Tag Archives: Holyland

Meet Me in Baghdad at Sundown (Last Part)

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Only 2 minutes remain before midnight when Akef thinks about the two women in his life. His wife, who in fact had encouraged him to leave Baghdad, is no longer on his side. She is on her father’s side. She can’t live for long without all the amenities and privileges she was accustomed to since childhood. It is like a second nature to her now. And all the promises and vows to stick by him no matter what, to kill herself if he would be killed – are worthless. He is certain of that. Ab­solutely worthless. She begs and cries and terrorizes him constantly with her quest to go back. She is ready even to sleep with him again, like in the good old days when he, not her brother, was the chosen heir to the throne. And this willingness on her part is a sure sign, above all else, that something is wrong here. Very wrong.

And at the same time he knows, with the same certainty but with­out any proof to support it, that the one real woman in his life, his young mis­tress – is dead already, a victim of gang rape and brutal mutilation. (Recorded on videotape, no doubt, for the enjoyment of his enemies.) He was allowed to keep her only because everybody else – upon reaching a cer­tain position of dominance and influence – was allowed, required al­most, to do so. It was a sign of maturity and power, a privilege of sorts. But it was, still is, no secret; as there are no secrets at all in this barbaric, if modern regime.

He longs for her so much, misses her so terribly, but at the same time he knows deep inside his heavy heart that it is futile: she is in a different world already.

And it so happens that when only 1 minute remains till mid­night, Akef still can’t decide what he is going to do when the telephone would finally rings. He finds himself caught between the hammer and the anvil, as the elders used to say back in his village, and can’t see a way out of it. But, as he looks with dismay at the peaceful, yet so menacing black instrument, and then stares fearfully at the electronic clock, as if trying to prevent it from moving forward, he suddenly thinks about Allah: the one and only God. He must put his trust in Allah, and in his son Muhammad, to guide him out of this dark tunnel. After all, Allah is the real Supreme Ruler, and in his name he did all those terrible things he was forced into doing. He just obeyed the damn orders, anyway; he was always an obedient servant. And suddenly – as if it were not so much by his own volition, but rather he is forced into it by a power much greater than himself – he falls to the floor and puts his head on the rug in the direction of the window, and hopefully Mecca. His eyes, however, are full of tears; he is praying silently for forgiveness and guid­ance, for…

The telephone rings while Akef is praying and catches him by surprise. He raises his head from the rug and glares at it, just when it rings for the second time. He crawls on the floor towards it and stops by the small coffee table, as the third ring sounds. He then raises his hand above the telephone, hesitating still, his mouth dry like the mouth of a dead man, when it rings for the fourth time. It is as if Akef didn’t expect this call at all, as if he didn’t anxiously wait­ed for the telephone to ring for the last 10 minutes, the last 6 months – since that terrible dream in Baghdad. Or, as a matter of fact, waited for it his whole life.

His wife, Layla, picks up the receiver on the fifth and final ring. He did not hear her opening the door, nor did he see her coming in. But now, as she stands above him smiling, reminding him of her father more than ever before; it seems so right, so befitting, so natural – the telephone cord resembling a hanging rope – that she would be the one to hand him the receiver. He takes it from her, his hand shaking heavily, even though he knows with absolute certainty who, carrying what message, is waiting for him at the other end: The angel of death, instructing him to meet him in Baghdad at sundown.

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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 4)

Short Story — Fourth Segment Kibbutz Heftzibah

David walked slowly toward the dining room. He entered the restrooms first, washed his face and combed his shiny silver hair, plowing it with his wet, soil-cracked fingers. He smiled at the reflection of his rugged, sun-beaten face; he was still alive, lucky devil. And hungry, too, for the breakfast he had missed eating this morning. So out he went into the main hall upstairs, finding it eerily deserted. How strange it was: most of the tables were left with plates full of food on them, morning salads and boiled eggs, with chairs thrown away disorderly on the floor. Only Ziva the Economist, the woman in charge of the kitchen and dining room was there.

“What are you doing here, while everybody else is fighting the fire?” she reproached him harshly.

He couldn’t find a satisfying answer for her. Luckily for him, she hurried back to the kitchen. And he, no longer under her threat, sat down at one of the tables. He spread a generous layer of margarine over a slice of black bread, and covered it with a thin layer of cherry jam. He poured himself a cup of dark tea, added a few drops of lemon to it, and ate and drank slowly. While at it, he surveyed the large hall, with anniversary decorations and old, brownish photographs from the first days of the kibbutz, hanging on its walls.

He remembered well that this was the first communal dining room in the Kibbutzim Movement to be built on solid, concrete base, and not just a big tent or a wooden shack placed on bare ground. Years had passed since then, and the building had been renovated not once, yet the heart of the kibbutz was still beating here. And not only because members, and guests alike, still ate breakfast, lunch and dinner here: it was because here were held the hilarious Purim parties, and here they danced the Horah on Independence Day until dawn; here young men—and admittedly, not so young as well—ogled at the new Jewish women from the Diaspora who came to study Hebrew at the Ulpan, and at those half-naked blond shikses from Scandinavia, volunteers who came to experience the kibbutz’s way of life. Here romances began to blossom, and here they matured into marriages. Here the weekly film was screened in the winter, and here still stood the upright black piano. Frantz, the kibbutz’s composer, had managed to sneak it out of Berlin somehow when he had fled Germany before the war.

David trembled when he heard the first gunshots. He remained seated, though, thinking he may have heard Frantz hitting the piano keys. But then he heard a longer burst of gunfire, and couldn’t fool himself any longer. And yet, instead of going down to the main yard to find out what was going on, or more wisely, rush home to be with his wife and family, he asked himself this: Where did we go wrong? And how come these bandits from the development town nearby were doing this to us?

We helped them, didn’t we? At least ten of them were still working in the kibbutz, were they not? Two of them were even taking care of the old and sick. What a shameful situation it was, he bitterly reflected, that the members of the kibbutz couldn’t even take care of their own. Thank god—though since the Holocaust he doubted very much there was one—that he himself was not that old and frail yet.

He felt like smoking, but couldn’t find any cigarettes around. He had quit smoking for quite some time now, following the advice of his doctor friend, his partner for a weekly game of chess. Roza continued to smoke, unfortunately. Where was she now? In the house still, with Gideon’s wife and son? Maybe they all went up to the mountain already, as was the original plan, for a leisurely Shabbat hike?

All of a sudden, the vague voices calling and shouting from afar became louder and closer. Then a burning torch was thrown inside, coming directly at David through a window. He jumped aside, and as a young man defending his territory, got hold of   torch and threw it back outside through the shuttered window. But that was only the first torch. A second and third followed, and soon the rioters entered too, like ants from all directions. They were armed with sticks and stones, even knives David saw flashing here and there. They began by turning the tables upside down. Then the containers full of food were kicked and toppled.

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