| Notes of visit to Israel in the winter of 1984, catching up with the changes in a country not seen for 19 years, also meeting relatives and friends.
Note: This is a family record of a personal trip, and many names and places have personal context. Please skip personal parts that don't interest you! A day-by-day index is provided here.
Wednesday, 15 February 1984
The plane arrived 4:14 pm. From the air one could see new roads, dense buildings, fields of plastic hothouses, orange plantations or "pardessim"--a great, busy country. Yonathan was already waiting. He is balding but energetic and young in spirit, Suzy matches his qualities and their boys are diverse, Tal quiet and introspective, Yo'av lively and little Ofer with a mind of his own.
Nothing seemed familiar during the first half hour of our drive towards Haifa. The highways were new, traffic much denser than any I recalled, and around Tel Aviv much of what used to be open space was now built up. We passed Bar Ilan University, looking new and concrete-bound, across the road from a mixture of old and new buildings: the old ones with flaking paint, discolored concrete, tiled roofs and diverse closed balconies and additions, the new ones much cleaner in their appearance and lines. How long until they too acquire that beat-up look?
Indeed, much of Israel presented such a mixture of the old and the new. But the house on Mapu Street where I would stay with Rivka was as I remembered it--dingy staircase, paint slopped over doors, smells of cooking onions and in the bathroom, a rank smell of sewage, since the "straight flush" toilet bowl had no trap. The owner, Mr. Feinermann, had passed away since my last visit, and the entrance now carried a marble tablet, engraved in a style usually reserved for tombstones. It proclaims the "House of J. Feinerman, Z.L." with the Hebrew acronym for "may his memory be blessed."
What am I doing here, I keep wondering. I already realize the need for some things Rivka lacks--an English typewriter, a tape recorder, and so on. She does have a washing machine, though, a miniature plastic model. And I should look up younger people--too much of yesterday was spent with the older generation, with Pnina, Rivka, Liesel and Erwin.
What am I looking for? I certainly should record my cousin Liesel's story. She was a nurse at the Terezin concentration camp, she told me, and had saved my grandmother, Mina Paechter. Earlier the old lady was to be sent to the East, to certain death, but won a reprieve by showing evidence for her service with the Red Cross in WW I. However, malnutrition gave her "hunger edema", a symptom of protein shortage; luckily, Liesel found her and managed to place her in the hospital where she herself worked. It gained my grandmother one more year of life, until Yom Kippur of 1944. Liesel said it was just as good she died then, because "shortly after that we were sent away, and no one would have cared for her. She lasted ten times longer than others in such circumstances."
Liesel asked for the recipe of the "Paechtertorte" ["Paechter cake", one of my grandmother's recipes] and I showed it to her: my grandmother (she said) had often talked about it. She corrected many details in my mother's taped recollections--Martha Herschel, my grandfather's first wife had four children, not two, and died not in childbirth but following an abortion. After that, she said, my grandfather grew so depressed that he spent time in a mental institute.
The synagogue in Bodenbach had survived the war. Liesel said that she once attended services there, conducted by a bare minyan of Carpathian Jews whose prayers she hardly understood. The women's balcony had been torn down and the interior was used by the Nazis as a stable, it was in shambles. But she went into a side room, one used by committees, and there on the wall was a large painting or hand-colored photograph of her grandfather (and mine), finely dressed and sporting a handlebar mustache. She did not think at the time about taking it down, and did not know what became of it.
Liesel and Erwin live in a clean small apartment. Erwin who used to take great pride in his craftsmanship as welder is now retired and takes just as much pride in his naturalized graden, to which he had transplanted many wildflowers. He is also proud of his cooking. Their son-in-law Oded, who gave me a ride home. used to be a sailor but had been recently transferred to office work ashore.
Israel seems to thrive on paperwork. I get flimsy paper tickets for my bus ride, receipts for stamps bought at the post office and for money exchanged, and when I ask the girl what should be done with them she shrugs, but files away the carbon. I know now that the bank forms could have helped me exchange back into dollars all the shekel bills left when I flew back--instead, I mailed them to Rivkah.
Gradually, I find my bearings. The plans to spend a sabbatical year at the Technion probably won't pan out, because no one there works on space plasmas [except for Kalman Altman, whom I found later] and I would be working there in isolation. Time passes too quickly: much of the morning was taken with a jog around Maneh Hill (four circuits, about 2 miles), shower and breakfast. What now? The hiking club still exists and a notice of a hike led by David Balush is posted for Wednesday, in the hills between Atlith and Zichron, the southern Carmel. Do I really belong there? Would I find interesting company, or just a bunch of old geezers out on a nice weekday?
This unheated house chills one's bones, even though the weather outside is pleasant and sunny. Maybe I should visit Miriam for an hour or so.
I have paid Miriam a visit--she lives on the hill behind the Reali school of Achuza, which I remembered as covered with bushes of mastic-terebinth (elah) and scrub oak. Now it is solidly residential, blocks of concrete houses, stone fences, all tidy and urban: it even has a traffic light and crosswalk, at the place where its main entrance branches off Pica Road. The facing slope is also covered with houses: on that hill the villa of Lady Downs used to stand isolated, now it is hidden by recent construction. Supposedly the Lady Downs has married Abel Agranat, friend of my parents and formerly our dentist.
Miriram is an accomplished homemaker, a true "balabuste." One gets great respect for her orange cake, for the spotless way her apartment is kept and for the way she has moved walls and enclosed porches, creating separate rooms for both her children and for her mother.
I asked her, did Zionism still exist? "Maybe a bit. Not really." Her daughter Malka has just returned home on leave from the army, having completed her basic training: her company was selected to stay behind an extra day and clean up, and one unlucky platoon drew weekend duty. About Zionism she says. "Only among the shmutzniks (HaShomer Hatza'ir, a left wing organization). Otherwise, no." Did Jewish youth movements still exist? "Yes," says Miriam, "but not very much." Her children used to belong to one, until she found that the madrich (leader) "taught kids to beat each other up." We discuss the survival of Judaism: "Through those who keep the religion" she says, pointing out that observant Jews were much closer to each other, extending mutual help and so forth. There existed many "repentants" ("chozrim bi-tshuvah"), secular Jews who decided to go back to strict observance of old-time religion.
I am impressed by her children. Their rooms are tidy, even Yehudah's computer is under a cloth cover to give the room a neater appearance. Malka wants to apply to an Air Force electronics course, it would require a one-year extension of her army service "but I will have a skill." She hesitates a bit, as if better used to talking to people of her own age, and speaks in quick bursts. She had hitch-hiked from the coastal highway to the center of Achuza, then walked the rest of the way home. She looks good in uniform.
The day has been warm and cloudless--only Rivka's old house remains icy cold. Perhaps the walls store the chill, a virtue in summer but not in winter. Avivi Lev, to whom I just spoke by phone, said "there was no winter this year." The authorities were arguing on whether a drought should be officially proclaimed, which would allow farmers to collect some emergency funds. Luckily, the previous year was a rainy one and had provided a good supply of groundwater.
17 February, 10 pm.
Coming home this evening I passed the local bus stop just as one bus was pulling out and another was arriving. A little red car stopped in front of the first bus, blocked its way and forced it to stop. A young woman jumped out of the car and ran to the door of the bus. Next scene: the girl faces the closed bus door and the driver looks at her through the full-length windows, but keeps the door shut. Traffic piles up in both directions and the driver of the car jumps out, but before he does anything the bus driver yields. The door opens, the girl hops in, the red car's driver returns and everyone drives away. Elapsed time, just seconds.
I have visited Menachem Golan this afternoon, a man with a passion and friend of my parents. Introductory courtesies are brief, before he starts listing his complaints against Israel's government, for the shabby way in which it treats its Arab citizens. Those Arabs have come to him, in his standing as "jurist"--not an attorney, just a person concerned with justice, a former Zionist organizer and ambassador. A singer from Kafr Kanah, hired for weddings and feasts, has refused to act as informer for the secret service, to tell whether anyone at his parties acted in a manner hostile to Israel. He was given a "tsav rituk", a confinement order restricting him to his town. A student who, while in Geneva, met a PLO member, was likewise restricted: he lives in Acco and can no longer attend Haifa university. A man living near Umm El Fahm had 9 dunams of olive saplings uprooted, because he had refused to tend 100 dunams of absentee property lands (the saplings have been replanted and are protected by a court order). All these go to Golan's heart, he is deeply depressed by political developments since Begin rose to power. I believe he goes to Kafr Kanah tomorrow.
He claims that the government was acting as if Israel were a police state, and that religious leaders were betraying the central creed of Judaism. In the case of two settlers of Elon Moreh, charged with the murder of an 11-year old Arab girl, the chief rabbi supposedly had said "the killing is not justified, but on the other hand it is not murder but the fulfilment of 'forestall him who rises up to kill you.'."
He said that Rafik Halabi, the Druze writer and commentator, was back in his village of Dalia. He had resigned the previous day over a case of censorship, together with the editor of "Mabat," the long evening newscast. No other editor had agreed to fill the post and it is possible the newscast would be abolished. He then tells of another censorship case, involving a poetry book by an Arab Communist from (the village of) Kabul. The book was banned for mentioning stone throwing and for picturing among its illustrations an Arab boy whose hand may or may not (interpretations differ) clasp a stone.
In the end he allowed me to tape some of his own story. He was born in Carpatho-Russia, to a poor family. At age 11 or 12 he discovered at home Pinsker's Zionist tract "Auto-Emancipation" and read it, "I did not know what emancipation was but I knew about autos." He also found in his father's study all the protocols of early Zionist congresses, and these turned him towards Zionism. He then convinced his father to give him the fare to the town of Munkač, so that he could enter the Jewish gymnasium there. He promised his father that he would support himself, and he did.***********
My cousin Jonathan and his wife Suzy picked me up at Rivka's as they had promised, shortly after 3 pm on Friday. We drove by way of Shechunat Ziv [once the easternmost part of Haifa], passing by the Technion and descending by a new highway to Nesher at the foot of the mountain, much of the way flanked by new high-rise apartments. The Nesher cement factory has not expanded and its quarry is no longer active, instead stone is trucked in from a quarry on the mountain. Just before Yagur the old road dwindles away and one must turn left to a new divided highway, just south of the Kishon stream. At Jalami the "old" road again takes over, and from there through Tiv'on there is little evidence of change, even the oak trees covering the hillsides seem the same. Jonathan's home is in Ramat Yishai, once Jeddah, on a long ridge paralleling that of Tiv'on but further east. Halfway between the ridges is the junction of a brand new road to Tiberias, by way of the Netofah reservoir.
Ramat Yishai consists almost entirely of private homes or "villas". The old inn or "khan" next to the main road, which used to serve as a slaughterhouse for chickens, has burned down. Since lot owners often wait for years before they can afford to build, Ramat Yishai is a patchwork of old and new buildings, incomplete concrete skeletons and many vacant lots. Jonathan's villa is on the eastern slope, a split-level house with a large sloping tile roof. Jonathan had a woman architect design it, incorporating clever features.
The lowest room is a shelter with massive walls, a requirement in all new construction. It has a massive steel door, locked tight by a handle, and a smaller but similar emergency exit. Currently however it serves as laundry room, and Suzy showed me the chute that led to it--not really allowed by regulations, but convenient. Next to the shelter stood the carport, and beyond that one reached a crawl space under the building, where Jonathan stored firewood as well as ceramic tiles belonging to his friend Efraim Li'or, now building his villa a few miles away, at Timrat.
Tied in the carport is Buffy, a fierce-looking boxer bitch. She is not agressive, Jonathan tells me, just very lonely. "Get too close and she'll slobber all over you."
A few stairs up is the kitchen door, and from the kitchen one reaches the large living room, with a porch and paneling on top. Jonathan must have put this in himself--thin wood strips, fitting tongue-in-groove. The pride of the living room is however a cast iron stove standing on a platform in the corner, with a stovepipe going straight up. In winter after sundown the house chills quickly, and its walls are uninsulated concrete, not the more costly "ytong" blocks of puffed silica. Jonathan scavenges firewood wherever he can, and has a chain saw bought at a hefty price from sailors who smuggle goods past the customs. Whoever wants a tree cut down can have Jonathan's free services, in return for the wood: his stock right now consists of lemon and pecan. The logs are small by American standards, but the stove is efficient and nights are not as cold as they are in the USA. As Susy prepares dinner, he starts a fire.
From the living room a few broad steps (also built by Jonathan) lead to the main entranceway, from which branch off a small toilet and a large bathroom, side by side, and three bedrooms for the boys. A flight of stairs leads up to the master bedroom (with its own bathroom) and a smaller bedroom: I suspect it was built for Jonathan's father Paul, but right now that is where I will sleep. The stairs--yet another piece of Jonathan's work--continue to a yet-unfinished attic, and Jonathan points with pride to rock wool insulation he had installed.
I am still wondering about sending him the "Reader's Digest Home Repair Book" when he shows me the source of his expertise, an earlier version of the same book, carefully preserved and packed. Whatever Jonathan does he invests with care and forethought: maybe that was how he made it safely through the war of 1973. He showed me pictures of his unit on the western bank of the Suez canal, where it captured the mountain overlooking Suez and thus sealed off the Egyptian 3rd army. Lots and lots of pictures, all annotated with pencil on the back. He also gave me a packet of photos of my parents and family, from those found among his father's papers after he died.
The house is cleverly designed. All the plumbing, for instance, is of polyethylene, threaded through black plastic conduits: should anything burst one needs only shut off the water, remove the faulty pipe from its fittings, pull it out and replace. Below the sink in the downstairs bathroom is a central distribution center where all the feeder pipe tie to a large one, like arteries to the aorta. Every electric circuit in the house has its circuit breaker, and in addition the law requires a master breaker for the entire house, automatically activated any time the ingoing and outgoing currents do not exactly match. It thus turns off the power if anyone touches a "hot" wire. Other hi-tech: a pair of beepers on the rear bumper of the car, sounding off when it backs up too close to an obstacle. The device is called "Yanshuf" (owl) and is made in Israel, as is the piezoelectric gas lighter, shaped like a pistol. And their TV has remote control, almost any TV I saw in Israel was thus equipped.
I am introduced to the boys. Tal is skinny, almost gangling, and his features remind me of his aunt Rachel. He shows me a balsa glider built in one of his "chugim" (clubs), and also his trombone, playing a few bars from the trumpet voluntary attributed to Purcell. He plays quite well, considering he had only two years' training. I have brought him a pocket calculator, but this turns out to be no great deal in Israel where shops often price goods in dollars and calculate their price from whatever the current exchange rate is. Tal already owns 4 or 5 calculators and Yonathan convinces him to swap the calculator for the pocket compass which I meant to give to his brother Yo'av.
Yo'av shows me his favorite game, a small electronic video game with a liquid crystal display. It shows a boy with an insecticide sprayer and "bugs" which appear from all directions and which must be fought off by pushing some buttons. When Allon visited the Sterns he tried to play that game but found it hard. Yo'av who was quite well at it offered to show him, but Allon snapped "you are too small." Yo'av has not forgotten.
He is a little guy with a big shock of hair, about 11 years old, very vocal and lively, always smiling, a natural mimic who imitates voices from shows and records, even at the dinner table. Suzy says "he drives teachers crazy." And this same kid has survived only by the grace of God, for he has just one kidney, only partially functional [years later his father donated him another one]. When he was 13 weeks old he developed a fever and Suzy took him to the hospitals, where it turned out that his urethers were too long and became twisted and blocked, causing urine to back up into his kidneys. An emergency operation let them drain through Yo'av's flanks, but the kidneys were already badly damaged. Another operation at age 3 gave him back normal body functions, and now (I was told) he jokes about the scars on his sides, "this one is for the Sea of Chulah (a lake) and this one for the Sea of Galilee." After dinner he fell asleep in his chair.
Jonathan also showed me the glass box in which Yo'av kept mice, two black ones and one white. They tried to escape by burrowing into a mound of wood-shavings, but Jonathan hauled them out by their tails. Mice seem to have their own color discrimination: the black mice won't mate because the white one won't let them. Ofer is too young to have much to show, but Suzy proudly displays a large jug of lemon juice which she pressed from lemons harvested in Paul's old garden (Paul's house is rented out). She plans to remove the water by boiling and use the powder which remains to make lemonade in the summertime, saving the cost of store-bought drinks. She also saves on groceries by having a friend shop for her in the Koor company canteen, where prices are cheaper by one third. She works in a nursery school in Tiv'on.
In the evening a visitor arrives, Efraim Li'or, a stocky fellow with short hair, rather more sophisticated than his appearance suggests. Efraim used to work at Bank Le'umi and there he and Jonathan met, but he quit to take a job with the department of defense, a hush-hush job advertised as "challenging" (Later I saw the ad in a paper). The main qualification was an age below 31 or 32 (Efraim barely qualified) and command of Arabic: he admitted it was indeed challenging, but did not elaborate.
Efraim lived in Tiv'on but was building a villa in Timrat, one of the new settlements for people who like Jonathan wanted to build their own homes. Its location was both strategic and scenic, on the hilltop overlooking the Nahalal cemetery where Moshe Dayan rests, just north of where the road to Affula branches off the one leading to Nazareth. Efraim was lucky--when lots were drawn for building plots he drew the first choice and got a lot right on the skyline, overlooking Nahalal and enjoying a great view of the valley and of Mt. Muchraka. We visited the concrete skeleton of his house the following day, on our way out.
We soon got to talking--about Israel, Zionism and politics. Efraim supported Begin's Likud party and would have liked to settle in "Samaria," though he was also ready to live along with the Arabs. His home, like all others, was being built by Arab labor. But he admitted Arabs may feel differently:
I then remembered that my cousin Gabi, after leaving Kibutz Erez, lived for a while in Netiv Ha'asarah (I later heard that he tried to get accepted as a member of the Moshav, but after one year was turned down, allegedly because of his age). So I said:"You were in Netiv Ha'asarah? Do you know by any chance someone from there named Gabi Ben Aris?"
He gave me a funny look and said:"Sit down, please, or you may fall down when you hear this. Do I know who Gabi Ben Aris is? Of course I do. Gabi Ben Aris is the father of my wife."
He then decided I had to meet his wife--after such a coincidence she just had to come. So in the evening we all had a small get-together,with Efraim and Ya'el Li'or, Jonathan's sister Rachel Friedman and her husband Eli, from Bat Shlomo, and with Basil and Sharon Kaufman. Basil was about 40 years old, a doctor originally from South Africa and in Israel for the last 5 years.
Ya'el, Gabi's daughter, looked pretty in her dark curly hair and displayed a childlike exuberance. She had studied agriculture in Rechovoth and after her graduation followed her stronger inclinations and started again, from the beginning, at the Betzalel art school in Jerusalem. She was now well launched on her art career, mainly as an illustrator. Publishers had "discovered" her and she was in a rush to meet the deadline of illustrations of a children's book, a new version of Bialik's rhymed fable "The Prince of Onions and the Prince of Garlic."
After sundown the air grew chilly, but Jonathan's stove did a good job. I no longer remember the conversation in the room, except that it went on and on. At times it developed two circles, one of men and one of women. Both Eli and Rachel stayed quiet, Rachel kept to herself and Eli at times appeared awkward, not as socially adept as the others, sometimes turning into a joke what was said in earnest. Later, when I saw more of him, I sensed a lack of focus, and he often did things on a whim, like attending a course in small-boat navigation. He somewhat surprised me when he offered to take me in his car, a tiny British Mini-Minor inherited from Paul and Miriam, "anywhere, even the Hermon", if I just gave him a few days' notice. He had accumulated a large amount of leave at work (he said) and could easily afford a break.
Eli was quite tall, with an oddly angular face and bits of beard sprouting from his cheeks. He had recently sustained a serious loss: although he had sold his house in Tiv'on for $20,000 more than what Jonathan received for his (and Rivka felt that Eli should never have sold that house), he speculated with the money and lost 4 million shekel when stocks crashed the previous fall. That was why his house in Bat Shlomo was still incomplete.
At one point I asked if Zionism still existed. Suzy said, you mean "Zionism", motioning the quotes with two fingers of each hand. Ya'el said it was hard for her to say, she had a private job and was not involved with the government. Eli turned the matter into a joke. But Basil got agitated. "There better be something to Zionism, or else, what am I doing here? I could have done better in South Africa, or in Australia, I had lived there too... at least, here the kids do better."
We then discussed Israel, its standard of living and quality of life. Kids did seem to grow up better in Israel, and for the $25,000 or so which Jonathan and Suzy earned together, they managed to live quite well. Jonathan hoped to be promoted within a year or less to branch manager in Afula. Meanwhile, however, he had received his call-up to reserve duty, and was not sure whether he would be able to spend Passover at home or not. If he did, that would be the first time he conducted a seder, for in previous years his father Paul had always handled it. He sounded uneasy at either prospect.
Basil and Efraim talked about a plant for radiation detectors (I think "radiation" means infra-red, not nuclear). Kinnereth had it, but it lost money and sold it for a bargain price to an enterprising Jew, under whom the plant was now thriving in Migdal Ha'emek, a "development town" on the road to Nazareth. There seem to exist quite a bit of high-tech industry: Kibutz Gesher which used to concentrate on gypsum production now had a "Magma" plant, working on magnetic materials (ceramic magnets?). Its gypsum plant was still in business, but strangely, Israel had yet to produce drywall sheets. Maybe the cardboard backing was the problem: "tagiv" sheets of drywall bonded to concrete had just appeared on the market.
18 February, Shabbat
Next morning we started off early, packed a large assortment of picnic foods and then drove across the Valley of Jezreel. We stopped at Timrat to look at Efraim's house, then drove past the Ma'ayan Baruch reservoir (new since my time), through old and shabby Affula to kibbutz Ein Charod, there we turned left along the fence to the Crusader castle of Belvoir, overlooking the Jordan Valley. The last few miles of the road were narrow and in poor repair, winding among fields where green stalks of wheat stood about two feet tall. There was almost no traffic and no one was to be seen at the "National Park" picnic grounds except for the custodian. We sat down to a good breakfast, at a picnic table in the parking lot--bread, salad and so on--and then strolled over to the fortress.
The Arabs named Belvoir "Star of the Winds," (Kaukab el Hawa) which in Hebrew became "Star of the Jordan." The fort is built of black basalt, probably quarried when the moat was dug on its western side, and it has been meticulously restored. The moat has been cleared and visitors can cross it on an iron arch bridge, freshly painted and in strange contrast with the weathered stones.
A sign near the entrance to the bridge proclaimed "pit for suspicious objects," meaning, drop here anything which might be a bomb. The fortress has inner and outer courts, some of its vaulted rooms still stand and so does the stairway to the moat. The view is panoramic, one can survey the Jordan valley up to the Sea of Galilee and if the air were clearer, one might well see it all, from Mt. Hermon to the Dead Sea. Alas, a dusty wind from the east fills the air with haze, a powerful wind which in the hot season might be called a Chamseen. Standing up on that mountaintop, buffeted by a steady gale, one can well understand how the name "Star of the Winds" originated.
We left just when the first tourist buses were stopping in the parking lot--perfect timing. We drove down to the Jordan valley on a steep and narrow road, among tall weeds, green now but soon brown and dry and a fire hazard. Life is more secure in the Jordan valley than it used to be and the main north-south highway now follows its old course along the river. The safety bypass rising high into the hills above Gesher, where once I lugged a bicycle with Shim'on Braun and other friends, is no longer used and instead one passes right between Gesher and its police fortress, desolate since the 1948 fighting. The river is the border, and as the road passes a large meander of the Jordan river, enclosed in its loop, on the other side, is a lush Jordanian plantation. Here at least both sides seem to profit by peace. But nothing is sure. Now and then a sign appears by the roadside, pointing to a ditch and stating "machaseh", i.e. cover. Those are the spots where culverts pass under the road and if shells started falling (who can know?), that's where one would be hiding.
