Book & Cook
Israel's history with a flavored palette
The loud noise of the rain muffled the sound of the school bell, and then, just like magic, the rain stopped.
I remembered very well what Mother told me that morning
"Now don't forget, Sonny. Don't leave school if it rains, but as soon as it stops, rush right back home."
Lucky me, the rain stopped right on time. Now all I had to do was run home as fast as I could. I grabbed all my books, stuffed them in my school bag, picked up my chair, dropped it on top of the desk, and without realizing that it had fallen right back on the floor, zipped through the door.
Looking up toward the sky for a glimpse just made me run faster. The sky was very dark, and it was only five after twelve. We always ended school at five after twelve. My house was just half a mile from the school. I had to go through the nursery school, and the “Drop of Milk Center” for the Mother and Child. There I had to be very careful not to slide and fall into the puddle of “hamra” -- That's what the Arabs called the red and slippery dirt. Go down the hill, look to the left, to the right, and to the left again, and only then, when I'm sure that no cars are close by, cross the road. I had to pass the sand dunes where I always stop to play, (sometimes I forget, lunch is getting cold,) go up the hill, and turn left to our newly paved street. See the house of Gadi on the left, Moshiko on the right, Yonah, the dirty boy, on the left next to the old lady that is in front of the “dead man's” house. Skip over the empty trash can that Yosi and Yoram didn't put back in its place yet. They come home from school at one. Both of them are older than I, and they go to the orthodox school. On Wednesday they come home at two because they have music lessons, Yoram plays the darbuka, an Arab drum, and Yosi plays the mandolin, I always liked to visit them when they play together. They're very good. After I passed their house, I would enter our yard and walk on the old pavement, careful not to trip over the crooked tile, step up the two steps, and enter the house.
Well, this time I ran very fast. I passed the nursery school, and just next to the Drop of Milk, where the “hamra” is, I tried to run around the puddle. But it was so large it passed the fence of the “Drop of Milk”, and I was forced to go through the puddle. I could not stop now because everything came too fast. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself face down in the middle of the “hamra,” my school backpack opened, and the books flying above my head into the red mush.
I tried to get up and slid again right on my face. I had to crawl on all fours to collect all my books, dirt and all, and put them back in the bag. After falling two more times, I finally managed to get up and walk home. When I passed next to the house of Yona, the dirty boy, I wondered if he ever got to be so dirty with this red Indian color, and if so, could he wash it off?
"Did you stop to play at the dunes again?" Mom yelled from the kitchen when I opened the door. "How many times did I tell you to rush home when it's rai... " She stopped right there, when she came to see if I shook the sand off before I entered the house.
"What happened? You look like you went swimming in chocolate."
"Chocolate?" The voice of my little brother came from the bedroom. "Chocolate, I want chocolate! I want chocolate..."
We never heard the end of it...
The silence in the classroom was suddenly erupted into a roaring applause and cheer. I was stunned. Being the smallest child in the 7th grade I wasn’t very popular. Most of the time, I was the subject of ridicule and torment by the bigger boys and even girls. Yet here when I finished reading my first composition to the class even the teacher was surprised. She was wondering if I wrote the story all by myself.
“What do you mean?” I asked; “Who else could have written it?” It didn’t look like anything special to me it was just something that happened to me a few years ago. The impact on the rest of the class was like a shot of adrenalin to me. I decided to try writing more but being a kid like most kids it didn’t happen until I was at my 30s, and even now at over 60 I am still taking my time writing my stories.
Stick around, maybe you would like my next stories too.
Uncle Rone gave me a big toy gun for my second birthday. Then the next day he took me with him to the army camp. It was his last day in the army, so he and his friend, Uncle Simon, decided to take me with them to Tel Aviv to celebrate their discharge and my birthday.
We drove in Uncle Simon's new car a secondhand Studebaker. I know because Uncle Simon let me drive. I sat on his lap and held the wheel all the way from Beer Sheva to Tel Aviv. (I am a good driver. I can drive and eat at the same time. Sometimes I let go of the wheel and the car drives straight without my help.) Uncle Rone bought me for the road a “Choco” drink and “Yoffy Yoffy” - a delicious fried dough dipped in sugar, and I love it.
