Thursday, August 21, 2008

On the Horns of a Dilemma, Part 1

One of my guiding principles of life is that there is always a dilemma lurking around the corner, waiting to catch you on its horns. Some are serious issues; here’s one that’s only semi-important: using the dates in the Jewish calendar vs. secular dates. Sometimes it’s clear: my father’s yahrzeit is the ninth of Tevet; my mother’s the twenty fourth of Adar. I’ve long forgotten what the dates were in the Gregorian calendar. On the other hand, we celebrate our wedding anniversary on January 7; I’m sure the invitations indicated the Jewish date, but I don’t remember it offhand. Likewise, my (I should say “our”; I have a fraternal twin brother) birthday. This great event took place on March 16, 1941. Now in Europe, they used to note an approximate birthday, connecting it with a special Shabbat, new moon, or holiday. Our birthday roughly coincided with Purim. In fact, my mother was unable to attend a Purim activity in the Reform temple where my sister was in Hebrew school because she was in the middle of delivering us. So I know we were born on a Sunday. (Even more important in my family, my mother was unable to attend the annual dinner of the Noah Lodge, the Jewish fraternal organization in which my father was a member. When Barbara and I were going through my parents’ effects, we found, wound up like a scroll, a panoramic photograph, dated March 16, 1941, of hundreds of men and women seated at tables at this affair. All the way to the right is my father, seated with my mother’s sister Lil. In those days, delivering a baby – or two – was strictly a woman’s work. I should add parenthetically that no more than thirty years later, my father, in his capacity as an attorney, handled the papers formally dissolving this organization – which had existed and thrived since approximately 1840 – because there were only a dwindling number of members still alive.) So while I celebrate (or ignore) my birthday on its Gregorian date, I am also aware of my connection to Purim, the ultimate account of G-d’s hidden role in our history.
So the question was…………..regarding the anniversary of our making aliyah, should we celebrate on Tu B’Av (the fifteenth of Ave, a special joyous day after Tisha B’Av) when Barbara, Natania, Mimi the geriatric cat, and I took off from Kennedy airport, or on July 31, when the Nefesh B’Nefesh plane actually landed at Ben-Gurion airport. I think what we are going to do in the future is to finesse the issue by celebrating either, neither, or both. This year, Barbara wanted to go on a tiyul, which happened to take place on July 31, and so this is how we celebrated our aliyah anniversary, revisiting some of the events and accomplishments of the heroes, the builders, and the defenders of The Land which make it possible for us to enjoy a reasonably carefree life today. For example, the tiyul for which we had signed up dealt with the defense of the southern borders of Israel in 1948. It was sponsored by the OU Israel Center, the same folks who had organized the walking tour of Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe, the one in which we almost participated several weeks before! (See my previous post………..) When Barbara called Naomi at the OU Center, she was asked politely if she was still taking antibiotics!
The tour bus made a number of stops, some at places of lesser interest, some for what is known in the trade as “pit stops” – this being a group of middle aged people and older – and a few at places that I feel are of great interest. We toured the modern city of Ashdod, and visited a kibbutz called Negba, the only settlement in the area which withstood the Egyptian assault during the War of Independence, and examined the spot which was the most northern advance of the Egyptian army.
One thing that has been drilled into my sometimes-less-than-keen brain is that there were really two separate and distinct phases to the struggle for Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral Homeland. The first was perhaps less dramatic, but equally heartrending: the uprising of Arab villages after the vote in the United Nations in favor of the partition plan on November 29, 1947. It was during this first war that Jerusalem was besieged, a siege which was only broken during the second phase: the invasion of neighboring armies after the decision was made to declare the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the day before the British mandate was set to expire (although the national holiday is usually celebrated on the 5th of Iyar).
Our American-born tour guide, Gideon Abromowitz, who himself served as an Israeli paratrooper in 1971 and who has been here ever since, provided us with a lot of background material, information that is often forgotten, but is chilling in its intensity. Most of us have only a dim recollection of what the 1947 UN Partition Plan entailed. I have the idea that whoever drew up this map had a wonderfully macabre sense of humor. Or perhaps he had seen the Marx Brothers movie in which Groucho and Chico are negotiating a contract. To forestall objections, they keep removing clause after clause until they are left with only the final clause, which Groucho explains is the “sanity clause.” Chico scoffs at this: “There ain’t no such thing as “Sanity Claus.” (If you don’t realize he’s making a reference to a character in a winter holiday which we here in The Land can ignore, the whole thing is pointless.)