We pass the old diversion canal which used to channel water to Ruttenberg's old power plant in Naharayim, still occupied by Jordan, and suddenly the border recedes and the road runs straight between the thriving villages of Afikim, Sha'ar HaGolan and Deganiya. Everything is green, on both sides. The road aims at the Sea of Galilee, but divides just short of it, near the regional auditorium at Tzemach. We turn right.
And just as suddenly as the border had receded, it comes back. The road climbs past the bananas of Tel Katzir (Tel El-Kasr of old), where some of my fellow boyscouts settled in 1948, boys and girls of the "tribe" of "Rovers of the Carmel." Soon it has crossed the "green line" of the pre-1967 border and has begun to climb into the Yarmuk gorge. The lush bottomland gives way to arid hills, both on our side and across the gorge, and the road clings precariously to the slope. All along this stretch it is flanked on the right by an impressive tangle of barbed wire, tangled in a set pattern, scientifically designed by a recipe, so many angling wires to so many loops. Every few hundred yards a squat and thick concrete walls appears alongside the fence, and the word "machaseh" needs no further explanation.
At long last the valley widens. Behind us and far below is a broken bridge of the old Turkish railroad which ran up the gorge to Dera'a (biblical Edre'i) and Damascus. Ahead is El Hamma, famous for its hot springs and baths and for the remains of an ancient synagogue. It was heavily visited on weekends and most of the traffic was headed there, but we continued climbing steeply to the right, to the top of those stony hills.
Gradually the slope eased, the view of the Jordan valley opened up and sudenly we were on top of a table-like plateau, quite green, covered by huge fields of grain with little scattered villages. For a whole year of my life, at age 12, I had watched that plateau from Tiberias across the lake, wondering what was on it, whether it was really as flat as it looked. Indeed it is, and now I stand and watch Tiberias from its top, from a lookout near one of the villages where (for the benefit of photographers, no doubt) a captured Syrian cannon was on display. It would have been an enjoyable view, except for two things: the wet and muddy volcanic soil that sticks to one's boots, and the gale-like wind which buffeted us at Belvoir and is even stronger here.
We proceed along the unfamiliar road and soon the wheat ends, the fields lie fallow and are surrounded by barbed wire. One wonders about mines and yet, there are sheep grazing out there. We finally turn off near Gamla, at the site of another "national park." Gamla was the city that defied Vespasian and whose inhabitants, according to Josephus, were all cruelly put to the sword: it sits on a horn-like mountaintop, in the middle of a broad valley descending from the tableland to the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee.
Though the park is carefully delineated on my map, published by the "Association for the Preservation of Nature," in reality it is still almost undeveloped. In an unpaved lot where we park free of charge, a fellow sells ice cream from a van and gives us a brochure describing the park, obviously home-made. We buy some of his ice cream for 90 shekel, then we join a group viewing Gamla from a large jutting rock, on which some inspirational message is spelled out in metal letters. For a while we listen to the group's guide, but Gamla itself is too far for a quick visit. A pity, since it was said to have some interesting excavations, including a synagogue from the time of the Second Temple and even marks of the town's last siege. I propose visiting a waterfall and having the car meet us on another park road, but Jonathan objects, and he is right--the road to it does not yet exist, once again the map is ahead of reality.
Instead we descend by a steep road to the Sea of Galilee, south of Gamla. Bad choice: the road is full of potholes. Jonathan navigates gingerly between them, but it is slow going almost all the way . Near the bottom we pass a curious monument to an air force pilot whose plane must have been shot down nearby. His name is clearly set on the structure which contains a chunk of a plane's tail and a windowlike structure, perhaps representing an airplane's gunsight. Israel is rich in such local monuments, reminding passers-by of those fallen in war. Perhaps it is only natural in a nation where war is a fact of life, reassuring the living that even if they fell, they would be remembered. I do not recall such monuments in America, and maybe that is why such a gap exists there between soldiers and civilians. What is the cause and what the effect?
The long descend ends and suddenly we are on the Batichah plain, passing a gravel mine. The air has become hot and dry, even in February one feels the hot breath of the desert. The road winds this way and that, crosses a stream and passes land that is fertile but empty, Already one wonders where the river Jordan might be, when Jonathan takes a side road and suddenly we are at the "Jordan Park."
The park is located along the river, near the remains of a water mill whose channels and ponds still carry water. Heat and water combine to support a lush vegetation of bamboo, willows and tall eucalyptus trees. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park and by the time we arrive most are occupied by Israelis of all types and ages, their cars parked nearby. Apart from the tables, however, the place is little improved, and the ground is rather muddy, because this is the Jordan's floodplain.
We park close to one of the few vacant tables and Suzy sets up a truly inspired lunch--Waldorf salad (with walnuts and apples), two other kinds of salad, roast chicken and a lot besides. Afterwards we go to look for the river: back along the muddy road, crossing the millpond by bridge and stepping stones, then by a trail which follows a dry water channel. Tal and Yo'av chose to explore the channel and Suzy constantly calls out to them, but they seem to drift further and further from us. Is there a way out? Yes, there is, obviously someone had gone that way before and had cut a connecting trail, by which the two boys scramble back. Then we cross a rivulet, the first sign of the river.
A short way further, after pushing through bamboo and wild bushes of oleander (so frequently encountered on California road dividers), the trail suddenly breaks out of the trees and reached the river bank. There is no way across, for the water rushes at great speed. This looks like a great place for white-water canoeing and later I learn that indeed, Israelis float down this stretch on inner tubes. By the bank sits a young couple, head in lap, ignoring us completely.
After the car is reloaded we continue over a prefabricated "Bailey bridge" (design of WW 2), the "Arik Bridge" across the Jordan. We pass Capernaum and Gennosar and enter Tiberias, whose downtown area has been completely rebuilt. I ask Jonathan to detour to where I lived in 1943, but the place is not easy to find and we lose our way on the first try. Finally we enter an avenue of huge palm trees and pass the synagogue where meople died in an Arab raid in 1939. This is familiar territory: across the road is the rather shabby elementary school where I attended 6th grade, and a bit further stands big Hotel Feingold, deserted and due to be torn down. The tiny plot which my uncle once owned now belongs to someone's villa, and the ancient "House of Ben Israel" where my cousin Gabi and I used to live is gone altogether. It had a front wall 2 feet thick, forming a niche inside its front window, deep enough for Gabi or me to sit in. Now only the memory remains and in its place stands an ugly pink apartment building of 4 or 5 floors. The Schweitzer hospital across the street remains unchanged.
We exit through upper Tiberias, built up beyond recognition, with an entire new town-quarter added on the mountaintop, above the "Zvi Forest." The hills beyond are also changed: many new roads, and a dense pine forest covers the hills where Arab Lubiya used to be. I later asked Eli in Bat Shlomo: why plant pines and not olives? He said: "A pine takes ten years to grow, an olive maybe 60. We did not have the time."
We pass the "Horns of Chittin" where Saladin defeated the Crusaders. Then comes the mountain of Tur'an--the "saucer mountain" of my childhood, marked by curious saucer-like depressions, with elliptic ridges nested inside each other. Tur'an is a city now, with many tall buildings built in Arab style, with no evidence of an architect's hand. Some newer Arab dwelling buck this trend, but most Arab villages still seem to consist of boxy houses which all look alike, though no two are the same, often on stilts to provide beneath them a storage area and perhaps also space for expansion. From here the old road climbs to Nazareth, but we continue straight on a marvelously level highway finished only two weeks earlier. We pass the Beth Netofah reservoir (part of the Jordan water conduit) and a new Arab village just being built, not yet on my map, angling towards Ramat Yishai just as darkness falls. Yo'av is asleep in the back of the car and I take a snapshot of him as we refuel in Tiv'on.
And then we are back in Jonathan's house, now thoroughly familiar. Dinner, leave-taking and a quick trip back to Haifa.
Meeting with Liesel 22 February (no written record here. Interview all transcribed)
On the bus from Haifa to Tel Aviv I find myself next to a "language editor" for the Am Oved publishing house, a slight woman named Ofra Peri. We talk about her work, about Israel and America, and about her studies in Oregon and her friends there. Oregon? I tell her that my cousin Chamutal planned to visit there next summer with her husband Ya'ir Karni, the marathon runner.
Turns out she knows Ya'ir, he was a student in Corvallis when she studied in Eugene. He used to earn money, she said, by doing odd chores for women on farms, and he kept fit by running from one farm to the next.
[Later Itamar supplied some details. Ya'ir had asked the kibbutz to support his studies in Oregon, but was turned down. He went anyway and supported himself by working. His field was nutrition, his final project dealt with the nutrition of athletes, and that was why he was now the "ekonom" in charge of the kibbutz kitchen and the menu.]
Ofrah also knows some Technion people--Paul Singer, Tzachi Gozani and others, and when I mention my book "Math Squared" and Yehuda Radai (who had read it), she directs me to the same man as Yehuda did, to Shmu'el Avital. The plot thickens and I have one more tentative dinner invitation.***********
On the bus from the central bus station in Tel Aviv to Ashkalon I sit next to an old wrinkled woman. She had obviously wanted me to sit there, even rose to let me pass while I was still stashing my backpack near the rear door of the bus. She wears a "babushka" scarf and her teeth are capped and uneven: it turns out she is a doctor.
She tells me that she arrived from Kiev five years ago, lived in Hadera and was on her way to visit her husband. He is 80 and out of his wits (says she): he wants to return to Russia. He has forgotten that here you can talk freely, but in Russia... she motions a finger across her throat. She was working until a year ago, and her son is a metal worker in Benyamina and doing well: she might move in with him, there is no point in keeping two apartments. But his wife is in Russia. Five years ago she did not want to come, perhaps now she will change her mind. The son's daughter is with his wife, and has written that when she turned 16 she would apply for permission to join him. The doctor's own brother also preferred to stay in Russia and claimed that all his needs were satisfied there. But if Russia is so great, she told him, why did his wife have to send food parcels to their son, an engineer?
Andropov? An evil man, only Stalin was worse. She did not believe he died naturally (finger across throat). If he came here he could have lived to be ninety (it's cloudless and 20° C). Brezhnev was better, Chernenko is better, but Stalin... when he died, he was helped.
I mention the allegation against Stalin's Jewish doctors. No, they did not do anything bad to him, they just did nothing helpful, either. And so on, all the way to Ashkalon.
23 February Erez.
A joke in today's Yedi'ot Acharonot. The US secretary of the treasury meets his Israeli counterpart.
I arrived in Ashkalon hungry, crossed the street to buy a falafel and thus missed the Erez bus, which only runs once every three hours. Lucky for me, for I then phoned my aunt Pnina and found that she was in Ashkalon for a brief visit, she had arrived just a few hours earlier and planned to go back in mid-afternoon.
I had seen Pnina briefly on my second day in Haifa. I had phoned Itamar, he then told her about my arrival and she called me soon afterwards, to tell me she was in town. She was staying with her brother Yitzchak Yechi'eli, a semi-retired building contractor, and with his wife Miriam, living on a side street in the central Carmel, not far from where I used to live. She told me then that she would leave around noon for Petach Tikvah, to be with her sister Rivka, who was about to move to a new apartment, though she was not feeling too well. Rivka had signed an agreement, turning over her apartment to a contractor who planned to replace her house with a larger one: in return she would get three apartments in the new house and also temporary lodgings while the construction was in progress. Hence her move, and Pnina was going to help her.
That morning in Haifa I went over to see Pnina. She had aged--at 67 she was officially retired, she put on weight and her face was rather wrinkled. But when she started talking, the lively Pnina of old emerged again. She told about her work before retirement, teaching "special" children, a euphemism for problem kids. Now she had time for hobbies, for weaving and so on, but she did not seem too satisfied. She talked about drugs and security problems--I think her purse was once snatched--and blamed American influence.
Later I escorted her to Haifa's new central bus station, a massive concrete building cleverly built to overhang a narrower base, next to a new railroad station in Bat Galim. It was the best designed bus station I saw in Israel--the one in Jerusalem was crowded and noisy, with neither grace nor architectural merit, and those in Beer Sheva, Dimona etc. were smaller copies of the same design. The old central station in Tel Aviv was dirty and crumbled away in the middle of a slum, its tunnels deserted and smelling of piss. I went to those tunnels because when I lived in Israel, you were not allowed any other way to the platforms; later I was told that now only drunks ventured there.
At the station I escorted Pnina to the Petach Tikvah bus and then, since I had only arrived the day before, went to Haifa's welcoming office (another unique feature) and bought a map of the city. I also picked up free information brochures, including the monthly schedule of Israel's hiking clubs, to one of which I once belonged; it told about a hike on the 10th of March to upper Wadi Amud and to Biriyah, in which I later participated. I also bought at the station a set of large-scale maps of the country, a tour guide and, being hungry, a big bureika, a triangular baked pie [a bit like a Greek spanakopita] with vegetable filling inside, coarsely made but filling.
Bureikas have become a popular street food in Israel, and the "Sami Bureikas" chain extends across the country. They have joined the old standby falafel, and either of them costs about 100 shekel a serving. Falafel stands now often have small salad bars and after the vendor has inserted the fried falafels into the pita-bread, the customer is free to add the vegetable trimmings. During my stay in Israel I managed to eat a lot of both falafel and bureikas, much quicker and tastier than the overcooked restaurant fare, and also much cheaper. Even the student cafeteria of the Kaplun building for Sciences at the Tel Aviv University offered falafel, as well as chummus, tachina, baklava and spicy hot "Turkish salad."
Other tasty finger food is also available, including of course pizza: in Jerusalem my friend Naomi fixed a quick dinner by ordering some from a store down the street, at 140 or 150 shekel a slice and very good. And in Tel Aviv, on Dizengoff Square amid milling Purim crowds, I bought a "chummus pocket", deep fried like an empa–ada. It tasted terrific, but my aunt Rivka who was present classified it with pizza and falafel as "chazerei" (pig slop), not up to her standards. From an Arab in the old city of Jerusalem I bought (for 90 shekel each) "Armenian pizzas", soft and only some 8" across, covered with a thin mixture of vegetables and lamb meat. You rolled them up and then bit into them, they were delicious. All these were good sustenance for a visitor on the move, and for drink one could hardly improve on freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, at 70 to 90 shekel a glass. Now and then I spotted a "McDavid" stand decorated with American mottos (e.g. Uncle Sam handing out a hamburger), but had been warned they sold a poor product at premium prices.
Back to Ashkalon and my second meeting with Pnina. She was living in a working-class neighborhood, the soil was sandy, the dwellings were big tenement blocks, cheaply built of concrete and three stories tall, with narrow stairs. The lavatory had no tank, one just opened and closed a large valve, and its window was a vent to a vertical breezeway in the middle of the block. Pnina regretted she had not settled in more upscale Afridar when she first arrived and had the choice.
She showed me her loom and her weaving work, in what was formerly her daughter Tilly's room and is now her own workroom. The girl's drawings, colorful designs and large faces and figures, still hang on the walls. She was feeling a bit isolated, although she had developed a warm friendship with her neighbor "little Pnina" Elimelech, whose three kids played with Allon when he visited Ashkalon a few years earlier. "Little Pnina" later brings down her version of a Pischinger Torte, with buiscuits substituted for wafers: it tastes great, though the biscuits were limp. Pnina often visits her daughter and I leave gifts for Tilly in the apartment.
We start for the bus rather late and in the rush I forget the camera behind. I run back, waste time trying to find the house (all apartments look alike) and in the end get to the station too late. So Itamar's wife Bracha picks me up instead in a beat-up Peugeot belonging to Erez ("we tried to sell it two years ago but no one wanted to buy it") and takes me back to the kibbutz, while Pnina returns to Petach Tikvah. Bracha takes a detour via the "oil road" south of Ashkalon, to avoid the rush-hour flow of Arabs returning to Gaza from work in Israel. "They are so many that they stopped checking them at the border. Ooch, how they drive!" We hit the flow anyway, a long stream of overloaded vans and cars, bumper to bumper on the narrow highway.
February 28, Tuesday
I have been in Erez for 4 days now and got to know the Ben-Aris family fairly well. Itamar dominates, he has a good mind and a relaxed, natural attitude towards children and people in general. Bracha is pleasant, but Itamar is enterprising--yesterday, for instance, at the cotton gin in Sha'ar Hanegev, he had a chance meeting with one Avino'am and launched into a long talk about trying out pima-type cotton on a 60-dunam plot. He plans to enter next March remedial classes to prepare him for entrance tests in the Technion, to help him compete with freshly matriculated kids. He is already worried, that with him gone to school the entire cotton business of the kibbutz will fall on his friend Shostak.
The kibbutz is a highly social community and a lot of good-natured banter goes on in the dining hall. Shy people might do better sitting quietly on the sidelines. Today at breakfast, near us, a father was chastised for not greeting his son as he passed by, and someone replied: "You don't have to say hi to your son. In a kibbutz, fatherhood is just a function. Look at Itamar: he doesn't say hi to Chen." Kids are socially conscious too. Ori attended a Bar Mitzvah "party" Saturday night for a boy named Golan, held mainly by his friends in the "Kalanit" group and their parents, and brought me from there a portion of cake equal to his, without asking. Yesterday, arriving with an ice-cream bar, he likewise offered me a bite. And when we all went to visit Bracha's brother Yitzchak in Herzliah, we carried three heavy cans of Erez honey as a present. Bracha carried one, Ori one and little Niv one, but it was clear that Niv had a hard time, it was too heavy for him. Ori then handed his can to Itamar and went back to Niv, empty handed: "Look, I also want to carry a can. Could you give me yours?"
Kibbutz life entails a lot of hard work, but this was the slack season, maybe because so little rain had fallen, though the cotton fields were still being drip-watered by waste water from Sderoth. Every morning Itamar and Bracha rose early, came back around 4 pm, slept or rested for about one hour and then spent the evening at dinner, watching TV, socializing and caring for their boys. By choice very little time is spent in privacy, except maybe at work. I am not sure I would like to live like that--no, I would not. But what a wonderful place for raising children!
Keturah, 28 Feb 1984 Erez and Sderoth, 27 February 1984
The last 24 hours were quite interesting and included three meeetings--no, four, because I also said good-bye to Itamar. We talked long into the night, which is why I am so tired now.
First I met with Gabi, Itamar's half-brother. I had stayed in Erez as long as I did because Gabi said he could only meet me today, and I expected him to appear at a reasonable time--maybe 5 p.m., maybe earlier. We had not met since 1969, when he and his friend visited Greenbelt, where Audrey and I gave them our bedroom to use. Oren was still a baby, suspended by a "walk trainer" from the frame of the sliding door and bouncing happily up and down as Gabi watched him.
But Gabi was late. At 6 he called from Tel Aviv to say he was about to leave work, and would only arrive at 7:15. "When will we have dinner?" I asked. About 9, he said, "we eat late." So I dined with Itamar and his family, not in the dining hall but at home. Bracha prepared a delicious salad by tossing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers etc. into a food processor, and she also fried the onion rings, french fries and potato puffs which Itamar had cadged out of his friend, the manager of the "Tapud" plant at Sha'ar HaNegev, while he showed me around the place. The manager was his buddy from the seven years Itamar was chief mechanic at "Tapud", ending four years ago. Itamar just mentioned the products to him and added "I would appreciate two of each," and all the manager said was "only two?"
Gabi appeared just as we were finishing the meal. Though he is one year younger than me, he looked quite old, his hair mostly gray, his wide face rather baggy behind a fierce-looking mustache. He later joked that a Moroccan Jew once suggested that he had changed his name to "Ben Aris" to hide the Moroccan "Ben Harush," to which his wife Rachel commented "A Moroccan he's not--an Arab, maybe." He spoke with the same self-assured bombast which has permeated his letters, but even more stridently. Throughout the evening he did almost all the talking. He has a quick wit, great ability and an ego to match, but no warmth whatsoever. He clearly wanted to tell and not to listen and showed no interest in my doings or my family.
All throughout the evening, in his house, the TV was also turned on, and even as he talked Gabi was watching the news. I saw there part of "Pillar of Fire," a very good series on the history of Zionism, reissued after four years. That particular chapter was on the Haganah during 1936-9 and the credit for the interviews, a significant item, went to Naomi Kaplanski, with whom I later stayed in Jerusalem. Tonight in Kibutz Keturah, by the way, I watched part of a Hebrew sitcom "Relatives, relatives" which was also quite good.
After Gabi picked me up at the Kibbutz we drove to his office in Sderoth, where he managed a business consultancy "RG Associates", the letters being the initials of Rachel and Gabriel. Rachel was there, finishing some bookkeeping work in a room piled high with files and forms. On the way there he told me that he employed 7-8 workers, that his enterprise had doubled in size every year since 1980 and "if we have to let them all go, Roche'leh and I still have an advantage over what we make now." They advised about one hundred businesses, he said, in general people of Moroccan background unfamiliar with Israeli law, who needed advice on taxes and business matters. He was not a lawyer, he said, but had legal experience.
From his office we drove to his home, a one-story bungalow. In a town consisting almost entirely of apartment blocks, this was the section where the privileged put up private dwellings, and one such house was nearing completion next door. The windows were barred, elaborate locks protected the door, and as soon as we entered I was pawed by an overly friendly but high-strung bitch "Kushka." Itamar had warned me that she would jump at me and lick my face if I let her, and he did not exaggerate much. She was part Weimaraner, black with white paws (her name must come from "kushi", a Black person), "a hunting dog" according to Gabi, and her nervousness seemed natural considering that she was mostly confined indoors and was never allowed outside the yard.
The house was untidy and dinner was hurried, it consisted of bread warmed in a toaster and some cheese. Both Gabi and Rachel claimed that they worked all the time and were too busy--Gabi slept in Tel Aviv on Sunday nights, which was why the meeting was set for Monday. I wondered about their social circle and asked about life in Sderoth, and Rachel said "who needs Sderoth, Tel Aviv is only an hour away." Later I mentioned Netiv Ha'Asarah, east of Erez, which I had visited with Itamar, and Gabi correctly guessed that we were visiting past members of Erez, he even named two of them. He had spent a year at Netiv Ha'Asarah at its original site in Sinai, in the "Rafiach Salient" (Pitchat Rafiach), and added, "we would like to meet people there but have no time."
Much of our talk involved politics. Gabi was bitter about Begin's extremism and about the return to Egypt of the Rafah salient ("Pitchat Rafiach") where, he claimed, the sands bloomed "and we know that the desert did not make the Bedouin but that it was the other way around." He also said that Begin had neglected the economy which boomed after 1967 (in part thanks to the Sinai oil) and was growing more efficient, and by contrived bookkeeping he drove it into a horrible inflation. All he said agreed with what I later read in the Washington Post ("Begin almost brought Israel to its Knees", 1.8.84). He claimed that apart from some good highways, "to move armor, since in 1973 the existing roads proved inadequate" no money was invested by the Likud government in "old Israel," only outside the "green line" in territory added in 1967.
I mentioned the interviews conducted with my parents about the family's history and he said "I don't need any interviews, I have it all." Even Liesel's story, he said, was already familiar to him, and therefore I did not give him any of the transcripts I had brought along. The genealogy which his father had produced was not started by him, he said, but was compiled by my late aunt Kaethe, Gabi's mother, and before her by some relative of hers, maybe an uncle. He had all the information about her family, including the Franks, who were famous, though I can't recall details. He said that some of the family history was lost for a long time and was only recovered 4 years ago in some attic or storage room where Pnina kept her belongings.
