3-15-06: Galilee

We — a bus troop of Hebrew-learners — hit the road to the upper and lower Galilee, in opposite order. A week ago Wed, off with the Ulpan, rising at 530 to get to Ulpan bus by 7 am. There is a quality of herding cats in such groups, with people meandering off and occasionally back. One girl from Switzerland insists that we stop the bus mid road, as her friend has just arrived at the Ulpan, which we left some ten minutes earlier: she’s only three minutes away, she insists. And we stop.  Then, Miss Swiss exits the bus, one leg on, one leg off, assuring that we cannot leave;  we learn that her friend is still on the highway, being driven by someone, who doesn’t’ know Netanya, so can’t find us. About ten minutes later, some reason prevails, and Opher — our Yemenite guide-song leader-accordianist-pianist-overall core of patience — negotiates Swissy back on the bus, with assurances that it is easier for her friend’s driver to find us downtown Netanya (where another group has been patiently waiting for our now-late arrival). This was a bit like reverse-hostage negotiation: Opher trying to convince Miss Swiss on-board so that we can be held in thrall en route, rather than mis-en-scene. When Swissy’s friend boards, both of them have a mad-on for our not waiting mid-road, rather than going into town. They’re steamed for a few hours.

Something curative of the above upon entering “god’s vineyard” — Carmel. We put Zikhron Yaakov on our right and Haifa north and behind us as we descend into god-will-sow valley, the Jezreel. “To sow,” the word in Hebrew, shares a root with the word, “arm,” connecting us bodily with the limb used to broadcast seeds, signs of hope, of future. This is a very “bodied” land, Israel, also one with sudden, even stark shifts of weather, and we are edging into the season of hope, of spring. Our guide, Sara, points out that this is the best time to see the flowers in the Galilee, before the summer heat wilts them. Life buds, even blossoms here, sometimes in hidden corners, such as the forests we will visit, in spite of the acrimony surrounding. Freud, after receiving Stefan Zweig’s enthusiastic book about Israel, thanked him, and remarked eliptically, that this is a strange land, from which little art or science has emerged, but only three illusions. (And of such illusions, Freud saw little future.) Freud finishes, it should be studied more.

So, let us study. We are on a geological and geographic trip today, getting the feel of this upper and lower Galilee. There may be several origins for the word “gallil,” wave, but the one I seem best to absorb is that the word captures the rolling waves of hills and valleys. At one point, “galllil’ itself was the word for “territory.” Flavius Josephus, that
remarkable turncoat who once was a Jewish general in this area, until caught by the Romans and saved his life by joining their forces. He revealed Jewish hide outs and such, writing a brilliant account of the Roman slaughter and conquest of the Jews, including the last days of Masada. To him we should have some gratitude. Perhaps. He writes
extensively about the geography of this turf, a major route connecting Egypt and Damascus. His twenty-century-old book passage can serve as a tour guide.
Or, we can turn to our faces. Trace from your neck upwards, and you have the gallil. Start from your big toe (standing en pointe, one jambe resting on the other’s thigh), one arm eleve, finger pointing upwards, and you have the whole of Israel. Start with your belly button, to find Jerusalem. The toe is Eilat.  (Beersheva is that depression in between found on females.) The mounds of two mountain ranges north of Jerusalem are better found on women. The neck is god’s sowing valley, the Jezreel. Then to the face: the Jordan river defining our left ear, the Mediterranean our right. The chin is the range extending east from Mt. Carmel, then a valley, followed by lower lip Tuan, the parsing of lips of Netufa Valley, the upper lip of Yotfat, a valley leading to the nose of Mt. Meiron, with Tzfat sitting astride our left
nares. When I look at the map and compare with my body map, it looks a bit lopsided, leaning a bit to the left. But there is a lopsided quality to this land.
While we are to feel the geography, the history is too tempting for Sara and us as we run through along the neck of Jezreel. With Carmel to the left, she recalls the story of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Ba’al, which begins on the mountainside, and ends in a bloody path to the Kishon River. (“River” is a relative term in this land of dry.) I do not know my prophets well enough and she obliges. After three years of no rain, none, the prophets of Ba’al challenge Elijah to a god-duel atop the mountain. They announce that they will pray mightily, then a flash of fire will descend to their altar and rain will follow. They play Ba’al, step up to the plate and whiff out. Elijah, feeling his oats, apparently, suggests that they pray a bit more, another turn at bat. They oblige. They are pitched to three strikes again. Then Elijah steps to the plate, lofts his ash wood, glints at the mound and gives a wink. (I added the wink.) First nada, nichts, rien. Then, a small cloud appears in the West, from the Mediterranean. A cloud the size of a palm. Then a flash of fire and drenching rain. Grand slam! The Ba’al players proclaim their belief in Elohim, changing sides mid-game, and begin running to home plate, which is down hill and towards the Kishon. The spectators of the Jewish team, have nothing to do with this change of heart, and wipe out the Ba’al team en route. None make it home. Game called because of rain.
 The drive across the bridge of the Kishon is a hiccup. Hiccup and you can miss it. But somewhere around here occurred also the story of Deborah, the judge and Barak (lightening) her general. Told to take on Sisra and his attacking marauders, who “visited” periodically, generally around harvest to rob, pillage, kill (the usual suspects), Barak responds to Deborah, “O.K., but only if you are there.” She says, “Cool, but then everyone will think it is a victory of a woman.” He takes this in stride, it seems. Deborah figures that after the rains the night before, Sisra’s charioteers will be more vulnerable in the muddy plains. She is right; they get stuck; Barak comes in for the kills and Sisra escapes. He finds refuge in Yael’s tent and is thirsty. She serves him milk and he nods off. She drives aspike through his temple. Tough chicks seemed bred around here.
 I’ll breeze through the rest for now. We keep ascending. We crest above the Netufa valley and see the huge water transportation system that Ben Gurion insisted would be built to irrigate the Negev. Coming from the Kinneret, it runs above ground, empties into some artificial lakes in the Jezreel valley, where the water is freshened, then heads below ground to somewhere around Petach Tikva, then to the desert. We stand on a crest looking on the patchwork of deeply green-hued small farm plots in the Netuafa valley. If I recall correctly, these Arab farms were once Moslem and Christian. A few years back, the Moslems slaughtered the Christians. There you have it. The farms are divided among brothers as fathers die, so the plots get smaller. Looks beautiful from a distance. The water channels from the Kinneret decorates one side of the valley, like a string of sapphires.
 By afternoon, we are ascending the Meiron. We are to visit the graves of some millenia-old pre-rabbis, an adoptive father who raised his orphan son. I don’t recall names, but they often disagreed about religious interpretation, but they lie eternally together. Somewhere near here, the gemarrah was signed. We have been a mobile nation, carrying our stories, our laws, and our debates with us. Light travelers, with heavy matters.
We descend a mountain side and Sara helps us discover the flowers, tiny, as is this country. There are two species of oaks here, but “oak” does not capture the modest size of most of these trees. They are a few steps up from bonsai and nothing like in the US. Much deforestation was done by the Turks during W.W.I to get rails for their army. One area is spared, which was populated by Germans (not Jews), who did careful harvesting to satisfy the Turks, but retain the forest.
Tulips. The Crusaders brought the tulip from Israel to Europe, so I am told by Sara. I hadn’t realized how much the Dutch were indebted to Israel. But the tulips here are also diminutive, relatively speaking. Slipper orchids. Kaloniot — the flower of red petals and a collar of white, made into a lovely, yearning song by Shoshana Damari, who died recently.
 We visit Biriya, a site of resistance against the British; the only settlement to be completely evacuated by the British. Then the surrounding Jews ascended to protest the removal. This was a colony of religious Zionists. We look at photos with the guide, who names young men and woman, many in their teens, who later continue to contribute to the State. Some are still living.
 I will return to this again, this trip over rolling waves of the Gallil.

