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by Moshe Saperstein
March 14, 2009
[Some of you were confused by my reference to The Terminally Ill Sea. Some years ago the Ahava beauty products company that uses Dead Sea minerals decided, for public relations purposes, to refer to the Dead Sea as the Sea of Life (in the same way, and the same spirit, that Islam, the Religion of Jihad, is now the Religion of Peace).
So effective was the message, and/or so feeble my brain, that I now imagine I see pickled herring and gefilte fish waltzing in the waters.
I find that Terminally Ill Sea or Very Sick Sea or So Sick You Shouldn't Know From It Sea are acceptable compromises between Dead Sea and Sea of Life.]
[We had planned to return to the refugee camp Sunday morning, but Rachel had an early morning appointment in Tel Aviv and we were forced to leave Saturday night.
The trip back was nightmarish. My night driving is awful I'm blinded by oncoming headlights and the rain made it worse. Every passing vehicle threw mud or wet sand onto my windshield. If all that weren't enough, one of my headlights wasn't working.
After what would have been a white-knuckle trip if I weren't knuckle-challenged, we arrived to find the walls covered by slugs leaving silver (en)trails and worms fantasizing they are rattlesnakes coiled on the floors.
We looked at each other in silence until Rachel, pithily eloquent, said "What a dump!"]
[About three days after our return I could no longer stand it: Despite the incessant rain I had to do laundry and hang it on the lines. Passersby would snicker, or shake their heads (many have several heads) in deprecation. These reactions didn't bother me. They merely reinforced my image of being strange.
The only one who spoke to me is an aging American who said "Moshe, why are you hanging laundry in the rain?"
"Do you remember Lillian Roth's "I'll Cry Tomorrow"? Well, this is the sequel, "I'll Dry Tomorrow".]
[Alienation of Infections: I am preparing to file two suits. The first is against a grey and black cat who has become inseparable from my Chaleria. Always alone, always on the lookout for me, always prepared to be petted by me, Chaleria now pals around with this creature and is increasingly indifferent to yours truly.
The second is against my next door neighbor, a man who has always ridiculed my affection for the felines, a man always quoting Talmudic sages about how consorting with animals makes one ritually unclean. It appears that while we were away two of his visiting granddaughters became enamored of the creatures and he began feeding the cats scraps at the children's behest. And he has continued feeding the furry flea-ridden things even though his granddaughters have departed. They line up at his door, instead of mine. I suppose I should be pleased. But I'm not.]
[Purim approaches and all the young M.I.T's (Morons In Training) here barrage each other day and night with firecrackers and cherry bombs. What a dump, indeed.]
IT WAS THE BEST OF VACATIONS. IT WAS THE WORST OF VACATIONS. We got off to a very bad start. We had been hoping to go to the Hod where we have been regulars for ten years and feel quite at home. The procedure used to be that you call a hotel from a list provided by the Defense Ministry's Department of Cripple Care, make your reservation, and inform the DMDCC who send you the authorization papers. Recently the policy was changed. You now call a particular travel agency which makes the arrangements for you, then sends the authorization. [Why the new procedure? Most likely, this being the Middle East, the travel agency paid off a DM official. Also possible, the travel agency is run by a relative of a DM official. Less likely, DMDCC clerks complained of having their daily snooze interrupted.]
When I requested the Hod, the travel agent said it was filled, and steered me to Le Meridien David (formerly the Hyatt), which is directly across the road from the Hod. When we arrived at the hotel we found the papers had not been sent. After seemingly endless discussions, consultations, phone calls, etc, the matter was resolved. But our sense of unease remained.
We requested a low floor, so as not to have to climb the stairways on Shabbat, and were given room 115. On entering the room all premonitions of disaster disappeared. We thought despite being on the lowest floor that we were in heaven.
Not only was the room fine, it had a large terrace half of which was covered so we could sit outside in inclement weather. And, being on the ground floor, we could step off the terrace on to a broad lawn stretching to the outdoor pool.
Plus... both the dining room and the spa were on the same floor as the room which meant that an obese snail like yours truly was never required to exert himself to get where we wanted to go.
It would be an understatement to say we were delighted. We would have been happy just being away from the refugee camp and our fellow refugees. And, to increase our sense of being detached from everything, we never looked at a newspaper or even opened the television. [In truth, on our fifth day we opened it but quickly turned it off.]
