Tag Archives: father & son


Below is the fifth segment of my short story, ‘The Messiah,’ published originally in ‘Sambatyon, a Journal of Jewish Writing.’ The story is in an excerpt from my novel, ‘Very Narrow Bridge,’ published in 2011. Enjoy.

Gideon felt guilty when he opened the door to his apartment. He was about to hand over to a complete stranger the jam jar his father had given him before he left Israel, containing the dark brown soil – darker than anywhere else in the world, Gideon was convinced – he dug out from his garden. No wonder Gideon was remorseful. Even though he was certain that his father, not a young man himself, would’ve urged him to go ahead with it, had he known about it. What’s the problem, he would probably have said, I have enough soil in my garden.

Not only that. Gideon was planning on taking his son Daniel to Israel next Passover. And now, with some extra cash in the bank, he considered it a done deal. Which meant, quite obviously, that he would be able to fill as many jars, with as much soil from his father’s garden, as he could possibly take back with him. Maybe he’d open a business upon his return: “Soil from the Holy Land.” Why not. This is America, after all. Opportunity Land. And the business of America, as the cliché goes here, is business.

But the final argument that convinced him to reach for the jar, without demur, and take it to the dark cave with him, was this: His father, when he gave him the jar of soil, gave it to him for a reason. For a purpose. In the hope that somewhere, someday, someone might be in need of it. And what need could be greater than the need to please an old, bitter, ready to die Jewish man, who lost the hope of ever visiting Israel? Indeed, what better Mitzvah?

The door opened rather quickly this time, and Ben Landau grabbed the pizza and beers from Gideon’s hands without saying a word. He took it all to the kitchen table, filthy with leftovers, and dived right into it with the urgency of a man, if not that of a beast, who hadn’t eaten in the last two months.

His father, on the other hand, took the jar of soil with trembling hands and opened it. He put his index finger into it, gently as he could, and stirred the soil for a moment. Even smelled it. He then raised his index finger to his lips and kissed it, before setting his teary eyes on Gideon.

“I’m glad I’ve met you, Gideon.”
“So am I, Sid.”
“God sent you to me, I know that,” he said and recapped the jar carefully. Then turned his attention to his son, raising the jar.

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You Won’t Believe This

Below is the seventh segment of a new short story—’You Won’t Believe This’—never before published. As I say at its beginning, I’m telling you this incredible story to: “Test your core belief in the divine, or your firm conviction in reality and reason.” Enjoy the ride.

Suddenly, I felt a pull of unbearable sorrow deep inside me. It forced me to look back at the sea, still desperately searching for answers to my life’s big questions. I saw how the sun was kissing the sea goodnight, and concluded that everything streams into darkness, and every soldier must die alone, as we’d used to sing in the army. When darkness comes, I decided then and there, I would walk barefoot to the beach and enter my sea of sadness completely naked. I would swim deep and far, and plow the dark waters all the way to the “Voice of Peace” boat, or even deeper and farther than that, why not, in search of the dying sun, as I’d used to daydream as a child. I would go after her, yes I would: into the heart of darkness, into the depth of sea.

I stretched my hand to grab my lemonade glass, intending on giving it one more try, and that when the telephone rang. It shook me up all right, I tell you, since I didn’t expect anybody to remember I still existed. Hard to believe, but I didn’t have an answering machine back then, or a long enough cord in order to bring the intruding instrument out into the balcony. It could be my mother, I thought at first, inquiring whether I tasted her chicken already. Or maybe my father was calling, demanding to know when, if ever, I intend on coming back to the kibbutz. It was possible, also, that my son was the caller, eager to tell me about his new school. Even that semi-producer, what was his name, was perhaps calling me to ask if I did the rewrite already.

Either way, whoever was calling me was persistent enough to force me, after about three rings, to get up and finally stepped back into the living room, close by the sliding glass doors, and pick up the receiver.
“Hello…” I said.

The reply came from a different direction altogether. You won’t believe this, I know, but I heard a loud, strange noise coming from the balcony. And as I looked back, still holding the receiver to my mouth and ear, I saw a large cinderblock falling down from the ceiling above my balcony, landing heavily on my beach chair. It gave wings to a cloud of dust, and a fan of debris that was spreading around, shaking the lemonade in my glass.