In the Persimmon Orchards

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Feb. 17, 2006 Leg Hopper in the Persimmons

Something about working in the persimmon orchards gets the writing into me.

Today, despite a partially severed Achilles tendon, after ice pack, much anti inflammatories and Linus Pauling dosages of Vitamin C, I am off. The bus is beaten by my favorite, the Sheirut Monit. (Pronounced as in the Old West term for stogies, Cheroot). I hop on (hopping being a current mode of travel on my left foot) and sans newspaper, sans reading glasses, sans full wakefulness, daydream the route to the kibbutz. The woman just in front of this 10-seater van is making herself up. I wonder of this, as I see her wedding ring.  She is meticulous, mirror balanced on two fingers, works with concentration. She needs little beauty help, with her slightly olive-green tint of skin, but — as woman have wont — does look more beautiful after her “do.”

Moshek, kibbutz agricultural manager, is always enthusiastic when I call on arrival. I read the word “karkar” on the Glil Yam welcome sign — it is an archaic term for “founded.” I also glance at the signs pointing to various companies leasing space from the kibbutz — DHL is here, as is some high-techy place. Then there is the “biton,” which I later learn is the kibbutz’s own cement factory; this kibbutz and these kibbutzniks have very fundamentally built this country and in ways not deeply appreciated today. Moshek arrives in one of his dust-crusted diesel-powered trucklets. His handshake, this 68 year-old, rail-thin former Navy Seal, a man whose abdomen is noticeably hollow beneath his work shirt, is bone-hardened, firm. We’re off. I mean to ask him something about energy collaboration with the Swedish government, but these matters evaporate from my head this early in the a.m. and in the face of his greeting: the last of the Zionists, he calls me. But, I tell him there are more of us. He likes, “us.” We join the two Thai workers — Shay is out ill, Moshek says. (Tomkap later tells me that Shay has sore muscles, not from work, but from weightlifting.)

I come with an unspoken sense of guilt that when I was here last, just before my sojourn in the States, and upon my list picking of avocados, the Fuerte species, I mistakenly pulled many off their branches, and cut others leaving stem intact. I learned after I was done, that those I picked — sans stems — cannot be graded for export, are doomed for the local shuk. As I left, I glanced at the crate of stemless Fuertes, which like Samson, once shorn were of secondary strength, and felt remorse. I am determined today to be a better worker.
We tree trim today. I see how doing agriculture brings you closer to the seasons, brings me. How much I need prepare for that penultimate moment –picking in September — before that ultimate moment — the last temptation of eyes at Gristedes or Whole Foods, before you taste.
So, we trim. I am more cautions here with my gimp leg. The rains in the last few days have created gullies in some of the old tractor tracks. These take to mind the gullied ponds that MC. Escher drew, which reflected back the trees, the clouds and within which he planted a carp; after a bit, you realize you are seeing the reflections and are looking at a gully which somehow has been filled with a carp, or some such fish with barbs.
But I will not be distracted by such mind wanderings. I am a cutter today, a trimmer, a man who will shape trees to bring light unto their lower branches. We bypass Shin, who is working the chain saw, and join Tomkap with long-handled pruners, as I am so armed. Moshek takes a moment longer to show me the principles: if more than three branches off a node, I must trim; if branches are too crowded (jeopardizing unborn fruit which will later bump and grind each other, defect their brethren), I must thin. I am to follow Tomkap. This is fine with me, although I notice after Moshek leaves, that Tomkap has a much coarser style of pruning, more akin to slash and burn agriculture. The two Thai workers as usual are masked with T-shirts. I watch, after their snacks, how they don these. It seems to
be a finer form of cotton, dark, with the face peeking through the neck hole; the short-sleeve arms are then tied in a double knot behind the cranium, about the skull’s crest. The eyes and nose are revealed. On top, a hat is perched.
But before Moshek leaves, he notices that I “Mitlabet,” am indecisive. He encourages  decisiveness.
I find myself thinking of Steiner, the founder of Theosophy, speculating with perhaps a touch of envy, on how plants have the better of us: they concentrate on growing, while we busy ourselves with other matters, such as consciousness, love, work and such. This tree is interested in simply branching out, getting its sap moving after winter’s sluggishness, popping fruit and getting such popped fruit propagating more trees.
Also, as I trim, I cinch up my decisiveness by remembering that an error her, an over-trimming there, is correctable for the most part by these trees. (We have 8,000 to trim, I remind myself as I find my mind-meanderings interfering with my prunings.) If we could only be a bit more treelike: prune off those parts that sap our energies (these “sappers” that come off the trunk and will not bear fruit); lop off extraneous branches that unbalance our symmetries (and interfere with the tractor); eliminate cross-branches that crowd out each other, diminish the fruitfulness of the overall tree. If only we could do such prunings in an unpainful manner, knowing that our overall growth will bear more fruit. And if an error be made, so be it; starfish-like we could pop out another branch.
But we are not so treelike. Our souls would not bear the lopping Imeet out to these persimmon trees, very distant cousins.
The sun is firm. Even at 8 a.m., I remember how Moshek taught me to have my back to the sun as I was persimmon selecting, so as not to be eye-worn. So too, I learn to get my back up-sun so I can see better where my next victims are, so I can see better the overall crown of the tree. I should, after a good pruning, be able to look up through the tree crown and see an unobscured arbor, without much shading by the limbs, without limbs crossing each other, without much “Tz’fi’fut,” crowding. No tenements here. Trees to bear fine fruit will not tolerate tenements.
But my lopping style is more conservative than Topkat’s, I mean Tomkap’s. (I slip to Topkat, thinking of the giant Chinaman in the James Bond movie, who tries to decaptitate Bond with a cast of his knife-edged Bowler.) He goes for the limb, goes at the origins, trims the sappers off the trunks. I start from the outer reaches and work inwards. At times, I find I have handsomely trimmed a few branchlets, only to find that Tomkap has preceded me and the limb has already been severed and is simply resting against another, has not fallen.  I learn to check for severed limbs first.
 By 1100, the sun, once too warm for my Land’s End yellow jacket, is now hidden by clouds, a few drops fall, we wait for Moshek to go to the next orchard. As we wait, Tomkap takes a tiredeness; slips into one of the large, square receptacles, once filled with persimmons or avocados, pulls his sweat shirt hood over, and promptly naps. Clouds gather threateningly, I pace, stretch my Achilles and we wait. But my Achilles, that tendon that made vulnerable this Greek hero, is wearing me down from my conquests.
I head back with Moshek. I remember to talk with him about my idea with Kamella, who works at the Swedish embassy and is in my class, about biofuels. Moshek, as if primed, takes off with three types of plants that produce much oil. The macadamia nut is 97% oil; ladies won’t eat it anymore, even though Moshek thinks it tastes wonderful. He is surprised that it is so expensive in Hawaii. Hawaii and New Caledonia (or some such Pacific isle) have taken over the remaining market of ladies who don’t give a damn about oils. He, Moshek is left with an orchard of fatty nuts. Also something called Haria, which is faster to grow. We plan, even scheme. I am energized. He unloads me with a few pounds of avocados. And I hop, one-legged mostly, onto a Sheirut home.

