This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Adventures in a Desert Landscape
© 2008 by Joan Campion. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal. First printing
PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.
ISBN: 1-60672-843-1 PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERICA, LLLP www.publishamerica.com Baltimore Printed in the United States of America
To LEN BARCOUSKY With grateful appreciation
Author’s Note: A Little About ADD
EVEN the least perceptive reader can hardly fail to notice that I suffered a remarkable number of nervous episodes, panic attacks, and related experiences in the course of the journey related here. While the Middle East has never been a relaxing or relaxed place for travelers, my trip was taken in the late summer of 1978—a period of great calm in the region compared to many periods before and since. Did I know I had a nervous problem before I got on the plane? Certainly. I had lived with it all my life—and had also lived with the illusion that someday I would get over it. That did not happen on this journey, and it was years before I even had a name for my problem—and realized recovery never WOULD happen. The name of the problem is Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD. Once it had a name I was able to look back and see how it had dominated my whole life, beginning with my childhood, and how it seemed to have dominated my father’s life as well.
ADD is not enjoyable, whether or not its victim knows its name. Had I known that I had such a thing before I got on the plane for the Middle East, I might not have gone. Labels can be intimidating. So I am glad I did not know its name at the time. Otherwise I might have opted out of perhaps the greatest educational and, yes, spiritual experience of my life. It was well worth a little extra stress.
Table of Contents
Foreword .................................................................. 13 Wings over a Wine-Dark Sea ..................................... 17 At the Hotel .............................................................. 23 Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber ............................................... 28 To Ar-Rajef ............................................................... 32 In the Village ............................................................ 36 To the Rose-Red City ................................................ 40 Crossing the Jordan ................................................. 48 On to Jerusalem ....................................................... 55 Wanderings in the Old City ....................................... 64 Encounters ............................................................... 71 The Theologian and the Immigrant Woman ............... 76
Bomb Blasts and Points of View ................................ 95 To Masada and Back .............................................. 113 My Dinner with Moshe, and More ........................... 121 Kiryat Anavim......................................................... 132 Wanderings with Tzipi ............................................ 165 More by Joan Campion ........................................... 179
Some Special Supporters …Carol Vickrey, Frank Podleiszek, Shirley Collins, Kathleen McSparren, Nellie Manges, Marian Kayhart, David Weick…
OVER THE CENTURIES thousands of writers of books and memoirs have visited the Middle East. Many have spent years getting to know this turbulent, fascinating region, and their works reflect this intimacy. From Ibn Battuta to Sir Richard Burton, Gertrude Bell and beyond, their books all have one thing in common: they catch the history of the Middle East, so mesmerizing and so dangerous, at one historical point, the point at or about which they are writing. And that is the one thing they have in common with this little work. “Jerusalem Journal: Adventures In A Desert Landscape” began as my diary for a short trip I made to Jordan and Israel in 1978. I lay claim to no particular expertise, although I believe my interest in the scenes I encountered will be evident. I read a great deal before the trip, which also should be evident. I would have preferred to know both Arabic and Hebrew fluently before setting off alone on this journey. But I had to content myself with a few words of modern Hebrew, picked up from a very good teacher at B’rith Sholom Community Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Since I began this venture as a student of the Holocaust, the book has a pro-Israeli bias for which I see no reason to apologize. I am shocked sometimes by what Israel has had to do to maintain itself, but I do believe it has a right to maintain itself. I am shocked far more by what its enemies have felt entitled to do, including the sacrifice of their own children, in order to attempt to destroy it. Why am I offering this work to general readers? Because everybody has limitations and biases, even the greatest chronicler. Yet they offer THEIR observations, so why shouldn’t I? In large part due to the internet, this is the era of the amateur commentator. (Sometimes, frankly, far too amateur for my taste. But I happen to believe I’m a cut above that level.) Also, when it comes to the Middle East it seems as worthwhile to freeze a moment in time in 1978 as in 1878 or 878. And friends and colleagues have found the work colorful and interesting from a human perspective. If is nothing more than an adventure story, their reaction tells me it also is nothing less. Therefore, it may be hoped, people who enjoy adventure stories—and, thank heaven, there are many such people—will also enjoy this. Len Barcousky provided the catalyst for the trip chronicled here. Additional sources of encouragement included Rabbi Allen I. Juda, Cantor David Green, and my Hebrew teacher Hadassah Nemovicher. Moral or material help, in some cases both, came from the distinguished
Professor Alice L. Eckardt and her late husband, famed theologian A. Roy Eckardt; the late Nora Levin, and the late Addi Agar. Without Jack and Tanja Howard I would not have been able even to contemplate the act of writing in cyberspace. It was they who, after my dabbling at the public library, enabled me to gain a real foothold in the world of computers. Later, Tanja helped me to produce the final version of this memoir. Thanks are due as well to Patricia N. McAndrew, the editor of the work. She became intrigued enough, while working on the manuscript, to wonder what had become of some of the people I had written about. So she set herself to find out; and as a result I am able to provide readers with updates on many of my old acquaintances. Additional editorial help came from Carol Vickrey. Any errors left after she and Ms. McAndrew went over this work are due, not to any limitations of theirs, but to my limitations, the obstinacy of my computer, or both. Special thanks are due to my long-suffering and dedicated “tech crew.” Take a bow, Carol Yale, George Taylor, Sally Handlon, and Jeannette Gartrell of PublishAmerica, for pulling me through the computer challenges. I also wish to express my gratitude to Middle Easterners who provided the flavor, insights, and kindnesses that made this trip the rich, unforgettable experience it was. Among them are Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber, General Mutlaq
Eid, Moshe Kohn, the late Dr. G. Douglas Young, Tzipora Ishayahu and her family, and many others. To all, and to those who come after them, one wish: Salaam. Shalom. Peace. Alas, as I write this, the wish seems further than ever from fulfillment.
Wings over a Wine-Dark Sea
THE GREEK landscape had the hard beauty I had expected—what little I could see of it. This was pretty much limited to a Greek Orthodox-style church far down and to the right of the scene. A few dark trees clustered around its metallic-domed whiteness. This was the Athens airport; but the famed city was nowhere in evidence. At least not from my window of the Boeing 727, nor from any other window through which I could glance. The earth outside steamed and fumed with heat that could be felt even inside the plane. Regrettably, I had no time on this trip to visit the historical and cultural sites of the Greeks. Flight 132 of Alia, the Royal Jordanian Airline, had only stopped here for refueling. We were due to take off within the hour for Amman, the Jordanian capital. As for my ultimate destination, it was Jerusalem, a city of greater historical import than even Athens. Uncounted thousands had died, laying claim to Jerusalem. With a little more misfortune, the carnage over the claim could be just beginning. Fundamentalists of
three great faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, believe this carnage is inevitable. In the coming conflict the Forces of Evil, variously defined—it depends on who is doing the prophesying—will be destroyed, and the Holy City will be saved. It was a distressing outlook, especially since it involved the end of the world as we have known it. I had come to learn what I could of life on the anvil of history, and of what people there were thinking about their existence in this uncomfortable historical hot spot. I even hoped, if possible, to influence that thinking when it seemed useful to do so. In short, I was out to help save the world. I had joined this flight at Madrid, having got that far by a TWA 747 out of New York. The 747 had been packed— it was midsummer—and the Royal Jordanian Alia 727 was no less so. At best, air travel is uncomfortable; and my trip had not been “at best.” Just too many people. Still, I had enjoyed the flight eastward over the Mediterranean. I even forgave the pilot a rather rough landing in Athens, a performance he—or perhaps his successor—was to repeat a few hours later in Amman. None of us can be equally good at all aspects of our work. By the time we got to Athens I had already been without sleep for more than 24 hours. Fascinated by the details of the journey and the panorama of islands and sea that unscrolled below me, I had fought to keep my eyes open.
Within hours, the strain of this effort would catch up to me. Meanwhile, though, I tried to miss nothing that transpired. The ancient Greek poet Homer, I decided, had been right in writing of the “wine-dark” Mediterranean. I had never seen a wine this blue; but dark? Yes, without doubt the sea was as dark as any wine I could imagine. As we approached its eastern end, the number of islands visible below increased, at least for the time being. They were clay-brown, and laced with serpentine roads. I wished I knew their names, so I could recall what mythical or historical events had occurred on them. Was this one Ithaca, the home of the wily Odysseus? Was that patch of sea-girt rock Delos, where ruled the sun god Apollo? The islands tantalized with possibilities; but there was no way to discover answers on the spot. The pilot helped only once—he pointed out the large island of Cyprus, once sacred to the goddess Aphrodite. I didn’t get a very good look at it, though. As luck would have it, it was not on my side of the plane. The cloud cover had now started to become heavy. Cumulus clouds piled up in huge, mountainous shapes, so that for every island I saw I no doubt missed seeing at least one other. One cloud, to my exhausted mind, took on the appearance of a gleaming white house. For a few moments I thought we would fly into that house and come out in another dimension of existence.
It didn’t happen. Instead, we soon were flying over the tumultuous Middle East. And now the captain was saying, “That J-shaped area down there is Jerusalem, and over there is Amman.” Amman I would see soon enough. My attention was fixed on Jerusalem. From here its most conspicuous feature was the Moslem Dome of the Rock, gleaming golden in the evening sun. The city was a stirring sight. I could hardly wait to walk in its streets. A few minutes later we flew in over the old Hejaz Railroad—the same that Lawrence of Arabia had once blown up, but in another part of its route—and jolted down at Amman. And now my exhaustion met—and failed—its first test. The trouble started as soon as I presented my landing card, passport, and ticket to a Jordanian officer. “Tel Aviv!” the officer nearly spat. “You’re going back through occupied territory!” I snapped angrily, “I’m going over the Allenby Bridge!” The marching and countermarching of bureaucrats began at once. And my marching and countermarching— in an effort to reach the “out” door of the airport terminal— began as well. Going as I was on nervous energy alone, I wore down quickly. All the people jostling outside the building, awaiting friends and relatives, seemed to be laughing at me. Inside the terminal there were signs for immigrants, for transients, for health, for customs, for security—for everything, naturally, except general information.
(Looking back, I see that the window marked “transients” was probably the place to go. But that seemed likely to take forever; and at a time when what I most wanted to do was fall on the floor and go to sleep. Besides, I feared a second meeting with the officer I had encountered earlier.) I thought it would be nice to be able to get something to eat and drink. But that would take money. I could not exchange dollars for dinars because I kept getting jostled out of line at the exchange booth. As I was to learn, both in Jordan and in Israel, jostling was more or less the regional Middle Eastern sport. It was several hours before I managed to grab my bags, bolt from the terminal, and find a cab to the Grand Palace Hotel. I never did actually pass through customs— something I hope could no airline passenger anywhere these days could get away with. But I suspect it still happens. Hopefully only innocent bunglers like myself manage it. Once I had arrived at the hotel and paid the cabby in U.S. dollars, I checked in and went to my room. But not before I had the desk staff call the American Embassy, so rattled was I by my first on-site encounter with a foreign culture. All I wanted to do at that point was to run; yet nobody had threatened or hurt me. I had merely been confused and delayed. And, in the process, had contributed my small, ignoble bit to tales of ignorant Americans abroad. It is not a memory I cherish.
Yet I really was frightened. I resolved not to leave the hotel room again until one of two things happened. Either I would establish contact with the Amman Rotary Club, on which I was supposed to write an article. Or I would receive permission to cross the Allenby Bridge into the West Bank and Israel. At that point I didn’t care which happened first. But it was Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting, and the embassy informed me that it would take at least 48 hours to arrange the bridge crossing. If so, it seemed likely to be the longest 48 hours of my life.
At the Hotel
IT WAS one o’clock in the morning Jordan time before I took a shower and fell into bed. Less than nine hours later—not much time, considering how long I had previously been awake—I was aroused by an unaccustomed sound. It was the braying of a donkey. Where on earth was I? I lay in bed for a few moments, scanning my memory. Then I crossed the room, pushed the drapes aside, opened the sliding glass door, and stepped out onto the tiny balcony. Just below lay a school, a concrete block structure with a sign in Arabic and English. Beyond were sparse plantings of some crop I didn’t recognize, with clothing tied on poles to keep the birds off. Between the school and the planted rows I could see where the donkey was tethered. The land swept away to a horizon of barren hills with smooth, rounded outlines—or outlines that once might have looked smooth and rounded, seen from this distance. Now they were studded with buildings, boxlike multistory structures which looked as if they had been
put up by the housing authority of a major American city. I was to see many such buildings, both in Jordan and in Israel. Off to the left was a group of structures which obviously aspired to make an architectural statement—the stadium and other buildings of the King Hussein Sports Complex, as I later learned it was called. It was surrounded by many acres of young evergreens. I wished this effort at treeplanting luck. The barren hills were picturesque, but I had no doubt they meant a hard life for many Jordanians. The sky dominated the scene, hard, cloudless, and brilliant. As I stood there, the sound of a muezzin chanting morning prayers fell on my ear. No doubt recorded, and coming from the minaret of a mosque near the school. Not something I’d have heard on a summer morning, most places in Pennsylvania. At least, not at the time this was originally written. I left the room soon afterward, despite my vow of the previous night not to do so. I wanted to get some postcards and letter forms—I suppose as a reminder that I had been here. Who knows? I thought, If I send one or two of them to myself, I might be back in the United States in time for them to be delivered to me on my very own doorstep. In the book shop, works by and about Lawrence of Arabia and Sir John Bagot Glubb shared space on the shelves. Glubb, or Glubb Pasha as he was called, was the Englishman who had once commanded Jordan’s famed Arab Legion. Some say the General, acting at the behest of
the British government, had arranged for the assassination of King Abdullah, King Hussein’s grandfather. But could anyone—I mean, anyone who did not travel in the inner circles of power—know for sure? For most of us the air is full of whispers and shadows, especially when it comes to the affairs of the Middle East. Perhaps the whispers and shadows are the only reality there is. Near the books by and about the two Englishmen, space was given over to what looked like blatant antiIsraeli propaganda. I shuddered, seeing it there. To me, “anti-Israelitism” so called would be bad enough if it were bigotry directed against any nation, let alone the nation of the ever-persecuted Jews. To wish and plan for the destruction of Israel, knowing the enormities that had led to the need for the state, is anti-Semitism pure and simple. So I believe. Every time I tried to talk to someone in the hotel lobby I regretted having come without a word of Arabic. If my Arabic was non-existent—and known by me to be so— everybody else spoke English after a fashion and thought himself fluent. I bought a little book on spoken Arabic and reflected on the mendacity of ministries of tourism in assuring would-be visitors that English is “spoken everywhere.” True—in a way. The Israeli tourism authorities proved to be as mendacious as their Jordanian counterparts about this. In Israel, however, I was fortified by a few
hundred words of spoken Hebrew, which enabled me to repay linguistic mayhem in kind. That was not true here, alas. In the course of the day my paranoid mood intensified. I found out from the proprietor of Lawrence Tours in the hotel that I would be very lucky to have my Allenby Bridge permit a day later than even the American embassy expected. The application would no doubt be delayed on account of Ramadan, which I gathered slowed everyday actions immeasurably—rather like a month of Christmases, at least in its effect. (As I may have already mentioned, Ramadan is the great Moslem month of fasting. The fasting, one of whose purposes is to teach self-control, goes on during the daylight hours, and in the evenings the fast is broken by hospitable parties. But one should not imagine Westernstyle parties, with alcoholic beverages and designated drivers. Observant Moslems do not drink alcohol, having discovered it is possible to enjoy the company of family and friends without it.) I could not get in touch with Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber, the former district governor of the Amman Rotary Club, because I did not know how to use the hotel phone to place an outside call. Nor, recall, did I have the language to ask for help. I seemed stuck, just stuck. What could happen next? That evening I got sick. It was a costly development, but it turned out to be the first piece of good luck I had had.
Not only did Dr. Twal know Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber; it turned out that practically everyone else did. All I’d have had to do at any time to gain prompt attention was to mention his name at the hotel desk, or at Lawrence Tours for that matter. So much for finesse.
Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber
ABUJABER arrived within minutes of Dr. Twal’s call. He was a handsome, imposing man, one at whose behest things got done—and that meant now. He ordered me to get dressed at once, to go to dinner with the Amman Rotarians. Then he left while I hurried to comply with his instructions. When I went down to the lobby the atmosphere toward me had changed remarkably. The hotel manager was there, and behaved with great courtesy. I don’t believe I had met him earlier. The owner of Lawrence Tours was there, suddenly sure I could have my permit for the Allenby Bridge crossing by Monday, when I wanted it. I think he had meant to do his best before, but expected it to be difficult. I didn’t appear to have any connections. From this sea change in people’s attitudes, I concluded that Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber was someone to be reckoned with in Jordanian society. And I was not wrong. The founder-owner of five companies, including Jordan Brewery, Jordan Dairies, and an insurance company, he was a graduate of the American University of Beirut and was honorary consul-general of the Netherlands.
Within an hour of his arrival at the Grand Palace Hotel I was enjoying a wonderful Middle Eastern meal of veal, rice, stuffed grape leaves and honey-soaked pastries in an elegant home with formal flowered wallpaper and molded plaster ceilings. The guests were Rotarians and their families—handsome, elegant, well-dressed, well-traveled, and no doubt as untypical of Jordanian society as the Rockefellers or Kennedys are of American society. The oldest guest, for example, was His Excellency Anton Atallah—lawyer, former senator, former member of parliament, and former foreign secretary. He had been a leader in the life of Jordanian-held East Jerusalem, but said he had been expelled by the Israelis following the 1967 war. The conversation ranged from the opera productions of Jean Pierre Ponnelle, to what Middle Easterners tend to call politics. One man, I do not remember who, chilled me with his exposition of the hard-line Arab point of view. That viewpoint included the following sub-points: • • Israel was a cancer on the Middle East. The Jews had always brought persecution upon themselves. At any rate they did not deserve a state of their own because they are a religion, not a nation. The Jews had infiltrated the Palestine Liberation Organization and other such groups, and were thus responsible for much of the terrorism in the world.
Incidents such as the then-recent poisoning of Jaffa oranges destined for export from Israel never happened; they were trumped-up Zionist propaganda. Israel was an expansionist state, and there would be war within six to nine months.
I was convinced the man believed all this to the very depth of his being. A man who believes with all his heart that he is telling the truth can hardly be accused of being a liar. Basically, the struggle in the Middle East was a search for some definition of truth that everyone could accept. But was there such a thing? Perhaps. But this man’s definition was not one I could accept. So I said, “You can’t destroy Israel without bringing the world down around your own ears.” “Who’s talking about destroying Israel? We just want our land back.” I did not know what this meant in terms of the man’s view of reality. By “our land,” did he mean the lands the Arabs had lost in 1967? Or did he mean all the territory that had formerly been the British-governed Palestine Mandate? If he meant the former now, were the Israelis justified in their fear that sooner or later he would mean the latter? After all, there were many Palestinians—never mind the famous ones like Yassir Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization—who meant precisely that. I thought of the officer who had challenged my travel
plans at the Amman Airport. For such a man, Jewish Tel Aviv would always be in “occupied territory.” At last I said that I could not wait to see the interesting project the Amman Rotarians were doing. And left it at that.
BEFORE 8 a.m. the next morning Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber, his two young sons, his driver and I were careening down the Desert Highway that leads to the distant southern seaport of Aqaba. My stomach knotted each of the many times the driver roared out to pass a car or a huge truck. Jordanian driving is maniacal. So, I was to learn, is Israeli driving. Presumably there are highway rules and regulations on both sides of the Jordan; but they seem to be taken by many drivers as advisory rather than binding. We were on our way to visit a Bedouin mountain village named Ar-Rajef, as well as the famous ancient Nabataean capital Petra—the renowned “rose-red city half as old as time.” If, I decided, we lived long enough. I was not sure, yet, just what Ar-Rajef had to do with it. Later I realized that the village was the site of the Amman Rotary Club’s current community development project— the project I was to write about for The Rotarian, if all went well. We proceeded at breakneck speed toward Ma’an, with just one roadside stop for coffee, bread, and cheese. We
drove by herds of camels, sheep, small black goats, and donkeys—whether wild or domestic I had no way of knowing. Possibly some of each. We passed people in varying combinations of Middle Eastern and Western dress; passed Bedouin encampments whose people lived in tents of black goat hair; passed a water reservoir that had stood there at least since Roman times. Soon, too, we passed Jordan’s phosphate-mining region, and off toward the eastern horizon we saw a phosphate-laden train lumbering off toward Aqaba. This was not Lawrence of Arabia’s old Hejaz railroad, but a new railroad with another purpose. I understood that the old railroad had had two important purposes. To keep the Turkish Ottoman pashas at Istanbul in touch with their far-flung empire was the first. To carry pilgrims on the Haj, the great annual pilgrimage of Moslems to the holy city of Mecca was the second. As far as I could tell, the railroad I was looking at this day had a far more mundane purpose: to carry phosphate to Aqaba. That, and that alone. Nevertheless, the sight of a train, any train, in that landscape, stirred powerful historical memories. The railroad certainly didn’t seem to keep any traffic off the highway. That was heavy with the smell of petroleum fumes and a-crawl with autos, trucks, and busses. Every single vehicle appeared to be driven by a lunatic. More, and still more, Bedouin tents. I learned that, although many of the Bedouin still live in tents, by and large they now stay in one place. Nomadism was coming to
be a thing of the past. Ar-Rajef, our destination, was in fact a settled Bedouin village rather than an encampment. At Ma’an we turned off into the mountains. Soon we found ourselves on a tortuous blacktopped road that seemed only a few years old. Tents again, and weatherworn clusters of low buildings, many more black goats, and donkeys in twos and threes. “Up ahead,” said Raouf Sa’ad Abujaber, “is the Wadi Aravah, which separates Jordan and Israel.” This information left me none the wiser. But in a few moments the car rounded one more curve, and I gasped in astonishment. Directly before us loomed a majestic chasm. It was full of rose and gray rock formations patterned in light and shade by the strong sunlight. So this was the Wadi Aravah! And how could I have not realized it was here? It was like having been ignorant of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado while planning a trip to the American Southwest. This place obviously meant something not only to Jordanians, but to Israelis as well. As the car stopped and I got out, approached the vast canyon, and peered in, I thought of the old Israeli song that went: Aravah is a barren land, Built out of tears and sorrow. Water flows in the desert sand, Bringing hope for tomorrow. But it seemed to me there could not be enough water on the planet to moisten the sand and rock here.
We stopped on the edge of the great canyon to take pictures, and to have a little food. Then we resumed our journey. As we drove, Abujaber pointed out the large, modern house of Crown Prince Hassan. It stood on the edge of the wadi, across from an outcropping on the Israeli side that he said was the tomb of Moses’ brother Aaron— revered by Arabs as Haroun. And why would a prince want a house on the edge of a great canyon in the middle of a howling desert? “He likes to hike around here,” my host explained.