The original Jewish state, as envisioned in the Balfour Declaration, was a thing of beauty; it even included Trans-Jordan. But over the years, it kept getting whittled away, until by 1947, only a sad vestige of a state remained. (You can see it for yourself, if you do a google search.) If we remember that Israel today is about the size of New Jersey, try to conceive of the following: take Bergen County and add to that a thin strip along the Hudson River which widens to include the Pine Barrens; also include Passaic County, but keep Bergen and Passaic Counties separate by excluding Paramus. The Jewish state envisioned by the humorists at the U.N. included the Golan and the eastern part of the Galil, close to but not touching the western part of the Galil which extended down along the coast to include Tel Aviv and farther south connected by a t-i-n-y sliver of land to an area which includes much of the Negev (although the American. State Department was advocating that this large and mostly uninhabited land mass be removed from the Jewish part). Jerusalem was to be smack dab in the middle of the Arab state (which nobody then called “Palestine”) and was to be an “international” city administered by the U.N. Some joke.
May I make an observation? (It’s my blog, after all!) The main difference between the Jewish and the Muslim psyche is simply this: In the Jewish world view, if something bad happens to us, somehow, collectively, we have done something wrong and we need to do tshuvah – although this does not make our enemies any less evil. I do not believe that our “cousins” have come close to this level of introspection. If one looks today at the map of the Partition Plan, it is obvious that this was not the basis for a viable Jewish state: three small areas, essentially separated from each other in a hostile environment. We could easily have wound up with most of the world’s Jewish population living in a temporary homeland in Alaska, as fantasized by Michael Chabon in his novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” So when the Arabs call the establishment of our state “Al Nakba,” they somehow fail to internalize that the catastrophe they describe was self-inflicted. If they had done nothing but wait, the Arabs could conceivably have had it all; the fragmented Jewish state might well have collapsed. It certainly would not have been possible for that Israel to absorb so many Jews from around the world. So why did the Arabs start a war and then, inexplicably lose it?
At one point, Gideon told the bus driver to stop; our tour guide then got out and hurried down an embankment and waited for us under a bridge in the shade. (When I say a bridge, I’m really describing a trestle, something about fifty feet long that traverses a gully, nothing grandiose like The Bridge of Strings, an absurdly expensive bridge designed for the light rail in the middle of Jerusalem, a project as ill-conceived as The Big Dig in Boston.) Here on this non-descript spot, a little bit south of today’s Ashdod (not to be confused with a little bit east of Yerushalayim) was the northernmost advance of the Egyptian army. Gideon described with great emotion how three times, on consecutive days, the small band of Jewish soldiers ordered to hold the line attacked the Egyptian army; and three times they were defeated, suffering grievous casualties, at which point, the Jewish army holding the line was no more.
At this point, there was absolutely nothing stopping the Egyptian army from advancing unimpeded to Tel Aviv. They could have driven, they could have ridden camels or donkeys, they could have walked, they could have crawled, they could have done cartwheels, they could have had a three-legged race. There was not one Jewish soldier between them and “The White City,” and that would have been the end of the Zionist dream. But these three days of conflict and the presence of two or three planes of the Israeli “air force” dropping Molotov cocktails down on the Egyptians, convinced their commander that they could not defeat this relentless enemy; and he so advised his commander back in Cairo. They Egyptian army did not advance, and were ultimately driven back.
So what happened? Was there something going on beyond what one might find in Wikipedia? Consider the circumstances, if you will: the world community, for one brief moment in history, seemed to have abandoned its pathological hatred for the Jewish people, sufficient to allow the establishment of a truncated, debilitated State of Israel. Even before the state was officially established, civil war broke out in the area. The leaders of the future state were in a quandary: once they accepted the Partition Plan, they couldn’t go back to the table and ask for more. If they didn’t accept the Plan, most likely some or all of it would be withdrawn. This would be their only chance, and once they went ahead and declared a state, not only would they continue to be faced with an unceasingly hostile Arab population, but within a nanosecond of the Declaration of Independence, they would be in a real war –with all their neighbors who had real if ineffective armies – which if they lost, would be the final nail on the coffin of world Jewry. Of course, if they didn’t declare a state, after the withdrawal of British forces there would be no government of any kind in the region. Talk about a real dilemma, with very sharp horns.
