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by Moshe Saperstein


[EDITOR'S NOTE: Moshe's essay on the Amityville Shnorrer and Chronicles of Muffy -- Goodbye 11 -- can be read at]

May 2, 2008

[A disgruntled reader who referred to me, gallingly, not only as an animal but as a non-kosher animal*, wrote "Stop whining. Israel is a democracy and its path has been chosen by its people democratically".

To which I can only say Israeli democracy is to democracy as margarine is to butter. It may look, smell, be packaged as and even taste the same, but it's not the real thing. The Enlightened Ones who control all the organs of state power make certain that whoever is elected will, willingly or reluctantly, follow the policies they dictate.

Every politician is aware that irrespective of the wishes of his or her constituents, any deviation from The Enlightened Ones' demands will result in swift persecution/prosecution for everything from moral turpitude to olfactory turpitude**.

*    not a pig, but a porcupine. DE
**   passing wind on a public conveyance

[Am I the only one foolish enough to have believed I had seen the last of Muffy? Just as we were packing to leave on Friday, the Miscreant Mother reappeared. "Your girlfriend is back" said a bemused Rachel. I stared. Muffy whined.

"Did you engage a nanny to watch over your misbegotten offspring?" I asked in my most petulant tone.

Muffy appeared to take no notice of my pique and continued whining. And I, Soft Touch Saperstein, spread enough kosher-for-Passover cat food to last her and the other moochers til our return Sunday night.]

[Untouched rectangles of matzoh litter our lawn. The Olympic matzoh-hurler is learning that dogs, unlike humans, cannot be convinced/coerced/cajoled into eating the inedible.]

FRIDAY MORNING BEFORE 8 I WAS DOING MY HUMBLE BEST to destroy the ozone layer while sitting on a bench in front of our clinic. The doctor arrived and, even before unlocking the clinic door, examined me. "Your conjunctivitis is much better. You can go away for Pessach. But you can still infect others, so be careful. Don't go to shul. Don't hug your grandchildren."

Relief and consternation overwhelmed me. Relief, because I wanted to be with my grandchildren. Consternation, because –– relieved as I was to be able to avoid shul –– how could I be with my grandchildren without hugging them?

Relief, because Rachel was desperate to get away from the refugee camp. Consternation, because desperate as I was to be away from here, I am always even more desperate to return because I find it unbearable to be among 'normal' people and only feel comfortable among fellow refugees.

Relief, because all around me was yelling –– husbands and wives at each other, both at their children –– evidence of pre-Pessach frazzled nerves and exhaustion added to the self-loathing of living here. Consternation, because I do not need and cannot abide the sympathy, ersatz or genuine, for me as a refugee by those who cannot even imagine what I have really lost. And who are blissfully unaware or disbelieving that they will soon lose the same.

There are those who revel in the complications of finishing Pessah preparations on Friday and tip-toeing thru Shabbat before having the seder Saturday night. The arcane minutia delight some, confuse many, irritate many more. For simpletons like myself the only way to survive is to sleepwalk through it, following instructions from our bettors without argument or even question. Had it been Rachel, a stickler, and I, a slacker, alone we would probably have committed Harry Carey by the time the seder arrived.

Fortunately my son and daughter-in-law are both knowledgeable and reverential, and all went without mishap. The grandchildren were warned that gramps could neither hug nor be hugged, and a great time was had by them at least with the exaggerated pantomime of virtual embraces.

Late Sunday afternoon we visited old friends, parents of friends from Gush Katif. After a while I went to shul, and when I returned I found Rachel almost doubled over. She had thrown up several times, and was feeling miserable. We returned to Ari and Efrat, packed, said goodbye and headed for Nitzan. What hit Rachel was, officially, a short virus that passed by the following morning.

Whatever the official reason, I believe that what hit her was exhaustion from preparing for Pessach, combined with the stress and tension of the work she does, together with the uncertainty and instability of life here. Plus the nervousness at her impending visit to the States.

So, whatever the official reason and whatever the unofficial reasons, she was in a fragile state as we drove back. Fragile emotionally as well as physically, because at one point she tearfully lashed out at me with "You've indulged yourself with your crying and your doom and gloom for years since the expulsion [from Gush Katif] while I have to smile and be optimistic and hold everything together".

For a moment I was stunned. And before I could offer a defense or counterattack in the traditional manner of the marital chess match, the truth overwhelmed me.

When I had been blown up in the Yom Kippur War, and embarked on a two year Superhero career of being fawned on by attractive nurses in various hospitals, Rachel –– alone and unaided with three small children –– was the uncomplaining heroine who held everything together.

When I was shot on the road in Gush Katif and reveled in the adoration of an entire community, Rachel remained the uncomplaining heroine who once again held everything together.

It is irrelevant that I did not ask to be blown up, nor did I ask to be shot, nor did I ask to be overwhelmed by nightmare visions of impending catastrophe. In practical terms they all meant that Rachel had to hold everything together.

AFTER ALMOST FORTY-SIX YEARS OF MARRIAGE I love and lust for her as much as ever. Added to which is a sense of awe. It is fascinating how crises bring out the best and worst in people. In the last months before the expulsion I all but broke down, and largely stopped talking to the media. Or anyone else.

Rachel picked up the baton I dropped. She became a media staple, and was sought out by every print and electronic journalist who visited. She learned to speak in sound-bites, would ask the interviewer how much air time she would have and tailored the message to fit the time.

With the expulsion and our removal to the hotel she threw herself into charitable work. I need not elaborate about Operation Dignity and all the rest. These are well known to all of you. But you don't know that Rachel follows in the footsteps of her late father who did extraordinary things, far beyond his means, to rescue and aid Holocaust survivors. We recently had visitors among whom was a gentleman who said "What an honor it is to be in the home of the daughter of Shloime Berkovich, the man who saved my life."

SO RACHEL HAS BECOME A PERSONAGE as well as a person, and just as it isn't easy for her to live with a gloom-and-doomer, so it isn't easy for me to live with a personage obsessed with helping others.

Our abode –– I refuse to call it a home –– is her office. Except on Shabbat we rarely get through a meal without interruption. Phone calls, usually, and visitors. Both calls and callers are divided into two main groupings.

First are the needy. Rachel has learned that the most demanding are often the least deserving. They have developed the art of squeezing something out of every available source. Those whose needs are greatest often don't ask for help, whether out of shame or hopelessness, and Rachel has become expert at seeking them out.

What fills me with admiration and awe is how Rachel deals with all of them. She is patient, respectful, sympathetic, even to those she knows to be con artists.

The second category are colleagues and associates, and the many visitors they bring to the house to meet the personage. The colleagues are generally fellow refugees or residents of Judea and Samaria, and whatever differences there may be in nuance and attitude, a mutual respect and admiration is the norm.

The associates, however, are often organization flunkies whose incompetence is matched only by their acromegalic egos and who can barely conceal their contempt for those they are supposed to be helping.

AS I WRITE THESE LINES RACHEL IS ON A PLANE HEADED FOR THE STATES, and I, who dreamt of stuffing my face and watching movies on cable uninterrupted, am wasting my time with this.

In truth there isn't much to watch as it is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Half the programs draw tears, the other half outrage as our politicians boast of our strength and say 'never again'.

What infuriates me is that while we look back at the last Holocaust –– and 'celebrate' it as only we who have so much accumulated experience at public sorrow can –– we appear to be oblivious to the next one that is almost upon us.

Our enemies from without are joined by our enemies from within, the so-called brothers, allies and friends who have already prepared the grounds for the next slaughter of Jews.

And next week we have the farce that should be called Israel Dependence Day.

May 5, 2008

[A disgruntled reader said THE BREADCRUMBS OF AFFLICTION should have been THE BREADCRUMBS OF AFFECTATION. To which I can only say, blame it on the matzoh.]

[Others complained that I had shortchanged them by dropping Pessach after the seder. So here goes:

Rachel had numerous plans for the intermediate days of Pessach, but between her queasy stomach and my dripping eyes we only got out once, and that was to visit friends on Kibbutz Sa'ad. Where I spent most of my time staring at the nearby skyline of Gaza and waiting for the mushroom cloud.

Nor were the days in Nitzan particularly restful. Dawn to dusk visitors. Some Rachel's good works, whom I could ignore. Some family, whom I couldn't. Some the inevitable 'don't you remember I visited you in Gush Katif' types whom I did not remember but to whom I was unfailingly polite.

Friday morning, next to the last day of Pessach, our mini-market was filled with grinning shoppers. People who hadn't smiled for a week seemed ready to burst with joy. The reason was generally unspoken, but clear. As the girl behind the counter whispered to me, "It's almost over!"

Not quite. Tamar, Oshri and the Wrecking Crew were coming for Shabbat and I was apprehensive about the strain on Rachel. As it happened, it was a blessing. The kids were okay, and Tamar worked with Rachel to put the Pessach things back in storage as soon as Shabbat ended.

One of the things Rachel served was 'chremzelach'. If you don't know what they are, I can't help you. Oshri, our proud Sephardi son-in-law who turns pale at the sight of gefilte fish and is always on guard against our Ashkenazi-ising his three daughters, didn't calm down til we brought out a variety of Oriental delights so spicy they have to be served in the same steel containers used for fissionable material.

Whatever tension there was dissipated when my little sweetheart Shani picked up a chremzel and said "Shnaygelach". Rachel tried to correct her but Shani insisted, "shnaygelach".

So shnaygelach they will henceforth be. Delicious.]

IT APPEARS I CAUSED CONSIDERABLE OFFENSE by saying "our so-called brothers, allies and friends... have already prepared the ground for the next slaughter of Jews". Much as I wish I were wrong, I am not wrong and I cannot apologize.

We are in the midst of ethnic cleansing of Jews by Jews. Don't be taken in State Department and Peace Now claims that some settlements are being expanded. They are being expanded, but that which is being expanded can be contracted, and then erased altogether. If this strikes you as absurd, please let me remind you of the following:

The late, unlamented Yitzhak Rabin, was secretly negotiating the surrender of the Golan Heights to Syria.

Public opinion polls showed that retaining the Golan was an even higher priority for the Israeli public than retaining united Jerusalem.

To prevent organized opposition and massive demonstrations until the deal with Syria was a fait accompli Rabin began a $10,000,000 road development program for the Golan. This effectively squelched opposition. After all, if the government was spending such a large sum on roads it clearly couldn't have been planning a withdrawal.

That the Golan was not surrendered was due to other factors altogether. Had it been surrendered, the government would have considered the $10,000,000 well spent.

This is what is happening now. Working with the criminally incompetent Judenrat that is the Yesha Council, the government pretends that it is holding firm on retaining large sections of Judea and Samaria. Don't believe a word of it.

The facts on the ground are of roadblocks being lifted [to enable our peace partners to kill us without interference], weapons confiscated [to prevent us from defending ourselves], prosecution for those who do defend themselves [a lesson for others]. There is even a report that the army has informed many Judea and Samaria settlements that it will no longer provide soldiers to protect them. They are advised to hire private security firms [an intolerable financial burden on small communities] or protect themselves [impossible with the confiscation of weapons]

The Prime Munster was recently quoted as telling a group of high-level army officers that soldiers at roadblocks should show more "sensitivity and consideration". Ie, Arab sensibilities are more important than Jewish lives.

I guess he hadn't heard that the senior Imam in Gaza said "It doesn't matter if the Jews are nice to us, or not. We must prepare for the final battle against them."

And if he had heard of it, it wouldn't make a difference.

EVERYTHING YOU READ AND HEAR NOW IS THEATRE. And that includes the new prosecution supposedly being opened against Olmert. What counts is the puppeteer, not the puppet.

I believe –– I know it with every fiber of my being –– that the deal is done. Israel is going back to the '67 borders, UN troops will be stationed in Judea and Samaria supposedly for our protection, but actually to remove the Jews if the IDF isn't up to it.

And then Israel can become "the fun country" our Enlightened Ones want it to be.

[Muffy? What about Muffy? It's a subject I had hoped to avoid. The shameless hussy has turned our lawn into the PlayCat Club. Free food, provided by us. Free sex, provided by her. At least four males take their turns. Lots of nose-rubbing, which is presumably foreplay. The rest is rearplay. It's gotten so bad that passersby yell "Get a room!"]

[You ask how I'm managing without Rachel? My reply is, Thank G-d for conjunctivitis. Let me explain:

I was determined to spend Shabbat alone. I am not a tenth the man my father was, but in addition to getting a small portion of his wit and humor, I inherited his desire to be alone. Preferably with his wife, my mother, but if she was unavailable, simply alone. In blessed silence.

But the family was pressuring me to spend Shabbat with them, each in turn calling and all but demanding, however respectfully, that I come for Shabbat.

That problem was solved with relative ease, as we have relatives from the States currently visiting and now at the Dead Sea. I told everyone I was spending Shabbat with them. And as their contact with the rest of the family is through me, chances are good I won't be found out.

No less problematic was what to do about my neighbors, who each in turn invited me for Shabbat meals. I don't know if they were concerned for me or protecting Rachel's interests. Which is pointless as, at my age and in my condition, any fantasies I have remain in my head. Here the conjunctivitis proved invaluable, as I had the neighbors convinced that sitting at a table with me would result in white canes and seeing-eye dogs for all.

But there was nothing I could do about their determination to provide me with vittles. All day Friday, until just before Shabbat, emergency rations were delivered and I duly expressed my gratitude.

The problem is that most of the items delivered were products of the Sephardi kitchen, and inedible for me. A doctor once told me that if heart disease is prevalent among Ashkenazim, most prevalent among Sephardim is hemorrhoids.

So I put them all the smoldering goodies aside until 2:30 Shabbat morning, when I stepped outside with a large bag filled with Oriental delights. I was determined to dispose of them in a garbage bin some distance from the house. Alas, the moment I stepped out the door I had to scurry back in. I had forgotten that groups of teenagers from different youth movements parade around the street all Friday night.

Now the bag lies in my bedroom. I hope to get rid of it before it explodes. Or eats a hole in the floor.

Every hour on Shabbat there came a rapping, tapping, tap tapping at my door,
A rapping, tapping, tap tapping that I did ignore,
However much the neighbors did implore,
But I just turned over and continued to snore
Whispering to myself: Nevermore!

May 6, 2008

[Praise the Lord, all is well with the world. #13 brought not a single comment on the 'situation'. Instead there has been an avalanche of mail about chremzelach/shnaygelach.

Recipes, requests for recipes, anecdotes galore. Even the revelation that chremzelach were invented by Dutch Jews in the 16th century.

As to the famous story about a Dutch ship running out of cannon balls during a battle with an English vessel and using balls of hard cheese instead, the truth of it is that they used chremzelach. And every direct hit caused massive retching among the Brits, notorious even then for their bland taste and delicate stomachs.]