In the Village
AR-RAJEF now lay below us. With the grandeur of the great wadi (canyon) in the background, it was the sort of scene of which travel posters are made. Against this setting I took pictures of Abujaber in his keffiyeh and Western-style suit, hoping some of the shots would come out for The Rotarian. My camera skills were so weak I did not even qualify as a good snap-shooter. Just as I thought I had finished the session, a car approached from the village, bearing the mukhtar (mayor or headman) and his brother. Another round of picturetaking ensued. Hwmid Eid, the mukhtar, was a slender and unassuming man with a small mustache. He dressed in dark robes and a white keffiyeh, and carried a cane. To my dismay, I discovered once we got into the village that he looked exactly like several other men. Lacking any great memory for faces to begin with, I finally committed the gaffe of addressing another man as the mukhtar. It was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact, the mukhtar’s brother, General (Ret.) Mutlaq Eid, looked like the real leader of the community—and
was, I felt sure. The general was a tall, portly man who wore white Middle Eastern clothing and a white keffiyeh, and who projected authority and concern. He lived some of the time in Amman but it was obvious that his heart and devotion were here in Ar-Rajef. The general became my guide around the village, showing me first the old Roman water system and cistern. This ancient construction had supplied all of Ar-Rajef’s water for many centuries. However, all of its output would go for irrigation now that water had begun arriving through the pipes of the Jordanian government’s water system. That long-awaited milestone had occurred just the week prior to my visit. He went on to show me the whitewashed stone and wattle buildings, including the mosque. These buildings were piled more or less atop each other, and had a spare, ascetic beauty. General Eid explained that he wanted to keep the original buildings for both historical and storage purposes. The families he wished to move onto separate one-acre plots, where they could each have their own trees. He said a thousand trees were planted in Ar-Rajef every year. It was obvious, though, that a lot of trees remained to be planted, over a lot of years. The general liked to promote the contributions of his brother the mukhtar. I did not argue with this brotherly generosity, even though it was obvious that Mukhtar Hwmid Eid was a shy man, lacking force or dynamism. I
merely listened with respect as the general recounted how he and the mukhtar had succeeded in getting a government doctor for the village clinic two days a week instead of one. The brothers had partly overcome, too, the villagers’ traditional reluctance to send girls to school. All they had done, according to General Eid, was to point out to the parents that the boys would get an education and leave the village, while the uneducated girls would be left without husbands. This was enough of a hint to result in a substantial enrollment increase in the local girls’ school. Yes, I thought, with such on-site leadership, the Amman Rotary’s projected community center should do very well here. At the end of the tour the general took me to meet his wife, an attractive woman in her late 40s or early 50s. They then presented me with two Roman clay lamps the general’s men had dug up in his own fields. “Because you have come from America to sow peace between our peoples,” said the general, who knew I was going on to Israel. It was a hard assignment to lay on one traveler. “Abujaber did not do well,” he added. “We should have had a party for you under canvas. We don’t get many visitors.” I stammered that I was sure Abujaber was bearing in mind that it was Ramadan, and that even after nightfall
such a party might somehow have seemed inappropriate. To myself I admitted that it would have been fun to be greeted like Lawrence of Arabia, or Gertrude Bell, or Freya Stark. At the same time, I’d have been very uncomfortable about it. I knew as well as anyone the difference between the heroic traveler and the bumbling tourist. As to the general’s kindly expressed idea that I had come to “sow peace,” it interested me that a soldier spoke more peaceably than anyone else I had talked with in Jordan—for even Abujaber spoke of the “terrible injustice” perpetrated by Israel. I believed General Eid was sincere, although I was sure that during his military career he had been a determined fighter. The difference, I thought, lay in what he was doing now. As a farmer, a builder, a developer with the well-being of his village at heart, he was bound to have a different and less militant perspective.
To the Rose-Red City
FOLLOWING my tour of the village I rode out of Ar-Rajef with Abujaber and his sons. In a little while we were stopped along the mountain road, gazing down on the impossible cleft in the cliffs (the sikh, it is called) that hid ancient Petra. Meanwhile we ate sandwiches and drank some of my host’s good Jordanian beer. We could not have had even a light lunch back in the village; the fast forbade the Moslem villagers to eat during the daylight hours, and Islamic teaching also banned alcoholic beverages at any time. Abujaber was a Christian, which was what made it possible for him to be a brewer in a Moslem country. The taste of his excellent product was especially appreciated here in the middle of the desert. When we were finished we drove down to the Petra visitors’ center. I could feel my excitement growing; I was about to see the famous rose-red city half as old as time.
(This great and famous line was written by a 19th century Oxford University luminary, Dean John William Burgin. His poem, called simply “Petra,” won him the 1859 Newdigate Prize for Poetry, given by the university. His curious fate is that the line about the “rose-red city” is known by practically every reader of English—but very few could name its author. Perhaps this is just, in view of the Dean’s arrogant and overbearing attitude toward Oxford’s women students. One of these, Gertrude Bell, was to become a noted Arabist and traveler, and among the most famous of Petra’s many visitors. And, of course, far more famous than her Oxford denigrator.) It was past mid-afternoon when we arrived at the visitors’ center, and it turned out it was too late to walk in—we would have to take the horses. For some reason Abujaber seemed perturbed by this news; but I was happy. I love horses, even though they are not a particularly comfortable mode of transportation if you don’t know how to ride them—and I don’t. But by coincidence, I had been assigned a white horse to ride upon. I had always wanted to ride a white horse, symbolic of high heroism. Until now, I never had—but today I could pretend to be just a little heroic. It turned out that my composure at the idea of travel by horseback was what was perturbing Abujaber. “You were in terror during the whole drive down here,” he said. “Now you are faced with the need to ride a horse, and it doesn’t seem to bother you. I don’t understand.”
I could have told him. A horse is a reasonably sane and self-preserving animal—much more so than a human being with access to an internal combustion engine on wheels. With guides leading my animal, we soon were threading our way into the ancient city. Tall rose-tawny cliffs loomed close on each side. In places they almost seemed to meet overhead, reducing the sky to a narrow, meandering ribbon of blue. I had a swift mental vision of a massive earthquake snapping the defile shut as if it were a giant coin purse. With some difficulty, I suppressed the vision. If it happened it would all be over in an instant, so why make a fuss? Occasional bas relief sculptures on the walls of the sikh, like road markers, told us we were getting close to the epiphany of something great. I felt like shouting Burgin’s poem aloud: “It seems no work of man’s creative hand, hand, hand…” But I reminded myself that my companions already thought I was crazy. Why encourage them in that view? What was Petra, anyway? Scholarly lives have been spent trying to answer that question. The city appears to have belonged to a mysterious ancient people, the Nabataeans. They were traders who became fabulously rich by controlling the roads that ran through this region. Eventually they fell under the sway of the ubiquitous Romans, who for a time made themselves masters of this
dry fringe of the known world. But the Romans too passed. Eternity was beyond even their grasp. In any case, the city seems to have gone on well enough for a time under Roman rule. Nobody quite knows what finished Petra, but it may have been an earthquake of the very sort I had been envisioning as we traveled through the sikh. We must have ridden several miles before the passage seemed to close up, so that we appeared to be approaching a solid rock wall. But we rode right at it, and then around it—and there was the famous Treasury. We stopped in the enclosure before it. The others in the party dismounted, while I more or less skidded from my horse. (I also always needed a block to mount, but that didn’t bother me much even though it wasn’t especially heroic. At least when it came to mounting and remounting there was never a shortage of rocks of a suitable size. Not here in the rose-red city.) The Treasury is to Petra what the Coliseum is to Rome— its unquestioned trademark. The difference in the case of Rome is that one might think of other things as well—St. Peter’s Basilica, for example. But, because ordinary life stopped here so many centuries ago, the Treasury is all the wider world knows of Petra. This was true even before it was visited by the noted but fictitious Indiana Jones. Everyone knows what the structure looks like—the giant columns topped by a classical-style pediment cupped around a huge urn, all built into an imposing cliff.
I think the consensus is that it probably was a tomb—but for centuries the legend had it that the urn atop it was filled with coins and jewels. That no doubt is why it came to be called The Treasury. The urn is pockmarked by shots fired by men seeking to unleash a flow of wealth that never was there. Large as it is, the Treasury’s only apparent indoor space is a small rectangular room behind the pillars. If this immense building was indeed a tomb, then this room most likely was the tomb chamber. But evidence of this has long since vanished—there are no sarcophagi, the space is absolutely empty. From this vantage point it seems, briefly, that this is all there is to Petra—looking around, all the visitor can see are carved rock walls. But in the cliffs beyond the enclosure we saw lintels, façades, friezes and stairways, and gaping holes which may once have been doors—all evidence that human habitation had once been extensive around here. The natural rock formations in which the architectural features had been cut were impressive, with their convolutions and striations of various colors. Still, the dominant color was red beyond doubt, even if not exactly rose-red. Off to one side of the Treasury enclosure vendors had set up tables where they hawked trashy souvenirs. The Jordanian government’s Department of Antiquities had posted warnings against these souvenirs; but the
warnings were unnecessary to anyone with a modicum of common sense. Some of the vendors’ wares appeared to be imitation antiquities—and, I am sure, were imitation. The rest could have been purchased at a Woolworth’s—or, these days, at a dollar store—in the United States. The savings in travel costs would have been immense. Abujaber had been here many times, but his sons and I were new, and anxious to see what more there was to the place. So we remounted and rode on, toward the Roman amphitheatre. All the while, the surrounding cliffs seemed to evolve from raw rock into sculpture and architecture and back. Despite my profound interest in the surroundings I had had time to notice the deplorable state of my saddle. Perhaps it had simply been manufactured to be uncomfortable, or perhaps it was old—going back, say, to the time of Lawrence of Arabia. Not that Lawrence’s career was so old in the context of this ancient place. Anyway, when we arrived at the colonnade near the amphitheatre I found another large stone block and managed to dismount. I was grateful for the respite. Abujaber rode up beside me and halted. “There’s more,” he said. “There’s the monastery. But it’s an hour’s climb going up there”—he pointed to a narrow defile up ahead to the right—“and about an hour coming back. And we would have to go on foot.” The monastery was not a monastery as we think of it. It seems to have been a place of sacrifice for ancient Petra, a
so-called “high place” where its priests encountered its gods. As is the case with much else about the city, no one seems absolutely sure of this. It would have been interesting to see; but I reluctantly agreed that we didn’t have time for that. Instead we went to the nearby lodge. There we had trouble getting even water, because of Ramadan. But we did get a little to drink. I now had time to ask Abujaber about an American flag I had noticed while riding through the sikh; it had waved cheerfully from a nearby cliff. He explained that archeological digs continued in Petra, and what I had seen was the camp of the University of Utah archeological team. The ride out seemed longer than the ride in. This was because with each passing moment the saddle became older and further past its prime, and so did I. But there is such a thing as letting down the side: so I said nothing about it. As for Petra, I consider it a miracle of the highest order that I got to see this majestic, beautiful place. Recently I read that hotels have been opened, and some five thousand people a day now disturb the stillness there. I am glad I am not there to see it now. An onslaught of that size on a place that has brooded in silence for centuries seems a violation of something sacred. I found the car ride back to Amman less harrowing than the ride down, perhaps because I was now in the back seat rather than in the front.
Earlier that day, Abujaber had said to me, “I ask myself where you get the self-discipline to step into anything that moves.” “I have often asked myself the same question,” I had replied with truth. It had been an exciting day, almost too exciting. I would not have missed it for the world. But I was glad when the car pulled up in front of the hotel.
Crossing the Jordan
ON AUGUST 7, 1978, I crossed the famous Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River into the Israeli-occupied West Bank. I did this not with grace. Not with finesse. But at least with success—success which I believe owed much more to Abujaber and the Amman Rotarians than to any effort of mine. Named for British Field Marshal Sir Edmund (later Viscount) Allenby, Britain’s best World War I commander in the Middle East, the bridge was built to facilitate that general’s successful advance to Jerusalem and beyond. I believe it was later renamed after Jordan’s late, knightly King Hussein; but, if it is the same bridge, as I think, the name change occurred after my crossing. Abujaber came with his driver to the Grand Palace Hotel on the morning of the 7th. There he saw to it that I got on a service taxi bound for the bridge, for which he had generously paid the fare, and we exchanged last-minute talk about the article I was planning to do on the Amman Rotary Club. More than anything I had written to that point in my life, I hoped to succeed in getting this article published.
The editor of The Rotarian had told me that the man who had previously undertaken to write about the club had not had his piece accepted. So I clearly had to meet higher standards than this unfortunate writer had achieved. Considering what an unusual experience hosting me must have been for Abujaber and his colleagues, I felt the least I owed them was some good publicity, which the article would provide. The piece was in fact published the following year, and it seems that it was generally liked by the Amman Rotarians. The last thing Abujaber explained before our parting was the rate of exchange. At this time the Israeli currency was still called the lira. “It’s 32 lirot to the dinar,” he said. “Don’t let them cheat you.” “They won’t cheat me,” I promised. And we were off: five Arab travelers, the Arab driver, and I—just where I would prefer not to be, in the front seat. (Nearly a quarter of a century later, as I prepared this work for publication, I received updated tidings of Mr. Abujaber. He was in his 80s by that time, but still active in his businesses and in the affairs of the Orthodox Church and the Amman YMCA. In addition, I learned that “Sa’ad” was now being transliterated “Ziad.” Perhaps this is a small expression of what seems to be a Millennial-era desire to change the name, or at least the spelling, of everything. I do not intend to fall prey to this trend. To me, “Ziad” will always be “Sa’ad,” just as on my maps of the
world “Ceylon,” “Bombay,” Peking,” and “China” will hold pride of place—even if these cherished old names have faded from the memories of the rest of the human race. For that matter, too, “Muslims” will continue to be “Moslems”; and I will continue to be Pennsylvania Dutch rather than Pennsylvania German.) It appeared from the information on the internet that Mr. Abujaber’s attitudes toward Israel had, if anything, hardened over the years. But then, the attitudes of virtually everyone on all sides of the situation seemed to have hardened. This is tragic; but there is no reason to expect any one person to be exempt from general societal pressures. As to the wrongs and injustices with which Israel has been charged—these, alas, are true; but they are true only because that is the way the pendulum of history swings. An injustice to any one group can, it seems, only be redressed by an injustice to some other group. If the peasants of Europe suffer from religious persecution and flee to America seeking redress, for example, the consequence must be that American Indians will lose their lands. At least, that was the way it happened. And so it has always gone. Jews have been persecuted beyond measure by Christians, pagans, and Moslems. (I am here characterizing the Nazis of the 20th century as pagans.) It seems only just that the Jews be compensated in some small measure by a state of their own, in a corner of the
world where they have millennia-old ties to the land. Yet this entails inevitable injustice to others whose families also have lived in that place, for many centuries if not for millennia. I do not know the answer to this problem. But the future of the world may depend upon a workable answer. I remain grateful to Mr. Abujaber and his friends for guiding me through an adventure I certainly would not have been up for on my own. I have not seen any of them since the day I set out on the final stages of my trip to Jerusalem; but I think of them often. As the sherut pulled away from my host that long-ago day, we were headed toward one of the deepest inhabited areas on earth, lying well below sea level. The Jordan Valley is the extension of the Great Rift that begins in East Africa and travels north through the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and the historic Jordan River. I had wondered whether, when we started our descent into the valley, I would have an impression of its immensity and depth, and I certainly did. It stretched far, far below, so far that I felt as if I were observing the scene from a plane. I remembered hearing that King Hussein, an expert pilot, had flown up and down the valley, all the while remaining below sea level. In some areas, where aforestation seemed to have made headway, the land below looked rich and green and fertile. In other places it was bone white. I thought it the most magnificent scene I had ever set eyes on, even beyond the Wadi Aravah and the Sikh.
The driver proceeded in the usual way for Middle Eastern drivers. That is to say, his guiding principle appeared to be that hills are made for passing, and the challenge is all the greater if a visibility-blocking curve is thrown into the equation for good measure. Although I was concentrating on the scenery his technique made me nervous. Sometime during the trip I was inspired to give him a propitiatory gift—my cigarette lighter. This had an unfortunate effect on his concentration. It caused him to fumble in the glove compartment until he produced a pack of Gold Star cigarettes as a return gift. We sped along a stretch of road marked with a sign proclaiming “Sea Level,” then dipped below that into the broad, flat plain of the valley bottom. The bottom of the world, I thought; at least of the human world. Soon we were at the reception center, a corrugated, metal-roofed structure with open sides. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people jostled or stood around, all of us more or less captive in a limited space. From nearby an officer—I caught sight of him and he looked like at least a colonel—roared at us all over a P.A. system. His tone was scathing, but few people paid any attention except for the individuals he had singled out for his diatribe. I asked a young soldier or policeman what to do. He led me to the colonel, who stopped roaring long enough to direct me to an office on the side. It was marked “Foreigners.”
At that window I received a pink, stamped paper. I then joined the line for the green and yellow antique-looking busses which pulled up every few minutes. Each in its turn was packed with passengers and had its roof piled high with luggage before it pulled away. “Line” is, in fact, not the word for what I had joined. It was a pushing, shoving, undisciplined crowd. Pungentsmelling, too; but that was understandable, considering the perspiration everyone was generating. The temperature hovered at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Flies buzzed and alighted on my face and arms, and I could not move to shoo them off. To say the least, it was not a pleasant situation. I learned at once that one did not have a place if someone else could shove in front of one. People tried. A man who spoke a little English instructed me to shove back, and I did. At one point I myself was shoved back, right onto a woman’s feet. She took her revenge by ranting at me in Arabic, no doubt throwing in every curse she knew. I tried to remain unperturbed. No one ever tells you that it is sometimes good NOT to know another language—but linguistic ignorance sometimes IS good, and this was one of those occasions. My Arabic was effectively limited to two words: “shuchran” (thank you) and “salaam” (hello, goodbye, peace). I didn’t catch either of these words in the woman’s tirade. All I could do was give her a simple-minded, apologetic smile. That, and reflect that, had I known what she was
saying, I would almost certainly have had to take exception to it. When I pushed my way onto a bus at last, an officer discovered that I had lost my stamped pink slip. I had to get off and go back to the Foreigners’ window near the shouting colonel. But I was on the next bus, standing and clinging to a seat back for support as we rolled out toward the River Jordan. We traveled for another ten minutes, with a stop at one more Jordanian post. There we standees got off to make it easy for an officer to make a last-minute check of everybody’s documents. Once more we clambered aboard, and the bus vibrated across the short, corrugated roadbed of the renowned Allenby Bridge. From the sound of the bus’s tires, the bridge would have passed—maybe—for a creek bridge in the United States. But I never actually saw the bridge, although getting to it had preoccupied me for so long. Its memory remains a rumble underfoot, and no more. The next time we got off the bus it was to rest for a few minutes in the shade of another corrugated metal roof, a small one. And over this one the Magen David, the flag of Israel, hung limply in the breathless, overheated atmosphere. For the very first time, I had crossed the Jordan.
On to Jerusalem
TREES grow along much of the course of the Jordan. Away from the river bank, though, the Allenby Bridge area is a desolate, chalk-white desert. At the time I was there it bristled with defense installations. This was a line dividing two nations technically at war. In a gesture toward more normal relations the Israelis allowed thousands of people to cross and re-cross the bridge every day. There was no doubt that this provided large economic benefits to Israel, which needed the Arab workers—but then, the workers also needed their jobs; and it did not follow that they would necessarily be welcomed back into the territory of a country their own nation had tried to destroy. Failing to achieve this goal, Jordan had lost the West Bank; and there was no absolute necessity for Israel to let bygones be bygones and welcome Jordanian workers. At the time I passed through the area the Israeli gesture of openness had met with little apparent success. Later, though, there would be a formal peace between Israel and Jordan—tenuous, subject to the powerful winds of larger
Middle Eastern politics, but real. For a while the situation looked more hopeful—but only, alas, for a little while. There had been three other Americans on the bus by which I had come: a man, his wife, and their small daughter, traveling in from Egypt. Judging from the startled reaction of the Israeli officer who now came aboard, four Americans on one bus came as a surprise. The other three came as a surprise to me, too. While I had waited on the Jordanian side I had seen no other American travelers, and the bus itself had been so crowded I had not been aware they were on it. It appeared that only chance had led to our riding together. “I’ve heard they make them wait for hours on the Israeli side,” said my countrywoman to me. I looked at her, trying to gauge just how long she and her family had been in Egypt. Long enough, it seemed, for them to have picked up the prevalent Arab attitudes. I said I doubted that people were made to wait deliberately but it must take a lot of time to check the mounds of luggage. For me, anyway, the procedure involved in getting away from the checkpoint was quick but complicated. We were bussed to another terminal, where the bus disgorged its passengers and its luggage was unloaded. Since I was hand-carrying all my luggage I was sent back to the customs area by special taxi. At customs my luggage and I were quickly checked. I had to prove that my cameras would not explode, and I changed Jordanian dinars for Israeli lirot. After I was
returned to the larger terminal I was bundled into a service taxi—called a sherut on this side of the Jordan— with four young Arab men. At last I was on the final leg of my trip to Jerusalem. On the way our passports were checked twice, once by a bearded old Israeli reservist (or so I surmised he was) who wore a yarmulka. We stopped at Jericho for a soft drink, although one of the young men was a strictly observant Moslem and would drink nothing because of the Ramadan fast. It was still morning, and already he looked sick from the heat. I admired his determination. Fasting all day in the incredible August heat of this place would have “done in” Westerners of a far stronger constitution than mine, I thought. Before our Jericho stop I had glimpsed the Dead Sea off to our left. We were still below sea level, but not for long. The sherut was powerful—I think it may have been an old Checker cab—and drove steadily and urgently up the steep road. The mountains through which we rode were brown and desolate, and each hillock appeared to be crowned with its own small ruin. Most of these, I thought, were probably not important enough for the attention of archeologists-— but I wished we could have stopped and explored one or two. Behind one of the mountains we were approaching lay Jerusalem the Golden, the miscalled City of Peace. And
suddenly there it was above us. In the afternoon sun it was golden indeed, as its stones caught and radiated the light. Above the wall the Dome of the Rock, the Moslem shrine, picked up and amplified the sunlit tones in a bright, metallic way. Saul Bellow was wrong, I thought, to talk of the city’s gray stones—how could he imagine the possibility of gray in this bright gold cityscape? I was to return here a year and a half later, in the depths of a rain-soaked winter. Only then did I discover that the writer knew what he was talking about when it came to the city’s winter coloration. Meanwhile, in the present moment, something else golden—gold and white—caught my eye. I realized it was the papal flag, which I had never before seen flying anywhere. It was an interesting sight, and I wondered idly why it was fluttering at half-mast. After I had arrived at my destination, later in the afternoon, I learned that Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Montini, had died. This was just a few years after he himself had walked the streets of Jerusalem. In Jordan, where the only radio news available to me had been in Arabic, I had missed learning of his death. We drove past the city wall to a hotel or bus terminal— near the Damascus Gate, I think it was. Along the way the young Arabs got off one by one, while I simply marveled at the “stage setting.” At the hotel (or terminal) I switched to a special taxi driven by a young Sephardic Jew named Itzhak, and within a few minutes I had arrived at my
destination—St. Andrew’s Hospice, or the Scottish Hospice as it is familiarly called. It is situated across from the Old City, on the other side of the Biblical Hinnom Valley—traditionally the site of Hell, but at this time rather nicely fixed up, thank you. The hospice is a forbidding stone building attached to a fortress-like church; but one drives up an imposing curved driveway and finds a pleasant tiled entranceway. The entranceway features plants in urns set in niches, and there are comfortable seats on either side of the door. I warmed to the place from the start, partly because of its inviting entranceway. Overall, staying there was like staying in an austere but hospitable manor house, owned by friends. The church had been dedicated by none other than Field Marshal Lord Allenby, he of the eponymous bridge. His portrait hung in the large hospice drawing room, and I was to see it many times in the next few days. (NOTE: A report from National Public Radio—late summer of 2002—suggests that I might be considerably less enchanted by the Old City of Jerusalem were I to catch my first sight of it today. According to NPR the place is jam-packed with humanity—22,000, I believe the report said, in a space that I know can only realistically hold a few thousand. Furthermore, the humanity it is packed with is made up of warring groups. They have built ramshackle structures, many of them wooden, closing off courtyards
and depriving each other of light. In general, one of the most significant historical and religious sites in the world appears to have been turned into a shantytown and a potential tinderbox, ready to go the way of Afghanistan’s great Buddhas—and, as in the case of the Buddhas, the threat to the survival of this place is religion. Or rather, religious fanaticism. The yearning toward something higher—the Lord, or God, or Allah, or whatever—seems to be hard-wired into the human race. It can and, I think, should, be ennobling. Unfortunately, it appears that millions of people are insecure if their version of this yearning—their religion— is not accepted as the one true faith. The answer of many to this dilemma is to kill and destroy until everyone left alive around them shares their views. Under these circumstances it probably would be better to do away with religion, since its consequences have often been so bloody and tragic. But that is not an option open to us, despite the opinions of Professor Dawkins and his ilk. And so the fate of Jerusalem, and indeed of the whole world, is suspended beneath a sword, a sword on whose blade is engraved the word FAITH.) I refuse to believe our situation is hopeless. But to get out of it is likely to require moral and intellectual growth, at a very demanding pace. On the long-ago day of my first arrival in Jerusalem I went out to buy some soap and other necessities. Both times I passed the park built by Sir Moses Montefiore in
the 19th century, with its famous windmill. In the park children and adults played, walked, and talked as they might anywhere. I thought of the word-pictures of Israeli depravity painted by many, especially by New Leftist writers. If what I saw before me here was an example of depravity, it wore a strange face. To me it looked exactly like normality. The second time I returned to the hospice that day, I met Sue Duncan in the foyer. She was a young University of Edinburgh medical student who had seized a chance to work here as a way of spending the summer in Jerusalem. She said Miss Irene King, the hospice warden, had returned while I was out and had expressed surprise when she learned of my arrival. “She said she had never known anyone to cross the Allenby Bridge on schedule before,” the young woman explained. It really had helped to have friends in high places on the other side of the Jordan. Soon after this exchange with Sue Duncan I got to meet Miss King. She was a fine-looking woman in perhaps her mid-to late-50s, a “silver fox” type, with the finely-coifed gray-white hair that the term implies. To me she seemed the no-nonsense Scottish governess. I was convinced she needed all the attributes of a good governess to run a place like this, which might have guests from any part of the world and from any point on the political and religious spectrum.