As for the Paechters, one of them was court Jew to a nobleman during the 30 years' war, and the baron (he gave the name) could not pay him. So (Gabi said) the nobleman took the Jew aside and said, look, instead of paying you, I will make you Baron Paechter Von der Scholle ("of the clod", rather than named by some estate he owned), you will collect taxes from the peasants and whatever extra amount you get you can keep. Which he did, and there followed several generations of Paechters who lived very well, though Gabi had no real record prior to Jacob Paechter who lived in the 1700s.
He also said a lot about our middle-eastern Jewish brethren and our Arab cousins, none very nice and some rather outspoken. "So the Arabs say the country belongs to them, that they were here first? Look at Erez. They say there was an Arab village there in 1948, but do you know when that village was built? In 1940, when the British army built camps all around, that village (he named it) was built in the middle. So I ask them, 'when did you come?" And he says, 1940, and I say, inal abuk (Arab oath, 'damn your father'), I was already here, don't say you came first."
And so on. He has a tremendous knowledge and ability, but he does not attract, there is no warmth in him; compared to him, even Rachel shone. I had hoped to bring the brothers together, but there did not seem to be much hope. Gabi claimed that Bracha set up Itamar against him--in fact, he made rather strong accusations against her. Itamar, later that night, told me his version: for a long time, he said, he used to visit Gabi, but Gabi did not reciprocate and gradually he stopped. Then Bracha had her operation and was treated for cancer, and Gabi started visiting again, but when she got well things turned to what they were before.
That night I had a long talk with Itamar. All through the visit we had been rather formal--friendly, but circumspect. Now the time left (it was late at night) was too short to express what we felt. We talked about family and about staying together, and I recommended that that he meet Suzy and Jonathan, who had much in common with Bracha and him. I also said he should keep up the contact with Liesel. I felt that someone had to be the center of our family and that he, Itamar, was probably in the best position to do so. Unlike Gabi he had the ability to pull people together, unlike Tilly he had deep roots in one place, and a family he could be proud of. I was too far off in America to count, I said. I told him about Rachel and Eli, too, and urged him to take the initiative in contacting Paul's kids.
I forget the rest. Experiences get overlaid by new ones, and since that evening I have been to Keturah, Beer Sheva and Dimona, and then traveled through Metzada to Jerusalem, where these notes were written. Too much.
29 February (events of 28th, from Hebrew notes) Beer Sheva with David Gil
The third encounter was with David Gil, former classmate at the university and now a physicist at the Be'er Sheva University, known officially as the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The campus stands in the northern part of town, impressive concrete buildings but without the greenery of the Technion campus: any vacant space remains bare. David had not changed much: his gray hair was evident but did not dominate, his face and inflected voice remain the same and as always he spiced his conversation with unusual quotes. He is pleasant and candid, though at work he seems isolated. His lab, in the biophysics department, had many black curtains to protect the photomultipliers with which he measured the polarized fluorescence of "tracers," compounds with known fluorescent emissions. Their molecules were attached to organic compounds and their fluorescence helped trace the behavior of such molecules in chemical processes; changes in the spectrum also helped.
David said that such methods had many applications and one of the more elegant ones (with which he had nothing to do) was the separation of isolated cells, developed in Israel (?) and practiced there in two labs. Tissue was shredded and marked with a fluorescent dye, and was then dripped into a very narrow funnel, surrounded by an outer funnel from which an organic fluid issued. This gave a narrow stream at whose center was a row of isolated cells. A strong light was beamed onto the stream and a light detector ("gala'ee," a new Hebrew word) measured the fluorescent glow and used it to classify the cells. Further along the stream was shaken, separating it into a row of droplets so small that most of them contained no cells and the rest mostly one cell only. The cells kept the order in which they were initially classified, and a further detector counted them and caused them to be deflected electrostatically to the right or left, depending on their classification. Thus a collection of cells with identical properties could be produced, and if the separation was incomplete, it could be repeated (P.S.: more about this system in Popular Mechanics, November 1983, p. 106). David thought this was a neat trick and envied those working with it, though he did not feel he was good enough to join them.
Unfortunately, David worked alone: soon he would be joined by a capable chubby chemist, but that would be his first collaboration. Meanwhile he has invested an entire year in perfecting his light source, producing brief but intense pulses of light. He did not have funds for buying a laser and therefore used a spark, which is fast enough but does not emit spectrally pure light, so that results must be recovered by computer. He had the choice between buying an English spark source or one built in Scotland, and he chose the former because it was slightly cheaper. It turned out to produce a tremendous amount of radio noise--no surprise, the earliest radio transmitters also used sparks. In spite of shielding, it interfered so much with the rest of the apparatus that the experiment had to be postponed for a year.
Meanwhile David met the Scotsman who designed the other instrument, who told him that he overcame the radiation problem by inserting the spark source into a cylindrical conductor, which acted as a waveguide. The spark and its circuit radiated into vacuum, which had a characteristic impedance of 300 ohms (determined by the basic electrical constants) while that of the cylinder was 160 ohms, so that it was mismatched to external space (if I understand correctly) and the wave, instead of being emitted, was reflected back inwards, where it was absorbed. It was an elegant solution which David added to the English instrument: now everything was working fine and David was ready for his experiment, but a year had been lost.
David had hoped to collaborate with the departments of medicine or biochemistry, or even with the Weitzmann institute, but it did not work out. The Be'er Sheva physics department only had 9 members and most of them (like his officemate Amnon) worked in nuclear physics, encouraged by the proximity of the "Nuclear Science City" near Dimona. Others chose astrophysics. David had progressed into the area where physics overlaps biochemistry, but not far enough to stake a claim in the other discipline.
His pretty wife Channa had an independent career in computer programming, which had taken her as far as Singapore. Currently she was computer chief for Bank Ha'Ovdim, the workers' bank. During my visit that bank's manager committed suicide after he was found to have siphoned bank money to his political party's slush fund--it was a big item on the news, but apparently did not affect the bank itself. Her work in Tel Aviv divided the family making necessary apartments in both Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva, two cars and so forth.
I arrived on a Tuesday and David was scheduled to go north that day, to be with his wife and also to see his mother, at 82 hopelessly ill with cancer of the esophagus. The disease was first noticed as a difficulty in swallowing, the doctor at the time failed to make a correct diagnosis, and when he did it was too late, the lady was too frail for surgery and only radiation therapy was possible. By the time of my visit she was in a hospital in Gederah, with a clear mind and no pain, just undernourished, all her food coming by a pipe threaded down her esophagus. One brother of David's, the one who used to be a sailor, had come from France (where he lived, married to a French Christian), rented an apartment for a month and spent his time with his mother. He had left just shortly before I met David. The other brother lived in the Tel Aviv area, I forgot what he did.
David told me that his daughter, or rather Channa's daughter by her first husband, was married to a "salesman of noodles" for Osem, "not at all an academic guy," and the two lived happily in Ramat Gan. Later, when we met, I found that he was a professional cook who went around kibbutzim, hospitals and other institutions, demonstrating Osem products, and he was due to spend two weeks in Germany, in line with his duties, as a cook in a youth camp. The daughter was a nurse at Tel HaShomer hospital and enjoyed a good reputation in her field.
On his way home, David stopped at a chain supermarket "Hyper-Sal" (sal is basket) to buy vegetables, for every Wednesday his Gruzinian maid, from Soviet Georgia, came to his apartment, and since she had rather little work (the place was hardly used) she insisted on cooking a meal and storing it in the refrigerator. The supermarket gave an American impression and stocked not just food but home needs and clothing, imported and local. Prices seemed higher than those in the US--even those of stainless cookware made by Soltam in Yokne'am--but only moderately so. Right now the chain was making a big pitch for the Smurfs, the latest hit in Israel. In Hebrew they were named "dardasim," blend of "dardakim", an obsolete word for "twerps," and "nanasim", dwarves. In Belgium where they originated they were first named "Strumpfs."
From there we drove to his home at 5 Mish'ol Aaravah, in a row of one-story dwellings with large porches, each completely surrounded by a 10-foot wall. The house was small and its style recalled the adobe homes of Taos: its clever design had earned a prize for its architect, but later serious flaws became apparent. For instance, ventilation slits were set near the ceiling to help keep the house cool in the summer, but (David told me) the chill of winter was a worse problem than the summer's heat, and the very same slits let indoor heat escape in the wintertime. The wall around the porch was meant to ward off sandstorms, but those only blew about 5 days each year, and when they did no wall could keep them out. "Mish'ol Arava" (steppe path) is a narrow passage between such units and used to be a prestige address, but now more and more of the inhabitants were Gruzinians, from Soviet Georgia, who cared little about order and cleanliness.
With all his isolation David seemed active and satisfied. His most recent hobby has been Indo-European linguistics, studied from a book. He explained that the subject arose in the 19th century when some scholars (mostly German) argued that all major European languages were related. Each language was derived from the original language (was it Sanskrit?) by its own rules, rules which seemed strange but which, astonishingly, held with almost no exceptions. Now and then David would amuse himself by tracing a certain Indo-European word through different languages, realizing at the same time (as he told me) that there did not exist the slightest chance that any of his discoveries had not already been made by others.
In recent days he had spent most of his time besides his mother. And he told me a story about our fathers which I had already forgotten. Once he visited me at my parents home in Haifa and when he turned to go home my father offered to drive him there, to 19 Hess Street; I went along, too. Upon arrival David invited us in and the two dads, his and mine, began conversing. Then David's father stopped, looked at my father and told us they had met before.
It turned out that in World War I David's father was a Russian prisoner in Theresienstadt (Terezin). As David told me later (2000?) one day the prisoners were assembled, and a civilian came out and asked them, "does any of you know chemistry?" David's dad did not, but the POW camp was a miserable place, so he raised his hand and was taken to meet the man. This turned out to be the owner of a sugar refinery, whose chemist was taken away for the war and who needed help. Taking David's dad at his word, he showed him around the factory and since the father was a quick learner he quickly found out how to do the chemist's job, and was released on parole to work at the factory.
When the war ended the owner offered him the job permanently, refusing to believe that in fact he was not a trained chemist. However, David's dad politely turned down the offer, so that he could return to Russia and see what had happened to his family. His name then was Spitzglas--and when he married he took his wife's name of Gil, which sounded better. Anyway, he recognized my father as his guard in the Terezin fortress, a new recruit in the Austrian army and rather conscious about his duty. My father was afraid his ward would escape, while David's dad was a veteran and had no intention of going back to the war.
I asked David about Arab students. He said that the university had some, but most were not too good. He felt that no matter what happened to them, they constituted a problem: those who did poorly and failed exams ended up hostile towards Israel, and those who did well gave pause to their teachers, who wondered whether these were an asset or liability to the country.
From Be'er Sheva I went to kibbutz Keturah, to visit Carol Bergemann, daughter of our friends and neighbors in Greenbelt.
Keturah, letter written 29 February (edited)
Keturah is a kibbutz 51 kilometers north of Elath, in the middle of nowhere--in the Aravah valley which connects the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, part of the great rift. It is desert country, scrubby dry bushes and trees of tamarisk and jujube ("dom") separated by expanses of bare ground. The kibbutz stands at the foot of an escarpment, bare and brown sun-burned limestone, and across the valley in Jordan impressive mountains rise steeply. Keturah and 8 or so villages like it line this desolate valley, and what keeps them going are wells of fossil water, good (they say) for about the next 70 years. The water is used to its limit by drip irrigation, but it tastes flat and leaves a white encrustation when it dries on washed dishes.
Carol looks good. I arrived in the dining room towards the end of dinner time last night, she came to me and hugged me and it was like meeting a bit of Greenbelt in an unexpected place. She had lost about 11 pounds and felt relaxed. She had a spell of gloomy mood when she first arrived, but that has now ended and she felt in harmony with her new surroundings. We talked for a long time that night and again this morning while traveling by bus to Dimona to visit her friend Joel ("Yoli") Cohen, a trip of 120 miles each way, at a cost of 520 shekel or about $4. She told me that her friend Ron was arriving on the 11th from the States, and that she planned to stay in Israel--but not necessarily at Keturah, it offered stimulating company but was rather isolated. She was still weighing her choices, but since she had only come back on the 9th from the ulpan (Hebrew language course), she had no long-range plans yet.
Keturah looks like any other young kibbutz, the dining room is bustling and many activities are posted on the bulletin board, as are a letter in English and a poem in Hebrew, written on brown wrapping paper, obviously from someone significant to the members. Kibbutzim tend to have messy yards, but this one seems to outdo the rest and the members' rooms, too, were none too tidy. Carol's is just about the neatest of those I've seen. The fields are pretty, some 250 acres of palm trees, onions (big item, a packing house with a sorting machine in full run), pamelo, mango, clover for the animals and green pepper. The kibbutz had just decided to start an industry, built around an algae-growing pond. Before this they had a chance to get into assembling drip lines, they were given a machine for the job by kibbutz Chatzerim which had grown rich by this industry (Carol's friend Yiftach lives there), but decided it was not worth the trouble. The working pace here does not seem too hurried. Though it is winter, walking through the fields with Carol this morning made me feel uncomfortably warm, presaging a fierce summertime.
Last night, as Carol was guiding me through the kibbutz, showing me the horses etc., we suddenly heard from one of the huts the reading of a haftarah, (one of the sections of the scriptures, read-sung at Sabbath services) in a clear loud voice. We went there and saw a balding man wearing an embroidered kippah (skullcap), a gown and felt slippers, with a tikkun text (facsimile of the Torah scroll) and a tape recorder: it was the laundry building and the machines were going full blast. I asked "Is it you, or is it Memorex?" and he smiled and said Memorex--but the recoded voice was his own, taped for someone preparing for his bar mitzvah. His name was Mike, he came from Philadelphia, was married to the daughter of a Baptist family who had discovered Judaism, and had 5 sons. We met the Israelis Uri and Ori, who worked with Carol in the stable, but missed Richie and Ofrah, officially Carol's "adoptive parents." The two were married at the recreation center by the swimming pool, and as the bride was waiting and wondering where Richie was, he was suddenly deposited over the fence by a cherry picker used in harvesting dates. Richie was the secretary or "mazkir" of the kibbutz, a high position but also a stressful one.
The stable was really just a corral with a shading roof, unruly animals were penned but others were given the run of the paddock. The stable was busiest on Fridays, when tourists came by bus from Eilat and rides-for-hire were offered to them, as were glazed metal plates from the ceramic shop of the kibbutz. We agreed she would come to Haifa on Thursday the 8th and would stay with Louise and Avivi.
Yoli was a former lieutenant in the paratroopers who stayed in Keturah towards the end of his army service and became friendly with Carol. His home was in Dimona where, Carol had heard, he was teaching electricity at the high school.
Dimona is 30 km southeast of Be'er Sheva, one of the "development towns" built to distribute immigrants throughout Israel--others included Hatzor, Kiriath Shmoneh, Shlomi, Karmiel, Migdal Ha'Emek and also Sderoth where Gabi lived. They had a reputation of unemployment and discontent, and of being somewhat outside the cultural mainstream, with a population of Jews whose ancestral language was mostly Arabic. Dimona however seemed to be doing quite well. It was originally built for workers of the Dead Sea mineral works, to enable them to commute to work but live outside the harsh Dead Sea climate. Many residents still worked at the Dead Sea, although some of those went no further than the large potash plant at the railhead close to town. But the town also had a leavening of high tech due to the proximity of Israel's Los Alamos, the "Kiriath Mada Gar'ini" (KMG) or "city of nuclear science." We saw it from afar as we came, buildings and trees sprouting in the flat desert. Whatever the reason, Dimona was a compact clean city of 28,000, including a few thousand "Black Hebrews" from the US who lived in their "ghetto", spoke no Hebrew, refused to send their children to public schools, were not recognized by the rabbinate as Jews and constituted the town's main headache.
We arrived early and wandered about town until school let out and Yoli came and took us home. It was a rather humble looking house, but on the inside it turned out one of the fanciest dwellings I saw in Israel, well designed and equipped with every comfort up to a video recorder. Yoli was an earnest young man, informal and warm, his father a rotund hardware dealer born in Jerusalem and his mother (obviously a Sephardi) a big wheel in civic affairs and in the local Wizo. His sister Betty was also there, very pretty with the large eyes which go with a middle-eastern ancestry ("oriental eyes," in Israel). She was studying in the 12th grade and had visited the US with the Scouts' Caravan.
Yoli apologized that he was busy that afternoon, for he and his sister were expected to perform at a birthday party of a boy turning 9. We went along and it was a great experience.
The party was in an apartment block of 3 or 4 floors, near the edge of town. Dimona ends quite abruptly, you pass the last house and bingo, nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. Betty brought an accordion and Yoli had prepared some games and tricks: soon after we arrived, about 20 little twerps marched in and the party began. All the children were neatly dressed and they warmed up by singing with great gusto a variety of popular songs, not much different from the way parties started when I was their age, 40-odd years ago. After they sang "Hayom Yom Huledet l'Eldad" (today is Eldad's birthday) came party games. Candles were tied to rear belt loops, Yoli set them swinging and at the signal the contest began, to see who would be the first to dangle his or her candle into the mouth of a bottle. They bound a kid's eyes and made him rub a "magic dish" which would be "flying" when he opened his eyes, letting him rub his face too--what he was actually doing was transferring soot from the plate to his face. And so on. At the end three different kinds of cake were served (eliminating for us any need of dinner), with popcorn and favors. What was most memorable was how neatly dressed and well behaved the kids were, yet they were obviously having fun. Carol's comment was "so wholesome."
Yoli still had time to introduce us to his mother and give us a quick tour of Dimona, and then we had to catch the bus. Carol discovered there a friend and I sat next to a reservist returning to duty as radio man in Eilat, after visiting his family in Be'er Sheva. His name was Nissim Dayani, a Persian of 40 years, his father died when he was young and he never finished high school, but in Israel he matriculated as an external student and now was a technician at KMG, with four kids doing well in school. He felt that all Jews should come to live in Israel, that the waters of Lebanon should be piped to the Negev and that Jews should settle on the West Bank.
1 March (from letter, edited)
Boarded the Eilath-Jerusalem bus at Keturah at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, going by way of the Aravah valley to the Dead Sea and then along the shore to Jericho. Because large amounts of irrigation water are being withdrawn from the Jordan and the Yarmuk, the Dead Sea had shrunk and was now split into two lakes, the southern one shallow and consisting mostly of evaporation ponds serving the potash works.
I was enjoying the scenery when the bus pulled into the visitor center below Metzada, and it suddenly hit me--better get off or I might never get the chance again. I did so; a young man got off with me and introduced himself as Marty Grynbaum, and after depositing the luggage for safekeeping we climbed the mountain together.
Marty, it turned out, had come to Israel 13 months earlier to attend a school for hotel chefs, but the schooling did not come up to his expectations and he quit. Since he was also seeking his way to Judaism, he then joined a yeshivah for three months, earning his living by manual work. His search was still continuing, and all the way up the mountain we argued on Judaic matters, e.g. whether Moses had or had not written every word of the Torah, including the passage "and Moses died, and no one knows the place of his burial to this day." After the yeshivah he became assistant chef at the Laromme hotel, but now he had resigned and was returning to the US, to enter there what he felt was a better school for chefs. He gave me his address in Jerusalem, just in case I somehow missed my connections.
Metzada was dusty and at first not too hot. The ruins on top had been cleaned and patched, and rather few people were around; we stayed five minutes undisturbed in the great cistern, taking pictures from the top and the bottom. To reach Herod's palace we had to negotiate a fair number of stairs, but it was well worth the climb. The walls which Josephus claimed were marble (but were in fact plaster painted to resemble marble) were protected by sheets of plexiglass and in full view. By the time the tour ended, the day had grown hot and hazy, and we chose to ride the cable car down.
The rest of the trip was rather quick--through Ein Gedi, much bigger now, and through the Jericho desert where the army was staging maneuvers, then a long and slow climb into the Jerusalem mountains. First grass appeared on the hillsides, a few miles later thorny bushes, then pine trees and finally Arab houses and cultivated fields, the entire transition taking less than ten miles. The tall tower of the "Augusta Victoria" hospice on Mt. Olivet suddenly appeared in the distance and soon we were passing seemingly endless clusters of blocky Arab dwellings. Then the bus crossed the ridge and the old walled city rose to dominate the entire view. The bus then plunged into one of the poorer religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem, a rather ugly clutter of stone buildings with bearded Jews and synagogues everywhere: nothing seemed familiar until we saw the brown water tower of Romema, its one-time splendid isolation ended by a multitude of apartments. Below it was our final destination, Jerusalem's central bus station, ugly, crowded and rather worn. It did not exist the last time I was in town.
1-2 March: Arrival in Jerusalem
At the station Martin shouldered his bag and guided me to bus no. 18, which both of us boarded. Its route led to the German Colony, where Naomi Kaplanski, long-time friend of my parents, promised lodgings at her home on Emmanuel Noah Street.
The numbering of houses in older parts of Jerusalem tends to be chaotic. From the bus I spied a street sign "Emmanuel Noah," got off at the next station and with my backpack and suitcase returned to the sign. All I saw, however, was a cul-de-sac two houses deep, and passers-by maintained this was actually Cremieux Street, which was the name of its continuation across the highway. I went up and down the block, asking, but no one knew.
During that search I actually ran into the one-room outbuilding which (around 1952) David Gil and his brother Mickey purchased as their student quarters for 360 pounds. The two had to break a wall to bring in a shower pipe, which they discretely hid behind a curtain in one corner. In another corner stood a barrel of olives which David and his brother had picked off the trees growing untended all over the valley. Pickled olives were a student staple, and to save costs the two pickled a barrelful of their own, sealing the top with a pane of glass and glaziers putty, which allowed visitors to see the molds growing on top of the brine inside. In the end the barrel was opened and the olives tasted, they were bitter and were tossed away. Now, 30-odd years later, the shower was gone, an architect had his office in the room and knew none of its history.
Finally, I got some directions a few hundred feet away, at a store named "Shmattes" (Yiddish for rags) where a tiny alley began, "HaMagid Street"--but higher up its name changed and became "Emmanuel Noah." Naomi was already worried, the detour to Metzada was not on the plan and I was late, but anyway, all was well.
Her 3-room apartment is probably over a century old, built in the old vaulted style which gave it an antique middle-eastern atmosphere, and even on a hot day like today, it was quite cool. I was given the small guest room.
In the afternoon I wandered about the Old City and returned around 3 hot and tired. Plans for the evening were canceled--Saul Dwek whom I had intended to meet, the young brother of an astronomer in Maryland, had been called up for reserve duty. It was Friday afternoon and I wondered about attending Sabbath services. There was supposed to exist a reconstructionist congregation "Mevakshey Derech" (Seekers of the Path), meeting in the Rechavia high school, but the "Jerusalem Post" had nothing about it, listing only a "Progressive" congregation at Shmu'el HaNagid Street 16. I quickly changed from jeans and sneakers to pants and shoes, put on a tie, pocketed my skull-cap and rushed out, because it was already 5:15 and services, according to the paper, began at 5:30.
No buses run in Jerusalem after sundown on Sabbath. Some daylight still remained at 5:15, but traffic was sparse: I walked. After 20 minutes I spotted a cab and flagged it, the driver asked for 150 shekel and I said, OK. But police barriers were already blocking the highway in front of the chief rabbinate building, forcing the driver to detour. Meanwhile we argued over the fare. I had only two 100 shekel bills and the driver could not find a 50, so I said "make it 100?" He did not answer and I probably could have got my way, but the detour was truly a long one and by the time we got there I just said, take 200 and may you have a good Sabbath.
Shmu'el Hanagid 16 adjoined the old Betzalel art school and museum (the art collection now resides at the Israel museum) and by the time I entered the congregation was already singing "Lecha Dodi" and all the seats in the sanctuary were filled, the only ones left were in the office, joined to the sanctuary by a movable partition. Those seats actually had a rather good view of the service, of the rabbi, the cantor and the back of a woman sitting next to a large concert harp. I later found she was a non-Jewish volunteer who played with the Israel philharmonic or some other orchestra.