The room service was so good it was annoying. Within minutes of calling the front desk, whatever it was you wanted was delivered. And minutes after that the front desk would call to find out if we had gotten what we wanted, and if we were satisfied.
The food was varied and plentiful, though heavily spiced. When Rachel said she wanted salt-free food she was introduced to the chefs, Nico and Doron, each of whom prepared special dishes for her and ceremoniously delivered them to our table. I suppose I should have been annoyed that Rachel and Nico would blow kisses to each other, but I was happy to see Rachel being delightfully girlish and too busy to require conversation so I could continue stuffing my own face uninterrupted.
The massages were fine, especially one that I consider the best massage I never had. Shortly after it began I fell asleep. The next thing I knew I was being awakened. "We're finished. How did you enjoy your massage?" asked the masseuse.
"Fine" I replied, even though I realized that I hadn't been touched once I fell asleep. It is customary to be told to turn over, but I awoke in the same position. No matter. The sleep was wonderfully deep. How she passed her time was of no interest, though I thought it was in very poor taste when she commented on my snoring.
We largely avoided the other guests, many of whom were not Israelis, with an especially large number of South Americans. One woman said "Don't you remember me, Moshe?", which drives me nuts as these days I prefer to forget in order to survive. Turns out she was a nurse in Tel Hashomer Hospital when I was there after the Yom Kippur War, and married one of my legless colleagues. "Of course I remember you" I lied. For the better part of an hour she entertained me with "Do you remember X? He died..." and "Do you remember Y? He died..." Each death was related with details of the circumstances, causes, etc. It was painful to realize how few of us, though we had certainly earned it, were permitted to live happily ever after.
"You are one of the few boys still alive from that gang" she said. Thanks for nothing.
One couple we met, fellow Evil Settlers, were from Efrat and they were a delight. We were fortunate they were up for one day only as the last thing we wanted to talk about was 'the situation'.
Among the rare negative aspects was the shul, a converted guest room that became a can of sardines during weekday services. For Shabbat, with over two hundred men in attendance, a public meeting room was used. It somehow seemed appropriate to pray while seated on a barstool.
The hotel was part of the ever increasing Fattal chain, and a strange personality cult seemed to have developed. The well-appointed game room for children was called Fattaland, which sounded too much like Fattah Land. And the youth club "here young people can really let go without adult interference" was called Fattalstation which, at first glance, I read as Fattalestein. Apparently all the hotels in the chain, whatever their names, were thoroughly Fattalized.
I did say it was also 'The Worst of Vacations' The following is not for the genteel, or those with delicate sensitivities. You have been warned.
I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE PART OF THE MAJORITY. In America I was a Jew among Christians. So we came to Israel and found ourselves Ashkenazim in a Sephardi majority. Among Ashkenazim we are a western minority among an Eastern European majority.
So you can imagine my delight to learn that, at long last, I am part of a majority. I am one of the 70% of males in my age group who have an enlarged prostate. It is still relatively new to me and it is a major lifestyle change. I am learning to cope with watering the lawn eight to ten times a day, not being able to sleep for more than two consecutive hours at night without the need for micturition, limiting travel and all activities both in time and setting so as to be within shpritzing distance of a toilet, or a forest.
An example, heart-rending for me, was canceling our plan to go from the Dead Sea to Eilat on Thursday night to see/hear Valeri Gergiev conduct a fully-staged 'Boris Godunov' by the Maryinsky Theatre of Leningrad. I adore Gergiev, 'Boris' is my favorite opera, and this especially at my age was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But even if I survived the trip, how could I sit through the opera? Most of you are probably saying 'big deal' or 'why the fuss?' A few of you will understand.
ADDING TO MY WOES WAS ANOTHER PROBLEM, more mundane but no less annoying. In scientific terms [!?!], too much was coming out of one end and not enough out of the other.
Some of the new pills I'm taking have chronic constipation as a side effect. When we arrived at the hotel I was, if you'll pardon the expression, already two days in arrears. After the binge eating that customarily follows in the first days at a hotel, by Tuesday I was in my fifth day in arrears.