“You must feel very sure of yourself, to have come so far alone,” she said to me. “I’m scared to death,” was my frank rejoinder. “Naturally,” Miss King replied cheerfully. “If you’re not afraid of anything, what is there to be brave about?” What, indeed? At dinner in the hospice’s small dining room I met Dr. Randall and his wife, missioners who had been stationed in Rhodesia. That was what he called it, but I believe it had long since become Zimbabwe. Which, as name changes go, disturbed me less than some—I always regarded Cecil Rhodes as something of a questionable character. The fact that the Randalls were staying here suggested that they were Church of Scotland, but I did not ask. The Dominie annoyed me on first sight, and I was glad to discover he and his wife intended to leave the following morning for Venice. Dr. Randall had been in Jerusalem for a few weeks and had become an expert in his own eyes. He spoke of the Israelis as “a persecuted people turned persecutors,” and mentioned an Arab refugee camp near Jericho. There, he said, the Israelis had closed the camp and driven 110,000 refugees into Jordan. “Shot some of the poor devils, too,” he added. That had to be the Arab story on that particular episode, I thought. I didn’t know the Israeli side of it. Was it possible? Indeed it was, of course. I had not heard of this incident, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. The
Israelis were in—and remain in—a uniquely unpleasant position. Outnumbered in the Middle East by many tens of millions of Arabs—not to mention by other, non-Arab, groups like the Iranians, who do not wish the Jewish state well—they are constantly carped at by “civilized” Western nations for not playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules when it comes to trying to guarantee their survival as a people. Given their history, it is not hard to understand why they take a hard line. It seems they would wait forever if they waited for the outside world (which did nothing to avert Hitler’s Holocaust) to assert that as a matter of principle—principles like justice, to be precise—Israel has a right to exist. Unfortunately, as the years since the writing of this memoir have passed, the Israelis have had to take everstronger measures of self-defense. The inevitable result is that they have gathered more and more opprobrium from the world’s high-minded. It is impossible to look down this ever-darkening road without a shudder. Speaking of “oppressors,” I cannot help wondering how the Black Africans to whom he had ministered saw Dr. Randall. A friend, a helper, or a destroyer of their culture and way of life? In short, an oppressor? I thought he seemed singularly lacking in perspective on such questions—or, more likely, they had never entered his mind.
Wanderings in the Old City
THE NEXT MORNING, after a quick breakfast of bread, marmalade, and coffee in the hospice dining room, I went out to play the tourist. My own room overlooked the British Consulate, and a couple of reminders of a much older Empire than Britain’s—Roman columns. The other side of the building looked straight across at the imposing Ottoman Turkish walls of the Old City. As I walked down the driveway I gazed at the scene with pleasure and disbelief. I was walking toward the Jaffa Gate, where I would enter the ancient, much-lived-in (and much-died-in) heart of Jerusalem. With an effort I walked slowly, conserving my strength for explorations within the walls. The road lay down into the Valley of Hinnom and up the other side, past Mount Zion. As I passed within the gate the clamor and swirl of humanity took my breath away. Rows of shops sold everything from postcards and film to embroidered caftans to soft drinks. People of every conceivable race and color formed and re-formed into a series of kaleidoscopic images.
I dodged into the entrance to the Jerusalem Citadel. The Citadel stood just to the right on one’s way in through the Jaffa Gate, and may thus have been the hardest to miss of all the Old City landmarks. It is usually called the Tower of David, but in fact it has nothing to do with the Biblical King David and only dates back to the Ottoman Empire—like the current city walls of which it is a part. By whatever name, the old fortification seemed like an excellent place to start my tour; so I approached the entrance. “You want to go up, down, and all around?” asked the little man at the cash box. I stared at him, nearly overcome by the desire to say something flippant. What, after all, did he imagine I had come for? But there was no need to create an international incident. So I settled for “Yes,” and paid the small admission price. Inside, quiet and stillness reigned. The street noises were shut out by the shielding stone walls. When I entered I was almost alone in the place; while I was inside, climbing onto parapets and studying the fortifications, not more than half a dozen people came to join me. Once this place had resounded to shouts, to the clang of armor, to the neighing of horses. Now it dreamed quietly in the heat. So perhaps peace would come to this land, and all its military sites would become spots for tourists to visit and gawk at. Then I thought of the militant talk I had heard in the few days since landing in Amman, and I was not so sure.
Leaving the Citadel, I turned right on Armenian Patriarchate Road and got lost almost at once. Never mind: I could find my way later. I had a bad moment when I thought I’d be run down by an advancing Egged Bus Company van. In terror I flattened myself against the wall bordering the narrow roadway. A couple, German I thought, seemed mildly amused by my desperate action. “Sie fahren so schnell,” I explained weakly once the van had gone by. “Are you Dutch?” asked the man. For many years I had dreamed of my first trip abroad— what a sophisticated, cool, polyglot traveler I would be! Now here at last was that trip; and it was nothing like my expectations. All I could do was live the trip I was taking, unilingual and unsophisticated as I was. I wandered down streets about a dozen feet wide, on which, mercifully, cars and vans could not travel. Stone walls perhaps 15 to 20 feet high fronted on these streets, with very few doorways or gates in them. Retracing my steps on one such street, I found a donkey standing across it, broadside. It looked as if I might stay where I was for a very long time, because as far as I was concerned the donkey had the right of way. My imagination told me what it would feel like to be kicked by the animal (I had, after all, grown up on a farm, so my imaginings were based on actual memory), and cowardice did the rest.
By good luck I did not have to wait long for help. As another woman approached, some men materialized and turned the donkey parallel to the wall so we could both get through. I still had no clear idea where I was. But after some more-or-less aimless wanderings I soon came out again on Armenian Patriarchate Road and followed it past the Armenian Monastery to the Zion Gate, near the Greek Orthodox Abbey of the Dormition. There I left the Old City. For a while I sat on a wall outside, overlooking the Valley of Hinnom. Half-turning, I noticed a sign on the gateway of a grim box of a building. “Institute of Holy Land Studies,” it said. That was one of the places I was looking for. Deciding to return to it the following day, I dodged back inside the city walls. There, another sign drew me to the traditional tomb of King David. I followed what I thought was the direction in which it pointed, but was not too surprised when I wound up first at a Christian site—the Upper Room, traditional scene of Jesus’s Last Supper. I followed a tour group up and into the room. Centuries of pilgrim feet had worn deep grooves into the steps leading to it. The room itself obviously belongs to the Crusader era of the Middle Ages, which means Jesus never set foot in it. But this is not to debunk it—symbolic reality is no less real, no less potent, for being symbolic. David’s Tomb, equally unauthentic in a historical sense, no doubt is equally powerful as a symbol for Jews.
It lies near the Upper Room, and I found it after an abortive attempt to ask directions in Hebrew. It was not that I had any further illusions about my linguistic abilities; it was simply that no one I encountered seemed to know any English at all. My memory of the tomb is of a dark, enclosed space with many candles. Anything one might wish to see in this part of the world seems to be either in a dark, enclosed space or in a high, exposed one; and I don’t know which I like less. I bought and lighted a candle here, in memory of David. Wherever he might actually rest, he seemed entitled to remembrance. My efforts to find the Western Wall of the Jews, and the adjacent al-Aksah Mosque and Dome of the Rock, proved futile on this first day of exploration. I was too tired. I went back to the post office near the Jaffa Gate, wanting to mail some post cards, but found myself too impatient even to stand in line for stamps. The Anglican Church’s Christ Church Hospice was close to the post office. I remembered Sue Duncan saying I could get sheruts from there to most important tourist attractions, so I went over to arrange to go to Masada. This was the site of the Jewish Zealots’ purported heroic last stand against the Romans in 74 C.E. The standard account of that event, written by the brilliant apostate Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, has been called into question within the last decade or so, but I do not know on what grounds. All I do know is that it is a story so noble,
if bloody, that it ought to have happened just as Josephus said it did. Learning that the hospice sheruts for Masada were booked until the following week, I made no definite arrangements. Instead, I went back to my room. Like other people who live in tropical and subtropical climates the Israelis have an excellent custom of taking an afternoon nap whenever they can; and I decided to follow that custom. I was already beginning to notice that I would probably not get as much done on this trip as I had hoped. The heat in Jerusalem was not especially debilitating, and there was almost always a breeze—but that made the possibility of dehydration all the greater. And I was not in condition for the amount of activity I had suddenly undertaken. As I drifted off to sleep back at St. Andrew’s, I reminded myself that I would like to find a book store. I was looking for a book on somebody I had read about, a heroic woman leader from the Holocaust era named Gisi Fleischmann. I was not to find such a book on this trip. Indeed, after failing to find one even at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, I concluded that such a thing did not exist, and gave up looking for it. I myself was to write the work I had searched for in vain—or something as close to it as I could manage. But that came later. On this particular day, I awoke from my nap in the late afternoon and decided to return to the Old City. First,
though, I went downstairs for the daily four o’clock ritual of afternoon tea in the hospice drawing room. I can still smell the rich aroma of the strong tea. The tea was accompanied by plates of arrowroot biscuits, which appear to be a great favorite in the region. I was to have them again, more than once and in more than one place, before the end of my stay in Israel. After enjoying the tea I left again to mail the postcards I had wanted to send earlier. I went back to the Old City first, but found that post office closed. The employees were Moslem and were now on holiday. Having heard of the alleged disrespect of Israel’s Jews toward people of other faiths I was amused by this information. But not surprised. I had never believed the allegations anyway. Since I was once again near Christ Church Hospice I made arrangements to go to Masada the following Monday, paying in advance for a place in the sherut and a box lunch. The postcards I mailed at the Kings Hotel on King George V street, some distance from the Old City.
ON MY WAY back to the hospice this time I met Michael Paretz, a good-looking young Sephardic Jew who was a master’s candidate in mathematics at the Hebrew University and a veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars. Michael wanted to know how Israel was seen in the United States, and also what I had learned of Arab views during my short stay in Jordan. I told him I had watched Israel’s image in the United States deteriorate badly; I was sure that was due to Arab petrodollars. As to the Arabs themselves, I said having been in Jordan a few days did not make me an expert, but that no Arab I had met had talked about destroying Israel—not even my hardline acquaintance from the Amman Rotary Club party. “I realize it’s tricky,” I said, “but if you can find a way to give back part of the land they lost, with safety, I would do it. All except this—” and I gestured toward the Old City. “Whatever value Jerusalem has was given it, directly or indirectly, by Jewish history, and if I were a Jew I would not give up even one inch of it.”
“What about security?” Michael asked. “I was in the army twice, and it is no fun seeing your friends killed. When I get married and have sons I don’t want them to be killed.” “I know. And ordinarily I’d say America should be your security. But after Vietnam people are reluctant to take on commitments that might get us into wars.” I wished I had some answers, but it seemed to me that the questions kept changing. In fact, this change seemed the only constant in the situation. I kept searching for some sign that the people I saw every day might be under stress. From the reports of terrorist attacks that we heard on the news in the United States, it was easy to conclude that tension must be their daily companion. Later I concluded that it no doubt was, but that on the whole Israel was safer than many places at home in the United States—and that, anyway, a strain spread out over many days and years would tend eventually to blend into the background. I could not anticipate the constant ratcheting up of stress and danger that has characterized more recent times, and not only in Israel but at home in the United States. But back then life went on, and in luxuriant variety. The boy vendors at the Jaffa Gate, peddling reed flutes, Arabstyle drums, and other such low-priority items, seemed to personify it. “Four pound! Four pound!” they would shout, gathering
around me and the other tourists. By “pound,” they meant the Israeli lira. “Be careful!” laughed a fellow American one day when the young salesmen were particularly importunate. “When they get down to one pound, they mean one pound British.” One morning I went to Supersol, the supermarket on King George V Street. I had learned that to avoid an Allenby Bridge-style crowd I should avoid shopping in the late afternoon. Only a few people were in the market that morning, and two of them were Mr. and Mrs. Levy, an Israeli couple who had arrived at the hospice on vacation from Netanya the day before. They were buying some sweets for their grandchild, who was due to arrive with their daughter on the 9:30 train from Tel Aviv—the train line ended right behind our hospice, and on my later trip to Israel I took the ride for the experience of riding a train in Israel. (Because Israel is a tiny country, its rail system likewise is tiny. I believe that at the time of my second trip there was a line from Haifa to Tel Aviv, in addition to the one from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—and that I traveled on both those lines. If this is correct, and my memory is correct about having traveled on both lines, then I am a veteran of travel on most or all of the Israeli system. All I can remember for certain is my rail jaunt from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One branch of the system, closed after the 1948 Israeli War for Independence, ran down into Egypt. It remained
closed when it became clear that the Arab states, Egypt included, intended to maintain permanent hostility toward the new Jewish state. I don’t believe it was reopened even after the Camp David Accords established a cold peace—at best—between Israel and Egypt. But as this is updated, traffic on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line has been chugging on—or at least that has been true until quite recently, and I hope it still is. Within the past several weeks terrorist bombs have struck trains at least twice. Although no one has been killed or seriously injured—as far as I know—the experience cannot have been anything but disquieting.) The Levys gave me a ride back to St. Andrew’s this morning. As we drove they pointed out where a wall had run across the city, back in the days when much of it was under Jordanian control. That was before Jordan had made the mistake of joining in the 1967 Arab war against Israel. Now the wall was gone, and so were the Jordanians. Another change, according to the Israeli couple, was the great increase in the number of trees since that particular war. There were individual trees, and copses of trees, where there had been none before the war. Our talk swung to what seemed to be the growing misunderstanding of Israel in other countries. “They misunderstand because they want to misunderstand,” Mrs. Levy commented with bitterness. Inanely, I said I would see what I could do to help. Nothing like offering to take on the powerful force of
antisemitism. I believed, at the time, that good things were as possible as bad ones. I can only wish I were still that young.
The Theologian and the Immigrant Woman
TWICE I met with Dr. G. Douglas Young, the distinguished evangelical Christian theologian who had founded and still directed the Institute of Holy Land Studies. Young, a trim man in his late 60s, had been an ambulance driver during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and was an old Jerusalem hand. For his war service he was named an honorary citizen of the city by the grateful Israelis. He became controversial by his outspoken advocacy of Israel, and I had heard it said that he could no longer get a hearing for his views in the American press. Just a few years after I met him, he died of a sudden heart attack in one of the Old City’s gateways—the Damascus Gate, I was told it was. But the Institute for Holy Land Studies, now known as Jerusalem College, goes on. Hopefully in the tradition he set. As it turned out, Dr. Young and I had something of a connection. I discovered that from a plaque on his office wall that I spotted during our first meeting.
It revealed him to be a Rotarian—and not only a Rotarian, but the former president of the Amman Rotary Club. In fact, he knew Anton Atallah, the former Jordanian foreign minister, who he described as a very bitter man. I had not got that out of Mr. Atallah; but then, he and I had not talked much. It was another Jordanian at Mr. Abujaber’s party who had described Israel as a cancer and an infiltrator of the PLO, and yet had denied wanting to destroy the Jewish state. At our first meeting Dr. Young and I discussed what we both saw as a rising tide of antisemitism. “You know, I come from Canada,” he said. “The thing there is to deny that Anne Frank ever existed. (Anne Frank was a young German Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis for several years with her family in an attic in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. They were captured at last, and Anne died at the age of 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her Diary of A Young Girl survived World War II and was published, and has since stirred the conscience of millions.) I told Dr. Young I also had heard the story that there was no such person as Anne Frank, and no Holocaust either, despite the overwhelming historical evidence. Not only some Canadians, but also some people in the United States—and in other countries as well—continue to believe in falsifying history for unsavory purposes of their own.
He replied, “I know the man who hid Anne Frank and her family. He’s an old man now, but he still has his buttons.” I felt enormously moved. It wasn’t that I had ever doubted the Diary. Still, I knew that the testimony of someone like Dr. Young was far more important than my personal conviction. But I also knew that even such testimony would not convince anybody who did not want to be convinced. At our later meeting Dr. Young said, “The struggle here is theological. It isn’t over land. People don’t understand that. “You know, in Moslem countries Jews and Christians had a status as ‘protected people.’ Jews weren’t allowed to ride horses, for instance. They had to pay special taxes and wear special costumes. “Along came these Jews and took a desolate country where only a few hundred thousand people lived a hundred years ago, and turned it into a garden supporting millions. ‘Protected people’ aren’t supposed to act like that.” From my reading of the Picthall translation of the Koran, the Moslem holy book, and from what little I knew of Arab history, I saw Dr. Young’s point. But here religion melded into nationalism. The Arab Christians I had met had seemed no less upset by Israeli presumption—probably in existing—than had the Arab Moslems. If religion alone were the key, then the militancy
of the Koran would seem to justify such hostile feelings much better than the Christian Bible. After all, the first blows in the epic struggle between Islam and Christendom had been struck by the Moslems. The Prophet Mohammed had died in the year 632 C.E. In the century that followed, adherents of the new religion had surged outward from their base in the Arabian peninsula and had overrun much of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. They had poured across the Straits of Gibraltar into Southern Europe, where they established themselves in most of what is now Spain and Portugal and pushed on into the South of France. There they were stopped at the Battle of Chalons (or Tours) in 732 C.E. But they remained ensconced in the European territory they had invaded until 1492. Then they were expelled (together with the Jews) from Granada, the last principality they had ruled. Their influence remains heavy in Spain, Portugal, and the South of France; and in fact is no doubt greatly increased today. This bit of history is usually overlooked when modernday Moslems recall the horror of the Crusades, the succession of Western invasions of the “Holy Land” that began in 1095 C.E. The most commonly stated objective of the Crusades was to recover the Christian holy places from the Moslems who had seized them. This objective was accomplished only partially and briefly. However, anyone who knows the history that preceded the Crusades—the Moslem invasion of Europe—will be
forced to at least consider another possibility. That is that the Crusades represented a counter-offensive launched to protect Christendom from relentlessly advancing Islam. So. Despite good patches, Moslems have not been especially friendly to Jews. Or to Christians, either, for that matter. But then, Christians, Arab and non-Arab alike, have not really been noted for philosemitism. Like it or not, the Christian religion has been used to justify such depravities as the Inquisition, and has also helped provide the intellectual underpinnings for the Holocaust. Between my two visits to Dr. Young I had gone to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial. On the Number 20 bus I met a disgruntled immigrant woman from the Soviet Union. Nothing about Israel pleased her. She reminisced about the good old days in the U.S.S.R. There she and her husband, a medical specialist, had had an apartment, standing in society, and excellent medical care. So she said. Now they had no apartment and had a hard time finding suitable work. “Believe me,” she said, “there is discrimination here.” “There is discrimination everywhere,” I answered. “The thing is to prevent it from being institutionalized.” I believed I could understand some of the background of her complaints. It was a difficult time in Israel, in economic terms. Inflation was high. There did seem to be a shortage of housing, although I as a foreign visitor was
only conscious of this from occasional glimpses of the ads in the Jerusalem Post. And the skills of a doctor must have been a glut on the Israeli market. I wondered what had brought the woman to Israel. It was hard to believe she and her husband had really left a comfortable and respected situation in the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union was going through one of its recurrent persecutions of Jewish citizens. I suspected persecution had been her and her husband’s lot there, as well as the experience of so many others. At some point she, her husband, or both of them had decided that human dignity was better than possessions. Now she, at least, appeared to have changed her mind, perhaps because the recognition of that dignity had not been as immediate as she would have liked. But for myself, it would seem better to live under a government that was at least nominally trying to fight discrimination than under one that doled out and withdrew rights in the Soviet fashion. The bus stopped at the top of a long hill. “Goodbye,” I said. “I am going to Yad Vashem.” I put a slight emphasis on the last two words, in the hope of leading her to reconsider her present situation. “Yes. Yad Vashem,” she repeated. “Good-bye.” I got off here, at Mount Herzl—named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Jewish state—and walked in to the museum as Dr. Young suggested I do. Soon I was gazing out over a vast masonry plain. On it eternal flames flickered under what appeared to be a flat
masonry sky. Names were incised on the plain that was the floor, each naming a particular locus of hell on earth. Auschwitz. Dachau. Treblinka. On and on, the fateful toll of names. The clang of sorrow and calamity. More—I staggered through room after room of documentation of the Shoah—room after room of pictures and documents that one has seen before, at least in books, but that never lose their horrific impact. How could anyone claim this enormous exercise in evil had never occurred? For the time being I forgot about the doctor’s wife. Sometimes I wonder whether she and her husband stayed in Israel. I returned to the Jaffa Gate on a bus which contained several Arab riders. Later two soldiers got on, not armed that I could see. Still later a third soldier, this one with a submachine gun, got on as well. This soldier spotted the fact—which I had not noticed—that an old Arab passenger was holding an amorphous cloth sack. The soldier yanked the bag open and examined it, while I cringed. It was not a pleasant scene—but it was over in a minute, and the old man had his bag back. “Credit” for the episode went, I thought, to the terrorists who stalked this land. I could not then foresee how much worse the terrorism situation would become. Getting off the bus by the Old City, I saw a group of young IDF soldiers, men and women, starting happily up Mount Zion. Later in the day I saw more soldiers. A few of
them had submachine guns, but not an unusual number considering Israel’s perpetually crisis-ridden state. The populace certainly did not seem to conduct all its affairs “under the watchful eyes of armed soldiers,” as I had heard charged. Besides, as an American friend pointed out, in Israel you KNOW who is armed. In the United States it can be more difficult to tell who has a weapon and who has not. Returning to the hospice, I felt too exhausted to contemplate much more activity that day. I washed some clothing, and was about to go for a shower when Sue Duncan, the medical-student-in-residence, knocked at my door—I had a phone call. It turned out to be Fred Rooney, the nephew of my Congressman, who was working at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. After some discussion it was decided that I would go there in a few days, and perhaps work for a short period of time as a kibbutz volunteer. After all, I wanted to write a small article about Fred for his Moravian College alumni magazine. What better way to do it than to share his experiences? I reworked my schedule, went downstairs for tea, and tried without success to make a couple of phone calls. I wanted to reach TWA, to confirm the date of my flight back; and I also wanted to reach the very anti-Israeli American Friends Service Committee. I’d have liked to interview their staff, to discover the origins of their attitudes.