The DMV and Dante

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Holon, Israel, 2006

Today is was a bully. I mean, Bully. I entered the Holon Division of Motor Vehicles, after the hour or so bus ride from Ra’anana, and was transformed some dozen minutes later. Like the Hulk, bursting fissures through his skin.

In Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz, when the film switches from Kansas to Oz , it changes from black-and-white to color, the first use of color in a Hollywood film, I believe. Here, I went reverse: from color to black-and-white. And as in the film, Roger Rabbit, three-dimensional creatures turned into two-dimensional cartoons (who then pop-out 3-D eyes; here too, 3-D became 2-D. I may have become two-dimensional also, I just couldn’t see myself too well; I felt a bit, well, flat.  But enough film-ishness. On to the tale of my transformation.

Here’s the deal. The DMV (I will call it) is open Sunday through Thursday, but will only change American licenses to Israeli permits on Mon. and Wed. This, I am later told, was publicized in newspapers (in Hebrew), Radio (ibid.) and even internet (op. cit.).

But, I left Raanana with robust intentions. I was forewarned by fellow student, Miriam, that the Holon place is a place of snakey lines, Hebrew only, and being told to go from the front of one line to the end of another, and then again. I had girded my loins with a visit to the MEMSI (pre-license) office in Ra’anana: got an official-looking light green form with my photo in one corner, filled out by an optometrist after an exam (40 shekels), then by a physician, then I completed it with questions that I mostly understood. Brought all my other documents: US license, US passport, Israeli I.D., Israeli Oleh card, and a blank check. Hopped the bus to TA at 800 ( a bit on the late side, I was forewarned), into TA central bus station by 9, through security, only to learn that I had to exit the building to get the Holon bus. (Holon means something like “sand-edness”, as does in Arabic, Ramleh). In Holon, the driver tells four of us to alight at a busy intersection, in an area that was in transition from rural to semi-industrial. I gather that the DMV is nearby, as I see student drivers with a big “L” (for learner) magnetized to the top of their car, perched anxiously over the steering wheel, a bit praying-mantis-like, crawling in the right lanes of traffic, while their examiner sat next to them.  Their examiners are too busy talking on their cell phones to notice anxiety.

But where’s the building, I ask as I alight, one foot still on the bus? The bus driver tosses his head back and to the right. I see nothing, but follow my co-miserables. One says to me, the driver couldn’t deposit us over there? He points to a bus stop on the other side of a busy road, and only five minutes walk from the building. I joke, that he looked at us and thought we needed exercise. My jokiness doesn’t sustain itself.

We pass through the usual gun and metal detectors and are swept by the wand for weapons, as well as a pat down in the small of the back. After today’s experience, I gather that security should not be concerned about Palestinian bombers/shooters, but Israelis who know what they will soon endure.

Short and sweet, I get the run-around. The lady at the information desk tells me return Mon. or Wed. and tries to hand me a long sheet in Hebrew telling me what she had said. I have learned now, not to even try Hebrew; to act dumbly American monolingual. I ask to speak to the manager. She acts now, as if she has lost her English comprehension. Finally says that the manager’s name is “Lital,” then changes to “Atal.” (Names are changed to protect the guilty, I gathered.) She tells me to go around the corner. There, hidden in another corner is a door. It is cracked open as the woman, Lital/Atal, is talking to a man, telling him in Hebrew, “Take a hike.” As I step forward, she slams, then locks the door. I am brought to mind of speak-easies, and am thinking of some code-knock that will get her to look through the peephole. She opens promptly, however, hears my American, and gives me the quick brush off: Mon. or Wed.  I explain that we have one day off monthly from Ulpan and it is Sunday. (I don’t tell her of my gimpy leg.) She persists; I persist. She tells me she’ll meet me around the corner. I hesitate, figuring this is a feint.  And I am right.