Perhaps we can see the “hand” of our Heavenly Father at work here, in a way which is not obvious, allowing for the believers to believe and the non-believers not to believe – because after all, we have free well to see or believe whatever we want. But to emphasize the point, virtually the same thing happened twice, in 1948 and 1967. It would have been too much, way beyond the pale of expectation for the Nations to have created or allowed a real Jewish state. So they drew up the boundaries of a mock Jewish state, bereft of its heart, Jerusalem, and, in effect, said, take it or leave it; and if you take it, you’re on your own to fight for it. If nothing else, Ben-Gurion had guts, and he took it. So what would be the only way for us to get back the territory promised to us in the Balfour Declaration and by a Higher Authority? To be invaded by hostile neighbors, and when they were on the brink of wiping us out, inexplicably for them to turn tail and run away, allowing us to reclaim The Land piece by piece. This is what happened both in 1948 and in 1967. As I said, you are free not to believe that these were hidden miracles, but – even allowing for the incredible heroism and self-sacrifice of so many Jews in The Land – you would then need to come up with a better explanation of your own. And don’t tell me that our fabled military prowess scared Egypt, Jordan, and the others away!
It was time for us to get back on the bus, and it is time for me to stop for a break. We will soon be heading on to Ashdod, and, not to keep you in suspense, to a very large dilemma lurking down the road.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hannah and the Mixed Condition

This is the story of Hannah and her mixed conditional sentence, contrary to fact, thus bringing together the study of languages and Tisha B’Av.

It was time for us to return to Ulpan: Barbara had completed her five free months at Beit Am; Natania had continued pretty much until she joined the IDF in the beginning of February; I lasted until January when I decided that I had done as much as I could do. I wasn’t thrilled with our teacher, and I had reached a point where I couldn’t absorb anymore of what was going on. It was as if the rest of the class was motoring along in an air-conditioned tour bus, and I was stuck on the side of the road, riding a very reluctant donkey. For the next few months, I made it a point of trying to memorize at least one new word a day and somehow using whatever Hebrew I had learned to get around. Most of the time, I can get by. My favorite place of all is the Mahane Yehuda shuk, and I have no trouble getting what I need there, although dealing with Israelis can be frustrating at times. Example: I hand the guy my bags of peaches, apricots, tomatoes, whatever. He weighs it, does a quick heshbon (calculation), and mumbles into his sleeve, “shloshim v’arba shekel.” Should I reply “lo shamati” (I didn’t hear you) or “od paam” (again), he will turn directly to me, and in a voice which can be heard throughout the shuk, scream “thirty four shekels” as if I were not only stupid, but deaf.
But Natania, responding to my snail-like progress, began to noodge me: “Daddy, when are you going back to Ulpan?” And Barbara had already registered at a different Ulpan, Mila, so I assumed that the time was propitious. Now there are several differences between Beth Am and Mila: this is a private Ulpan, so we are now paying about $250 for a ten week course which meets, instead of five mornings a week, two evenings, which I figured would give me enough time to do the homework, review and prepare. I figured I would register for a class that met the same two nights as Barbara’s, but that was not to be. Here you couldn’t just talk your way into whatever class you wanted – resulting in a class of students on wildly different levels. Here they actually make you sit down and take a brief written test to determine your level. I did my best, handed it in, and the guy-in-charge graded it on the spot. He said “beit plus.” I said “gimmel,” hopefully. He gave me the equivalent of a finger wag and said “beit plus.” Beit plus, the level I began with at Beit Am, although I soon discovered that beit plus here is equivalent to gimmel there.(Official digression: In The States, one indicates a negative by a sideways shake of the head. Here, it’s done by taking a forefinger and wagging it sideways at a rate of about one second per rotation, usually three or four times. A classic example of its use: waiting for my appointment with a urologist at the Maccabi clinic in Maale Adumim. The office door was open and there was no patient inside. Did the doctor know I was waiting? I stuck my neck in expectantly. He did not raise his eyes from the computer screen; he did not say a word; he moved exactly one muscle, the one controlling the motion of his forefinger. I returned to my chair and waited.)