Eventually, although not that day, I was to reach TWA. I never got through to the AFSC. Going out later on my usual errand of mailing postcards, I stopped for a light meal at the Orly Coffee House just off King George V Street. I then retraced my steps to King David Street and walked a few blocks, passing the famous—or infamous, depending on your viewpoint—King David Hotel. In the last days of Britain’s Palestine Mandate, when the hotel was a British military headquarters, a bomb had been set off there by Jewish underground members. The perpetrators had been members of Irgun, the underground organization headed by Menachem Begin— the same man who at the time of my visit was Prime Minister of Israel. Some 91 people had been killed and 45 wounded; 15 Jews were among the dead. The Jewish National Council immediately condemned the King David attack, and rightly so. It was a very large and dramatic action for its time; and no matter how justified it may have seemed to those who committed it, there always are consequences of such things. The perpetrators of every such action justify it by the one before; and so death begets death in endless reverberation. Well, at least the hotel had been a military target. An attack on it was perhaps more justifiable than one on farmers in the fields, busses full of school children, and Olympic athletes. Such people were among the targets
chosen by Palestinian terrorists—the prime examples of such terrorists at that time being Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Dr. George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). I bought yet more postcards at the King David and returned to the Scottish Hospice. After this trip, I told myself, I would take a vacation from historical rumination. There always were interesting people at the Hospice dining table. Tonight it was a young Scot named Peter Cowe, a student at Mansfield College, Oxford. Cowe had arrived recently, and had enrolled at once in the ulpan, the modern Hebrew training school run by the Hebrew University. The ulpanim are marvelous institutions. They are designed to teach passable modern Hebrew to immigrants and others with a need to know, all within a period of six weeks or so. My own Hebrew teacher in the United States, Hadassah Nemovicher, had been an ulpan teacher. She had not been able to use ulpan methods with her weakling American students, of course. Nevertheless, she got some impressive results with us, and for a time I aspired to attend an ulpan myself. I now believe that, between my stress disorder and my lack of talent for languages, the experience would have shredded what sanity I still could lay claim to. Yet here was young Peter Cowe, at the beginning of the ulpan course and lusting after yet more linguistic
adventure. He intended to continue at the Hebrew University, where, for theological reasons, I believe, he planned to study Armenian manuscripts. I wished him luck. Jerusalem was to me a city of unintelligible scripts. Neither Hebrew nor Arabic had seemed more unintelligible than the public signs I had seen in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. I suspect, though, that young Cowe was a linguistic whiz, and did very well. While preparing this work for readers, my editor Patricia McAndrew discovered evidence that my suspicion about the young man was correct. As of the year 2002 there was a brilliant Armenologist named Dr. S. Peter Cowe at UCLA. Dr. Cowe was the holder of the university’s oldest endowed chair and widely regarded as being at the top of an admittedly small and esoteric field. Armenian studies, for size, does not compare favorably with, say, 19th century American literature. I have little doubt that Dr. S. Peter Cowe is the same as the eager young student who I once met at dinner in the Scottish Hospice in Jerusalem. Any other possibility would be too much of a coincidence. The day after this dinner I was scheduled to interview Moshe Kohn, senior correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. I followed the instructions I had been given and took a Number 20 bus from the Jaffa Gate to the Central Bus Station. From there, I had been told, it would be an easy walk to the Post.
My seatmate on the bus was a young man from California who had recently made aliyah—that is, emigrated to Israel. In the course of conversation with him I asked, “The Arabs say Begin wants Jordan. Does he?” “Yes, he does,” the young man replied. “It’s part of our Biblical heritage. We’re not going to take it, of course; but if they start trouble again—and they will—I think we should move in and flatten all their capitals. Otherwise they’ll get us next time around.” For what Israel had been through, I considered this a valid if disconcerting position. After all, Israel’s most recent war had not been the radiantly victorious Six-Day War of 1967, but the barely-survived Yom Kippur War of 1973. I got off at the Central Bus Station, near the Hilton Hotel, and walked up Jeremiah (Yirmeyahu) Street to the converted market that housed the Jerusalem Post. Moshe Kohn, a gentle, quiet, yarmulka-wearing man in his mid-50s, showed me around the offices, which featured some technology that was already obsolete in the newspaper offices I was used to. Here there still were manual typewriters, and even some linotype machines. I have not seen a linotype machine since that day, August 10, 1978. After the tour, we talked. Kohn’s parents had been sabras, native-born in Eretz Israel; but that was not true of him. He had been born in the United States. He had been in Israel a long time, though—since 1957.
I repeated to him some of the things I had heard about Israel in Jordan, and also what the young man on the bus had just said. “I categorically deny that we are expansionist,” Kohn replied. “We have a moral, historical, and religious right to the West Bank, but before the 1967 war there was no important public opinion in Israel that favored moving into the area.” He went on, “But if there’s trouble, and we find ourselves in Amman, we’re likely to say,‘To hell with it— they started it.’ Besides, we have a historical presence there, too. “But let me say this,” Kohn added earnestly, “If there’s a chance for peace—real peace, not just Sadat (Anwar Sadat, then president of Egypt) coming here and talking— then I would favor negotiating over the land. The right to it is ours, but we don’t have to exercise that right. “ But if I give up Hebron and Nablus, that hurts me. If it doesn’t, what have I given up?” Kohn was referring to the tombs of Jewish patriarchs and prophets in these two cities. The situation was complicated, as usual. Although the Koran interprets such personalities differently than does the Jewish Bible, Moslems too revere these Biblical personalities. “You’re saying you want something in return,” I said. “Exactly. Ninety per cent of Israelis feel as I do.” We made arrangements for me to have supper at his house on Monday, following my return from Masada.
Kohn was—as it turned out, rightly—skeptical of my ability to get any part of the Israeli story across back in the United States. “Look at Roy Eckardt,” he observed. “In a lot of Christian circles he’s known as ‘that Judaizer.’” He added that Dr. G. Douglas Young of the Institute of Holy Land Studies had equal difficulties in getting a hearing for his pro-Israeli point of view. This of course was by now not news to me. I thanked him, picked up my notes, and left. I was back at the Scottish Hospice in time for tea. Afterward I headed for the Arab bazaar in the Old City in search of a pair of sandals. Until now, I had not been in this part of the Old City. I found it exciting, although even then it was crowded and full of a sense of menace. But then, I suppose that at no time in Jerusalem‘s history has it lacked some special atmosphere, call it awe-inspiring or menacing or holy, or whatever. My first impressions of the Old City, recorded earlier, were intensified by this new visit. The part I was now visiting was new to me; but a sense of the place as the hub of the world remained and grew. (And that was appropriate. Jerusalem sometimes IS called “the hub of the world,” and sometimes “the navel of the world.” In either case, the center from which things grow.) For width, the term “alley” would dignify most of its passageways; but there could be few alleys like these in the world. In fact, there was a warren of these alley-like
streets, leading away down steps and around corners, all of them lined on both sides with shops selling jewelry, embroidered clothing, brass work, cheap porcelain, leatherwork—practically anything you could imagine in an Oriental bazaar. The place was thronged with people, of just about every race and nationality. I stopped two women who seemed to be mother and daughter, and asked directions to the area selling shoes. I had chosen to ask them because the girl was wearing a tee shirt that said, “Summertime is Dance Festival Time At The Met.” This made me homesick for opera and New York’s Lincoln Center. I knew there was opera in Israel, but I believe that at this time it was all in Tel Aviv. Besides, neither here nor in New York was August considered opera season—as the girl’s tee shirt suggested, in New York it was time for dance. The girl herself turned out not to have the slightest idea what the message on her tee shirt meant, or what the Metropolitan Opera was. But she and her mother did know where shoes were. They directed me to go back and turn right, and I would find many shoe stores. And they were right. Within a few minutes I had equipped myself with two pairs of sandals from two different stores. One was of uncertain materials and provenance, but probably Japanese: and for it I was almost certainly overcharged. The other pair was unquestionably leather and
unquestionably Israeli. I did a little bazaar-style haggling for it, and considered it a steal at IL180. That number of lirot came to about US $10. I think it close to inevitable that some reader, coming upon the preceding paragraph, will contact me, after all these decades, to let me know that I was “had” on the price. Perhaps this reader will even be able to prove the truth of his/her assertion. But be reminded, Dear Reader: Nobody loves a spoil-sport. That evening I went to the Orly Coffeehouse on King George V Street and had dinner—a mushroom omelet, coffee, and a curious but good Israeli version of ice cream that I had had before. Not very well-balanced, but at least it was a change from falafel. When I was out I tended to order falafel a lot—frankly, at that point it was just about the only local dish I knew about, if a kind of sandwich could be called a dish. I liked falafel, and that was fortunate. But it was nice to eat a well-balanced meal in the hospice dining room, or even to have the occasional international favorite, such as the omelet, while I was out exploring. During the short time I had been back in the hospice that afternoon we had heard three explosions. They sounded as if they came from King David Street, near our digs; but when I checked I could see nothing. All to the good. Despite, or perhaps because of the effects of, my severe ADD, I like nothing better than a secure and quiet life. Seldom have I enjoyed it.
And it was hard to imagine the concept of “quiet life” in Jerusalem, the navel of the world. It is even harder to imagine that now, reviewing this work several decades and much bloodshed later, and in another century. I thought life might get a little less quiet within the next few days. We were coming up on the 9th of Av, or Tish b’Av, that black day that saw the destruction of both Jewish temples, centuries apart. Haters of Jews have long loved to “celebrate” the occasion. No doubt that was the reason for the two preliminary bomb blasts we had heard. No doubt it also was the reason for the ever-growing numbers of police and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces in the streets. During this period I finally found Israel Hadany, a sculptor the American art collector and philanthropist Philip Berman had advised me to look up. My discovery of the hitherto elusive artist happened by accident. I’d been avoiding the Citadel Arts and Crafts Center, just across from the Jaffa Gate—it looked expensive and touristy. On this particular day I decided to go down the steps and wander among the studios and craft shops. The street was cobbled, and was interrupted by steps. It lead down into the Hinnom Valley. The crafts displayed in the shops had good lines, for the most part, but struck me as just this side of being distinguished. Nevertheless, the street as a whole was much better than a tourist trap. My eye was caught by a sign above a silversmith’s shop. It read “Yehel Hadany.” I walked in at once and found two
men and a girl smoothing off the bottoms of menorot, the traditional Hanukkah candelabra, with files. “Israel Hadany?” I asked. “Mr. Philip Berman?” The response to the name “Philip Berman” was immediate. An old man at a desk to my right—I hadn’t noticed him before—rose, shook hands with me, put a cap on his head, and went out for some unknown purpose. I was invited to sit down, and the girl brought me a glass of really cold water. Really cold water was not that common in Israel, and seemed to be offered either as a mark of respect or as a condescension to one’s American zeal for ice water. In fact, at the Institute for Holy Land Studies, a few days earlier, I had been given a glass of water with real ice cubes. The elderly man soon reappeared with a younger one, sandy-haired and bearded. This was his son, the sculptor Israel Hadany. We went around to his studio on the “working” side of the arts and crafts center, the side that looked out toward the Scottish Hospice. There I conducted the interview for what later became a newspaper article. We were interrupted by Hadany’s need to carry out a dead kitten its mother had begun to eat. The studio itself was a large, pleasant, whitewashed room, full of angles. I’d have loved to have taken pictures inside, but I had no flash. As a mere “snapshooter,” it never occurred to me that my camera was loaded with film of the proper speed to do the job by itself. So I took a few pictures of the sculptor outside, with the walls of the Old City in the background. In the midst of
this session the 35 mm. camera jammed. I whipped out my Kodak Instamatic and took some back-up pictures. During the interview Hadany pointed out that because of the tense situation in the region life was hard for Israeli artists. He said there was no logical explanation for the outpouring of artistic creativity in Israel, and as far as I can see there wasn’t—there never is. Artistic creativity always represents a triumph of the human spirit, and is never logical. We returned to Yehel Hadany’s shop, where the younger Hadany gave me strong black coffee in a glass, with cold water to cool it. Then he took me to the shop of a photographer friend of his, also located in the arts and crafts center. The photographer unjammed my camera. I thanked him and Hadany, and returned to the Scottish Hospice. During tea I obtained even more proof—if I had needed it—that some of the most interesting people in the world pass through the doors of this historic building. This time it was a man named Ringer, a musicologist from the University of Illinois. He turned out to be well-informed about the region—had been in many Arab countries as well as in Israel, and sometimes had had quasi-diplomatic status. And, he apparently was a friend of Roy and Alice Eckardt. It seemed they were all members of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East.
Bomb Blasts and Points of View
THE FATEFUL day of Tish b’Av came upon us on August 13. But for me, all the excitement had happened the day before. I had decided on that morning—the twelfth—to walk over to the Old City and to strike out at last for the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. Considering the extreme holiness of these two adjacent places on the old Temple Mount—the first so sacred to Jews, the second hallowed by Moslem tradition—it might have seemed unwise to visit them on the eve of Tish b’Av. It was indeed unwise in principle; but then, I was not a seasoned Middle East traveler, and I had just so much time in the city. A map I’d seen the night before in Israel Today suggested I might find the two holy places by an easy walk through the Arab bazaar, if one wanted to call a walk through the bazaar easy. Interesting, yes. Challenging, yes. Easy, probably not. The Jaffa Gate was half blocked off by wooden horses designed to control traffic, and it was fuller than usual of Israeli soldiers and police. I recalled that the first dayI
walked into the Old City I could count the number of soldiers on one hand. As Tish b’Av approached, every day there had been more. Antisemites were sure to view such a development in an unfavorable light. What? Jews were now in a position to defend themselves, and would do so if need be? The presumption! The effrontery! Near the entrance to the Arab bazaar I bought a couple of packs of Time cigarettes; then I headed off in search of the Western Wall. The Wall for many centuries was called the Wailing Wall, to commemorate the seas of tears it has generated in the lives of pious Jews down through time. Suddenly I saw a sign off to my right—Wailing Wall Road, it said. By the superhighway-sized standards of the West, “road” was a misnomer; what we had here was a paved path. Yet how wide could streets and roads BE in a small space like the Old City? An IDF soldier stood guard near the Wailing Wall Road intersection. The Israelis took no chances with anybody’s holy places. They remembered too clearly the episode of a few years before, when a mad Australian had tried to destroy the al Aksah Mosque next to the Dome of the Rock. The man’s hope, if I recall, was to bring about the Second Coming of Christ. It was all very confusing, and I imagine to no one more than to ordinary Moslems. Alas, in his pursuit of his messianic dream, the Australian managed to destroy an irreplaceable historic pulpit. This was bad; but at least it was not the mosque. (As it happened, some very decent Salvation Army people from Australia, the Reeses, were staying at the
Scottish Hospice while I was there. They did not like to hear about this lunatic Australian, or about their other countryman who had attacked Michelangelo’s Pietà in Rome. Any more, I fancy, than I would have cared to hear about such countrymen of mine as, say, the murderer Charles Manson. So, after my first unfortunate mention of “the Australian connection”, I didn’t remind then about their aberrant fellow citizens.) Having convinced the soldier on duty that I was not carrying anything dangerous, I stepped out onto a kind of platform, looked down, and gasped. It was the most impressive place I had seen thus far in Jerusalem, because it was the least pretentious. After all, it was just a wall. Before it hundreds, perhaps a thousand human beings on this day, swayed in prayer. They were divided by gender, and many of them looked like Hasidim, or other ultra-Orthodox group members. As a non-Jew I was not an expert on various expressions of Jewish Orthodoxy. The hum of many prayer chants arose in the hot, dry August air. I had heard such chanting—davening, I think it is called—in the B’rith Sholom synagogue at home, when I attended services there. Here, before the most sacred artifact of Judaism, it was even more compelling, not only because of the location but because the sound arose from so many more throats. I exchanged a few words with an American man, and then started slowly down the steps to the women’s section
of the wall, toward the right. It was not clear to me why I was going down—what could this place be to me, a nonJew? I realized, though, that I wanted to touch the wall; and I did. Looking at the masonry texture on which my hand rested, I could see papers with prayer petitions stuck in every available crevice and cranny. I don’t know why it meant so much to touch the wall, but it did. That day I saw holy places of every kind; but only this one moved me. I returned to Wailing Wall Road, turned a few corners, and found myself by the Dome of the Rock. To my Western eyes, this lost a great deal by being seen close up. We had of course come by it on the way up from the Allenby Bridge, a few days ago. From a little distance it and the compound of which it was a part had looked very impressive and beautiful. Close up, after I’d been checked out by the on-duty Israeli soldier, it looked too gold, too blue, its surface too curlicued with designs, to appeal to me. I took a few pictures but did not bother to go inside. I did take off my shoes and stand there in the entrance, looking around in silent interest. There were a number of Moslems and a number of outside visitors in the enclosure, all seemingly quiet and orderly on this day. One of the visitors turned out to be Abraham, a goodlooking off-duty policeman from Tel Aviv, whose last name I am afraid I never did get. For that matter, perhaps everything he told me about himself and his background
was fictitious. He may have been a policeman from Jerusalem itself, and very much on duty. Or perhaps he was something else altogether. At any rate, it was at this point that I started to see much more than I had expected to see that day. That is because he offered to show me around. I accepted; and whatever his background or last name may have been, he was an excellent guide.He led me first to the walled-up Golden Gate. Through its portals either Jesus or the Jewish Messiah is supposed to enter at the final redemption—it depends upon one’s theological orientation. Then we went to the impressive Crusader Church of St. Ann, the first real Gothic church I had ever seen, and very far from the European homeland of that great architectural style. It was clear that it could serve as a fortress upon need. Although I am no expert on the history of the Crusades, I would be surprised if it hadn’t sometimes served that function. After that we clambered around in excavations which I assumed were of the Pool of Siloam, mentioned in the New Testament. Abraham told me this was the case. Abraham’s English was not too good, but his knowledge of Christian history and tradition was impressive. Exiting the Old City by the Lion Gate, we crossed to the Mount of Olives, which turned out to be truly a mount— the roadway up from our side seemed close to vertical, or at least as close to vertical as one could drive a car or jeep up. At the foot is the traditional Garden of Gesthemane,
where there is a modern church with curious heavy glass like bottle glass. Abraham and I visited the church, and also the site nearby which is honored as the traditional tomb of the Virgin Mary. The road we took up the Mount of Olives was lined with high stone walls, and was tough going for me as an overweight smoker. Several times I didn’t think I was going to make it; and in fact I got no farther than the moreor-less tear-shaped Dominus Flevit chapel, where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. On the way to that place we stopped at the ornate and beautiful Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene. It was in charge of White Russian nuns, representing the losing side in the1917 Russian Revolution. The aged nun who supervised visitors and who greeted us had a leathery face, and looked as if she could have personal memories of the Revolution. If so, they would not have been pleasant ones. Outside, the building had many ornately painted and carved onion domes, which made it astonishing to look at. One expected this building to be on a snowy steppe in Russia, not clinging to a near-cliff in a Middle Eastern city. It seemed to be out of a novel by Tolstoy or Turgenev. The church looked as if its interior space would be vast. In fact, the sanctuary was a small room, covered with rich decorative painting. Its emotional and artistic highlight was an improbable depiction of Mary Magdalene before an attentive Roman Emperor Tiberius. The nun told us Mary
is here depicted convincing Tiberius of Christ’s innocence. To seal her argument, she is presenting the emperor with a colored and decorated Easter egg. I’d have loved to come back to this church again, but I understood it was hardly ever open. Abraham and I had happened to be lucky that day. At the Dominus Flevit chapel we met the Reeses, the Australians from the Scottish Hospice. I introduced them to Abraham as Australians; and to my chagrin HE brought up the subject of the Australian bomber who had attacked El Aksah Mosque. The Israeli said he had helped arrest their fanatical compatriot on the day of the attack. As we were returning down the mountain—exhaustion having caught up with me—a loud blast shook the area. I thought it sounded like a bomb. Abraham said it was nothing—probably a jet plane. I doubted that—and all the more when a police jeep raced up the hill toward us blaring its two-tone emergency klaxon. It whipped on up toward the Intercontinental Hotel on the summit. (Later that afternoon, in a restaurant near the Jaffa Gate, a man easily identifiable as a plainclothes policeman—somehow, in any country, they seem identifiable, even though I remain uncertain about Abraham— also denied there’d been a blast. This matched Abraham’s line, of course; and perhaps it was the standard police line at times like this. The theory may have been not to spread panic among the tourists, not that I had any plans to head at once for Ben Gurion Airport.)