Around the corner, Lital/Atal has evaporated. But, as in Roger Rabbit, my detecting skills persist and I see her scurry through another locked door. She stops when I call, “Lital/Atal!”  Says she is late, late to a meeting.   Now, I like Alice, ask this white rabbit to see the Queen of managers. She says it is Ital who is out right now. (I later learn, she is “out” at the meeting that Atal is trying to get to.) Atal does another feint to the first clerk; says she will tell me the name of the Real Manager.

No doing, Tal (the first lady) says. There is no other manager; doesn’t know what I am talking about; I must have heard Atal wrong; only Ital, who is ….. out. An older man comes up, bushy mustached, pulls aside his plaid shirt to flash a name tag; says he’s a driving instructor here.  Walks me over to the locked door through which Atal disappeared; tells me to wait there.

Whereupon, “Alice,” another clerk with a upper Midwest US accent approaches me. Says that Atal is gone; won’t be back; Ital is out.  I have to come back Mon. or Wed.  I said I just saw Atal walk through that door and I will just wait here.  No, Alice insists. She is of impressive bulk, of the kind that the airliners have invented “seat-belt extenders” so that they can get the belt around them, of
the kind who the airline put in the three-seats-across aisle, then do not book the middle seat (if you are fortunate). She uses this bulk to good stead. She stands out in this flat cartoon universe. Tells me I can wait for Atal out there, in the general waiting area, a place akin to purgatory, with forlorn looking souls, bent-necked, waiting with waning hope.  As in those in Dante’s purgatory, they have
committed no crime, just born at the wrong time or place and hope for the kindness of strangers.

I am transformed. I, Bullius  won’t move. Alice ups the ante, tosses some of her higher cards on the poker table. I can’t stay there. I must go out.  She will call the cops. I tell her, quietly, that I want to speak to the Manager. And here, she tips her one big card so I get a peek: she tells me the name of the Real Manager. He is upstairs. I go upstairs. A locked door again. Again, a woman is talking to some said plainants through the door slightly ajar. She tells me to wait out in the hallway. Half an hour and the Manager will be out of his meeting.

I have brief interlude during which I talk by cell phone with Myron, my Virgil in this Inferno or is it Purgatory. He wonders how this will turn out. Not so bad, after all.

Someone comes twenty minutes later, buzzes the door and …. is buzzed in. I now figure that I may try this maneuver. I am buzzed in. There is another ante room, with a secretary’s desk, but no secretary. There are small offices, in which two woman work, while talking on their cell phones; people come and go, not talking of Michelangelo, nor any other such art. Perhaps forty minutes later, a pleasant, self-assured fellow walks out, as if ready to leave with a woman soldier next to him. He pauses at the exit. Asks the pelephone-chatting women, “Who is this man waiting for?”
“You,” in one-word chorus.
He apologizes that he is stepping out to say goodbye to the soldier; will be right back.

And he does return. I tell him I need help. Show him my forms, tell my tale. He takes me about the shoulder, says, “Let’s go downstairs, see what we can do.”

I see him huddled next to Alice downstairs. He speaks with a smile, arm around her shoulder. She is petulant, bumps him with her ample rear.  Twice.  Makes a motion to him that he should plant a kiss there.  He does no such thing, but implores further, steps out to reassure me she will help me. Invites me to sit and notices crumpled trash on the seat; removes it, with an apology and ascends. Alice is unhappy. After a feint, as if she is too busy, she removes the “closed” sign over a window and motions me over.

I surreptitiously time this. Slightly under 2.5 minutes, she has glanced at my US license, Oleh certificate and signed my provisional Israeli license. Tells me to go outside to the post office to Xerox a copy of my US license. I hesitate, not wanting to lose my contact with her as we are about to consummate the deal. Think for a moment to slip up to Manager’s office to Xerox there; think better, slip out to the PO, which is inside the security perimeter (no bag checks), make two copies and hustle back. She tacks on the copy and dismisses me. I thank her. She ignores me.

Shortly after leaving the building, the retransformation happens. I see color again; I feel myself in three-dimensions. Almost feel a “pop,” as I am reinflated.  Remarkable.  Like the Purple Rose of Cairo, I am transformed from the flat screen to 3-D life.  I rather like all three dimensions.

In Dante’s last circle of Hell, the sinners are cursed to stand at the foot of Satan; their tears flow and freeze on their faces; their bodies are encased up to the neck in a block of iced tears. Had Dante known about the DMV, he would not have to have been so imaginative.  Just wander this lobby of lost souls, peopled by more lost souls on the other side of the counter. And briefly, occasionally, a decent fellow descends and acts humanely.

Now, to pass the driver’s test.

Out of Berkeley

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A Good-bye to Berkeley

Days of Memory and Independence

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May 1 2006: Yom Ha Zikaron/Atzma’ut

“Where is he wounded?
You don’t know if the aim is a place on his body
or a place on this Land.
A bullet sometimes passes through
the man’s body and wounds
his Land’s earth.”
—- Yehuda Amichai
A Jewish way to “celebrate” Independence: start with a day of mourning. Jewish holidays start with darkness, start the night before, to remind us that “in the beginning was darkness and waste.” But Independence Day here in HaAretz, “the Land,” starts with a double darkness:  the darkness of the night before, and the darker entire night and day before to remember all those fallen since the State’s founding.
I was encouraged, or perhaps warned unintentionally, not to miss the Yom Ha Zikaron (Day of Memory) ceremony in Ra’anana. Tel Aviv’s is more impressive perhaps: in Rabin Square every major singer, artist, alights the stage, sings one song and leaves. There is respect for the day: no protest speeches, no signs waving. But, little Ra’anana a town of some 60, 000, fills its Yad Le Banim square (Hand/Memory of the Sons’) with some 15, 000. On television, starting at 8 p.m. and for the next twenty-four hours precisely, runs the name of every person killed in the State.
I was still in the U.S. I had been asked to stay a few days longer to work as an expert witness for the Court. I said, “Impossible.” I did not say, “I won’t miss my first Independence Day, as I had missed my first elections.” I just said, impossible, and the Court backed down, worked out a schedule so that I could finish work late last week.