[The Mystery of the Petrified White Dog Poop. For the third consecutive day I have found white dog poop on the lawn. That it is white is passing strange, but it is also flakey and powdery. Please don't ask for details of how I know. For many of you, just relating this is proof of 'Moshe's fecal obsession' and I'm sorry. I suspect that in a previous incarnation I was witness to an epic struggle between a Constipasaurus and a Diarrheasaurus.]

[Apologies for taxing your patience by writing so often. It had been my intention to spend the two weeks of Rachel's absence watching old movies on cable. But with Holocaust Remembrance Day all the cable movie channels but one, stopped broadcasting. That one was Turner Classic Movies and even they got into the spirit of things by showing, in succession, SHOAHBOAT, THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOAH BUSINESS, and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE CREMATORIUM. I had also intended to do lots of laundry but with Rachel away and me able to indulge my penchant for wearing clothes until the fibers in the garment meld with the molecules of my skin and have to be surgically separated, there wasn't much laundry to do. Nor did I spend much time stoking my anti-Semitism watching DVD's of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIAM, the show created by the same folks who gave us PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION. Instead I have a nihilistic routine of sleeping short periods at odd hours, smoking for longer periods at even odder hours, turning the television on and off, binge eating, and typing these letters. Fear not. Relief is on the way and before long you'll be sending Rachel emails saying "we miss Moshe's letters".]

WHEN IT COMES TO SELF-DECEPTION, no people are more adept than the Jews. The Jesuits are often credited with the twisted reasoning that turns truth on its head. But we invented it. We invented Jewsuitical reasoning.

Ask a leftist about his belief, against all evidence, that our neighbors want to live in peace with us and the burden is on us to convince them of our sincerity. He will come up with arguments so convoluted, so seemingly logical but on examination absurd, they would leave a Jesuit cross-eyed.

These of course are the true disbelievers and all arguments with them are pointless. I well remember how, following the First Gulf War, when it was pointed out that forty Iraqi scuds had hit Teheran killing over 2000 while thirty-nine scuds had hit Tel Aviv resulting in a single death, and that this was clear proof of a miracle, these true disbelievers refused to accept that we were the beneficiaries of Divine intervention. For to accept that anything is Divine would have destroyed their belief in disbelief.

THE TRUE BELIEVERS ON MY SIDE OF THE GREAT DIVIDE are no less adept at Jewsuitical reasoning. When I point out that we are at the edge of the chasm of cataclysm they 'comfort' me with the subject-to-any-interpretation words of rabbinic mystics, tales of signs and wonders, 'proofs' that the Messiah is about to appear. Doubtless he is delayed because he stopped to eat some shnaygelach.

If the true disbelievers are a serious enemy, they are less dangerous than the opportunists who have no beliefs at all other than the need to do whatever seems personally beneficial.

The perfect example is Ehud Olmert. I would guess that his present legal woes are a decision by the Enlightened Ones that though this Ultimate Shyster will do anything they require, he is loathed by the public and is therefore unsuitable to carry out the suicidal agreements they are planning.

The other Ehud, Barak, is stained by past failures and his unpleasantly arrogant belief in his own infallibility.

My guess is that Tzippi Livni has been chosen to lead us in the Suicide Waltz. Brain-dead and inarticulate, certainly, but fresh enough not to be wearing the colors of corruption.

LATE THIS AFTERNOON [MAY 5] I HAD A GROTESQUELY AWFUL MOMENT. I was out, scissors in hand, circumcising the plants and listening to a program of Israeli 'golden oldies' from the 30's to the 50's, when I suddenly burst into tears. We were on the way to something so wonderful, and we blew it. How could we have gone so wrong?

Unbeknownst to me I was being watched. Two neighbors, good-hearted yentas, rushed over. "What's the matter, Moshe? Bad news? Is Rachel okay?" Thinking fast, or at least as fast as I am able, I pointed to my eyes. Bless you, conjunctivitis! They shrank back murmuring "Poor Moshe..." and scurried away.

But anecdotal bullshit aside, the question remains. How could we have gone so wrong?

My answer –– still a work in progress –– is that we simply aren't ready for the Redemption.

There is our desperate need to be accepted by 'them', whoever 'they' may be. We were already deep into it as far back as the captivity in Egypt, and it continues unabated. This is coupled with the millennia-old survival technique of fawning, begging and bribing popes, kings, nobility then and presidents, prime ministers, generals now in hopes that they would protect us. These are behavioral flaws that continue to this day. The establishment of Israel was supposed to render these flaws unnecessary. It hasn't. And that is why we are 'celebrating' Israel Dependence Day.

These flaws exist, like a sleeping virus, even in those of us who consider ourselves liberated. How else explain why I would look for Stars of David among the crosses in military cemeteries back in the States? So I could say, 'See? We fought, too. We didn't leave it to 'them' to fight for us.'

In the run-up to Pessach a neighbor of mine, a genuinely good person, argued that a certain ritual followed in Europe had to be followed here. I pointed out that the particular ritual was a questionable practice in Europe, and totally unnecessary here.

"Our rabbis followed it in Europe," he said. "We must follow it here."

THE STATE OF ISRAEL, DESPITE ITS LOCATION on the Holy Land of Israel, is a part of the Diaspora. And the great mass of Jews, wherever we are located, remain golus yidden.

The way things are going those of us who are merely spiritual golus yidden will soon be physical Diaspora Jews as well.

Tonight [May 6] marks Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen. For the next letter...

[I just bought, and am now wearing, a new pair of house slippers. I know this is of no interest to you, and it doesn't particularly interest me either. I mention it only because Rachel has been after me for years to discard my beloved, well-worn slippers, which cause her much embarrassment when guests visit and see me flapping by. So you can return without concern, dear, as the offending footwear is on its way to Footwear Heaven.]


May 6, 2008

[I can hear the screams resounding round the blogosphere: "Erase it! Erase it!" and "Kill it before it writes again!"

Fear not, friends. This should be it for awhile. I have to concentrate on putting the house back in shape for Rachel's return. I'm always poking fun at her for what I considered obsessive cleaning. Now I can hardly believe how grungy the house has gotten in just one week of her absence. Why, even the laundry lines are covered in cobwebs.]

THE SIREN WILL SOUND AT 8PM TODAY MARKING YOM HAZIKARON, Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen. Though the Enlightened Ones have succeeded in disengaging me from the State, they can't disengage me from my memories.

True, though the sight of a uniform evokes rage and nausea, and I no longer pick up uniformed hitch-hikers, I cannot escape –– I don't want to escape –– what were some of the most meaningful events of my life.

I lit a memorial candle and stared at a tv channel that just shows names of soldiers who were killed in the line of duty. Not that I'm looking for any particular name, except perhaps my own. Anyway, I couldn't read the names through my tears.

The siren was sounded, I stood at attention, and now I am listening to Benjamin Britten's WAR REQUIEM. If Brahms' REQUIEM carried me through the final hours in Gush Katif, the Britten is more appropriate now.

In truth, Britten is a strange choice. Not the music. That's perfect. But the composer was a genteel British homosexual anti-Semite. He refused repeated invitations to conduct the Requiem here, doubtless because he wanted no contact with circumcised organs. And I have heard that he claimed to be a conscientious objector and refused to serve in the military at the outset of the Second World War. He was to be imprisoned, but it was decided that as his rectal cavity was already several times larger than usual, the further enlargement resulting from prison might destroy his compositional talent.

Poor Britten. Had he known that Israel would become a magnet for Jewish anti-Semites, eunuchs like himself, he might have enjoyed a visit here.

THAT JEWS WERE POWERLESS, UNABLE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES for two thousand years, was the result of circumstance. The tragedy is that over time powerlessness came to be viewed less as a necessity than as a virtue. We embraced it. It freed us from having to act, from any responsibility for our own protection, and let us indulge ourselves as the moral arbiters, the scolds of the world.

With the rebirth of Israel we regained the capacity to defend ourselves, to do all those unpleasant but necessary things to preserve our lives and our freedom. And for a while we did so. But the cost was very great. Defending ourselves meant giving up the (imagined) moral superiority of helplessness. Doing what was necessary to preserve our lives and our freedom meant we could no longer occupy the (imaginary) moral high ground of dependency. Who in his right mind –– and Jews were reputed to have the sharpest minds of all –– would surrender the Martyrs Mantle of Victimization?

So we reverted to being the pathetic Jewish mendicants and supplicants of old. The best and brightest of Diaspora Jewry regained their status as exemplars of righteousness by inveighing against Israel and siding with its enemies.

And the best and brightest of Israel's so-called intelligentsia regained their status as exemplars of morality by working to destroy Israel.

IF THESE ATTITUDES WERE CONSISTENT it would be bad enough. What leaves me livid is the hypocrisy of the left. Force must never, ever be used. Engagement Through Dialogue uber alles. [A joke from my youth: Jews don't fight. But they talk you to death.]

Thus the leading lights of Western Jewry bounce off each other like billiard balls in their haste to declare sympathy for Palestinians.

Thus an American Reform Rabette leads a group to Teheran for interfaith dialogue.

Thus Israeli intellectuals demonstrate against roadblocks.

Thus Israeli courts demonstrate their progressive humanism by declaring the protection of Arab sensibilities more important than preservation of Jewish blood.

All abhor the use of force, with one exception. Force must be used against 'settlers'. The shedding of our blood sanctifies their struggle.

So I sit here listening to speeches about how we honor the memories of those who died –– now 22,400+ -- in defense of the State. And the speakers then go back to undoing what the dead died to preserve.

Is it any wonder I am an anti-Semite?

THESE LETTERS ARE POINTLESS. An exercise in self-indulgence. Clearly I have the need to write. Were I a mentsch the letters would be kept as a diary, rather than inflicting them on you. There might be a point if you or I or anyone could do something to derail the inevitable. But there is nothing to be done, short of a revolution. And a revolution requires a critical mass of people, which we don't have.

When the missiles, fired from behind a protective line of UN or NATO 'peacekeepers' start to fall on the central plain, and our secular sleepwalking citizenry is rudely awakened, it will be too late.

This is my elliptical way of apologizing to all of you, both in Israel and abroad, for commenting on Muffy or shnaygelach or whatever and never mentioning 'the situation'. [And when I say 'abroad' I mean those living outside of Israel. Certain delicate ladies have taken offense, thinking I was referring to them as 'a broad'.].

It is difficult to describe the degree to which I envy those of you who see what I see, yet continue to function. A neighbor of mine recently called my attention to an apparently deep cut in one of my tires, and suggested I get a new tire because this one could 'go at any moment'.

"The whole country could go at any moment," I said.

"But you can't do anything about the country, and you can do something about that tire."

Actually, those I envy most are the neanderthals across the way who spend every waking moment working on their cars. They will be incinerated exactly when I am, but they won't have wasted any time agonizing over the coming Big Burn.

I WAS WATCHING AL-JAZEERA EARLIER and they had an item that Ultimate Shyster would resign next week to be replaced by Inarticulate Brain-Dead. May I say I told you so? [For those of you who are wondering, Al Jazeera is a Moslem relative of Al Dente and Al Fresco.]

So why was I watching Al-Jazeera?

In the early years of our being here, when vision was still impaired by the afterglow of aliyah, a popular joke was that every time two bicycles crashed Fatah [remember when they were Bad Guys?] would claim credit for the accident. We knew we could trust our side for the truth, and their side for falsehood. It took years before coming to the bitter realization, Everything and Everybody here is a lie!

So I might as well watch Al-Jazeera. There is no pretense of impartiality.

NOT THAT WE CAME ON ALIYAH AS WIDE-EYED INNOCENTS. Some of you may recall my relating the moment when my cynicism was born. About the so-called election for mayor of Doodyville on "The Howdy Doody Show" on WNBC-TV, and how children coast-to-coast were asked to choose between heroic Howdy and loathsome Phineas T. Bluster by sending in postcards. And how millions responded, including most of the lower grades in my yeshiva. And how, because I knew everyone else was voting Howdy I voted Bluster. And how, if the votes were actually counted, it would have been many millions of upright, G-d fearing all-American children for Howdy, and a handful of cretinus preverts for Bluster. And how the announced results were a tie –– the absurdity of it! –– with Clarabelle the Clown casting the supposedly decisive vote for Howdy.

Just imagine how many kids lost faith in the system and grew up to vote Republican because of that...

Anyway, a night or two before her departure Rachel is watching a television show that has already been on for several nights, in which the public is to choose the song that will be Israel's Official 60th Anniversary song. The contesting songs are a mixture of old favorites and relative unknowns, and on this night the winner is to be announced. I am hiding at the computer when I hear Rachel shout "Phineas T. Bluster!!"

Turns out that the winner, by a single vote, is the classic JERUSALEM OF GOLD [YERUSHALAYIM SHEL ZAHAV]. The runner-up, we are expected to believe, is a dirge-like Ode to Piss, sung by the Tel-Aviv Catamite Choir, that only Piss Now could love. Of course, given who controls the media, Ode to Piss rules the airwaves for days.

Hours before the start of Dependence Day –– this year's slogan should be SEE THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING STATE / BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE –– flags of various sizes are everywhere. I was considering hanging an Israeli flag upside down, until I realized that upside down and right side up are exactly the same.

So I think I'll go for two flags. One, a white flag, signifying surrender to our enemies. The second, a skull and crossbones, signifying that the State steals from its citizens without regard to race, religion, or shoe-size.

AS PEOPLE WALKED OUT IN THEIR HOLIDAY FINERY HEADED FOR SHUL –– I couldn't bring myself to listen to, much less say, the hallelujahs and hosannas for the existence of the State –– I stepped out in pajamas to dispose of some garbage. I knew it was the wrong time to step out, but the stench from the bag was permeating the house.

A policeman approached –– there are lots of cops and copettes around – and said "Do you live here?"

"No" I replied, "I live far away. I just come here to dispose of my garbage."

"Are you an Israeli?" His eyes had narrowed to such slits I could have believed he was Officer Wong.

"No," I replied again. "I'm just a Jewish refugee in the Land of Israel."

He began to froth at the mouth, but before he could slather me with it a neighbor came by and greeted me with "Chag Sameach, Moshe". At which Wong walked away.

"What Chag is that?" I asked innocently.

We had had this discussion many times before. This time he exploded: "If you knew what life was like for us in Poland, in Russia, you would appreciate that what we have here makes this a chag."

Interestingly, talking with my brother later, he told me that he had been at a lecture in his shul and the speaker was an Ethiopian from Sderot whose message was "However bad you think it is for me now, it was much worse in Ethiopia."

LAST NIGHT I WAS WATCHING A FILM ON CABLE, THE QUEEN, about British transvestites. Moments before it ended there was a series of explosions that made me drop my potato chips in fright. Turned out to be a fireworks display set off in an empty lot not fifty feet from the house. Horrific.