On the way, (which was a long way, because we left when the small hand was on 9 and the big hand was on 12, and we got to Tel Aviv when the small hand was at 11 and the big hand was at 9) we saw the new “Moshavim”, new farm settlements with small white houses and big backyards. They were scattered all along the dry land. I saw the tall sprinklers spraying water, chik, chik, chik, chik, thrrrrr, to wet the land. I saw the farmers planting fruit trees that will give fruit in five years. (I don't know if I could wait so long.)
"Look!” I said “Ducks!"
"You look at the road when you drive!" Uncle Rone said with a smile on his face.
They were so cute, a mother duck and many baby duckies walking behind her in a long line, all waddling from side to side. (I wish we had ducks. All we had were chickens, but Uncle Robert had ducks, and sometimes, he let me play with them when I went to visit Meme (grandma) Julie.)
Then we saw the Bedouins. Now, these are interesting people. They live in big tents which they move with them anywhere they go. They fold the tents and load them on their tall camels, and then they go to a new grazing ground for their goats and sheep. You can tell a Bedouin by his clothing. The men wear “Galabia” - a long robe and a “Caffia” on their head with a black rope around it to hold it down. They call it “Aaggal”. The women wear black dresses covering them from head to toe. I don't know how they see anything through that.
When we arrived in Tel Aviv, we stopped for “falafel,” fried chickpea balls in a pita with salad. I was a good boy and ate the whole half pita. From there we went to the army camp.
At the camp I saw the big army trucks, a cannon, and a very big tank.
"They're only for display" explained Uncle Rone. "This is not a fighting camp. We come here to register or to be dismissed."
We entered a big room where I saw many solders waiting in lines, a long lines.
"Uncle Rone," I said in French.
"When are we going home?"
"Soon, after those three people, then it'll be our turn and we can go."
"But I have to go to the bathroom."
"You're a big boy now. You can go by yourself. It's right at the end of the hall."
So I went, like a big boy, by myself. But when I entered the bathroom, I didn't know what to do. The toilet seat was not there. Instead there was an odd - looking porcelain plate with a hole in the back and two raised ovals, one on each side. It was all dirty and scary. I couldn't go there, and I just remembered that I didn't exactly know how to wipe. It was always Mom who helped me with that. I returned to my uncle and said in French, "I can't go there. It's dirty, and I'm afraid I'll fall in the hole."
Now Uncle Rone was next in line, and he didn't want to lose the spot so he said, "Why don't you ask Uncle Simon to go with you? He's done now and he can do it."
Uncle Simon didn't speak French, so I had to tell him in Hebrew. "Uncle Simon," I said. By now my stomach really hurt and I felt that if I didn't hurry, I'd go in my pants. "You have to come with me now to the bathroom to clean it and help me out because I have to go right now. Come on, let's go, please, I can't hold it anymore." I guess I said it pretty loud because I saw everybody turning to look at us.
Uncle Simon was very embarrassed and said, "Shshh, not too loud. Everybody is listening. “Well, if you think that Uncle Simon was embarrassed, you have no idea what embarrassed really is! I couldn't hold it anymore and I had that terrible accident.
Uncle Simon not only had to clean the bathroom, he had to help get me cleaned, and Uncle Rone had to buy me a new pair of underwear.
Now let me introduce you to Mom's family. First, there is Nono - Grandpa. His name is Victor Haim Krihef, but we all call him Nono. You know, my middle name is after him, my first name is after my other grandfather who died many years ago. Anyway, then there is Meme July - Grandma. Her oldest son is Uncle Albert. He is married to Aunt Dolly, and they have two children, Yudit who is two years older than I, and Haim who is one year younger than I. The next in line is Aunt Marie. She is the one that calls me “Young Boy” all the time. She is married to Uncle Mirro. They always fight and they have two children, Vivi and Ines. Then comes Uncle Robert. I like Uncle Robert. He is tall, with red hair, and he's a handsome guy. Uncle Robert is about to join the army. He has a motorcycle and all kind of animals: chickens, pigeons, ducks, a goat, and a big black dog, Jimbo. Mom is the next in line. Somehow, she became the sister who takes care of everyone. She helped cleaning the house and cooked for everyone. I am not sure how are they doing without her now – her being my Mom and not at Meme's house.
Uncle David is one year younger than Mom. He is her favorite brother. Now he is just finishing high school at the agricultural school in Bait Shemesh. He is a shepherd, and he plays the recorder. Beautiful Aunt Rachael comes after Uncle David, and the last one is Uncle Moris, or Uncle Moshe. That's what he wants to be called. He's got lots of nice things, but I'm not allowed to touch them. Nobody is allowed to touch his things.