Automatically, repetitively, I kept saying “Hello” into the mouthpiece. But here’s the kicker, my friends: no one answered back. Nor did I hear the hanging up of the phone on the other side. No static or heavy breathing could be heard, either, just dead silence. The kind—you know what I mean, don’t you? —that makes one certain that someone is actually there, on the other end of the line, listening to you very carefully.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I hung up the receiver and stepped back into the balcony. Dumbfounded, I stared at my beach chair, crashed to the floor under the weight of the cinderblock, right where I’d been sitting before the phone had rung and had called me away. I looked up at the ceiling, but saw no naked women there, just an empty hole, opening up into the darkening skies.

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You Won’t Believe This

Below is the fourth segment of a new short story—’You Won’t Believe This’—never before published. As I say at its beginning, I’m telling you this incredible story to: “Test your core belief in the divine, or your firm conviction in reality and reason.” Enjoy the ride.
I opened the door to my apartment and entered, immediately throwing my worn-out leather briefcase on the floor in disgust, and the mail on the messy dining room table. I first went to the bathroom for a quick pee, which nonetheless lasted too long. Damn—even that simple task was not as easy for me to accomplish that day, as it had always been. Next, I released my sore feet from the burden of my biblical-style sandals and undressed, remaining in my checkered boxer shorts and sweaty white T-shirt.

As I entered the kitchen, I immediately noticed that my sink was clean spotless, empty of the dirty dishes I’d accumulated there in the last week. In the fridge, I first found my lemonade pitcher not almost empty, as I’d expected to be, but full. And then, another clear evidence that my mother, bless her heart, had been here ahead of me today: she’d left behind a large jar of pre-made chicken soup, as well as a pre-cooked dinner. Chicken, of course, with brownish fried potatoes and cooked green peas on the side. It would probably last me for the next three days, I figured, if I remained alive that long. Which I very much doubted.

In hindsight of many years, my mother’s charitable acts were the first indication that something good—what exactly even my crazy mind could not have guessed, or imagined possible—might still be cooking up for me. She was so worried about me lately, and decided to take over certain responsibilities, since my wife had left me. Had left to pursue her “artistic” aspirations, you see, as if she’d ever cared much about cooking dinner for us while we were still together as a family.

I should call her later. My mother, of course, not my wife. Her next call would come from the police, or from the morgue, informing her of my suicidal death. As for my mother, I would wait a while longer before calling her. Maybe I never would. I hated telephones the most, I really did. In the kibbutz, where I was born, I grew up without the hateful instrument. I never got used to it, here in the big city; so impersonal it had always sounded to me. And so deceiving, too: you can easily lie, if you so wish. Which I could never successfully accomplish—no kidding—no matter how hard I tried.

In any case, I’ll be sure to thank my mother in my suicide note, I decided as I entered the living room. Where, despite my gloomy mood and bleak outlook, I automatically turned on the radio, which was tuned permanently to a station (Voice Aleph, I believe it was) that played mostly classical music in the afternoon. But of course, not on that fateful day. On that day news took over, drumming the sounds of war after a night of skirmishes on the northern border. Oh man, how much I hated the news that day. And the wars, of course. Always the wars.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 10)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, comes to an end after the battle on the big dining room was lost, but the one for the soul of the kibbutz was won.

Among the dancers was David as well, his left hand holding his son’s hand, his right arm hugging his grandson. Even the high school kids danced; and not because their discothèque—built where the old hen house used to stand—was burned down to the ground. There was a different reason to everything now. A reason that caused the people of the kibbutz to dance and rejoice again with enthusiasm and dedication they experienced only in those early, first days of Aliyah. All the pain and anger of that terrible day were pushed aside momentarily, as joy and yearning for a new beginning took over completely.

After a while, David resigned to his place on the old mountain rock. Only Libi, his neighbors’ dog, noticed him there and joined him. She squatted on the ground beside him, resting her head on his foot. He could still see in the dark below some remnants to the fire, flaring ablaze here and there.

His thoughts centered on Rafi, his adopted son, who was injured while defending the kibbutz. Maybe Roza was back home already from the hospital. He could swear he heard her voice calling him just now. It was the kind of voice she had used only when trying to wake him up from a bad dream.

But this was not a bad dream: it was a good dream. And David didn’t want to wake up from it. He continued to sit motionless on the rock, drenched with the most expensive bright light, courtesy of the rising moon, shinning down on him from above the mountain. He stayed there even after the last of the kibbutz members, exhausted from the events of the long day, had left. Just as his own family had done, too, believing that he had gone home already. But he had not. He remained, like the rock, quiet and still.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 9)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues after the battle on the big dining room has ended, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.