The Progressive Movement, I was later told, was something new, a modern Jewish movements rooted in Israel, though its founding spirit, I think, owed much to the "yekkes", the German immigrants of the 1930s. It was the first genuinely new creation trying to fill the huge gap between the totally non-religious (like Naomi's daughter Ruthie, with whom I had argued the point earlier that day) and orthodox believers. Nominally they were allied to the Reform Movement, but their services differed and they followed a prayerbook issued in Israel in 1982, containing many changes which improved on tradition. The number of their congregations is slowly growing, and their Hebrew newsletter was quite spirited.
What can I say? Suddenly I felt that all those changes which for years I have tried to bring to my "Mishkan Torah" congregation in Greenbelt, knowing only dimly what they were, were accomplished perfectly at Har El, far better than my poor talent could ever devise. When the congregation started softly singing Hanna Senesh's song "Eli Eli", in perfect harmony with the rest of the service, I began crying. It was too much:
My God, My God
May these be the things which don't end
The sea and the sand
The rustling of water
The thunder of heaven
The prayer of man
It was not the tune or the words, familiar from before the time Israel existed. It was the feeling of unexpectedly finding something I was searching for a long time.
It all blended perfectly. The rabbi was young, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin, and was originally expected to be absent, having been called to reserve duty: but he was given the Sabbath off. Because he was not expected to attend, the sermon was given by Gabi Alexander, a tall young man from South Africa who worked for the Jewish National Fund. It was an excellent sermon, based on the reading of the week from the book of Exodus, a rather dry inventory of the tabernacle or mishkan and its fittings. Gabi took his cue from the concluding verse: "And the mishkan was finished and the spirit of the Lord descended to dwell in it." That was the trouble with Israel's religious institutions today, he said, the tabernacle may be standing but the spirit does not yet dwell there.
He then cited examples, leading to a discussion of the current Sabbath conflict, between the town of Petach Tikvah which allowed cinema performances on Sabbath and the national religious parties, which sought to stop those performances through national law and violent demonstrations. He quoted a truly apt passage from Herzl's "Altneuland", a visionary novel of 1902, imagining a Jewish state by 1923 and describing what a Sabbath in Jewish Jerusalem would be like. It was well put and contained both new ideas and insights.
But that was just one part. The harp blended beautifully, it sang, it did not overpower the voices of the congregants but enhanced them. The cantor was excellent and the rabbi would here or there insert an insight or a comment. At one point he noted that the beginning of Adar was two days away "and when Adar arrives, we are told, one should increase joyfulness" (on account of the holiday of Purim). "Later in the year comes a month in which we are told to increase our sorrow (the month of Av, when both temples were destroyed, 6 centuries apart), but to even things out we should not neglect the joy of Adar." He then called up a woman who had prepared a reading, of a poem on Sabbath candlesticks.
The woman came forth and said, maybe it was Adar, but some of this poem, and of her thoughts in reading it, were not exactly joyous. She went on to explain that her reading was dedicated to a relative who was born that same day 50 years ago and who had perished in the holocaust. That, too, fit in.
I no longer recall much of the service, but it was definitely non-standard. Parts were skipped, but much was also added and the melodies were quite familiar. Near the end the rabbi noted that long ago each weekly reading had a psalm attached, and called someone up to recite psalm 45, the one which went with the current week. Books were provided for the congregation to follow. The prayer book listed alternate choices for the controversial sentences in "Aleinu," but the cantor chose the traditional one. Before the mourner's kaddish the rabbi gave a short talk, dedicating the prayer to the memory of soldiers who had died on duty in Lebanon (that week two were killed in an ambush), and after the concluding hymn "Adon Olam" he added some final words, concluding with the traditional blessing "as you came in peace so may you depart in peace."
It was overwhelming. At the end I sought out Gabi and told him how I felt, and soon I was sitting with him and the rabbi in the rabbi's study, telling about my congregation "Mishkan Torah" in Greenbelt and how I would love to see close relations between theirs and ours. They were quite interested and invited me to come the next day
The day started with a chamsin, a warm dry wind from the desert which "broke" around 3:30. I started out late and walked quickly to the synagogue. Services were well under way by the time I arrived--Har El does not recite "warm-up psalms" as is done in Greenbelt, but starts right away with the main service.
This time the service was more tradiational and the harp was absent. A Bar Mitzvah was to be celebrated--that of Bo'az, son of Giora and Aliza Barka'i (I mention the names only because they are so typically Israeli). The son read both the Torah portion and the "Haftarah" from the prophets, cleverly blending the reading for the weekly portion and that of "the day before the new month" which was actually allocated to that day.
What was memorable however was the speech his father gave afterwards. The father wore no tie and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top, in fact, there was something informal, almost careless about his appearance. I did wear one, and looking around I noted that while all older people wore ties, younger ones as a rule did not. Here is what he said:
"I will not tell you about the values you should uphold. I remember you at the demonstration at the one-year anniversary of the death of Gruenzweig (who demonstrated against Begin's policy, in front of Begin's house, and was killed by a grenade tossed by another Jew). I was not there, I was on reserve duty, but your mother said that [your sister] got tired of it and left, and your mother asked you to leave too, since your leg was in a cast. But you were stubborn and said no, and walked the entire course. I was not there, but I would have done the same in your place. So I don't have anything to tell you about values.
But I have a few words of advice as you grow up. First, listen to people. If you then find you disagree with what they say, you may state your own views, but first of all listen to them.
Second, remember we are all people. We are people first and only then Jews, Moslems or Christians, and the mother of a Palestinian is not too different from the mother of a Jew.
And finally, you belong to a society. You may sometimes disagree with what that society demands of you, but you cannot put yourself outside it, you must do your part even if you disagree."
The meaning of the last part became clear when the rabbi added a few words of his own, telling that the father was among the paratroopers who went with their officers to Begin's office to protest the war in Lebanon. They told him: "We will carry out whatever orders are given, but our voices should be heard in the 'high windows.'" I guess there were some tears in my eyes again. The service concluded with parts of a striking poem by Ibn Ezra, and with "Aleynu."
These notes were written in a laundromat on Valley of Refa'im Street, while I waited for a washing machine to become free, before I found that for a small fee the owner would handle everything himself. I just had breakfast with Michael Swirsky, friend of the Gerwins [Maryland friends whose eldest son was in Jerusalem]. He was rather busy, intending to go back to Boston on Tuesday in order to wind up his affairs before "making aliyah" [emigrating to Israel]. He is tall and slim with a trim-looking mustache, and also shy and quiet. He has been in Jerusalem for four months now--on and off before that--and was working on a new translation of the Talmud. In fact, when we met he was about to go down to Mamilah Street (now Agron Street) to finish typing a manuscript into a computer.
I mentioned that I had already seen one translation and what had impressed me most about it was that even though it was printed on very thin paper, it filled an entire shelf. It seemed to contain a great deal of material, written in legalese shorthand and annotated with extensive footnotes. "Yes, that is the Soncino edition. It has some good things and some not so good."
His style of life seemed austere without displays of religious zeal. He told me that David, the Gerwins' son, was attending an English-speaking yeshivah but was thinking about joining a gar'in (a "nucleus" for a new settlement) rather than attend Columbia University as his parents had planned. Swirsky was not sure whether that was good or not--the experience might give David a maturity he might not attain in the US, but on the other hand, in 3-4 years he might be too far from academics to be accepted by Columbia. I mentioned the Hebrew University as a possibility--he felt its undergraduate studies were weak (its research, in contrast, was strong), that its students only attended to secure a diploma and that it lacked any campus life.
Returning home from there through the sprawling "Katamons" I again saw the slummy side of Jerusalem, which had struck me when I first entered the city. After 35 years, society was still far from being integrated.*** ***
Chance encounter at the bus stop across from the railroad station: the wife of a reform rabbi from Boston, arrived here three months ago and planned to stay another six. The congregation gave her husband a "sabbatical," to use as he saw fit, and they decided he would learn Hebrew in an "ulpan" in Jerusalem. Meanwhile their 13-year old daughter attended an Anglican English school. Why not a Hebrew school, where she too might pick up some of the language? Because back in the US, she would then not receive credit for that school year. The Anglican school was the only English school they had found, but it was OK, her daughter liked the other kids there. Was she herself also attending an ulpan? No, but she was taking two art classes, including private lessons from Israel's top rug artist--that was her field, rug making.
What did she like about Jerusalem? "Everything." Was there anything Israel could give American Jews? They could come here and get the feeling of Israel. She led a tour group here in February, and every American Jew should pay such a visit.
4 March--David Gerwin
Today I got less done than I had hoped. Mike Swirsky had little to say that was interesting, and Rabbi Ben Chorin was out (probably on reserve duty)--I spoke twice his secretary Shuli. I met David Gerwin and we toured the Israel Museum, but the exhibits were undistinguished. And when at 3 pm. we arrived at the Knesset, the parliament building, the gate was locked. I asked a policeman passing by and he said "Don't you know that everyone stops working at 2:30?" David's room-mate Steven bent my ear for an hour, and I was too tired to give him any inspiration--my legs hurt, and they still do. The Shekem store we visited was not what I had expected, not a military canteen gone civilian but a glorified K-Mart. None of the book stores carried any poetry by Aharon Kaminka or indeed any of the "good old books" I remembered, and the jewelry stores had nothing which seemed to fit Audrey's taste. The one solid achievement was getting my laundry done, and that cost 730 shekel.
The Knesset building I only saw from the outside. The magnificent architecture is offset by weatherbeaten plywood doghouses in the space between its inner and outer barbed wire fences. Israel's grand visions often stumble over such minor details. Some of the objects on display in the Israel Museum are quite impressive, but their typewritten labels are too small to be read comfortably and they lie on the bottom of their cases instead of being posted next to whatever they describe. The plaster model of ancient Hatzor is well done but dirty, because no glass enclosure protects it from dust. The weather outside the building is beautiful and spring-like, but visitors sweltered because the heating system is going full blast. But perhaps I am spoiled, having lived for decades next to the magnificent Smithsonian.
Among all exhibits, the "Shrine of the Book" stands out with its unique display of the Dead Sea scrolls. The scrolls can even be read, though not without some effort since the letters "hey", "chet" and "aleph" all look alike. I sought and found the place in the scroll of Isaiah (near its beginning, the order of chapters differs from the canonical book) where it says "Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts", just one repetition and not two.
But the grand design of that shrine again stumbles over trivialities. The shape of the building was designed to resemble that of the jars which had held the scrolls, and the central pillar inside the room also had some related role. But the architect ignored the rain that would enter the open mouth of this "jar", and it is now capped by an incongruous fiberglass cover.
David Gerwin attended "Yeshivat HaMivtar", i.e. the " yeshivah of the road cut," probably named for a place in eastern Jerusalem where it started. According to David it was founded by a Rabbi Bravender, who had a falling-out with the Hartmann Institute, apperently a big institution in the world of Talmudical studies. Rabbi Shepherd of the Jewish Day School in Rockville, David said, was at the Hartmann but was preparing to return to the US, since his attempt to "make aliyah" did not work out.
The yeshivah has about 60 students from the US and about 10 from Israel. Located in Kiriath Mosheh and housed in two apartment buildings (3 and 4 floors) with a dining shack between them, the yeshivah struck me as filthy and unkempt. Stairways needed painting, the toilet smelled of piss and its floor had a dark patina, the dining room floor was grimy, papers littered the grounds, wallpaper peeled as did paint on window frames, and so forth. I had counted 140 yeshivoth in the telephone book: how typical was this one?
I met David in the large study room. A Torah ark stood in the middle and long bare wooden tables and benches were arrayed around it, for students studying the Talmud. No decorations, nothing soft or ornamental to suggest that a woman had ever set foot in the place. David was sitting across from his room-mate Steve from New Jersey (Shlomo in Israel): yeshivah students study in pairs, like Rabbi Akiva's students 18 centuries ago. They were now studying Baba Metzi'a, the section dealing with torts (legal damages) which I too had to study in high school, and were trying to see whether by joint effort they could derive the "pshat", the ordinary meaning of the text (as distinct from its overtones), without having to peek at the translation.
David looked good, tall and lanky. However, he had only been in Jerusalem for three weeks, he still had no bus schedule and in leading me to the Israel Museum he made a wide detour to the central bus station. In those weeks he had visited Kibutz Lavi in the Galilee with Mike Swirsky, and he was willing to guide me through the Shiloah tunnel, which he had already traversed twice. We agreed I would call him next day to set an exact time. He planned to spend Passover with the family of a friend and told me he would be back in the US in June--no word about any gar'in.
He has two room partners, Shlomo and a boy from San Francisco named Stuart, who appeared briefly and left. The room is a mess: all three beds unmade, walls covered with snippets of tape which once held corners of pictures, shirts hanging from the bed frame and science fiction novels on David's end of the desk, together with a tractate of "Sanhedrin" scheduled to be studied later in the week. I suggested to David it might be a good idea to assign turns in cleaning up and to paint parts of the room, but it was not appreciated.
Shlomo escorted me out, saying he had a problem he wished to discuss. We finally sat down on a bench in the median strip of HaMe'iri Avenue and he then said that he wanted to talk to me because I worked on space research. The next 30 years, he said, promised great advances in space--space stations, a moon base, maybe new propulsion methods--and he wished somehow to enter that field. It had been a dream of his, for instance, to get involved in the biology of long-term preservation of human life by hibernation. He recognized it as a dream, and then he added, maybe he had read too much science fiction.
How could such dreams ever be realized? He had earned good marks in high school science, had studied math up to calculus, and felt he "has a very good mind." But he had turned down, for unclear reasons, an opportunity to attend the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Instead he spent two years at Yeshivah University in New York and had been in Jerusalem with Bravender since September. He wanted to sort out some things first, he said. His father was a professor of liberal arts and also painted, and his mother wrote, mainly poetry: both had decided in December that they would "make aliya" within the next two years. His father planned to either paint or to sell real estate--"probably real estate, that's where the money is."
Anywhere but in Israel all this would sound strange, but much of what one hears here seems unreal. I have watched the news. In Ramla a body was discovered, hastily buried in a Moslem cemetery. It turns out it belonged to the wife of a Romanian Jew, exhumed from a Rishon-LeZion Jewish cemetery by religious zealots because she had not formally converted to Judaism. Another item: rabbis warn that Cohanim, descendants of priests, may be barred from a new high-rise office building (as they were from cemeteries) because of rumors that an underworld victim was buried in its concrete foundations.
Related item: The cost of a mikveh (ritual bath) recently completed with government funds rose by $70,000 when an ancient pit filled with skeletons was discovered beneath the building. For kashruth reasons, the floor had to be raised, and the pit was opened to the air "to let the impurity out." Meanwhile income taxes collected are down by 30% from the previous year: I sense a deep crisis somewhere. Item: the opening of a new newspaper was disrupted by union newspapermen, demonstrating against non-union labor. Violence has stopped deliveries and no copies have reached Jerusalem.
I am quite worried about Israel. Not on account of Syrians or Palestinians, but because of too many unresolved conflicts and too many people without firm support. The Israel museum is filled with watchmen, chatting idly: I answered the phone for one of them, it rang and no one was tending that station. Everywhere one sees empty shops, with shopkeepers sitting and waiting for their few customers. Only the kibutzim still seem healthy. Haifa still works--as the Herbew rhyme goes, "Haifa works, Jerusalem studies, Tel Aviv dances"--but Jerusalem doesn't study as much as pray, and its population is reported to have reached 500,000.
Israel has grown bigger, but has not evolved far enough. It has an impressive high-tech industry, kibbutz factories also do well (up 6% this year in exports) but extremism has spread and poverty persists.
What does it mean? For now, not much. But the world is drifting towards crisis, too many people and too few resources. Famine already has a foothold in Africa. The fortunate few might do well--US and Canada, Russia and China, Europe and Australia--but their generosity towards the rest is limited, and even with the appreciable aid it receives, Israel is still close to the edge. It would survive if that aid is cut, but life might become terribly austere. Since I left here the population has doubled: maybe such a small country can support them well, if enough vision and thought are shown. But for now, not enough of these is evident.
This morning I mentioned to Naomi, in whose home I stay, my visit to the yeshivah and my concern about religious extremism trying to dominate Israel. She became animated. "Why do you waste your time in yeshivoth? Go to the Old City, to excavations, to Kiriath Anavim, enjoy yourself." The yeshivoth, she said, would not exist if Americans did not support them. Who attends them? Misfits who could not be accepted even by the lowest college, so their parents get rid of them by sending them to study in Jerusalem, to keep them far from cults and drugs. Though it costs a lot, they still save, a year's tuition at a university is $12,000 and at a yeshivah only $6,000. It salves the conscience of those Americans, "they are infantile." We don't need the yeshivoth. But who are we to tell them what to do?
"I know very well what these extremists are like. They are the reason I left the Old City. There was a yeshiva above me and I often talked to students. But this is Jerusalem, not Israel."
She goes on: "Seventy-five percent of those settling in Judaea and Samaria are American. Do people in America know that? It's not us, it's the Americans. Why do Americans send us their problems? We have problems enough here."
I say that maybe Israelis should bring their Jewish culture to America. "What should we do for the Americans? Listen, this is not our business. We have a hard life here even without this."*** ***
In the morning I got my hair cut down the street, where a sign in the window gave the hours "9 to 1, 3 to 7", while another sign stated "Begin Ba-Shilton, Shalom Ve-Bitachon" ("Begin in power [means] peace and security"). The barber arrived at 9:10 and I pointed at the first sign. "So what?"
Later I joined David and Shlomo to explore the tunnel dug by the servants of King Hezekiah for bringing the water of the Shiloah spring into ancient Jerusalem. That city is now outside the existing walls, on a low mountain spur.
The Shiloah spring is at the bottom of the Kidron valley and a Jew of near-eastern extraction was taking a ritual bath in its cold water. It gushed with remarkable force into a channel hewn in the rock and leading away into darkness. The three of us furled our pants, lit the candles which David had brought and stepped into ankle-deep water. I hung my shoes by their laces around my neck and put on expendable sneakers, since the channel was lined with pebbles and stones
The tunnel's height varied from 4 feet to more than 10, and at times one got a touch of claustrophobia. Its course twisted and turned, because the diggers had tried to skirt harder rocks: by the ancient account chiseled near the exit (now in a Turkish museum), the digging began from both ends and near its end the workers were guided by the sounds of their hammers. It took us about 40 minutes to go the full distance, relighting candles whenever they were blown out. Exit was in a deep Arab pool and just as we emerged a group of tourists appeared on the landing above, and as we dried our feet and put on our shoes, we felt as if we belonged to some exhibit.***********
These notes were written at the Hebrew University, in the Kaplun building for applied physics and theoretical physics. I was waiting for Professor Nisan Zeldes, the bright teaching assistant in my quantum mechanics class of 1953-4 and before that, in 1948, a defender of the Old City, among those who held out and in the end surrendered to the Arab Legion.
I arrived by a walkway connecting the physics laboratories. Seeking directions I entered an open doorway and asked a woman sitting at a desk inside. She turned around--thick glasses, a terribly wrinkled and craggy face (fierce sunlight can do this over the years) and started to explain. I stopped her in mid sentence:
--"What is your name?"
--"Mika [ nickname for Miriam] Rechavi."
--"Don't you recognize me?"
She was now in charge of radioactive materials, a step down from her previous work on the Mössbauer effect. She was planning a professional switch to computers, a "hassabah", and was studying LISP from two books on her desk. I had already learned long ago that her husband Gideon, one of our teaching assistants, had left her for a younger and prettier face. She said that she did go on to her doctorate. What about others from our class? Hava Bloch (now Yagil) was teaching school, David Gil was in Beer Sheva (I knew that), Gideon Gilat (Goldberg) was at the Technion, Yochanan Ramberg and Amnon Marinov had passed away, and Batia Shefi went back to her kibbutz, Beth Hashitah and was not heard of again.
On the bus I sit next to a girl soldier wearing on her sweater an army emblem, a sword wrapped in an olive branch on top of a book: as our sages had said, "the sword and the book came down into this world wrapped around each other." She is an education officer in "Beit Nachshon", a "midrashah" which conducts courses for students. Her specialty was Zionism and she was on her way to meet a group of soldiers at the Knesset for a joint tour. She was a draftee, not a career soldier.
I ask what she taught under "Zionism." She says history, ingathering of the exiles, ... immigration to Israel, "aliyah" or going up, (a biblical term), while its opposite was "yeridah," going down. What about emigration? "Actually, emigration is not a problem, when you look at it, the number of people leaving is not great." Let them go, she says.
I suggest that she was not addressing the reasons why people may be leaving. "Look, people come and go all the time, it is a normal thing. If they want an easy life, they go. If they want something spiritual, they stay."
And on religion: she opposes religious coercion, e.g. closing bus service and cinemas on the day of Sabbath. "So we need a constitution and then all will be OK." David Gervin had told me about the proposed constitution for Israel. All the easy items were accepted, but the Knesset was hopelessly deadlocked over the sticky ones, above all on the definition of "who is a Jew."
I think I have seen some of that girl's students. They have a center in the Old City, the "Jabotinsky House" entered from a small enclosed courtyard, a large room reached by stairs. Right inside the entrance hangs a bulletin, displaying among others the long poem "Everyone's Jerusalem" by Chayim Guri, which I copied onto my ticket from the morning tour. Later I saw some of the students, wearing blue ribbons on their shoulders, sitting outside the Hole Sepulcher and waiting, their assault rifles in front of them stacked in neat pyramids of about a dozen each.
I am back at Naomi's, tired and footsore, my calves ache and my left foot is blistered. I saw the Temple Mount in the morning and then the "Tower of David" (the citadel), bought necklaces for Audrey and toured a dig south of the city wall, under the direction of a pretty young woman named Shoshana. The last tour was a disappointment, because the ancient houses were not just cleaned after being unearthed, but were partially rebuilt to make them appear more imposing. One wonders whether ancient buildings would not be better preserved if left undisturbed, protected by earth from the acid rain. Around the base of the Herodian wall some dirt has been removed, and the newly exposed stones are far smoother (i.e. better preserved) than those above them, which have faced the elements for a long time. The foundations of that wall remain far underground, as some trial diggings--yawning pits, a danger to the unwary--demonstrate.
Paid a quick visit to Agron Street (its old name, Mamilah Street, still rings better) where the Hebrew University, in exile in the 1950s, had its physics department. The street was deserted--its residents were relocated to make way for an ambitious renewal project, repeatedly postponed for lack of funds. I looked for and found a sign remembered from my student days, crudely painted on the wall: "Holy Place, no pissing here" ["makom kadosh, asur lehashtin po"]. Could be the motto of Jerusalem.
Today another "winter chamsin" wind is blowing from the desert, the air is hazy, dry and warm. I never got to see Yad VaShem or the Knesset, and tonight, an hour from now, a swearing-in ceremony of new army recruits is to be held by the Western Wall, but I am too worn-out to go anywhere. I remember my own "swearing in," signing a form in June 1948, maybe also reciting an oath aloud in formation--everyone took that as a formality. A year earlier my group was sworn into the Haganah underground and that was quite formal. At an isolated place in the mountains we were led blindfolded into a room and had to swear our allegiance over an open bible with a pistol on top of it. Only after that were we allowed to train with real guns--very illegal then--with Beretta pistols and with Sten submachine guns labeled TMT, meaning local manufacture.
