Saturday, August 12, 2017

ET: Almanac

Leah, his wife, had gone off to attend a ten-day course at the Kibbutzim College of Education that would train her to be a caregiver at the children's house. Roni Shindlin was happy to have a few days without her. He showered after his shift in the metalwork shop and at four in the afternoon went to the children's house to pick up his five-year-old son, Oded. On the days it wasn't raining, he held Oded's small hand and they went for a stroll around the kibbutz. Oded wore green boots, flannel trousers, a sweater, and a jacket. Roni always tied the strings of the boy's hat under his chin because his ears were sensitive to the cold. Then he picked him up, hugged him, and took him to see the cows and the sheep. Oded was afraid of the cows, which wallowed wet dung and mooed faintly from time to time. His father recited for him: "I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one/But I can tell you anyhow/I'd rather see than be one."

Oded asked "Why is it roaring?"
Roni explained, "Cows don't roar. Cows moo. Lions roar."
"Why do lions roar?"
"They're calling their friends."
"Their friends are mean."
"Their friends play with them."
"They're mean."

Oded was a short little boy, slow and always frightened. He was often sick: he had diarrhea almost every week, and in winter he had ear infections. The children in his kindergarten tormented him constantly. He spent most of the day sitting alone on a mat in a corner, his thumb in his mouth, his back to the room, and his face to the wall, playing with wooden blocks or a rubber duck that squealed mournfully when you squeezed it, and he squeezed it all the time. He'd had it since he was a year old. The children called him Oded-pees-his-bed and when the caregiver turned her back, they pulled his hair. He cried softly for hours, snot running down his mouth and chin. The caregivers didn't like him either because he didn't know how to stand up for himself, or because he wouldn't play with the others and he cried so much. At the breakfast table, he would pick at his porridge and leave most of it in the bowl. When they scolded him, he cried. When they tried to coax him into eating, he withdrew into himself and was silent. Five years old, and he still wet his bed every night, so the caregivers had to spread a rubber sheet under the regular one. He got up wet every morning and the children made fun of. He would sit barefoot in his wet pajamas on his wet bed, his thumb in his mouth, and instead of trying to change into dry clothes, he'd cry quietly, the snot mingling with his tears and smearing his cheeks, until the caregiver arrived and scolded him, "Oh, really, get dressed, Oded. Wipe your nose. Enough crying. Stop being such a baby."

The Committee for Preschoolers instructed Leah, his mother, to be firm with him in order to wean him off this self-indulgent behavior. And so during the afternoons he spent at his parents' house, Leah saw to it that he sat with his back straight, always finished everything on his plate, and never sucked his thumb. If he cried, she punished him for being a crybaby. She was against hugging and kissing, believing that the children of our new society had to be strong and resilient. She thought Oded's problems stemmed from the fact that his teachers and caregivers let him get away with things and forgave him his oddities. Roni, for his part, hugged and kissed Oded only when Leah wasn't around. When she was gone, he'd take a bar of chocolate out of his pocket and break off two or three squares for Oded. Father and son kept these squares of chocolate a secret from Leah and everyone else. More than once, Roni had intended to take issue with Leah about how she treated their son, but he feared her angry outbursts, which drove Oded to crawl under the bed with his duck and cry soundlessly until his mother's anger subsided--and even then, the boy was in no hurry to leave his hiding place.

On the kibbutz, Roni Shindlin was considered a gossip and a comedian, but in his own home, he hardly ever joked because Leah couldn't stand his wisecracks, which she found coarse and tasteless. Both Leah and Roni chain-smoked the cheap Silon cigarettes the kibbutz distributed to its members, and their small apartment was always full of smoke. The smell persisted even at night because it had been absorbed by the furniture and the walls and hovered under the ceiling. Leah didn't like unnecessary touching and talking. She believed in solid principles. She adhered to all the kibbutz tenets with a zealot's fervor. In her view, a couple on the kibbutz should live a simple life.

Their apartment was furnished with a plywood bookcase and a sofa with a foam rubber mattress that opened into a double bed at night and was closed again every morning. There were also a coffee table, two wicker armchairs, an upholstered armchair, and a rough floor mat. A painting of a field of sunflowers glowing in the sun hung on the wall, and a mortar shell casing that served as a vase for a bouquet of dry throne stood in the corner of the room. And, of course, the air reeked of cigarettes.

In the evening, after the work schedule for the next day had been hung on the bulletin board, Roni liked to sit with his friends and acquaintances at his regular table at the far end of the dining hall, smoking and talking about the goings-on in the kibbutz members' lives. Nothing escaped his notice. Other people's lives aroused his unflagging curiosity and unleashed a torrent of witticisms. He thought that the higher our ideals, the more absurd our weaknesses and contradictions. Sometimes, with a smile, he quoted Levi Eshkol, who said that a person is only human, and even that, only rarely. He would light himself a fresh cigarette and say to his cronies in a slightly nasal voice, "Some people play musical chairs, but here, we play musical mates. First Boaz ups and leaves Osnat for Ariella Barash, and now Ariella ups and leaves Boaz for her cat and tomorrow some newly abandoned woman will come and collect the newly abandoned Boaz. In the words of the Bible: 'I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for . . . a warm bed.'" Or he'd say, "Anyone on Kibbutz Yekhat who needs a wife can just stand in line at the bottom of David Dagan's steps and wait for a little while. Women are flicked out of there like cigarette butts."

Roni Shindlin and his stablemates sometimes laughed raucously, and the kibbutz members did their best not to become the butt of their jokes.

At ten at night, Roni and his gang dispersed to their apartments, and he would stop in at the children's house to check on Oded and tuck him in. Then he'd trudge home, sit down on the steps to take off his shoes so as not to track in the mud, and tiptoe inside his stocking feet. Leah would be sitting there, chain-smoking listening to the radio. She listened to the radio every night. Roni would also light up,  his last cigarette of the day, and sit down across from her without speaking. At ten thirty, they put out their cigarettes, turned off the light and went to sleep, he wrapped in his blanket and she in hers, because they had to get up before six in the morning for work.

In the metalwork shop, Roni was known to be a hard worker devoted to his job, and he also never missed a meeting of the Farm Management Committee, where he was always on the side of those who supported careful, balanced management of the agricultural divisions and opposed potentially reckless initiatives. He voted for a limited expansion of the chicken coop but against taking bank loans.

He had a stamp collection that he pored over with Oded every day after work: they would sit with their heads bent, almost touching, over the coffee table, the room warmed by a kerosene heater that burned with a blue flame. With water from a small bowl, Oded would wet the pieces of envelopes that bore the stamps in order to melt the glue and separate them from the paper. Then, under his father's supervision, he'd place the stamps face-down on a piece of blotting paper to dry. As Roni arranged the stamps in an album, following the English catalog, he would explain to Oded about Japan, the land of the rising sun, about the freezing country called Iceland, about Aden and the ancient Hazarmaveth, the Courtyard of Death, near the Strait of Tears, about Panama and the large canal that had been dug through it.

Leah squeezed fresh orange juice for them, admonishing Oded to drink it all, then she sat down in her corner and read an education journal. Every now and then they heard a faint burbling from the pipes of the kerosene heater, and the flame behind the iron grate flared up momentarily. Outside, the rain and wind pounded the closed shutters, and the branch of a ficus tree brushed against the outer wall again and again as if begging for mercy. Roni stood up, emptied the ashtray, and rinsed it under the tap. Oded sucked his thumb and clung to his father. Leah scolded him, "Stop sucking. And, you, stop spoiling him. He's spoiled enough as it is." Then she added, "He's better off eating an orange instead, and he should get rid of that pathetic duck of his. Boys on't play with dolls."

Now that Leah had gone away for ten days, Roni went to the children's house every afternoon at four o'clock to pick up Oded and his squealing duck. With the boy astride his shoulders, he'd stroll around the cow barns and chicken coops. The acrid smell of rotting orange peel rose from the compost pile, mingling with the heavy stench of animal feed and wet manure from the barn. A damp wind blew in from the west, and an early twilight fell on the storerooms and sheds and enveloped our small, red-roofed houses. Now and then a bird chirped piercingly in a treetop and the sheep in their pen replied with a heartbreaking bleat. Sometimes it began to drizzle, and father and son inched over and hurried home.

At home after their stroll, Roni coaxed Oded into eating a slice of bread and jam and drinking a cup of cocoa. Oded reluctantly nibbled two or three bites of bread, took a sip of the cocoa, and said, "No more, Daddy. Now stamps."

After Roni had cleared the table and put the dishes in the sink, he took down the green album and the and the two of them bent over it, heads almost touching. Roni lit a cigarette and explained to Oded that stamps are small visitors from distant countries, and each visitor is here to tell us a story about its homeland, its countryside and famous people, its holidays and beautiful buildings. Oded asked if there were countries where children are allowed to sleep with their parents at night and where children aren't mean and don't hit. Roni didn't know how to answer, so he said that there are good people and cruel people everywhere, and he explained the word cruel to Oded. In his heart, Roni believed that, here, cruelty is sometimes disguised as self-righteousness or dedication to principles, and he knew that no one was completely free of it. Not even he himself.

Oded grew anxious as seven thirty approached, the hour he had to go back to the children's house and leave his father for the night. He didn't plead to stay at home, but instead went to the toilet to pee, and when he didn't come out, Roni had to go in after him and found him sitting on the closed toilet, sucking his thumb and hugging his rubber duck, its once-red bill now faded and one of its eyes slightly sunken into its head.

Roni said, "Dedi. We have to go. It's late."
Oded said, "We can't, we just can't. There's a big wolf in the woods."

Finally they both put on their coats. Roni helped Oded into his green boots and tied the strings of his hat under his chin. He took a large, thick stick from behind the steps for chasing away the wolf, held Oded in his arms, and walked to the children's house. The boy hugged his father's head with one hand, and in the other he held the duck so tightly that it emitted a constant stream of faint squeals. When they passed the grove behind the dining hall, Roni waved his stick, striking the wet air every which way until the wolf ran off. Oded thought about that for a moment, then said sadly that the wolf would come back late at night when the parents were asleep. Roni promised that the night guard would chase away the wolf, but the boy was inconsolable because he knew very well that the wolf would devour the night guard.

When they reached the children's house, the electric heater was already on in the dining room and there were plates on the small tables, each filled with a slice of bread and yellow cheese, half a hard-boiled egg, tomato slices, four olives, and a small mound of cream cheese. The caregiver, Hemda, a dumpy woman wearing a white apron around her waist, made sure that the children placed their boots in a neat row by the door and hung their coats on the wall hooks above their boots. Then the parents went outside to smoke, the children ate and took their plates and cups to the sink, and the monitors wiped the tables.