No response was possible. And no attempt was made to give one. It was the most difficult hour of the kibbutz since the Chalutzim had arrived here sixty years ago in a small convoy of horses and mares. The first to come were all enlightened people, intelligentsia from Germany, professors of humanities and scientists of physic and chemistry; musicians and writers were among them too, as were industrial engineers. Later, in their footsteps, came the people from Eastern Europe, Holocaust refugees from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. They all arrived here to the slope of this biblical mountain, to kibbutz Hephzibah, their hearts beating with the hope of building a true commune; a utopian society; a paradisaical safe haven for the Jewish people.

And now, after fulfilling their dream, and after seeing it almost destroyed, here came a schoolboy and had shaken them all up with a simple question: “What do we do now?” A question they could find no answer to. Only silence and sadness they could offer, which had cast a terrifying shadow over them. At the same time, drops of sap began to slide slowly down the trunks of the pine trees in the Children Orchard, bringing with them moisture to David’s eyes and cheeks.

And it so happened just then that a sudden, divine sound was heard. It came as if from another place altogether: a fairytale kind of place. It was difficult to trace at first the source of that unearthly, sweet melody. It was a simple song about the joy of working the land, which the Chalutzim had used to sing in the early days. Other generations as well grew up singing that tune. As was Orr, a son of the kibbutz who had come home for the anniversary celebration, and was playing it now on his little silver harmonica. Just as he had done in the old days, with a bunch of friends on the lawn by the swimming pool, on Erev Shabbat, tired after dancing the Horah for hours on end, singing till dawn.

A low humming was now ascending hesitantly from this crowded group of people, as the tune got stronger, defying the heavy, painful silence. And then, as if Franz—his soul rising from the ashes of his burned piano—was conducting the choir again, a spontaneous, yet coherent singing by the kibbutz residents was heard, as they sang in one voice the old Chalutzim song.

David joined in the singing, raising his voice high. His grandson Asaf woke up startled, staring at him. But David continued to sing, even though he could remember clearly only the last stanza: “Shovel, pickax, hoe and pitchfork; unit together in a storm. And we will ignite again—again this earth—with a beautiful green flame!”

Gideon and Dina sang too, and so did Dalya, his daughter. They sang the songs of good old Eretz Israel being conquered and built anew. It was a natural progress then, when Sarah, the veteran teacher of generations of the kibbutz’s children, appeared as if out of nowhere, and in her arms an accordion. She took the gentle tune that Orr had started with his harmonica, and transformed it into a more powerful sound. The people of the kibbutz didn’t need any instructions in order to surround her, young and old, as they began to dance the Horah. Arm laced arm; hand held hand; and feet bounced off the ground with an effortless ease.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 7)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land continues after the battle on the big dining room has ended, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.

Dusk was descending on the kibbutz, whose residents had gathered on the slope of the biblical mountain. The sun had set down already—just as it had done so many years ago, after kissing the dead bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan a last farewell—far behind the red Edom Mountains, high above the Jordan River. But the Jesreel Valley below was still drenched with her majestic golden light. A thick blanket of smoke covered the kibbutz, hanging low and heavy, while every few minutes or so, in a last rebellious attempt, an orange flame would flare up through the dark gray screen, only to die down soon.

Under the Children Orchard, untouched by the fire, they all huddled and sat down. The elderly were there, the veterans who came to this place when it was nothing but a swamp; parents with their children where there, even babies; the guests, too, sons and daughters of the kibbutz who had returned home to celebrate the anniversary, and had stayed to fight the fire.

No one spoke. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and sorrow. Only the random burst of embers trying to reignite the fire, and the occasional wailing of sirens by the fire engines, ambulances and police cars, coming or leaving the kibbutz, occasionally broke off the dreadful, monotonous silence.

David was sitting high on a mountain rock, at the edge of this crowded group of people. His grandson Asaf was on his lap, secured by his tired arms. Close by on the ground his son Gideon was sitting, together with Dina his wife. David’s own wife, Roza, had been driven to the central valley hospital to be with Rafi, their adopted son, who was wounded in the battle. Their daughter Dalya was there as well, busy with other women in handing everybody sandwiches, fruits and cold lemonade. A donation from the nearby kibbutzim.

Amos, the Secretary of the kibbutz, was the only one to stand up. His grave looking face, with a bloodstained white bandage crowning his forehead, had told the story of the day before he even opened his mouth to speak. David heard his voice, but absorbed his words only partly. Some words registered in his mind immediately, and permanently, while others disappeared as if they were never uttered.