Meanwhile, going back into the Old City through the Lion Gate, Abraham and I proceeded up the Via Dolorosa, the traditional route followed by Christ to his crucifixion. It led through the Arab Quarter and was, as we say, tacky—altogether the most offensive religious thing I had seen. I don’t know why this was so. Certainly at the time I didn’t consider myself a believing Christian.Yet that WAS my background; and so I suppose I took the idea of trafficking in the suffering of Jesus personally. Where tradition says St. Veronica offered her veil to wipe Jesus’ bloody face, we ducked into a Byzantine-era (I think) crypt. According to the inscription on the wall, Pope Paul VI had prayed there when he visited Jerusalem. I had been thinking about Paul since I had learned of his death on my arrival in the city a few days before. I regretted his passing; but certainly this pope had been no friend to most Jerusalemites—Jews, Moslems, non-Catholic Christians. So I did not know how I felt about him. I DID know I was developing a mounting aversion to little commercial establishments with names like First Station Rest House and Christ Prison Souvenir Shop, and to the array of junk merchandise they offered. I had heard that only Christians lived along this street, and I told Abraham forthrightly that they should be ashamed of themselves. I was also very much sick and tired of closed-in places; but we now went to one which had all the disadvantages
of claustrophobia, plus acid rock. It was no shrine, but the so-called Danish Tea Room near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There we went upstairs, while I mentally evaluated the fire hazard of this place. I did not like the results of my evaluation. At first we ducked under an arch about four feet high and went to a table in a corner. Fortunately Abraham thought better of the location, and we came out to a more accessible spot near a window. There he had a Hope cola and I had a Maccabee beer. But we were still in a cramped space; and I was glad when we left the tea room. This was true even though our next stop was the spire of the German Lutheran Church, an enclosed vertical space that for me was one of the greater challenges of the day. Fighting down my panic, I did make it to the top; and the view of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the rest of the Old City was spectacular. By this time whatever use I was to Abraham had come to an end. I think I may have been something of a cover for some pre-Tish b’Av police observations in the Old City, and that had been why I had had the luck to have his company on an interesting and historical afternoon walk. But the interlude was over. When we came out of the German Lutheran Church he pointed out the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and an alternate way to the Jaffa Gate. We shook hands, and he walked off. He was a wonderful gentleman, and remains a pleasant memory.
We had come through the teeming Old Market area to get to the neighborhood of the Holy Sepulchre, and I had thought with a shudder of the possible effects of a PLO bomb blast there. Now I blundered my way through a similar area until I was actually in the church that was the center of the faith of Christendom. I can say I’ve “done” it. I can also say I was unimpressed— not with what the church stands for but with all the unlovely shenanigans it has seen, in the name of many versions of the “true faith.” All I could think about were generations of monks, clerics, and crusaders bickering over this spot, over their “rights” to even a few square inches of the church. I thought of all the Christians— Protestant ones, by and large—who were shut out entirely. While I never did learn the history of the German Lutheran Church in the Old City, I am sure it was a German Lutheran reaction to being shut out of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, over which, of course, it towered. And building such an assertive building was so very German! At least that was so during the late19th century, and during all too much of the 20th. But the imperialistic Germans of that time were probably no more imperialistic than, say, their British counterparts. And imperialism was just gaining a foothold in the history of my own country back in that period. After a few minutes in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre I hurried out through the Arab bazaar; or I tried to. There
are times when a press of people is especially hard for me to take, and this was one of them. Especially after the bomb blast on the Mount of Olives. All I wanted was to get out of the Old City’s shadows and into the sunlight, or whatever was left of it. At last I did get out. First I stopped in a falafel shop near the Jaffa Gate which I had visited several times before. There I had a falafel and two grapefruit sodas. (I couldn‘t seem to get off the falafel kick, having discovered that I liked these deep-fried balls of grains and spices, served in pita with lettuce, tomato, and sauce.) In this shop I met the plainclothes policeman who reasserted Abraham’s claim that there had been no explosion on the Mount of Olives that day. Nice of him to be reassuring; but I begged to differ. There was a poster in the shop which I had spotted before today. It said, “To Every Man A Homeland.” I asked the policeman what it meant. He said it had been put up by Israeli students belonging to the Mapam party. It did not favor a Palestinian state, as I had supposed when I had seen it earlier. Instead, it opposed the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. Now, THAT I could agree with! Exhausted, and with a vague headache-y feeling from the heat of the sun, I finally came down Hebron Street, across the Hinnom Valley, and back to the hospice. In the driveway I met Mr. and Mrs. Reese. “Did you hear the explosion on the Mount of Olives?” we asked each other with barely suppressed excitement.
All of us had, of course; after all, we had all been there and we were all possessed of normal hearing. We were walking up the driveway talking about Tish b’Av and what an opportune time it would be for the PLO to make some sort of demonstration when the thunder of another explosion rolled over us. We scrambled onto some rocks overlooking the valley and looked across to the Old City walls. “Look!” cried Mrs. Reese. “There’s smoke rising!” As we gazed at it—it arose from somewhere near or inside the Jaffa Gate—ambulances tore down Hebron Street, headed for the scene. Not until dinner at the hospice did we learn what had happened. Miss King, our warden, said one bomb had torn up a pavement at the Intercontinental Hotel atop the Mount of Olives, injuring no one. The one in the Old City, some three hours later at 2 p.m., had been discovered just before it went off. Once again, no one had been injured; but Hannah, the hospice cook, had been quite near that blast in the Jaffa Gate. It was not because the PLO was not trying to injure and kill. At tea in the afternoon Professor Ringer, the Eckardts’ friend, disagreed with me that PLO members wanted us visitors out. “They just want to kill people,” he said. “Besides, the pay is good. The pay is very good.” I asked him what he meant by that; and he said the PLO was funded by Arab petrodollars. Ringer also said his daughter had seen Saudi soldiers in the Golan Heights,
far to the north. I don’t know how she could have known who they were; but if this information were correct it made nonsense of American State Department claims that Saudi Arabia was not a “confrontation state” where Israel was concerned. As Shabbat faded into Tish b’Av, the day so ill-fated in Jewish history, I went out to mail a few more of my interminable stream of postcards. There were things I wanted to say to people, and by September 7, when I was due to return home, I might have forgotten those things. So I justified my frequent mailing expeditions. Not surprisingly, this evening the streets were full of army trucks with soldiers. I was able to mail my cards in the Kings Hotel lobby, but I came back at once. It was an oppressive time. I had had two phone calls during the course of the day. One was from Haim Elkind, who called during dinner and who Fred Rooney thought might be worth a story. The other was from Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, from Rooney himself. That turned into two calls. I missed the first because I was out mailing the postcards, and my efforts to return that call were unsuccessful. The line was busy, as was almost always the case in Israel in those days. As I saw it, you couldn’t hope to have a good phone system if you had to spend all your money preventing people from being blown up. (This was years before cell phones and the tragic episode of the World Trade Center, which proved that good
communications were not incompatible with terrible devastation. No doubt millions of Israelis have cell phones now. It may be hoped that they will not have to use them as their last act on earth.) Fred managed to call back a little after 10 p.m., and was surprised to hear about the bombs at the Intercontinental Hotel and the Jaffa Gate. We made arrangements for me to go to Kiryat Anavim by the No. 8 bus on Thursday. August 13 was actually here, the much-dreaded Tish b’Av. At breakfast in the hospice dining room Mrs Levy said she thought she had heard shooting during the night. We all tried to reassure her, even her husband. But her anxiety emphasized the strain under which Israelis lived every day. It was Sunday, which meant that no dinner would be served at the hospice that night. I therefore decided to walk over to the Old City to buy some fruit, cigarettes, postcards, stamps, and airgramme forms. I thought security would be tight at the Jaffa Gate, and it was. I conducted my business as quickly as possible and returned to St. Andrew’s. In my room I laid out books, booklets, and papers. My intention was to work on articles and background reading for the rest of the day, but a loud children’s church school class in the foyer soon changed my mind. It was conducted by a woman who believed (I could tell from a distance) that children could only understand if spoken to in loud, cloying tones. Discouraged by the noise, I went
out and had an iced coffee at the Café Orly. Then I stopped in a Supersol market to buy two rolls, a small container of instant coffee, and a glass cup. In the checkout line I met a young American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who was staying at a nearby youth hostel. He was studying Hebrew at an ulpan sponsored by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and he hoped to remain in Israel. We discussed the preceding day’s bombing incidents with concern and anger. When I returned to the hospice I felt too tired to work. I took out Moshe Kohn’s articles and Dr. Young’s articles and started to read them. Not that reading background was not “work,” but it was a little more relaxing than writing. The Levys were leaving that day to return to Netanya. I had found them agreeable, and was sorry to see them go. Mr. Levy and I talked that morning about the difficulty of making “the land of milk and honey” yield a living. I remarked on how difficult aforestation and agricultural development must be. “Yes,” he agreed. “It is known that when the Israeli army advances the men plant trees. Do you know why? So that when they have to come back in 20 years they can fight in the shade.” I spent a more or less sleepless night. About 3:55 a.m. there was the sound of many, many sirens from nearby King David Street. I had not heard any blasts for many hours, and I had hoped this relatively peaceful state of
affairs would continue. But the sirens indicated that there was trouble out there. I was spending these sleepless hours reading the Jerusalem Post articles of Moshe Kohn. Their exposition of what I took to be the viewpoint of many “average” Israelis was so clear-cut that I’d have been in favor of collecting them and publishing them in the United States as a book. Unfortunately, that never happened. As usual the Scottish Hospice—few people seem to call it St. Andrew’s—was full of interesting visitors. One was Dr. Emmy Werner of Berkeley. She also was on the faculty at Davis, and in fact had been on the admission committee in the famed Allen Bakke case. (Denied admission to medical school because he did not fit an ethnic quota, Bakke had successfully sued to be admitted, and had perhaps laid the groundwork for the ultimate demise of affirmative action. Whether he or anyone liked it or not, this made him a kind of historic figure.) A Mischling First Degree (a half-Jew not affiliated with the Jewish religion) in Hitler’s Germany, Dr. Werner’s survival made her feel compelled to help people wherever she could. She had worked in India, and was here in Israel under the auspices of UNICEF, the United Nations organization that advocates the rights and needs of the world’s children. One of the organizations I was most exercised about was the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC. In the wake of World War II the AFSC had won the
Nobel Peace Prize for its work with refugees. Now, though, it seemed to fester with anti-Israelitism, which to my mind was simply a new, disingenuous term for antisemitism. Dr. Werner said the AFSC had fed her for several years after the war, and that for a time she had been under the impression that there were many millions of Quakers. The AFSC, of course, kept citing the very real and very great good it had done at the end of the war in its own defense. That was well and good; but I believed it was now doing evil toward Israel, and no past record could justify or excuse that. On this day Dr. Werner and I discussed how the problems of the Middle East, instead of becoming more comprehensible on site, became more complex. I assured her I had not thought all the answers would become obvious in five weeks, but… She asked whether I felt frustrated by the knottedness of it all, the sense of ever-receding truth. I admitted I did, but added that, at least for now, I was working off steam in my diary. After this I went out for a light supper at the Café Orly. On my return I got the cameras ready for tomorrow’s trip to Masada. Which simply meant that I loaded them with film. After the trouble I had had trying to photograph Israel Hadany, I never again tried to use the 35 mm camera. As I got into bed—early—I reflected with gratitude that, this day at least, there had been no bombs.
The Jerusalem Post had informed me that our President, Jimmy Carter, had invited Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to a summit at Camp David, Maryland, September 5. The object was peace between Israel and Egypt, and I could only hope it would be attained.
To Masada and Back
THE FOLLOWING DAY, August 14, I was up at 5:30 for last-minute preparations for the Masada trip. At 6:08 there was some sort of explosion from somewhere in the pre-dawn darkness. Could be an accident, I thought; or maybe somebody was trying to make up for a quiet, bombfree yesterday. A bit later I walked over to Christ Church Hospice. We left from there a little after 8 a.m.—a tall, black Nigerian gentleman, four Englishmen, a very Southern lady from Georgia, a driver who insisted on maintaining an obnoxious running commentary, and I. In retrospect, I suppose I should not have blamed the driver for his commentary. For many visitors it would have been very helpful—but we all were keen to see Masada, and some of the man’s diversions seemed likely to cut short our time there once we had finally arrived. Our first stop, at the driver’s insistence, was Bethany. There we voted unanimously not to visit the putative Tomb of Lazarus. Soon after that we came to a Roman ruin said to be the Inn of the Good Samaritan. Here everybody
else capitulated and went in to look around. But it was already very hot, and I decided to save my strength and remain in the car. Then we were off on the serious business of visiting Masada. The driver started the car again, and we were plunging down one of the world’s longest downhill runs— down below sea level and south along the Dead Sea. It was a reprise of the journey to the Allenby Bridge, but in the opposite direction. Soon we passed Qumran, the awesome cliff formations where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been found. To my regret we did not have time to stop here; but it was an important place. It would have taken hours to “do” properly; and Masada remained our priority. The cliffs now towered up on our right, while the Dead Sea lay on our left. It looked hard-surfaced but inviting in the hot desert landscape, gleaming in turquoise and blue. Its smell was another matter. Again and again we came around a curve and were greeted by a devastating whiff of sulfur. We passed the beach and the date palm groves at Kibbutz Ein Geddi, where we were scheduled to stop on the way back. A few kilometers farther along I looked off to the right and said, “It can’t be, so soon—but that looks like Masada over there.” It was. We approached through what looked like a lunar landscape, with the traditional ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah lying off to our left. I looked up at the huge,
ship-like mountain we were approaching and could make out the outlines of the northern palace terrace, with some of the ruins on the flat table-like summit above. I could even see people wandering around up there. Watching the tiny cable cars inch up one side of the mountain, and watching people come and go up the serpent path on the other side, I wondered if I would have the nerve to make it to the top. There was little time to think about it. Bus and car traffic at the visitors’ center resembled the traffic patterns in Times Square in New York City. When our driver parked the sherut we ran, hoping to catch the next cable car up. Peter, one of the Englishmen, and I bought one-way tickets, hoping to take the serpent path down. We made the next car. Minutes later we were dangling over the chasm on our way up the mountain. The car was jammed. All in all it was a very strange sensation—like being in a bus at rush hour, but in mid-air. At the upper cable car station I got out and surveyed the rest of the way to the top. It was not a long distance, a couple of hundred feet at most; but it was not encouraging to look at. It consisted of a railed pathway that led horizontally along the cliff face and ended in metal stairs fastened to the rock. The stairs, too, were protected by a railing. Yet they were daunting to a person who feared heights. And I feared everything. Still, going back was just as daunting; and I could not go back to America and say I had not been on Masada. I
forged ahead on the cliffside path and stairs. Once on the stairs I even managed to look down and see the clear outline of the old Roman General Silva’s camp. To my surprise I found myself leaning over the railing and taking a picture of it. Where I lived, Roman camps to photograph were not something one encountered every day. And suddenly there I was, atop Masada. But once on the summit I did not have the courage to go down to the terrace of the northern palace. I was told that would involve more cliffside stairs. I wandered around, stopping to have a drink from one of the large metal water cisterns that stood on the summit. They had metal cups attached to them with chains, and signs which said “Please drink the water.” The Israeli government also advised everyone to wear hats. Removing victims of dehydration and sunstroke would be an inconvenient process, involving helicopters and much expense. Tourists being tourists, the Israel Defense Force no doubt had all too much rescue experience. While I stood near one of the cisterns I heard one visitor say to another, “Don’t drink the water. You never know who has drunk from those cups.” The wind up here was a constant. Perhaps it was a constant in the whole region at that time of year, because my memories are full of the feel of it—but nowhere was it more assertive than on Masada. It whipped at my hat and clothing as I moved around among the ruins. I overheard
three American women being bored and rude in the traditional American way. They didn’t give a damn who built what when, they announced loudly; and they appeared to be annoyed with their husband and father (or male escort, at any rate) for going off to examine the ruins of the synagogue. I overheard one guide explaining to his group an Israeli plan for mining the Dead Sea. It sounded interesting, but I doubted—erroneously, it turned out—they’d ever do it. (Now that they have, they are making attempts to put the water back into the sea. As the human race is learning, the ecological consequences of what seemed like a good engineering idea may turn out to be very damaging after a while.) By the casemate wall another guide was reading Josephus’s account of the fall of Masada to her group; and I stopped, stood off at a distance, and listened with quiet attention. The group, too, was very quiet, although at the end people said the sort of inane things people do say to relieve deep emotion. I thought again that if this tale of unwavering defiance of tyranny is not the real story of the fall of Masada, then it should be. I still do not know on what grounds Josephus’s narrative has been called into doubt. The historian himself was not a particularly savory character, having joined his people’s Roman enemies. But his account of Masada’s fall makes sense to me, in terms of how he could have known the details—from the
surviving women. It also paints his fellow Jews in a noble light; and who knows? Perhaps that is what some find unbelievable or objectionable. I had finally decided to take the cable car back down. This was after a glance over the edge of the mountain at the serpent path, which seemed to be as close to vertical as a path could be. My choice turned out to be intelligent. Peter, the Englishman, did come down the path. He showed up a little late, and with such an unhealthy glow that I still think of him as “Purple Peter” and wonder whether he got back to England safely. Evidently it was more of a challenge to walk down the serpent path than most places are to walk up. I know I would have had to be rescued. (As this work was being prepared for publication, I learned that Masada had been severely damaged by rainstorms of extraordinary magnitude. A bizarre calamity, to strike one of the driest spots on earth! Efforts were being made to repair and stabilize the place. But for now, it seems, it might not be possible to duplicate the trip I have described here. At least, not in detail.) On the way back to Jerusalem we stopped at Kibbutz Ein Geddi for lunch. A big tourist attraction there— perhaps this will not be true for long, as Israeli sea-mining efforts continue—was to have one’s picture taken floating in the Dead Sea. There, the mix of salts and chemicals will not allow humans to sink.
Some of our group took advantage of this opportunity to have a swim without fear; but not I. I did not have a bathing suit with me, and would not have cared to be photographed in one, either floating or sinking. I wandered around, fully clothed, munching on the fresh-from-the-tree dates that were Ein Geddi’s other specialty. Also, I had a go at the lunch that had been packed for me by the staff at Christ Church Hospice. Through no fault of the hard-working kitchen staff back in Jerusalem, this proved tough going. The lunch meat-inpita sandwich had an overpowering garlic aroma, as if it had been fried. In a way, it had. I ate it anyway. Toward the end of the lunch period I entered into conversation with our driver. He was, as I had believed, a Christian. “An Arab?” “Yes.” “A Maronite Christian, then?” “No. An Armenian.” “Let me get this straight. You’re an Arab, but you’re an Armenian Christian?” “I’m an Arab now. I carry a Palestinian passport.” “What on earth is a Palestinian passport?” “Jordanian.” The complexity of it blew fuses in my brain. Westerners tend to think of religion and national origin as two different things; but here they seem intermingled beyond the possibility of separation.
By the time we got to Jericho our lady from Georgia was sick. The heat alone would have been enough to do it to anybody; and perhaps she had eaten something that did not agree. Perhaps she, too, had bought a lunch from Christ Church, a lunch that had cooked too much in the heat of the car. Or who knew what she had eaten at Ein Geddi? Despite the best precautions, much could happen in kitchens. Especially in this climate. While we were waiting for our traveling companion to regain her composure, I walked over to the famous Jericho tell—the remains of the place where Joshua may or may not have “fit the battle ob Jericho”—and kicked up the dust with my shoes. To me the site said nothing—it was just a mound of dirt. Its interpretation had taken a genius of an archeologist like Dame Kathleen Kenyon, who had done much of the work on it; and I am not sure but that her interpretation is now considered incorrect. While I was there Dame Kathleen was planning a new Jericho dig, but I think she died before she could return. The Masada trip had been a day of wonders, like the trip to Petra. But it had exhausted me, and I was glad when the sherut dropped us off in front of Christ Church, back in the Old City. I returned to St. Andrew’s, had several cups of tea, showered, and called Moshe Kohn. Tired as I was, I had promised to come and have dinner with him and his wife that very night.