And so, with my new note pad and the second volume of “Hebrew from Scratch,” one of the dozens of workbooks I have used in my career as a Hebrew student, I was ready to begin. Our teacher is a tall bundle of energy named Inbal, who I discovered, in response to a composition I handed in, had been a Hebrew instructor at the same base where Natania completed her Kurs Ivrit. As is typical of Ulpans in Israel, there are students from all over with different mother tongues. Most of them speak more than one language, and, of course, almost everyone in the class speaks English, from passably to extremely well. Which leads me up to the story of Hannah and her conditional sentence.
Last week one of the students asked if there would be a session the following Sunday, Tisha B’Av. Inbal said that there would not, whereupon Hannah, a young woman (I’m guessing she’s in her mid-twenties, about Tina’s age) who sits near me, remarked that she was not planning to show up in any event. I agreed that I also wouldn’t be there (I hadn’t even made it for the half fast day in Tammuz, two weeks earlier.) But after I left the class, I began to roll over in my mind her elegant construction: “If they had scheduled it (the class), I would not have come.” To the best of my knowledge, having spent my entire life learning, teaching, reading, and writing English, that construction seemed 100% correct; but I could not remember what to call it. (There is an on-going debate as to whether a true subjunctive exists nowadays in English, but, in any case, that ain’t it) With a good deal of help from my friends at Google, I pinned it down to a conditional construction, a mixed one at that (the condition taking place in a different time frame from the result), and certainly contrary to fact: there was no class scheduled for Tisha B’Av. How did she know to use that construction? In The States, the young women who work at the malls, the ones suggesting that you “Have a nice day” would be hard pressed to say that; even American college students wouldn’t be so eloquent. Plus, despite her excellent English, when she says two words, you can tell immediately that Hannah is not a native English speaker, but comes from the east coast of the English Channel. (As I later learned, from Strasbourg.) I ran all this by my friends Joan and Jerry in Brooklyn, and they were likewise intrigued by this Gallic mastery of English grammar. Nothing to do but ask. So at Wednesday night’s class, I reminded Hannah of what she had said, and asked her where she learned such good English. She asked me, a little apprehensively if she “had said it right.” Absolutely, I replied, but how and where did she learn to say something which 99% of Americans couldn’t replicate? “At the university.” Simple enough! What would Americans say, she inquired. At that moment, I was reluctant to try and imagine what Americans would say. However, after having given the matter some thought, perhaps “I’m not coming on Tisha B’Av.” Or Natania’s suggestion, “I wouldn’t come anyway,” in which American frankness replaces Gallic subtlety.
When I am with people who have managed to master several foreign languages, I invariably think of my own adventures and mishaps in studying, in order, three years of Spanish, two years of French, two years of Latin, three terms of Ancient Greek, and one term of Anglo-Saxon (I’ll discuss Hebrew in a little while). There are people reading this blog who were in my Spanish classes at DeWitt Clinton H.S. in The Bronx, and who can verify that Mrs. Moscoso had an obsession that all of her students (it was an all boys school at the time) were interested in staring at parts of her anatomy. Maybe twenty five year and forty pounds before, yes. But even with the extremely high testosterone count of the Clinton lads, no one was interested. My old friends can also vouch for me that there was a Ronnie Y. and that he did engage in the following futile exchange with another of our teachers: teacher: Yo ablo (I speak); Ronnie: Yo haBLOW; teacher: Yo ablo; Ronnie: Yo haBLOW. This butchery of the language continued until no one in the class could keep a straight face, but has lasted longer in the collective memory of some of us; Ronnie’s verbal infelicity will be remembered until the last of us is muerto. With all this, I did learn some Spanish, and to this day, if you were to give me one of the newspapers prepared for the Hispanic population of New York, I could read a good part of it with little difficulty.