After the meal, the parents were allowed to go in and put their children to bed. The children, in flannel pajamas, gathered around the sinks, screamed and pushed each other, washed their faces and brushed their teeth, and climbed noisily into bed. The parents were given ten minutes to read them a story or sing them a lullaby, then they said good night and left. Hemda turned off the lights, except for a small one in the dining room. She stayed for several more minutes, forbade the children to whisper, ordered them to go to sleep, gave them another warning, said good night, leaving a dim light on in the shower room, turned off the electric heater, and let.

The children waited until she was gone, then got out of bed barefoot and began to run around the bedrooms and the dining room. They hurled their muddy boots at each other, growing rowdier by the minute. The boys wrapped blankets around their heads and frightened the girls by roaring, "We're Arabs, we're attacking now." The shrieking girls huddled together, and one of them, Atida, filled a bottle with water and sprayed the ARabs. The mayhem didn't end until Eviatar, a broad-shouldered boy, suggested, "Hey, let's go and snatch Oded's duck."

Oded hadn't gotten out of bed when the others did but, instead, lay with his face to the wall and thought about a country from the stamp collection that his father said was called the Hazarmaveth, the Courtyard of Death. The name frightened him and he thought that the courtyard of the children's house located in the darkness right on the other side of the wall was also a hazarmaveth. He pulled the blanket over his head and hugged the rubber duck, knowing it was dangerous to fall asleep or cry. He waited for the others to get tired and go back to bed, hoping they'd forget about him tonight. His mother was away, his father had gone to smoke with his friends at their table in the dining hall, the caregiver, Hemda, was off somewhere, and the Hazarmaveth was right there in the darkness behind the thin wall, the door wasn't locked, and there was a wolf lurking in the woods that they had to pass on the way home.

Tador, Tamir, and Rina tore off his blanket and threw it on the floor, and Dalit chanted in an infuriating singsong: "Oded-pees-his-bed is out of his head."

Eviatar said, "Now he'll cry." And he said in oh, such a sweet voice to Oded, "So, cry a little for us, Oded. Just a little. We're all asking you nicely."

Oded curled into himself, brought his knees up to his stomach, dropped his head down between his shoulders, and clutched his duck, which squealed weakly.

"His duck is filthy."
"Let's watch the duck."
"Let's wash his peepee. His peepee's filthy too."
"Give us the duck, Oded-pees-his-bed. Come on, give it to us. Be nice."

Eviatar tried to pull the duck from Oded's grasp, but the boy held on to it with all his might, pressing it hard against his stomach. Tadmor and Tamir pulled at Oded's arms and he kicked them with his bare feet, and Rina pulled at his pajamas. Tadmor and Tamir pried his fingers away from the duck, and Eviatar wrapped his hand around it, wrenched it away from Oded, and waved it in the air, dancing on one leg, chanting, "Oded's dirty duck is out of luck. Whattya say, let's chuck it away!"

Oded gritted his teeth, fighting not to cry, but his eyes welled and snot ran from his nose onto his mouth and chin. He got out of bed barefoot and tried to attack Eviatar, who was a lot taller and stronger. Eviatar pretended to be afraid and waved the duck high over Oded's head, passing it straight to Tamir, who passed it to Rina, who passed it to Tadmor. Oded, suddenly filled with the despair and fury of the weak, gathered momentum and charged Eviatar as hard as he could, smashing into his stomach and almost knocking him down. The girls, Dalit an Rina, squealed with delight. Eviatar straightened up, pushed Oded away, and punched him hard in the nose. When Oded was finally lying on the floor sobbing, Dalit said, "Let's get him some water," and Tadmor said, "Stop it. That's enough. What's wrong with you? Leave him alone." But Eviatar went to the dining room, took a pair of scissors out of the drawer, cut off the rubber duck's head, and went back to the bedroom, the duck's body in his right hand, its head in his left. He bent over Oded, who was still lying on the floor, and laughed. "Choose, Oded," he said. "You can choose."

Oded got to his feet, pushed his way through the children crowded around him, ran blindly to the door, opened it, and booted straight out into the darkness of the Hazarmaveth that lay beyond the children's house. He ran barefoot in the mud, shaking all over in his pajamas from cold and fear, ran and hopped, like a hunted rabbit, completely soaked by the rain that dripped from his hair down his cheeks and mixed with his tears; he passed blocks of dark buildings, crossed through the darkness of the small grove near the dining hall, heard the thudding of the black wolf's paws pursuing him, felt its breath on the back of his neck, ran faster as the rain grew stronger, the wind beat against his face, and he stumbled and fell onto his knees in a puddle, stood up wet and covered in mud, and ran on alone in the darkness between one streetlamp and the next, ran and wept in small, rapid sobs, ran, his ears frozen and shining, ran until he reached his parents' house where he dropped onto the steps, afraid to go inside, afraid they'd be angry with him and return him to the children's house; and there, on the steps, his little body curled up and frozen and shaking, his father found him crying soundlessly when he came back from the evening's gossip session in the dining hall.

Roni took his son in his arms, carried him inside, removed the wet pajamas, and cleaned off the mud and mucus with a washcloth, then rubbed his frozen body with a large, coarse towel to warm him. He swathed the boy in a warm blanket and turned on the heater while Oded recounted what had happened in the children's house. Roni told him to wait beside the heater and bolted out into the rain, running, panting, burning with rage, as he raced up the hill.

When he reached the children's house, his shoes heavy with mud, he saw the night guard, Berta From, who tried to tell him something, but he didn't hear and didn't want to hear. Blind and deaf with despair and fury, he burst into Oded's room turned on the light, bent over and yanked a gentle, quiet boy named Yair from under his blanket, stood him on his bed, and slapped his face savagely over and over again until the boy's nose began to bleed and his head banged against the wall with the force of the blows, as Roni shouted in a rasping voice, "This is nothing! Nothing! I will kill anyone who touches Oded again!:

Berta the night guard in the children's house, grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him off the child, who flopped onto the bed, his sobs thin and piercing, and said again, "You've got crazy, Roni, completely crazy." Roni punched her in the chest, then ran outside and dashed through the mud and rain back to his son.

Father and son slept with their arms around each other all night on the sofa that opened into a double bed, and in the morning, they stayed in the apartment. Roni didn't go to work and he didn't take Oded to the children's house; he spread jam on a slice of bread and warmed a cup of cocoa. At eight thirty int he morning, Yoav, the kibbutz secretary, appeared grim-faced at the door and curtly informed Roni that he was expected in the kibbutz office at exactly five o'clock the next afternoon for a personal interview at a joint meeting of the Social and Preschool Education Committees.

At lunch, Roni's friends sat at the gossip table without him and talked about what the entire kibbutz had been talking about since morning. They speculated about what Roni would say if someone had done those things. You can never know, they said, such a quiet guy with a sense of humor, and look at what he's capable of. At three in the afternoon, Leah appeared, having been summoned by phone from her course. Before going home, she stopped at the children's house and left warm underwear, clean clothes, and boots for the boy. Tight-lipped, a cigarette burning between her fingers, she informed Roni that she and she alone would be in charge of Oded, and, what's more, she had decided that, for the boy's own good, he would return to the children's house that night.

The rain had stopped, but the sky was still heavy with low clouds and a cold, damp wind had been gusting in from the west. The room filled with a cloud of cigarette smoke. At seven thirty in the evening, Leah bundled Oded into his coat, pulled his green boots firmly on his feet, and said, "Come on, Oded. You're going to bed. They won't bother you anymore." And she added, "No more running wild for them. Starting tonight, the night guard will do her job properly."

They went out, leaving Roni alone in the apartment. He lit a cigarette and stood at the window, his back to the room, his face to the darkness outside. Leah returned at nine and didn't say a word to him. She sat down on her wicker armchair, smoked, and read her education magazine. At ten, Roni said, "I'm going out for a walk. To see how he is."

Leah said quietly, "You're not going anywhere."

Roni hesitated, then gave in because he no longer trusted himself.

At ten thirty they turned off the radio, emptied the ashtray, opened the sofa, and made up the double bed. They lay under their separate blankets because tomorrow they had to get up for work before six again. Outside, the rain had resumed and the wind blew the stubborn ficus tree branch against the shutters. Roni lay on his back for a while, his open eyes staring at the ceiling. For a moment, he imagined that he heard a faint whisper in the darkness. He sat up in bed and listened hard, but he could hear only rain and wind and the branch brushing against the shutters. Then he fell asleep.

Amoz Oz - Little Boy

Friday, August 11, 2017

ET: Almanac

Now I really did feel a powerful urge to do something against the war! I had the material ready to hand; to get me started I had needed only this last visible confirmation of what instinct told me. I had recognized the enemy whom I must fight--the false heroism that would rather send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of unscrupulous prophets promising political and military victory, keeping the slaughter going, and behind them the chorus they had hired, the "wordsmiths of war", as Werfel called them in his fine poem. Anyone who expressed reservations was disturbing them in their patriotic business; anyone who uttered a warning was derided as a pessimist; anyone who opposed the war which inflicted no suffering on them personally was branded a traitor. It was always the same, the whole pack throughout history who called cautious people cowards, human people week only to be at a loss themselves in the hour of disaster that they had rashly conjured up. Because the pack were always the same. They had mocked Cassandra in Troy, Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and I had never before understood the tragedy of those great figures as I did now, in a time so like theirs. From the first I had not believed in 'victory', and I knew only one thing for certain--even if victory could in fact be gained at the expense of countless victims, it did not justify that sacrifice. But I was alone among my friends with these warnings, and the wild howl of triumph even before the first shot was fired, the division of the spoils even before the first battle, often made me doubt whether I myself was mad among all these clever heads, or perhaps was the only person to be shockingly sober amidst their intoxication.

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The generation of my parents and grandparents was better off, they lived their lives from one end to the other quietly and in a straight, clear line. All the same, I do not know whether I envy them. For they drowsed their lives may remote from all true bitterness, from the malice and force of destiny; they knew nothing about all those crises and problems that oppress the heart but at the same time greatly enlarge it. How little they knew, stumbling along in security and prosperity and comfort, that life can also mean excess and tension, constant surprise, can be turned upside down; how little they guessed in their touching liberal optimism that every new day dawning outside the window could shatter human lives. Even in their darkest nights they never dreamt how dangerous human beings can be, or then again how much power they can have to survive dangers and surmount trials. We who have been hunted through the rapids of life, torn from our former roots, always driven to the end and obliged to begin again, victims and yet also the willing servants of unknown mysterious powers, we for whom comfort has become an old legend and security, a childish dream, have felt tension from pole to pole of our being, the terror of something always new in every fibre. Every hour of our years was linked to the fate of the world. In sorrow and in joy we have lived through time and history far beyond our own small lives, while they knew nothing beyond themselves. Every one of us, therefore, even the least of the human race, knows a thousand times more about reality today than the wisest of our forebears. But nothing was given to us freely; we paid the price in full.