I could barely move. I simply lurched. You gentle and genteel, not to mention gentile, readers don't watch grade-Z horror films like MEN IN BLACK with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Those few of you who have seen it may remember the alien Big Bug who disguises himself as a human (Vincent d'Onofrio). Remember how he staggers about? That was me, in all my swollen wobbly majesty.
What to do?
I went to the front desk and asked if there is a house doctor. There wasn't, I was told, but one could be called. I didn't need a diagnosis, just a laxative. Is there a pharmacy? The closest is Arad, some thirty kilometers away. I was desperate enough to make the trip, then remembered that the Hod across the road had a doctor with whom I had become very friendly over the years. So I staggered over there.
This gentleman, now in his seventies, had been house doctor for the Leningrad Philharmonic in the glory days under Yevgeni Mravinsky before coming on aliya. There were few in Arad, where he lived, or the Dead Sea area with whom he could talk about Russian music. With my wide [though shallow] knowledge of Russian composers and musicians I was the perfect listener. It is no exaggeration to say I love this man, and one of the reasons for preferring the Hod is that I could spend hours listening to him.
Fortunately he was in his office, with no patients to bother him, and we spent a delightful hour with me listening to his anecdotes, at the end of which I walked out with an enema and a packet of laxative pills.
I staggered back to the room and prepared to give myself the enema, which he assured me would "clean me out" within five minutes. Happily for me Rachel was at the pool so I was able to work in privacy.
Alas... how can I be delicate about a matter of such indelicacy?
Some of you may be familiar with the description of an idiot: "He couldn't find his rectal cavity with both hands." That was me, though I don't take it personally as I have only one hand. I poked, prodded, pushed, squeezed, the liquid flying all over with nary a drop entering the proper orifice. The enema was now empty and I remained full. I finally swallowed several of the laxative pills and hoped that before I burst, things would work themselves out.
It's funny how circumstances can make you see history in a new light. You all translate King Louis XIV's famous "Apres moi le deluge" as 'After me, the flood' With my hard won insight I now believe that Louis may have been constipated, taken some laxatives, then made his famous statement which should be translated as 'Behind me, the flood' For, apart from tremors, it wasn't until nearly midnight when my flood began, continuing til early morning, and allowing us to enjoy the remaining days of our vacation in relaxed comfort.
ON FRIDAY, THE DAY BEFORE OUR DEPARTURE, Rachel wrote a long letter of appreciation to the hotel. She addressed it to Mr. Fattal. She ended on a personal note, that years earlier in Jerusalem she had taught two sisters named Fattal who had mentioned their uncle is in the hotel business.
She handed the letter to the manager when we checked out. He glanced at it and exchanged a smile with the clerk.
"Is something the matter?" Rachel asked.
"He died years ago..."
Still, a memorable vacation.
by Rachel Saperstein,
GUSH KATIF VIEWPOINT 149
March 17, 2009
A hot water bottle stuffed into a friendly penguin-shaped covering warms my sciatica-ridden back. Pain radiates down my right leg. Blessed rain beats against the window. I'm stuck in bed.
We had planned to be in Jerusalem at the Begin Center. MK Dr. Aryeh Eldad is welcoming his guests at a gathering marking the publication of a Passover Haggadah with commentary by his father, the late Dr. Israel Eldad.
Dr. Aryeh Eldad is one of our favorite people. Slight of build, scholarly in appearance, he has remained true to his father's legacy. Staunchly nationalistic, he gave the rallying cry "Walk!" when the Sharon government forbade buses to ferry our supporters to Kfar Maimon during those last weeks before our expulsion. When the buses were stopped by the Israeli police the people heeded Eldad's simple word, "Walk!" They got off the buses and began the trek to the southern moshav, from which they would then march to Gush Katif. Hundreds and then thousands began to march.
We were in Neve Dekalim waiting for the masses to join us. Our own official leaders prevented people from breaking through the police cordon, supposedly for fear of a deadly attack by the police and army. Our people never came.
Aryeh Eldad often stopped at our house for a quick meal. The couch in our living room was made up if he needed a place to sleep. We didn't ask too many questions. We simply enjoyed his wit, his courage and his company. He and his family spent the last weeks before the expulsion in the soon-to-be destroyed communities in northern Samaria.