Next came French at City College. What stands out most in my mind is my first term with Mr. Nesselrod, a rather smug, well-dressed Belgian with an eye for the innocent freshman girls. His class began at 8AM and he had a simple policy, diabolical but effective, to make certain that his students came on time: at precisely 8AM, he would close and lock the door to his classroom. If you came later, you were absent. You might as well have stayed in bed! Of course, because we were only allowed a certain number of “cuts,” you can imagine the level of stress in the student body. At every class, you would see students gasping for air, having run the eight blocks from the subway up the hill to the campus. To make matters worse, every once in a while, some doofus would forget to unlock the campus gate nearest our building. It would have been impossible to go around to the other gate and get to class on time, so there was nothing else to do but to climb the ten foot high fence at 7:55 in the morning. Still, when we were in Hebron in 1988 and the only available brochures for Maarat Hamachpela were in Hebrew or French, you know which one I grabbed. I would make the same choice today!
Back in the days when I went to City College, if you planned to major in English, you had to take 18 credits of Latin. And so I spent the next two years puzzling through parts of Virgil’s Aeneid, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the less bawdy verses of Catullus, and everyone’s favorite, Cicero’s First Oration Against Cataline. Next, a little bit of The Iliad in the original, and enough Anglo-Saxon to get through parts of Beowulf; and I was all set to graduate from City College and get on with my life.
More than a decade later, it was time for me to attend Ulpan in New York, part of a process of entering Jewish observance and re-learning the Hebrew that I had forgotten shortly after our (my fraternal twin brother and my) bar mitzvah. If nothing else, I met Barbara at 515 Park Ave., (then the Jewish Agency building) so I rank my experience there a huge success. I have many fond memories of the wild assortment of people who were trying to learn Hebrew right around the time when Menachem Begin was first elected Rosh Hamemshalah (prime minister). But the one incident that more or less sums up my experience in trying to learn Hebrew: in one of my classes were two young women, very close friends who always came together. In the middle of one of our classes, the two of them burst into laughter simultaneously for no apparent reason. When they calmed down, they explained what was going on. The two of them had been studying Hebrew for a number of years, and it reached a point where they would keep going over the same material without it ever sinking in. Our teacher had just taught something which these two girls realized that they had studied time after time and still hadn’t learned. Their laughter was simply a recognition of utter futility.
Futility: that’s a good way to express my feeling about learning the seven binyanim (verb constructions) in Hebrew: Imagine someone juggling balls. Almost anyone in good health can throw one ball in the air and catch it. Most people unless they are drunk can toss two balls in the air. Many people can handle three. Four becomes more difficult, and so on. Each binyan individually is easy, even with learning present, past, and future tenses as well as infinitives and participles, first person singular, second person singular masculine, second person singular feminine, and the rest. But trying to remember and use them all is like juggling three oranges, a pencil, a salami, an axe, and a hand grenade at the same time. Or so it seems. Perhaps our bright young friend from Strasbourg is correct: “It’s like learning Chinese.”
But there is one significant difference: we are not in China (although at this moment half of the planet is there for the Olympics!), and we have no particular reason to live there or learn its languages. We are in Israel, and there is a reason why we are here. Perhaps the following story will help explain my persistence in “breaking my teeth” to learn Hebrew.
Back in my glory days at City College, in addition to the foreign languages and the courses in English grammar and literature – from Chaucer to the 20th century – I also took a course in Linguistics. The textbook was Leonard Bloomfield’s “Language,” written in 1933, (many times reprinted but apparently never revised), probably the most influential work in its field at the time. Like many of the college texts I used, this book got shoved into a bookcase after the course was over. Many years later, I needed to look up something, and picked up Bloomfield’s book. Out of idle curiosity, I turned to the chapter where he was cataloging the various language families and came to the section on Semitic languages, and then to the subheading, Northwest Semitic Languages. There on the page for anyone to see was an unqualified statement that Hebrew was extinct as a spoken language.
As some of you know, I simply adore irony. On the same bookshelf, a few volumes away from Bloomfield, was my much used paperback Latin textbook. I had spent so much of my college days studying truly extinct languages, one of them being Latin, which while it morphed itself into several modern languages – including the ones that Hannah and Maribel speak – is itself as dead as the proverbial doornail. There are very few people today who can read Virgil, Catullus, Ovid, or Cicero in the original, let alone translate the simple inscription on the Arch of Titus in Rome, built to commemorate the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash and the triumphant return of Titus with the temple treasures:
SENATVSPOPVLVSQVE·ROMANVSDIVO·TITO·DIVI·VESPASIANI·F(ILIO)VESPASIANO·AVGVSTO"The Senate and People of Rome (dedicates this) to Titus Vespasianus Augustus, now-a-god, son of Vespasian, now-a-god." Kind of gets to you, doesn’t it?