For me, Independence Day is the most important Jewish Holiday: holier than Yom Kippur, with only less food and ceremony than Pesach.
 I could not miss this.
I had not understand the weight of the preceding Yom Ha Zikaron.
Precise was the timing. A very unJewish precision. The ceremony starts precisely at eight. I, a bit stunned with jet lag, get phone calls from my neighbor Michelle, most of which I do not hear, until I call and she says that her husband, Ira, is also returning from the States, will take Ben and Avital, two of their teen children, to the ceremony; Michelle is staying home with eight-year old Mayan. Their eldest, Ben, will be recognizing the ceremony with his army unit. Thoughtless as I am, I bring my laptop, figuring that I will arrive a few minutes early, work in the wireless cafe Ilan across the street, then join. 
Streets are blocked off. The main street is blocked for some distance. The Kfar Saba fire engine parked across the square. Police direct traffic; soldiers abound, many seen only in shadows. Ira phones me as I am approaching, around 745, to say that they have saved a seat for me on the side, near the stage, but obscured by a video screen. He comments that the previous mayor left much of the seats facing the stage open for the public; reserved only a few for the elite; this mayor seems to have more people demanding reserve seating, so we are relegated to the wings.  Wings are enough for me, as I  tears press my cheeks through much of the ceremony.
The cafe is dark. All cafes, restaurants are closed. It is like Yom Kippur here in Ra’anana: main street empty of traffic, filled with people; stores dark, blinkered.
And at eight, precisely at eight, all stand, air raid sirens begin simultaneously. They halt serially, as if distant echoes of each other. I sit between Ben — who has just received notice that he is being recruited for the air force, whose brother is in Nachshon — and bleary-eyed Ira. I think during this ceremony, how, when Ira arrived to Israel, on his first Yom Ha Zikaron, a boy from Ra’anana is killed — Daniel G…, a name too close to his eldest son’s. I think during the ceremony of how war reverses the natural course of mankind: instead of sons and daughters burying parents, the opposite occurs. I can’t recollect if this is Heroditus who made this observation. I don’t know if I should congratulate Ben on his news, or admonish him never to be listed in this ceremony. I want to tell Ira that Daniel should always return home safely. I think how this country is guarded by such very young and prematurely aged soldiers
 Just before the ceremony, I am distracted by looming, fleeting shadow giants. The facade of Yad Le Banim is illuminated brightly. There is a mezzanine roof backed by an arch leading to a domed roof. On the face of the arch, I see these Refa’m, “Giant Ghosts,” fleet by. I think that they are soldiers on the roof, scouring for danger. Later I see that the edge of the parapet is lined with candles. As each soldier’s, each terrorist victim’s name is read, someone above lights a candle of remembrance. In my youth, my parents lit too many of such Yahrzeit (Year time) candles. In my youth, these were all lit the same day of the year, as the Nazis didn’t notify my parents of the dates of their siblings and parents murders .
Here, we know.
 Each name is read and flashed on the screen, date of birth, parents’ names,some with a nickname. Most have photos; not all in the early years. The photos are so varied. Some nineteen year olds look much older; some in uniform, some in that European crouch, with one knee extended, hair swept back from a touch of a widow’s peak. The Sephardi dead are recognized not only by names, but also by these remarkable dark eyes.  Some died before they could exchange their Galut name –Jacques, Franz — for an Israeli moniker. An occasional photo was a candid, with a broad smile; most are in uniform. The women I wonder about: how did an eighteen year old girl die in the Jordan Valley? Then, there are the few men in their forties and fifties. Fifty is the age of retirement from reserve duty; how did this fifty-one year old die? Many of these names are familiar to Ira, he tells me later: that is Stuart W.’s son; this should be the mayor’s brother; later we hear from a young man about his older brother’s death in 1990, then see the boy’s face. Interspersed, for the sake of breaks, are songs, recitations, movies of former battles. The early movies are black and white; towards the end we see color and the Merkava, Israel’s own tank, built to protect its men better than the British and American armor. A scene near the Old City in ’67as men dash, then slide into a stone wall on a roof top, smashing their bodies into Jerusalem stone, before peering above the roof line to fire.
The young man, perhaps now in his late twenties, speaks of his brother’s death sixteen years ago. I struggle to understand the Hebrew of all he says. He begins with last Passover; how the questions of the youngest child, the Mah Nishtanah (How is this night different than all other nights?) begins the entire Seder story. How is this night different? You, my brother are still not here. He recalls brotherhood — the pranks done, the games played, the arguments over who will stay up latest. He says how the love by brother of brother is a different kind of love, different even than the love of father or mother for child. He is even toned; only his words are powerful. He folds his words, places them next to his heart and leaves the stage; leaves us with feelings. Another series of dead are seen; more candles flicker.
Too many candles line the roof; dimly light this too-dark night.
Even during the ceremony, we are interrupted by ambulance sirens. Ira says that this is the first ceremony during which he has heard so many sirens. Even as we remember the dead, we are reminded of more who are dying, can die. We finish with Hatikva, the Hope. I still find tears welling in my throat as I sing and listen to two thousand years we have looked towards Zion and hoped. Now we have a Land, we have achieved our hopes, but still hope (unrealistically) that no more names and photos will be added to this overlong, this ever-too-long list.
Copyright N. Szajnberg, MD 2006

Lebanon II: More War; Shooting a Bicyclist

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Kiryat Shemona

At the Edge of War: Lebanon 2006

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Tuesday, August 8. 2006


A Physicist, a Poet and a Psychoanalyst at the Edge of Jenin

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Written 8/8/06: the Lebanon Conflict

Two-wheeling the Desert

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9/4/06 Outside Qadesh Barnea

For all the 535 km. biked from Jerusalem to Eilat, for all the landscape, for all the blazing desert, which felt as if at times heat blasted from earth’s core, roasting us ventrally, for all this and more, but a few moments remain scorched into memory, and a few people, in fact, two, remain memorable.

By day three, we are cleared by the military to ride the Philadelphii road, the coarsely gravelled road parallel to the Egyptian border. We are warned. If you need to piss, face away from the Egyptians, as they may take a forward-facer as offensive and shoot in return. But, facing northwards, the pisser contends with the prevailing southerly winds.

Warning. We will climb 400 meters to Qadesh Barnea, where Abraham and Sarah paused on their route to Egypt, where Moshe paused with tens of thousands of ex-slave Jews on return from Egypt, waiting to hear from the dozen spies’ (a prince from each tribe) report on the land of Canaan from which these Jews had been absent for four hundred years. Then, we will descend slightly to begin the one kilometer ascent to Mount Harif (Mount Spicy), highest point in the Negev.