But back to beginning. Last night at 8 pm I had an appointment with Gabi Alexander in his Rechavia apartment, and with Rabbi Ben Chorin who appeared later. Gabi is an earnest bachelor, 32 years old, working for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on legacies and bequests. He told me he was looking for a good used car. He would be helped by a "car allowance," one of several subtle ways in which official pay could be augmented, and the price of used cars was relatively low, since many new ones had been brought in during the last few years, when Aridor headed the treasury and import rules were relaxed. The name of Aridor now figured prominently in the daily news. His policies had caused a fiscal crisis and were generally discredited, nevertheless he still occupied a high position in the HaMizrachi Bank.
What did JNF do, now that it no longer "redeemed" land by buying it from Arabs, as in the days of the British? First of all, Gabi said, it prepared land for settlement--built roads, possibly laid pipes (he was not sure), set up national parks and preserves, cleared rocks in hilly country and planted forests. It had also set up a daughter-company to sell land, which the JNF charter did not allow. Once national parks are established, the government takes them over, which allowed fees to be collected even on Sabbath, something JNF donors might disapprove of. The government also owned much of the land developed by the JNF, and sometimes the plans of the two differed. For instance, a forest was planted by Toronto Jews between Nebi Samuel and Jerusalem, straddling the "Green Line." Suddenly, houses sprouted there, part of the "build your own home" program sponsored by the government. The JNF solved the problem by designating a different forest as the donation of Toronto Jews.
Gabi told me he had seen a recent study of Jews in the diaspora. It concluded that "things are beginning to come apart" ("matchilim l'hitparek"). I proposed to him that our congregations should first of all establish formal ties. I would ask our president to write a letter, and he would add a brief history of Mishkan Torah; Gabi had already given me one of Har El, and felt that Rabbi Ben Chorin would probably continue the correspondence. After that, whenever members of one congregation happened to be close to the other, they would visit and interact. Of course, said Gabi, "you know these will be mainly visits from you to us."
Secondly, I proposed the exchange of material. They would send copies of their newsletter "Beyneinu" ("among ourselves") which appeared twice a year: Gabi was its current editor. In addition, there existed "Shalhevet" ("the flame") published by the Association for Progressive Judaism. How was all that linked to Reform Judaism? The US Reform Synagogue, he said, was one branch of the Association, the Israeli progressive congregations were another, and formally they were co-equal, as was the British organization of Reform Jews. In actual fact, the huge US branch outweighed all others in membership and resources, it paid the rabbi's salary and the rent of the building and without its support Har El could hardly exist. The members' dues only cover incidental costs.
The main seminary of the US Reform movement, the Hebrew Union College, had a school in Jerusalem, north of the King David hotel. All seminary students attended it in their first year of studies, to learn Hebrew and become familiar with Israel. A few of them came to Har El, but most attended services at their school.
Ben Chorin arrived later. Gabi is outspoken and an idealist, and to some extent so am I, but neither of us earns a livelihood from a synagogue. The rabbi does, and he was more circumspect. Earlier he sold me two prayer books for $12 each, though the secretary by phone had quoted $7 or $9 (she was not sure) and the one in Gabi's room had a receipt for the equivalent of $7 stuck inside. The books were not new, one had a stain--that annoyed a bit more.
He spoke very well and cited Giora Barkai's speech far more completely than I could recall, down to the intonation. He asked me whether I was a typical member of Mishkan Torah and I said, of course not, though I might be one of the few with a clear idea of what a synagogue should do in order to survive and fulfill its mission. He would like to see a neighborhood where Har El was the local synagogue, where the community was predominantly "progressive," as it was in the kibbutzim Lotan and Yahel north of Keturah, founded by the movement. Gabi was opposed, feeling that such a move would turn the movement into just another religious splinter. Ben Chorin also mentioned a plea he had submitted to the supreme court, concerning legal recognition of Reform rabbis. Gabi was skeptical.
In general I sided with Gabi, whose view was that the style of Har El should not change, but that its membership should be expanded. I compared the different styles of the rabbi and of Gabi to those of Herzl and the Russian Zionists--Herzl favored a grand political style while the Russians preached gradual acquisition of territory, "dunam after dunam." Ben Chorin's comment was that initially "dunam after dunam" was the right way, but once the foundation was laid it was Herzl's grand style which inspired Ben Gurion's broad vision of Israel.
It is easy to be attracted to Gabi. When only the two of us were present--either before the rabbi arrived or after he had left--he said that the Movement for Progressive Judaism held annual meetings and he hated them, there was nothing to them but talk. All meetings were held in Zichron Ya'akov, a pleasant but out-of-the-way location, rather than in a major city where they might have a public impact. He had declined the chairmanship of a committee at the upcoming meeting, it was not worth the 3000 shekel attendance fee. The last thing we agreed on: if for any reason the contact with Mishkan Torah would not work out, we would stay friends.
I had taken two buses to reach Gabi's home, but he recommended going back on foot, climbing the nearby hill. He was right. My pretty map of Jerusalem, drawn for tourists, neglected to include pedestrian stairways which linked streets and cut across their pattern. I was back at Na'omi's in half an hour.
6 March --Temple Mount
Today I appeared at 9 a.m. at the small tourist office above the Cardo, the reconstructed main street of Byzantine Jerusalem, for a tour of the Temple Mountain, costing 500 shekel. Shoshana was again the guide and although I was the only customer, she put on for me the intoductory slide show: I felt embarrassed but listened and learned a few new things. She told me that it now took a year and a half of study to get a guide's license; when I got mine in 1954 I only had to pass some tests.
We walked down to the square in front of the Western Wall, from which a ramp leads to the Temple Mount. Though the police guards the entrance, anyone is free to enter and tickets are only needed for visiting El Aksa, the Dome of the Rock and the Islamic Museum. My ticket is printed on rough blue paper and three of its corners are set apart by irregular serrations, made by hand (so it seems) with a cookie cutter, one to be torn off at each of the three sites. Shoshana did not buy any and remained outside to guard my shoes (removed before entering the mosque) and my camera.
The El Aksa mosque contains a big hall with long rows of columns, a dome at its southern end (facing Mecca) and rugs covering its entire floor. Parts of it were built not on solid ground but on top of arches, dating to ancient times and meant to raise the mountaintop to a uniform level. "Solomon's Stables" beneath one corner of the Temple compound are also like that, she said, but they may not be entered now. She added that the sides of the mosque used to be much wider, but its floor buckled during earthquakes and parts collapsed. Also on the lower level is the ancient main entrance to the Temple Mountain, cut off by the Turkish city wall of 1538. Outside that wall one can still see the broad stairs, hewn in the bedrock and leading to that entrance.
Interesting. If the arches are just as old as Herod's temple, then not just the lower courses of huge stones (like those of the Western Wall) were from that time, but also the smaller stones above, enclosing those "stables," which are often labeled as Turkish. It could be that the lower courses contained huge stones to foil any battering ram.
The inside of the mosque blends many styles and periods, because old parts are constantly replaced or renovated. Only the pretty golden flower-shaped ornaments under the dome are original: Shoshana explains that Moslems did allow decorative pictures of plants, but drew the line at humans and animals. One corner held a collection of books and of X-shaped folding book holders, and everywhere one saw small shelves for shoes, sometimes stacked one on top of another. The columns of the central arcade looked shiny and sported fancy stonework, and Shoshana said they were donated by Mussolini.
El Aksah stands on the level of the lower temple platform, where money changers and animal vendors used to conduct their business. Chief Rabbi Goren permits Jews to go there, arguing that there existed no possibility that they would inadvertedly enter the site of the "holy of holies." The entire Temple compound reminds one very much of old pictures from the time of the Turks--ancient stones, pitted and worn, open spaces and trees, no wires, no TV antennas or other intrusions of the 20th century. It felt rather reassuring.
We walked towards the eastern edge of the compound, towards the walled-off "Golden Gate" which, according to Shoshana, adjoins a fairly large hall of columns, set in the wall. The actual gate seems to be at a lower level. An archeologist once walked by the place, she said, a grave next to the wall caved in and dropped him several meters. He then clearly saw the gate and even took its picture, but when he came back later, the pit had been filled again.
She cited a Christian scripture according to which Jesus looked through that gate at the sanctuary, from a stated place on the Mount of Olives, now marked by a shrine. If the Dome of the Rock marked the holy of holies, the angle would be all wrong That led an Israeli physicist named Kaufmann to place the "holy of holies" at the small "Dome of the Chain" in the north-west part of the compound, the only place (other than the Dome of the Rock) where bedrock rises to the level of the pavement. We passed that place, it measured no more than about 8 feet across and little Arab children were playing in its shade.
All such interpretations are of course suspect--it seems more likely that the temple stood at the top of the mountain. Later, at the Holy Sepulchre, I listened to a long lecture by a scholarly guide, escorting a group of German theology students from Tźbingen. He said that Christian site identifications, even of the Holy Sepulchre, all dated to later centuries and were prone to error.
The Dome of the Rock is magnificent. Again, this ancient relic is being constantly renovated--the dome is now anodized aluminum, donated by King Hussein, and the tiles covering the wall are also new--some original ones are displayed at the "Islamic Museum," less ornate but still pretty. The interior is also beautifully decorated and stands in stark contrast to the large rough rock in the middle, surrounded by a wooden partition high enough to deter peeking. That is the "stone of creation" where, legends have it, Abraham bound Isaac for his sacrifice. Beneath the rock is a cave, and one can descend into it--it is quite big, about 20' wide, and has a 2' round hole at the top, resembling the neck of a Galilee-style cistern, like the one I once watched being dug at Majd-al-Kurum. Two small prayer niches face Mecca. Shoshana told me that public prayers were conducted outside the Dome, led from a raised stone pulpit at its southern end, and that at times the entire paved area was covered with praying Moslems. She also said that when men prayed inside El-Aksa, loudspeakers broadcast the prayers to the outside where women stood and listened.
The Islamic Museum next to El Aksa seemed more a storehouse of historic artifacts than a regular museum. The exhibits were all labeled, but no further guidance was given--they were not in any historic sequence and the visitor was not enlightened about the history of the shrines. El Aksa marks the spot were the Khalif Omar prayed, after conquering Jerusalem in 638. A converted Jew supposedly urged him to build a shrine over the holy rock, but Omar said Islam already had its holy stone in Mecca and refused to set up a rival. The Dome of the Rock was only erected some centuries later.
The exhibits, though, are remarkable enough. Huge old gates, illuminated books hand-written on parchment, the remains of a wooden pulpit donated by Salah-a-Din (or by his brother Nuri, I forget) and burned down by a crazy Australian visitor, a cannon formerly used to signal the end of the daily fast during the month of Ramadan, old tiles from the Dome, even its former pinnacle, a huge (16') piece of brass topped by a crescent. One is impressed by the exhibits, even though one does not find out enough about them.
By that time Shoshana had left. Before leaving she told of James Parker, a crazy Englishman obsessed by a search for buried treasure in Jerusalem. First he sought it in the Shiloah tunnel, managing in the process to clean out its accumulated silt; before that it was so narrow that the explorer Warren only managed to get through it on his second attempt.
Then he bribed a guard on the temple grounds to let him dig inside the cave of the Dome of the Rock. Another guard however raised an alarm, he was caught and brought to trial. He then asked to go back to his ship on parole, to bring his clothes: he was let go, got aboard and escaped. That was in 1911; in 1948 my friend Nisan Zeldes (now professor of physics in Jerusalem) was captured in the Old City, released on parole by the Arab Legion to visit his dying father, and kept his word to come back to the POW camp. So says Dan Kurtznman, in his book "Genesis 1948."
By bus to Haifa, where I met Dan Lorenz (see below). Stayed again with aunt Rivka.
Friday, 9 March
Yesterday I presented my colloquium at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology, where I earned my final degree), in English. Carefully prepared but too technical, it went over the heads of the audience; a talk at the level of "Scientific American" would have been much more appropriate. I met many faculty members, including Moshe Fibich, last seen in Maryland 20 years ago, his face surrounded by a wild growth of graying hair and beard. Nathan Rosen came, a bit aged but healthy, as skinny and gaunt as always, and after the talk he came down and shook my hand. Later I found he was 75--Asher Peres had published a paper in the American Journal of Physics dedicated to his birthday. I was terribly tired and went to bed early.
Dan Lorenz, former classmate in high school, is now dean of admissions at the Technion. I visited his office in the morning--tall and white haired, with a bushy white moustache, but recognizably the same kid whose picture I took on Yeshurun Street, after my wartime high-school class received its graduation diplomas in 1949. He still has that picture in his album--it also showed Moshe Matri, now a successful attorney, Daniel Wolfenstein, an engineer in St. Louis and Michael Warburg, professor of biology at the Technion. Both of us had studied physics: in October 1950, a month before I was discharged from the army and started attending the university in Jerusalem, Dan enrolled at the University of Illinois and later at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and therefore we never met again. He returned to Haifa ten years later with a Ph.D. in mathematics--his thesis involved many-body problems in celestial mechanics--just after I had left the Technion for the University of Maryland. Yet some contact must have continued--there is a postcard from him in my old mail. He had taught classes in the past but was now an administrator, proud of cutting the admission paperwork by simplifying forms and using computers.
Our high school was "Chugim", a private school founded and led by Ya'ir Katz, and Dan told me that it went downhill after the man died. For a while the school kept going with Eliahu Weinstein (one of our former teachers) as principal, but after he retired or died it posted a growing deficit. Dan then became one of the trustees and two years ago he convinced the rest of the board to hand over the school to the city, which continued to run it as "Municipal School Chugim" and improved to some extent.
I asked him about Zvi Alter, a young man who had worked in the school's office and also taught some classes at the end. Dan said that he was now a successful attorney and mentioned that in 1960 he had been one of the prosecutors in the trial of Kurt Sitte, my thesis adviser at the Technion who was jailed for "contact with a foreign agent." Luckily, I had by then finished my thesis and had moved to the US, in nick of time.
And the rest of our class? Dan said that two years earlier it held a reunion of sort, catalyzed by Orah Marcus, whom I recall as a little girl living right next door to the school. She had changed her name to Eleanor and was now Eleanor Granot, lived on the Western Carmel and was disappointed she could not meet with me. Adina Chakla'i was now Adina Gofer, living in Moshav Tel Mond, and Giora Lachman was a systems engineer in Minneapolis, he had a good job in Israel but his wife talked him into settling in the US.
Nathan Soraski was a contractor, Moshe Matri and Danny Wolfenstein had already been mentioned, Avram Rocheli ran seminars in Tel Aviv and Shlomo Karo used to be an engineer with Israel Shipyards, but had disappeared from the scene and might be in Holland. Others were named, but Dan wasn't sure where they were. As I was leaving he invited me for dinner on Sunday, at his home.
Carol has arrived from Keturah and is staying over the weekend with Louise and Avivi Lev; she had worked for Louise at the National Institutes of Health when the Levs were in the US, a few years earlier. We met at 8:30 am at the upper station of the Carmelit funicular subway: an awful dust storm was blowing from the east, the sky was white with dust. Later when we sat on a bench on the Panorama Road promenade and talked, we could only dimly see the port below; the town of Acco, ten miles across the bay, was lost in haze.
We went that day to see the old Technion, but it seemed empty and its main gate was locked. The old "cosmic ray tzrif" (shack) still stood, the place which once housed the lab in which the group tried to manufacture Geiger counters. In the yard outside, one night in 1957, I strung a wire across the yard and tried to detect signals from Sputnik, but could not tell which of the many beeping and warbling signals was the one from space. The shack was still surrounded by the 6' wall built to protect it from bombs during WW II. But it had been repainted and my chalk inscription above the door "Abandon hope all ye who enter" (in Hebrew and Italian) was gone.
We next visited a small "Museum of Science" on the second floor of what used to be the garage of the "Miktzo'ee", the trade school attached to the Technion. It was small but well designed, and most of its exhibits were visitor-activated: push a button and something happens. To demonstrate the Archimedes principle, for instance, a piece of metal was suspended from scales with a digital electric readout. A knob attached to a long shaft allows the visitor to raise or lower a glass of water, so that the metal was partially or completely submerged, and the scale showed how its weight decreased in proportion to the amount of immersion. A teacher-engineer in charge ("engineer first" she told us) confirmed that many of the exhibits were adapted from the handbook of Frank Oppenheimer's "Exploratorium" in San Francisco.
A crowd of school children arrived, from the central school of the Jordan Valley kibbutzim at Beth Yerach, and were shown to the movie room. We went there too and saw an impressive movie about Israel's medical technology and about a research center at the Technion which employed radio-isotopes, CAT scans, fancy EKG instruments, peritoneal dialysis systems and similar techniques. We continued to the Dagon grain elevator (which everyone in Haifa calls "silo"), arriving barely in time for the tour. We saw there a small but interesting exhibit on the history of cereal grains in the Near East, with appropriate archeological artifacts. The workers of the "silo" take turns guiding tours, and ours later took us to a hallway upstairs, where she used a miniature working model to demonstrate the functions of a grain elevator.
From there we went to Bank Le'umi, to open an account for Carol. One finds a surprisingly large number of banks on Independence Way, the main street of downtown Haifa (Derech HaAtzma'uth, formerly Kingsway). There and indeed in all of Israel, banks as a rule seemed to be filled with stacked papers and in constant disorder. A customer across from us had just exchanged $20 for shekels, the teller girl had handed him the money, he turned around and walked out, and suddenly she remembered that she had not received the dollars from him. Sitting behind the counter she could not run after him, but I did and stopped him just before he was lost in the mass of pedestrians. He seemed a bit surprised, but came back.
Afterwards we lunched at "Abed's" oriental restaurant on Paris Square, next to the subway station. It was housed in an old high-ceilinged building, airy, open and almost deserted. Next to us sat a fat regimental sergeant major, treating his office girls to chummus, tachina and noisy banter. We ordered a kebab lunch which was quite good, and were halfway through the meal when a young girl entered and wandered among the tables towards us. She addressed me in Hebrew: would I buy a book from her--this book, the one she brandished? I read the title: something about the road to happiness, then smaller print below, and among the words on the third line, "Krishna." No, thank you. She continued to the other tables.
We then took the "Carmelit" funicular subway to the top of Mt. Carmel and agreed to join a hike of the "HaPo'el" club next morning. Grocery stores close early on Fridays and we had barely time to shop for bread, halvah and other food to take on the hike.
For dinner we were the guests of Louise and Avivi Lev, in Dania. Dania is the upscale suburb of Haifa, a ridge of free-standing "villas" branching off near Haifa University, on the top of Mt. Carmel and a long way from the center of town. Only four buses serve the neighborhood each day, two in the morning and two in the evening, so car ownership becomes a near-necessity. The road is too steep for bicycles and children used to get around by hitching rides, until a few months before my visit when a hitch-hiking child was abducted and murdered. Now everyone was tense and one resident was planning a mini-bus shuttle around the quarter as soon as he found enough subscribers.
Avivi had himself designed his house and had subcontracted its construction, which lasted three years. It is much larger than it appears at first glance: two large balconies, four bedrooms, bathrooms tiled with ceramics from Israel and Italy, even three reserve rooms below, to be finished if ever the need arose. The basements of buildings on a slope (like this one) must be legally walled off, but like many other home-builders Avivi made sure that it could not only be entered but could also be easily converted to habitation. The basement rooms even have window-openings in the cast concrete, blocked off by cinderblocks which can be knocked away for the conversion. None of this was mentioned in the building permit, but if the rooms are ever finished the city would accept them de-facto, though of course real estate taxes would rise. The balconies face the valley of Tirah and the nature preserve known as "Little Switzerland," a beautiful view.
As we arrived, the Levs' 12-year old, Yo'av, was about to leave, to spend the night with a friend. His sister Vered was a cute little girl, while his brother Oren, close to 16, was a regular he-man, muscles like a bouncer and face hair that needed to be shaved daily. He was planning to get a motorcycle when he turned 16. At age 13, in the US, he had decided to become a vegetarian, and under his influence his brother had recently become one too. Dinner was delicious--both meat and lasagna, also new potatoes, salad with tachina dressing, another salad, strawberries for desert and wine. We then talked and watched TV, although, in truth I was rather tired, had been so for the last few days. As Avivi took me home I told him about Carol--to my surprise he had never seen her until the day before.
One more person at the dinner table was Rosie, foster child to the Levs for the previous month. Her parents were divorced, the father lived in Massachusetts and the mother in Haifa. Rosie was a school friend of Oren, who brought her home and told his parents that Rosie's mother had lost interest in her. Amazing but apparently true: in the month Rosie had lived with the Levs, her mother made no attempt to contact her, though she knew where her daughter was. I was told that instead of devoting time and attention to her daughter, the mother was busy welcoming the crew of the battleship "New Jersey" which visited Haifa. The father in the US, on the other hand, was very much in touch, and Rosie planned to join him that summer, as one of her two brothers had already done. She also promised to come back and serve in the Israeli army: quite a cute girl, she was given a room of her own and was treated like one of the family.
10 March Hike with Haifa club 10 March 1984
Carol slept at the Levs--Rivka set up a bed for her, next to her own in the other room, but Avivi said no, he would bring her in the morning, no later than 7:10 (he might have mistrusted me). At 7:15 the bus of the hiking club was supposed to pass Moriah Road, it was a bus of the "Egged" cooperative, hired for the day, and it made a long circuit through the suburbs. It came on schedule but Carol did not: it turned out the Levs overslept, and later they took Carol on a tour of Ussefiya, on the crest of Mt. Carmel. The day was a gorgeous one, the dust storm had ended and the sky was blue and clear.
The hike was led by David Balush, who recognized me from 25 years ago and declared I had not changed. He too looked the same as always, though his eyesight had become poor. In truth, the average age of hikers was higher and most were rather old, walked more slowly and stopped more frequently than in the good old days.
The bus arrived at the club's traditional departure spot outside the "Amphi" movie theater, and everyone was ordered off for a headcount. One girl's face seemed familiar, though the name had slipped. "Aren't you from Tel Adashim?" I asked her. Yes, it was Miriam, the kindergarten teacher, then and now. She had been married and divorced, but no children "to my sorrow."
Later Miriam Schoenfeld told me the rest of the girl's story: after the divorce she fell in love with another member of the hiking club, a Finnish boy. Unfortunately, he was of priestly descent, a Cohen, and the rabbinate refused to let him marry a divorcee. Others have solved such problems by visiting Cyprus and undergoing there a civil ceremony, which is accepted de-facto. Here no such thing happened and the boy married someone else. In any case, he too is gone now, of a heart attack.
Miriam (this one) told me she rarely hiked with HaPo'el any more, the hikers had become too old for her taste. She was very much "into" nature, took close-ups of flowers and always knew their names. The bus took us all to a stop near Kfar Shammai and from there we followed the dirt road to the Ein Tina spring, in Hebrew Ein Yakim. On the hill above stands a skeletal police station from the 30s, pock-marked by bullets, down in the valley was the pumphouse supplying the town of Safed, and there we ate breakfast. We then followed the main trail past the abandoned mills of Wadi Tawachin, along pools in the stream, but there was no opportunity for swimming because the year had been one of drought and the water was quite low. It was a leisurely stroll which finally stopped in a grove, near the juncture of the trail from Safed, and there we sat and chatted, it was too soon for another meal.
Then we turned around and went upstream, along another branch of the stream to Ein Djinn (Hebrew Ein Po'em--all names are now Hebrew). Beneath the large fig tree outside the spring we ate our lunch. The day became quite hot and since Miriam was bored by the long stop, she proposed climbing up the hillside to some intriguing caves visible in the distance. One of them contained a swarm of wild bees and we kept our distance, and in another Miriam discovered the skeleton of a small mammal, perhaps a coney. Many wild flowers grew everywhere and the bees were quite busy around them, but otherwise not much was to be seen and we climbed down again, gingerly.