Today, hot, desultory, the air is filled with fumilicious smoke from countless outdoor barbecues. Giving me even more of a reason to step out and destroy another cigar.

There are only two programs I intend to watch on tv.

The Kronkeit Channel has a documentary on airborne allergies, POLLENESIA.

The Children's Channel has a tragic tearjerker about a boy who loves his mother, OEDIPUS REEKS.

May 11, 2008

[Okay. So I promised that #15 would be the last letter for a while. But this time I swear on the grave of The Wholly Martyr Baba Yitzchak, murdered by Enemies of Peace in The Wholly Martyr Baba Yitzchak Square in the Wholly Secular City of Tel Aviv. Can any oath be more sacred?]

[Muffy is back. She is here all day, and whenever I step out for a smoke during the night she comes running. Clearly her offspring are dead. I could pretend that they are in foster care, or have been put up for adoption. But I'm not that delusional. Yet.

Fornication Fever has subsided and though Muffy continues to display her wares, her paramours seem disinterested.

One of the Buffy Twins is dead. The cross-eyed one, whom I liked. He stopped appearing some time ago, and while taking a walk one evening Rachel and I found his lacerated remains. Apparently he died fighting, a surprising source of comfort.

The Buffys had been inseparable. The survivor seems quite forlorn, though that may be my imagination. In any case he and Muffy frisk about together, which hadn't happened before.

After Muffy gave birth I received an email from a kind lady in Jerusalem who volunteers at an animal shelter. After detailing some of the horrors Muffy and her offspring faced she offered to bring a crew here to capture mother and children, neuter them in Jerusalem, and bring them back. A similar, even more horror-detailed email came from an old and dear friend in the States who offered to send money for the neutering. She also said that if nothing is done it was likely the offspring would die, and Muffy would get pregnant again and die.

My reply:

I hqave no doubt you are right about the benefits of neutering. But I see neutering as sterilization, and the idea is repugnant to me. Were I running a farm I could see the need for neutering animals to improve their work. But these cats aren't my pets. They are free. Even free to starve and get cancer. And even if they were my pets, even if I had purchased them, would I have a right to sterilize them for my own convenience?

In light of what happened subsequently, I'm no longer so certain.]

I DON'T UNDERSTAND THE NEAR HYSTERIA OVER OLMERT'S PRESENT WOES. You are being conned into thinking the situation is dynamic, when in fact it is already following a script. Can a puppet revolt against the puppeteers? Only in a horror movie. And our present situation does seem like a horror movie. Still, the Ultimate Shyster's fate officially is in the hands of the Attorney General, another puppet. If the puppet AG hands down an indictment, puppet Olmert is gone. And Dippy Tzippi is in.

Two of you scoffed at my prediction NATO troops would do the government's dirty work in Judea and Samaria. Thursday's Jerusalem Post had an op-ed by Amnon Rubinstein calling for "Israel and its moderate Arab neighbors" to join NATO. That the "moderate Arab neighbors" exist only in the writer's imagination is irrelevant [actually, there are characters dressed as Arabs and acting with moderation in the 1938 Buster Crabbe serial "Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo"].

Rubinstein is interesting in that he is the acceptable face of the extreme left. He wears a suit and tie, not like the pretend-proletariat. He is both soft-spoken and well-spoken, unlike his thuggish rabble-rousing contemporaries Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni. But make no mistake. He is one of them, and he speaks for The Enlightened Ones. So if he is advocating NATO membership, understand that he is not speaking for himself.

WE HAD A VISITOR FROM THE GREAT OPEN SPACES OF WESTERN CANADA. After four long days in our little country this expert said "There can't be any secrets in Israel. It's simply too small. And everybody shoots his mouth off."

Just before the last day of Pessach, befouling the pristine skies at 2 or 3am, I heard two explosions from the direction of Ashkelon. A few minutes later, the sound of helicopters. In the morning I expected to read or hear something. Not a word then, nor in succeeding days.

Later I learned from Oshri that one missile had landed in a cemetery close to his parent's home, destroying some 200 gravestones. The mayor of Ashkelon decided not to sound the sirens so as not to alarm the residents. The presumption is that no one resting under the gravestones was in any way alarmed.

So much for everybody knows everything...

I'VE BEEN WASTING A LOT OF TIME MOLESTING THE PLANTS. It took the longest time for me to realize that what I do or don't do has little effect on their growth. What has impressed me is the staying power of ants. No matter how widely I spray, or how much I spray, they are back within hours. Perhaps I'd be wise to leave them alone. As long as they are busy with the plants they more or less stay out of the house.

I'm reminded of an old movie, circa 1940, about German agents trying to stir up trouble -- "The natives are revolting!" yelled a character, and in those pre-politically correct days one could yell back "They sure are!" –– in British East Africa. The Germans operate out of an underground radio station and are killed when the British drop explosives down the airshaft. When they enter they see that "only the ants remain". Doubtless the ants were wearing earplugs.

METV, the Christian Broadcasting Network operating out of Cyprus, has two old movies every day at noon. And the first, I do mean old. From the very early 1930's, most with people I've never heard of. Just as examples, in the last few days I've seen THE SCARLET LETTER with Colleen Moore and SVENGALI with John Barrymore. Alas, the second oldie is usually a Roy Rogers epic featuring The Illegitimate Sons of the Pioneers and that famous shul caretaker Gabbai Hayes.

LAST WEEK I RECEIVED A REQUEST FROM AN ORGANIZATION I truly love and respect, one that has helped us often. Would Rachel speak to a group they were bringing down to Nitzan at 2 the following day? I explained that Rachel would be delighted, but it might be hard to hear her from New Jersey. After a long pause they asked if I would speak. After an equally long pause, during which I contemplated my busy schedule and decided I could delay squeezing my zits for an hour or so, I agreed.

I have pretty much stopped speaking to groups. However much I am told beforehand that 'they want to hear the truth' or 'they want to hear anything you have to say', I know that they want an inspirational message, which I don't have. Alternately, they want heroic tales, stories of how I was wounded, which I can no longer do. The words that once flowed, that could bring tears to any audience, are now like dust in my mouth, choking me. But I owe this organization and I promised myself to limit my talk to a smile, a few jokes, a wave of my empty sleeve, and a quick exit.

At 2, when the bus was supposed to arrive, the phone rang. The bus had broken down, was being repaired, would leave Jerusalem shortly. I had enough experience to realize that because they had a schedule to keep they couldn't extend their time here but would compress it. So if they had planned to leave here at 4, they would still do so. I prepared to cut a few jokes and skip the empty sleeve waving.

It was worse than I thought.

They had prepared for two hours worth of speakers, and all the speakers had arrived. Crutches, wheelchairs, amputees, the whole pathetic panoply, the whole wring your heart, wring your eyes and wring your wallet freak show.

Equally annoying, the event was held in what passes for a restaurant here rather than in a hall. This meant that however heartfelt and noble the message, it was delivered against a backdrop of burps, farts, belches, overturned glasses, cutlery bouncing off the floor, etc.

Still, the show must go on.

The visitors, some twenty women ranging from late middle age to late teens, were both attractive and wholesome looking. Suitably inspired, though annoyed at being introduced as a war hero, I began by saying "I have a magnetic personality. So magnetic that every flying explosive is attracted to me." When the laughter died down I tried to resume speaking but was interrupted by the gentleman who had introduced me.

"Thank you, Moshe" he said, "and now I want to introduce ... " and he pointed to some drooler in a wheelchair.

Ruffled feathers and all I stomped away. Nobody noticed. All eyes were on the drooler who shook in his wheelchair like a spastic. Very impressive. Better than anything I have to offer.

Sunday, May 11

ANOTHER SHABBAT SPENT QUITE ALONE, COURTESY OF CONJUNCTIVITIS. A neighbor brought me cholent which was delicious but so bean-filled that within a half hour I ceased walking anywhere. Instead I flew, jet-propelled.

The kids are sympathetic about my eyes but otherwise very annoyed. It was expected I would go from one to the other, interspersed with visiting my mother and brother. And instead, other than shopping and the dentist, I've gone nowhere. Since returning from the airport I haven't gone further than Ashkelon.


It has been a blast. Two weeks with life revolving solely around these stupid letters. Darkness and daylight incidental to my writing, the cats my sole responsibility. Lots of phone calls, of course, so I haven't been cut off in any way.

I can flatter myself these letters are a late flowering, like the great composers Verdi and Janacek who did their finest work in old age.

A more apt comparison might be to a light bulb, glowing most brightly before being extinguished for good.

Whatever the case, for me a remarkable experience.

I have certainly learned to appreciate the effort Rachel puts into keeping this place clean. It will take a miracle to get things in order as she had it.

One thing I know will annoy her, but I won't apologize for it. The few items of her clothing I washed the day after she left should have been put away. Instead I have them laid out on her bed. This, so that in one form she is here with me. And the house is not nearly so empty.

And now, let the cleaning begin. Woman's work is never done.

[Poop Update: As the poop proliferation problem worsens, I consulted with the UNPIEETTA (United Nations Poop Investigation Examination Evaluation and Taste Testing Authority) based in Rotterdam. The organization head, Dr. Tamra, informs me that the only animals whose droppings match those I've described are hyenas. As all the hyenas in Israel are in the government, that leaves the mystery unsolved.]

May 16, 2008

[As if I don't have enough on my plate, what with having to do a pasa doble with a mop to get the sludge off the floor, I have just realized that our patron/best friend ever in the White House/overseer is due to arrive at pretty much the same time as Rachel.

In most civilized countries the arrival of a visiting head-of-state would cause some disruption. In this banana republic, so fawningly intent on showing subservience and obedience, it will cause paralysis. Security uber alles, no matter that the visitor is probably still hung-over from his daughter's wedding. The goons in dark glasses, wires coming out of their ears like unfinished robots, will be everywhere. I'll probably have to go to the airport in the middle of the night in hopes of beating the lockdown.]

[My conjunctivitis is much improved and I'm relieved to no longer have to wear sunglasses all the time. One evening I was sitting outside, puffing away while watching the kitties, when two dudes walked past. They turned and passed several times more. Then they stopped and one said, "Hey, man, what are you selling?"

It took me a moment or two to realize they weren't interested in buying holy amulets, unless the amulets were the type you can smoke.]

[Glory be! The cleanup is finished. And noting Rachel's proclivity to doubt that things are truly in order, I invited various neighbors in to view the work in progress. These will step in and testify, ie lie, for me if needed.

The problem now is to learn to levitate, or to ask my neighbor for another cholent, so as not to touch the floor and undo my good work.]

IT WAS NOON YESTERDAY [SUNDAY] and I had just returned from another horror session with the dentist in Ashkelon. My lips and gums were still numb from the shots and it was hard to keep my cigar lit as it was soaked with drool. At least I hoped it was just drool. [This is the place where I should make a typing 'error' and replace drool with droll. If only I were that creative...]

My mood was, understandably, foul.

As I stepped out of the car two old friends from Holland approached. My heart sank, but I'm so fond of them I kept my mouth shut [!] about the dentist. They talked, I drooled. When I offered them a Heineken they insisted I join them. Which I did, though I knew it was insane. The dentist had warned against food and drink for at least an hour, which had not yet passed, and in any case I am hyper-sensitive to alcohol.

So by the time I walked my friends to their vehicle I was near collapse. I staggered back into the house, pausing only to direct a few heartfelt curses at Muffy and Buffy and Associates who were doing the famous 'kvetching chorus' from CATALERIA RUSTICANA, and fell into bed.

I don't know how much time passed –– something between a nanosecond and a millisecond –– before there was a pounding at the door. For a moment I thought the pounding was in my head and I was having my long anticipated stroke, but no such luck. Even before I could haul myself out of bed the door opened and a hearty "Hi, Moshe! Remember me?" shook the walls of our shack.

It was one of the countless 'Remember me? I was in your house in Gush Katif' people'.

[relevant aside: In the months after I was first wounded, numberless physicians told me they had worked on me in the Tel Hashomer operating room when I was brought in. So many physicians, I've come to believe I was really operated on inYankee Stadium.

Well, the number of 'Remember me?' folks far surpasses that. And even if I can't remember them, G-d bless them all.]

Remember Me, hereinafter RM, is tall, thin, wispy beard, outsized multicolored yarmulke. He informs me he has brought a small group with him, and before I can plead for mercy he is out the door, returning in seconds with eight people in tow.

Sidney Carton did not face the guillotine with greater equanimity than I. Chairs are organized, cold drinks are hauled out of the fridge, the Eight sit and stare at me. Six are elderly, one appearing to be a Living Fossil. Two are teenagers, slovenly, dirty, zitzy, the boy with a nose like a cucumber, the girl with a Miss Piggy snout. His hair is longer than hers. They all stare.

RM takes me aside. "I've already told them you're a war hero. You can say what you want, but... they are liberal, unaffiliated Jews. Use discretion."

Unwittingly, RM has given me my out.

"In Gush Katif" I begin, "we grew wonderful vegetables. And we even have some responsibility for Israel's greatest vegetable...[long pause]... Ariel Sharon!"

"Outrageous!" says the Living Fossil.

"Shame on you" says a lady with barbed-wire hair.

I continue. "I even applied for the job of watering him and sprinkling fertilizer on him."

"Have you no respect?" say Barbed-Wire Hair.

RM is chewing his beard. I assume a look of perplexed innocence.

"Respect? I have the greatest respect for Mr. Sharon. I have so much respect I proposed

he be given the title 'Father of the Century'...[long pause]...What other father loved his sons so much that he destroyed his country to save them from prison?"

"That's enough!" says Living Fossil and they all rise as one and, RM apoplectic at the rear, stomp out.

By this time I was on such a high I couldn't go to sleep even if I wanted to.

[ludicrous, pointless aside: There was a young man in shul I hadn't seen before. Told his name is Symcha Chai, and that he is soon to be married, I realized that the bride-to-be is The Sweetheart of Symcha Chai.]

I KEEP WRITING ABOUT HOW UNCOMFORTABLE IT MAKES ME to be to be introduced as a hero. Several of you have commented, one saying "Moshe, you do protest too much."

True, I bask in it, and have become expert at false modesty which only enhances the glow of my supposed 'heroism'.

However unheroic I am, I do take pride –– perhaps inordinate pride –– in not being the coward I always thought I was. If my performance as a soldier was barely adequate, never was it less than that. Whatever inadequacies I had –– and they were legion –– were the result of a weak mind and an even weaker physique. Never of a weak heart.

I learned that survival could depend upon the simulation of stupidity. Not much of a strain in my case.

Punishment was rarely meted out for stupidity. Humiliation, yes. Ridicule, yes. But with an enormous ego like mine, dependent not on the approbation of others but on my own sense of self-worth, humiliation and ridicule could be endured.