I feel my heart would burst as I snake the last few meters to Qadesh Barnea. But I also know that if I dismount, I won’t remount. I do not look upwards, but keep nose to wheel, occasionally slaloming to make the upward ascent less steep. This ascent gives new meaning to aliyah. Oddly, it is the terribly bad, unmusical tom-tomming, of the crew above that gives me impetus, if not hope, that I can arrive.

I stand on Qadesh Barnea, looking downward and north, into Israel, a landscape not so different than what Moshe saw: shaley shoulders descending to the baked, barren desert, of multiple soft, pastel hues, dead to the eye. No life. To imagine a land flowing with milk and honey takes much imagination, much hope, or at least a belief in a certain G-d.  Perhaps, it also took Moshe’s belief in this rag-tag passel of people that they could find or create such a land. No, from here, after a heart-bursting climb, I see more a land that consumes its inhabitants. I am no Moshe at this moment, certainly no Caleb nor Joshua.

We will eventually turn north, taking an indirect route to Eilat, stopping at Machtesh Ramon, shabbating a day, before we descend into the more G-d-forsaken Arava, a deeper, more desolate desert, with a string of kibbutzim necklacing north to south. A night there, a brief rebellion by the riders against the fund-raisers, with our insisting on leaving much earlier to avoid riding in the midday sun, before we descend to Eilat.
But before this detour north to the Machtesh, before the descent to the Arava, before our gentlemanly revolt, I wish to tell you of two remarkable men, David Palmach and Lt. Itzik P. whom we meet before we ascend Qadesh Barnea and the Lt. at our lunch on the military base. He calls himself Palmach, not his moniker at birth. His renaming he preforms at age eighteen to honor the Palmach, the predecessor of the Hagannah. He arrives from Morocco at age two, becomes an Israeli by eighteen. Now, he lives on Nitzanim, along with five families and a gaggle of adolescents: lone teen emigres from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopian kids who need to leave home to become Israeli.
Nitzanim, named after a delicate flower that announces early spring is the ironic name of this desolate outpost at the corner of Israel, a stone’s throw from Palestinian Gaza and a bullet away from Egypt. He is proud to announce that the brackish ground water, which they have learned to desalinate, could serve thousands of inhabitants for one hundred years: so he told a visiting Indian diplomat. Unfortunately, the next morning the water of a hundred years couldn’t flow; massive jugs are brought in for breakfast. They experiment with raising dates and assorted foods on brackish water; a futuristic, Jules-Vernish contraption that greets us before we see the settlement is part of their solar water system. Their major goal, however, is to help teens become Israelis.
He is remarkably short, this triathelte. Announces at teh start that he won’t speak of himself, but of his redoubled efforts to save youth, redoubled since his fifteen year old daughter’s death in a fall near Ben Gurion’s desert grave. He will convert mourning to action. His remaining son, I will tell you of,and the miracle that David Palmach believes his son has wrought. With G-d’s help, says this head-covered father.
His daughter was on a field trip with teens, learning the land, hiking, rock-climbing, camping. There she died. Too long to get a helicopter in to the rocky outcroppings. He has slides of her.
His son, serving in the armored corps in Gaza, is called back to learn about his sister’s death. As the only remaining child, the army won’t send him back to Gaza. But the son has his own ideas. Asks to retrain as an aviator. Graduates from helicopter training. David Palmach shows us his son’s Cobra. A few weeks back, a girl falls in the Judean Desert. The brother flies in to save her life.
This is David Palmach’s sense of redemption. Yes, he continues with slides of the teens in the programs, teh famous visitors who will come for a few hours, or a day, from Arik Sharon to some U.N. guys. But what reemains in memory is how David Palmach and his son have tried to transform their tragedy into the world’s betterment. Small betterments: some teenagers learning about solar energy, learning Hebrew, learning sports, or saving a fallen girl’s life.
We are all exhausted that night. But no one leaves David Palmach’s talk. For it is his life that speaks.
Lt. Itzik is proud that he learned his English in Brooklyn when he was ten, eleven. Looks forward to practicing; asks us to correct him. Which we don’t, as we are too entranced by what he says, by what he does, than how he says it.
We had been delayed entrance to the base from the Philadelphii Road: unclear to the command who gave us permission to ride this military trail; unclear if we had security clearance to enter. Awkward period as we stand astride our bikes in the midday sun; nowhere else within kilometers to find shade, eat. Finally granted permission, we invade
the provence of 18 to 20 year-olds. We are given leeway to use the lu, if only one can find it. A trough — filled with old toothpaste tubes, some paper, old razers — is for washing; showers with one tepid water tap and no curtains; toilets without lids and certainly no paper. A young fellow ferrets out a roll and tosses it up to me as I am enthroned. I once was taught by a meticulous woman that one can use such seatless wonders by planting each foot on the rim and
squatting over. But, I am no a squatter. Water over the head afterwards is a relief.
This is feral dog-land. Curs all over. They rule, whatever these humans may fancy. They roam in packs and a young soldieress prizes a puppy cradled in her arm. Our bike flat fixer, Charlie, blasts Bruce Springsteen from his truck cab at all stops, wears an Australian outback hat, bolo tie, Snakeskin boots, has taken to two wheels before our lunch break and thinks he can tour the base. The dogs think otherwise and several packs chase him as he pedals furiously for the gate, hoping that someone will let him out before the curs get him. The mother dog is particularly ferocious, perhaps
sensing that he, unlike the soldieress, is not a puppy cuddler. He ditches the bike and leaps head-first into the cab of his truck, into Springsteen’s arms, or blasts.
By this, day three, I and a few others become particular about our victuals. I toss much of the bread, work at the humus and vegetables, suck salt off peanuts and spit out the latter. Much water. A few fruit. Take just enough dates to eat later, before send-off. We have a few moments of lolling beneath a corrugated roof of shade before Lt. Itzik is introduced.
I am in no mood for lectures, demonstrations, education.   Just tell me the next leg, the distance, the terrain, the percent inclines (and any promising descents). I have become a two-wheeled laconic Sergeant Friday: Just the facts, mam. Want Charlie to check my chain derailers should he ever deign exit his cab, face the curs.
 But, I am entranced and grateful once Lt. Itzik starts.
We sit campfire style around him as he stands, rifle slung diagonally over shoulder. He is tall, swarthy, wears a kippah on closely-cropped hair. His heavily accented English shows little trace of Brooklyn a decade ago.
He is really from a tank brigade, called down from Gaza to help out here. Just temporary. He has pride about tank battalion, but also sense of responsibility to get matters in place here. What matters? The Egyptian border is porous. Unlike Gaza, with various warning systems and such on the fence, unlike the West Bank’s new fence, with both electronic warning systems, carefully landscaped rims of sand to reveal footprints and more, the Egyptian border has this modest, rickety, rusted chainlink. Doesn’t bother the Egyptians — the illegal trafficking of drugs and whores — as the penetrance is from there to here: no one seems to want to penetrate Egypt from Israel. They do nothing to interdict the human sex slave traffic: your problem, not ours is the unspoken Egyptian attitude. But, arms trafficking is new and more problematic. Much of the trafficking is done by Bedouins who know the land, the paths, the secrets of this
desolation. But, arms are treacherous to Israel; end up in the West Bank, Gaza.
His job description runs something like this. Given some Intelligence reports, he heads out with a small squad in the night; disappears to somewhere — perhaps on this side of the border, perhaps not, for three days and nights. At night, lie down in shallow pits, cover oneself with a camouflage sheet.
Return for a few hours to shower, make sure his boys clean up their living areas, clean their guns, then back into the field. He is matter-of-fact about this; no bravado, but yes a sense of responsibility and of the importance of his tasks for Israel. He brightens a bit when asked about after the army. Perhaps the requisite trip abroad — India or South America, maybe back to exotic Brooklyn. Then to college. He feels a bit too young, he says to worry about what happens beyond that.
A bit too young, but too old, he sounds. Altneuland, paraphrasing Herzl.  This fellow who lies on his belly at night, waiting for smugglers of drugs, of women, of arms, seems both youthful, yet heavy-shouldered.
And for all the wheeling I have done, it is Itzik and David Palmach whose inner landscapes remain most alive. When the twelve spies returned to Moshe, only Joshua and Caleb found hope in the land — milk, honey and such. One of the other ten spies said that next to the giant Canaanites, the Israelites look like ants, grasshoppers. But, these Israelites — these two — look like giants.
Copyright 2006, N. Szajnberg