My Dinner with Moshe, and More
FOR SOME REASON it was difficult to get a cab to Rehov Hantke. Also, I felt uncomfortable zipping off into the night by myself, to a destination I had never seen by day, in a country whose language I did not know. When I did connect with a cab it left me off at the wrong place. I wandered down the wrong side of the street in the dark for half an hour before I found a man who guided me to my worried host and hostess. The Kohns had two nondescript black dogs and about a dozen cats. That night they also were entertaining their small grandson Gil, to whom I was introduced as “Doda” (Aunt) Joan. This was the first time I had been in an Israeli home. Assuming it was typical, Israelis live in much more cramped quarters than we do in America. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was pleasant and welcoming. (Many years later, thanks to the diligence of Patricia McAndrew, I found myself in contact with Kohn again, this time by internet. The year following my visit he had had a serious heart attack, and after that additional health
complications had curtailed his writing considerably. But he still was doing important pieces on Jewish history and culture, and Israeli current events. His little grandson Gil was 25 years old when I reconnected with his grandfather. Gil had grown to become a captain in the Israeli air force who hoped to become a veterinarian when his military tour ended.) Following Tish b’Av there was a dramatic diminution in the number of soldiers and policemen in Jerusalem. Attacking Jews now obviously had less symbolic value than it had had a few days ago, so it was less necessary to protect against attacks. I must have been far from the only one who drew a sigh of relief. At breakfast on the 15th, Professor Emmy Werner said the best thing I could convey in anything I wrote was exactly what I myself felt—the overload of strain and tension under which the people of this place live their daily lives. According to the Jerusalem Post, for example, bus drivers were about to begin using their microphones to warn passengers to beware of bombs that might be aboard the vehicles. Back home, I reflected, people didn’t hear about the daily strain of life in Israel, they only heard about the casualty-producing incidents. If Americans knew more about the tension, perhaps they would be a little less facile about “Israeli militarism” and “Israeli extremism.” As it happened, it took many years and the collapse of the World Trade Towers in smoke and flame to penetrate
American incomprehension even a little bit. But the price was high. I was not in Israel on September 11, 2001. But news reports suggested that even the Israelis, used as they were to terror, were stunned by the dimensions of what had befallen America. At the time of this, my first visit to this part of the world, the Israeli peace worker Abie Nathan was famous for his efforts to bring about reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Nathan had a ship which broadcast messages of peace from the Mediterranean Sea. The Lebanese civil war was in full swing, an all-Arab production which seems to have been more about religion than about anything else— as I look back, I have the impression that Lebanon’s Maronite Arab Christians were on one side and all the other Lebanese were on the other side. This, of course, is probably an oversimplification, and I am merely saying how it appeared to me then, and still appears in retrospect. In the week about which I am writing here—that is, the week of August 15, 1978—Nathan stood off the coast of Lebanon with a cargo of relief supplies, which he offered to all sides. He was not allowed in anywhere. So he proceeded to war-torn Cyprus, where Greeks and Turks were battling it out. Despite their differences, the Greeks and Turks were at least united in seeing Nathan’s offer as a good thing. They accepted the supplies. After parting with Dr. Werner on the morning of August 15, my intent was to go to Bethlehem and Hebron. My
diary for the time—essentially the first draft of this work— reveals that I had a lot of trouble with the decision to go to these places. My problem at the time was religion; in many ways, it still is. I understood—how WELL I understood!—that the area over which I walked day after day was sacred to three of the world’s major faiths; but by and large I did not feel this sacredness myself. The only thing that had really moved me was the wave of emotion that washed up from the Jews’ Western Wall. It was the emotion of people finally coming home to what was most sacred to them, after a deprivation that, for them and their ancestors, had endured for centuries. Indeed, for the ancestors, it endured forever—for the duration of their lives and beyond. But I considered religion to be, on the whole, a murderous element in human relations. And I still do— the fact that we are now engaged in what appears to be a war to the death with militant Islam has only intensified my view. It isn’t religion per se that is the problem; the idea of God has generated much that is beautiful. All the murder and death lies in the belief that we and our particular group know all there is to know about God, and we alone possess the one true faith. On that long-ago morning, since Bethlehem is just a short bus ride from Jerusalem, I thought I would stop in the Old City and pick up a souvenir for my friend Mary Lou Epstein. Despite her last name, Mary Lou was not Jewish
by birth; her second husband, Henry, was. Born of Italian Catholic parents, Mary Lou had become an evangelical Christian after she developed a non-stop, no-remission case of Multiple Sclerosis when she was in her 30s. Her fervent new religion provided one of the few consolations she had—aside from Henry himself, who remained loyal to her for the remainder of her life although as far as I know he himself never converted to Christianity. Inside the old walled city I went down Latin Patriarchate Road, turned right several times—not feeling very comfortable with the press of people in the narrow streets—and finally bought a small olivewood cross in the warren of commercialism near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When I asked my way back to the Jaffa Gate I was directed along a jammed arcade, roofed with ponderous arches, that seemed to go on forever. “My God!” I thought. “What if a bomb went off here? How could anyone take cover? How could the police get in?” So I now had a greatly intensified case of paranoia, the result of the pre-Tish b’Av bomb blasts. But this was not the same as wanting to give the Palestine Liberation Organization the satisfaction of going away on its account. I thought again about the American Friends Service Committee. I had always so respected Friends—why were they so deluded about what was going on here? The night before, Moshe Kohn and I had talked about this group, and Kohn came up with what was perhaps the best explanation of their attitude I had yet heard.
Kohn said that, being in the business of helping people, they were no longer able to see Israel as a fertile field for activity; the nation was making strides on its own. So they believed their future now lay with the Third World, and thus with the Palestinians. It was at least one possible answer to the question, “What would we do if we no longer had the poor with us?” It was human nature; but it was not nice. It was especially not nice for pacifists, because in this case it meant shifting to the support of terrorism. Not that all Palestinians were terrorists, of course; but their leadership definitely was. Other aggravations and insults borne by the Israelis: the Red Crescent, a Moslem symbol, was recognized by the International Red Cross. The Red Magen David (Star of David), a Jewish symbol, it goes without saying, was not so recognized. Many years after the trip recorded here, it still was not recognized. Perhaps it is not to this day. Somebody, I believe IATA (the International Air Transport Association), had turned down Tel Aviv for relatively low-cost Apex airfares. I had found that out when, in planning my trip, I had tried to book directly into and out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Somebody, again perhaps IATA, had ruled that international flights might not land at the Israeli-held Jerusalem Airport. For some reason it had been deemed all right for such flights to land at the Jerusalem Airport when it was held by Jordan. On August 15 I had dinner with Haim Elkind and his wife, who lived in a comfortable apartment in what had to
have been one of the better Jerusalem suburbs. Elkind was a civil engineer, and his wife was director of nursing at Hadassah Hospital. She also helped to find nurses for the kibbutzim. The Elkinds were friends of Philip and Muriel Berman, and had met Roy and Alice Eckardt and my Congressman, Fred Rooney. As friends of the Bermans, their home not surprisingly contained a lot of art. The works included an Alexander Calder stabile and a couple of Menashe Kadishmans. Although their apartment was not large by American standards, I remember the whiteness and elegance of it. Mrs. Elkind told me she had been sent out of her native country, Poland, at a young age; and it was just as well. As a result of that action she was the last surviving member of her family. The rest fell victim to Hitler’s Holocaust. Elkind said that a few years prior to my visit it had been the custom among Israeli young people to prove their adulthood by making clandestine expeditions across the Jordanian border into Petra. A song, “The Red Rock”—I heard it at least once—had been written to glorify this act of bravado. But many young people were caught and killed, and the government banned the song as an incitement. The real incitement was of course the supposedly impenetrable Israeli-Jordanian border. It was a challenge many could not resist. On my way back to St. Andrew’s after my visit with the Elkinds I was shown the site of a blast in an open air
market that had been set off a couple of weeks earlier. I had watched coverage of this event on American television, and had had the wrong impression of it. Until now I had believed the PLO had set off this little toy inside the Old City, where it might have done even more damage. But the actual site was well outside the walls. Somehow the Elkinds were among the good people I did not get to write about. I still regret it. Certainly their lives were interesting enough. Israel was, and no doubt still is, full of people who had led very interesting lives. Perhaps this is a national misfortune—who knows? The next morning, August 16, I completed drafts of articles on Dr. G. Douglas Young and Moshe Kohn. Then I took them to the post office in the Old City and mailed them to myself at my United States address. This meant the drafts would be available to me as soon as I got home. This was before the internet era, and it was the best way I knew to handle my work without either drowning in papers or losing something vital. I made it a circuitous walk, via the Church of the Dormition and the yeshiva gift shop nearby. I came back by way of Mount Zion, and when I returned to the hospice I found a letter from Aliza Geyra, a friend of my friend Addi Agar. She wrote that the folk singer Sharona Aron, who I had wanted to meet, was out of the country. A pity. As far as I knew Ms. Aron, who was the daughter of the onceprominent Zionist Wesley Aron, had made only one
recording. Addi had given it to me, and I had wanted an opportunity to congratulate the singer on a beautiful job. Now I would not get that chance. That night’s dinner was the most interesting I had experienced at the Hospice. Besides Professor Emmy Werner and Peter Cowe, the young man who was preparing to study Armenian manuscripts, there were several other distinguished guests. They included a judge from Tel Aviv, the noted Israeli writer David Shachar, and a pleasant Frenchwoman. By coincidence I had read one of Shachar’s stories in the Jerusalem Quarterly before I set out on this journey. I had also read an appreciation of his work by his French translator—the very woman seated near him at the dinner table. She was Madeleine Neige, who furthered Shachar’s literary interests for many years. Both of them seemed pleased to learn that anyone in the United States read the Jerusalem Quarterly. I HAD read it—but only once, the only time I happened to encounter a copy. I didn’t tell that to Shachar and Ms. Neige—but how fortunate that encounter with the publication had turned out to be! After dinner, by the arrangement of Miss King, I had a chance to have an extended conversation with Shachar and Ms. Neige. When I asked the writer what he was working on, he said it was the cycle of novels he had been writing for years. His original intent had been to write just one book, but the project had grown. His family had lived
in Jerusalem for four generations, and it was their experiences which provided the material for his works. Of the Shachar cycle, only one novel had been published in the United States to that point. It appears that since that time all of them have been translated into English for the American market. At least two of his books, A Voyage To Ur Of The Chaldees and Summertime In The Street of the Prophets, are available in English now. But it also appears that his biggest foreign audience is in France, where the author died in 1999. It appears his work has been better appreciated in France than in his native country. At first Shachar supposed I came from Great Britain. When he learned I was an American he said he had been there once, in a way. But his impression consisted largely of airports and New York City, and he found it frightening. I asked him whether he had been in Jerusalem the past couple of days; Saturday, for example—the day of the bombs. This generated a laugh around the table. Then I suggested he come again to the United States, but book into smaller universities and stay in American homes— that he would find a small town like my own Bethlehem, Pennsylvania much more congenial than, say, New York. But he had a question: “Would a grown man get mugged there?” “No,” I said, laughing. “But I would.” And I told him about an incident in which I got mugged in broad daylight on Fourth Street. But I assured him it was not the usual thing.
We spoke about minority problems in the United States, and he asked me if there were any American universities at which American Indian languages were taught. That I could not answer. I assumed there probably were a couple; but perhaps not. Any culture is inherently worth studying—including American Indian cultures, it goes without saying. But if a language no longer has speakers, and has no literature either, it seems to me there is little point in studying the shards of it. At least, unless you are a serious scholar of philology. Shachar asked me what I thought was the reason for antisemitism. I said I had been trying to answer that question most of my life, and didn’t feel any closer to an answer here than I had anywhere else. The closest I could come was that Jews were a comparatively small group, and it is always “better” to scapegoat a small group than a large one. “It’s much safer,” he agreed. Then I asked him what I had asked the sculptor Israel Hadany: Why was Israel, for its size, so creative? “You’re always more creative in a crisis, aren’t you?” asked Miss King. “That would explain it on an ongoing basis,” I commented drily. “Crisis seems to be forever, around here.”
I SLEPT LITTLE that night. Heavy Israel Defense Forces guns pounded all night long. They probably were located on the base near Jericho, where we had seen fighter planes on our way to Masada the other day. The message to anyone who might be listening—and I assumed the exercise could be heard in Amman, which is only 30 kilometers from Jerusalem—was that there would be no more surprises like the Yom Kippur attack of 1973. Israel‘s forces would be ready next time. Naturally, though, the effect was terrifying to friendly visitors. To the unfriendly, such military drills could only come as proof of Israeli belligerence; but I thought Moshe Kohn was right when he said Israel had tried too long to placate outsiders. It might be more useful to keep them guessing. In the morning I finished packing to go to Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. Then I raced around to King David Street, looking for a place to buy stamps and envelopes. I didn’t find one, although I even wandered into the posh and famous King David Hotel, where someone was playing the
piano in a bar. My skin prickled a little, and I wondered what the hotel must have sounded like in the last moments before that famous long-ago explosion. This attack, masterminded by later Prime Minister Menahem Begin, has been denounced as a terrorist attack, as I have noted earlier. Later—soon after I returned from the trip chronicled here—he signed the Camp David Accords with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, establishing a precarious peace between Israel and Jordan. This was possible, I believe, not because Begin had changed his militant spots, but because the majority of his people still deeply believed in, and longed for, peace with their neighbors. Also, Begin showed evidence of a capacity for growth that the Palestinian Yasser Arafat lacked. Or perhaps the Israeli leader simply did not feel like tangling more than necessary with the United States and President Jimmy Carter. As I read this years later, during the premiership of Ariel Sharon and in an era of suicide bombers, I wonder if the Israeli hope for and belief in peace can ever be resurrected. On my way back from the famed King David hostelry that morning, I did find some of what I wanted for the kibbutz—envelopes and a razor and a string shopping bag. The rule then—and it was hard to get used to—was that all shops were specialty shops, with the exception of the Supersol supermarkets. That meant that to buy six items you might have to stop at six shops.
Around 10 a.m. I encountered Fred Rooney. We collected my luggage and set out for Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim in the Judaean Hills. That is, we began to set out for Kiryat Anavim. First Fred had to pick up a prescription, which set me up for a longish but not unpleasant wait in a nearby coffeehouse. When he returned we boarded the appropriate Egged bus and were on our way. Kiryat Anavim, “the place of the grapes,” was in an area whose rolling woodedness was amazing. Not least of the causes for astonishment was the fact that the woods were essentially man-made. The kibbutz was only eleven miles out of Jerusalem, but it seemed a world away from the tensions of the city. In the evenings after dinner the residents—adults, children, and their dogs—gathered at the coffeehouse, which if I remember correctly was called the modin. There they played chess or backgammon, read newspapers, and drank coffee or tea while they talked about the news. At least, the adult humans did these things. The children ran and played, and the dogs cadged arrowroot biscuits. It had not always been so. Before Jordan attacked Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967, this place was just a short walk from Jordanian-held territory. The masonry buildings still were pocked with the marks of bullets. But a lot of time had gone by, and now it reminded me of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The guest
house—for tourism was one of the ways the kibbutz made its living—had a splendid swimming pool; and there were vistas of wooded hills. But there also were signs warning walkers not to stray from certain roads, for fear of mines. Signs like these, fortunately, never are seen in the Poconos. (There was a lot I did not know about the history of this area before I arrived—that was because I had not anticipated coming here. The opportunity to stay for a few days had developed rather suddenly. As I learned later, the area had played a key role in the 1948 Israeli War for Independence, with the famed Harel Brigade fighting to get supplies to besieged Jerusalem. Near Kiryat Anavim are what are known as the Convoy Skeletons, burned-out armored cars and trucks destroyed during this effort. They have been left by the side of the road as a memorial to their crews. I saw some of them, guessed what they were, but never asked about them.That was because, at the time, there was no logical person to ask. In addition to the Convoy Skeletons, another evidence of the War for Independence, and subsequent wars as well, is located at Kiryat Anavim. A large military cemetery. I did not see this. Nobody mentioned it, or took me to it, although it was at least alluded to in a conversation I had with a kibbutznik. Why was my ignorance allowed to persist? I can’t imagine. I would have been interested—I
AM interested—and I can only believe they thought I would not be. Too bad. But people generally came here on vacation, either a traditional one or a working vacation. The morning after I arrived I was scheduled to get up at 4 a.m. I had been able to arrange to work for a few days on the kibbutz, to find out what that experience was like. This was possible only because I had unusual connections. Otherwise, I gathered that if you wanted to work on a kibbutz you went through channels, signed up for a period of some months, and did not just drop in. But I just dropped in. I had assigned myself to what they called the plantation, the area where fruit was grown. Apples—but not grapes. The name Kiryat Anavim suggests, accurately, that the founders of the kibbutz wished to establish a vineyard and winery here. They did just that; but the grapes did not adapt to the idea. Apples, on the other hand, did well. Besides the plantation, the kibbutz had the guest house, cows, and a chicken house. (Fred was assigned chiefly to the chicken house, which had the effect of converting him to vegetarianism—not, I gather, because it was worse than other such commercial poultry setups, but because it was bad enough for him.) Kiryat Anavim had a communal dining room; but at this kibbutz children lived with their parents. At some other kibbutzim this was not true. The children’s house had been part of the early kibbutz movement, and still
prevailed on some, but not all, of the kibbutzim. But not here. It did not occur to me when I was there that what I was seeing was most likely the beginning of the end of the kibbutz movement. The original Zionist passion spent, the movement could not survive for long. In many ways it is a pity—I remember those evenings in the dusk at the coffeehouse, several generations gathered together, from small children to their grandparents and greatgrandparents. It seemed to me that this mingling of generations was the way society should be. Since I know that at least one of the Israeli kibbutzim recently was closed and sold off, perhaps these recollections of a stay at such a social experiment may have special interest to future readers. The day may come when the institution known as the kibbutz, and the experience it offers, will no longer be available to be experienced. And, from my point of view, that will be a sad day. At Kiryat Anavim there were volunteers from the United States, England, Australia, Japan, Finland, Denmark, and other countries. Many of them were Christians, chiefly evangelicals. There were no German volunteers—too many of the older residents of Kiryat Anavim were survivors of German concentration camps. Reconciliation was not likely to come from them; only younger Jews could afford to be reconciled to younger Germans.
Having said that, I must admit that such reconciliation seems to be happening. Despite the dark elements in its past, Germany has made great strides back toward civilized standards, and has been for the most part a supportive friend of Israel. Now to the life of a volunteer at Kiryat Anavim. Newcomers were issued sheets, blankets, towels, a paper bag full of laundry soap powder for hand washing, a paper bag full of arrowroot biscuits, work clothes as necessary, and sometimes a melon. Beds, usually two to a room, were thin, narrow foam mattresses laid across a plywood base on a frame. Smokers were entitled to 19 free packs of cigarettes a month. Everyone got free postage stamps, and the necessities sold at the kibbutz store were tax-free and bought with coupons. Coming in, we bought coupons with the money we had with us. I don’t know how it worked after the initial phase, except that the volunteers got paid 240 lirot. Presumably, if one stayed around, this would have been IL 240 a month. At the time of which I write, 240 lirot came to a whopping US $13.03. This cannot be thought of as a highend job. The volunteers’ “facilities” at Kiryat Anavim were located in buildings behind the residence hall in which I was staying. One building housed the men’s and women’s toilets, separated as they would have been in the United States at that time. The other contained the men’s and
women’s showers, also separated as they would have been in the United States, but with no protection from casual glances or brazen stares. How I wished we had been issued shower curtains! Lack of privacy no doubt would be the hardest thing to get over in any social arrangement. From my point of view, that problem would have been enough by itself to kill the kibbutz movement. Or any movement. Volunteers could arrange to have their dirty clothing done at the kibbutz laundry; but most chose to do hand washing rather than wait a week for the return of their things. The halls and open windows of the residence were thus festooned with shirts, shorts, and underwear, men’s as well as women’s. At the coffeehouse, I made friends with a large yellow dog to whom I fed arrowroot biscuits, and with a small redheaded boy who climbed onto my lap without provocation. During my stay I also reacquainted myself with chickens, if only from a distance. Although I grew up on a farm, I had forgotten that they awaken at ridiculously early hours—such as 2:30 a.m. Or perhaps they were only crying out in their sleep. From what I have since learned, the life of poultry in a factory farm setting is nothing but a nightmare at best. Anyway, when there are thousands of them nearby you notice the sound. At 4:20 a.m. on the morning of August 18 I noticed a different sound. It was the distant rattle of shots, of which
I was getting a little sick. Millie, the Israeli girl living in the room adjoining mine, said that if one lived in the cities one got used to it. I said that was a dreadful thought. I maintained that one shouldn’t have to get used to it, although I suppose it is now a commonplace in the life of every city as well. And as far as Israeli cities were concerned, how do you disband the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? They were the ones doing the shooting. At the time of my 1978 visit few even imagined how much worse it could get. Haim Elkind did anticipate more of the same, and worse. The terrorists were trying to spoil the Camp David peace talks between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Under no circumstances did they wish President Jimmy Carter to be able to mediate any kind of agreement between Israel and Egypt. Having been aroused by the chickens—I thought of poor Fred Rooney, who was probably up there in the poultry house with them at this hostile hour—I had remained awake. Perhaps that is why I heard the gunshots. At five a.m. about half a dozen of us went to work in the apple shed, sorting apples by size and fitness. The apples were dumped onto a conveyor belt, and from there were shunted onto the revolving round tables at which we worked, one person to a table. The fruit did not come too fast for even me to deal with, despite my limitations of speed and strength.
A little before seven a.m. we were sent in for breakfast. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, plain yogurt, and cheeses are a revolting sight for the average Anglo-Saxon at that hour of the morning. But there they were, obvious favorites with the permanent residents as well as with many of the other volunteers. But there also was a kind of porridge—or perhaps it was much-cooked oatmeal. I took some of it; and, following the lead of others, ladled a dollop of what looked like warm chocolate pudding onto it. The combination looked more promising—more breakfast-like— than the vegetables, yogurt, and cheeses. In fact, it turned out to be tasty. With it I had a cup of strong tea. Returning to the apple shed, I climbed onto a flatbed wagon attached to a tractor. This conveyance was supposed to take us out to the orchard to pick more fruit. I was the first onto the wagon. Not paying any attention to me, the driver came along, clambered onto the tractor, and started it with a jerk. I was lucky to be able to grab part of the wagon frame and save myself from being pitched off. To me, the rest of the ride was almost as hair-raising, although the others appeared to take it in their stride. A couple of them even rode the fenders of the tractor itself on the way to the orchard. There we were each given a large oval bucket with a shoulder strap, and set to work. None of the trees seemed to be much more than 10 feet or so high, so most of us worked on the ground. We took our filled buckets to a
central spot where we dumped the contents into large, oblong plastic containers that looked like dishpans. These containers were much sturdier than dishpans, though, and it took many baskets of apples to fill them. It was hot, tiring work. Yet it was relaxing, too, because my attention was limited to the richly-burdened trees, and even more narrowly to the fruit I was picking at the moment. Around 10 a.m., during our break, we were startled by a couple of loud sonic booms. But at least they were identifiably that—sonic booms, not bombs or gunfire. We were able to relax as the sounds died away. I didn’t talk much during that work day. Except for the supervisor and one or two other people, who were speaking Hebrew (not that realizing that did me much good for communication purposes), most of the people around seemed to be Finns. At least, what they were speaking was neither Germanic nor Romance; and it was certainly not Hebrew or Arabic. Fred had told me there were a lot of Finns on the kibbutz, Christian Zionists; and so I drew my own conclusions. They knew almost no English, but in other ways we communicated. One of the women gave me a bunch of white grapes. I ate them, unwashed, spray and all. They were tart and refreshing. I thought they might be left over from the vineyards which had given Kiryat Anavim its name, Place of the Grapes.