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That world was a wonderful tonic, its strength reaching our hearts from all the coasts of Europe. At the same time, however, although we did not guess it, what delighted us was dangerous. The stormy wind of pride and confidence sweeping over Europe brought clouds with it. Perhaps the upward movement had come too fast, states and cities had made themselves powerful too swiftly--and an awareness of having power always leads states, like men, to use or misuse it.... one group of companies was set against all the rest--the economic situation had maddened them all in their frantic wish to get their hands on more and more. If today, thinking it over calmly, we wonder why Europe went to war in 1914, there is not one sensible reason to be found, nor even any real occasion for the war. There were no ideas involved, it was not really about drawing minor borderlines. I can explain it only, thinking of that excess of power, by seeing it as a tragic consequence of the internal dynamism that had built up during those forty years of peace, and now demanded release. Every state suddenly felt that it was strong, and forgot that other states felt exactly the same; all states wanted even more, and wanted some of what the others already had. The worst of it was that the very thing we loved most, our common optimism, betrayed us, for everyone thought that everyone else would back down at the last minute, and so the diplomats began their game of mutual bluff.

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Every foray down to the city was a distressing experience at the time. For the first time I saw, in the yellow, dangerous eyes of the starving, what famine really looks like. Bread was nothing but black crumbs tasting of pitch and glue, coffee was a decoction of roast barley, beer was yellow water, chocolate a sandy substance colored brown. The potatoes were frozen. Most people trapped rabbits so as not to forget the taste of meat entirely. The only fabric on sale was treated paper, a substitute for a substitute. Almost all the men went around dressed in old uniforms, even Russian uniforms, collected from a depot or a hospital, clothing in which several people had died already. You often saw trousers made of old sacks. Every step you took along the streets, where the shop windows were as empty as if they had been looted, mortar was crumbling away like scabs from the ruinous buildings, and obviously undernourished people dragged themselves to work with difficulty. It was deeply upsetting. Country people on the plain were better off for food. The general breakdown of morale meant that no farmer would dream of selling his butter, eggs and milk at the legally fixed 'maximum prices.' He kept what he could in store and waited for buyers to come and make him a better offer. Soon there was a new profession--hoarding. Unemployed men would and go from farm to farm with a couple of rucksacks, even taking the train to particularly productive areas, and bought up food at illegal prices. They then sold it on in cities for four or five times what they had paid. At first the farmers were happy with all the paper money coming in for their butter and eggs, and they in turn hoarded the banknotes. But as soon as they took their fat wallets to town to buy things for themselves, they discovered, to their discomfiture, that they had asked only five times the price for their food they sold, but meanwhile the price of the scythes, hammers and pots and pans they wanted to buy had risen by twenty or fifty times. After that they tried direct exchange for manufactured objects, bartering in kind.  Humanity had already cheerfully reverted to the cave-dwelling age in trench warfare, and was now rejecting thousands of years of conventional financial transactions and going back to primitive exchange. A grotesque style of trading spread through the whole of Austria. Town-dwellers took what they could spare out to the country, Chinese porcelain vases, carpets, swords and guns, cameras and books, lamps and ornaments. If you walked into a farmhouse near Salzburg, you might see, to your surprise, an Indian statue o the Buddha staring at ou, or a rococo bookcase containing leather-bund books in French of which the new owners were inordinately proud. "Genuine leather! France!" they would boast with a broad grin. Real goods were in demand, not money. Many people had to get rid of their wedding rings or their leather belts just to keep body and soul together.

Finally the authorities intervened to put an end to this under-the-counter trading, which did no one any good except those who were well off already. Cordons were set up in province after province, and good were confiscated from the hoarders transporting them by rail or bicycle and handed over to the rationing offices in urban areas. The hoarders struck back by organizing a Wild-West kind of nocturnal transport, or bribing the officials in charge of the confiscations, who had hungry children at home themselves. Sometimes there were actual battles with knives and revolvers, which after four years at the front these men could handle expertly, just as they knew the fieldcraft of taking cover when in flight. The chaos grew worse by the week, and the population more and more agitated, for financial devaluation was more obvious every day. The neighbor states had replaced the old Austrian banknotes with their own currencies, leaving tiny Austria with almost the entire burden of redeeming the old crown. As the first sign of distrust among the people, coinage disappeared, for a small copper or nickel coin still represented something more real than mere printed paper. The state might crank up the printing presses to create as much artificial money as possible, in line with the precepts of Mephistopheles, but it could not keep pace with inflation, and so every town and city and finally every village began printing its own 'emergency currency', which would not be accepted in the neighboring village, and later on, when it was recognized, correctly, that it had no intrinsic value at all, was usually just thrown away. An economist with a gift for the graphic description of all the phases of the inflation that began in Austria and then spread to Germany would, I think, have been able to write a book far more exciting than any novel, for the chaos took increasingly more fantastic forms. Soon no one knew what anything cost. Prices shot up at random; a box of matches could cost twenty times more in a shop that had raised the price early than in another, where a less grasping shopkeeper was still selling his wares at yesterday's prices. His reward for honesty was to see his shop cleared out within the hour, for one customer would tell another, and they all came to buy whatever there was to be bought, regardless of whether they needed it or not. Even a goldfish or an old telescope represented 'real value', and everyone wanted real value rather than paper. Most grotesque of all was the discrepancy between other expenses and rents. The government banned any rise in rents in order to protect tenants--who were the majority--but to the detriment of landlords. Soon the rent of a medium sized apartment in Austria for a whole year cost its tenant less than a single midday meal. In effect, the whole of the country lived more or less rent-free for five to ten years--since even later landlords were not allowed to give their tenants notice. This crazy state of chaos made the situation more absurd and illogical from week to week. A man who had saved for forty years and had also patriotically put money into the war loan became a beggar, while a man who used to be in debt was free of it. Those who had observed propriety in the allocation of food went hungry, those who cheerfully ignored the rules were well fed. If you knew how to hand out bribes you got on well, if you speculated you could make a profit. Those who sold in line with cost price were robbed; those who calculated carefully still lost out. There were no standards or values as money flowed away and evaporated; the only virtue was to be clever, adaptable and unscrupulous, leaping on the back of the runaway horse instead of letting it trample you.

In addition, while the people of Austria lost any idea of financial standards as values plummeted, many foreigners had realized that they could fish profitably in our troubled waters. During the period of galloping inflation, which went on for three years at ever-increasing speed, only one thing had any stable value inside the country, and that was foreign currency. While the Austrian crown was dissolving like jelly in your fingers, everyone wanted Swiss francs and American dollars, and large numbers of foreigners exploited the economic situation to feed on the twitching corpse of the old Austrian currency. Austria was discovered and became disastrously popular with foreign visitors in a parody of the society season. All the hotels in Vienna were crammed full with these vultures; they would buy anything, from toothbrushes to country estates; they cleared out private collections of antiquities and the antique dealers' shops before the owners realized how badly they had been robbed and cheated in their time of need. Hotel receptionists from Switzerland an Dutch shorthand typists stayed in princely apartments of the Ringstrasse hotels. Incredible as it may seem, I can vouch for it that for a long time the famous, de luxe Hotel de l'elope in Salzburg was entirely booked by unemployed members of the English proletariat, who could live here more cheaply than in their slums at home, thanks to the generous unemployment benefit they received. Anything that was not nailed down disappeared. Word gradually spread of the cheap living and low prices in Austria. Greedy visitors came from further and further afield, from Sweden, from France, and you heard more Italian, French, Turkish and Romanian than German spoken in the streets of the city centre of Vienna. Even Germany, where the pace of inflation was much slower at first--although later it would be a million times worse than in Austria--took advantage of the falling value of the Austrian crown in relation to its own mark. As Salzburg was on the border I had a good opportunity of observing these raids on us every day. Germans crossed from the neighboring towns and villages of Bavaria in their hundreds and thousands, pouring into the small city. They had their suits made and their cars repaired here, they went to the pharmacist and the doctor in Salzburg, big firms in Munich sent their letters and telegrams from Austria soap to profit by the difference in postage. Finally, at the urging of the German government, a border checkpoint was set up to prevent German citizens from buying everything cheap in Salzburg, where you could get seventy Austrian crowns for a single German mark, instead of in their shops at home, and all goods coming out of there was one item that couldn't be confiscated; the beer you had already consumed. And every day the beer-swilling Bavarians worked out, from the rate of exchange, whether the devaluation of the crown enabled them to drink five, six, or even ten liters of beer in and around Salzburg for the price they would pay for a single liter at home. No greater temptation could be imagined, and whole troops of visitors came over the border from nearby Freilassung and Reichenhall, complete with their wives and children, to indulge in the luxury of pouring as much beer down their throats as their bellies would hold. The railway station was in pandemonium every evening, crowded with hordes of intoxicated, bawling, belching and expectorating Germans. Many of them, having overestimated their capacity had to be wheeled to the carriages on the trolleys generally used to transport baggage before the train took them back to their own country, to the accompaniment of bacchanalian shouting and singing. These cheerful Bavarians, of course, had no idea that a terrible vengeance lay in store for them. For when the crown stabilized, while the fall of the mark assumed astronomical dimensions, the Austrians traveled over from the same station to get drunk on the cheap in their own turn, and the same spectacle was repeated, although in the opposite direction This beer war in the midst of two inflationary periods is among my strangest memories because it clearly illustrates in miniature the entire crazy character of those years in perhaps its most graphic and grotesque aspect.

Strangest of all is the fact that day, with the best will in the world, I cannot remember how we managed to keep house in those years, when everyone in Austria had to raise the thousands and tens of thousands of crowns and in Germany the millions of marks they needed every day just to survive, and had to do it again and again. But the mysterious fact was that, somehow, we did manage. We got used to the chaos and adapted to it. Logically, a foreigner who did not see those days at first hand would probably imagine that a time when an egg cost as much in Austria as the price of a luxury car in the past, and later fetched four billion marks in Germany--roughly the basic value of all the buildings in the Greater Berlin area before inflation--women would be rushing through the streets tearing their hair, shops would be empty because no one could afford to buy anything, and the theaters and other places of entertainment would have no audiences at all. Astonishingly, however, it was just the opposite. The will for life to go on proved stronger than the instability of the currency. In the midst of financial chaos, daily life continued almost unchanged. Individuals, of course, felt a great deal of change--the rich were impoverished when their money in banks and government securities melted away, spectators grew rich. But regardless of individual fates, the flywheel of the mechanism kept on turning into the same old rhythm. Nothing stood still. The baker made bread, the cobbler made boots, the writer wrote books, the farmer cultivated the land, trains ran regularly, the newspaper lay outside your door every morning at the usual time, and the places of entertainment in particular, the bars and the theaters, were full to overflowing. For the daily loss in value of money, once the most stable aspect of life, people came to appreciate true values such as work, love, friendship, art and nature all the more, and in the midst of disaster the nation as a whole lived more intensely than ever before, strung to a higher pitch. Young men and girls went walking in the mountains and came home tanned brown by the sun, music played in the dance halls until late at night, new factories and businesses were founded everywhere. I myself do not think I ever lived and worked with more intensity and concentration than I did in those years. What had been important to us before mattered even more now. Art was never more popular in Austria than at that time of chaos. Money had let us down; we sensed that what was eternal in us was all that would last.