She also showed me something I had never known, what a "pag" was. The Song of Solomon states "the fig tree has embalmed its winter-fruits" (HaTe'enah Chantah Pagey'ha) but I never knew what the words meant. She showed me, on the tree besides the spring. A fig tree puts out fruit in the summer, but there also exist a few winter-fruits, budding off uselessly from limbs and generally dropping off when touched. These are "pagim", errors of nature. "Pag" in modern Hebrew means a still-born child.
Finally everyone rose and we continued along the dirt road, through a dry rocky valley, and after a while we reached the Safed-Meiron highway, across from the restored tomb of some holy man. An ice-cream truck was waiting where we emerged and so was our bus, I bought a popsicle and climbed aboard for the next leg of the trip.
Our last stop was Biriya, and outpost settlement established in 1943 north of Mt. Canaan. I remember being told about it by our troop-leader in the scouts in quite heroic terms, we even learned a song about it. Now it was history, with a dusty museum and an indifferent caretaker. Nearby were picnic grounds and an overlook opening to a grand vista of the Nebi Yusha peak and the Jordan Valley, though Mt. Hermon across it was hidden in clouds.
The ride back was a drowsy one. Towards its end Miriam, who sat beside me, told she had read in a book that plants were affected by violence and that measurable changes occurred in their growth if one threatened loudly to pull them out by their roots. It also described a machine to alleviate and even cure all afflictions of plants "and maybe also people." I asked, her, did she believe that? "I find it very interesting."
13 March Visit to Ag. Dept. of Technion
Sitting at the bus stop, waiting for bus no. 31 to the Technion which only runs once each hour. Sunday it was half an hour late. The road is wet, rain fell last night but Rivka said it came too late to save the crops. Lightning and wind had accompanied the rainfall, and two days ago an Arab boy in Faradis was killed by lightning after taking shelter under an isolated tree in the field. An old yekkete sitting next to me says "it's winter, isn't it?" Bus 24 picks her up and I continue to wait.
Yesterday I once more visited Menachem Golan, hoping to record his recollections about Prague in the fall of 1939. He did not want to be recorded. What was the use, he said, the world was going to hell anyway, an atomic war will probably come and wipe out all of us. Once more he was outspoken about Arab wrongs and about Jewish fanatics. He had been to a little Arab village near upper Nazareth (Duweish?) which can only be reached by dirt roads, in order to meet an Arab student from the University of Be'er Sheva, chosen there as leader by some 400 students. He was punished by a confinement order (Tzav Rituk) which forbade him to leave the village. Golan said that the laws which made this possible were originally decreed by the British Mandate government in its fight against the Jewish resistance, but were now never applied to Jews.
At the Technion yesterday (12th) I paid a visit to the agricultural engineering department. My cousin Itamar, in kibbutz Erez, was thinking about enrolling in the Technion, and I looked for any advice that might be useful. I was directed to Dr. Dani Wolf, head of the Center for Power and Machinery in Agriculture, a large man with greying hair, friendly and forthright.
"Tell your cousin that the best investment he can make now is in a bus ticket, to come here." He then added that he would gladly talk to Itamar personally. He knew people like him, trying to return to studies in mid-career (he knew Erez, too) and they should be prepared for four hard years, devoted mostly to abstract matters. Before Itamar committed himself to such a course, Wolf said, he ought to visit the Technion and make sure that what he would get was indeed what he wanted. The first year in particular covered mostly theory and hardly any practical work at all.
As for the preliminary remedial class (mechinah), it might be more convenient to take it in Be'er Sheva; because of Itamar's long absence from studies, he was well advised to choose the longer of the two courses offered. After that the first year at the Technion would be the hardest--studies get easier afterwards. The difficulty may also be reduced if he started his studies in Be'er Sheva and transferred afterwards to the Technion, and that would also keep him closer to home. However, such plans should be first coordinated between the two universities. As a compromise, he could consider a 2-year course leading to the degree of "engineering technician."
13 March 1984
My Hebrew lecture at the Churchill auditorium went quite well, but the hall was only half full--I estimated about 300 students. It was a historical review written on the airplane about the discovery of the radiation belt by Van Allen, an easier and more descriptive talk than my earlier one in English. Had I given the same talk at the physics department, the audience there would probably have been much more satisfied. Arnon Dar introduced me at this talk and later, while escorting me back, said that it went much better than the two earlier talks in the same series, concerned with astrophysics.
Afterwards I spoke to Steve Lipson, chairman of the physics department, about prospects of a sabbatical at the Technion. He said I ought to apply a year ahead of the time for a "Lady Davis Scholarship", an application which automatically includes consideration for other funds as well. I would receive the salary of an Israeli professor, $1000-1400 per month, plus $95 for a housing allocation, although monthly rent came to $300-$400. Those numbers came from Tzachi Gozani who himself was on a sabbatical (25 years before we had been graduate students together) and who had a lot of trouble with his apartment, rented unfurnished. He recommended I find members of the faculty planning a sabbatical that year, and rent from one of them.
I could teach a course, if I notified the Technion 6 months in advance, allowing its inclusion in the syllabus. But I had to name a contact person, someone I would be coming to work with. The Technion had no interest in space research, but might develop one in plasma physics, which was close enough. And yes, I could state in my application that I planned to use my time to write a text.*****
Coming out from Lipson's office I met Professor Hirsch, white haired, three years left before retirement and rather angry. The students in an annual poll select the worst lecturers of the year, and the 7 names which head the list are forwarded to the dean. Hirsch was among those, and the dean had written to him, suggesting that he study ways of improving his teaching. Hirsch himself felt rather insulted. He is training now his 19th graduate student, has a lab on magnetics and on the Mossbauer effect, and was wondering aloud who would take it over when he retired.
Another old-timer I met was Arrigo Finzi, who told me that Dick Wolf was a student of his, and a very good one. Arnon Dar, in contrast, seems young. On the way to the auditorium he told me that in 1962 or so he met Sitte (presumably at some foreign conference) and was told that he wanted to come back to Israel. The conversation made Dar uneasy, because he wondered what Israeli security may think of his consorting with Sitte. He said that most probably Sitte had no secret information to give away, his only proven transgression was in providing a list of students with families in Eastern Europe, who could thus be pressured. Whether he did so willingly or not he did not know (I think Sitte at that time had a sister in Czechoslovakia). The authority to whom Sitte's sentence was appealed (chief justice Hayim Cohen?) felt that Sitte has not given away any secrets, but that the wording of the law forced him to uphold the verdict, for it stated that anyone having contacts with foreign agents had to prove his innocence or be judged guilty. That law has since been abolished.
On the bulletin board was a notice encouraging faculty members to take "Chalat" (acronym), which Bertina explained meant "chufshah le-lo tashlum," leave without pay. The Technion (like other academic institutions) is strapped for cash, the treasury has demanded cutbacks but so far none were carried out. Bertina told me this in her office, where she was preparing a problem on Coriolis forces for her students. She told me that her daughter was studying architecture and was working at it very hard. Tel Aviv, she also said, now has an engineering department which competed with the Technion, but the Technion still rated higher.
I got off the bus from the Technion at Romema and went to pay a visit to Miriam. Surprise! Photos were waiting for me, taken by Zvi on the trip to the Galilee. We talked about various matters: Zvi, in particular, urged me to invest in an apartment in Israel, so that if I (or any of my children) wanted to settle there, we would have a place to come to. He said that cost of apartments has kept rising throughout the years, and those who lived abroad should think about settling in Israel, for there existed no other safe place--anywhere else, he said, antisemitism was bound to arise.
Later we had refreshments--it must be tough to stay skinny in Miriam's home, I wonder how Yehudah accomplishes it--and then Zvi and Miriam offered to drive me to Rivka's. Just short of our goal we stopped at a pedestrian crossing, and there was Eliahu Anabi, another mutual friend from nearly 30 years ago, he used to live next to the stairway leading up Mt. Carmel, behind the Rothschild hospital, and we often met at the hiking club. Now his hair is white as snow, but his voice is unchanged, and the unexpected brief meeting was quite a happy one.
In the evening I was invited by the Sassovers, James and Leni, old-time friends of the parents. They had meant to see me, but had no free evening on their schedule, so instead I was invited to participate in a reception for the Hon. Bob Graham, Governor of Florida, who was visiting Israel.
I walked over to their home from Rivka's, draped in my poncho, a good thing since a rainstorm began just when I arrived. The door stood open and there were lights outside to guide the guests, most of whom had not yet arrived: I was warmly greeted by James, by Leni, by their son Gadi and by Gadi's wife whose name I ought to recall but don't. James has visibly aged, has wrinkles and brown spots on his face (Gadi handles most of his business--custom clearing etc., I believe), but he holds himself firmly and speaks clearly, though walks only in tiny steps, as if he avoided bending his back or knees lest they hurt. He is the consular agent of the US in Haifa--a post of which only 24 survive (5 in Spain, 1 in Peru etc.), local people who fill the gap in places where a consulate had been closed. For this he is paid $10,000 a year--not much, but tax-free in Israel, which makes all the difference.
Leni is a small but lively woman, delightful and unpretentious, and the party was her idea. Governor Graham was on a 5-day tour of Israel, including all major cities: in Jerusalem he had a hotel dinner with Teddy Kolek, in Tel Aviv a similar one with the local mayor, and something like that was also planned for Haifa, with the consular agent making the arrangements. That was when Leni stepped in, saying, the poor man must be sick and tired of dining in a different hotel every night, why doesn't he once see Israelis in their own homes, in a less formal setting? So she arranged a buffet dinner--three types of Chinese-style meat dishes, cold potato salad with pineapple and walnuts and dressings, shredded salad and shredded carrots with peach slices. And in addition, a dessert of chopped oranges, figs and bananas, final dessert of delicious baked goods, all this washed down with "Montfort" wine and with champagne: it was easily the best meal I had eaten on the entire trip. Their spacious living room and dining room were just right, and I cannot imagine any local hotel doing better.
Gradually the guests arrived, a total of 14, distinguished citizens of Haifa and Americans of the governor's entourage or of the consular staff (plus myself). Only a few names stuck in my memory, and those may or may not be spelled correctly here.
The Israelis included Mayor Gur'el of Haifa, a little scrunched-up man with a broad smile and a folksy Hebrew accent. He was elected from the Labor Party and later, when he spoke, he reinforced my impression that the best talent in Israel is found not in politics but in the army.
Also present was a gray-haired gentleman named Chanoch who said little but turned out to be the manager of the port of Haifa. One name noted down was Recanati--only later I found out that the Recanatis were a wealthy and generous family, the building of the Economics Department of the University of Tel Aviv bore their name, as did one of the main streets nearby.
There was also a professor of business administration from the Technion named Rosenbaum, a jovial and slightly fat fellow with sharp perceptions, he had just come back from a stay in the US and holds both US and Israeli citizenships.
And Yitzchak Unna, former consul (4 years) and later ambassador (5 years) in South Africa, now retired. As we ate off small tables or held our plates on our laps, sitting in a circle around the living room, I found myself sitting next to him and he told me about South Africa. He spoke Afrikaans fluently and because of this, he felt, he received a better view of the feelings and attitudes of Dutch South Africans--he also said that the English-speaking part of the population had no influence on politics. He said the white Afrikaans-speaking citizensn strongly resented the way other nations shunned them, their reaction was "they act in ignorance, they don't know what it is like here", and felt flattered by the fact that he, Unna, spoke their language. He also said that the role of blacks in society was growing in spite of the apartheid policy, because the economy depended more and more on the black population, and blacks have started to appreciate this. He gave an example: blacks commute daily to Johannesburg from their giant shantytown Soweto outside city limits, and one day a railroad bridge collapsed and the trains which usually carried workers into the city could not pass. All commercial activity in Johannesburg stopped, and the lesson was not lost on the blacks.
(I couldn't help but think of the increasing dependence of Israel's
The Americans included Tom Recher, commercial officer at the US embassy, who was present because one purpose of the governor's visit (apart from the obvious message to Florida's Jewish voters) was to seek economic ties between Florida and Israel. He spoke quite a bit, but not much about Israel, having only arrived 6 months earlier. With him was Bill Ashlar, a distinguished-looking consort of the governor; I think someone said he was a former admiral and he certainly carried himself like one.
Finally there was a gentleman from Talahassee named Tom, advance man for the governor. He had made two prior visits to Israel in order to prepare the trip, and showed me a printed booklet (passport size) giving the planned itinerary, practically hour by hour. Starting in Jerusalem, a meeting with Prime Minister Shamir, with President Herzog, with Mayor Teddy Kollek, a visit to the old city, Mt. Scopus and to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial (first stop). Later, a visit to Or Akiva (tied somehow to the Miami Jewish community), to the Elbit computer plant where an agreement with a Florida company was signed, and so on. After Haifa, the governor was scheduled to go to Nazareth, then the Sea of Galilee, then back to Jerusalem, and on Thursday he flies back by Swissair.
After dinner a general conversation began, and I thought at one point that this would be all, but at 10 the Hon. Bob Graham rapped a spoon against a wine glass and quieted everyone. He then said a few words about his trip--I have forgotten most of it, but remember that he spoke smoothly and very clearly. He was a big fellow with black hair combed straight back (gray strands in it), and with a rather businesslike attitude. He has come to learn more about Israel, he said, and there were several questions he wanted to ask us. For instance, there was talk of forthcoming elections: what difference would it make, if Labor or the Alignment won? A tricky question, but James Sassover answered it diplomatically and quite well.
There were others. What could Florida do to help Israel's economy? Here the mayor answered: he knew that Walt Disney had set up in Florida a unique entertainment park, and would like very much to see something equally unique established in Haifa. Israel was the land of the bible, he said, and many tourists, especially Americans, would appreciate seeing the bible come alive, in some sort of "bible-land park." The more he spoke and developed that theme, the further I cringed inwardly, because it all sounded so terribly hackneyed. But if the governor felt that way, he never showed it, because he deftly fielded the idea, pointing out that the State of Florida and the Disney organization, while cooperating with each other, were separate entities. He then suggested to the mayor to forward his proposal directly to the Disney people, even named channels through which this might be done.
At the end there were toasts--I forgot to what or whom, but James Sassover made the first one and again I felt that he spoke extremely well. By the time I left the rainstorm had passed, but Yitzchak Unna volunteered to drive me home. On the way he told me about his family, which came from the Danish-German border in Schleswig-Holstein: one ancestor had a drug-store there right on the border, allowing him to trade with both sides.
Now I sit with Carol at Rivka's place, waiting for Avivi Lev to pick us up. Carol, had came to Haifa for the weekend, and next Sunday, at about 4 p.m., Ron, her former friend from Springhill Lake, Maryland, arrives to visit her. She planned to take him to Keturah and to various hostels etc. around Israel. I will have left by then, but hope that her acquaintance with the Levs will continue and that they will constitute for her a support family in Israel, if any need arose.
Dania actually means "Denmark", because the only entrance to the quarter is through Dania Street. Other streets are also mostly named after North-European locations--there is a sign inside, "Truck drivers, do not go through Antwerpen Street, use Finland Street." A road block was set up at the entrance, policemen checking drivers' credentials, blocking the road very effectively by means of a folding contraption, a folding zigzag array of iron strips lined with nasty spikes, stretched across most of the width of the road. It was hard to navigate my way in the dark, especially with only a hazy idea of where Sweden Street was, since the city map of Haifa did not reach that far. It took some wandering, during which I roused uncounted dogs (some trailed me for a while, an uncomfortable feeling), before I found the place. Like the Levs' house, this one too appeared small but was in fact huge--three levels deep, four if you count the illicit basement. Dan was still attending a late meeting in the Technion (later he phoned home, so he did not detour to pick me up)--and I was welcomed by Dalia Lorentz and the children
Dalia is handsome and friendly, and the kids (like the parents) all have D-names--counting down, Dorit, David, Dan ("Dean") and Dafna, ages 20, 18, 16 and 14. Dan's mother also lives with them--I forgot her name but everyone calls her "Oma" anyway. Her Hebrew is poor and the kids don't understand her German, so conversation with her tends to be in English. Dorit studies economics at Haifa University, she is skinny with a large chest and wide hips, and with her was Ron, a friend, formerly an artillery officer on duty in Lebanon but now leaving the service and about to start a coast-to-coast tour of the US with two fellow-officers, 3 months in all.
I asked him what he felt about Lebanon and he said that he had opposed the invasion from the beginning. The first part, going up to Beirut, was tough, he said, even batallion commanders and division officers had little idea of what was going on. The Syrians were a dangerous opponent, he said, and at one time, through a series of planned retreats, they drew Zahal into a trap in a valley. They had prepared a defense line there, and managed to destroy 20 tanks in a short time.
Then for a while it was fun, he said, in a beautiful country. But after a while it stopped being any fun at all, with soldiers sometimes posted 50 meters from the "terrorists" who sniped at them and who could be could plainly seen. It was still like this.
David is in boot camp, Dean and Dafna are still in school. All have inherited Dan's height and his big nose. Dan showed me a picture of his father, in WW I German uniform-- exactly the same face as his. Dalia was born in Naharayim, still occupied by Jordan. "I tell everyone I am a Palestinian, I too was evicted from my home." The family life is warm, the kids help each other: I get this feeling over and over again, of a quality of life far better than America's. When Oma enters the conversation everyone humors her by switching to English, but soon it is all Hebrew again.
Dalia is a psychologist working with children (lately also with grown-ups) on "transactional analysis," using creative writing to get children to express their fears and desires. The family was twice in the US--once for two years in Louisiana and Charlottesville, on a sabbatical, then again one year in Charlottesville, 7 years ago. This year another sabbatical was due but they won't go because David has just entered the service, and they are furthermore bothered by new taxes, which might mean that dollars which Dan would earn abroad might be taxed by the Israeli government at its own high rates. The two countries, I was told, have voluntarily practiced reciprocity in taxation, but the agreement was never formally ratified.
Dan arrived and we all had dinner together, very pleasantly. Oma left early but the conversation kept going long after the food was finished. I later went down to see her apartment--Dan had fixed up for her the lowest level of the three, two rooms, big balcony (with a tremendous view, same as the Levs'), tiny kitchen and services. It holds her familiar furniture and she feels at home there.
He built the house on a lot he bought in 1961, paying 100 Lirot per month for 10 years, for a property so far out of town that others told him he was crazy. He designed the house himself, it is actually a 2-family house, split down the middle--the other half belongs to a friend, who bought from him half the lot, 350 sq. meters, which provided cash for starting the construction (the Technion also helped). The area of the house itself is 200 sq. meters--again, the legal limit is 30% of the lot, but people find ways around that, stairs are not counted, part of the living room is classified as balcony, and so on. On the top level are kitchen, dining area, living room and den, a bathroom, maybe a in the daytime bedroom. It contains a fireplace and a ceiling-high "showcase" terrarium illuminated by day from a skylight and at night by fluorescent lamps. It is filled with plants and looks like a picture window. Below are bedrooms, and below that, what used to be a basement is now Oma's apartment. Still more space is enclosed below.
Over all this, Dalia rules very kindly. She made a superb dinner, mediated between the kids, told me about the family and was overall very pleasant. Dan has married an outstanding person. Of his own work he told me that his thesis was on the use of generalized functions (distributions) for solving Liouville's equation in celestial mechanics. He was not too interested in research--more in math education. He knows of Shmuel Avital and of Shimshon Amitzur, who according to Avital was one of the movers in math education in Israel now. About Amitzur, who taught me freshman algebra (I have 5 or 6 notebooks, testimony to a dogged effort to keep up, not always successful), Dan says he is "a good mathematician but a bad teacher."
Continuing next day from Ya'ir's desk, in his office behind the kitchen of the kibbutz dining hall. He is the "econom" in charge, but I don't know where he is now.
In Haifa, at the gray concrete central bus station, I was rushing to catch bus 921--ducking quickly into the "services" (that's what "rest rooms" translates to), then quickly out again, and was dashing towards the bus when suddenly a policeman grabbed me by the arm. I stopped and saw that there was hardly anyone on the platform--all the people were crowded at one end, and the policeman directed me to join them.
"Watch out for an abandoned object" say the signs on buses and in public places, and now I know what it means. About 10 minutes later there was a bang, and there went an abandoned suitcase, which most likely someone forgot to take aboard. I better keep close tabs on my luggage from now on.
At the kibutz, since Ya'ir was not at his desk, I looked for my cousin Tilly (Chamutal) in the cowshed. A bunch of cows with bulging udders stood there, waiting in front of the milking parlor, but no Tilly. But inside the cowshed a photographer was busy with a professional-looking camera on a tripod, floodlights and umbrella reflectors, all aimed at the dirty rear end of a cow, next to which, on a milking stool, sat a poker-faced man.
Later I found out: this will go on the cover of a new record album. I have a photo of all this as souvenir.*** ***
Ya'ir arrived while I was writing these notes. As econom, he was responsible for the food and for the kitchen in the kibbutz: he had studied nutrition in Oregon, with special emphasis (and a project paper) on the nutrition of athletes. Later at lunch he proudly recommended "his" chili con carne (good ingredients, but bland) and still later told Chamutal "we are having fish for dinner (he named it, something from the Sea of Galilee). They still have not fixed the freezer, and three days is the limit for fish." Two hot meals a day is an unusual luxury in a kibbutz! He also gets for the kibbutz meat of cows retired from milking, and Tilly says that the shochet has testified that the meat was unusually lean, which meant high quality.
Ya'ir is a short man, physically trim, rather skinny and quite cheerful: I'm quite short, butboth he and Tilly are shorter than me. In addition to his kibbutz duties, he trains rigorously, and before I left at 4 p.m. he went to run with a colleague, in spite of a drizzle which later turned into a downpour. Tilly arrives after a while, she has a mop of hair and windshield-size glasses, talks and smiles nonstop. She now uses her full name Chamutal, "Tilly only in Erez and Poriyah."
We sat down with a friend named Martin, who seemed more at home with English and who asked me about spaceflight. Later Chamutal told me, "he (Ya'ir) collects people. Martin, for instance, everyone at the kibbutz hated him. But Ya'ir managed to work with him, and now, through this work, he turned out quite nice."
With Martin sat a Swedish volunteer named Janet, who just today finished her ulpan, a big blonde looking as a big Swedish blonde is expected to look. Tomorrow her class is scheduled to go on a tour of the Golan heights. She works with Chamutal in the cowshed, and is supposed to put in 2-3 hours of work daily, but in fact gives much more: a while ago, Chamutal said, there was a shortage of workers and she put in 10 hours per day. Her Hebrew is a bit weaker than her English, but not by much.
Later I escort Tilly to the cows. Her speciality is raising calves, she feeds them colestrum from jumbo-size baby bottles, and as I stood by she tried with no success to teach a 2-day old calf to drink from a bucket. She is rather proud of her work, proud that the cowshed is cleaner than the one in Erez, which she keeps telling Itamar whenever they meet. Of course it is: she washes the floor all the time, and sprays insecticide to make sure flies never bother her calves. As a result, they all survive (except those born defective), while Erez, she said, loses 20%-30%. And as for the birth--no longer is the calf pulled out by hand, now there exists a pulley contraption, braced against the cow, the legs of the calf are tied to it, and voila! Males are kept a few days and then are sold to be raised for meat, females are kept. Dumb looking brutes, cows and calves both.
The whole setup operates like a factory. Silage and grain are slopped into troughs from a cart pulled by a tractor--unlike Erez, HaOgen hardly feeds the cows any wastes, except for squeezed oranges--udders are washed from below by sprinklers at the entrance to the milking parlor, even the milk fed to the calves is not fresh but is reconstituted from powdered milk which arrives in large bags. Everything is tuned to a constant cycle of converting fodder to milk and in the end, meat for the kibbutz.
Once the chores are ended and Tilly has finished hosing down the floors and the big containers, we go to her place. She and Ya'ir share a 2-room apartment, a living room and a smaller bedroom, plus a compact kitchen through which one reaches the even more compact "services." The fridge stands outside, and Ya'ir has converted the entrance porch into a large greenhouse by enclosing it in reinforced transparent plastic, over a framework of laths. The plastic is made locally, at HaOgen's factory, and Tilly has filled the space with cacti and and potted flowers.