I knew very little about his father, Dr. Israel Eldad, until this weekend. Stuck in bed, I began reading a rather dog-eared copy of the book The Deed by Gerald Frank. The book begins with the assassination of Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner of the Middle East, by two young Jewish Palestinians. The book describes the events in Palestine that led to his death.
Dr. Israel Eldad was a member of the FFI Freedom Fighters of Israel often called "the Stern gang". His writings, poetry and prose, stirred the Jews of pre-state Israel. His underground newspaper, "Hazit", spoke of the plight of Jews under British rule... the searches, the arrests, the confiscation of weapons for defense against Arabs, imprisonment without charge, but especially the frustration under foreign rule. Dr. Eldad, the father, spent years in jail for his writings.
Dr Eldad, the son, was angered as well, this time at the injustice of the Jewish government towards the Jews of Gaza and northern Samaria: the blockades, the threat of imprisonment and the final forced expulsion by the Jewish army and police.
Months later he came to give his support to the settlement at Amona that the Olmert government had decided to destroy to appease American demands.
A noted plastic surgeon and Chairman of the Department of Reconstructive Surgery at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, Dr. Eldad had his thumb torn by Israeli police during the expulsion from Amona. Clearly he was singled out in order to destroy his ability to operate.
This past summer my husband and I attended meetings of his new political party, "Hatikvah" [Hope]. Later he joined with other nationalist parties to form "Ichud HaLeumi" [National Union], which received four mandates in the current Knesset.
We are looking forward to using the Eldad Haggadah with the commentaries by Dr. Israel Eldad [now only in Hebrew], and hope an English translation will soon be available.
We admire the son. I wish we had known the father.
GUSH KATIF VIEWPOINT 150
by Rachel Saperstein
April 6, 2009
Weeks ago I received a call from Jerusalemite Duren Weiss. "Two playwrights will be giving a reading of their play about Gush Katif refugees living in Nitzan. Could you and your husband come to my home, listen to their play, and give your comments?" Checking my diary, the evening was free and I agreed.
Last Monday I received a call. "I'm Joni Weiser. My husband Mel and I are playwrights. We're doing a play about the evacuees of Gush Katif living in Nitzan. Could we visit? We would like to see the place we are writing about."
Another play about Gush Katif refugees? How odd...I kept quiet.
"Of course. Come over."
Pessach cleaning was put aside for the afternoon and I welcomed Joni and Mel with a bowl of soup and crunchy bread and butter. I took them around the caravilla.
"It looks just like our set design... books, pictures on the walls!" Joni exclaimed. "Oh, you play music! And your husband has a large classical disc collection... just like our characters!"
"We're giving a reading in Jerusalem this week. Can you two come?" asked Mel.
"Oh... it's you! I didn't want to mention it but I was invited to a play reading on the same topic," I breathed a sigh of relief.
We talked as we walked around the area. They saw the ship containers with our belongings still packed away. They met some of our people, many frustrated that the government offered very little help. More and more they met the characters in their play.
THURSDAY EVENING WE ATTENDED THE PLAY READING.
The play: "A Tiny Piece of Land".
The characters: Aviva, the Sabra wife; David, the Americn-born husband; daughter Rachel, a budding musician; Barry, David's brother, visiting from the States.
The family, once prosperous Gush Katif farmers, are fighting the government to keep their community together. Rockets are falling in Sderot, killing friends. The brother worries about the downtrodden Palestinians. And Rachel's soldier-boyfriend is kidnapped by Hamas. The play delves into contemporary Israel and the family's attempt to exist from day to day, from war to war.
The audience was educated, largely religious, mostly western immigrants. Their opinions, advice and criticism were thoughtful. They corrected pronunciation of Hebrew words and assured the playwrights that their realistic portrayal of life in Israel was much appreciated.
The play was extremely well-written, emotional and pro-Israel. And that may be a source of great difficulties.
Plays or films that show Israel as the victim, under constant attack by fanatical neighbors, will likely be trashed by politically correct critics and performances disrupted by anti-Israel protestors.
Current plans are for the play to premiere in Ashland, Oregon and then be brought to Broadway.