Meme Mili, Grandma on Dad's side, and Tata Beya, her older sister, took me to the hospital today. No, I am not sick. Mom is there to bring the new baby. It was hot and dry, and the wind was blowing strong. (I don't like the wind. It picks up the light sand and swirls it around like a small tornado. Sometimes I see it coming toward me, and I'm afraid that it will pick me up, too.) Last night I didn't sleep well. The doctor said that I shouldn't live in Be’er-Sheva because of the dust and the dry weather.
"He is allergic to dust," the doctor said," you should move up north, near the sea."
Dad was in Netanya learning a new job polishing diamonds so we could move there soon. Meme Mili said that he will come this afternoon. Both Meme Mili and Tata Beya spoke only Arabic; they had lived in Israel only six years. Their Hebrew was very poor, so I had to speak Arabic with them, but mostly listen.
The hospital was a long, one floor high, wooden building with a green waiting bench placed in front of it where we were all sitting.
"Look who's coming," Tata Beya said. "It's Meme Julie. "Meme, Meme," I jumped off the bench and ran toward her.
"Don't run," she said in French. "You might fall and hurt yourself."
I stopped running and walked saying, in French,
"Mom is getting me a baby. Mom is getting me a baby."
"Yes, I know," she answered. "What do you think it will be?"
"I don't know," I said when the door in front of us opened, and the nurse came out announcing,
"It's a boy. Come dear, your Mom wants to see you."
Mom was in bed holding my new brother. He was light skinned like Mom, not dark like dad and me.
"You see," she said to the doctor. "This is my first boy. He looks like his father, and this one looks like me. Come Nanou, kiss your new brother."
He was so cute, a chubby little baby. He didn't even cry, and his cheeks were puffy and round. I have a new brother! They named him Beber after an uncle who died long ago, and his middle name is Avraham in Hebrew or Avi in short.
Despite the unfortunate incident at the army camp, Uncle Rone, Dad's younger brother, always liked taking me places.
"You're the only one that is fun to be with," he used to say. I had other cousins on my father's side, you see. Most of them were older than me. Aunt Rosette had three kids, Yvet, Avraham, and Judah. Aunt Fortune had two kids, Haim and Moshe, and one on the way. You see, she was eating a lot to make another one. It really looked that way. She was very big like Mom when she was eating a lot to bring Avi. My cousins spoke Hebrew and very little Arabic. I was the only one who could speak all three languages well.
"You're so smart!" Everyone used to say to me. I know that, they don't have to rub it in all the time.
Anyway, Uncle Rone took me to the beach in Ashkelon. Dad was in the navies for his military service, and he told me a lot about the sea. He loved the sea, and so did Uncle Rone. I will love the sea, too, I promised myself. You know what? I did love it, and I still do, even after what happened to me that first time.
It was a long way to the sea, from Be’er-Sheva to Ashkelon. Be’er-Sheva doesn't have a coast, the town is in the north side of the desert. The seacoast was beautiful. I'd never seen anything like it before. There was the sand, the white sand that spread for miles like a huge sand box that lasted for ever. Then there was the water, so much water you couldn't see the end of it. Or maybe it was the end of it when you looked at the edge of the horizon.
"Is there a waterfall at the end there?" I asked. "Can we go see it? I've never seen a waterfall."
"No," Uncle Rone said, "It's the horizon.” (That's when I heard the word horizon.) “The world is round, and that's how far we can see. O.K. now take your shirt off. We are going to play in the water." And so, we did. We built a sandcastle right where the water touched the sand. Uncle Rone showed me how to decorate the castle with mud drops, and he helped me make a moat around the castle. Uncle Rone is a very good swimmer. He took me in his arms and laid me on top of the water and showed me how to swim. Once in a while he took his arms off, and sometimes I would sink and swallow water. It didn't taste good and I coughed a little, but I didn't cry, I'm a big boy now, I have a little brother, he cries.
The sun was hot and strong, I loved it. The water was warm, and I wanted to stay there forever.
This was the first time that I was exposed to the sun for such a long time. We both had so much fun that we didn't realize what was happening. I was getting red, very red, too red. By the time I got home my skin was bubbling and it hurt to touch. Mom put lots of creams, yogurt, and water on me. I couldn't wear a shirt. For two days I had a very hard time sleeping. I don't know how I did it. It was very difficult lying down.