I will never forget what operatic performances were like in those days of our greatest need. You groped your way through dimly lit streets, for street lighting was feeling the effects of the fuel shortage, you paid for your seat with a bundle of banknotes that would once have allowed you to hire a luxurious box for a year. You sat in your overcoat, because the auditorium was unheated, and pressed close to your neighbors for warmth--and the theater itself, once brilliant with uniforms and expensive gowns, was so dismal and grey! No one knew whether it would still be possible for the opera to keep going next week if money went on falling in value and there were no coal deliveries. Everything seemed doubly desperate in this scene of former luxury and imperial extravagance. The musicians of the Philharmonic sat in the pit, also grey shadows of themselves, emaciated and exhausted by deprivation, and we in the audience looked like ghosts in this now ghostly theater. but then the conductor raised his baton, the curtains parted, and it was more wonderful than ever before. The singers and musicians gave of their best, for they all felt that this might be the last time they performed in the theater they loved. And we listened with bated breath, more receptive than ever, knowing that for us, too, this might be the last time. Thousands of us, hundreds of thousands, lived like this. We all strained ourselves to the limit in these weeks and months and years on the brink of downfall. I never felt the will to live in a nation and in myself as strongly as I did then, when the end of everything, life and survival itself, was at stake.

The World of Yesterday - Stefan Zweig

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

ET: Almanac

Sixteen-year-old Moshe Yashar, tall, thin, sad, and bespectacled, went to see his teacher David Dagan at the ten o'clock break and asked his permission to visit his father when school was over and he'd finished work. He planned to stay overnight with relatives in Or Yehuda and get up at four thirty the next morning to catch the first bus back to the kibbutz so he could be there before school began.

David Dagan patted the boy's shoulder and said warmly, "These visits to your relatives pull you away from us. And you're almost one of us now."

Moshe said, "He's my father."

David Dagan pondered this for a moment, nodded twice as if agreeing with himself, and asked, "So tell me, have you learned to swim yet?"

The boy, gazing down at his sandals, said that he could swim a little. His teacher said, "And stop cutting your hair so short. With that stubble on your head, you look like a refugee. It's time you had a decent head of hair like all the other boys.

After a brief hesitation, he added affectionately, "All right, go. But only if you come back tomorrow before the first lesson. And while you're there, don't forget that you're one of us now."

Moshe Yashar was a boarder at our kibbutz. He was brought to us by a welfare worker: his mother died when he was seven and when his father fell ill, his Uncle Sami from Givat Olga took in the children. Several years later, when his uncle also became ill, the Welfare Office decided to split the children up and send them to various kibbutzim to live and attend school. Moshe came to Kibbutz Yekhat at the beginning of the school year wearing a plain white shirt without pockets, buttoned all the way up to the neck, and a black beret. He quickly learned to walk around barefoot and dress as we did, in shorts and singlet. We signed him up for the art club and the current events group, because he was tall and agile, he also found his way to the basketball court. But there was always something of the outsider about him: when we went on nocturnal forays to the food storeroom to scavenge treats for a sumptuous midnight feast, he never came with us. After school, when we all went to work and then to our parents' houses for the evening, Moshe remained alone in his room, doing homework, or went to the clubhouse where, with his glasses sliding down his nose, he would read all the newspapers from beginning to end. And wen we lay on the grass at night and sang nostalgic songs under the stars, he was the only one who didn't put his head on the lap of one of the girls. At first we called him alien and made fun of his shyness, but a few weeks after his arrival, we stopped teasing him about his foreignness, which was of a quiet, restrained kind. If someone offended him, Moshe Yashar would look the offender right in the eye. Sometimes he would say in a calm voice, "You're insulting me." But he bore no grudges and was always ready to help with any kind of work: carrying, moving, hanging things. He was even willing to help those who'd hurt his feelings, if they asked. After a few months, the "alien" appellation fell away and the girls began to call him Moshik. There was a unique gentleness in the way he behaved toward the girls, a gentleness in direct contrast to our ruff banter. Moshe spoke to the girls as if there were something marvelous about the mere fact that they were girls.

The school day began at seven in the morning and ended at one, when we had lunch in the school dining room, then went to change into our work clothes. From two until four every day, we worked in the various branches of the kibbutz. Moshe worked in the chicken coup and, unlike many of us, never asked for a different job. He quickly learned to spread feed in the troughs, collect eggs from the shelves that ran the length of the hens' air cages and arrange them in rows in cartons, set the thermostat in the brooder house, and feed the chicks, and he even injected the hens with vaccines. The old-timers who worked in the coop Shraga Shetchopek and Cheska Honig, were very pleased with him. He was fast and hard-working, quiet and thorough, and he never broke an egg or forgot to spread clean sawdust in the brooder houses where the newly hatched chicks were kept, was never late, and never took a sick day or stayed away for any other reason.

David Dagan said to Rivka Rikover, another teacher, "I let him go visit his family from after work today till the first lesson tomorrow. Though I'm not completely happy about this trip."

Rivka said "We have to encourage him to break off contact with them. They pull him back."

David said, "When we came to this country, we simply left our parents behind. We cut them out of our lives with a single stroke and that was that."

Rivka said "The boy has excellent qualities: he's quiet, hard-working, and he gets on with people."

David said, "On the whole, I have a very optimistic view of the Sephardim. We'll have to invest a great deal in them, but the investment will pay off. In another generation or two, they'll be just like us."

After David Dagan gave him permission to go, Moshe hurried to the room he shared with Tamir and Dror. By the end of the ten o'clock break, he had finished packing his small bag with underwear, socks, a spare shirt, his toothbrush and toothpaste, a copy of The Plague by Albert Camus, and his old black beret, which he kept hidden under a pile of clothes in the left compartment of the wardrobe under Tamir's.

After break, they had a history lesson. David Dagan, their teacher, gave a lecture on the French Revolution, dwelling on Karl Marx'sview of it, as a foreshadowing and early stage of the necessary and inevitable historical revolutions that would culminate in a classless society. Gideon, Lilah, and Carmela raised their hands and asked questions that David Dagan answered firmly and at length: "Just give me a minute," he said, "so we can set things straight."

Moshe cleaned his glasses and wrote everything down in his notebook--he was a conscientious student--but refrained from asking questions. Some weeks earlier, he'd read several chapters of Das Kapital in the school library and he didn't like Karl Marx: he felt that there could have been an exclamation mark after almost every sentence, and that put him off. Marx claimed, so it seemed to Moshe, that economic, social, and historical laws were as clear and immutable as the laws of nature. And Moshe had his doubts even about the immutability of the laws of nature.

When Lilah remarked that in order to have prioress, there have to be victims, David Dagan agreed with her and added that history is by no means a garden party. Bloodshed repelled Moshe and garden parties did not particularly appeal to him either. Not that he'd ever been to a garden party, but neither did he think he'd ever want to attend one. He spent his free time reading in the empty library when his classmates were with their parents. Among the books he'd read was a translated World War II story of escape and survival in the frozen north, entitled We Die Alone by David Howarth. His reading was leading him to the simple conclusion that most people need more affection than they can find. These were the thoughts that filled his mind during the lesson on the French Revolution. After history class, two lessons remained, trigonometry and agriculture, and when they were over, we all dashed out of class straight to our rooms to put on our work clothes and race off to the dining room for a quick lunch.

Lunch consisted of spinach patties with mashed potatoes, sour pickles, and cooked carrots. We were hungry, so we also wolfed down bread and asked for more mashed potatoes. There was a large tin jug of cold water on every table, and we each drank two or three glasses because of the heat. Flies buzzed around our heads and large, dusty ceiling fans whirred above us. Desert was stewed fruit. When we finished eating, we took our dishes and silverware to the hatch that opened into the dishwashing room and went off to our jobs: Tamir to the garage, Door to the fodder fields, Carmela to the children's house, and Lilah to the laundry.

Moshe, wearing his dusty work clothes and shoes that stank of chicken droppings, crossed the road lined with cypress trees, passed two abandoned sheds and a tin-roofed lean-to, and reached the large chicken coop. Even from a distance, the smell of the coop enveloped him: the stench of chicken excrement, of the dust that rises from the feed, of torn-out feathers that stuck to the wire netting, along with another vague smell of overcrowding and suffocation. Cheska Honig was waiting for him, sitting on a small stool sorting eggs into cartons according to size. Moshe asked how she was, then told her that today, right after work, he was taking the four o'clock bus to visit his father. Cheska pointed out that when she was young, she just got up one day and ran away from home to go to Eretz Israel and join a kibbutz, so she actually never said goodbye to her parents. The Nazis murdered them in Lithuania. "Where is this family of yours, anyway?" Cheska asked Moshe. "They live in some kind of immigrants' camp?"

In a low, even voice Moshe told her what he told everyone here who asked him, that his mother died and his father fell ill and his uncle fell ill, too, so he and his brothers and sisters were sent to live in various kibbutzim. As they spoke, he rolled the feed cart under the large funnel of the feed container and filled it to the brim. He pushed it along the concrete walk between the two rows of cages and began to fill the troughs with feed. Under the cages crammed with chickens were piles of droppings. When here and there he found a dead chicken in a cage, he opened the cage, took out the carcass, and placed it gently on the concrete walk behind him. When he finished distributing the feed into all the troughs, he went back to collect the carcasses. Low moaning filled the air as if the hens, squeezed together two by two in the cages, were keening a faint, persistent, lost lament. Only now and then did a sharp screech of fear burst from one of the cages, as if a chicken had suddenly guessed how all of this would end. After all, no two chickens are or ever have been exactly alike. They all look the same to us, but they are actually different from one another the same way that people are, and since the creation of the world, no two identical creatures have ever been born. Moshe had already decided to become a vegetarian one day, maybe even a vegan, but had postponed implementing the decision because being a vegan among the kibbutz boys would to be easy. Even without being a vegetarian, he had to work hard day and night to seem like everyone else here. He had to keep his feelings to himself. Pretend. He thought of the cruelty of eating meat and of the fate of these hens, doomed to spend their entire lives packed tightly in wire cages, unable to move even one step. Someday, Moshe thought, a future generation will call us murderers, unable to comprehend how we could eat the flesh of creatures like ourselves, rob them of the feel of the earth and the smell of the grass, hatch them in automatic incubators, raise them in crowded cages, force-feed them, steal all their eggs before they hatch, and finally, slit their throats, pluck their feathers, tear them limb from limb, gorge oursevles on them, and drool and lick the fat from our lips. For months now, Moshe had been plotting to ope a cage and surreptitiously steal a chicken, only one, hide it under his shirt, away from the watchful eyes of Cheska and Shrug, spirit it out of the coop, and set it free on the other side of the kibbutz fence. But what would an abandoned chicken do all alone in the fields? At night the jackals would come and tear it to pieces.