We applaud the playwrights, Joni and Mel Weiser, for their courageous stand and their excellent play.
by Rachel Saperstein,
GUSH KATIF VIEWPOINT 151
April 28, 2009
A cold wind blew through the park. Youngsters, teenagers and adults gathered for the evening ceremony marking Remembrance Day.
This year, besides reading the names of the Gush Katif fallen during the Yizkor recitation, a more personal touch was added. Soft music played as the faces of our people murdered in terror attacks or during military service were projected on a large screen. Each smiling face gone...
Miri Amitai, my colleague and friend at Ulpana Neve Dekalim, was killed on the Kfar Darom bus on her way to school. The four Hatuel girls and their nine-months pregnant mother Tali were shot at close range as their car neared the Kissufim checkpost. Roni Tzalach was tortured and murdered in his hothouse. Tifferet Trattner was killed when a mortar exploded in her room. Each face, each Jewish face, was a victim of mindless hatred. Their friends, siblings or parents came to the stage to light a candle and tell a story of their loved one.
I knew many of them. They had died during the eight difficult years that my husband and I had been privileged to live in Gush Katif.
My husband stood next to me. He, too, was a victim of Arab terrorism. I had seen his car riddled with bullets and I looked at him with wonder, still amazed that he was indeed standing beside me and not appearing on the screen with those no longer with us. Three others had been murdered that night. He had survived. We often wonder why some die and others remain alive.
THERE WAS A DOCUMENTARY PROGRAM ON TELEVISION LAST NIGHT. A woman told of her husband's descent into shell shock. He had survived war after war while seeing his comrades die in battle. Now he constantly flew into rages. Shell shock, or battle fatigue, is a disability recognized by psychiatrists the world over. But the Ministry of Defense here still refuses to accept sufferers as war wounded.
I admire my husband. Despite his wounds and his pain he is there for me, the children and the grandchildren. But many times I see him in his moments of weakness tears, trembling, anger. To give so much for your country only to be expelled from your home is a bitter pill even to the most extraordinary.
We of Gush Katif who have given so much and continue to give so much in defense of our country feel a sense of betrayal. We were torn from our homes, land and community and four years later we still languish in refugee camps.
Tonight is Independence Day. Israel will celebrate 61 years as a State. The public places in Nitzan are festooned with flags placed by the Ashkelon Council. Few of our people have placed flags on their homes. There will be entertainment, a Gymboree and fireworks. Once we had celebrated with all of Israel this day of return to our homeland. We love the Land of Israel and its holiness for the Jewish people. Our home and terrace was once filled with flags and pictures of Israeli heroes. This year, once again, we will fly the orange flag of Gush Katif. Someday the flag of Israel will return to its rightful place.
TAILS FROM THE CRYPT
by Moshe Saperstein
April 29, 2009
[Even a pretentious purveyor of perverse prose like moi finds it grotesque to start a mm(hopefully) humorous Pessach letter on Holocaust Festival Day. To hear 'Never Again!' started by Rabbi Meir Kahane who is universally reviled when he should be universally revered in the mouths of our governing Judenrat and their uniformed Kapo accomplices, leaves me aghast.
As does watching you, my co-religionists outside of Israel, particularly in the States where 78% of you voted for The Manchurian Candidate, allying yourselves with the JStreet/Reform movement crowd, the good Jewboys who are aiding and abetting our destruction, solemnly intone 'Never Again!'
One can only hope that, busy as you will be preparing Israel Holocaust Memorials, vigils, Walls of Remembrance, etc, following our erasure you also take the time to attend a ceremony marking your receipt individually and collectively of the Rabbi Stephen S. Wise Collaborator's Award.
For the next Holocaust is almost upon us. Sooner than you can say Rahm Emanuel Barney Franks George Soros it will be here.
And though we in Israel will no longer be around to say 'we told you so', it will be coming for you soon after.]
[SOME OF YOU HAVE EXPRESSED CONCERN THAT, WITH MY CONSTIPATION PROBLEMS, the constipatory qualities of matzah especially the 90% concrete shmura matzah that we aspiring-to-be-holy types impose on ourselves would cause hardship. But the Good Lord was merciful. Imagine, if you will, that my bowels are Egypt. Every day during Pessach there was a new Exodus. Of course that vision is problematic in what it implies about the contents of those bowels. Fortunately I am not a profound thinker, and can ignore the implication of my half-witticism.