After three days, when all the pain was gone, I realized that I looked different. I was brown. I was like chocolate all over my body, my face, my back, my belly, my legs, even my feet. But, wait a minute, "Look at your tushy," Dad said to me in the shower,
"It's white!" From that day on I acquired a new name, "White Butt," or as they called it in Arabic “Treima Baida.”
“We have to go see the doctor”, Mom told me when I woke up on a cold winter day. I had a terrible night, wheezing and coughing for hours. They had to call the doctor at the middle of the night, and he gave me a shot to help me breath. It wasn’t fun.
Mom helped me dress, put Avi in the carriage and we all went to the doctor’s office. It was very cold outside, but it didn’t rain. You see, it is very dry in Be’er Sheva – Israel's Desert’s Capital. It gets very cold, but it hardly rains. Instead we have wind, very strong wind. It picks up the dusty earth and blows it around, forming little tornado like swirls and sandstorms.
“Your Son is allergic to the dust here,” said the doctor. “As I told you before, you must move to the north if you don’t want your son to develop asthma.”
Yes, I know,” mom answered, “my husband is in Netanya looking for a place to move. He already found a job.”
“Good!” said the Doctor. “Meanwhile, give him this twice a day.” He gave mom a reaccept of medication to get from the pharmacist. (Many years later I discovered that all my problem was allergy to milk. It messed up my breathing as well as my stomach.)
Not long after we were ready to move. I had to say goodbye to my little dog Lassy. We gave it to Uncle David. Dad and Uncle Simon (Remember him? From the trip to Tel Aviv) loaded the small truck with our belonging and off we went. Dad went with in the truck with Uncle Simon. Mom Avi and I went by taxi. I slept all the way, dreaming that Mom was walking away from me and no matter how loud I would try to yell for her, she didn’t hear me. My voice simply wouldn’t come out. It was like a silent cry – it was awful, I felt helpless and when I woke up all sweaty from fear we were in Netanya.
Netanya was a small new town on the sandy beach of the Mediterranean Sea. The clear blue water was a sight that I’ll never forget. It stretched for miles and miles, all calm and soothing. Our new home was a small wooden shack. Dad rented it from the department of newcomers. One large room with a kitchen corner, the bathroom was outside and so was the shower with its kerosene water heater called “Primus”.
“We won’t stay here long,” dad promised, “the department of new comers promised me a two bedroom unit as soon as one becomes available.”
You see, we were very lucky, life wasn’t easy in Israel. The war in Sinai was just over and it was very difficult to find a job. Dad lucked up finding the job he did, polishing Diamonds. The food raisons were skimpy, Mom had a privilege – she was nursing a baby, so she got a bit more than most people. We were allowed to buy two eggs per day, half a chicken per week and a quart of milk each day. There were no limitations on fruit and vegetables, but they were expensive. Avi and I had to share an apple for dessert. I helped dad planting vegetables and watermelons in our back yard so we could have some more to eat in the summer. This was the best summer yet. I got to go to the beach every day with mom and Avi. We would play in the sand and in the shallow water until dad came and we would eat tuna sandwiches for dinner at the beach while sitting in the warm water looking at the sun setting in the west.
You remember my Uncle Rone? You know, the one that took me to Tel Aviv and gave me too much to eat, and you know what happened later. The one who took me to the beach and gave me my “white butt”. Uncle Ronny is my father's younger brother. Dad is the oldest, next in line is Aunt Rosette, Aunt Fortune, Uncle Ronny, and the youngest is Uncle Claud. Uncle Ronny is getting married. He is marrying my Aunt Claudine, or in Hebrew, Rachael, my mom's younger sister. Isn't it cool? Two brothers marring two sisters. Their kids are going to be like my brothers and sisters – more than just cousins.
Aunt Rachael is very beautiful. She is slim with big smiling eyes and long black hair that fall straight down her tall back. Aunt Rachael is a secretary for the union. Sometimes she takes me to work with her. She lets me play with the paper clips, and I make long colorful necklaces, attaching the clips together, wrapping magazine paper around each one of them and gluing it together. This is a gift for Mom, I would say, and Aunt Rachael would answer, "and it is very pretty."
I like to be with Aunt Rachel, and Aunt Rachael likes to be with me. We are good friends. When Mom was sick and I was little, before Avi was born, Aunt Rachael used to help me go to the bathroom. Now sometimes when she goes to the bathroom at work and I need to go too, she takes me to the ladies’ room with her. Obviously, she can't take me to the men's room.