He was suddenly disgusted with himself, a feeling he had often and for many and sundry reasons. Then he was disgusted by his disgust, scornfully calling himself a bleeding heart, a label that David Dagan sometimes applied to those who recoiled from the necessary cruelty of the revolution. Moshe respected David Dagan, a man of principle with strong opinions who spread a fatherly wing over him and all the other students in their school. It was David Dagan who had welcomed him into Kibbutz Yekhat and guided him gently but firmly into his new life. He was the one who signed Moshe up for the art club and the current events group, and he it was who defended him fiercely against the other children's mocking attitude when he first arrived. Moshe knew, as we all did, that David was living with a very young girl, Edna Asherov, Nahum the electrician's daughter. There had been many women in David's life, and though that surprised Moshe, he said to himself that after all, David Dagan wasn't an ordinary person like the rest of us, but a philosopher. He didn't judge David because he didn't like to judge other people and because he was so grateful to him. But he did wonder. He had often tried to put himself in David Dagan's shoes, but he was never able to imagine the teacher's easy sense of entitlement when it came to women and girls. Not just social revolution, he thought, not even the final, cruel one that David spoke about, could lead to equality between people like David, who attracted women effortlessly, and people like me, who would never dare, not even in their imaginations.

Yes, Moshe Yashar did occasionally dream of his classmate Carmela Nero's shy smile and of her fingers playing melancholy songs on the recorder, but he never dared to approach her, not with words, and almost never with looks. From where he sat in class, two rows behind her, he could see the curve of her slender neck as she bent over her notebook and the soft down of the hair on her nape. Once, when Carmela was standing between the light and the wall talking to one of the girls, he walked past and stroked her shadow. Afterward, he lay awake half the night, unable to sleep.

Cheska said, "After you've set the thermostat in the brooder house and checked that there's water in the trough and fed the chicks and put all the egg cartons in the refrigerator, you can go. I'll write down the daily summary for you today. And I'll let you go fifteen minutes early so you have time to shower and change and catch the four o'clock bus."

Moshe, who was collecting the dead chickens he had left on the walkway to drop them outside in the barrel to be burned, said, "Thank you." And added, "I'll be back tomorrow morning and I'll come to work fifteen minutes early in the afternoon."

Cheska said, "The main thing is that you show them you are a total kibbutznik now."

Alone in the shower, he scrubbed off the smells of the coop with soap and water, dried himself, and put on long, ironed trousers and a white Sabbath shirt, rolling the sleeves up past his elbows. He went to his room, took the bag he had packed during the ten o'clock break, and left quickly, cutting across the lawn and past the flower beds. Zvi Provizor, the gardener, was kneeling at one of them, pulling up weeds. He looked up and asked Moshe were he was off to. Moshe was going to say that he was on his way to visit his father in the hospital but, instead, he said only, "Town."

Zvi Provisor asked, "Why? What do they have there that we don't have here?"

Moshe said nothing, but thought about replying: Strangers.

At the central bus station, when he got off the Kibbutz Yekhat bus and boarded the one to the hospital, Moshe chose to sit in the last row of seats. He took his threadbare black beret out of his bag and put it on his head, pulling it down so that it hid half his forehead. He buttoned his shirt all the way up and rolled his sleeves all the way down to his wrists. And instantly looked as he had on the day his welfare worker brought him to Kibbutz Yekhat. He was still wearing the summer sandals they'd given him on the kibbutz, but he was almost sure his father wouldn't notice them. There were very few things his father still noticed. The bus wove through the alleyways near the central bus station, and the smell of heavily fried food and combusted gasoline drifted in through the open windows. Moshe thought about the girls in his class who had begun to call him Moshik. Now that the teasing and mocking had passed, Moshe found that he was enjoying kibbutz social life. He liked school, where he could sit in class barefoot on summer days and argue freely with his teachers without having to show any of the usual subservience. He liked the basketball court. He also liked the art club and the current events group meetings in the evenings where they discussed adult matters, and Israeli life was usually represented by two camps: the progressive and the old-world. Moshe was well aware that part of him still belonged to the old world because he didn't always accept progressive ideas, but rather than argue, he simply listened. He spent his free time reading the books by Dostoevsky, Camus, and Kafka that he borrowed from the library finding himself deeply touched by the enigmas contained in their pages. He was drawn more to unsolved questions than to glib solutions. But he told himself that perhaps this was still part of the adjustment process and in a few months, he'd learn to see the world the way David Dagan and the other teachers wanted their students to see it. How good it was to be one of them. Moshe envied the boys who rested their heads so easily on the girls' laps as they lay on the big lawn in the evening and sang work songs and patriotic tunes. Until the age of twelve, so he was told, girls and boys had showered naked together. Chills of excitement and fear had run down his back when he heard that. Day after day, Tamir and Dror and the other boys had seen Carmela Nevo naked, and they grew inured to what they saw, while for him, even the thought of the curve of her neck and the soft down on the nape made him tremble with longing and shame. Would he become one of them someday? He yearned for that day, but was afraid of it too, and he also knew in his heart of hearts that it would never come.

The bus had already left Tel Aviv and was driving jerkily from town to town, pulling up at every stop, letting passengers on and off, hard-working people who spoke Romanian, Arabic, Yiddish, Hungarian, some carrying live chickens or large bundles wrapped in tattered blankets or old suitcases tied with ropes. When shouting and pushing occasionally broke out on the bus, the driver rebuked the passengers and they cursed him. At one point, the driver stopped on the side of the road between two small villages, got off, stood with his back to the bus, and urinated in a field. When he boarded again and started the engine, a murky cloud of stinking diesel fuel filled the air. It was hot and humid, and the passengers were bathed in sweat. The trip was very long, even longer than the ride from Kibbutz Yekhat to Tel Aviv, because the bus circled through the small towns and an immigrant camp. Citrus groves and fields of thorns filled the unpopulated areas. Dusty cypress or eucalyptus trees with peeling bark lined the sides of the road. Finally, when day began to soften into evening, Moshe stood up, pulled the cord to stop the bus, and stepped off onto the fork int he dirt road that led to the hospital.

The moment he got off the bus, Moshe saw a small mongrel puppy, gray-brown with white patches on its head. It was running diagonally through the bushes toward the road, which it crossed just a the bus began to move. The front tire missed it, but the back one crushed the creature before it even had a chance to bark. There was only a light thump and the bus continued on its way. The little dog's body lay not eh cracked road, still twitching violently, raising its head again and again and banging it on the hard asphalt each time it fell back. Its legs flailed in the air and a stream of dark blood spurted from the open jaw past the small, shiny teeth, and another trickle of blood oozed from its hindquarters. Moshe ran over, kneeled on the road, and held the dog's head gently until it stopped twitching and its eyes glazed oer. Then he picked up the small, still-warm body so that no other cars would run over it and carried it in his arms to the foot of a eucalyptus tree with a whitewashed trunk near the bus stop and laid it down. He cleaned his hands with some dirt but couldn't wipe the bloodstains off his trousers and white Sabbath shirt. He knew his father was not likely to notice them. There were very few things his father still noticed. Moshe stood there for a moment, took out a handkerchief, and wiped the moisture off his glasses; then, since night was falling, he began to walk quickly, almost running along the dirt road.

The hospital, a twenty-minute walk from the road, was surrounded by a wall of untreated cinder blocks topped with barbed wire. By the time he reached it, the blood on his clothes had congealed into rust-colored stains.

A fat, sweaty guard wearing a yarmulke stood at the hospital gate, blocking the entrance with his thick body. He told Moshe that visiting hours were over a long time ago and he should "go and come back tomorrow." Moshe, his eyes still filled with tears for the dead dog, tried to explain that he'd come all the way from Kibbutz Yekhat to see his father, and he had to be back at school on the kibbutz by seven o'clock tomorrow morning. The fat guard, who was in a jovial mood, pointed to the black beret on Moshe's head and said, "They don't keep the Sabbath on the kibbutz and they eat trey there, don't they?" Moshe tried to explain, but the tears chocked him. The guard softened and said, "Don't cry, son, go in, it's okay, go in, but next time, come between four and five, not at night. And don't stay for more than half an hour." Moshe thanked him and, for some reason, reached out to shake the guard's hand. The guard din't take the proffered hand, but tapped the black beret on the young boy's head twice and said, "Just make sure you keep the Sabbath."

Moshe crossed a small, neglected garden with two benches badly in need of fresh paint and walked through the iron-barred door that opened when he rang a raspy bell. In the entrance hall, some ten men and women were sitting on metal chairs that lined the walls, which were painted a sort of khaki color to halfway up. The men and women were all wearing striped hospital gowns and flat slippers. Some were speaking to each other in hesitant voices. The supervisor, a strapping fellow wearing a loud flowered shirt and army-issue trousers and boots, was standing in a corner of the room chewing gum. An older woman was knitting furiously, though she had neither needles nor wool. Her lips moved in flower mutter. A spindly, stoop-shouldered man stood with his back to the room, clutching the bars of the window and speaking to the now-darkening world outside. An old woman was sitting alone near the door, sucking hard on her thumb and mumbling prayers of supplication. His father was out on the balcony, which was covered from top to bottom with netting. He was sitting on a gray metal chair next to a small metal table, also gray, with a tin mug of tea cooling on it. Moshe sat down in a metal chair beside him and said, "Hello, Father." He sat hunched over so that his father wouldn't see the bloodstains on his clothes.

The father said hello without looking at his son.
"I've come to see you."
The father nodded and said nothing.
"I've come by bus."
The father asked, "Where did he go?"
"Who?"
"Moshe."
"I'm Moshe."
"You're Moshe."
"I'm Moshe. I've come to visit you."
"You're Moshe."
"How are you, Father?"
The father asked again, with concern and profound sadness, in a voice trembling with pain, "Where did he go? Where?"

Moshe took his wrinkled, veiny hand, worn out by hard work building roads and planting crops, and said, "I've come from the kibbutz, Father. I've come from Kibbutz Yekhat. I've come to visit you. Everything is fine with me. It's going very well."

"You're Moshe?"

So Moshe began to tell his father about his school. About his teacher, David Dagan. About the library. About working in the chicken coop. About the girls who sing beautiful, nostalgic songs. Then he opened his shoulder bag and took out The Plague, with its green cover, and read the first two paragraphs to his father. His father, a yarmulke on his slightly tilted head, listened attentively, weary eyes half closed, then suddenly picked up the tin mug, looked at the now-cool tea, shook his head sadly, put the mug down again, and asked, "Where did he go?"

Moshe said, "I'll go to the kitchen and get you a fresh cup of tea. Hot tea."

His father wiped his forehead with his hand and, as if awakening from sleep, said again, "You're Moshe."