Sitting here yesterday, keeping out of the afternoon heat on Tisha B’Av, and dealing with caffeine deprivation, I had this fantastical notion which I share with you now:It is about the year 80 of the Common Era. A group of Hebrew slaves is being marched in chains through Rome near where the Arch of Titus is being built and where this inscription is being carved. One of them turns to his Roman taskmaster and says something like this, “Today, anyone in Rome who can read and write will understand this inscription and will know the honor due to Vespasian and Titus. But there will be a time when no will be able to read it. There will be a time when only a handful of trained men will know how to read your poets, your playwrights, your statesmen. But we will never forget our sacred texts. Someday, everyone will howl with derision at your list of gods and deified men; but our One G-d will redeem us one day. When that happens, our people will return to the Land from which you have expelled us. And as your monuments to yourselves begin to crumble, our Temple will be rebuilt.”
As is done from time to time, the Israel Museum is displaying “The Great Isaiah Scroll,” the only complete manuscript found in the caves near Qumran in 1947. Many Israelis have gone to see it, and, according to the newspapers here, are visibly moved because they, modern-day Hebrew speakers, are able to read the prophetic message written on this scroll more than 2000 year ago. Much has been made of the idea that within a generation or two, a majority of the world’s Jewish population will live in The Land for the first time since the destruction of the First Beit Hamikdash. The obvious corollary to that is that within two decades the majority of Jewish people will speak Hebrew as their native tongue – even if half of the vocabulary will be borrowed from English!
So here’s to you, Leonard Bloomfield, wherever you are!!!! We, the Jewish people, have spent the last two millennia mastering every language and dialect on the face of the earth – even creating a few pastiches of our own. And now, Jewish children in The Old City are once again mastering “hitpael” without even knowing that they are doing it or how hard it is. So we in Ulpan muddle on. It may seem like “Chinese,” but it’s our own beloved “Chinese” in our own beloved Land.
Tisha B’Av has come and gone, and maybe we are coming closer to The Final Redemption. Is Mashiach on the way? Whenever he shows up, if he addressed the crowd in Hebrew, I want to understand what he is saying.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beginning with a Ball of Yarn

My wife, in a rare flight of fancy, said that this part of the story began with a ball of yarn. In fact, it began months earlier with a shopping bag – two of them, in fact. Our neighbor Yaffa, a rather imposing woman, was walking home from a shopping excursion at our local Super-r-r-r, carrying these same shopping bags laden with groceries. She stopped for a minute to rest, and a very tiny kitten ran up to her and jumped into her lap. She looked down at the kitten; the kitten looked up at her. Many people would have removed this small animal, stray cats being a dime a dozen in Maale Adumim (except that dimes are very scarce in our neck of the woods); but there are those who understand, that if there is a stray kitten in your lap, it must be part of G-d’s greater plan. Jaffa picked up this small creature, put him in her pocket book, and took him home, naming him, don’t ask me why, “Witty Kitty.”
Needless to say, as all baby animals do, over the weeks and months, WK began to grow, becoming quite the strapping young cat. Yaffa, meanwhile, had met an appropriate man and was about to get married. She realized that there were two things she would have to give up: her Sephardic eating habits over Pesach, and………her Witty Kitty. Finding a home for her rice and beans would not be a “biggie,” but her cat? There may be as many cats as people in Maale Adumim, and most of these felines depend on human throw-aways for their livelihood. I’m sure some of you are beginning to figure out what comes next, and you are correct. WK, now the size of a young deer, came to co-occupy a litter box with Mimi, our aged American cat, who is not used to sharing. There were quite a few verbal altercations between these two over the next week or so, so when we heard a ruckus in our pinat ochel (dining area) one evening, we assumed it was the two felines fussing. But Mimi was with us in the bedroom, so what could be going on? Barbara went to investigate, and so began the saga of the yarn ball.