Two examples, neither of which will have you polishing up the Medal of Honor:

AT THE BEGINNING OF MAY 1969 I WAS CALLED UP FOR THREE MONTHS OF BASIC TRAINING. The May draftees are known as the Mau Mau. Academics and other quality folk get called up when the Summer recess begins in July. The May-flowers are mostly social welfare cases, low-grade criminals permitted by the courts to choose the army over imprisonment, and a handful of new immigrants. It was a glorious introduction to Israeli society.

I had two main problems. The first was language. My Hebrew was abysmal. When orders were given I had to see what others were doing and follow suit. It was accepted I would always be a step behind. Long after I understood the orders perfectly I continued to play the fool. The reason had everything to do with the second problem.

Which was my weight. I weighed 243lbs when I entered the army. The only muscles I had in good working order where those that control chewing and swallowing, and another that delicacy prevents me from discussing. My physical condition was such I was surprised I was only a step or two behind everyone else.

Just as the language problem was solved, so was the weight problem. As I picked up Hebrew I dropped weight. It was easy.

Before every meal we were made to stand at attention in front of the mess hall. One could ignore the verbal abuse. One couldn't ignore the requirement that we do ten push ups followed by ten chins in order to enter and eat. I could manage one push up, maybe two. As to chins, not even one. Only a forklift could have gotten me up to the bar. After what seemed like hours of being yelled at and ridiculed one was allowed to eat.

I quickly decided the food wasn't worth the abuse.

We had four long bunks, sixty beds in each. Before every meal one soldier was designated to guard each bunk. So I volunteered to guard my bunk. My offer was gratefully accepted. It was expected that food would be brought to me at the end of each meal. Sometimes it was. A slice of bread, or a tangerine. More often there was nothing. I couldn't have cared less. I treasured being alone. I treasured the silence.

In three months I went from 243 to 187. Rachel says it is the only time in our life together that she was able to get her arms around me.

The weight loss put me in a quandary. I was allowed to go home every third Shabbat. Fortunately we lived in a basement flat because Rachel would hose me down before allowing me into the apartment. My quandary was that I was desperate for food and sex, but couldn't decide which gets priority. I solved the problem in a way that both annoyed and amused my better half.

I seem to have wandered off the subject –– how pretend stupidity saved my butt –– but that is a privilege of doddering ancients.


IT WAS TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE END OF BASIC TRAINING. And I was furious. That morning I had learned that a clerk had made a mistake about my birth date. Draftees 27 and over are supposed to do only 40 days of basic and are not assigned to combat units, and I was already 27 when called in. The moron who informed me smilingly said "There's a 40 day course starting next week, if you want it. And the people are more like you." He little realized how much I had learned among the Mau Mau. And having already completed 74 days, with 14 to go, why would I want to start 40?

Later that morning we continued our 'final exams' prior to graduating. I had already failed four or five tests, all involving running, climbing, shlepping, etc. I had also flabbergasted them all by placing first on the firing range. Now we were going for the grenade throw. A piece of cake.

This was held in a field with a reviewing stand. The grenades, like the throwers, were dummies. Same size, shape, weight, but solid lead. One stood behind a line and aimed for flags set at different distances. The reviewing stand had about twenty officers and lower level sadists watching.

When it was my turn general hilarity broke out on the reviewing stand. This only stoked my fury. We were given three tries. On the first I dropped the grenade and it landed at my feet. The stands shook with laughter.

On my second throw I wound up like Ewell "The Whip" Blackwell, [a great Cincinnati Reds pitcher, for the less educated among you] spun and threw. But instead of releasing the grenade at 180 degrees I continued on to 270 before letting go, and it flew into the reviewing stand.

To this day I don't know if it was accidental or on purpose, but the result was delightful. The scoffers dove off the stand as the metal ball hurtled towards them. Of course I kept a look of amazed regret on my face, apologizing profusely. They muttered, but did nothing.

My last throw –– the scoffers now crouching behind the stands –– soared straight out, falling beyond the farthest of the flags.

I bowed from the waist and walked off the field.

That afternoon all the trainees were gathered in an open area to hear a talk by the base commander. This gentleman –– I have no recollection of what he looked like –– was widely hated because he had four humongous, savage dogs that leapt and snarled at us when we daily marched past his abode.

After a short supposed-to-be-inspirational but quite incomprehensible address he said he was going to ask some questions to check our knowledge of weapons and tactics. At this point an officer, one of the reviewing stand scoffers, whispered in his ear and he nodded assent. He pretended to look around the 230-plus trainees, then smiled and pointed at me.

"Stand up, Mr. Chubby" he said. I struggled to my feet. "Can you tell us when you use a bazooka, and when you use a mortar?"

My great moment had arrived. For safety I should have kept my mouth shut but my ego has always been larger than my intelligence.

"Yes, sir" I said, emphasizing my broken Hebrew. "If I want to kill you and your dogs, and can see your house, I use a bazooka. If I can't see your house because something is in the way, I use a mortar."

Sharp intakes of breath, then absolute silence. After what seemed forever he started to laugh, and everybody laughed, and I had the sense just to look confused.

"Very good, Mr. Chubby. You can sit down."

Of course that wasn't the end. At graduation, when everyone was awarded the rank of private, I was made semi-private.

And now –– don't panic, this is much shorter –– the second example of butt-saving stupidity.

It was in 1971, my second tour of reserve duty, forty days. We were in the hills above Kiryat Shemona on the Lebanese border, in a moshav of troglodytes who raised apples.. [Lots of unforgettable things, but you've suffered enough.]

One night I was assigned to sit in what passed for a command post and man the field radio/phone. I protested that I had never learned the bizarre army jargon that was required for starting and ending any conversation. My fears were ignored, and I was left alone.

Near midnight the phone rang. With trembling hand I lifted the receiver.

"KodKod 6, this is KodKod 1. Over."

Now what in blazes is 'KodKod'? I didn't know then and I don't know now.

"Hello" I said.

"KodKod 6. This is KodKod 1. Over."

Perhaps it was the hour. Perhaps my hearing wasn't too sharp. But instead of KodKod I heard KofKof. 'Kof' is a monkey in Hebrew.

"What is this 'kof' business?" I shouted into the phone. "Stop playing around. These phones are for army business only." And I slammed the receiver down.

Not twenty minutes later a jeep screeched to a halt and a barrel-chested little guy jumped out with my commanding officer in tow. The barrel-chested guy, a Druse with a short fuse, was the regional commander. This was our first meeting.

"Don't you know how to use a field phone?" he barked at me.

I was terrified, but pretended to take umbrage. "Of course. Didn't I say 'hello'?"

Druse-fuse turned to my commanding officer. "Don't...ever...let...this...moron...near...!", and stormed out.

My CO, really quite a decent guy, gave me a look of both pity and sympathy.


It's two days later, early morning. Something is afoot. Our unit of forty is broken into twos and we are driven to the border hilltop which overlooks a plain. The border is delineated by a large gravestone. The side facing Israel says 'The grave of Rav Ashi', a noted Talmudic sage. The side facing Lebanon says 'The grave of Sheikh Suweid', whoever he was. Take your pick.

On the plain below, several hundred yards away, is a highway running north-south. Just beyond is the village of Bint J'bail, now notorious for the number of our boys who needlessly died there a year ago.

My companion is originally from India, dark-skinned, always laughing, with an enormous flabby potbelly. We converse in English. When not defending the State, he is a sewer worker in Lod. He trained in the army as a radio operator.

I have a large field radio strapped to my back, but have been warned not to attempt to operate it under any circumstances. The radio is tuned to our army frequency and we are instructed to keep it open to receive messages. We have binoculars and are supposed to keep an eye on the road and report any traffic. A large tree shelters the grave of Take-your-pick, and we make ourselves comfortable under it.

An hour passes, then another. Nothing passed on the road. A single vehicle appeared. Even with binoculars I couldn't recognize the make. As per instructions we called in to report. When asked about the car, I said "a Sussita". I meant it as a joke.

"Are you sure?" Sussita was a made-in-Israel knock-off of some cheap European car. "Absolutely. A Sussita."

I listen to the crickets, the buzzing of flying things, the wind in the tall grass. My companion, Hodi –– Hodi is Hebrew for Indian –– is getting fidgety. Finally he says "Let's listen to the radio", and despite my warnings that we are supposed to leave it on the open channel, starts turning dials until he gets to this hideous nasal singing. He is ecstatic. "It's All-India Radio!" he shouts, and proceeds to sing along. And not only sing. He takes off his shirt and pants and proceeds to do an Indian bump-and-grind, his potbelly bouncing to the music.

I don't know how much time passed. It seemed that entire universes were born and died before he agreed to put it back on the army channel. And that only because the music finished and an announcer began speaking in "#$%^ Hindi" when all my companion spoke was "#$%^ Marathi".

While Hodi redialed the radio I saw a line of trucks and cars on the road below.

Back on the IDF channel we heard the words "...did you get that message? Confirm." We hadn't heard a word of the message, but wouldn't risk punishment by admitting we hadn't been listening. It couldn't have been anything of importance, we convinced ourselves.

Less than a minute later shells were passing overhead, aimed at the vehicles on the road. The first rounds fell short, close enough to spray us with dirt. Hodi, still in underwear, lost it; the front of his white shorts were yellow, the rear, brown. The next rounds hit the road. Who and what our side was shooting at, I'll never know.

Before the sound of the last shells had faded, several jeeps roared up. Druse-fuse bounded out of the first. My commanding officer slowly exited the second. "Are you guys alright?" he asked.

"Didn't you hear the orders to fall back?" Druse-fuse asked in a tone filled with menace.

Hodi just stood there trembling, so it was up to me. 'Stupid saves' I kept saying to myself.

"Of course we heard the orders. But we are IDF soldiers. We never retreat!"

After a pause, his voice even lower, "Are you the one who reported seeing a Sussita?"

I nodded.

"Don't you know Sussita is an Israeli car. What would it be doing on a Lebanese road?"

I assumed my most thoughtful look. Then a big smile. "Maybe they stole it."

That was the last I saw or heard of Druse-fuse. Sadly, that's not true of Hodi.

Years later I read that he had been imprisoned in a drainage pipe by three Israeli Arab co-workers and tortured to death over a period of three days. RIP Hodi. You deserved better.

IT IS ALMOST 4AM AND I HAVE TO HIT THE ROAD TO THE AIRPORT. I had gone to sleep relatively early knowing I would have to be up early. At 11:30pm I was awakened by the phone. The caller, either drunk or retarded, screamed "Who is this? Identify yourself immediately or I'll kill you." I hung up. At 1:30am he called again. Same witty repartee. I have been up since.

Now I'm off to get my much better half. Be still, my heart! This may well be the most self-indulgent letter I've done. If I had any shame left in me I would be ashamed. But I don't, and I'm not.

May 19, 2008

[Buffy is a puzzlement. He doesn't touch the cat food, rarely drinks anything, yet seems to be thriving.

As to my friend who wrote "They really are your pets, Moshe. They talk to you and you talk to them."

They talk to me? They whine.

I talk to them? "Get the [expletive deleted] out of my way you little pieces of [expletive deleted]" hardly counts as conversation.]

[For those who were bewildered about the difference between private and semi-private...
With semi-private, the toilet is down the hall.

[For those who keep urging me to publish these letters as a book, I can't because the only title I would publish under has already been used by the late, great George Sanders, who called his autobiography Memoirs of a Cad.]

[Some of you will be happy to learn that the bread- and matzah-throwing Olympian is refusing to go to Beijing. He saw pictures of Tibetan demonstrators and thought they were Yemenites like himself. To my relief he has taken up a new hobby: watering wilting plants and trees. Truly a tzaddik.]

MY APOLOGIES –– TO BANANA REPUBLICS –– for referring to Israel as a banana republic. Not even the feeblest banana republic would be so lacking in self-respect as to put on the nauseating display of fawning and self-abnegation that the government of Israel put on for the visiting American president.

While CIA operatives are instructing Fatah members in the newest and most effective methods of killing Jews, all under the guise of teaching them to "fight terror", Israel demeans herself in ways that would embarrass a shul honoring a wealthy contributor.

The United States is the most generous great power on earth. But its generosity is based less on altruism –– however much both giver and receivers pretend it is –– than on perceived US national interests. All its generosity comes with strings attached. The strings may be disguised, like those on a marionette. Or they may be wound into a rope that can serve as a whip. Or a noose.

Israel has, throughout its history, been subject to both marionette strings and to the whip. Not that there was a hint of this in the 'documentary' and general production celebrating wealthy America and its wealthy American Jews and their relationship to ever-needy, ever-shnorring Israel.

The 'documentary' –– even 'sex workers' would have gagged on its effusive overkill –– simply re-wrote history. Barely a mention of Israel's enormous contribution to American security. No mention at all that American money 'given' to Israel must largely be spent in America, often to the detriment of Israel's ability to develop means to defend itself. For example...

How many of you are aware that Israel Aircraft developed a revolutionary new fighter plane, the Lavi, years if not decades ahead of anything done or planned by anyone else. And that a prototype was actually built. And that the US demanded Israel cancel the project so that it never pose a threat to American aircraft manufacturers. And Israel cancelled the project, ensuring that its defense remained totally dependent on American largesse.

Is it any wonder I referred to Israel Dependence Day?

And now, despite the flatulent orgy of gratitude by Israel's mitamerikayim –– Israel's wannabe Americans –– the strings are being woven into a noose disguised as 'a Palestinian state'. And most Israelis cheer.

If they hadn't already broken my heart in Gush Katif, they would be breaking it now.

IT WAS 4:15 WEDNESDAY MORNING WHEN I LEFT FOR THE AIRPORT, and 5 when I arrived. You know my motto: Better an hour early than a minute late. But 3hrs early? Ridiculous, even by my standards.

I expected to find the place near empty but it was packed. Flights had just landed from such exotic spots as Palermo, Istanbul, Kiev, St.Petersburg, and ever-mysterious Toronto.

Most of those getting off were groups of Christian tourists who stayed closer together than wagons in a train and, as soon as they were in the reception hall, circled their wagons in anticipation of attack. Attack by whom? Perhaps the Horrible Hebes. Or the Savage Semites.

A hundred dramas, great and small, were played out before me. I felt like Lewis Stone, the disfigured doctor in GRAND HOTEL (1932) who witnesses robbery, murder, every conceivable passion, then says "People come and people go. Nothing ever happens at the Grand Hotel."

Years ago, when I still thought of myself as Israeli, I reveled in these dramas. I even, to my shame, enjoyed watching Israelis mock American tourists, calling out "Dr. Goldstein?" to everyone who passed. It took the 'disengagement' to make me realize that the mockery was born of jealousy, and that jealousy and resentment are among the prime forces in Israeli society.

So, the next time anyone tells you the 'disengagement' was a failure, remember that it was a great success in disengaging me from Israel.