Moshe held his father's hand and didn't hug him, but kept pressing the limp, brown hand. He told his father about the basketball court, the books he'd read, the debates in the current events group, and his participation in the discussions in the art club, about Joseph K. from Kafka's book, and about David Dagan, who'd already had several wives and lovers and now lived with a seventeen-year-old girl, but always gave his full attention to his students and had defended him fiercely when the others teased and mocked him during his first few weeks on the kibbutz. David Dagan, he has a habit of saying to people, "Just give me a minute so we can set things straight." Moshe spoke to his father for about the minutes, and his father closed his eyes, then opened them and said sorrowfully, "All right. You can go now. You're Moshe?"

Moshe said, "Yes, Father," and added, "Don't worry. I'll come to see you again in two weeks. They let me come. David Dagan lets me come."

The father nodded and dropped his chin to his chest, as if in mourning.

Moshe said, "Goodbye, Father." Then he said, "I'll see you soon. Don't worry.

From the door, he gave a last look at his father, who was sitting utterly still, staring at the tin mug. On the way out, Moshe asked the supervisor in the army trousers, "How is he?"

The supervisor said, "He's fine. Quiet." Then he said, "I wish they were all like him," and finally added, "You're a very good son. Bless you."

When he left, it was almost dark outside. Moshe was suddenly filled with that familiar sense of self-loathing. He took his black beret off and put it in his bag. He rolled his sleeves up to his biceps again and undid his top button. Only thorns and couch grass grew in the small front garden of the hospital. But someone had forgotten a dishtowel on the bench and someone had lost the belt to his robe among the thorns. Moshe noticed those details because he was drawn to details. He thought about Cheska Honig, who had taught him to keep an eye out for sick hens and isolate them before they infected the whole coop. And he thought about his classmates lying on one of the lawns now, the boys heads resting on the girls' laps as they sang nostalgic songs. One of them, Tamir or Door or Gideon or Arnon, was now putting his blond head on Carmela Nero's lap, its heat caressing his cheek. Moshe would give everything he had to be there now. One and for all to be one of them. And yet he knew very well that it would never happen. As he walked through the gate, the jovial guard asked, "What's this, you go in with a hat on and come out without it?"

Moshe said only good night and turned onto the dirt path that led from the hospital to the road. It was dark and empty. Not a single car drove past. Pinpoints of light shone in the distance and he could hear the braying of a donkey. The faint voices of children also came from the direction of the lights. He kneeled on the ground and sat back on his legs at the foot of the white-washed eucalyptus tree, close to where he had laid the run-over dog, and waited. He waited for a long time. He thought he could hear sounds of jagged weeping coming from the hospital, but he wasn't sure. He sat there motionless, and listened.

Amos Oz - Father

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tale 5 - Chosen Family - Joshua - Rough Draft - Possibly Final

Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility may grow again in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end. 

"For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this."

"Nu? Why not?"

"It just encourages Tateh. Nu?"

Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, as she now spoke to in hiding to her secret best friend more than to any friend from school or church; not a secret for her sake though occasionally she felt guilty for wishing it so, but certainly a secret for his. Even with the Katz/Freylik detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha spent every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore. 

"He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here. Nu?"

"But it's gonna be fun! Nu?"

"Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?"

As she did all her friends, Bethany loved Simcha, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He thought nothing of being negative, indeed, seemed to love it. As though making fun of everything she loved was the most generous thing in the world a person could do for his friends, or at least Simcha made it seem like he thought it was. 

Week 1 after they start hanging out, while Ian Greyling's already flushed and washing his hands Simcha says loudly:  "You shouldn't get mixed up with him, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" Week 2, Alenna and Vicki are in the next room and he says: "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends too often while I'm here. They don't like me nu? and I wouldn't like them if I knew them better." She sees Vicki hesitantly enter the room as he finished the sentence and had to wonder for weeks if Vicki'd heard. Week 3, he says outright to Kristina "Nu, all Bethany's other friends play at being korvehs, but you're the real thing! Nu?"

The more negative he was, the more need she felt for his approval. Nu? She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to support her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be supported by him. Yet even if she didn't like him, she couldn't help loving him, as though there was instant understanding of the rules of a game that was as strange to her as it was familiar to him. There was nothing he said that was wrong, but why did he say it?

This utterly new irritation gnawed into her intestines like termites into trees because for her life's first time, she had to confront disapproval from and for someone she loved who clearly loved her back. Around Simcha, from Simcha, because of Simcha, love was suddenly intermingled with dread, pettiness, anger, belittlement, cynicism. Would love, could love, ever feel the same again? 

By the end of week 4, Simcha'd said nothing particularly embarrassing. But it's Purim, it's Alamo Square Park, it's time to get so drunk you don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. All Bethany has to say the words: free hard liquor and 90% of San Francisco Friends High School show up, and so will half the adults from the Church of the Holy Fellowship. So will the entire Greyling family, whose brother will make a phone call to the police to ensure nobody's bothered for serving underage liquor. Not that Fat Tuesday is a Quaker or UU holiday, but when Bethany tells Mary that Rabbi Freylik's terrified nobody'll show up for Purim, Mary suggests that the Freyliks can turn their Purim party into a combination Purim and Mardi Gras. Bethany tells Simcha, Simcha reluctantly tells Rabbi Freylik, knowing that Tateh will jump at it. 

Ordinarily, charedim, even Chabadniks, would ordinarily wretch at the idea of an interfaith event. But these are no ordinary times for Chabad. The 92-jahr-alt Rebbe, unable to talk for two years, had a stroke while praying at graveside of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, his father-in-law, which left him completely paralyzed on the right side. Moshiach should probably be do more than be able to sit silently in a wheelchair, but the fact that he lives on with seeming permanence, one foot in the world to come and both feet unable to stand, somehow heightens the speculation that Der Rebbe is Moshiach. 

Nobody's in charge of Chabad and every Rabbi's too busy jockeying for position to oversee themselves. It's a miracle the whole cult of personality doesn't fall apart, and every Lubavich shaliach makes his own rules. Rebbe Freylik has big plans for whatever new regime comes when the Rebbe ascends to Olam Ha'Ba, and this is the perfect reason summon allies. If no guests show up for the Purim party, Ori's gotta explain to them why they travelled across the country for a party so small. Nu? What they don't know about who shows up can't hurt? Deh Kad'sh Bar-khoo always looks out for us and even if we don't admit it, these schkotzer idolworshippers really seem like nice people. These ahkoo'im promise they won't bring meat, and they're even gonna bring their own liquor, cuz all dey do is trink. They don't even celebrate deh Mardi Gras. No goyisheh brokhes, no crucifix, it's almost like deh goyim respect us! They gonna pay far deh jazz band, fah deh masks, fah deh hula hoops, and fah deh beads. Maybe Hashem really does like these people, half of deh members are married to Jews! Nu? So even if a hundred or two goyim show up along with three or four Jews, we tell the ander schlichim it's to bring the intermarried ones back to us. What reason to complain? Nu? 

Mary brings everything. She even offers to pay for kosher catering, but the Freylik's don't trust any caterer's kashrus. She ate before she came to help and insists to the Freyliks that they should have to do as little as possible on their own holiday. They won't let her cook but she can at least set up the tables and bring out the food. Seven trips from the Freylik house to the table to bring out Rebbitzen Freylik's unbelievable dishes. Hamentaschen of course, but also phyllo rolls, prune cake, poppyseed roll, falafel salad, something called mujaddara, potato pancakes - sorry, latkes, eggplant and chickpea stew, potato and mushroom dumplings, and challah. It's just unbelievable.

The goyim bring their liquor to put aside Mary and Bob's own, and place it on a second of the two long tables which Bethany and Kristina brought out an hour ago with a blue tablecloth which they bedecked with white flower pedals to give the decoration an Israel theme. It's not like the Freyliks don't drink, and before Rabbi Freylik comes outdoors for the Purim celebration, he takes a shot of whiskey, vodka, and Schnapps each with Rabbi Weiss - who moved from Crown Heights to Ma'aleh Adumim in 1978, Rabbi Grossman who was born in Berlin and now operates Chabad Omaha, Rabbi Schwarzberg from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Kleiner who's basically lived his whole life in a Montreal Yeshiva, and Rabbi Shemtov who was born in Moscow and now runs Chabad DC. But when they go outside, each of them brings out a different flavored bottle of Manischewitz to put on the table. Nobody over 17 touches it. 

Mary's eye focuses immediately on one of her more tactless UU congregants, Barbara Rosenstein, who arrives early and carries a brown paper bag from which she takes nothing out. It takes twenty five minutes, and she takes out what's clearly a sandwich with meat, possibly even ham. Mary interrupts her conversation to tell Barbara to take it inside. "They have such a beautiful spread here. Why don't you eat this instead." But I paid for this sandwich"  "Just eat it in my house?" "Come on, just a minute, let me take another bite and I'll throw it out." "I'm sorry you have to take it in." "But." "The Freyliks are kosher and we can't let you unkosher meat around their food." "Come on Mary. Is it really so terrible to bring outside food here?" "Yes, it is. Now go inside! Please?" 

Barbara Rosenstein goes inside, directly past Bethany's classmates Dovi Bar-Kherev and Tariq el-Mufti. Rather than finish the sandwich she puts it back into the fridge and goes directly back out for hamentaschen and some latkes. Dovi's great-grandfather, David Breunbarg, came to Israel in 1903 after his sister was killed in the Kishiniev Pogrom. David's youngest son, Moshe Bar-Kherev, was an explosives expert who sided with Lehi during their split from Irgun who later became a Technion professor. Moshe's youngest son, Ami, is an anesthesiologist who frequently works with Bob Katz in spite of the fact that they usually clash in the operating room. Dovi's mother Maureen gained eighty pounds since being swept off her feet at the California State University by the most confident boy she'd ever met, who even persuaded her to move back with him for grad school in a strange country. Ami now carries on with his Puerto Rican secretary and Maureen knits crochet for the future grandchildren of her older children and their fiances. 

But Tariq's father, a Palestinian Christian named Gabriel, is a third-generation shipping magnate. During the '48 Nakba, Gabriel was in school in Cairo with the other sons of Arab businessmen of distinctions, with future Kings, their ministers and diplomats, and even their musicians and movie stars. Tariq's older brother will convert to Islam after getting kicked out of medical school for cheating while his Jewish friend who gave him the answers was held back a semester. Here in San Francisco, Dovi and Tariq eat the humus and falafel their mothers make for them, they both listen to the same Middle Eastern musicians like Abdul Halim Hafez and Lydia Canaan, and they catcall the same hippie girls on the same streets. 