Yariv, the leader of the kibbutz’s resistance, was killed in the battle of the dining room. He—a veteran of the Six Days War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War—had died defending his kibbutz. Ephraim, the veteran firefighter of the kibbutz and David’s old friend, was dead too. His heart had failed him. Because, David knew for certain in his own heart, he was unable to extinguish the fire and stop the destruction.

The people from Beit She’an had suffered heavier losses. Six were dead, among them the brothers Jacky and Sami Ben-Simon, who were fired last week from their work in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. The firing was the result of an ordinance issued by the Kibbutzim Movement, explained Amos apologetically, to employ only kibbutz members in the fields and factories whenever possible, and not “hired labor.” Maybe that was the reason, David now realized, why the brothers were so angry at him.

The list of damaged working places and burned down buildings was infinite to the ears of the kibbutz members, so they asked Amos to be brief. There was no need to pour more oil onto the fire, they said, it was still burning. So he switched gears, as he so laconically had put it, and told the somber crowd that they may find some comfort in the knowledge that their kibbutz was not alone in this predicament. The chief of police from the town of Afula had informed him, in full confidence, that two other kibbutzim from the Republic of the Kibbutzim—“His words, not mine,” stressed Amos—were attacked in a similar fashion: One in the Galilee Mountains, up north, the other in the Negev Desert, down south. They were also the victims of an attack from nearby development towns. The police, as was customary in such situations, had already assigned a name to the events of the day: The Red Shabbat.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 6)

(The dreaKibbutz Heftzibahmlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues when the battle on the big dining room comes to an end, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.)

When David saw that, he rushed down to the equipment-shed, which stood adjacent to the old Community Shower—now serving the women as a beauty salon—and got hold of the longest water hose there. He hooked it to a faucet and turned on the water, and began fighting the fire. Other kibbutz members joined him in this fight, using water hoses and buckets of water, which they moved quickly from hand to hand. Some resourceful women brought towels and blankest from their beauty salon, and began beating the bushes, which by now caught fire as well. Everybody was at it, as one body, in a supreme, desperate effort to save the trees and, by and large, the kibbutz.

When at last fire engines from Afula, the capital city of the Jesreel Valley had arrived, together with police and ambulances, there wasn’t much that could be saved. The fire had been contained, to a degree, but the dining room was consumed down to its concrete base. The adjoining large kitchen, the bakery and small warehouse, were also lost to the fire. The thick belt of trees and bushes enveloping the dining room had survived, however thin, due to the persistent, heroic effort of the kibbutz members.

There were casualties, of course, injured and dead. But at that hour of fatigue and grief, when David and Gideon were slowly walking up toward the mountain, dripping of sweat and water, it was unknown yet who and how many.

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The Kibbutz Is Burning (Part 5)

Kibbutz HeftzibahShort Story — Fifth Segment.

(The dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues when the battle on the big dining room is ensued full force.)

One of the invaders noticed David, who stood hopelessly, staring at him dumbfounded. It was Jacky Ben-Simon, who worked in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. His hand lifted a thick stick, and was about to lower it on David’s head.

“Why?” asked David.

“Why, I tell you why,” said Jacky. “Because you have everything, and we have nothing!”

“Not true,” called Sami, Jacky’s brother who stood threateningly in front of David, his left hand holding a burning torch, the right hand raising a long, shiny knife. “It’s because you, damn Ashkenazim, got everything from the state. And we, poor Sephardim, got nothing!”

For a moment, hesitating, the brothers looked at the bewildered old man, before turning away without hurting him. They continued, nonetheless, in destroying and setting fire to his precious dining room. At the same time, a group of kibbutz members reached the dining room as well, holding iron bars, fire extinguishers, hoes and pitchforks. A battle of life and death ensued. Some of the members fought the rioters, while others tried to extinguish the fire, aflame already in tables and curtains. The men from Beit She’an were also divided into two forces: One destroyed everything in sight and set fire to every corner, the other defended against the kibbutz members.

David, stunned and pushed aside, saw his adapted son Rafi arriving into the fighting arena. Rafi was hitting left and right, so much so that it became difficult on David to determine which side he was on. Gideon, his own flesh and blood, was there as well. He got hold of his father and pulled him away forcefully. The last thing David had managed to see before they got out, an image he would carry with him to his grave, was how the fierce red flames began to eat the shiny black wood of the grand upright piano. The one that—like David himself—survived the Nazis.