Rachel's flight arrived on time, and though she was the last person through passport control and the last to receive her luggage, we were out in plenty of time to avoid being Bush-whacked.

RACHEL'S RETURN HAS BEEN SMOOTHER THAN ANTICIPATED, though she has a terrible case of jet lag and seems fully awake only between 1-4am. A major disappointment for me has been that she did her laundry before returning, and my anticipated mother lode of dirty drawers did not materialize. "How doth the washing machine stand bereft..."

There seems to have been a misunderstanding about an item in the last letter. Furious as I was at having been forced to do 90 days of basic training rather than 40 due to clerical error, in retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

[The following may strike some of you as bizarre. It isn't. Nor is it sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. I mean every word.]

Had I done just 40 days I would never have been allowed into a combat unit. I would never have seen action, never been able to overcome my natural cowardice. True, by objective standards I lost a lot. By subjective standards I probably lost even more. But what I gained in self-respect, in self-worth, is immeasurable. [And don't forget the 'disabled parking' sticker.]

Because I did the 90 days and went into a combat unit, my life has literally and figuratively been a blast.

SEVERAL DAYS BEFORE RACHEL'S RETURN, when I had yet to leave the house except for shopping and was being considered for an award as an Honorary Iraqi for being in pajamas all the time, I was asked to have dinner in Jerusalem with some visiting Christian friends from the States. Before I could issue my standard refusal I was told of friends from the refugee camp who were invited as well, and would take me and bring me back. Not having to drive made it irresistible. I went.

The hotel food was edible. The company was exhilarating. I was again struck by how emotionally close I felt to these people. Of the rare few good things to come out of the expulsion –– so few that I can count them on my fingers and still have a finger or two left over –– was the discovery that, without in any way belittling our differences, believing Christians and believing Jews have far more that unites them than divides them.

YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED BUT MUCH OF THE ABOVE READS LIKE SHORTHAND. While it appears to have my usual effluvious prolixity in reality it shocks me to see items that have enormous significance to me merely stated without elaboration.

What this tells me is that I have written myself out and need a rest. Whether a long or short rest will be dictated by circumstances.

ONE LAST STORY, FOR THOSE WHO NOTICED THE REMARK "UNFORGETTABLE THINGS" ABOUT MY RESERVE DUTY on the moshav of the apple-growing troglodytes in the hills above Kiryat Shemonah.

It was winter so it gets dark early. It was 7pm, we had just finished a perfunctory supper the best part of which were the locally grown apples –– I had never seen them in stores and was told they all go for export, unless they are wormy and go for apple sauce –– when we were told of a special treat.

[note: these letters, I am told, are sometimes inadvertently read by children and other delicate souls. Therefore, for the sake of propriety, some dialogue is altered.]

The mess hall was rearranged for a movie. A projector was set up, and because the screen wouldn't open a blank wall would be used. There was grumbling among the few who had to stand guard duty, and I was about to offer to change places with one of these. The film was 'a serious Israeli drama' and I would have opted for root-canal work without an anesthetic.

"No, Moshe" said a buddy, "you can't miss this. They show mammaries."

This was 1971. Mammarial displays were still a rarity in Israeli films. Today, of course, you get them in the coming attractions.

The film was something about a struggling artist in Tel Aviv –– is there any other kind? –– and scenes shot in his 'studio' provide the excuse for the titillation. [aren't I clever?] After some forty minutes of excruciating boredom during which I would have thought the viewers comatose were it not for the sound of sesame seeds being cracked, the artist enters his studio and the audience snaps to attention.

"One minute more, Moshe, one minute more!" says my buddy in a stage whisper.

"Thirty seconds! Thirty seconds!" calls another buddy, who is loudly shushed.

At that moment there is a tremendous explosion. The wooden building shakes. The projector falls on its side but continues operating.

The door is flung open. "A mortar! Out, out! Everybody to his position!" The speaker, actually the screamer, is a young officer. This is his first time with us. Also his last.

"Didn't you hear me? Out!"

Nobody moves.

"Just another few seconds" says a soldier.

"What?" says the officer in disbelief.

"...the mammaries, Sir" says another soldier.

"The next mortar could kill you, you idiots!" says the young officer moving towards the plug.

Three of my buddies block him. He turns and runs out, muttering. All I catch is "I hope..." The rest is indistinct.

The projector continues operating. The mammaries appear. Applause. The plug is pulled. We pick up our weapons and file out in a dignified manner.

Later, on reflection, I am struck by the fact that my buddies are not teenagers, but mostly married men in their thirties and forties.

Is it any wonder I loved reserve duty?


May 28, 2008

[Minor ailments have kept me from harassing the plants and flowers for several days. They have thrived without me. It is clear that hands-on gardening requires a plan and a brain, and as I have neither, leaving them be is best. A small blow to my ego.]

HOWEVER OFTEN I HAVE WRITTEN THAT THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE HERE is However bad you think the situation is, the reality is far worse, I still found myself unprepared for the announcement that Israel and Syria are nearing agreement on Israel's return to the 4 June 1967 borders, ie, surrender of the Golan Heights. Soon there will be announcements that 'peace' is at hand with Syria and with the Palestinians, and though Jews continue to be killed in Sderot, Ashkelon, the leftist kibbutzim surrounding Gaza, all over Judea and Samaria and who knows where else, the Peace Festival will begin.

It will be immaterial who our official 'leader' is, be it the consummate receptacle for spermatozoa called Olmert, the intelligence-challenged Livni, or another puppet. Murdered Jews will once again be referred to as 'sacrifices for peace' as they were in the days of the Oslo accords, and our media and talking [empty] heads and so-called intellectuals will lead us in a celebratory dance of death.

The sex workers who constitute our ultra-Orthodox parties have already been bought off. The Ashkenazim have been given control of the conversion process, which will now reflect their exclusive view of conversion as opposed to the National Religious inclusive view. The Sephardim have been promised permission to build more apartments for their own constituents. Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim refuse to see that these benefits are the equivalent of cabin upgrades on the Titanic.

The great majority of Israel's genetically Jewish citizens, smiling sleepwalkers all, will revel in the strength of the shekel that allows them to have fun, fun, fun traveling abroad and soaking in the therapeutic wet mud of expensive health spas. When the wet mud of the spa turns to the dry earth of the grave –– for those fortunate enough to be buried –– it will be too late. Perhaps a recording of "Give Peace a Chance" can be played at all the funerals. If there are any.

For those who see things as I do, yet continue to fight on, I have only admiration and envy. For people like Rachel with her dreams of a new life in Lachish, for Gush Katif heroines like Anita Tucker, for Nadia and Ruth Matar and their friends putting their lives on the line every day to stop the retreat, for writers like Caroline Glick and Sarah Honig who logically dismember the Enlightened Ones, for the rare honest politicians like Arieh Eldad who labor for democratic change, for our friends abroad like Helen Freedman in New York and the Moskowitz's in Florida, I have not only admiration and envy but a heart filled with love. Yet much as I would like to be like them, I cannot.

Whether it is age, or disability, or cowardice, or bitterness, or imperfect faith, or all of these, I cannot.

IT IS 3:30AM AND THE AIR IS HEAVY WITH SMOKE from the L"g B'Omer bonfires. There is an almost full moon, oblong rather than round, looking like an illuminated version of Edvard Munch's THE SCREAM. [The curse of too much imagination and too few brains.]

The streets are filled with small groups of teenagers, the non-religious particularly foul-mouthed and loud. A 12-year-old neighbor on a bicycle slowed down as he passed me and called out "What are you doing out at this hour?" I held up my cigar.

It occurred to me that in this landscape I am an intrusion. Increasingly, I am an intrusion in any landscape.

EARLIER IN THE EVENING RACHEL AND I WALKED TO A NEARBY BONFIRE. While Rachel mixed with a large crowd listening to the most awful excuse for a comedian/ventriloquist I walked off to the side, sat on a large rock and stared at the fire. [Longtime readers will know about my pyromaniacal tendencies.]

After a while our rabbi walked past and I stood to greet him.

"Has the fire revealed anything to you?" he said in a semi-sarcastic tone. [In fairness his tone may have been perfectly friendly, but worked through the prism of my misery it sounded semi-sarcastic.]

"Not yet" I said, and he walked on.

What I wanted to say is "The fire confirms what awaits us. I have long known it. You know it too."

But I have too much affection and admiration for this man who went through his own crisis with the expulsion, disappearing for about a month before reappearing and resuming his place as our spiritual leader. I assume it is his sense of duty that gives him the strength to go on.

As is usually the case with me we go from ersatz profundity to genuine absurdity.

No sooner had the rabbi left when another gentleman appeared. He is an old friend obsessed with traveling. He travels abroad six or seven times a year, generally leaving his wife behind which, it appears, makes for a great marriage. Where he has the resources is a mystery.

For some reason he thinks I'm a kindred soul, and regularly seeks me out for consultation on where he's been and where he's planning to go. I've explained repeatedly that the only traveling of interest to me is from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. He thinks I'm joking.

"I'm leaving for Africa next week" he says.
"To visit your relatives?" I say.
"To visit your relatives" he says.
"We may be going to Amsterdam for a few days" I say. Before I can continue he proceeds to exhaustively list everything there is to see in the Amsterdam area.
"We are going to see something you haven't seen."
"Not possible!" he positively harrumphs. He is easily offended. I take great pleasure in offending him. I must admit he usually gives as good as he gets. But this time I was flying. "We are going to stay with a family that has served the House of Orange for generations. [so far, true]. They are taking us to a special museum open only to the royal family and those who serve it. The general public doesn't even know of its existence."
"Nonsense!" he yelled. Then, after a pause, a hint of uncertainty in his voice, "What is this museum called?"
"The Schnaygelach Museum."
"No such thing! What's in it?"
"A secret. I'm not allowed to tell you. Rachel and I have been sworn to secrecy."
"Liar! Liar!" he stomped away.

And I knew he wouldn't sleep this night.

MY CLOTHES ARE DISAPPEARING. Sad it is for Rachel, for whom form is always more important than function, to be forced to cohabit with a misshapen shlumper like me. Not only are my clothes ill-fitting, but every shirt save for my Shabbat whites are moon-cratered with burn holes from my cigars. Pleading and threats have had no affect, so she has taken to innocently helping certain items vanish. An underground railroad to clothes heaven.

The latest is a pair of black jeans pants, among the few I can still close despite my obesity. And what was the crime of these innocent pantaloons? That one pants leg is longer than another. I have explained that one leg is longer than the other, ergo the pants legs. To no avail.

So, with the trip to Holland looming, I decided to surprise her with new pants. In days of old I would go to a shop in Tel Aviv for clothes. It was, if memory serves, called Big Tall Men, and it was a family affair, really sweet people, with an on-site seamstress so that any necessary alterations were done while you wait. It may have been a pain to shlep from Jerusalem, but it was worth the trouble.

When the oldsters retired the youngsters sold out. But before I could bemoan my fate a shop of the same name opened in Jerusalem. It had an equally impressive selection but with greatly increased prices and generally lousy service. Except for those odd times when the owner was around, the clerks –– Russians all –– followed the principle that 'the customer is always out of sight'. You were ignored, and if you became insistent, were treated with a wide variety of attitudes ranging from surliness to hostility. And alterations were your problem.

After we moved to Gush Katif I discovered another shop in an Ashkelon outdoor mall, and this has pretty much been my address for pants ever since. [Shirts are for another letter.] When the owner is around everything is great. But he is around late afternoon and evening, when business is brisk. Unfortunately he is training his children to take over and they work in the morning when I prefer to visit.

Yesterday [Sunday] I went to the shop. It is on the second floor of the mall, access a narrow steep staircase between a supermarket and a lobotomist. Or maybe an optometrist. Starting to mount the steps I was taken aback to see someone already being mounted. Only a slight exaggeration. The owner's daughter was smooching with a male companion at the top of the steps.

I did an about face, not easy in that narrow space, and went off to get lobotomized. A few minutes later, having been thrown out of the lobotomist –– "We can't remove what you don't have" –– I returned to the shop.

The couple was watching a horror movie on a small screen behind the counter. Trying on various pantaloons, I avoided disturbing them until it was necessary to measure the pants legs. The daughter, with little grace, measured one leg and only stuck needles into me three or four times. When I told her the second leg had to be measured as one leg is shorter than the other, she stifled a groan and proceeded to stab away. The moocher, engrossed in the film, was twisting an earring at such speed that smoke was coming out of the hole in his earlobe.

The pants, alterations done, will be ready Wednesday. God help me if Rachel isn't pleased.


I WAS IN JERUSALEM YESTERDAY TO ORDER THE TICKETS. I also bought three shirts which, on examination of the label, appear to have been made by a company called Quasimodo Design. We'll soon find out...

Speaking of tickets, I got a parking ticket. The first ever with my 'disabled parking' sticker. And I parked in a place clearly marked for disabled parking. Can the Jerusalem Municipality be so hard up for money? Or is this the result of their seemingly estimable policy of hiring the mentally challenged as meter maids? Infuriating!

Visiting various friends and relatives I was made aware –– more than ever –– that we live too long. Most of our contemporaries are dead or dying, in chemotherapy or wearing colostomy bags, with Filipinos or Filipinas attached, wheelchairs, walkers and/or crutches atremble. Most conversation revolves around treatment, medications, doctors to embrace and doctors to avoid, hospital horror tales and horror tales of Burial Society malfeasance or mismanagement.

It hardly seems worth the effort.

Even when you aren't seriously ill, or aren't aware that you are seriously ill, there are so many aches and pains and inconveniences that you are awash in creams, gels, ointments, unguents, nostrums, pills, panaceas, sprays, each more demeaning and more embarrassing than the next.

Facing a quick and violent death it is possible –– not easy, but possible –– to strike an heroic pose. Even when you have to hang laundry in shifts because you can no longer lift a full pail, you can put a good face on it.

But what heroic pose can you put on unresponsive bowels? What good face can you put on rushing to the loo every few minutes to shake out a few more drops of eau de pish? And how does one deal with becoming 'a person of color'? I don't mean you become yellow or black or red with age. But every bump turns into a bruise, Technicolor and Cinemascope, and even if it doesn't bleed –– which it usually does –– it doesn't heal until you are ready to cash in your Burial Society chips.

It hardly seems worth the effort.

WE ARE OFTEN TOLD OF THE OLD MAN WHO PLANTS A TREE, explaining that though he will be gone before it reaches any height he has the satisfaction of knowing that his children and grandchildren will enjoy the shade. This is exactly what is so heart-rending today. What we have built, or at least attempted to build, is about to be swept away. Our children and grandchildren will face horrors almost unimaginable, horrors we had thought our efforts had eliminated. 'Did you leave this world a better place than when you entered it?' is a classic question. The answer is an unequivocal no. Our efforts have been useless. The sole 'comfort' is that we will likely be in a different place when disaster strikes our loved ones here.