Today as ever, they pick mercilessly on Gennadi, Ghyena, Kostovetzky, knocking over Gyenna's plate of eggplant and chickpea salad so it gets all over his pants and telling him to go over to the Chabadniks to pray it off. In ten years, Gyenna, by then Henry, will be worth $108 million dollars, his parents work for him, and he dates four women at a time while Dovi is trying to make it as a director in Hollywood while living on his parents dime. Eventually Dovi will go into production management. Tariq is an LSE grad school dropout who organizes protests and lives with in a 80 square meter London flat with seven others. Eventually he'll sit on the Borough Council of Tower Hamlet.   

Around Thanksgiving 1988, Gyenna's parents come to San Francisco with sponsorship from distant cousins they'd not been in touch with since the early 1930's, who put them in touch with Jewish charity programs that set them up in jobs as lab technicians. In 1987, Gyenna's mother Tatiana was denied the valedictory prize in her biochemical doctoral program in spite of literally perfect grades. Her advisor, Dr. Nikolayevich, would praise her work to the heavens but always go out of his way to berate how 'cheap' she was with showing how she did it, so he didn't know how she always got the right answers to all the questions on his tests and 'for all I know you're using witchcraft.' 

All four of Gyenna's grandparents, from not particularly credulous middle class families in Vilna and Minsk, were deemed enemies of the people - as they all knew they eventually would be, and mercifully compelled by Stalin's population transfers of 170 million people to relocate in 1941 only as far as Tashkent - capital of Uzbekistan, where their own parents made sure to speak to Gyenna's parents only in Russian, as did the parents of their Uzbeki, Chinese, Korean, Harbin, native Polish, native Ukranian, Crimean Tatar, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian, Turkish, Meshketian Turkish, Kurdish, Hamsheni, Karapapak, and Lazesi classmates.

But if antisemitism was in fact the reason Tatiana was denied her valediction at the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, that would be quite ironic since both Tatiana and her husband Yosif met each other by becoming devout Orthodox Christians during their first year at Tashkent State Technical University. Tatiana's father died in 1942 at the Battle of Stalingrad, but Yosif's father rebuilt himself as a essential factory inspector for the Tashkent Communist Party and was therefore a militant atheist. The official wedding was scrupulously secular, and a secret second wedding without the knowledge of parents was held in the bell tower of Tashkent's Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin.  

Thereafter, both Yosif and Tatiana, doubtless with help from Yosif's father, were accepted as doctoral students in biochemistry Bauman Moscow Technical University, where Tatiana was the top of their class, and Yosif somewhere in the top 70%. In 1988, to Yosif's father's devastation, they came over to America with the ten year old Ghyena and settled in the Richmond District with all the other Soviet Jews, where they were not particularly popular on account of adorning their apartment with many ikons of the Theotokos and a giant reproduction of Rublev's Old Testament Trinity. They wanted Gyena to have a Christian education, but they were horrified at the poor science program at St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy and sent Ghyena to the weak liberal Quakers at San Francisco Friends. Yosif got a job at a laboratory where he was fired for incompetence, perhaps unfairly for a man who didn't speak very good English, and eventually made his living as a cabdriver who was not always entirely sober. Tatiana became essential in her lab at Genentech at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was treated as a chief researcher in practice even if not in name, and was the driving force behind there Herceptin, a breast cancer drug which was her pet project, the work of ten years, a thank you to the chain-smoking mother who insisted that Tatiana be the best in all she did. 

When it came to Ghyena, they insisted that whatever he did, he too had to finish first. Academically, that's exactly what he was at San Francisco Friends. Socially..., not yet.. Yet by 2004, when Henry Kostovetsky is a tall and thin tech gazillionaire who dresses in all black with thousand dollar leather shoes and a different girlfriend for every day of the week, he's not sure if he ever felt about any of them one-eighteenth the fervor he felt for Sophia Maji; at sixteen an ectomorphically tall, studious and shy girl whom everybody discovered just last week was Ian Greyling's most unexpected conquest. In 2006 he reconnects with her on social media, and marries the suddenly statuesque Sophia in late 2008 after courting her with flowers, weekend trips around the world, and million dollar donations to the charities of her choice. In late 2016 they divorce and Sophia takes sixty percent of his money.

 Sophia was facing Volodya when Noam knocks the plate full of eggplant into his crotch with juice that spills down his leg. Volodya tearfully runs into Bethany's first floor bathroom to cry in as much secrecy as he can, humiliated in front of the love of his young life. But it barely registers to Sophia while she's talking to three classmates: but neither Jennifer Han or Farah Tayebi nor Karina Mardirosian saw anything of it. Sophia herself could barely stop from crying that whole week, her hookup five months earlier with Ian Greyling during a lab partner session being the current subject of everyone's gossip. The teacher's pet of the class might never get her squeaky-clean reputation back, forever branded as slut by her peers at San Francisco Friends, who would be the only people who matter, were it not to get back to her father.

Sophia's parents raised her with an aspiration to what they thought to be the perfect American girl. Her parents, Bengali Christians who began life as Untouchable Hindus, subject as children to additional indignity of crossing with their families by foot from what would become the Bangladeshi part of Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta to its Indian part in the India-Pakistan Partition of 1947. Their families only emerged from refugee camps in the mid-50's when Evangelical missionaries offered them housing in exchange for conversion. The more Christian the Majis became, the more opportunities and money Christian organizations gave them. In the 70's, they had enough money to come to San Francisco, where they ran an Indian restaurant and were in the front rows of San Francisco Evangelical Free Church every Sunday. They decorated the restaurant with all the Hindu icons which they so loathed. They tried to be far more Christian than Indian, because above all, they wanted to be American. In the restaurant, Rajiv and Arundhati always played the same Ravi Shankar record, over and over again, but in private, they always played Gospel and top 40 radio. Sophia was to get the best possible Christian education, no evangelical school for her, and to be a perfectly learned and perfectly chaste American student with hopefully not a year elapsing before she would become a wife and a mother. Sophia, however, wanted to be a veteranarian, and eventually became an obstetrician. 

But if Sophia's thoughts were with Ian Greyling, Karina Mardirosian's thoughts were with him. A plain American-Armenian girl of olive complexion, average height and weight, whose parents were always screaming at the top of their lungs. Both of his parents were survivors of the systemic Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. Her father, on his fourth marriage, was freed by Americans from Treblinka, the place where his mother and sisters were gassed after being forced by Stalin to relocate in '44 from Armenia to Crimea, where they were captured within a matter of days by Nazis who presumed them to be Jews. With no family left, Davit Mardirosian made his way to America in 1949 after living for four years in a West German refugee camp, he was still only twenty-two. Mariam's mother came over with her family as a seven-year-old in 1957 from Eastern Turkey, Armenian emigres finally fleeing their reluctant country after the Istanbul pogroms of 1955. Her mother, a nurse on her second marriage, was hardly a shrinking violet, and both Mardirosian parents would sometimes go to work in long sleeves and sunglasses. For forty years, Davit, who had to learn new languages many times in his childhood, was a high school history teacher of great distinction at San Francisco Friends. As a survivor of the world's worst modern genocide and the son of survivors from the second-worst, he'd practically spoken to every school, every college, every community organization, maybe even every place of business, in the Bay Area about his experiences and was given every community leadership award San Francisco, Oakland, and especially Berkeley, could possibly offer.

Without telling any of their classmates, Karina lived in the Sausalito mansion of Farah Tayebi, her Iranian classmate whose parents would even pay her way through grad school after Mr. Mardirosian broke his daughter's college fund to pay his many alimonies. While getting a Masters' Middle Eastern History at Cornell, Karina will embrace her until then occasional bisexuality and within two months become the life partner of her advisor's TA, Avalon Zimmerman. In 2006, Karina Mardirosian and Avalon are married at a barn near Framingham by Avalon's sister, who gets certified by the Universal Life Church. When Ghyena and Sophia come to Boston, Karina is repulsed that she could have ever been in love with someone so tacky and arrogant. 

Farah Tayebi's father, Mohammed Tayebi, was a devout Shia Muslim when he was 16, and as an adult he became a multi-millionaire oilman because his father Hossein worked as a chief technician for a British Petroleum oil rig and gave lots of information to BP and the CIA about Mohammed Mossadegh's orders when he Nationalized Iranian Oil. Upon Hossein's death during the 1963 White Revolution, the devout Mohammed was rewarded by the Shah for his father's loyal service with shares in the National Iranian Oil Company numbering roughly 24 million dollars in today's money and only increased. Mohammed never worked a day again, the message to avoid Mosques was quite clear. By the time the Ayatollah returned, Mohammed was safely in San Francisco, happily married to Ann Brundage, daughter of a Quaker corner store owner in Orange County, working in 1976 for the Peace Corps in Tehran when she met Mohammed Tayebi at a relatively expensive Arak Bar, four months before the Peace Corps was ejected from Iran, whereupon Mohammed sold his shares for a price unknown, giving up liquor and worshipping freely at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley, where his donations added significantly to what already was the largest collection of Islamic books in the United States. Shortly after being Karina Mardirosian's Maid of Honor, Farah Tayebi will meet a young Imam whom she marries within three months of dating, the Imam insists she dresses outdoors in a Hijab that covers her whole face. 

Ann Brundage, twenty one years old in 1962, working at OMF in Singapore, meets Zhang and Wang Xiu Han while on a missionary trip in Taiwan, two teenagers who grew up on subsistence farms in the Gansu Province. All four of their parents died in prison during Mao's Great Leap Forward for not meeting the grain farming quotas. Their older siblings went missing, their younger siblings starved. They arrived in Taiwan via stowing away at the bottom of a grain ship that left from the Xingua Bay across the Formosa Strait to Taipei. They work a small corner shop in Taiwan that reminds Ann of her father's store. She stays in touch with them and writes letters in her not particularly distinguished Mandarin. When Ann marries Mohammed, she gets Mohammed to pay for their immigration, which she sponsors. The Hans operate a fruit market in Chinatown and Mohammed helps pay tuition for their eight children to San Francisco Friends. When they go to college, the Hans each get in-state tuition at the Universities of California. 

Any social life which Jennifer Han has, she keeps a secret from her parents, just like her older siblings instructed her to do. Her parents speak no English except for A and A-, so she tells them every time she doesn't come home from school around 4 or 5 is because of various extra-cirricular activities. Extra-cirriculars at San Francisco Friends have always been a joke - you can form a club that never meets, or show up once to Yearbook or Student Government and still be counted as a member that appears as padding on your college resume. 

What Jennifer's in fact doing is Vihaan Chaudry, Ian Greyling's best friend and the son of Hindu Brahmins whose  Indian tinge to their Oxonian accent makes their immaculate and slightly careful English the most musical sound any Californian ever heard, and who make as much a point of never speaking to Rajiv and Arundhati Maji at PTA meetings as the Majis make of staying out of their way. Vishnu Chaudry is a high power finance lawyer with an office on the 33rd floor of the Transamerica Pyramid who prides himself greatly on the fact that his wife, who is also his third cousin, does not have to work. Vishnu's own father was a barrister born in Kashmir and sat as a judge on the Allahhabad High Court. His father before him, was a founding representative the Indian National Congress. His father before him a textile exporter with contacts all throughout the British Empire. His father before him a diwan to the Rana of Uttar Pradesh. 