I myself had seen some purple grapes hanging in the undergrowth near the orchard, but had not tried to reach them. Those had looked like Concord grapes. We came back from the orchard early because it was Shabbat eve. This time it was my turn to ride the tractor fender. I had done such things as a school girl, hitching a ride home from school in rural Mahoning Valley when hitching a ride still was safe. Here I was safe with my companions, but I thought a great deal about the dangers of being thrown off the machine. I took a quick shower—all the quicker because of my discomfort at the lack of shower curtains—and went to lunch. I found the food somewhat mysterious but good. After getting cigarettes at the guest house I returned to the volunteer dormitory, washed out my work clothing, and took a nap. This was one of the pluses for plantation work. You finished early, about one o’clock on regular days, and could be the first to shower, and could catch up on the sleep you lost by getting up at four a.m. Another plus had to do with personal marketing, so to speak. Every ad about kibbutz life I had ever seen showed pictures of happy young people picking fruit. Who, then, would want to do anything else? Most especially, who would wish to be stuck in the poultry house, like poor Fred Rooney? Fred was very popular among the volunteers, and that was because he was always doing something nice for people. For example, when Margarethe, a volunteer from
Sweden, had a birthday, he made an apple cake with vanilla sauce. It was meant to be a surprise—and for the birthday celebrant it really was. She had gone off to Jerusalem, and he hoped she’d get back early. She didn’t; for her, the planned party had really been a surprise. Around nine o’clock in the evening the rest of us gathered and ate most of the cake. Fred carefully saved one piece for the absent guest of honor, who was touched that anyone had remembered. So the next day she invited the whole hall to her room for what amounted to a banquet—crackers and cheese, nuts, candy, cake, sweet rolls, and something resembling crisp potato sticks. What these really were I have no idea to this day; they tasted more like falafel than like potatoes. After an afternoon tea with all those courses I only went to dinner because it was the weekly Shabbat meal. I had heard this was special; and indeed it was. For one thing, it was was served by waiters and waitresses instead of being doled out cafeteria style. People dressed in their Shabbat best—the children were especially tidy, and the men wore sport shirts and slacks instead of their usual work clothing. Many of the women wore long, flowing caftans, or slacks, or skirts with beautiful hand embroidery. We had chicken soup, roast chicken done to perfection, vegetables, bread, beets and horseradish, mineral water, and of course the Kiddush wine. A woman played the piano before the meal, and Shabbat songs were sung.
The songs stirred me deeply. Some of the people around me were here only by a miracle Although my footsteps had not passed through the hell of the Nazis’concentration camps, it seemed a miracle as well (if a lesser one) that I myself was here. I imagined myself able to contribute in some small way to justice and to reconciliation because I had been able to come here. In the ensuing years I have had ample reason to suppose I was mistaken in that imagining. Although it was not wrong of me to try. I continue to believe that everyone has an obligation to help create a little more justice and kindness in the world. After Shabbat dinner the throng that collected around the coffeehouse was greater than it had been the night before, and the children played on a tractor parked nearby. I could not find the dog friend I had made on last night’s trip to the coffeehouse. Instead I found another. Her name was Zukar, or Sugar; and she cemented our friendship by taking four arrowroot biscuits from my hand, one after another. This ritual was performed with great solemnity. In general, the kibbutz dogs were friendly and would approach whether or not you had something to give them. The kibbutz cats were another matter. I had seen about five of them by this time, and they were unapproachable. They seemed to look at people with appraising eyes, and to decide to hell with it—and who is to say they were wrong? Being a cat person, I was not surprised at this. I love cats for their independence. This can become devotion as
time passes, if the human seems entitled to it. But I was disappointed not to be able to touch even one Israeli cat. There just was no time to develop personal relations with any of them. At the entrance to the kibbutz proper—or rather, to the kibbutz farm—there was a road barrier with a sign on it in Hebrew and English. I loved the English version. It read: “The barrier is closed every day from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (At morning.) It is closed on Saturdays whole the day.” Which was an exact English translation of the Hebrew idiom “kol hayom.” The sun had set; it was now Shabbat, or Saturday. Not only would the barrier be closed, but field work would be off “whole the day.” I decided to spend my free evening time deciding which things in my luggage I could safely throw away. After that I would sleep for the night, and then explore the area next morning. I supposed the chickens would see to it, all by themselves, that I got up early. They did not let me down. As I got dressed in the pre-dawn light, I decided to take Fred’s advice and go up to the war memorial. It was reached by climbing to the level of the kibbutz guest house, considerably uphill from the volunteers’ dormitory. From the guest house you went up into the Chaim Nachman Bialik National Forest. At the top of the hill, toward the right, stood a monument and another kibbutz that seemed to be a popular holiday spot—its swimming pool was right along
the road, and already in the early morning it was full of happy, splashing swimmers and paddlers. This kibbutz was called Maale Ha-Hamisha. When you passed the pool you walked through a forest and along a blacktopped road. This soon turned into an unshaded, unpaved section which offered vistas of semi-arid hills and valleys, off into the far distance. A drawback of this road was that it led past a noisome garbage dump. Once you were past the garbage dump, the rocks by the wayside were marked by occasional memorial plaques, and then a side road led up to what was called the radar tower. At least that was what Fred called it. It wasn’t a radar tower, though, and I doubted it ever had been. It had the look of an observation post for humans—perhaps a memorial built in the form of an observation post. There seemed no doubt that it had been built on the remains of a fort, very likely a Jordanian one—the border had been right here before 1967, not two miles from Kiryat Anavim. As I have already noted, the effects of this proximity can be seen at the kibbutz. The building where I was staying was built like a blockhouse, with small windows, metal doors, and what looked like loopholes for rifles. The walls also retained the pockmarks of bullets. Here, near the tower, someone had placed two tanks and the remains of an armored car. I walked past them and climbed to the top. From there I could easily see Jerusalem; after all, we were in the suburbs. The view was
vast, but could have been moreso if the weather had been better. The sky was overcast and I could not see Amman and Tel Aviv as Fred had suggested I might be able to. (It turned out that some of my guesses about this place were correct and some were not. For example, I had encountered the Convoy Skeletons, with no one to explain them to me. These were the burned-out remains of the tanks and armored cars that I had passed. Their crews had tried to get supplies through to Jerusalem during the Israeli war for independence in 1948. The wehicles had been left where they had met their doom, as a memorial to those who had perished in them. The “radar tower” had indeed never been a radar tower. It HAD been an observation post, I think; but an Israeli one. I had come to the Zvi, or Deer Monument. It had been established to honor the memory of corps commander Israel Shapira, who had been killed here.) Standing atop it, and with some anxiety, I watched a car turn into this deserted spot and stop. But the newcomers did not represent danger. Soon I was joined on my perch by a fine-looking older man. His two companions from the car, a man and a woman, remained below, looking around. “Mah zeh?” I asked my companion, indicating a village north of Jerusalem. There a minaret jabbed the sky like a drill sergeant’s finger. “That village? I don’t know. It’s certainly Arab.” The minaret made that observation no surprise.
When the man learned I was from Kiryat Anavim he offered me a ride back, and the four of us drove back the long way, past a church of Notre Dame that featured giant, grotesque statuary. I’d say “Gothic”-style sculpture; but the effect was no more gothic than the so-called “goths” of our day resemble King Theodoric of the Early Middle Ages. To this day I know nothing about that church or how it got there. Perhaps it was the parish church at the Arab village of Abu Gosh. Noticing that my hosts spoke Hebrew and German interchangeably, I asked, “Sie kommen nach Deutschland?” I thought they might be visitors here. But the driver only replied, “Yes. A long time ago.” He did not elaborate. I could guess: these people, too, were Holocaust survivors. Down below the kibbutz dining hall I climbed out of the car. “Toda raba,” I said. “Al lo davar,” the driver replied. “Shalom. Have fun.” I ate lunch, showered, and took a nap. Later I was supposed to interview Fred; but he was held up at work in the chicken house. Fred had asked me whether I would be interested in interviewing the “halutzim,” the old-timers among the kibbutzniks. I would have loved to do that, but the project fell through because I could never catch up with Dennis. Dennis—I never knew his last name—was an Australian college professor and jack of all trades. It seemed that, as a kibbutz volunteer, it was Dennis’s job to do whatever
needed to be done. He did plumbing; he fixed motors and machines. His Hebrew was fluent, and if I intended to interview any Israelis I needed him—or someone like him—as an interpreter. With my few hundred words, each, of Hebrew and German there wasn’t much I could learn from the prospective interviewees all by myself. But Dennis was in demand, and I never did manage to get any interviews of Kiryat Anavim’s old-timers. I did get to interview Fred, which was my chief purpose for coming to Kiryat Anavim. The article later appeared in the Moravian College alumni magazine. During the interview he said, among other things, that he wanted to find out the truth about the Palestinian issue. He added that was not his chief reason for coming to Israel. I presented the Israeli case to him as if he had never heard it before. I did this simply because the Israeli case seemed to me to be unanswerable in logic and morality. Here was a people driven for centuries like sheep before a hurricane—though heaven knew, the Jews who could resist often did so with doomed and desperate heroism. This was their home, their place of origin—here, at least, they should be able to find peace. It was, and remains, my view that the rest of the world, which had persecuted them to near-extinction, was bound to support the survivors in their quest for a new life. This support has not been forthcoming. Indeed, the journalists who shape public opinion continue even now
to cast strictures and aspersions upon Israel and all its ways. This has become easier to do as the country has begun to act in more normal ways—normal, at least, for a tiny country under constant, and constantly intensifying, threat. These days the image of Israel and its armed forces presented on “the news” is often that of baby killers, home destroyers, and assassins who strike from the air. At least this seems to be true in America. The press almost never reminds us of Israel’s peril; it prefers to dwell on the deaths of innocent Palestinian children. As if it is impossible to imagine the deaths of innocent Israeli children and their predecessors, the ones who did not live to come back to their ancestral home. Ariel Sharon, Israel’s current prime minister, is not my idea of an admirable person. But the Israelis have been driven to him, and the relentless hatred of their enemies has made them more like him than most of them were once inclined to be. Almost all the Israelis I met on this and a subsequent trip longed for peace. That they seem to have lost even the hope of it is a tragedy for them—and potentially for the world. I have learned from experience that journalists will fiercely defend what they choose to publish or not publish about Israel, even when their choices are obviously twisted (a charge they deny, of course) and harmful. I have confronted more than one such person, urging them to consider facts they refused to take into consideration. The
same applies to many Christian spiritual leaders—fine, decent people who happen to have this one limitation— dislike, or worse, for Israel and Israelis. Why should such a situation persist? All these people will vigorously deny that they are antisemitic, and will be convinced they are right. After all, the Holocaust made the old antisemitism unthinkable. But, as I have said before, I believe what is called antiIsraelitism is the new antisemitism. It is an example of where repressed feelings and attitudes go when they are not confronted in the open. I realized, the night when I interviewed Fred, that no matter what anyone said, people would believe what they wanted to believe. Fred was a good person, and he did not seem to have yet made up his mind on the question of Israel. I hoped he would come down on the right side; but who could tell? Hostility to the Jewish state seemed so much the normal state of affairs that many found it impossible to break away from it. It was like asking them to give up breathing. Since then, alas, nothing has changed, except to get worse. As for how Fred’s thinking evolved, as I write this I simply do not know. The next day, August 20, I realized my short, experimental stint as a kibbutz volunteer was nearing an end. If not, I would myself come to an end. That day, after the usual couple of hours sorting apples, we went out to the plantation and picked some more. Unlike the Shabbat
workday this one was full-length, and I have to admit I was staggered by the extra hour. In the afternoon I found Freddie Poll—an affable person I could talk to easily. She was from Massachusetts, and had made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) some five years previously. She seemed to have some sort of authority over the kibbutz volunteers. I asked for, and got, the loan of a heavy work shirt. In my view, if I went out again and wore it I would certainly perspire more. On the other hand, my chances of sun stroke or sun poisoning would be greatly diminished by wearing the shirt. Needless to say, I was in favor of that. But I knew I could not continue to work in the orchards for more than one or two more days. I didn’t have the stamina for it. When I talked to Freddie about this that afternoon I must also have asked for background information on the kibbutz movement, because she took me to what she called the “propaganda cache” and showered me with printed matter. Most of it was in English, though there must have been caches in the languages of other countries which sent large contingents of volunteers. The material was of course designed to present the Israeli point of view. Acquainted as I was with that viewpoint, I still was glad to have more data. In our talk, Freddie explained something I had wondered about but had not been able to explain. She observed that she had often felt tension here in Israel, but
had never been afraid for herself. I supposed that those were the only terms on which one could live here. Many didn’t make it, I knew, either because they were afraid for themselves or because they required too much consideration for themselves. As Freddie talked I wondered once more about the Russian doctor’s wife I had met on the way to Yad Vashem. That evening, following dinner, I sat outside the coffeehouse with a dog at my feet and my arm around a tiny girl who had come up to me. I was flattered by their attention, but I have to admit that I had bought the dog’s good will with biscuits. On Monday, August 21, I began by oversleeping. Still, I managed to join the plantation crew a little after 6 a.m., in the shed where apples were sorted. Later we went as usual to the plantation to pick apples. With a borrowed, longsleeved work shirt to protect me from the sun, things were marginally better than they had been the day before. I did not, for instance, burn any more than I had already been burned; and I was less plagued by flies than I had been on previous days. But the work still was a staggering experience. I had intended to work two more days on the kibbutz, but now that seemed increasingly unlikely. While I brooded on this problem I encountered an elderly man with a cane who was walking in the orchard. I said to him in Hebrew, “The apples are very nice.” He brightened at once. “Oh, you speak a little Hebrew,” he said, also in Hebrew. Immediately assuming I spoke a
little more Hebrew than that, he spoke a few sentences in which I could not make out anything more than “avdah,” or “avodah.” So I assumed he was talking about the hard work that had gone into the plantation, and no doubt specifically about his own hard work. He looked like a man who had put in a good 50 years. I wasn’t going to be able to put in five days. The more I tried to use Hebrew the more astonished I was at how far I had come—not that I really knew anything at all. But I seemed to know just enough, and to pronounce it just well enough, to encourage Israelis to try and see whether I knew more. What ensued, for them, no doubt was some version of the frustration I felt when they tried to practice their English on me. All the same, I sensed they appreciated the effort I had made. For my part, I appreciated the effort my Hebrew teacher, Hadassah Nemovicher, had made for the course I had taken at the local synagogue back home. She was an ulpan teacher, and she had had to make many modifications to ulpan techniques to teach a shortterm, limited-time class of casual Americans. We did not have the same motivation as immigrants to Israel, who had need of total immersion, and who must in many cases have bought their speedily-acquired new language with nervous breakdowns. I went over to the office to resign from my volunteer position— such as it was. I do not mean to demean the work at all; but I had been such a dilettante worker and so
slow at it despite my best efforts, that I felt sure my contribution to the fruit production of the kibbutz could be written off as minimal. The office was supposed to open at 4:30. It didn’t open then, or anytime during the remainder of the day. I felt annoyed and cranky about it—I had not been so tired in years. Somebody had said I could consult a Tel Aviv phone book at the guest house, so I decided to climb up there to look for Aliza Geyra’s number. We had no directory in the volunteers’dormitory, in any language; they must have been scarce. For that matter, telephone service at the time was primitive—the few phone lines there were would jam up at high usage times, making the nation resound with one vast busy signal. Comparatively few people had phones; the system was run by what was then called the Ministry of Posts, and a reliable place to find a pay phone—usually with people waiting in line—was at a post office. During the time of my visit the “Jerusalem Post” published a “Dry Bones” cartoon in which the aged Methuselah of Bible fame was being interviewed. “Methuselah, to what do you attribute your longevity?” the reporter asked him. Methuselah grew thoughtful. Through the next two frames, the old man thought and thought. Finally he replied, “I’m still waiting for them to install my telephone.” I am sure that, in this era of cell phones, everyone finds it easier to communicate in Israel today.
While I was in the guest house, asking the desk clerk for the phone directory, the English language news came on; and I heard the end of a sad story. The day before, terrorists had attacked an El Al bus in London, killing one of the Israeli national airline’s female flight attendants and critically wounding another. This unprovoked attack had been condemned by the British cabinet, as it should have been; but the cabinet had then had the effrontery to complain of an Israeli reprisal raid on a PLO base in southern Lebanon, which the PLO said had left three dead. Angry and upset at the moral chutzpah of the Brits— who I adore, except for what they did to the Irish and the Jews—I said to the desk clerk, “You can’t win with the outside world, can you? “You certainly were justified in the reprisal.” “We would be justified in doing much more, but…” his voice trailed off. Once again I asked myself the question I had asked many times before: Who was I, against the evil of antisemitism? If the Eckardts and their friends and colleagues could not make headway—considering their vastly greater study and reputation—what made me think I could do better? Of course, I didn’t think I could do better. But I also didn’t think I should give up the effort; I considered that to do so would be immoral. That evening I went to the coffeehouse, knowing this would be the last time I went there—my volunteer career
was over. The same little girl who had been there the night before was there again, with the old gentleman I assumed to be her grandfather. The dog Zukar, though, was absent. But the girl came up to me again, and I sat there with my arm around her and asked where our dog friend was. A likeable child. All the kibbutz children were very attractive and obviously well cared for; but they didn’t seem to pay much attention to anybody except their parents, grandparents, and each other. This little girl was an exception—and indeed, her grandfather had encouraged her to come to me. At about 10 a.m. the next day, August 22, while I was out in the plantation, I realized that I had used up the last bit of my stamina. I simply could not lift my hand to pick another apple from another branch. So I came in from the orchard, retrieved the few personal belongings I had left in the office, and my brief, physically overwhelming service as a kibbutz volunteer came to an end. In the afternoon I went with Freddie to her home. I wanted to show her the article I had done on Fred Rooney, and also talk to her about an idea I had had (rather arrogant of me!) to improve communications with the volunteers. But I was basing what I had to say on a few comments I had heard from the mildly disaffected. Some of them regarded Israel’s raid on Palestinian camps in retaliation for the PLO’s attack on the El Al bus in London as the same sort of thing as the original attack. It clearly wasn‘t. As the great political cartoonist Herblock
suggested in one of his cartoons, the Israelis had once more been guilty of self-defense. I have forgotten the scintillating suggestions I planned to offer Freddie on that occasion—and perhaps, indeed, did offer. At the time I was in a dark mood over not having been able to complete my short, symbolic stint as a kibbutz volunteer. Both Fred Rooney and Freddie urged me not to take it badly; they said they had known people much younger than I, and in very good shape, to give up on plantation work after less than one day. But I was not consoled. Somewhere, in the jumble of things—the kibbutz was preparing for a mass bar-and bat mitzvah, which would take place that very evening—Freddie and I had a chance to talk. I asked her why she had left what I thought of as the secure and relatively unprejudiced United States and “made aliyah,” or emigrated to Israel. I was distressed to learn that the answer was that she had encountered much antisemitism in America. I should have had some inkling of this, because I went to a college of Christian background, which accepted many Jewish girls. This did not strike me as unusual, because to my mind one of the purposes of going to college was to mingle with people of various backgrounds and learn about them. But I now know that in that era Jews were refused admission to many schools, and to much else besides. My college, for both moral and pragmatic reasons, evidently was pleased to get good students wherever it could.
Freddie had managed to be accepted at a college in Virginia; but she had had some bad experiences there. Once she failed to get a music prize that reasonably should have been hers—and discovered that she had been blocked by a professor she had liked and admired. The professor’s reason for blocking the award was that Freddie was a Jew. Freddie was desolated, of course. “I cried,” she remembered, sitting in the living room of her kibbutz apartment. “I said, ‘G-d will punish her!’ And the next day she fell down some steps and broke both arms.” I mulled this over. Then I said, “You must have felt very strange.” Things like this had been done to me, too, if for other excuses than my religion. I could understand the concept of a deep, deep hurt that festered for years. It’s the symbolic wound that bites deepest. How often I too had wished that God would punish my tormentors! But in my case God never did—or never seemed to, as He so dramatically seemed to in Freddie’s case. On the whole, I suppose I am better off for His omission. As for why Freddie had made aliyah, I could see why she would wish to get away from such treatment, assuming it was a regular occurrence—or a memorable enough occurrence. She certainly knew she was in physical danger in Israel—far greater than any she was likely to face in the United States. But she felt this was her place,
and nobody could deny her the self-respect due to a human being. To illustrate her point regarding self-respect, Freddie invited me to observe the kibbutz children: “They are not afraid of anyone, and they don’t hurt anyone.” From my observation, this seemed to be true enough. But the self-respect of the kibbutz children had been paid for, including by other kibbutz children. And in blood. “During the war,” she said—I think she probably meant theYom Kippur war of 1973, but it might well have been the 1948 War of Independence—“fifty men were called up from Kiryat Anavim, and ten were killed. One in five between the ages of 18 and 30.” These young men were added to the population of the nearby national military cemetery, it seemed—the place nobody had told me about, and only Freddie ever alluded to in my presence. As I have already said, I learned about it only much later. A little after 6 p.m. Fred Rooney and I went down to the bar-bat mitzvah. It involved eight children from several of the area kibbutzim. It was held on the lawn near the children’s building, which had a covered playground area. Long lines of lights twinkled from wires strung for the occasion, and there was plenty of kosher food, wine, brandy, a malt beverage which I found very sweet and somewhat repellent, plus Nesher beer and coffee. After everyone had eaten the eight young honorees gave a show. In some ways it was like children’s recitations everywhere and in some ways a lot more sophisticated. It
had songs and a lot of action, and although I didn’t understand more than a handful of words it seemed cheerfully secular for all its religious origins. Then there was folk dancing, such as I had never seen before. Despite my uncoordinated limbs I had loved to go and watch the international and Israeli folk dancing at the B’rith Sholom Community Center, the neighborhood Jewish center at home where I had also studied Hebrew. I say I had loved to watch; but what I had wanted was, of course, to do. With very few exceptions I simply could not do the dances; I could not “remember” fast enough. The dancers were kind enough to drag me into a slowmotion version of Hava Nagila before I left on this trip; and that was the high point of my abortive folk dancing career. There were a number of excellent dancers at ‘B’rith Sholom, even if I was not one of them. But these young people of the kibbutzim were “to the manor born” when it came to these dances. In bare feet, wearing the Israeli “national costume” of blue jeans and work shirts, they went at it with a zest and fire that came from growing up in the tradition. ALL their dancers were as good as the best in our hometown group; and they had the added cachet of owning the dances. They had special problems we did not have back at B’rith Sholom. The dance space was full of obstacles, in the form of their younger brothers and sisters, who were imitating their motions. There also was a large and homely
tan bitch, who wandered about among the dancers, lay down from time to time, and didn’t seem to mind an occasional accidental kick in the head. But the young dancers surmounted all such obstacles with good humor and self-possession, sometimes even grabbing the dog’s paws and making her their dancing partner. They seldom indulged in slow dances to compensate for the obstacles on the dance floor, either. But they did do the sentimental “Erev ba.” I had intended to leave for Haifa on August 23; but nerves and fatigue got the better of me and I checked into Room 71 of a motel-like cabin near the guest house. With me was a paperback copy of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s book “The Revolt.” The roof over my head cost me $11 a night, and included one meal a day. It was big money at the time, but I was pleased to be able to sleep and read for a few days. I kept remembering the experience of attending the barand bat-mitzvah. It seemed also to have made a deep impression on Fred Rooney. He had remarked, “I always think, when I see them dancing, ‘How can anyone deny these people a home?’” What Fred sensed, in watching the dancing, is that it was beyond any doubt an expression of nationhood. And if we assume Ra’ouf Sa’ad Abujaber was correct when he spoke of the “terrible injustice” done to the Arabs in 1948 (and I do not; it seems clear to me that Arab leaders created much of their own people’s misfortune), still, it
would be hard to compare this to the injustices done to the Jews—and at the hands not only of Christians, but also of Moslems.