A well-meaning friend, herself the manager of a herd of cats, had brought over a ball of yarn, lavender in color, for Witty to play with. In a matter of minutes, he had unwound the ball; and in a few more minutes had wound the yarn around himself and a dining room chair. If we had not intervened, he probably would have dragged the chair around the entire house in his efforts to escape. Barbara realized that we would have to assist in untangling him – which she did, in the process getting scratched and bitten in her thumb by this frantic animal.
The following day, Barbara was sitting at work (she is now employed part time as the Administrator of the Seniors Program, for which she gets paid almost as much as a cleaning lady), when she noticed that her thumb was beginning to swell. She left work at 2:30 and hurried over to the main Maccabi health center in Jerusalem (located in the Clal Building, which I have previously described as the ugliest building in town), waving her swollen thumb in the air so that she would get prompt attention. Her thumb, of course, was infected; so she was given a prescription for an antibiotic, which she got filled at the Maccabi pharmacy down the block. So far, so good, except that everyone, including Barbara, forgot Rule No. 1 about taking antibiotics, which is, DON’T take them on an empty stomach.
Now all this happened in time for Barbara to cross Agrippas St. at 4PM and meet me along with a lot of other people for a tour of the adjoining neighborhoods Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe (both built in 1883 and named for Moses Montefiore, their benefactor). About five minutes into the tour, Barbara, who had been standing, sat down on a stone railing. I walked over to her, and she told me that she did not feel good; she felt as if she were going to faint. If nothing else, my wife is a woman of her word: she promptly fell off the railing onto the sidewalk. I just stood there, looking down at the woman with whom I have been married for twenty nine years, my helpmate, the mother of my children, the love of my life, lying insensible on the ground. Fortunately, there was a doctor and a nurse in the tour group; both of these women took over and restored Barbara to full consciousness (if you are drawing the inference that I am not much good in medical emergencies, you are correct). After a decent rest, time to eat and drink (interrupted by the husband of the doctor, who had come back to alert her that the woman who had arranged the tour [Naomi from the OU Israel Center] had slipped and fell and herself required medical attention), Barbara was fine and was able to return home unaided. We were not charged for the tour.
A few days later, I did get a chance to participate in a tiyul in essentially the same area, this time with with my Ulpan class (I will discuss our return to Ulpan in another entry. Please be patient.). We left our class after taking a brief quiz and walked across King George St. to an area called “The Mashbir” (the name of the first “department store” in Jerusalem) where we met a young woman who served as our tour guide. She soon had us walking through the narrow streets and alleyways which collectively make up an area called Nachlaot, which I have described as a mixture of Mea Shearim and Rehavia. If you know Jerusalem, you probably understand what I’m saying. For the rest of you, here goes: we’re talking about an area in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, a few blocks from where they are tearing up the main street, Jaffa, to build a light rail system, and yet you might think you’re in a small village with tiny streets filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers and carefully preserved houses. The people who live here are a bewildering assortment of hareidim, artists, Bratzlever wannabes, and the usual mix of religious and secular people that you would find elsewhere in downtown Jerusalem. Here we were threading our way at twilight through pathways where I had never been – even though I know the area pretty well. Except for the low voice of our tour guide, who had urged us to be as quiet as possible not to disturb the residents, at times you could have heard a pin drop. The adjectives “calm” and “quiet” rarely seem to apply to anywhere in our ancient capital; it was more like we were in a village in a faraway land – except for the prevalence of synagogues and buildings of Jerusalem stone.
The tiyul ended, and we all went our separate ways. I walked across Agrippas and through the shuk, now closed for business and also strangely quiet (although if you listened v-e-r-y closely, you could almost hear an echo of the men who had been screaming a few hours before, “agvaniot [tomatoes] 2 shekel, kilo) in a never-ending cacophony). I caught a bus up Rehov Yaffa, and then my bus back to Maale Adumim, which, as everyone knows by now, is a little bit east of Yerushalayim.
A FELINE FOOTNOTE: Would that I could say that the two black and white cats, an arthritic old lady from American and a young Sabra, were getting along as well as the men in the competing stalls in the shuk, but they aren’t. More on this and other matters to follow.