The inside is a mess, the first untidy home I have seen in Israel. "What do you expect, when two confirmed bachelors marry? I had three rooms full of junk and Ya'ir had a lot too." She searches high and low for the letter she has written to me but has not yet managed to mail, 10 pages long, it is somewhere beneath the shambles (later Ya'ir finds it). The living room has a wall of bookshelves with a sofa and tables facing it, a TV with remote control, and my gift of a "Walkman" (delivered by Pninah) lies next to it. Trophies everywhere, a whole row of them on a high shelf, and on the wall behind the sofa, posters--the New York Marathon (mob scene at the Verranzano Narrows Bridge), the scene after the finish line (an assortment of exhausted people) and a large central poster of Bear Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Tilly presses into my hands two albums of pictures of Hagar, lovingly annotated--"I was born on...etc.", "I like... (this and that)", they even contain a hand-drawn birth greeting by a local artist named Guterman, quite well known as illustrator. Hagar herself is in the baby house and we go and fetch her in a crib-pram combination, locally fashioned out of iron bars. Out of laths and HaOgen's transparent plastic Tilly has improvised for it a rain cover, which was quite effective later on, when Tilly escorted me to the gate and the rains came. The whole thing is sturdy as a truck and drives like one, but Hagar does not mind the bounces, she just smiles on and off while her eyes scan the horizon.
Tilly has grudgingly accepted placing Hagar in the baby house, but is determined to fight a later transfer to the childrens's house, she had written to me that she's prefer leaving the kibbutz (P.S.: as she did). Compared to Erez, HaOgen is much older (36 years), much larger (900 members), and seems well organized, not just in the dairy department: the houses and grounds are laid out with a care that makes Erez look haphazard. It is a rich kibbutz, too, thanks to its plastics factory which produces plastic sheets, floor coverings, tablecloths, even "three-rollers" to hang up next to the toilet with spare rolls of toilet paper. Chamutal brings me one, promises 10 more by mail, and also gives me a tablecloth, which I forget behind when I leave.
We talk about this and that. When the time comes to pick oranges, I am told, the kibbutz employs many Arabs from Tul Karm, and there are only 2 chaverim (members) to supervise. "But it is thus everywhere." Chamutal tells me how she once visited Erez and was told by Chen how everyone was conscripted at melon harvest time to sort melons (Itamar showed me the huge rig built for the job, a fantasy in conveyer belts).
"Just sorting?" asked Chamutal. "How about picking?"
Ya'ir himself, however, is not happy with the hired labor. I find this by chance--I have picked up a book to serve as backing to write upon, and it turns out to be HaOgen's 25th anniversary publication. Idly, I look through it, and suddenly I am reading what Ya'ir had written there, on how disturbed he was with hired labor in the kibbutz.
Ya'ir arrives and we drink coffee again (caffeine is a diuretic, as I am reminded all too well later, aboard the bus). He describes his plans: he is coming to the US to run in the Boston Marathon the day before Passover, then he flies down to Philadelphia where he will celebrate the holiday with his friend David Loewenthal. Then at the beginning of June he plans to come to New York, to stay with friends and (promise!) visit my parents. From there he will go to Philadelphia, then a few days in Greenbelt, and will continue to Oregon to train for the games. Tilly already begrudges Ya'ir his 3 weeks at the Olympic village, because the marathon is run on the very last day of the games.
I asked Tilly what her plans were, other than kids. She wasn't sure. She liked organizing sports and when she first arrived, it was proposed that she should take a lead in organizing regional sports in the Emek Chefer district, the way she used to do in the Jordan Valley. At that time it came too suddenly, she said, and she declined: now it was a bit late. In the Jordan Valley, she says, she had about a dozen settlements to deal with, most of them kibbutzim: Emek Chefer has 36 settlements, but most of them are Moshavim (shared fields but independent homes). The regional sports manager is a semi-permanent moshavnik, with a hired outside helper. Tilly did not care too much for the helper, forgetting for the moment that she, too, used to be a hired outsider in a similar position.
She feels that socially the kibbutz is too mediocre. But what about Guterman (who drew Hagar's card), and about the painter Shraga Weil, and other local artists? She gets more specific: she meant the kibbutz women. She does not plan to become a teacher--working with calves seems more interesting. Writing, perhaps? After all, I remind her, she wrote long letters, and wrote well. Yes, she had thought of that. She used to write better--maybe she will go back and put more effort into writing. And she is happy that Itamar has finally decided to attend the Technion, she has been pushing him in that direction for a long time.
She escorts me to the gate with Hagar riding in the mobile cage and me hiding under my poncho. It is pouring, and the car in which she had planned to take me to Netanya has been taken by someone else, while another car scheduled for this time has already left. An Arab cab comes in, then turns around and drives out again. I ask the driver, where is he going? "Ma'abarot"--down the road a kilometer. I then ask, how much it would cost to the main road, about one mile. "Come in" says the driver, impatient to have the door open. An older Arab with a clean white kaffiyeh sits in the rear and I guess he is paying for it all, because I get to ride free. "You are not from the kibbutz" says the driver to me, and I admit this, and ask him where he is from. "Wadi Ara."*** *** ***
On the bus I sit next to a schoolteacher from Kerem Maharal, between Zichron and Atlith: she is reading a booklet for teachers in public religious schools (public schools come in two flavors), about the historical background to the scroll of Esther. She tells me a bit about her school, about how she tries to smuggle interesting readings into her bible course, which is far too brief to cover much of the bible. I arrive in Haifa at 6 pm--and I had told Rivka (informally, but remains my fault) that I expected to be back by 4. Yonathan and his family are waiting for me at her place. We have a simple dinner (the main meal is lunch anyway), talk and watch a silly show on TV. Yonathan tells me that while he had been uncertain about whether he would be in uniform during the Passover Seder, now he knows that he will not--he received his call-up and it is for the day of the North-African Jewish holiday "Maymunah", on the last day of Pessach (or the day after, I forgot which). Yonathan is first sergeant in armor. Until last year, his father had conducted all Passover Seders, and now he wonders how he would do so himself.
Back from Menachem Golan, with a little over one tape recorded. But it was disappointing--what he told were mostly highlights of his own life and his work with the emigration office in Prague, and he did not even remember seeing my mother there! He thought he only became acquainted with her through his sister Perla in Palestine.
When he came to Palestine, he said, his name was Menachem Goldenzeil, and for a while he studied under Martin Buber and others. Each poor Jewish students in those days had a stipend of 3 Pounds Sterling per month for 2 years, provided by more wealthy families (e.g. Greta Kornfeld, whom he later married, supported three). Then his friend Leo Baum got him a post with the military censorship, and after he enlisted he continued in that job with the British Army in Iraq, rising from sergeant to captain, acting major.
After the war ended he looked for a civilian job, and competed with Baum for the job of assistant to the secretary general of the Mandate government, John Shaw. Baum won, and was killed at his desk when the Irgun blew up the wing of the King David Hotel where John Shaw's office was located (I recall it was widely said at the time that Shaw, who happened to be out of the building, was the main target). At that time Edwin Samuel founded the radio weekly "HaGalgal"--"The Wheel", more precisely "The Zodiac" since its logo was the zodiac mosaic of the Beth Alfa synagogue floor. It was the largest Hebrew weekly at that time. Menachem joined as newspaperman, then became assistant editor and finally editor, and he stayed in that position even after he incurred the anger of management by refusing to publish an officially dictated editorial on the "King David" bombing.
After Israel was founded he held various official posts, ending as consul-general in Johannesburg. At that time there was a dispute involving the ambassador, and Golda Meir dismissed the entire staff and called them home for investigation. Because of some problems with pressurization on the airplane, Golan's son Gidi (Gideon) became short of breath, was taken off in Switzerland and needed there a tracheotomy and another operation. All this agitated Menachem and he sent a cable to Golda, telling her that because of her rash act, his son was in difficulties, and that if he died, "his blood is upon your head." That ended his diplomatic career.
Bat Shlomo 15 March (notes written on 16th)
Yesterday I spent the day in Bat Shlomo, with Eli, my cousin Rachel and their kids, and I can now see why Yonathan and Rivka look askance at Eli. The way they live is indeed a bit strange, and while Eli is full of plans and optimism, one may question his judgment and worry about it.
Bat Shlomo was founded in 1897 and the Friedmans live in one of the 13 original homes, though its old stones are now masked by stucco and its high ceiling has been lowered. They rent it from an old woman who lives in Petach Tikvah. In 90 years Bat Shlomo has grown only slightly: the rotation list for guard duty, on the wall of the tiny post office which opens 2 hours a day, has 37 men, Eli among them, so I estimate the total population at 200-300. The village consists of two parts, separated by the busy Wadi Milk highway: the old original houses form one short street on the southern side, and that is where Eli lives, while the newer homes are on the northern side, and there he is building his new home. The two parts used to be connected by a pedestrian overpass, made of precast concrete and perched over a highway cut-through, but about a year ago a tall truck hit it and brought it down, now it rests besides the highway.
The old part begins about 500 feet from the road, and at its entrance stands a small old roofless stone house (perhaps 10'x25'), which Eli and two friends, all from the Bat Shlomo moshav, want to convert into a restaurant. It is one of Eli's wild schemes, and there is already new wood framing on the top, waiting for tiles. However, only one of the wives of the three has restaurant experience, the place is too far from the road, and furthermore, because of the lay of the land, approaching drivers cannot see it until they get quite close .
Behind Bat Shlomo is Mt. Heteri, now called Mt. Churshan, covered with pine trees. I remember the name from around 1942, when my teacher Ya'akov Amikam took the class for a hike through Benjamina to Zichron, where we slept on benches in the school. Next day we continued to the children's village Shfeya and to Bat Shlomo, and he told us the name of that prominent green hill. Ya'akov, who was missing a thumb (I never found out why) later had a farm in Kefar Yehoshua--once I visited him there for a week, and he also came to visit my parents in Kastina. Yonathan had known him, and he told me that Ya'akov died about a year ago.
Across the highway is "new" Bat Shlomo, a bit larger than the old one, and higher up, behind it, is the tiny "Yemenite quarter." Then comes an open hillside with flowers, scatterd shrubs but no trees, and since this land is underlain by the gypsum-like rock of Balad-E-Rucha, not as green and sculptured as the hard limestone of Mt. Carmel. On top of the hill stands a concrete water tower and behind it, past the crest, is the skeleton of Eli's new building, isolated from the rest of the village. It is quite big and it has a small outbuilding behind it. Eli says "it" (the small building, it later turns out, not the large one) will be finished by Rosh Hashanah and that in April, with the new fiscal year, a road will be built from Bat Shlomo to pass in front of the house. But right now Eli's little car must bounce along the existing rocky road.
Eli keeps building. The wall contains plastic water pipes, also electric wiring in plastic conduits, and shingles already cover part of the roof. Walls have been plastered in the small building, and Eli plans to move there as soon as the place becomes habitable, though the location is out of sight of both old and new Bat Shlomo.
Eli is a large man, somewhat gangling. Three isolated patches of hair sprout on his face, his cheekbones and the bottom of his chin, his pants hang untidily and one of his shoe has "opened its mouth" where its sole has separated from the rest. Arik's shoe has the same problem: Arik is his older son, about 11 years old, who has followed us by bike to the site. He has his mother's angular nose, is skinny and likes to play, especially to pop balloons or scraps of balloons held between two fingers. He is in the 5th grade and as we walked back to the house (Eli drove) he told me that he wanted to become a technician "like his dad." For the last two years he has been learning to play the accordion, and is doing it quite well.
The house is in disorder. It is an old house remodeled, but its walls badly need repainting, the children have left scribbles on them and because of a moisture problem, the plaster is loose in one corner. Eli says that their stay in the house is temporary, and that they have to repaint anyway before leaving. There are no rugs, and the furniture is old--some belongs to the owner, an old woman now with a relative in Tel Aviv, and so do the books in a low bookshelf, many of them dating to before WW II. I discover an old favorite, "With Allenby in the Conquest of the Holy Land" by Lowell Thomas and another writer, translated into quaint old-fashioned Hebrew (gas tank is "petrol magazine"). But there's no time to read it all, and it's not worth stealing.
The boys share a dingy room, and that is where little Zevik (Ze'ev) now lies sick: he is 5 years old and resembles Eli. Rachel thinks he has a fever but is not sure how much: later he suddenly recovers. In addition to the two sons there is Hila, in 2nd grade: all three kids plan to attend a Purim party and later, in the parlor, we help prepare their costumes. Rachel finishes a pair of cloth-and-wire butterfly wings for Hila, to be worn on her back, I make a multicolor paper hat for Arik who wants to dress as a balloon vendor, and Eli finishes a cowboy hat, also of paper, for Zevick. The parlor is long and narrow, at one end is a TV being fixed by Eli, his multimeter lies next to it, and at the other end stands the Friedmans' own TV, with remote control. Most of the TV sets I have seen in Israel have remote control.
I constantly find myself comparing. The water in Israel, for instance, Greenbelt's water is just run-off rainwater, quite soft and tasty: Israel's water comes from underground, where it has collected assorted salts. I wonder what a century of drip-watering with such water does to the soil.
On the other hand, Tnuvah ice cream is superior. Vanilla ice-cream has genuine vanilla flavor, and often one finds in it pieces of vanilla--it is not the bland nondescript taste which passes for vanilla in the US. Mocca and strawberry flavors are equally good.*** *** ***
Lunch at Eli's--hummus with Druze flatbread, kept from drying by a plastic wrap, then "schnitzel" of breaded boneless chicken, salad and potatoes. The kitchen seems shabby, as does the entire house. But one can get used to it: I remember the year I lived with Pninah in Tiberias, when her kitchen was worse than this, her bathroom much worse, and even my parents used a "utility" icebox which looked like a tinny 2'x2' safe. When I first arrived in Haifa on this trip, Rivka's apartment seemed shabby too, but it is a palace compared to Eli's house.
The yard has weeds everywhere, also fruit trees filled with ripe fruit, and some grapefruit on the ground are already turning green with mold. A black puppy whines outside, its name is "Flash" and it is said to be about 6 weeks old. Flash is a foundling, one of 3 puppies cast out by someone of the village, and the children have decided to adopt it: Eli says "someone who knows" had told him it is probably a Belgian shepherd dog. Later at dinner, Flash whines under the table and is banished to outside the door, where he whines even louder. Arik implores, "Let him in, he will whine all night," but is told instead to arrange a permanent place for the dog in the storage room in the back.
Eli is a technician at the "Laboratory for Evolution" of Prof. Nevo at the Haifa University, and he takes it easy there. "If I worked with all my strength I would get no further, so why should I try?" He showed me the lab on the trip from Rivka's place to Bat Shlomo, and took me to the newest room there, used for DNA work. The professor is assessing the diversity of species, using in particular the native rat-mole, a largish and ugly mole which produces big mounds of soil. The lab studies its various subspecies, has examined (for instance) whether a given subspecies, given the choice of nesting in a wet cool area or in a dry warm one, will choose one or the other. I wonder what such knowledge will be useful for.
The offices of the university are in a striking 30-floor tower, visible from much of northern Israel. We ride the elevator to the top and walk around an outer gallery with large windows: in the middle is a lecture room, where a meeting on history and politics (or something like that) is in progress. The classrooms are housed in a large building of three or so levels, attached to the base of the tower but designed to blend with the hilltop, so that the tower, from the road, appears solitary. The effect is dramatic.
From there we took the Wadi Falach road to the coast. It seemed unchanged--except perhaps a little wider from what it was when my father taught me driving there. Damun is still a jail, surrounded by tangles of barbed wire, Ya'aroth HaCarmel has been abandoned but there is a new sanatorium behind it.
Later Eli takes me on another trip, to Mt. Muchraka at the south-eastern end of the Carmel range. A good road now leads to the top, and for 100 shekel a person we are allowed to the lookout roof of the monastery, from which a wide view opens. To the west one can see as far as Hadera, to the giant twin chimneys of Israel's new coal-fired power plant--the coal comes by ship to a jetty next to it. To the north stretches the runway of Ramat David--I once served there, but do not recognize anything. To the left, Tiv'on and Ramat Yishai and the kibutzim of the valley. To the right, below us, the urban spread of Yokne'am, then in the distance Nazareth, Mt. Moreh and Mt. Tabor, and still further away the gap between mountains through which the valley of Beit She'an descends to the Jordan valley and to the gloomy mountains beyond the river. Even though clouds hide Mt. Hermon, it is a terrific view.
Out in the yard we pause before a statue of Elijah the prophet, whose altar supposedly stood nearby--it carries a quote from the book of Ben Sirah. We briefly enter the church--its rough-rock altar is clearly modeled after Elijah's--and then drive to Daliya't Al-Carmel for gas. I volunteer to pay, but Eli is too proud.
I continue from Ramat Gan. The Sabbath here is a liability, not an asset: I should have arranged to spend the day with the Mandeliks in Rechovot, but Rivka had already made arrangements with her brother Rafael, who came from Nazareth in the middle of the afternoon and took us all in his car. Rafael retired a year and a half ago from the Upper Nazareth Housing Authority, and now has a job with the municipality of Upper Nazareth, checking complaints connected with the public water supply and maintaining public relations. His son Beni is a bus driver with Egged and both are today in Netanyah, to watch a soccer game between HaKoach (which they support) and Maccabi Netanyah.
Yesterday, on the coastal highway, I asked him what he thought about a piece of news I had heard on TV, that Arabs were now settling in Upper Nazareth. He says, it is true, about 600 Arabs live there now. "Why not? There is a housing shortage among Arabs." The housing authority does not sell to Arabs, he goes on to explain, but there are Jews who move elsewhere, maybe to bigger apartments, "maybe to a more desirable place." When they sell, he says, they naturally try to get the best price, and sometimes Arabs pay the most. "I lean to the left a bit, so I say, why shouldn't they be allowed?"
He opposes to any unnecessary discrimination, such as that practiced in the past by Christians against Jews. "It is true, a difference exists. There the danger never existed that Jews would rise against the state of the Christians."
I ask: "How do you know whether the Arabs here plot against Israel?"
"No, you cannot check every single person in a democratic state, to make sure whether he does or doesn't. But with Upper Nazareth, we really have no choice."*** *** ***
He drops me at Ben Zion Kozlovsky's house in Ramat Aviv, a high-rise with tiny elevators and a central "security tower" of reinforced concrete, a sort of a high-rise bomb shelter with entrances on every floor. Ben Zion was at Goddard in 1974 for a sabbatical year: I officiated at his son's Bar Mitzvah, that year when the congregation had no rabbi. Originally Ben Zion had planned no Bar Mitzvah for the boy at all, but then we agreed that I would just call the boy to the Torah, no fee was involved, and any party he held at home after the ceremony was his own business.
Ben Zion had been back at GSFC for a stay of several months (he works with Reuven Ramaty on nuclear reactions of astrophysics), up to about a week before I left, and he had told me that I would be welcome to stay at his place any time I chose. So I called him a week earlier and he said fine--but then later he told me, I could stay only one night, because his son who was away (in the army?) wanted to come back for Purim. One night was all I needed, though-- that night Raphael would be sleeping in the home of Rivkah's sister Zilla, but the next day, after the soccer game, he would drive home again, leaving space for me. I run up, leave my stuff and come back with the key--Ben Zion and Esther are going out in the evening, only little Yonah stays and he is sick, he will watch TV but should be asleep by the time I return.*** *** ***
My visit to Eli continues to bother me, his blend of extravagant plans and dismal reality. Why did he settle in Bat Shlomo--against the wishes of Rachel's parents, who footed much of the bill (this from Rivka)? His explanation is that he ultimately wanted to take up farming, since he also owned 30 dunams (7 acres) of land on the way to Zichron. But right now the land is rented out to someone who has planted it with wheat.
Why Bat Shlomo? "Because the government supports all that is connected with kibutzim and moshavim. Look, the land for the house was free, or anyway about $1000. A plot like this in Tiv'on costs $50,000." The work for clearing those 30 dunams of rocks was also free, and there were other incentives (I think, also in the way he acquired the land itself). But meanwhile he spends time on other things: he is attending a course on sailboat navigation, learning how to determine position at sea from the sun and stars. In the past he had a side income from fixing TV sets, but this stopped 2 years ago: he lacks a proper workshop, and Yonathan told me that he has not kept up with recent developments.
Is Eli symbolic of a trend? Israel, too, has grand dreams but not enough appreciation for the economic nitty-gritty, except in kibutzim. I debated this with BenZion today as he took me for a stroll to show me through the Ramat Aviv neighborhood. It is the newest and most prestigious part of Tel Aviv: the further north one goes, the newer and taller the houses become, until at the northern edge (where dunes take over) they go up to 16 floors, maybe more. We walk west, and there too the houses end abruptly at a row of hedges, beyond which are scrub-covered dunes all the way to the see, probably on public land. Running across them is the busy coastal highway and in the distance one sees the Reading power station, even a little of the sea.
I had wondered all along what had started the economic decline, and no one, it seemed, could tell. Now, from Ben Zion, I find out. Until October, the Bank of Israel bought and sold dollars at an official rate of 60 shekel. But the rate was too artificial, the government found itself selling more dollars than it could afford, so the official rate was first raised to 85 (as Carol had told me), and then it continued to rise, creating an inflation of perhaps 300%-400% per year. The exchange rates quoted--125 shekel to the dollar when I arrived and 145 now--are thus not a freely floating rate determined by the marketplace, but are prescribed by the national treasury. The intent seems to be to lower the value of the shekel until imports become unprofitable, but when that will happen, one cannot tell.
[ Postscript 14 July 1984. The process did not work too well, because most wages in Israel were indexed to inflation. Thus as imports became more expensive, when valued in shekels, the cost of home-produced goods also rose, in proportion. The crunch ("shchikah", grinding up, a popular term in Israel now) came at the second-order level--the indexing is updated only every 3 months, a time long enough for prices to double, while wages stay fixed. Strikes protested this gap, and the government, when I was in Israel, was negotiating partial in-between compensations.
In any case, the controlled devaluation of the shekel does not match the actual process. Stu Liebermann just came back from 3 weeks in Israel and told that while he was there, he read that "the rate on Lilienblum Street" was about 270-280 shekel per dollar, compared to an official rate of 211 (now it's 253). He knew where in Tel Aviv that street was and decided to go there to see for himself. Indeed, he was approached there by several people, and offered 318 shekel for a dollar. He sounded rather indignant that such things were allowed in Israel and were even openly reported in the press--though he also said (if I heard him right) that he did exchange some currency there.
Added February 1985. A year ago, much of what I saw made me think of the 1929 depression. The crash of 1929 was just the beginning of a long downward slide--it was only by 1931-2 that breadlines and foreclosures hit in earnest. In Israel, last February, I sensed something similar--a change had begun, but had not yet run its course.
I now realize that the parallel with 1929 is an apt one: bank shares already had crashed before the government had stopped shoring up the shekel (as early as in January1983?). As described in these notes, banks had proliferated throughout the country: the public speculated on their shares and the price of such shares gradually rose far above their true value. That was probably where Eli had lost his money. A board of inquiry was appointed, and its report was published in early 1985--it blamed both government regulators and the banks. Underlying the crisis, of course, was the gap between imports and exports, and the lack of economic self-sufficiency: this is why even now, a year later, the crisis is still developing. Gasoline, so far, is not being restricted. And poor Shim'on Peres, now prime minister, has no more vision to deal with the situation than Herbert Hoover had in 1929.