I was with Mom and her older sister, Aunt Marie, in the ladies’ room helping Aunt Rachael get ready for the wedding. Mom would help her with the makeup, Aunt Marie would help her with the hair, and I would hold the hair pins and brush. Aunt Rachael looked so beautiful. Her long black hair was arranged like a tower on her head and long curls came down her soft cheek. Mom called those curls bottles, I don't know why, they didn't look anything like bottles.
"O, oh," said Aunt Rachel. "Can you believe this? All day I've been trying to go to the bathroom and couldn't. Now that I'm all dressed and made up, I have to go, and I don't think I can hold it."
"It couldn't be so," Mom said. "What are you going to do?" "We'll have to help her," Aunt Marie said. "You! Young boy. Go open the toilet's door and hold it open! “Ida," she said to my Mom, "hold the bottom of her dress on the left side. I'll hold the right. When I say go, we'll both pick up the dress above her head. Carefully, not to ruin the hair do. Claudine, you walk backward to the stall and do your thing."
"O.K." Aunt Rachael said, "I'm done. Now what do we do?"
Again it was Aunt Marie who came to the rescue.
"Up," she said. "Come forward. young boy!" She always called me that. "Pull a long strip of toilet paper and come over here. Give it to me!" she commanded when I looked at her, opening my eyes big, like asking, what am I going to do with it?
"Over here, hold this," she pointed to the dress where she was holding. I rushed to her with the paper and tried to hold the dress where she asked me, but she is much taller than me. I held the dress underneath her and the rest of it fell on my head covering practically all my body. "It's better that way" Mom said. "This way he can't see what is going on down there."
The Small Shacks
“It is time to move again” Mom Said. “But don't worry, we aren't moving far, just to the next street to a bigger shack.”
when we moved from Be'er Sheva we took a very small shack. It was a one room wooden shack covered with black tar sheets on the outside walls and tin roof to keep the rain off. We had a small out house where my dad had to pour lime every night and another out house where we showered. It had a small water tank placed on a tall pedestal with a special kerosene burner called “Primus”. Mom used to turn it on every afternoon, before dad would come from work so he could have a nice hot shower. I will never forget how Mom would prepare for “Passover”. She would take all the kitchen tools outside so she can clean and “kosher” them for the holiday dipping them in boiling hot water she had placed yet, on another “Primus” and even the kitchen table was left outside until she finished cleaning the room. Dinner we had to eat sitting on the floor when the food was placed on newspapers spread on the kitchen corner. In the late spring Dad and I would go to the small back yard and plow the ground with a big shovel and sow watermelon seeds and pick them up in the summer. At the edge of the yard we had wild growing spinach. It had small, yet thick and salty leaves from the salty wind blowing from the sea every evening. We would collect it and both Mom and Dad would spend a whole day making “pkeilah”.
Now it was time to move, right after we picked the last watermelon. The new place was a little bigger shack. It had a living dining room, a bedroom, and the best of all, it didn't have an outhouse not for the toilet or the shower. All was in one place. No more walking in the rain to the outhouse or in the middle of the night.
We were the first shack on a short dirt street right on top of the cliffs of northern Netanya's beach. On our left lived the deaf and mute couple who taught me how to speak the sign language. Across from them lived the preschool assistant, Sarah, and her handicapped son Michael. He was 2 years older than me. Unfortunately, he was born in the back of a big pickup truck and fell on his head at the delivery time (that's what Mom told me). He remained deformed and couldn't really speak clearly. Yet he had a very good memory and was very happy to see me and enjoyed playing with us. Next to Sarah's house live beautiful Allegra. She had the last shack on our street. You could see the sea clearly right of her bedroom window. In her living room she set up a big chair and a big mirror in front of it with all kind of bottles in front of it and many scissors. She was our neighborhood's hairdresser / barber / natural healer. I remember, how she came to our house once and tried to fix my stomachache by washing it with “enema”. Allegra became a good friend of my Mom and visited us a lot as well as we visited her. She had 2 kids, a little older than me. Interestingly they had the same names as my cousins Vivi and Inez and just the same, Vivi was big and strong and Inez was very pretty.
In no time, I made friends in that street as well as the street next to us. I learned where the “makolet” - the small groceries' store was, and I had the task to go buy the milk and bread every day. Every day, I would wait in line there next to the big sack of rough sea salt and grab a hand full of it and shove it in my mouth. No matter how much my stomach hurt after would I kept on doing it until we moved in the summer to Neveh Shalom closer to down town where Dad worked.