A Wedding After A War

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Aliyah, 9/9/06: A Wedding

After war, my first wedding.

Mordechai’s and Sharona’s.

Arriving in Netanya, how to find the wedding emporium? Netanaya, the Nice of French emigres, most of whom but a generation removed from North African refugees — Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco. Escapees to La Patrie, home of laicite, they now escape Paristan to find refuge in Israel.
I fly in from the States the day of his wedding, cab to my Merkaz Klita apartment, drop off luggage, then seek out the wedding.  But before I could get there, I will tell you of Mordechai. He, who calls me loudly, Akhi, My Brother.
He and I in Ulpan together for some six months. He made aliyah, because he is a Zionist, moved here to make a Jewish life, now needed a Jewish wife, an Israeli one. At one point, took a drag on a Gallouis, grimaced, then fiercely tossed it to the ground, never to smoke a French cigarette again. He is done with France.
Mordechai teases me. In France, his Jewish friends — the Ashkenazi from Poland, Germany — would tease Mordechai when he listened to Mizrachi tapes, the nasal singing from Morroco or Yemen. They accused him of being almost an Arab, and he responded, You’re almost Jewish. When I — an Ashkenazi both Polish and German –worked at my Hebrew — a throaty ayin or chet — he would chide me, and I said that I was working at being almost Jewish.
He left home at seventeen, his parents had told him several times that they had never wanted children. Lived in the streets. He did guitar, Jimi Hendrix his lodestar. Taught guitar. Gigged with bands. Cut some discs. Also did sports, got into school, first for a masters in sociology, then to the Sorbonne for his Ph.D. in sociology of science. We discussed Yossi Ben David at the Hebrew University, Michael Polanyi at Chicago, and Thomas Kuhn, who died too young. Mordechai wanted to talk with me about his thesis, wanted it translated into English. But he insisted that we only speak Hebrew — our common language, he insisted. This limited what I could discuss about sociology.
But it did not limit our friendship.
He loved Rutie, our ebulliant, lizard-booted Hebrew teacher. The boots with engraved silver tips and especially the embossed heels gave her a heel, a height, a touch of attitude which she thinks she needed. When in a feather, she would about crow, straining at her full five feet, insisting that she was closer to six feet. Born during the rainy season in a tent in the early ’50’s, her parents refugees from Syria.   Always in a rush, she explained, so she couldn’t wait for the hospital.  She envied Bridgitte of France, for her perfect waist, understated grace. She adored Mordechai; wanted me to uncle him.
And Mordechai loved her.
But, how does this Frenchie search for an Israeli wife? He carries off the dress of a young  chicParis mec: t-shirt beneath a sports jacket; tight jeans with low-slung, slanted back pockets; pointed shoes; spiked hair. Working full-time in the evenings for a major science company, he was making use of the Sorbonne Ph.D. and often slept through class. At one point, he entered class, t-shirt obscured by another raw-silk jacket, then flashed open lapels to reveal the Superman Logo, and beneath in Hebrew, “Super Bachelor,” which he was determined not to remain for long.  Frazzled, he confessed to me that he was dating three women at a time — a bit much for him.
A trip to home over December, some Arab school mates recognized him in the street. Called him dirty Jew. Mordechai is a fighter; doesn’t do the scrape and bow. Here , against four fellows, got into a bad scrape that had him hospitalized, damaged his larynx. He returned once more to France to testify against these fellows, who are now in jail Vowed never to return to France. Until he met Sharona. Through her brother. I was there, at the tiyul, even photographed the two together — brother and Mordechai, not knowing what was happening. They were perched on a petrified tree — Mordechai and Micha — several hundred yards away. Mordechai told me only that this young fellow, Micha, our armed guard on the tour of Mitzpeh Ramon, had once been in a sports group from Israel, visiting France and had stayed at Mordecai’s.  A rather nice coincidence I thought at the time.  But more was cooking.
Micha told Mordechai that he knew of a really nice girl, Yemenite background, like Mordechai wanted.  Should he arrange a coffee?  Until after the first date the next day did Mordechai learn that Sharona was Micha’s sister. Then coffee the next night, and the next, then dinner and the announcement. Mordechai had taken to wearing a kippah, to honor this Orthodox Yemenite family. Somehow, perched on the gelled spikes, this lid stuck on.
This is what brings me by cab to hunting for the wedding emporium in the old industrial area of Netanya. By the railway tracks. Along rows of garages, one-story factories, occasional felafelarias, I looked for where love would be ritualized.
Cabbie and I both hunt. We have a number, but one needs to match a number on paper to one on a wall, and numbers are sparse in the old Industrial area of Netanya. But ask someone, anyone working there at 7:30 in the evening, where is the wedding palace and they point — straight. I send off the cab and enter.
There is a party already in progress in a shell of a building; a mehitza separates men from women. Outside is a catwalk lined with flimsy white paper and strewn with crepe faux rose petals. There are fountains here and there, spouting sudsy water. There is a chuppa at the end of the catwalk. A few fabric draped chairs wobble in waiting. To the right of the catwalk, just at the stairs up, is a throne, gaudy, under a canopy.
I wait.
I ask.
No, this party is for a brit milah, a circumcision.