When we were expelled from Gush Katif I had the thought that I was glad my father hadn't lived to see this happen. I wonder if my children will have the same thought about me.

So it's the young, or at least the younger, who –– still largely unimpeded by physical woes –– will have to face the crises to come. My Tamar, whom I visited today in her settlement north of Jerusalem, vacillates between her mother's optimism and her father's pessimism. At the moment she takes after me. "I think the government has found a way to solve the 'settler problem', Abba" she said. "They cut our security by taking down roadblocks, and use the remaining ones to harass us while letting Arabs go by. Even worse, everybody here is in lalaland [Israeli slang for fantasyland] and acts as if everything is just fine."


MY THROAT IS RAW FROM SMOKING. I smoke for the same reason that people bite their lips. To keep from screaming. Lip-biting is cheaper, but smoking is more fun.

A very bad night. I suffer from an ailment that is far less physical than psychological. Panic attacks. I can nap during the day without problems, but the moment my head sags against the pillow like an overripe melon I start gasping for breath, convinced that my nostrils are clogged. And even if they are clogged I can breathe through my mouth, right? But I'm convinced I'll close my mouth while asleep, and choke. Totally illogical. But logic has no place in a mental disorder. So I force myself to stay up until exhausted –– why else would I write so often? –– and take anti-histamines to keep my nostril unclogged. To no avail. Now I'm also taking vile tasting Valerian drops, to 'relax' me. Try relaxing when you think you are about to be asphyxiated.

If I don't find a solution soon I'll end up like Aristotle Onassis, with clothespins keeping my eyelids up.

EVERY DARK CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING. I picked up the pants this morning. A disaster. I tried on the shirts. Another disaster. You would imagine that with two fashion fizzles my life would be worth less than that of a raptor in Lachish.

Not so! If there were one hit and one miss my wardrobe coordinator would concentrate her wrath on the miss. But with two stupendous misses her eyes move from one to the other and she is left speechless. Or nearly speechless.

I suspect she has the aesthetic sense to see that two such spectacularly ugly items –– three ugly items if I am included –– make for one beautiful whole. Who would have thought I'd end my days as a fashionista...

Caution: This will be sent out before our departure. Those of you who respond should expect to have your letters bounced back with "mailbox full" or "over quota" as an explanation. These days we get sixty to seventy junk mails every twenty-four hours. Whether from German furniture manufacturers, Canadian pharmacies, African millionaires dying of cancer who want to bestow their wealth on me, Russian ladies who want to bestow their bodies on me, lottery operators the world over who have chosen me as the winner of their top prize... we are buried in junk.

June 13, 2008

[This piece should more accurately be called Dutch Treat because Holland is such a delight. But my first and foremost need was simply to escape from the refugee camp and the suicidal State surrounding it.]

[Apologies for my mixing past tense and present tense. If it doesn't confuse you, it certainly confuses me. The reason is that what is written from memory, past tense, gets mixed with extensive written real-time notes, present tense.]


It is 4:30am. I am amazed it is already light enough to read. I am outside to have a cigar and finish the Heineken I began at midnight. Before me stretches a lawn that would do for a par-6 hole on a golf course. On the lawn itself are various trees and flowered areas. Surrounding the lawn is a forest, a forest carefully cultivated so that trees differing in height, shape and color abound. Separating the house from the lawn is a border of flowers, plants, pools. What I thought of as magnificent on our last visit is, today, simply exquisite.

After a few more hours of sleep I am back outside. Now I am walking the paths through the woods. Dwarfed by the trees, awed by the silence, overwhelmed by the beauty, I weep in relief and joy and gratitude. And sadness that this will only last a few days.

Some of you reading this would say the place sounds like a botanical garden. To me it is The Enchanted Forest.

Of course, being me, there has to be something to kvetch about: I have given up wearing shoes and only wear clogs. And Swiss-cheese-holed clogs at that. Not really appropriate for a dew-soaked lawn. I think there are scales growing on my ankles and minnows carousing between my toes. Can fins and flippers be far behind?

BUT I'M GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF, AS USUAL. First, the trip, which I will deal with in my customary elliptical way.

We debated taking our own car to the airport and leaving it in long-term parking. But I have become increasingly car-shy and avoid driving whenever I can. The clincher was that taxis would only be marginally more expensive than gas and parking. So we called Itzik, a neighbor who had worked in security in Gush Katif and recently started driving a cab after two years of unemployment. It was a no-brainer good deed.

The flight was a nightmare. Crammed in like sardines, no leg room between rows, and an hour just sitting before takeoff as three people who checked in their luggage hadn't boarded the flight. We faced the prospect of all the baggage being offloaded on the tarmac with each of us having to identify his own pieces. Then the three made a breathless entrance, to sarcastic cheers and applause. Three black-kippa'd Shasnikim with the standard three-day stubble. Doubtless they were engaged in The Lord's Work, so the inconvenience caused the rest of us must be forgiven.

Did I mention the two infants howling non-stop?

Or the tray that couldn't be lowered because of my paunch, and which stayed at 90 degrees so that when the food did arrive it slid off onto the floor?

Or the in-flight movie, some idiocy about searching for treasure underwater, in which the men had better-looking mammaries than the women?

Or, following the film, the two Israeli sit-coms about Tel Aviv, showing Israel as Olmert's fun/fun/fun country where life is all sex, drugs and money?

[long aside: Perhaps the problem is me.

There have always been myths that men believed or pretended to believe for various reasons. A widely held modern myth, for example, is that 'Islam is a religion of peace'. No facts on the ground, no quotes from the Koran or other Islamic holy texts, no statements by practitioners of Islam can shake the widespread constant repetition of this myth.

Another myth is that 'global warming is caused by human-induced carbon emissions'. That the scientific evidence doesn't support this myth, that periods of warming and periods of cooling have alternated since time began, hasn't prevented this myth from achieving the status of revealed truth.

Two myths that have been with us seemingly forever are the myth of Jewish intelligence and the myth of Jewish unity. Forgive me, but I have neither the heart nor the patience to elaborate right now on why these beliefs are false.

The myth that led me into this aside, 'Perhaps the problem is me', is that old age brings serenity if not wisdom, acceptance if not acquiescence. In me, old age has brought emotional turmoil, fear approaching panic. And diminished mental capacity. The best example of which is this aside. There was a point I wanted to make when I started it. Now I can't remember what that point is. And hoarder of words that I have become –– another alte kakker characteristic –– I can't bring myself to erase this rambling, pointless nonsense.]

OUR HOSTS, JOHAN AND CHRISTA RHODIUS, ARE WAITING FOR US when we finally navigate passport control and get our luggage and emerge. I have written at length about them, from the time they stayed in our Gush Katif home until the expulsion, from our visit to their home in Holland, to the ongoing relationship we have now that they spend much of their time in Jerusalem. There are few people of whom we are fonder. Johan exudes solidity, order. A retired lawyer, he is always preparing plans for our activities. Christa is spontaneous and loves to improvise. That these two function so well together is proof, as it is in the case of Rachel and I, of the depth of their affection.

We stagger to their car. Actually it is I who stagger. Rachel is suddenly energized. And though all I want to do is sleep, Rachel wants to eat. It is almost 9pm yet bright as noon, and our hosts drive to a restaurant in Amsterdam called Carmel. A large Israeli flag hangs outside. The place is packed but we squeeze around a small table. The smell of food wakes me up. Of course I order lamb chops. The waiter, who would have fit in at Ratner's, or the 2nd Avenue Deli, frowns when I ask for a Heineken.

"We have Goldstar beer from Israel" he says.

"I traveled all this way to drink Israeli beer?" I order Pepsi-Cola.

It is after 11pm when we arrive at the Rhodius home in Heemstede, outside Amsterdam. The ladies retire and Johan and I sit outside, silently watching the dusk turn to darkness, sipping Heineken. I feel a slipping off of tension, a sense of contentment. I struggle to hold back the tears.

Monday, continued.

RACHEL WAS RARING TO GO WHEN SHE AWOKE THIS MORNING. I JUST WANTED TO VEGETATE and stare at the greenery. It was arranged that we would have a boat ride on the canals. Our hostess' daughter had recently bought a small boat, able to seat eight or nine people, and was to take us sailing.

Alas, the forecast was for heavy rain, thunder and lightning. A storm had savaged Spain, leaving death and destruction in its wake, and was expected to reach Holland during the day. This didn't give pause to my Energizer Bunny who began agitating to go to the beach to watch the crashing waves if and when the storm hit. It did horrify our hosts who detailed the dangers involved, which Rachel related to in the same way she relates to my attempts to dissuade her from doing something she wants to do.

We agreed to wait and see how things develop. Rachel and Christa went off shopping for vittles. The sky was growing darker and, after putting up some laundry (!) I sat on a swing and smoked and scribbled in a pad.

The Rhodius' have two dogs. They also have a picture of a mean-looking watchdog at the entrance to their driveway, with a sign saying "I watch here!" But the two real dogs are something special. The tiny, noisy one –– like the dog-rats we called Drats in Neve Dekalim –– is named Aluf, and he is a fighter. Not my style. The second dog is Motek, a rheumy-eyed sixteen year old who can barely move. Everything about him is faded, his fur, his eyes. I identified with him immediately and enjoyed feeding him like I enjoy feeding Muffy.

Johan told me Motek is the best indicator of approaching rain. When he starts to tremble, the rains are coming. He started trembling while I was feeding him and a few drops fell. All day there was lightning, barely visible behind thick clouds, and thunder, barely audible because it was far away.

By 10:30pm the rain increased, the thunder and lightning grew more dramatic, Johan and I sipped Heineken under a beach umbrella. Rachel and Christa, kindred Energizer Bunnies, have gone to sleep.

At 1:30 I am still awake, high just on being here. I see leaves on the ground. They appear to be moving. I assume it's the wind. After a while I realize they are frogs from a small pond nearby. Ah, nature...


IT IS 6AM AND I AM OUT FOR A SMOKE AND A WALK. Sometimes I walk on the narrow road that runs alongside the house. There is a small canal and open fields on the other side. A car on this road is a rarity. More often someone walking a dog. Most often, bicyclers. For me, used to seeing only kids on bicycles or the occasional adults in full bicycle regalia, it is strange to see so many, old and young, dressed normally, without helmets. My hosts have explained that helmets are not required because the land is flat. But I believe helmets are not required because Holland is a civil society. You can be an individual without having to cut off another driver or bicycler. It is hard to appreciate, coming from a place where self-worth is determined by lowering the self-worth of others.

Grey skies. Walking the lawn I realize it is a par-3 rather than a par-6, and that it is surrounded by woods rather than a forest. But if I was carried away describing the size, my feelings of how gorgeous it is only increase. In Gush Katif I marveled at the variety of grey in the cloudscapes over the sea. Here I marvel at the variety of green in the lawn and woods. Though the rain has stopped everything is wet. I don't walk through the woods as the leaves are all dripping, a magical effect, the sound of rain without the rain.

BREAKFAST WAS A FAMILY AFFAIR, out on the patio under the gray skies. We were joined by son Christiaan and daughter-in-law Hanneke, both young and attractive. Both are also hospital physicians with schedules that keep them apart most of the time. Hanneke arrived just in time for breakfast after a twelve-hour emergency room shift, and Christiaan left immediately after breakfast for a similar tour of duty.

I am happily left to my own devices as Johan took Rachel to Haarlem, half an hour away, to see the Frans Hals Museum and the Ten Boon Museum in the home of a family of Dutch Christians who sheltered Jews during the German occupation. Christa's own mother had, at great risk, brought food to Jews in hiding.

I make another inspection tour. There are two sheds, one filled with bicycles and gardening equipment including a lawnmower. Alongside this shed is a large swing suitable for lardbutts like me. The other shed, farther away, has glazed windows. I can make out a bed inside, but nothing else.

From the swing, barely moving, I examine the house. It looks like a gingerbread house from a storybook. And indeed the house has been declared a Heritage Trust building and no alterations are permitted.

Hanneke emerges from the house. She doesn't see me on the swing as the tool shed blocks her view. Did I say she and Christiaan are attractive? They could be models. She begins to run, twirl, leap like a ballerina or a gymnast. The sight is sensual without being erotic, and I realize that I have at last become that object of universal pity and contempt, the old voyeur. Do you remember the 1950 movie THE ASPHALT JUNGLE? The old 'Professor' who masterminds the robbery is caught because he cannot tear himself away from watching teenaged girls jitterbugging. After all these years I finally understand his character.

NOON. THE SUN THREATENS TO COME OUT BUT NEVER DOES. The sky darkens, the wind quickens, I sense the rain rather than feeling it. I see stirrings on the surface of the pond, but these are goldfish coming up to meet flies coming down. I walk, smoke, scribble, snooze. This is the sanctuary I dreamt of.

I think of writers who spend weeks at places like Tanglewood. I wish I could do the same. But not really. Who wants to mingle with other egomaniacs like myself? The ideal would be a cabin in the forest, like Mahler had in the woods near Vienna, with everyone at a respectful distance. The only sounds are the birds, the wind in the trees, your own brain telling you how great you are while a smaller voice tells you that you are a pompous ass.

There is a large, fenced in rectangle in the center of the lawn. Plants and trees grow wild. It seems so out of place. I learn it used to be a pen for sheep, geese, ducks, etc. But the Dutch Minister for the Environment decided that the predatory foxes in the woods had to be protected. Hunting them was forbidden. The fox population exploded, and the little darlings needed food. So they came out of the woods and slaughtered all the domestic animals that frolicked on every lawn. A perfect example of how being kind to the cruel results in being cruel to the kind.

When we arrived we told Johan and Christa how our granddaughter Shani had invented the word Schneygelach, and how we had been telling people we are going to the Schneygelach Museum in Holland. We assumed they would get a laugh out of it. Little did we imagine they would be seized by what I can only describe as 'Schneygelach Fever'.

As Johan and Rachel hadn't yet returned, Christa drove me to the commercial center of Heemstede, to a shop that makes mugs, t-shirts, stationery, etc, to order. She brought with her a photograph of a painting of their lawn and house and woods. This would be placed on a mug and a t-shirt. The text, in Dutch, was "Het Schneygelachmuseum. Heemstede. Alleen volgens afspraak." The Schneygelach Museum, Heemstede. By Appointment Only. That, I was certain, would silence the doubters back in the refugee camp.

While Christa discussed details of the purchase –– also ordering two pillowcases similarly inscribed without my knowledge –– I went to a tobacconist next door and began to use the euros I had brought. Though I had never heard of any of the cigars lining the shelves, the sole criteria for the purchase being that they were mild and they were [relatively] cheap, each turned out to be wonderful. One can easily be spoiled by these gems.