Gidi or as we called him Gingi lived on the next street had his birthday on the first Shabat afternoon after we moved. “Get dressed” Mom told me, “you are going to be late.” I wore my new white shirt, blue shorts and my new sandals. This was the first birthday I was ever invited to. I Didn't know what to expect. “Come help me wrap this little gift” Mom called me as soon as I was dressed. “It is a nice bar of chocolate. It is made by the new Israeli chocolate factory – Elit, so don't eat it on the way.” “I won't” I answered, “I don't like this kind, I line the dark chocolate better.”
We got to play at the party, and I saw how Gingi blew the candles with his eyes closed. I met new friends who were going to join me at the preschool the following year. Even Michael was there with his mom assisting him. It was a start of nice friendship that lasted for many years to come.
"So, you see," Meme Mili said, "you're named after my husband - your grandpa Nani."
I stayed at Meme's house while Mom was at the doctor's office’
"Tell me more, Meme," I asked. "What happened to him?"
"It all started many years ago," Meme told me. "I was very young when my parents died. My mother was a maid for a rich family, and after she died, they brought me up to be their maid. My older sisters were already married and lived out of town. I washed floors and dishes, I dusted, I did the laundry, I did everything around the house. One day a gentleman came and asked my keepers to let me go so he could marry me, and so he did. This gentleman was your grandfather. He was a divorced man who had a daughter from his previous marriage. His daughter stayed with her mother. Your grandpa was a merchant, so every morning I would prepare his lunch, and he'd go to his store and return late in the afternoon. It was nice not to work anymore. Not long after, your father was born, and then his sister, Rosete, then his other sister, Fortune, his brother, Rone, and last, but not least, his youngest brother Claude, who is a story himself. I'll tell you later.
It was in a nice summer day. We were vacationing in the Beach town Nabbel. We were there for the summer. Your Grandpa was staying in Tunis for the week and every Friday he would come to join us on the beach. “One Friday afternoon my husband came back from work and said, I don't feel well, dear. He looked very pale and weak. I put him to bed and went to get the doctor. The doctor checked his temperature, gave him something to lower it, and left. The next morning my husband was dead.
I didn't know what to do, I was lost. My oldest son, your dad, was only 11, and my youngest was two years old. I didn't know how to read or to write, and I didn't have a job to support my family. All I knew was how to be a maid. That wasn't enough for a woman and five children. Your father had to help to support the family. The town's rabbi advised me to have him Bar mitzvah at an early age because he would have to take a lot of responsibilities for a young boy. The following week we went to the synagogue and your father read the Torah at the age of 11.
“The first trade he tried to learn was carpentry. The old carpenter gave your father sandpaper, a tabletop, and told him to smooth it up. Your dad took the sandpaper and started to work. After an hour or so he called his boss and showed him his progress.
'No good, the boss replied, it's not smooth yet'.
“Again your dad rubbed and rubbed for another hour. But the boss wasn't satisfied.
“'How long should I do this?' asked your dad, eager to finish this boring job.
“'Until you smell onion!” Answered his boss jokingly'.
“At lunch time your father ran home, took a big onion, and ran back to work. Fifteen minutes later he called his boss.
“'Look', he said, 'it's ready, I can smell the onion.'
“The boss was in shock. He didn't know what to say. The fine wood was ruined. It was all covered with onion juice.
Of course, your father had to look for another job. He tried the tailor, the cook, the blacksmith and so on. He was just too young for anything. At last, after a long time he found a job he liked. This job had artistic challenges. He became a jeweler's apprentice. At that same time my oldest sister who just lost her entire family for a horrible sickness, moved in to live with us. We both found jobs with the same rich family who raised me. Life was difficult, but we managed well and nine years later we started our travel to Israel.
“Now it's time for your lunch and a nap. Next time maybe I'll tell you about your Uncles Rone and Claude."
“Mommy, Mommy! Come look who’s coming.” I rushed home yelling. “Come Ima it’s Uncle Robert, he came with a big army truck.”