Alas, following the Pessach remission, the problem has returned and (sorry) there's no end in sight. I have developed a technique, as elaborate and fixed as a Japanese tea ceremony, of breathing/stretching/pushing/squeezing/bending to get the desired response. While there is no denying I resemble a sumo wrestler more than a gymnast or dancer, I find it amusing that in my dotage I who never achieved even a low level of competence at social dancing have become the Bowel-movement Balanchine.
We will leave this subject, as it were, behind us with a quote from One Fine Lady who suggested I consult an accountant rather than a physician: "He can work it out with a pencil".]
[Many thanks to the sage who wrote in response to Goodbye 34: "Beware excessive exuberance when using ailing protuberance."
To the many who suggested alternative treatment for bladder problems, I was in downtown Jerusalem and passed one of those small, private pharmacies that have been there since the Second Temple Period. A hand-lettered sign in the window caught my attention: 'Inglsh Spic Hir'. The proprietor, a wizened ancient, gave me a look of undisguised contempt when I asked if he carries homeopathic medicines. "Ve only got heteropathic medicines here!"
In any case, I have been swallowing three Saw Palmetto whatsits for almost a month. No change, but it makes me feel virtuous.
By the way, are you aware there is a hotel chain for people with bladder problems? The Incontinencel.]
WE SPENT PESSACH AT THE KIBBUTZ LAVI HOTEL IN LOWER GALILEE. We had been regulars at the hotel from our arrival in Israel in 1968 for some ten or twelve years. Then, for no particular reason I remember unless it was the kids being tired of it, we went elsewhere. In those early days it was perfect for a family with rambunctious children. Informal, relaxed, just an extension of the kibbutz. More important, many of the members were from English-speaking countries and there was an air of civility unlike the incivility that characterized most other places.
We visited again early in 2005, months before our expulsion from Gush Katif, and while we were happy to see old friends it was infuriating to see the general support for our expulsion. On a tour of the synagogue furniture factory there were signs like "Peace is more important than the Land of Israel", and the kibbutz synagogue itself was filled with flyers and booklets from ostensibly religious left-wing movements.
I have longed nagged Rachel that I am ready for an old age home. But I had reason to reconsider. Arriving at Lavi the morning of Passover Eve we found ourselves, literally, in an old age home. Wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, motorized carts and Asian caregivers everywhere. At lunch it was treacherous maneuvering in the dining room, and disconcerting to be poked and pushed aside at the self-service food counters by grumpy, aggressive oldsters.
As the day wore on young(er) people arrived, generally relatives of the geriatrics, many with children in tow. This created some balance, but the initial impression of a Last Stop Before the Pearly Gates establishment remained strong.
One of my favorite comic books as an impressionable pre-teen was "Tales From the Crypt", and it occurred to me that where I to write about this Pessach, given the large number of females among the decrepit, I might have to call it "Tails from the Crypt".
THE HOTEL HAS CHANGED ENORMOUSLY. The original buildings are still in use, and have been spruced up, but several large and luxurious newer buildings have been attached.
Other things have remained the same, particularly the people we have known for years. I was shocked at how old they have become, until Rachel suggested I look in a mirror. More important, the grounds are beautifully maintained. And most important, the staggeringly awesome views remain undisturbed.
From the window in our room we could see Mount Tabor, much of Nazareth to the west, north to Tzfat, northwest to Megiddo which my Christian friends believe will be the site of Armageddon. A few minutes walk through a landscaped garden and we are looking east down at the Horns of Hittin where the Saracens defeated the Crusaders, and at Tiberias and the entire Sea of Galilee.
I spent hours lying in bed watching the cloudscape through the picture window. If history excites you, if nature exhilarates you, if religious belief exalts you, this is THE place.
Rachel, still high from her flirtation with Nico at the Dead Sea Meridien, ordered salt-free meals in advance of our arrival. These were lovingly prepared and lavishly served at each meal. But instead of Nico there was Shula, kindly, anxious to please, advanced in years. And each time the food was served Rachel would fulsomely thank all the staff for their efforts, move things around on the plate until the server had left, then push the plate aside and snatch food off my plate. I was alternately amused and annoyed.