They broke out of the fire and smoke, and into the open air of the big lawn. Many of the kibbutz residents where there already, among them women, children and the elderly. Some members with authority began the difficult task of moving them all away from the burning dining hall.

“To the mountain. To the Children Orchard,” was the call that blew through the crowd like a sudden wind, its source unknown.

By that time, a group of kibbutz members had moved closer to the dining room. Yariv, the reserve paratroops colonel, was leading them on. They held rifles and even Uzi machine-guns: battle ready. Gideon, a reserve paratroops officer himself, told his father that he would like to try and stop them, see if he can mediate between the two sides. But his father held his arm firmly, and ordered him to stay put.

“It’s not your battle anymore, son,” he said.

Just then Yariv shouted, “Follow me”—the famed battle cry of the Israeli army commander—and charged in. His followers stormed in after him, firing their guns. The entire dining room was already burning by then, with gray smoke streaming through its shuttered windows. Ferocious orange flames followed the smoke out, and quickly spread fire to the green branches of the trees surrounding the building.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 3)

Short Story — Third Segment

David, breathing hard, was anticipating that his heart would stop beating any second. He would end his life right here and now, he figured, on the big lawn in front of the dining room, on the day after the anniversary celebration to the establishment of his beloved kibbutz. Death will come to him at last.

His body felt very light suddenly. It was possible that it was lifted off the ground, and was carried up on the wings of a peaceful wind. At the same time, the thundering rings of the alarm-wheel faded away, sounding more like the chime of sheep bells. It was as if he flew high above the kibbutz, its full beauty unfolding underneath him like an iridescent peacock’s tail. He landed on the summit of the mountain, flooded with a magnificent bright light, beside the memorial to his best friend: Yonatan.

Yonatan was the kibbutz’s shepherd back in the old days, and David remembered clearly the day he was informed of his death. He was murdered by a gang of Arab Fedayeens, damn them all. Slaughtered like one of his lambs. The kibbutz was in turmoil, its members in shock. The whole country, in fact, joined them in mourning. But what Yonatan would have said, had he known that first, the kibbutz had sold his cherished herd of sheep to Yusuf, the Israeli Arab lad who used to work with him; and second, that it had built a plastic factory where the sheep pen used to stand?

These painful questions remained unanswered. Because the face that David discovered staring at him after he had finally come to, was not that of his old friend Yonatan—but that of his son, Gideon. He was supporting his father’s head, and was helping him into a sitting position. Beside him on the edge of the big lawn, right where David had fallen, was a bucket full of water. David no longer saw Rafi by the alarm-wheel, which was dead silent now.

Gideon asked his father how he felt, and David assured him that he was feeling all right. Gideon was unconvinced, therefore took his shirt off and dipped it in the bucket, then handed it to his father. David wiped his face with it, and immediately felt even better; he felt how his breathing was calming down, while his rapid heartbeats were gaining a quiet, regular rhythm. He could hear voices shouting nearby, and some fiery explosions in the distance as well. He asked Gideon what was going on.

“The kibbutz is burning,” said Gideon. “The guys from the town of Beit She’an had started the fire.”

Maybe his son did not want to alarm him. But it was strange, nonetheless, the calmness with which he had said that. It was almost surreal. So David demanded to know what the situation was, to which Gideon answered that he—David—had saved both the situation and the kibbutz. All able members were getting organized at full speed, and were rushing down to fight the fires and the invaders. Gideon wanted to help them, very much so. It was his home too, after all, even if he had left it some years ago.

These words were like music to David’s ears and soul; sweet and melodic as if he were hearing Brahms’ Hungarian dances for the first time again, back in the small Hungarian village where he was born. He swore he felt strong enough, and to prove his point got up to a standing position. Somewhat dizzy, though, unsteady at first. He couldn’t see his bicycle by the olive tree, but that was all right with him; it was his contribution, he figured, to the kibbutz’s fighting efforts.

He didn’t hesitate at all and sent Gideon away to join the other kibbutz members in their fight. And Gideon, after patting his father’s shoulder, ran down with his bucket of water. Not much help in that, reflected David, but the main thing was: his son’s sincere intentions. Still, he called after him to be careful—remembering well Gideon’s tendency for foolish brave acts—before he saw him disappearing behind the tall eucalyptus tree, guarding the dirt road that led down to the kibbutz’s main yard.

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