Back at the house Rachel wanted to go see the waves on the beach, so off we went. A half-hour drive.While Christa and Rachel trudged down to the seafront, Johan walked the dogs and I napped in the back of the car.

On the drive to and from the beach we sang Classical Greatest Hits, like Beethoven's Ode to Joi Lansing, Handel's Mess With Meyer, and Schubert's Won't-this-thing-ever-Finish, substituting Schneygelach for the original texts. So far has the madness engulfed us.

Later, at dinner, joined again by Christiaan and the beauteous Hanneke, conversation was desultory as everyone was falling asleep. Both energizer bunnies were worn out and soon went to bed. Rachel was clearly exhausted, yet couldn't fall asleep. Even a hot water bottle didn't help. I suspected the problem was anxiety –– a grueling schedule of sight-seeing and museum hopping tomorrow, plus the flight back on Thursday –– so I gave her Valerian drops which are supposed to relax you. They did the trick. Exhausted she may be, but she looks beautiful. The Sleeping Beauty in my Enchanted Forest.

The young physicians retired, presumably to test each other on anatomy, Johan and I shared a brew after which he worked on his computer, and I smoked cigar after cigar under a cloudless starlit sky that I mistook for an augury of a good day tomorrow.

IT WAS AFTER MIDNIGHT WHEN I FINALLY FELT SLEEPY, but I had to take one last stroll around the lawn. I was approaching a path through the woods –– not that I actually considered doing that walk in the darkness –– when I saw two small bright lights facing me. At eye level. Eyes! I and whatever-it-was stared at each other. A wolf? A mouse? A pterodactyl? A unicorn? ET?

I won the staredown because it, or should I say It, eventually turned away. Rachel would semi-mockingly say "my hero!" when I told her in the morning. In truth I didn't turn and run for the house because I'm too fat to run, and I was sure It would attack me if I tried to waddle away.

Johan suggested it might be a mouse. Do mice have eyes that glow in the dark? It was not reflected light because darkness was all around us. A wolf, perhaps? Johan was polite but skeptical. A wolf would have started Aluf, the drat, barking.

Rachel finally suggested it was an owl. I won't deign to argue as an owl is a raptor, and Rachel is our expert on raptors.

Wednesday. [Lost]


Very dear friends from Israel and the States, currently working in classical music in Holland, were traveling by train to Amsterdam on business. Their train had a scheduled stop in Heemstede and Johan, our master planner, worked out that we would board the train and proceed to Amsterdam with them. Rachel and I were skeptical but Johan's plan worked perfectly.

Michael and Tammy are very dear to us. We have been through a lot together, both good times and bad, and have always been supportive. That we haven't seen each other in some years made the anticipation of our reunion that much greater. And the reality was so much better than we anticipated.

Rachel and Tammy fell into each others arms, and for Michael and me it was as if we just picked up a conversation that had never really ended. It always awes me that old friends can talk in what must seem like shorthand incomprehensible to an outsider, with no need for elaboration or explanation.

From the train station we took a trolley to the Concertgebouw, where Michael had meetings scheduled all day. I fell in love with the concert hall when Johan took me there on our last visit. Now it was like revisiting a friend, with the added fillip that Michael led us on a backstage tour and –– I know this sounds ridiculous but I can't help it –– I had the thrill of using the same loo used by performers I revere.

It was all too short, and every moment was precious.

Finally Michael had to leave for his meetings, Rachel and Tammy, as planned, took off for the museums a short walk away. And I headed for a classical compact disc shop around the corner.

It was now 1:30 in the afternoon, and we were all to meet Johan and Christa at Carmel for dinner at 6.

Rachel and Tammy got to the Van Gogh Museum, stayed a short time, then were supposed to head for the famous Rijksmuseum with its Rembrandts. Instead they sat in a park. And talked. And talked. For Rachel I think her hours with Tammy were the high point of the trip, though I suspect she would never admit that sightseeing and museum-hopping were less fun than sitting in a park with an old friend.

For me, whose only excursions of interest were buying cigars and buying discs, the visit to Broekmans & Van Poppel's Muziekhandel was over too quickly. I came in with a prepared list, bought what was available from that list, and got out. Unfortunately things were more costly than I expected, and I had used up most of my euros. I had dollars and shekalim, and had to buy more euros.

The clerks directed me to a bank "down the street". Very far down. In the bank I was politely told that Dutch law forbids banks from changing money unless one has an account there. Of course I had no account. I was directed to "Travelex", which changes money for tourists. And were is Travelex? "Just two blocks down the road, then two blocks left. You can't miss it." I thanked them while grumbling obscenities in Hebrew through the smile pasted on my face.

Two blocks down and two left and still no Travelex. "Follow the tracks for the #5 tram. Two stops. You can't miss it" said a kindly passerby.

Two stops down the tracks of the #5 tram, and no Travelex in sight. "Turn right at the corner, cross the two bridges, and its right there. You can't miss it" said another kindly passerby.

Across the bridges I encountered a large crowd watching a chess match in which the pieces are people in costume. Very entertaining, but no Travelex. And my feet were killing me. Still, the weather is beautiful, the surroundings are lovely, the people are friendly, and it's only 3:30.

I still had a few euros left, probably enough to take a taxi to Carmel. The address was written on a small square of paper by Rachel, and is kept in a shirt pocket. "AMSTELVEENSEWEG 24". I talk to a cab driver, give him the address, ask the price. Perfect. Just what I have left.

Ten minutes later I am told "We are here". I hand him the money, step out of the cab, and realize this is not the place. Before I can stop him he is gone and I am facing a wholly unfamiliar street. I check the street sign and the house number. This is Amstelveenseweg 24. But it is a dingy apartment building with a garage on one side and several nondescript shops on the other. Could there be another such address?

Here is where I think old age steps in. I could have gone into the garage or the shops, asked for a phone book to check the address. Instead, agitated to the point of panic, I start walking up and down the street.

I'm almost too ashamed to admit that Johan had offered me the use of his cellphone, and I declined.

Exhausted and mentally confused I entered a sidewalk café. A young man behind the bar saw how upset I was and calmed me. "I'm lost" I said. "I have no idea where I am. I'm out of euros..." He let me use the bar phone to call Johan and Christa. "Help" I said, and handed the phone back to the young man. They conversed for a minute or two and he hung up. Smiling broadly he said "Everything is just fine. You sit outside at a table, I'll bring you whatever you want to eat or drink, and your friends will pick you up in about a half hour" and he led me outside, regularly bringing me glasses of orange juice. The sole fly in the ointment was that I was down to my last cigar.

The half hour passed with me watching the unhurried pace of Amsterdam life in this working class neighborhood, the lack of tension, the lack of aggression. Cars flowed past, bicycles wheeled past, pedestrians ambled by. Many smiled, some faces were serious, a few were grim. I guzzled the orange juice and nursed the cigar and found myself filled to choking with envy.

At last Johan and Christa rode in and rescued me, and we arrived at Carmel just before 6. The address for Carmel is Amstelveenseweg 224. Rachel had written it out properly but the paper had folded in my pocket. Rachel arrived alone at 6 as Michael and Tammy were forced to attend a working dinner.

Our dinner was less than riotous as I was still shaken by what happened, but Rachel and Johan and Christa were at their bright, if tired, best. Hanging above us all was tomorrow's trip, and our sadness at having to leave this sanctuary.


A trip that started out nightmarish has ended the same way, but not before we were deceived into thinking things would be different.

We got to the airport early and were checking our bags when the first hiccup occurred. Christa was with us and as always was chatting with the security staff, with whom she is on a first-name basis. Unbeknownst to us she had slipped gifts for Rachel and I into our bags –– the pillowcases, and how she did it remains a mystery –– and was bragging about it in her usual disingenuous and charming way. So when I was asked if we had accepted any gifts, and said no, the snotty young security girl implied that I was either a liar or an idiot, probably both, and brought Christa over for confirmation. This annoyance was soon forgotten as Christa spoke to the ticket agent and we were assigned a row with an empty seat between us. It was the sole empty seat on the flight. This meant Rachel got her aisle seat, I got my window seat, and we could comfortably hold hands without feeling like sardines.

While waiting to board I went to the loo. Standing at the next pissoir was a gentleman who said, in European-accented English, "Are you Israeli?" I grunted an assent and he continued, "This is my first trip to Israel. I'm so excited! Are you traveling alone? My name is Ludwig Langeshvantz." Without even bothering to zip up I turned and fled the loo. Later I felt guilty about my rudeness. At the very least I could have told him about the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv this afternoon.

We were at the far end of the terminal and I busied myself watching planes taxi into takeoff position. Some had names stenciled on the nose below the pilot's window. I assumed these were airline officials until I saw a KLM 747 with the name Alla Pavlova. Why should a Dutch plane have the name of a Russian composer now living in the States? Anyone know the answer?

The flight was uneventful. No howling children, no turbulence, an in-flight movie with Christina Ricci wearing a pig snout and looking better than when the snout was removed and her own proboscis could be seen, and because I could put my food tray on the tray of the middle seat I was actually able to eat.

It was when we landed, in a near-euphoric state, that we made our catastrophic error.

WE WERE AT THE END OF THE LONGEST LINE AT PASSPORT CONTROL. The girl wielding the stamp seemed to be in a trance. Clearly it would take a while to get through, and then –– according to the Unalterable Laws of Nature –– it would be a half hour before our first suitcase made its appearance, and another half hour before the second sashayed down the luggage conveyor.

So, according to plan, we called Itzik, our Nitzan taxi driver. He was free, and could be there in forty minutes. We told him not to hurry, and that we would be in the arrivals reception area.

No sooner had we hung up when the stamp wielder emerged from her trance and the line moved at disconcerting speed. Minutes later we were in the baggage hall and almost went into shock to see our first bag coming down the conveyor. Recovering quickly we exchanged knowing glances and prepared for the long wait. Which was a short wait as within sixty seconds the second bag came tumbling after.

You have to understand that this was impossible. With luggage it's first in, last out. Our bags should have been pushed to the back. Yet here we were, fully bagged in minutes. It made our heads swim. We considered calling Itzik and telling him to turn back. But one doesn't cancel a good deed just to save a half hour.

Rachel was hungry –– "I'm always hungry" –– so we pushed our cart to the cafeteria behind the seating area in the arrivals lounge. While Rachel bought something to eat, I sought someplace to sit. The cafeteria was crowded, most of its circular tables occupied, but I found one that had two chairs occupied by pieces of luggage and one chair empty. I found a second unoccupied chair at another table and pulled it over.

A few minutes later a woman carrying a tray approached. "Didn't you see this table is occupied?" she said in a nasty manner.
"Those chairs are occupied" I answered in kind, indicating the two with suitcases. "These aren't."
"Five people are supposed to be sitting here" she said angrily.
"Five?" I said, pretending to look under the table for the other four. "I see only you."
"Five!" she repeated. "Don't you understand what suitcases on a chair means?"
"I'm not a real Israeli. You should have left a note on the table so that simpletons like me would understand."

At this point Rachel returned, sized up the situation, and in her most sarcastic voice, "Let's move. We don't want to take this lady's space." But I wouldn't get up, and forced Rachel to sit as well. After a minute or two while the lady loudly slurped her drink and pretended to ignore us she arose and, putting the suitcases on a trolley, walked away. I was tempted to ask "What should I tell the other four when they arrive?" but didn't want to press my luck.

"Welcome back to Israel, the Uncivil Society," Rachel said. "After a few days in Holland we are spoiled."

Actually, the woman's behavior didn't surprise me at all. After forty years here I expect little else. What did disturb me was Rachel's sarcasm. In all these years she hasn't learned that sarcasm can only affect people who can feel embarrassment, and locals long ago gave up any sense of shame. The guiding principles here are "Don't be a sucker" and its corollary, "Do unto others before they can do unto you." And, when caught, bluster and pretend outraged innocence.

[aside: Our friend Arthur, of blessed memory, was on a Mediterranean cruise with his wife Lily. This was back in the 70's. There was a row of unoccupied deck chairs, except for an old lady sitting on one. Arthur and Lily start to sit down and the crone is screaming "These are all taken!" They sit anyway. Soon the crone's cronies arrive. Lot's of unpleasantness which doesn't end until Arthur, who moved to Israel two years before us, and Lily, locally born and bred, say "That shit may work in Israel. In the civilized world if it isn't marked 'reserved' it's first come, first served."]

After the nice lady's departure and Rachel finishing her salad, we call Itzik.

"I'm ten minutes away" he says. "Meet me at exit 04."
We push the wagon out at 04, and wait. No Itzik.
We call again. "03". We push to 03. No Itzik.
We call again. "It's too hot to stand outside. We will wait at the cafeteria" I say. "Come in and find us."

We return to the cafeteria. Soon the phone rings. "I can't come inside" says Itzik. "They won't let me. Take the elevator to the third floor of the parking lot."

We do as we are told. The wagon is getting harder to push. No Itzik. We call, "Where are you?"

More instructions. More pushing the damned wagon. More elevators. More calls. More No Itzik. We are exhausted. This is becoming like those movies about following a kidnapper's instructions for dropping off the ransom.

Rachel is near explosion. "Call him," she yells at me. "Tell him to leave. Tell him we'll pay him anyway. Just let's get into any taxi and get out of here."

I call, and hear him pleading with someone. "They're old... Not bright... He's a cripple..."

It is now a full hour since his arrival. Two hours since we got off the plane. "If we don't meet in the next ten minutes" I tell him, "Just drive home."

Twenty minutes later, as we emerge from a freight elevator that I have sworn to Rachel will be our last elevator ride of the day, we hear Itzik shouting "I'm here! I'm here! I'm here!"

He pushes the wagon to his cab. We get in. "A misunderstanding" he keeps repeating. We don't say a word.

On the long ride to the refugee camp Rachel is fighting back the tears. "No good deed goes unpunished" she whispers.

IT IS 3AM SUNDAY MORNING [June 8] and I have spent the last hour sitting outside smoking a good Dutch cigar and listening to Irish fiddle music on the all-night classical station. A star-filled sky with lots of ground mist. Once again I cannot sleep, though this time it is probably because we slept so much over Shabbat. I would have stayed out a while longer but the air was suddenly filled with the smell of burning rubber. Perhaps some of the locals awoke and started thinking. It doesn't seem to disturb Muffy, asleep on a chair next to mine.

I have a dental appointment at 11:30 but will cancel. Root-canal work. I can't face it. Tonight is Shavuot. We're eating with neighbors and they'll eat with us tomorrow. How will I stay awake? Not to mention, grin and be sociable. The things I do for love of my wife...

Both Rachel and I are physically and mentally exhausted, though she handles it better than I.

We staggered zombie-like through the necessary chores on Friday: Rachel cooking and cleaning; I shopping, and two loads of laundry. Everything hurts, even our aches have pains. Plus headaches and nausea.