THE SEDER STARTED BADLY. FAMILY UNITS HAD PRIVATE SEDERS, but the elderly and disabled and alone were in a community Seder. I was sleepy, Rachel was weepy. "What kind of Seder is it" she wailed "without our children and grandchildren?"
"Relaxing" was my ill-considered reply.
In truth, looking around a room many of whose inhabitants appeared to be either comatose or anticipating a Celestial Seder, was quite depressing. But the gentleman leading the Seder was witty and charming, his wheelchair-bound wife smiled infectiously, and as we progressed from wineglass to wineglass the mood improved considerably.
Indeed, when all moved to the large dining room the next day the children howling and teenagers cavorting among the wheelchairs engendered an instant nostalgia for the lonely Seder of the night before.
In general the meals were enjoyable for Rachel as she is a people-watcher and delighted in observing and commenting on the people around us. That her assessments were incorrect as often as they were accurate, was of no importance. She was having a good time. I, El Grumpo, spent my time wondering whose wheelchair to kick or crutches to knock over as I wended my way up and back from the table to the food, which I did constantly as I could only manage a single plate per trip.
And when Dafna, Hanan and four offspring visited for some hours one day, and Tamar, Oshri and the Wrecking Crew spent an entire day, even Rachel's need for family was sated. Particularly pleasurable were the visits by Johan and Christa, our Dutch friends, who were staying about fifteen minutes away.
THIS BEING A RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY MUCH TIME WAS SPENT IN THE HOTEL SYNAGOGUE. Alas, most of those leading the services were British and American guests who thought of themselves as cantors and were determined to enlighten their benighted Israeli cousins on the finer points of cantorial ornamentation..
One fellow in particular, a genuinely nice and intelligent man, had the disconcerting habit of interrupting his prayers every few seconds with a loud "oy vey!" I was never able to determine if his pain was physical, artistic, or existential. In any case I was able to relieve my alternating boredom and annoyance by staring at Rachel through the latticework separating the men's and women's sections. Unlike my easily distracted self, Rachel was deep in concentration and watching her both calmed and inspired me.
The synagogue itself, while attractive, could hardly contain the worshippers. Making the problem worse, several old cane-wielding geezers invariably the first to arrive placed their canes on the table in front of them, effectively taking up three places. Anyone who tried to sit down was growled at. Few had the temerity to object.
But most annoying to me I know this is ridiculous was what happened on the last day of Pessach. Long before morning prayers I lit a cigar at a stand of memorial candles near the still-empty synagogue and stepped outside. The hotel is at the top of a hill and though a heavy ground fog obliterated the surrounding vistas, the sky was clear. Absolute silence, no one else about, flocks of birds emerging from the fog then being swallowed up in it. A delicious chill in the air. It was magical, and exhilarating for one who hasn't the intellectual prowess to lose himself in Torah study or philosophy but connects with the Divine best in Nature.
I finished one cigar, re-entered and lit a second, and spotted a coven of wizened cane tappers shuffling toward the synagogue each to establish suzerainty over at least three seats. I had to beat them inside, but what to do about my freshly lit cigar? The solution was to hide it in one of the outsized rubber plants that serve as decoration, so it could be recovered after services. I chose one that totally hid the cigar and whose access was limited to the freely mobile. I proceeded to pray, untroubled by any fears that my treasure was at risk.
Following the service I went to retrieve my cigar. It was gone! No one had seen me hide it, so who could have taken it? And why? Foul-smelling, marked with my teethmarks and saliva, who would have wanted to take it? The mystery of the disappearing cigar has troubled me ever since.
FINALLY, LAST AND DEFINITELY LEAST, MY MASSAGES. The holiday being paid for by the Defense Ministry, I was required to have massages. As these were not available in the hotel I had to go to the Tiberias Baths on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A real bummer. Though only fifteen kilometers away, it was tortuous winding down through Tiberias. And coming back was worse. Crawling traffic, straight uphill.
What made it a delight was that my masseuse, a young Ukrainian woman, was expert at her job. And the last massage was best. She told me of her youth in the Young Pioneers and serenaded me with songs I already knew through Russian films. If the massage was wonderful, the concert was exquisite.