Are Jenn and Vihaan in love? Jennifer might think so, she certainly prefers Vihaan's back-of-the-class clown demeanor to Wang-Xiu's constant pressure at home. Vihaan doesn't really care, apparently about this or anything else. He'll get an 800 on his Math SAT and a 510 on his English. After two years at UC Santa Cruz he meets Shannon Horowitz, a communications major who forces him to get serious about his math major. Vihaan does his doctorate at Cal Tech while Shannon works in advertising. He gets headhunted by Bear Stearns and they move to New York where Vihaan and Shannon buy a loft in Prospect Park to raise two artistically inclined children. After Bear Stearns goes under in 2008, Vihaan and Shannon divorce amicably. Vihaan has a 20 year old girlfriend who's trying to make it as an actress, but he sees Shannon regularly and there's constant speculation by their friends that the two will get back together. But Vihaan keeps investing in high-risk high yield stuff, so what will Shannon have to come back to? 

In two months, Jennifer will find out that Vihaan is also hooking up with her best friend, Kim Youngmee, who's actual name Jung-Mi Kim. Jung-Mi Kim has no need to lie to her parents about where she goes, and embellishes her tales of adventures with older boys to Jennifer, who doesn't have the frame of reference to disbelieve her. She goes around every day with on her 5'0, 1% body fat self a different necklace and Prada handbag, with a series of black Barbara Hulanicki skirts and hats. The vast majority of her parents' families live in utilitarian high rises of Pyongyang, the free and living ones anyway. Kim's father is somewhere in Asia most of the time. Everybody knows he's in some sort of business, nobody really knows what. Her mother doesn't work, and spends most of her time socializing at the spa. Kim will eventually go into public relations and photography. Nobody really knows if she's making a living from it or living off her father's money, but she has an Instagram account followed by 66,000 people. 

When she comes up to the table, she touches Simcha on the shoulder, right on his hump actually, and asks him what those dumplings are called.

'Dumplings.'

'No, what are they really called?'

'Dim Sum'

'No, silly, I mean what do you call them in your language?' She pulls a camera out of her purse. 

'Oh... Kreplach.'

Can I get a picture?

'I'm sorry, I shouldn't take a picture of you.'

'No, I mean, can we get a picture of the two of us together holding up the Kreplach?
'Oh... um...' (he thinks a second too long).

'If it's against your religion you don't have to...'

'Y'know, let's just take some on the plate to a different side of the park.'

Kim flags down Bethany to take the picture. Until this moment, Simcha wanted to be anywhere else but here because he was ashamed of wanting to be nowhere else but here. At this moment, he wanted to be nowhere else but here because he was ashamed he ever wanted to be anywhere else but here. Posing with the Kreplach in this decade before taking selfies became quite so easy, Bethany takes a picture of Kim and Simcha, Kim takes a picture of Simcha and Bethany, and they finally coax Simcha into taking a picture of Kim and Bethany, and then rejoin the company of nations. 

This mini-UN stands out among the student body of San Francisco Friends as a smattering of unique loaves in a sea of Wonder Bread. Later we will meet a few other exotic beneficiaries of these white saviors, and they'll be just as interesting or boring as the others. But when Bethany and Simcha return to their side of Alamo Square Park, Simcha is immediately pulled in to the dancing circle by the drunken friends of his father along with three dozen other drunken male goyim and thrust into a chair which Rabbis and Yuppies together lift into the air as though Simcha were the groom at some sort of wedding. 

The sober Simcha lurches through the air and feels drunk as Purim commands, the dread which was his lot is banished, the parting sorrows of every night are giving way to a new day, unmeasured realms of ecstatic dreams. Simcha no longer Chabad, no longer a Jew, no longer Freylik, no longer Simcha? He is un-named, with new perception, new enkindling, ever endless self-knowledge; love's utmost joy warmly glowing from his heart.

It's time for Rabbi Freylik to give a speech, not that he's in any state to do so. "The Freyliks would like to welcome The Church of the Holy Fellowship and San Francisco Friends School for this Purim celebration."

"And Mardi Gras" calls out a congregant.

"Whatever..." to the buzz of general laughter.

"We would especially like to welcome our neighbors in holiness, the Katzes."

"Goddamnit." Bob has no idea if he said it out loud but it doesn't matter amid the applause. 

"On this very special holiday, we would like to wish you a Happy Purim! A Freylichen Purim! Freylich is Yiddish for joyful! You see, 'happiness' is in our very name!' more general laughter.

And now, I'd like to introduce to you Rabbi Weiss who is doing some of the most valuable work a Jew can do by living in Ma'aleh Adumim. 

Simcha knows what's coming and is powerless to stop it except to quickly walk back into the house as casually as his panic lets him. He goes into the bathroom, turns on the shower, puts toilet paper in his ears, and puts a towel over the mirror. 

"Nu? Once, there was a King named Achashverosh who was not a great King, but he loved to party and he loved the company of women. There aren't any leaders like that in this country are there?"

Everybody knows he means Bill Clinton and laughs. "In this country, there was a righteous Jew named Mordechai, much like Bob."

"Oh Fuck you." thought Bob while everybody applauded. 

And he had a beautiful, virtuous daughter, much like Bob's. Everybody applauds again. "They're skipping Vashti"  Mary thinks to herself with marvel at their tact.

Rabbi Weiss goes on. "'But!' then there was a wicked man named Haman. The Rabbis all boo and motion for everybody to join in: BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Haman was the Prime Minister of King Achashverosh's government. And like no Prime Minister in our day, his decree was law. No matter what he wanted, the world was supposed to go along, and Haman BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! his ego was so big that he ordered everyone who saw him in the street to bow down to him. But Mordechai (he gestures to Bob) was a righteous Jew, and he would not bow down to Prime Minister Haman BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! because there is only one God to whom he will ever bow. 

And nothing like any Prime Minister today, Haman BOOOOOOOOOO!!!! (this is getting a little excessive thought Jim Greyling) developed a terrible hatred of Jews. He hated Jews for being different, he hated Jews for being Jewish, he hated Jews for insisting on their rights, and he hated Jews for thinking they have a right to a homeland which he thinks belongs to someone else."

"MOTHERFUCKING FRUMMIE PIECES OF SHIT!"

"Bob!"

"YOU DID THIS WHOLE THING JUST FOR THAT!!!"

"Dad! What are you saying?!?"

THIS WHOLE THING, ALL THESE GENTILES, ALL THESE KIDS, JUST SO YOU CAN SPREAD YOUR FASCIST PROPAGANDA AGAINST THE PEACE PROCESS! IS THAT WHY YOU MOVED HERE TOO???"

"BOB STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!"

"THAT'S THE WHOLE REASON THEY DID THIS! THEY WANT TO POISON YOU ALL AND PULL THE WOOL OVER THEIR EYES! DON'T YOU HEAR WHAT THEY'RE SAYING?!?"

"YOU THINK GOD GAVE YOU THE STUPID FUCKING LAND OF ISRAEL FOR YOU TO RULE LIKE KINGS AND MURDER ANYBODY WHO STANDS IN YOUR WAY AND THEN YOU DO AND THIS FILTHY LITTLE ACT TO MAKE THEM THINK YOU'RE JUST THE CAST OF FIDDLER ON THE ROOF AND WHAT YOU DO ISN'T EVIL!"

"Dad! Please stop this!"

"I'VE SEEN WHAT YOU GUYS DO! YOU SPONGE OFF THE REST OF OUR PEOPLE YOU BREED LIKE RATS AND FILL YOUR KIDS HEADS WITH SHIT AND TELL THEM THEY DON'T NEED TO DO ANYTHING BUT MAKE MORE OF YOU SO YOU CAN VOTE FOR MORE WAR AND SCREW UP THE WORLD WITH MORE FUCKING RELIGION!!!"

As Protestants are known for doing, they pretend this isn't happening and talk among themselves. 

"Nu Dr. Katz really what did we do that's so terrible? All we did was say that Haman was a Prime Minister who hated Jews, not like any Prime Minister today."

"I know what you really said!"

"That's what we said."

"I know what you're really saying!"

"So what are we really saying?" 

"That the Prime Minister who hates Jews is Rabin!" 

"hat's not what we're really saying! And nu so what if it is we're really saying? We got a right!" 

"NOT AT A PARTY ORGANIZED BY MY WIFE!"

"This is as much our party as hers!" 

"YOU'RE SPONGING OFF OF US JUST LIKE YOU SPONGE OFF OF EVERYBODY ELSE!"

"We're not sponging, we're fulfilling our holy duties to Hashem and we thought you wanted to too!!"

"I HAVE NO HOLY DUTY TO HASHEM!!"

"Alright, if you don't think so that's fine."

"I don't think so, I know so. It's also not a holy duty to make it seem like you're friendly when you really want to keep the war going against Arabs for every inch of Israel at any cost!?" 

"HOW CAN YOU TALK THIS WAY TO OTHER JEWS?!?"

"I'M NOT A JEW!!!"

"So then you're an antisemite?"

"THERE IT IS! EVERYBODY WHO DISAGREES WITH YOU IS AN ANTISEMITE!"

"THAT'S NOT WHAT WE'RE SAYING!"

"HOW MANY JEWS HAVE TO DIE JUST BEFORE YOU'RE SATISFIED WITH HOW MUCH LAND YOU HAVE?"

"WE DON'T WANT ANY JEWS TO DIE, WE WANT YOU TO LIVE AS JEWS!"

"I DON'T WANT TO LIVE AS A JEW! AND I KNOW WHAT YOUR FRIENDLINESS IS REALLY ABOUT!"

"Nu?! SO  WE'RE FRIENDLY! WHAT'S SO WRONG WITH THAT!? SO WHAT IF WE WANT TO SHOW THAT PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE AREN'T SO TERRIBLE?!? DOES THAT MAKE US MONSTERS?" 


This disputation goes on for another twenty minutes as they dispute whether Rabbi Weiss was really saying that Bob betrayed his people by marrying Mary and every minute the crowd gets thinner as everybody says their goodbyes to Bethany, Mary, and Rebbitzn Freylik for a lovely party. By the end of this unfortunate kibbitz, the crowd's thinned to nothing. Bob storms into his house followed by Mary, who's been apologizing profusely all the while while Rebbitzin Freylik and Simcha the Rabbis file into their house with their leftovers and children to recite the actual Megilat Esther. 

Just as Mary and Bob are coming up the steps, Dovi and Tariq are coming down and say an excessively paranoid goodbye, having hotboxed Dovi's car two blocks from the house's front yard with Tariq's weed. After smoking up, they went through the house and made a beeline for the refrigerator. They emerge from the house with two cokes from the fridge and Barbara Rosenstein's sandwich.