The exchange rate is indeed being manipulated. The previous finance minister, Aridor, was replaced when he proposed "dollarization", pegging all prices to the dollar. Since prices in stores are already (overtly or implicitely) dollar-linked, one may ask--why not link the currency? The official answer: "because it will rob the government of fiscal flexibility." Translated: the budget is still out of balance, and the government squeezes out a bit of extra income by devaluing its currency. Dollarization would put an abrupt stop to this: no inflation, but also no windfall.
For the last 3 months, there has existed a wage-price freeze, and some stabilization has taken place. But unless the government's budget is balanced, a day is approaching when some government workers or bills will be left unpaid.
BenZion and I argue over such matters. With 25 years of life in America behind me, I now feel Israelis rely too much on government control, that they expect the government to be able to take care of everything. Someone had told me: "Do you know how much a refrigerator costs now? $1000. There are 80% taxes. It is too much. The government should at least provide a small refrigerator at a popular price."
I know now that in prosperous countries, such as Switzerland, the US and Japan, prosperity arises outside the government, not from it. But not everyone thinks so. During our drive towards Tel Aviv, Rafael told me "what we need is a dictator."
I ask why. "Look at Stalin in Russia. He scared everybody. Then came Khrushchev and was more liberal, but people remained scared, and still work hard."
The fact however is that Russians live poorly, in an inefficiently run society. In a dictatorship, all major decisions come from the few people who hold the control: not much diversity can be handled by such a centralized power, and relatively little gets accomplished. If anyone has scared people into working harder, it was Ronald Reagan, by his policy of cutting down on welfare and subsidies.*** *** ***
Tsilla, Rivka's sister, lives with husband Menachem and son Rani in the ground floor of a 2-story house, at 66 Avenue of the French People, Ramat Gan. That is actually a fairly narrow side street one block north of the main highway, lined with 4-family homes of identical design. The apartment has three rooms: the bedroom of Tsilla and Menachem (also serving as office for Tsilla), Rani's small bedroom and the living room. After dinner, after we all have watched TV and socialized, the living room sofa is made up for Rivka to sleep on, and for me a "bed" is hauled out (actually it is just a lightweight door to which 4 wooden legs were attached), a foam mattress is put on top of it, and I get the other side of the room (I change into pajamas in the bathroom). Surprisingly, I sleep quite well: perhaps fatigue is beginning to show.
What does one do on a Sabbath without a car? I decide to visit "The National Park," a public park on the Yarkon floodplain, north of the stream. It is not far, but I am on the wrong bank. I walk down Rakach street, past the servicemen's club "House of the Parachutist", into the yard of a clubhouse for Boy and Girl Scouts, up the levee lined with eucalyptus trees, and am stopped by the stream--20-30 feet wide and muddy, no crossing in sight.
Back on Rakach Street I march west, parallel to the bank, hoping to find some way across. After a while, I come to a small agricultural school, tucked between the Yarkon and the road, and behind it rises an overgrown hill, with a trail climbing to its crest. Since the stream is on the other side, I follow.
What is it? It is "Mount Napoleon", the sandstone hill I have often heard about but have never seen. Its top is brightly yellow with dense flowers, and when one stands at the right spot, the eye sees only the green and the yellow, and no trace of the city. A horse is tied to a post in a little clearing off the trail, and costumed children accompanied by adults pass me, probably on their way to Purim parties. As Moses saw the promised land, I see the "National Park" from the top of Mount Napoleon, I even hear its raucous loudspeakers, playing popular music. But I never get there, for although a crossing is said to exist nearby, the stream is lined with mud flats, still wet from last night's rain.
Today is Purim, but the only Adloyada parade was a small one held in Ramat Aviv, which I did not attend.
Instead, Rivka takes me to the "Beth Hatefutsot" museum, the "House of the Diaspora" on the eastern edge of the University of Tel Aviv campus, a large building with fancy architecture. Inside it the visitor follows a long spiral gallery around a central rectangular open space, which rises from the ground to the roof. In that space hangs a huge "symbol of exile," a huge rectangular array of iron bars, essentially a cage inside a cage, inside which is yet another cage, and at the very center, a band of bright lights. As one ascends, climbing stairs from time to time, this central sculpture becomes again and again visible.
The layout is by "gates," a thematic approach rather than chronologic or geographic one, conceived by Abba Kovner, poet and resistance fighter, who here tried to break the usual mold of persons, dates, events and places. Yet perhaps the most impressive of all the "gates" is the last one, the "gate of survival", which conventionally does follow a historical time-line.
Ahead of it is a gallery on the history of the synagogue, displaying meticulously crafted models of famous synagogues, cut open so that their tiny interiors can be observed. It also displays very good reproductions of the Dura Europos synagogue on the Euphrates (1/4 scale) and of a painted wooden synagogue ceiling from Poland, adorned by colorful primitive renditions of animals. It also has a nice exhibit about the Cairo Genizah, repository of worn parchments and site of many interesting finds.
But the other sections, seen before one gets so far, are sparse and too pat, they ignore anything that is not absolutely wholesome--no false messiahs, no Kara'ites or Frankists, no disputes against Nazarenes and Hellenists, Hasidim and Misnagdim, Reform and Orthodoxy, no Jud Suess or David HaReuveni (no Glueckel of Hameln, either). The cute film on Benjamin of Tudela, though, was enjoyable.
From there Rivka and I rode to Dizengoff Square, now a public promenade. The famous fountain has been removed to make way for a traffic underpass, but the road below remains partially exposed; where the fountain used to be now a roof bulges upwards, accessible by ramps and with benches for the public. All around the "square" are establishments specializing in falafel, pizza, bureikas, shawarma and other snack foods.
It is Purim, not a working day. At the university we had to wait nearly an hour before the bus arrived, and soon after we cross the Yarkon, the reason for the delay becomes clear. People from the entire metropolitan area have come to the city to celebrate, and the narrow streets are a gridlock of barely moving cars. Rivka and I finally get off in a traffic-choked street--Rivka is 75 years old, but she prefers to walk and it is faster.
Dizengoff square is total chaos. Kids in costumes swarm over the central plaza with their parents, vendors sell balloons and the noise and atmosphere are those of a county fair. Rivka sits down as I go to find something to eat "but not falafel or pizza", which she regards as junk food ("chazerei"). I bring her roasted chestnuts and for myself buy a baked pocket of thin dough filled with chummus, somewhat like a vegetarian empañada, spicy and very good. We continue down to "Dizengoff Center", a big building housing a shopping mall of which Tel Aviv seems particularly proud and which is stiflingly hot inside.
On the crowded street I suddenly hear "David!" It is my Jerusalem room-mate Dror Sadeh , out with his family, his wife Chaya (who has stepped into a store to shop for shoes) and his son and daughter, Yonathan and Michal, both giants. Dror has not changed much--just his hair has become more grey and has receded further from his forehead. Chaya emerges from the store, surveys me and says I have not changed either. Nu.
Last full day in Israel. I sit at the University and really ought to call Tsilla about reserving a cab to take me to the airport bus at 4:30 a.m. next morning. The physics building here (also named the Kaplun building) looks drab and beat up, its doors worn and left untended. Actually, no worse than the University of Maryland, but here the architecture seems to have aimed at something loftier. I do not sense the vitality of the Technion, though Yonah Oren later tells me that the Tel Aviv physics department is larger than the one of the Technion (50 vs. 30 faculty members) and better, "in Haifa it is mainly applied physics." But maybe applied physics is healthier in Israel than abstract physics.
I sit in the sunlight on the stairs of the Kaplun Building, saying some last things to Benzi Kozlovski whose class is scheduled for 3 pm. The westering sun dazzles my eyes and suddenly plasma physicist Sami Cuperman walks by, balding, wearing jacket and tie, and carrying a bundle of papers. Hi, Sami.
Big hello. Is he in a hurry or is there time to talk? In a hurry, he says, but he stays to talk for 15 minutes or so. He is on his way to a meeting with university officials, to discuss a proposal for a plasma confinement experiment, a tandem mirror machine, 5-6 meters long, costing 1-2 million dollars.
--Oh, there are a few. Amnon Marinov, for instance.
--Do they believe that they can outstrip the Livermore lab, which has already gone several steps in this direction?
--Livermore only started in 1977, and here we have Kishinevsky, one of the original authors of the Russian paper which first proposed tandem mirrors. True, he was only a graduate student then, but he is a bright man and the proposal is his initiative. He now works in a small plant in the Galilee, one of many high-tech outfits which have sprung up here.
Dror catches hold of me. He is now Professor Dror Sadeh, and as always talks big.
He regrets coming to Goddard on his official visit earlier this year, without contacting me, "but this is what happens when you are on an official mission for Israel, 30 days altogether and 2 days in each place." He now heads Israel's "Space Agency" (as protegé of Yuval Ne'eman, minister of science and technology) and in this capacity he was sent to the US to find out about "get-away specials", bargain-priced small payloads for the space shuttle. At NASA HQ he was told, "You want this? We will send you to someone who can tell you everything," and he was sent to GSFC, I forgot to whom. With him went a girl from headquarters, in charge of all contacts with Israel: "would I have liked to talk to him with the girl taking everything down?"
Anyway, he is now pushing an Israeli "blue-white" satellite (those are the flag colors) within 10 years. A low-altitude orbiter locally built, including the booster rocket. I am reminded of a night 25 years earlier in Kfar Yerucham, 1000' above sea level in the middle of the desert, on an excursion sponsored by the students' club of Mapai, the Labor Party. The local "muchtar" (headman) described to us his visions: "Here will pass a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea! You will see it!".
"What purpose would the satellite serve?" I ask.
A lot of things. It could photograph the earth, since it would pass over Israel a few times each day . It could also pick up messages from Israel's embassies and relay them home. And as for the pictures--"if we see 400 Syrian tanks about to attack us, we won't throw this information away."
"You can't see tanks from orbit", I say, thinking of Rayleigh's criterion.
Why not? We have got Landsat pictures and a pixel is 10 meters.
I say: "It is 30 meters." (Actually, it may be more. The early Landsat barely resolved 100 meters).
"I am not sure. In any case, in 10 years, who knows what we can do?"
There also exists a plan for building shuttle experiments, and it was to discuss these that Dror came to the US. One experiment would be designed to see which way hornets build their nests in zero gravity. In nature, such nests hang down from branches, overhangs and eaves, but in a centrifuge, within a box with vertical walls, mature hornets will build nests hanging parallel to the walls, while young ones born in the centrifuge will ignore the walls and build their nest "hanging down," in the direction of the local force which combines the centrifugal force and gravity. What happens in space? They would like to find out.
There also exists a metallurgy experiment, and Giora Shaviv (Technion) plans an x-ray telescope looking steadily at the Cygnus X-ray source, for a period of weeks. Even the Einstein orbiting X-ray observatory only devoted hours to this source. And it may be interesting to observe gamma-ray annihilation lines from there (collimated how?), which may help find whether a black hole is associated with that mysterious object.
Dror himself has not worked in astrophysics for 2-3 years. His field now is medical physics, he recently graduated in it 2 doctoral students and has a research partner who is an MD. He has analyzed the heartbeat, in particular the "hash" of about 40 microvolts seen in a cardiogram halfway between the large pulses. Upon averaging many such pulses, he finds that this hash has a dip in it whenever one of the coronal arteries is closed. They confirmed their findings by taking the cardiogram of a dog and repeating this after one of its heart arteries has been tied off by a string.*** *** ***
I walk into Yonah Oren's office, plant myself in front of his desk and say "Hello": he looks at me, blankly, not recognizing. He himself seems bigger than I remembered (when we were graduate students together, in the cosmic ray lab of the Technion, he had TB then but controlled it), and his hair and mustache are laced with steely grey. His room is tidy, printouts are stacked on the table: he works on high energy physics with CERN, building experiments to run on their accelerator--something to do with the intrinsic difference between muons and electrons, apart from their masses (gyromagnetic ratio?). "In early experiments it was easy to skim the cream: twenty photomultipliers were enough. Now the original experiments seem like something from the students' lab, while a single experiment returns 10,000 variables."
His wife Miriam is doing fine, and they have 2 kids--one, at 24, studies psychology, the other, a 17-year old boy, is in the service. He has met Sitte a few times at conferences, and always found him in good physical shape. He also met Henry Kasha on a few occasions, "no change." Of the graduate students who were in our group, Arieh Shapiro is at the Weitzmann Institute, going on "like a yeshivah-bocher, you know the way Arieh is?" Itzik Segal is at the Technion, and Moshe Semel is at Meudon, where he works on solar physics.
I missed Arki Eviatar, though I visited his office three times.*** *** ***
Tall tales from last night, when Menachem Paldi told me how he arrived in Palestine on 22 August 1939, aboard the "Parita", a small freighter. I remember seeing it as an 8-year old, aground on the Tel Aviv public beach: there is a picture of it in the "Encyclopaedia Judaica", along with the "Tiger Hill", beached nearby.
Menachem had been trained in Poland by IZL (the Irgun) and arrived at the Romanian port of Constanza with about 1000 other members of Beitar. There they boarded the illegal transport: they were instructed to say that they were German refugees, and Romanian authorities were bribed to let them embark. As they walked to the ship, they passed a Romanian official sitting at a table, and for each immigrant, the official would be handed a bill, in payment. They also passed a barrel into which everyone tossed his or her passport, so that no one could be traced.
The plan, as told to them, was that a sailing ship belonging to the IZL would meet them off Cyprus and would take them the rest of the way, and they waited for it a few days, but it failed to appear. Instead, two British destroyers arrived and began shadowing them. Finally, short on food and water, they turned around and headed for Smyrna, Turkey.
Smyrna has a large bay, like Haifa's but much larger, as if Haifa's bay stretched from Zichron to Rosh Hanikrah. They entered the bay, but a Turkish warship met them and prevented them from getting to land. So everyone aboard the ship was instructed to yell in unison "SU-EKMEK" over and over again, "water-bread." In the end they were given both, and fuel as well, and with those they returned to the sea off Cyprus.
A week later it was the same story again, except that the port was Alexandretta (Iskanderun). Representatives of the Irgun there bribed the Turks and told them that the sailing ship did not come because all the leaders were in jail--they had hoped they would be released on time, but they were not.
Back to Cyprus for another week, after which the ship went to Rhodes, where it was allowed to dock. Anchored next to them was the "Marco Polo," a transatlantic liner of 17000 tons. A middle-aged woman stood on it, an American Jew, looking over the railing--it seemed as if she was the only one on the ship. She asked who they were (said Menachem) and was told "refugees from Germany." So the next thing they knew, fruit began to arrive, grapes as big as this, watermelons and so on, she spent thousands of dollars to buy those fruits. What they needed most, however, was water--they were unwashed, and sea water could only be used with special soap.
Back to sea, waiting for a radio signal. None came, so after 3 days, a council was held, and it was decided to run aground off Tel Aviv. The captain and crew were invited to a meeting and were taken prisoners--it was all a pretense, anyway--and a young man familiar with ships took over the wheel and turned the ship, full speed, towards Tel Aviv. It was decided to run the ship as far up the beach as possible, to enable people to jump from the ship onto the sand, and rope ladder which had been prepared beforehand to help transfer passengers at sea were hung from the sides. The captain and crew were sent off in boats--the captain escaped, but the crew was caught and was jailed by the British (or maybe it was the other way around, I don't remember). The leaders from IZL were also sent off by boat.
But the weather turned stormy, and waves tossed the ship: it was because of the storm that the ship hit the beach sidewise rather than end-on, and did not go as far up the beach as had been planned. In later years a sandbar grew between the ship and the shore and one could wade from one to the other, but that night the water around the ship was deep, "five meters on each side." It was 2 a.m. when they arrived, and they could hear bands playing in the coffeehouses on shore. A few swam to land, but most of them stayed. Around 3 a.m. a man climbed up and tied the string of the steam whistle so that it kept blowing, as a distress signal--up to half past six. But none of the British came, only many Jews.
In the morning, as Jews lined the promenade and houses, three boats of the police came. They threw grapnels at the ship and hauled themselves aboard. But when they began talking about "the bloody Jews", young men grabbed them like this, and threw them like this, overboard. Then came soldiers, Australians, New Zealanders, and they took everyone off and told them to leave. "The Jewish Agency people told us they will hide us in Kibutzim, but we did not want to, we wanted to be counted as "certificates" so we would be legal. Otherwise we could later be caught and have nothing."
(I asked why make it easy for the British to catch them, but he ignored the question).
"Then the British came and took us to detention in Sarafand (now "Tsrifin," largest army camp in the country). And all along the way people came out to see us, even Arabs. In Sarafand we were put 50 to a tent, and our commanders arranged so that everything was tidy, as in an army. This was on the 22nd of August. On September 1st the Germans invaded Poland and we were told that we could go free."
My flight is scheduled for 7:10, and I must catch the 4:30 bus from the airline terminal next to the Tel Aviv railroad station. But Rani will take me there at 3:30: he is navigator on a Phantom jet, and has been sumoned for reserve duty at Ramat David for 5:30 next morning. Rani works for the military industry--on computers, I think--and also studies law at the University of Tel Aviv, a cheerful young man, wholesome, with good relations with his parents, although he generally spends his evenings away from home. He drives a small beat-up French Deux-Chevaux economy car which even during Ilana's visit a year ago was already breaking down. On the evening when Rani took me to sleep at the Kozlovskis one headlight did not turn on--no problem, says Rani, gets out, bangs a few times on the hood, and it's lit. Another time we drive through a rain shower, and I marveled aloud at the economy of the French car designers, who had provided a windshield wiper only for the driver, not for the passenger sitting on the other side.
"It's not so," says Rani. "The other one is broken."
I wake up at 3:00, all is already packed. A quick shave, hushed fare-wells, and off we go in Rani's car, I arrive way too early and my only company for a while is the night watchman. But no--it turns out I had forgotten my reading-glasses in Tsilla's bathroom, where I had removed them for shaving. A quick calculation, and I take a cab back to Ramat Gan, retrieve them (Tsilla is still up)--the cab costs 600 shekel, plus 200 tip, it is still less than replacing the glasses. Back in plenty of time to catch the bus, which glides through deserted streets, picking up airport workers at a few places. I go through the formalities in record time and find I have an hour and a half to while away.
The gift shop opens--and it has the book which I have sought in vain all over the country, the English translation of "In the Land of Israel" by Amos Oz (I had bought a Hebrew copy, which impressed me greatly). Later in New York, soon after I arrive, my father tells me that while I was gone he has read an outstanding book about Israel, "you must read it," and it is the same one. As more people arrive in the waiting hall, I strike up a conversation with a young man--he is a volunteer from the HaOgen Ulpan, and he knows Swedish Janet. His plane leaves at 6:30, mine is about half an hour late, but at long last we are off. It has been a long month.
Next to me sit a French woman and her husband, returning from a tour of Israel--Jerusalem, Metzada, a quick tour. She was visiting her brother who lives in Israel and works there as a cook, he has been in the country 9 years, is not married, speaks Hebrew but does not read it, and overall does not seem too happy. "But a Jew is not alone anywhere, no?" She herself runs an antique shop--her maiden name is Blum and she is distantly related to the French prime minister of that name. Her husband works in real estate and she has a daughter, 23 and sons 16 and 12.
In Paris an hour is added to our delay while we wait for some computer to start working. From there to New York I sit next to Alex Dimenstein, a young Russian dentist in his early 30s, single, earning good money--in fact, he now has two other dentists working for him, they use his offices in Tel Aviv in return for a 50% cut of their earnings. He came to Israel in 1971 and likes it (I have his address and an invitation) but all the rest of his family, after leaving Russia, preferred to settle in the US: now he is on his way to visit them and to spend 5 weeks in the country, his first visit to the US.
He reads Hebrew but has not read the book by Amos Oz--"I think he is a leftist." He wonders aloud how the US can stay a great power while displaying as much military weakness as it does, and why the US is afraid of Russia. The Russian people, he further tells me, are warm and maintain wide social interactions, and in Israel, he feels, Russian Jews do better than any other immigrants, maybe because they tend to be better educated. However, he does not include the Gruzinian Jews (from Soviet Georgia) in his count. He comes from Minsk, a city of 2.5 million people, and "until I came to Israel, I was not even aware that they existed." Why did he choose a career in dentistry? "It is in the family," he says. His father was a dentist, his brother-in-law is one, too.
He feels that a lot of progress has taken place in dentistry, in water fluoridation, and floss is also useful. In addition, he says, more attention is paid to cosmetic aspects, and he recommends that I have my bridge replaced by a better looking one, since the plastic frontpiece which covers it has fallen off. No way, I say, as long as it is not giving trouble, let it be--the replacement may perhaps not achieve as snug a fit. But tell me, how can one tell a good dentist from a bad one? Very difficult, he says.
It is mid-afternoon as we glide in over New York's suburbia, a bump and we are down. The parents are already waiting at the exit from the customs.
15 Feb (Wed) Arrive in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, 4 pm. Yonathan and Suzy take me to Rivka in Haifa.
16 (Thurs) Morning, visit Pnina at Yehielis', escort her to the bus to her sister in Petach Tikvah. Afternoon, Liesel Laufer.
17 (Friday) Morning with Miriam Schoenfeld. Evening, Yonathan takes me to stay at their home in Ramat Yishai. Party in the evening with Efraim and Yael Li'or, Eli and Rachel Friedman, Basil and Sharon Kauffman. (link)
18 (Sabbath) Trip with Yonathan, Suzy, Tal, Yoav and Ofer: Belvoir, enter Golan by Yarmuk, overlook of Kinnereth, Gamla natural preserve, Jordan park, back via Tiberias and new road from Golani crossroads. Evening, back to Haifa (link)
19 (Sun) To Technion: Kalman Altman's office, then Yehudah Radai's, then back to Physics--Yehoshua Zak, Asher Peres, Bertina Fisher, Zachi Gozani (from Palo Alto, on sabbatical), Paul Singer, Baruch Pratt (?), Michael Revzon, Gideon Gilat (Goldberg).
20 (Mon) With Miriam and Zvi: drop Malka and her friend Iris at Haifa airport, Rosh HaNikrah, Northern Border Road, Mt. Meiron, Malakiyah, past Yiftach to Manara overlook, Tel Chai museum, Metullah and "good fence" there, Kiriath Shmonah (lunch), Banias, Mas'adah (wrong turn on rd. to Neve Ativ), Hatzor where we met Me'irah, daughter of neighbor of Miriam.
23 (Thurs) 9 am bus to Tel Aviv (sitting next to Ofrah Peri), then to Ashkalon (with old Russian doctor). (link) Pninah at lunch at 236 Yehudah Halevi, then Erez. (link)
24 (Friday) Morning to 2:30, notes for my article "energetics". Then tour Erez--metal shop, cows, weighing scatter-truck, plastics plant. Sabbath dinner, bar mitzvah get-together at 10, "Allegro"on TV.
25 (Sat.) Trip by Jeep around Erez--Yad Mordechai, Netiv Ha'Asarah, (visit to friend), then monument to mines' victims, Or HaNer, reservoir and sewage plant, kalaniot (anemones) field in old village near Sderoth, home. Erez monument, evening with Shostek family.
26 (Sun.) Sha'ar HaNegev--Yahel's class, high school (water control computer), potato cold storage, cotton stalk steam generator, Tapud potato chips plant (Itamar headed maintenance there 7 years), grapefruit packing house, chicken processing plant, cotton gin (inactive), IBM 38 computer, peelable fruit packing plant, laundry, Gaza. Evening, to Herzliah, home of Yitzchak (brother of Bracha, foreign exchange assoc. manager of Bank HaPoalim), and Nili his wife (son Ohad, also daughter), also Zipporah, Bracha's mother, and stepfather Yaakov.
21 (Wed) Day with parents. Picked up by Audrey ca. 3 pm.
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: david("at" symbol)phy6.org .
Last Edited 13 January 2013