Wanderings with Tzipi
HAIFA had been looming in my consciousness for some time, but I was not to get there on this trip. The day I moved into the room near the guest house I thought I would go to Tel Aviv instead. My reason for wanting to do this was that I wanted to meet Cantor David Green’s acquaintance Tzipi Cohen. He had described her as a young Yemeni woman with a master’s degree in psychology. David could not suppress his astonishment at the thought of an Oriental Jewish woman with a university education. It seemed it didn’t happen very often. She sounded like someone I was unlikely to encounter in my neighborhood back home; so I decided I would leave my nest of security at Kiryat Anavim and go and meet her. And this turned out to be somewhat more complex than I’d imagined. A little after 9 a.m. I went over to the guest house and called Tzipi’s sister Riki Dahari. I got her husband instead. I tried to hold a conversation with him in Hebrew, since I had little practical alternative—his English seemed
just about as bad as my Hebrew. During my attempt to communicate with him a woman stood by and mocked my accent. Hadassah, my Hebrew teacher, had told me Israelis were not polite. By and large this had turned out to be true, but I had been quick to excuse it because of the circumstances of their national life. But this personage far outdid in rudeness anyone I had previously met in Israel. I wanted to take the lady to a great height and invite her to enjoy the view—on her way down. Finishing the call, I walked around the annoying woman as if she were not there, and managed to be on a 10:40 a.m. local bus to Tel Aviv. The bus sputtered and pottered its way down the mountains and hillsides toward the distant city. At one point it backfired, making a bomblike sound. Gasps were heard. Masks fell from faces. I was the only one who “knew” we were not being killed. But I could have been wrong. This time I wasn’t. We arrived in Tel Aviv around 1:30 p.m. What I saw of the city on the way in suggested parts of New Jersey. It was ugly, lacking any charm of history or memory. Still, Tel Aviv was a remarkable city in a remarkable country. What made them both extraordinary was their mere existence. The area around the central bus terminal was a crush of buses and taxis, all proceeding—as were the outnumbered pedestrians—without benefit of traffic light. When I got off
the bus and went inside I was at once caught up in the midst of the worst crowd scene I had run into since the Allenby Bridge. I knew now why the PLO regarded Israeli bus stations as good targets for bombs. I found a pay phone and tried to call Tzipi’s brother-inlaw again. Nobody answered. At that point I decided I would buy a ticket back to Kiryat Anavim, and go and get something to eat before the next bus headed in that direction. In a nearby shop, over a spinach pastry and a grapefruit soda, I reasoned things out. It was clear that I had not understood that Tzipi’s brother-in-law was going back to work in the afternoon. I had got all the words, but not the total meaning—and no wonder, with a free pronunciation class going on at the same time! But I thought the man had said that Tzipi would be home from work at “shalosh,” or three. Then so might he and his wife Riki be home. If I called after three, therefore, I might reach someone. If I had not reached anyone by 4:30, I decided, I would go back to Kiryat Anavim and drop Tzipi a note of apology. Just after 3 p.m. I got Riki’s husband AND Riki. Soon I was on my way by taxi to what I thought was the correct address—34 Rehov Pinhas, Tel Aviv. The discovery, after my arrival, that I should have been at 34 Pinchas, Ramat Gan, drew tears. I was rescued by an elderly woman and a young man who let me use their phone to call Riki, gave me a drink, and called another cab for me.
With their help, then, I was soon on my way to 34 Pinchas, Ramat Gan; and when I arrived I found Tzipi herself waiting. She was an Orthodox Jew; and since David Green had met her she had married a young man named Nissim Ishayahu, who grew and sold flowers for a living. At this point she was extremely pregnant, but was still working at her job as a school psychologist. She came, barely, to my shoulder. This was a neighborhood of Yemeni Jews; and like her they tended to be short people, and kind and hospitable. (To me, the strange foreign woman, anyway. Many years later this community, to my shock and disappointment, would give rise to the assassin of Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, thus apparently altering history—and for the worse. The assassin seems to have been driven to murderous frenzy by religion. No matter whose extremism it is—Jewish, Christian, Moslem, whatever—religious extremism is the deadliest brew on the planet. I am being repetitive, I know; but I wish I could repeat this truism until the world abandoned all the varieties of the “one true faith.”) But neither Tzipi nor her friends and relatives showed any sign of this kind of fanaticism. Orthodox she may have been, but many of the people she knew were very much westernized. She might not eat at their homes because of dietary strictures; but it was clear that there was a deep affection between them and her. I ended up staying the night with her and her husband. The next day, at their invitation, I returned to Kiryat
Anavim, got my possessions, paid my bill, and came back to their apartment in Ramat Gan. In some ways what followed was the most educational part of my trip, as I stayed with, and learned from, people as different from me as I could imagine anyone being. Yemeni Jews had long ago been snatched from persecution in their native land by what was known as Operation Magic Carpet. Under this program the Israeli government flew them to Israel, where they were resettled. At the time of my visit, many of the people who had made the long plane ride to the Promised Land were still alive. Among them were Tzipi’s parents. To some of these people, and even more to their children and grandchildren, the Promised Land still seemed to be mainly promises. No ethnic group is entirely devoid of prejudice, certainly not Jews, who as a whole had been victimized so often. Humans just do not seem to walk away from the bad old ways. So Yemeni and other darkskinned Jews had not received what they regarded as a fair share of the jobs, housing, and educational resources of their new country. This feeling—and there was undoubtedly factual basis for it, since most of the available social services still went to helping the survivors of the Holocaust—had embittered the Yemenis. Many of them were driven into the arms of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Likud Party as a result. I was not entirely sure this was the best thing that could happen, since I had serious reservations about Likud.
Still, it was not my country nor my politics, and certainly it was not my place to tell Israelis what to think. Tzipi and I spent a good deal of time talking over the next few days, in the interstices of time when she was not at work or taking care of meals, laundry, and other household needs. Often our talks took place on walks around the neighborhood, either on routine errands— such as a trip to the Supersol—or on a jaunt to something she wanted me to see, a regular expedition. The things she wanted me to see, and the people she wanted me to meet, were ordinary, and had that in common with me, and with the place and the people I came from. Only the backdrop was different enough to be exotic—that, and the skin coloring of most of the people. Not to mention their height—I am only about five feet four or five feet five inches; yet I towered over many of the people in the neighborhood. They looked like darkskinned elves next to me. I was learning about daily life in a daily kind of Israeli neighborhood—far from places of great historical import, like Jerusalem; but not so far from danger. Every night some of the residents would go on patrol, on the watch against possible attempts to bomb buildings. It seemed a terrible way to live; and indeed it is. Luckily I did not feel arrogant about America’s domestic security. Being interested in history, I never assume the permanency of any particular state of affairs. But I could not have imagined the devastating suddenness with
which, one late summer day a few decades later, we were served notice of our own vulnerability. The buildings in Tzipi’s neighborhood would have come down even faster than the World Trade Towers had they been hit. They were mainly concrete slab apartment buildings of the universal urban type. I would not have cared to be in one even for a very mild earth tremor. Walking with Tzipi caused me some anxiety. Her pregnancy was well advanced and there were times in which she seemed to be in great pain. She shrugged it off as a woman’s lot, a point of view I did not share. Childbirth, I thought, should be the lot of those who choose it. But her attitude, not mine, is common among the women of the more traditional versions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And after all, if somebody did not hold this traditional view, there would be none of us disputatious humans to begin with. One day she and I walked over to her university—Bar Ilan. The campus lay less than two miles from my friends’apartment, on the other side of the superhighway known as the Gea. Our walk lay past the foursquare little house her parents had built for their family once they had arrived in Eretz Israel. We went on through what appeared to be a development of private working-class houses, then across a field where a growth of low scrub had been broken by a well-worn footpath. Our shadows advanced before us—mine long and bulky and topped by the shadow of the odd-looking floppy-brimmed hat I had worn
throughout the trip; hers to the left of mine, small and slight. With amusement, I pointed out the contrast to her. We crossed the Gea—by an overpass, if I recall—and found ourselves at the edge of the Bar Ilan campus. The campus was a place of modern buildings, trees, and lawns that must have taken a fair amount of irrigation. At various places construction was still was going on. A building donated by Mexico, for example, seemed a little over half finished. Although it was impossible in historical terms—it was evident that the area around here had until recently been desert, and was waiting for an opportunity to revert to that state—I had expected Bar Ilan to be an old-fashionedlooking place. Perhaps to go with Tzipi’s old-fashioned looking clothing. But despite her traditional head covering and longsleeved dresses, which some might find quaint, I think of her rather as an advanced figure, well ahead of our times. She had—hopefully still has, wherever she is—decorum, dignity, and spiritual generosity to a degree I have seldom seen. It would be good if we could educate our children to find and develop these qualities in themselves. Their survival, and the planet’s, may depend upon it. I do not know from whom I learned the story of how my friend happened to have been sent to the university—I suspect not from her, because it does her much credit, and she was not given to promoting herself. The fact was, to their great disappointment her parents kept having daughters, not sons. The Cohens were
determined that, nevertheless, one of their children—they could only afford to educate one—should have the benefit of learning. Tzipi was the one chosen; and it takes nothing from her sisters to assert that this choice was the right one. Far from resenting her good fortune, they clearly were fond of her, and she of them. What she had that they did not was a capacity for deep engagement with the world and her fellow humans. As she put it, “I am curious about people.” Curious, indeed. Following her graduation from Bar Ilan she had decided she needed to take a trip to celebrate—a tremendous leap of courage for someone from a comparatively sheltered background. So she had gone, alone, to the European continent and to England. That was why my friend Cantor David Green had met her in London. She told me she had liked the city but had been hungry there—she had not been able to find any kosher restaurants, and she was not the kind to excuse herself from duties she believed had been enjoined on her. If that meant going hungry, so be it. There was an ironic side to the story of how Tzipi got an education. She must have already begun studies at Bar Ilan when her brother Rafi was born—at last. When I visited Israel for the first time he must already have been 18 or 19. And the story of this long-delayed and longed-for son was to have a tragic ending. Some months after my second visit to Israel he was killed in an automobile accident—on the Gea, I think it was.
I am glad I was not there for that occasion. It must have been an enormous sorrow to the Cohens. Tzipi wrote me at the time that she found life unbearable in the aftermath of the tragedy. I never heard from her after that, despite an attempt to keep up communications. I have no worry that she might have done harm to herself. Such an idea would have been alien to her concept of duty—to what she believed she owed her Lord, her family, and her country. Still, I can only hope she herself was able to recover from the blow and lead a satisfying life. But on this first visit of mine the loss of her brother was, by good fortune, not even the tiniest of clouds on the horizon. One day she announced that we were going to see Bet Hatefusoth. This was the Museum of the Diaspora at Tel Aviv University. She had never been there, and wanted to go before she returned to her school duties. This represented a major trek, from the suburb of Ramat Gan to the Tel Aviv University campus. We covered the distance by Egged bus. The museum had announced special hours, and great crowds of people had responded. The crush of people made me feel tense and uncomfortable, but I managed to bear it because of the fascination of the exhibition. The story of a people uprooted from its historic home, tormented and scattered and driven for centuries, and then at last—at least a remnant—able to return, is full of tragedy and drama, sacrifice and high heroism. As
Stephen Vincent Benét wrote in his powerful story “Into Egypt,” “It must be a great people that can bear such things.” The story of the Jews, of course, is not over. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends upon how the tale comes out. I was not alone in being fascinated by the Museum of the Diaspora. Several times Tzipi and I were separated. At such times, given her shortness of stature, it could be hard to catch sight of here—but whenever I did she was gazing with calm absorption at some picture or artefact or another. This capacity to be totally absorbed in the “now” was something I often noticed in her. It gave her an enviable aura of self-assurance and dignity. Our trip to Bet Hatefusoth took place on a Wednesday. The next day Tzipi felt sick, but decided to go to work anyway. I had planned on catching a bus to Jerusalem, but decided I would make myself useful and clean the apartment. As I mopped the floor I listened to classical music on Kol Israel. At the close of a symphonic movement, a voice chirped in Queen Victoria accents, “Let This Be A Lesson To You.” I chuckled, deciding to take a break, settle back, and find out how the English teach English. On the whole, I found, I could not recommend the method, except for the (perhaps unconscious?) humor. For 15 minutes I listened to educated English accents declaim such scintillating dialogue as:
“There are a lot of birds here.” “There aren’t many with Freddie.” “There are a lot of people here.” “There aren’t many with Freddie.” And so on. For me, the humor wore thin after the first five minutes or so. I found Israelis very interested in learning English, and in many cases convinced they knew more than they actually did. (I was not under similar illusions about my non-functional Hebrew.) I had the impression that Nissim, Tzipi’s husband, had a fair grasp of my native language; but he almost never spoke it around me. Perhaps he feared that I, a woman, would correct him. If that were so, he need not have worried. So limited were my own linguistic capabilities that I had no intention of criticizing anyone else’s efforts. Tzipi, on the other hand, regarded me as a fortuitous linguistic opportunity. Our informal “English lessons” were good-humored sessions built into ordinary activities. “How do you call this in English?” she asked one day, pulling an object out of the refrigerator. “That is an eggplant.” “And how do you call ‘to remove the external coating’?” As she asked the question she made scraping motions over the surface of the fruit. “’To peel,’ in this case,” I replied. “All right. Will you please peel the eggplant?” On another occasion she referred to a postal clerk as “an old man with a bird.”
“I draw the line,” I said, spluttering with laughter. “I know that old man. He makes change in Yiddish. And he has a BEARD, not a bird.” Then, afraid I had intimidated her, I apologized. “I am not laughing at you.” “I know,” she replied with calm good humor. “But it IS funny.” So passed, in an exoticism of everyday life, the few remaining days of my stay in Israel. I regarded my dwindling time with sadness—I had liked almost all of the people I had met on this journey, and had become especially fond of the people with whom I had spent the most time: Tzipi and her family and friends. I would miss them, and I had no way of knowing whether I would ever visit this place and see them again. Inexorably, September 6—the day printed on my airline ticket—arrived. With a heavy spirit I took a taxi to nearby Ben Gurion Airport and got on the plane. A matter of hours later my TWA flight descended through the layers of cloud over New York City’s Kennedy Airport and taxied to a landing. Somewhat enlarged in mind and spirit, I had come home to my own country.
More by Joan Campion
IN THE LION’S MOUTH: Gisi Fleischmann and the Jewish Fight for Survival. (orig. University Press of America; iUniverse.com) A true Holocaust story of one woman’s “heroism and boundless devotion.” Introduction by Simon Wiesenthal. “Gisi Fleischmann’s name deserves to be immortalized in the annals of our people, and her memory should be bequeathed to further generations as a radiant example of heroism and of boundless devotion.” —GIDEON HAUSNER, prosecutor of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. “With this book Joan Campion has filled an important gap in the history of the Holocaust… Not only all students of the Holocaust, but all who care about humanity, can be grateful to Ms. Campion for her dedication. —SIMON WIESENTHAL, famed “Nazi hunter.”
Adapted from WIZO Review: “Gisi Fleischmann: A Person Character”
By Joan Campion Fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria in December, 1939, a small group of Jews found themselves stranded near Bratislava, the capital of neighboring Slovakia. The 318 people in the group had hoped to take a Danube steamer east to the Black Sea and, from Istanbul, Turkey, to try to enter British-held Palestine as illegal immigrants. But no steamers were available to take them onward; and the Slovakian government, bound in moral vassalage to Nazi Germany, interned the group members in an abandoned factory called Patronka. Despite repeated efforts to leave, there they were to remain until September 3, 1940. The refugees could not know, at the beginning, that they would ever get out. It must have seemed to them that they would remain where they were until the Nazi tide once more engulfed them, or until they perished of cold, hunger, or disease. Even in this bleak outlook, though, there was a ray of hope; and it came in the form of a daily visitor to Patronka. One of the camp’s refugees, Elisabeth Neumann, later Elisabeth Wilden of Ostende, Belgium, after many years recalled the visitor in these terms: “The 1939/40 winter was particularly severe and I remember very well the woman who came out from
Bratislava every day bringing hot Kosher food for those in the camp who required it. She was Gisi Fleischmann and all through that terrible winter and indeed until we left she never failed to arrive with the steaming pots of food. She also took a general interest in our health and well-being as far as it was possible, especially for the children and the aged.” The encounter thus recorded was with one of the great heroic figures of the Holocaust. At the time Elisabeth Wilden met her, Gisi Fleischmann was president of WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organization) of Slovakia and vice chair of the Central Jewish Relief Committee of Bratislava. She was a rather short, somewhat stocky woman with dark hair, dark, expressive brown eyes, and a sense of presence, a selfpossession that marked her as an extraordinary personality. She was in her early 50s, and had a little less than four years to live. On her visits to Patronka, Gisi was accompanied by a young man named Berliner, also a refugee from the Nazis, who drove the horse-drawn food cart. Sometimes two young girls came with her, doubtless the children of friends. “She was the kindest person,” said Mrs. Wilden. “She emanated hope and reassurance. When she came you always thought, ‘Well, things can’t be too bad—she won’t let us starve, she won’t let us freeze, she’ll look after our health,’ and so on.
“She was a person of immense moral character and immense moral strength.” Gisi thought of the psychological needs of the refugees as well as of their physical well-being. She organized a number of recitals at which Mrs.Wilden’s father, Dr. Hans Neumann, and another man played violin and piano. And Mrs.Wilden recalled that she “was very, very interested in children. She promoted the little school we had in camp— we were lucky enough to have some professional schoolmasters among us, and I was 18 and helped with the school too. “Gisi provided pencils, paper, and books, and when we left she gave gifts to all the teachers. I got a length of dress material, and I think all the women got something like that.” As noted, the members of the Patronka group left Slovakia in early September, 1940—among 4,000 refugees who were able to do so. As correspondence preserved at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, reveals, this large contingent was followed by Gisi Fleischmann and her colleagues in rescue work with great concern. The fate of many of the 4,000 was tragic: Cut off from human compassion, they perished at sea. But Elisabeth Wilden and her parents were among 1,600 who survived. They never forgot Gisi Fleischmann, repaying her kindness with deeply-felt gratitude. After the war, they inquired about her fate, as well as the fates of friends and relatives.
They learned that, like so many of those she had tried to save, she had been murdered. In The Lion’s Mouth: Gisi Fleischmann and the Jewish Fight For Survival is for sale online at www.amazon.com For further information, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SMOKESTACKS AND BLACK DIAMONDS: A History of Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Miners, millionaires, Mollie Maguires, coal, canals, railroads…and much more! “We have here a superb book of history… Author Joan Campion does a masterful job of weaving together the growth of anthracite mining, canals, railroads, and the steel industry.” —ERIC McKEEVER, editor, Anthracite History Journal Excerpted from SMOKESTACKS AND BLACK DIAMONDS: Wings Over Carbon County By Joan Campion Carbon County has never been a major aviation center; the place simply has too small a population base for that. Nevertheless, its involvement with flying is a long and interesting one, going back to the decade following Wilbur and Orville Wright’s successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Dr. Joseph Humphries, Sr., a wealthy Lehighton dentist, is believed to have been the first county resident to own a plane. That was in the days when flight was synonymous with romance and excitement. Certainly it was exciting to the young boy who, one day in 1916, watched a biplane touch down in a pasture in Franklin Township. The pilot could have been “Dr. Joe,” although there is no proof of this. The boy, though, was Jacob M.
“Jake” Arner, considered the pioneering figure in Carbon County aviation. The sight of the plane taxiing to a stop in the pasture was a life-changing experience, but it was not something Arner could act on at once. For a boy growing up in the county in those days, aspiring to a career in aviation simply was not realistic. When he was old enough, he went to work for the New Jersey Zinc Company in Palmerton. Meanwhile, the aviation field was growing prodigiously, creating both heroes and victims in the process. Lindbergh conquered the Atlantic in 1927. In 1928 another aviator, once also famous but now almost forgotten, decided to come to Lehighton. Martin Jensen had been one of twelve pilots involved in the horrific Dole Pineapple Air Race, from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Of the twelve, no fewer than ten had crashed on takeoff or been lost at sea. Jensen did not win the race, but his achievement in placing second—not to mention in merely surviving—gave him a certain notoriety. Now he wanted to manufacture aircraft, and to do it in a place close to moneyed New York, but far from New York’s high labor costs. The original airfield at Lehighton was the grassy center of the race track on the fairgrounds at the west end of town. When that grew too small, as it soon did, a nearby field was purchased—one that sloped away to a line of trees and a steep drop-off to the Mahoning Creek on the western end. Nervous passengers—including this writer—sometimes wondered whether, when they
reached the end of the runway, they would be airborne or creek-borne. Next to this field Jensen built a hangar, which became the main exhibit building of the Carbon County Fair and was converted in the early 1990s into school district offices. He opened a flight school, and laid plans for the manufacture of Jensen Aircraft. Young Jake Arner spent as much time as he could at the place, becoming a licensed aircraft mechanic and earning a pilot’s license. But only two Jensen planes were ever manufactured. The financial Crash of 1929 intervened, and suddenly no one was buying aircraft. Martin Jensen left town under something of a cloud; some Lehightonians had lost money in his venture. Jake Arner kept the Lehighton airport going, and kept trying to fly. He barnstormed, landing at places like Deer Trail Park in the Poconos above Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), and taking passengers for rides. “At that time,” recalled his son Byron Arner, “they used to take them up for a penny a pound.” During World War II, the hangar at Lehighton was used as a classroom for airline mechanics. Around that time Arner was in partnership with a man named Fred Getz. Air shows and plane rides were a cherished part of Carbon County Fair Week until the 1960s, when the fairgrounds field was closed and its activities were transferred to the county airport a few miles away. It will never be known how many people paid a few dollars during Fair Week to have their first personal experience of
flight, careening down the field toward the looming line of trees and the drop to the creek beyond. Jake Arner sired a flying family, including some other professionals. His son Byron, for example, served as a military pilot and then flew for Eastern Airlines for 30 years. He later became the owner of Arner Flying Service, situated at the county airport in Mahoning Township which is named in memory of his father. Byron’s son Jake was a pilot for Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., People Express, and Eastern Airlines. Jake went on to own Flagstaff Park.
SMOKESTACKS AND BLACK DIAMONDS: A History of Carbon County, Pennsylvania, is for sale through the Canal History and Technology Press, 30 Centre Square, Easton, PA 18044, or via amazon.com. For further information on signed copies, contact the author at email@example.com.
BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA: A City of Music. For more than two and a half centuries music has been at the heart of this small, famous city’s life. What kind of music? All kinds, from polkas to passacaglias. Now readers will be able to tune in on this long song. Published by Moon Trail books, Bethlehem, PA. For information contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?