The trip back to the refugee camp was somber because the holiday had been so special. Adding to the mood was a steady drizzle. And on arriving back any doubts as to where we are were immediately dispelled: our lawn was covered with chunks of Matza.
28 April. Memorial Day,
always tough for us. By now you should have read Rachel's piece, powerful and direct, unlike my own tortured and labyrinthine prose. I have never been able to figure out if His repeatedly sparing me from certain death was an act of kindness or He was just mocking my desire for a quick and heroic demise. Once I believed I was spared to fight for Gush Katif. With our expulsion that belief was replaced by one in which I was spared to do laundry. Which held until today, when I went out to collect my freshly washed best jeans [actually, the sole jeans I can still stuff myself into] only to find them covered in bird poop. He couldn't be that cruel...
Some months after I was wounded the first time, my army unit held a dance/reunion/memorial. A fee was charged, but waived for those who had been disabled. I presume it was also waived for those who had died in combat and could only attend in spirit. Wives or girlfriends required. Rachel had misgivings but back then I was too insensitive. During the social dancing we were stared at. I assumed it was because Rachel looked gorgeous, but clearly my buddies and their significant others were discomfited by the empty sleeve and the bandages on my head. It finally dawned on me ridiculous as the image is that I was like a ballplayer who had been traded to another team. Instead of being part of Jerusalem Brigade's Unit 161 I was now a member of the Tel Hashomer Cripples. New teammates, new loyalties. Before the speeches began everyone was asked to stand for a minute of silence in memory of those who hadn't ducked in time. I expected a cascade of laughter when I called out "How about ten seconds extra for my arm?" Absolute silence. Cringing embarrassment silence. We were not invited to subsequent gatherings.
It seems appropriate to conclude on Israel Dependence Day. 'Hatikva', our national anthem, has the line "to be a free people in our land". Which is a con, because 80% of Israeli Jews state that they want Israel to be part of the European Union, ie, to lose their unique identity in the vast European swamp. The desperate-to-be-assimilated Jews 'Final Solution' to the Jewish Problem: total anonymity. Little wonder we won't survive.
I didn't go to evening prayers last night, nor to morning prayers today. I simply would not say, and could not hear others say, the celebratory prayers for the State on its 61st birthday.
That the public at large says them is understandable. But why should the Gush Katif refugees, disenfranchised and continually demeaned by the State they served so bravely, shout Hosannahs! and Hallelujahs! for our oppressors? That so many of us do so bewilders and depresses me.
It is said of the French that they forget nothing, and learn nothing. I don't know how accurate that is about the frogs, but it certainly fits us.
The worst thing about today is that, with the smoke and the stench of outdoor barbecues, I can't do laundry.
I wish you my dear friends A Happy Pessach. May the Good Lord continue to give us strength even in our sorrows. May we awake each day as proud Jews. We have survived and will continue to survive each of our oppressors. The story of Passover and our redemption is proof that we will continue to enjoy the Almighty's love despite the world's attempt to make us feel unloved.
Thank you, dear friends, for all of your help throughout the year. The people of Gush Katif are better and stronger because of you.
This Passover, Operation Dignity will provide aid, food and clothing vouchers, for the people of Gush Katif.
Please make your checks payable to
Central Fund for Israel, earmarked for Operation Dignity.
Send them to
Central Fund for Israel, 13 Hagoel Street, Efrat 90435, Israel
Central Fund for Israel, 980 Sixth Avenue, New York 10018, USA
Shekel checks should be sent to
Operation Dignity, POB 445, Nitzan 79287, Israel
See our website - http://www.operationdignity.com for more information.
Moshe Saperstein lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur
War. A resident of Neve Dekalim in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza
Strip, Moshe was wounded in February 2002 when he drove his car into a
terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the
car in front of his. He writes frequently of his physical and
emotional struggles on the long road to recovery
He and his wife Rachel 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 paper-based
trailer in Nitzan seemed a step up. Contact them by email at
Moshe Saperstein lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A resident of Neve Dekalim in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip, Moshe was wounded in February 2002 when he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the car in front of his. He writes frequently of his physical and emotional struggles on the long road to recovery
He and his wife Rachel 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 paper-based trailer in Nitzan seemed a step up. Contact them by email at ruchimo@.netvision.net.il
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