I ask about Mordechai and Sharona, and am shrugged off by a saleswoman working on a deal with a prospective couple, eyeing the catwalk, the chuppa, fingering, then sniffing the faux rose petals.
There is a communal-type set of toilets: men and women separate, but handwashing together.
Outside the toilets sit a group of Ethiopians, perhaps a family, perhaps they work here, having victuals.
I ask the guard, who sits forlornly along this, by now, mostly deserted industrial street, watching out for terrorists. He knows nothing about Mordechai and Sharona, but asks me the time.
I finally get that there is another entrance down the block. Same digs; different hall, which is a converted garage done up a bit.
Enter through the chain-link fenced gate and cross a shallow wooden bridge over a sudsy pool with gushing soapy fountains and I am at the right party. I hear music, the DJ warming up with Shlomo Arzi, and Shoshana Damari. A young woman approaches me, delighted and surprised to see me there. I am confused; think it to be Sharona.  But it is L. the fiance of C. one of my friends in Ra’anana. She is Sharona’s cousin. What am I doing there? I tell her of Mordechai and she phones C., who is on active duty patrolling just after the Lebanese war. Guess who’s here, he later tells me she said. He tries to explain to her that while on active duty, he is doing enough guessing; doesn’t need more.
I meet Luc, once Mordechai’s teacher in college in France, later a dear friend, who has made his first trip to Israel for this wedding. To Jerusalem he had been yesterday — still stunned by the experience. Lanky, wishing that he could speak to me in French, his English is servicable enough to tell me of Mordechai’s fractious family; their refusal to attend the wedding, even to meet his fiance in France. Later, after the brief ceremony, after my hug to Mordechai, Luc comments, that it looks like Mordechai cares for me greatly.
Sharona’s mother is divorced. Her sister, finishing high school, presents as several years older. They introduce me to diminutive Grandma and Grandpa, the original Yemenites. Grandpa is blind, from perhaps four or five; of one of these fly-born infections that we now control remarkably well, except in third-world countries. He became a very successful and famous musician, composer, singer. Fathered a family. Now, enjoys composing. I wonder how different his life had been without the blind eyes. When it comes to his turn at the ceremony to sing a prayer, his lips tremble, but not his voice, which is strong.
They appear. Mordechai looks a bit stunned. Lined up for photos, it takes a bit before he sees me. From Sharona, I understand the appearance of a glow that comes from within, illuminates the skin, gives a translucence to her beauty, radiates a soft light onto those around her. Her hair is done simply with small braids tightly to the scalp, tiny pearls lining them, and pulled back to a cascade to her shoulders. Mordechai’s face over the next half hour travels the gamut of feelings, from a frozen smile, to joy, to moments of poignance, even anxiety. I look at Sharona and see that Mordechai has brought joy to her life.
The ceremony for Jewish marriage is quite brief. All that is needed is for the groom to recite a brief passage along the lines of “With this ring, I bless you in the line of our forefathers to be my wife,” (not an accurate translation), then slips a ring on her forefinger. The glass smashing, I explain to Luc, done by the groom is to remember the destruction of the first and second temples, to remember one of our greatest tragedies even as we celebrate our greatest victories.
And this is a personal victory.
The Rabbi asks Mordechai to recite the words after him. Mordechai eyeing the Rabbi’s lips carefully, reciting each word at a time, until the Rabbi tells him, “I’m already married; look at her.”  Which he does.
They walk down the crepe paper walkway, strewn with crepe petals, and we wend past the bathrooms, around the table of Ethiopean diners outside, and into the hall, where the DJ is at work.
Foods are served. Much dancing is done. This is an orthodox mostly Yemenite wedding, but men and women do dance together, and they also dance in separate groups.
Rutie, his — our — Ulpan teacher approaches with her husband. I ask her to sit with us.  A bit beside herself at his marrying so soon; wished he had done a bit more of the wild-oat stuff. But, also distressed that his parents didn’t show, his family. I think — this is his family, we are his family, this is his home. I join them in a circle dance, stomping away to emphasize my thoughts. The Yemenites are bit surprised at my adroit grapevine.
These B’nei Akiva fellows (a religious Zionist youth group), one woman comments, know how to have a good time. They dance, especially Sharona’s brother, who perhaps tops-out at 5 foot five. Their kippot flip madly with their steps; some grab their kippot in their teeth, when they fall off. One fellow wraps his legs around a friends waste, leans back, and in some sort of gymnastic performance of abdominal fortitude, generally seen in Chinese circus acrobats, holds himself horizontally as he claps his hands and his buddy leaps about.
Brother-in-law sweeps behind and below Mordechai to lift him upon shoulders to prance about. I don’t believe either will remain upright, but for some minutes they twirl and leap until another joins in.
Sharona is lifted by chair, then Mordechai in another and they are danced around each other.
But, they are most comfortable, quietly comfortable as they dance in each others arms, talking.
I am beyond jet-lagged; wonder how to get a cab onto this now-forlorn industrial street, populated by garages, felafelarias and one wedding emporium. A waiter proffers his phone, calls a cab.
Guard gone, street dark, I leave Mordechai and Sharona’s wedding.
Copyright, N. Szajnberg, 2006