In a lull between moaning, groaning and snoozing Rachel said, "Do you think we caught something?" "We did," I replied. "Israelitis."

[Friday morning at the local grocery I saw my friend, the world traveler, he who had denied the existence of the Schneygelach Museum.
"We just returned from Holland" I said.
"I'm getting ready to leave for the north" he said.
"I've brought a souvenir from the Schneygelach Museum" I said, anticipating my triumph.
"Did you enjoy it?" he asked, without a hint of surprise.
"Enjoy it? You said it doesn't exist!" I could feel my blood pressure rising.
"Not exist?" he said, with raised eyebrows. "Why, I've been there many times...!"
"If you've been there, what's inside?" I was almost shouting.
"You have been there, so you know. And I have been there, so I know. But we aren't supposed to talk about it." He smiled, turned, walked away.
Deflated and defeated, I did my shopping.]


Submitted June 23, 2008

[Dog Story: Last Friday Rachel wanted to wash the floors, and to get me out from underfoot sent me to buy flowers in what passes for our shopping center. "And be careful about the flowers you buy" she added, which I –– with many years of experience interpreting seemingly meaningless instructions –– understood as "Take your time coming back so the floors can dry without your messing things up".

"I hear, and I obey" was my reply, and set off for the flowers, knowing that whatever I choose will wilt and die by Shabbat afternoon. The purchase was made in about sixty seconds. Near the florist, who keeps his wares in a garbage pail so he doesn't have to exert himself disposing of unsold items at the end of the day, is our clinic which has several metal benches near the entrance that, early in the day, are in the shade.

Comfortably seated, well-stocked with cigars, my portable radio tuned to the classical station, I started to do what I do best: sit and stare at the sky.

My reveries (nuclear explosions over Gaza, if you must know) were interrupted by the arrival of a woman carrying an infant and followed by a pony-sized dog. As she opened the door to the clinic the beast ran inside. A moment later the door was opened from the inside and the woman, kicking at the animal, forced it outside and yelled "Sit!" The creature sat.

But every time someone entered or exited the clinic the Big Bow-Wow would force its way inside. Only to be booted out seconds later by the woman, still carrying the infant, her shrieks of "Sit!" increasingly hysterical.

I wish I had a satisfactory ending to this tale, or tail. From the start to the finish of Brahms' CLARINET QUINTET the furry four-footer entered/exited some 37 times. And this doesn't include the dozen or so times people attempted to enter and were frightened off, or attempted to exit and slammed the door shut in panic at the sight of that salivating snout.

Much as I would have liked to see this riveting drama to its conclusion, I was unable to stay. My cellphone rang: "Bring the flowers home now".]

[Cat Story: There has been a change in the dramatis personae. Buffy, the surviving twin, survives no longer. I hadn't seen him for some weeks and suspected the worst, which suspicion was confirmed when Rachel saw him in a ditch –– like Beethoven –– decomposing. A loss.

The slit-eyed red-haired tomcat, he who fathered Muffy's litter and probably killed them, has disappeared as well. Good riddance.

Muffy herself is a puzzlement. In Gush Katif I had stroked Cat and her offspring. I was well aware this was a privilege feline royalty was granting me. While at the hotel for half a year before moving to the refugee camp I regularly visited Dafna and petted her cat. Again, a gift to a worshipful admirer.

Muffy never let me touch her. Until last Shabbat. Suddenly she started rubbing against the legs of my chair, then butting her head against my hand, then digging her claws into my left leg. I was so taken aback I didn't react quickly enough. The result: lots of bleeding until Rachel bandaged me. And the wounds itch like crazy.

I don't know how to interpret this change, and at this point I hardly care. I'm too old to enter into a passionate relationship with one of my own species, much less another species altogether.

I'll continue to feed her, but she'll have to keep her distance.]

Tuesday, 17 June

IT'S REALLY WEDNESDAY, ABOUT ONE OR TWO IN THE MORNING. I was out when it was still Tuesday, watching a huge blood-red moon rise. Unfortunately the parking lot was filled with our youth, each of whom announced his arrival by leaning on the car horn. In days of old arriving royalty would be announced by trumpeters. Some things don't change. Now it is relatively quiet. A freight train. Some highway noise. And a silver-white full moon so bright it blots out most of the stars.

There is the noise of planes as well. The last hurrah before the moronic whatchamacallit starts 6am Thursday. In English it is a 'cease fire'. In Hebrew, a hafsakat eish, which means an interruption or intermission. Most accurate is the Arabic tahadiyeh, which means a pause to rearm before resuming attack. I have given up wondering how we can be so craven, so shortsighted, so stupid.

Earlier today I burst with pride listening to Rachel on the phone. Some organization had been formed specifically to aid kibbutzim on the Gaza periphery that are being kassam'd or mortared to rubble, and are seeking financial help. Rachel was livid describing how these kibbutzim had done everything to embitter our lives when we most needed their sympathy. Every Friday they lined the sole road into Gush Katif holding placards saying "Death to Gush Katif", "Gush Katif is Evil", "End the Occupation. End Gush Katif", among many others.

My Christian friends would like me to have a more charitable attitude to these unfortunates. And in truth, Jews are generally more Christian than Christians when it comes to charity and forgiveness. But the only way I will turn the other cheek for these creatures is by lowering my pants and shorts and showing them my more attractive side.

Later this morning I am off to the dentist for the root-canal work I chickened out on last week. Pray for me.

Wednesday, 18 June

YOU KNOW MY PREDILECTION FOR BEING EARLY: "Better An Hour Early Than Five Minutes Late". Well, this time I overdid it and parked near the dentist's office some ninety minutes early. I know the area well as Rachel's dentist is close by. In fact, the offices are separated by a block-long covered passage, dark and dingy, whose major attraction –– whose only attraction –– is a public toilet.

The passage itself is an anomaly in this upscale part of north Ashkelon, and really shouldn't be thought of as a street. It gives access to the back of a bakery, the back of a restaurant, the back of a used-car lot and several other equally undistinguished rears. The only front entrance it has, apart from the aforementioned loo, is a small stationery and school-supplies shop. All this useless information was gathered during many hours of aimless wandering while Rachel was undergoing treatment.

I visited the loo in an act of nostalgia but didn't stay long to avoid unwarranted suspicion or unwanted attention. And then I saw it...

How could I have missed it? I had passed this spot countless times without noticing it. Above a small open gate the sign read ANTIQUITIES COURT YARD. I entered into a square about the size of two tennis courts, surrounded on all sides except the entrance by the rear of commercial buildings. I was alone. Benches lined the perimeter, benches covered with a patina of bird poop. Everything was covered by bird poop. What was dry was easy to brush off. What was still moist, wasn't.

I sat, enthralled. Lots of grass. A statue or two, a pillar or two, mostly sections of pillars with inscriptions, largely in Latin. I wanted to write about it but had no pad so I walked to the stationery store. Which was as empty as the garden.

When I paid for the notebook I asked the owner if he had a tzedaka box for the change. He brought one up from behind the counter. "Why don't you leave it on the counter?" I asked.

"Junkies" he replied. "Every tzedaka box I leave out gets stolen."

"In this neighborhood?" I was incredulous. He gave me a pitying smile.

BACK IN THE COURT YARD I SAT IN FRONT OF A HEADLESS FIGURE described as "MAN BODY WEARING TOGA WAS BEFORE IN BOSTON". I considered contacting the Boston police and informing them that a headless, toga-wearing drug addict from Boston was now in Ashkelon.

'Drug addict?' you ask. 'Why drug addict?' Because there was another large sign: STONED YARD.

My reveries were interrupted by the sudden and wholly irrational fear that the gate would be locked while I sat there, and I myself would turn to stone. And a sign would read "MAN BODY WEARING SHMATTES WAS BEFORE IN GUSH KATIF".

As to the root canal work, the less said, the better. But I had a wonderful time with several fellow victims-to-be in the waiting room. The subject was Olmert and the tahadiyeh. One gentleman, from Sderot, said "I would pay to extract all his teeth. Without anesthetic." Another, a local, said "I would pay double to do root-canal work on him. Without anesthetic."

I did not say anything. You never know which of them, perhaps both, are members of the Shabak Jewish Department, and if I said anything I might find myself up on charges for 'threatening the molars of the Prime Minister'.

Thursday, June 19

WE HAD GUESTS. ACTUALLY, RACHEL HAD GUESTS. I spent most of the time hiding in my room. The girl, a photojournalist working for the NYTimes, and her minder. I was introduced at the beginning, did my tres charmant shtick, disappeared, then emerged at the end.

It never fails to amaze me how a single moronic joke or two get you classified as having a sense of humor. I had poured orange juice for her at the beginning, and noticed the glass was empty when I reappeared. I started to refill her glass and she said "I'm good".

I am well aware that "I'm good" is current usage for "No, thank you." But with a serious demeanor I said, "Young lady, I wasn't asking about your spiritual state. Are you thirsty?"

This bit of stupidity resulted in her telling Rachel, "Your husband has a great sense of humor."

LAST WEEK WE HAD GENUINE, WONDERFUL GUESTS. Mendy and Sharon from New York. And Jerusalem, now that they have an apartment in the center of town. They were supposed to sleep over –– sleeping over is viewed as Refugee Camp Chic –– but had an early appointment for the following morning. So it was just a day visit and of course Rachel insisted that we take them to Lachish.

Now you know I want to return to Gush Katif. But if that's not in the cards, and the country isn't destroyed, I will go to Lachish. It is very beautiful, and I am quite smitten. But Rachel's missionary zeal, which requires taking anyone who can breathe to view it, is quite trying. I've done the tour so often I'm starting to root for the raptors.

When we arrived in the area we picked up our guide, Micha. Fortunately his jeep was not available so I, with an Academy Award performance of disappointment, handed him the keys and let him take Rachel, Mendy and Sharon on the tour.

Fully equipped with cigars, radio and notebook I found a flat rock in the shade and enjoyed a glorious ninety minutes of solitude.

The downside was that I missed Mendy at his hilarious best. He and Sharon were especially taken with the plans for a holistic spa for rabbis, which they suggested should be called Holyistic. The pool, they felt, should be filled with hot chicken soup and the masseurs should only use schmaltz.

I'm sure they'll have even better ideas for their next visit. You can be sure I'll be tagging along.

Saturday night, 21 June.

FRIDAY MORNING, READY TO WASH THE FLOORS, RACHEL BOOTED ME OUT once again. "Flowers?" I called out, trying to keep the screen door from hitting me on the way out.

"We have live flowers in the garden. Why pay for dead ones?"

I went back to the clinic in hopes of seeing Big Bow-Wow in action. Not a sign. In fact, I was told he hasn't been seen since the family held a Community Weiner Roast last Sunday.

As I was there already, and the place was unusually free of both sickies and sickos, I went in to see the doctor and get both Rachel's and my prescriptions for July. I wouldn't say we use many pills but whole forests are felled just for the prescriptions.

Our doctor is young, handsome, concerned for his Gush Katif patients, and has –– according to Rachel –– "doggie eyes that make you want to please him". Unfortunately, pleasing him means constantly going for tests like blood, sugar, etc, so he can be sure you are getting the right medication in the right dosage. As these tests are generally carried out in Ashkelon, it is a pain in the butt and we find every possible excuse to avoid them. Being creative, we are generally successful.

He is also big on vaccinations.

It is almost three years since the expulsion and two-and-a-half years since moving to the refugee camp. We have been under his care since our arrival, and I have enjoyed seeing his attitude change from wary to affectionate. We are, after all, "settlers" and "enemies of peace".

Early in our relationship –– I can't recall the context –– I said I didn't believe the State would last five years. He offered, not unkindly, to refer me to a psychiatrist. I demurred. So you can imagine how taken aback I was when, seemingly out of the blue, he said "I'm very worried about the people here. They are so fragile emotionally. It's only a matter of time before rockets start falling here. Down there [Gush Katif] they had a sense of purpose. There was meaning to their lives. Now..."

It took every ounce of self-control to keep from offering to refer him to a psychiatrist.

RETURNING FROM SHUL TODAY RACHEL WAS IN CONVERSATION with several women, one of them our rabbi's wife. "So many people seem unable to take the initiative to rebuild their lives, to build new homes and farms and businesses," said the rebbetzin.

"Many don't have the money" said another woman.

"It's more than that" said the rebbetzin. "To start work on a new home is to accept that we aren't going back to Gush Katif. It would be a betrayal of our dreams."

Tuesday, June 23

WE ARE IN THE THIRD WEEK OF A POSTAL 'WORK ACTION' with no end in sight. This means that cities and large towns have regular mail service but outlying areas, called 'the periphery', have none. Mail isn't picked up or delivered. If you have to mail something you drive to a town. But if you are waiting to receive something, you are out of luck.

Clearly if cities and towns were affected the work dispute would be settled quickly. The people of consequence who live in them should suffer no inconvenience. But the hicks, the troglodytes like us... who gives a damn?

It's really like this all over.

On my last visit to Jerusalem I noted that there were no longer security guards at bus stops, and even at many stores. Is there no longer a threat of terrorism? Or is it that the People of Consequence don't ride buses, and it is simply more cost effective to do without guards. Assume a bus is blown up. A half dozen are killed. A dozen are seriously wounded. The cost of replacing the bus, compensating families of the slain and treating the wounded is less than the cost of the hundreds of guards needed to protect them.

In a state which has abdicated all responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, where the concept of shame has disappeared and the word itself appears archaic, there is only one bottom line. Money.

The postal 'work action' is disastrous for our refugees, so disastrous that people expecting aid by post are inundating Rachel with requests for help, which she cannot provide as she, too, is bound to the postal system. 'The check is in the mail' is a kiss of death. And nobody, nobody of consequence, gives a damn.


"They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation...! That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before –– but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn."

It has been "just before the dawn" for 2000 years. Every generation since the destruction of the First Temple has been in "the most profound darkness". And in each generation there have been great tzaddikim who have seen "sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before" as signs and wonders and proofs that their generation is the Generation of the Redemption.

I have no doubt the Redemption will come. I just don't know when. And neither does any other human being.

After all the gloom I'd like to close on an uncharacteristically happy note. Johan and Christa, our Dutch hosts, are in Jerusalem for a month or so. We will be getting together this weekend as we will be in Jerusalem from Friday to Monday.

I look forward to seeing Christa, exhilarating but exhausting. I especially look forward to spending time with Johan, who epitomizes gentility. He is educated, intelligent and knowledgeable, three distinct characteristics that are often mistakenly used interchangeably. And most of all, he is a real mentsch.


Moshe Saperstein is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel. He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was again wounded in a February 2002 incident when he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the car in front of him.

The Sapersteins were among the thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip, and forced into temporary quarters so dismal, their still-temporary flimsy trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact them at This August, it will be three years that the Israeli government made them into refugees in their own country and their quarters are still temporary.


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