Everyone in our family knows; Mom is a great cook. In every opportunity they have they would stop by for lunch or dinner. On the other hand, I could never figure out why. I didn’t like her food. It just didn’t taste good to me. Most of the time, it was too spicy. Anyway, Uncle Robert had a pass for the afternoon, and he came with his army truck for a short visit. Both Avi and I loved it when relatives serving the army came to visit. They always had something for us. Chocolate bars or chocolate covered waffles from the army cantina. Uncle Robert was a truck driver in the army. This time he came with a huge truck and he parked it in front of our shack on the sand dunes.
It was Friday afternoon and Mom made her usual “Couscous” with chicken vegetable soup. Uncle Robert loved it.
“So, what’s new?” He asked.
“Oh, nothing much” Said Mom. “I’m starting to work soon. Eli offered to teach me the trade of diamond cutting. He is very good at that, you know. I’ll be working half a day. So we can save some money.”
“That’s nice,” said Uncle Robert. “But, what about the children?”
“Oh, I found a solution to that.” Mom replied. Nanou is going to the nursery school and Yaffa the teacher there has a daughter Avi’s age. She asked if I could bring Avi too so they can play together. All I have to do is to pick Avi when I pick Nanou after my work. It turns out great. Yaffa gets to keep her job teaching and I get to go to work for half a day without worrying about a babysitter.”
All that time while Uncle Robert was having lunch Avi was playing with some of his friends around the army truck.
“Look in here!” said Yosi the red head kid. “It’s a dead porcupine; your uncle killed it with his truck”
“No He didn’t!” I said when I walked out, hearing the conversation. “It was there before, and you shouldn’t be playing with it, anyway.”
The kids didn’t listen to me and kept playing with the dead porcupine. It was laying there for two days now waiting to be picked up by the town’s service. The kids were poking it with long sticks now, trying to make it move, revive it, or god knows what. They kept playing with it until Uncle Robert came out with Mom to say goodbye to us.
This goodbye was the longest goodbye I ever saw. You see, Uncle Robert Started his truck and about to drive away but he couldn’t. His truck got stuck in the deep sand dune. No matter how much he tried he just dug himself deeper in. before too long, all the men in the neighborhood were there, trying to push the truck out of the sand. After 3 hours finally they succeeded pushing it on top of wood planks and out of the sand. Uncle Robert said goodbye again and this time drove away waving from the distance.
The next morning Avi was rushed to the hospital with high fever. He caught “typhus”. Probably was stung by a mosquito or a tick that carried the virus, from the dead porcupine. He had to spend 2 months in the hospital. With such high fever; we didn’t think he would make it. To our delight Avi came back home stronger than ever and his tales I will tell you later.
Dad has a new friend. His name is Tuvya. Tuvya works with Dad. He cuts the diamonds to give them a round shape. Dad polishes the diamonds and gives them their facets and brilliance.
"How old are you, young man?" He asked me the first time we met. I like it when people call me "young man." It makes me feel important.
"Four," I said, "I will be four at the end of the summer on Rosh Hashanah."
"Oh yes?" he replied, "I have a daughter who is almost your age. Her name is Anat, and she is three and a half. Would you like to meet her?"
"Yes" I said. I was very pleased to be able to meet his daughter. You see, don't tell anybody, but I love playing with girls. They don't fight as much as boys, and they let me play daddy when we playhouse.
"I also have a son," he said. "He's two years old."
"That's like my brother. What's his name?"
"Yuval, and you will have the chance to meet them both very soon. We are going on a vacation together next weekend."
"All right!" I replied happily and rushed to tell my brother the news.
That morning I woke up very early, even before Mom and Dad turned on the radio with the musical clock program. Every morning they would wake up at 6:00, turn on the radio, and the classical music program would wake me up. This time I couldn't sleep late. I was thinking about the trip all the time at the kindergarten. That afternoon as soon as Dad came home, Mom packed all the suitcases and sandwiches for the road.
Anat had long black hair and big brown eyes. She was, unlike her brother, very polite and gentle. Yuval, her brother, had a bad mouth and bad manners. It was very difficult to hear anything when he talked because he didn't talk. He yelled and screamed and cursed and what not.
I sat in the back seat of the big station wagon with Anat. We played games, sang songs, and had fun for most of the ride; that is, when Yuval was not interrupting.
We drove north on the new shore highway. The sea was on our left and the orange orchards on out right. That time of year the orange flowers were blooming, and their strong smell cast a spell on all of us. We stopped at Caesaria and saw the old Roman ruins. We passed near the prehistoric cavemen digs and the banana fields. For dinner, we stopped at a forest park near Haifa.
It was getting dark when we started climbing the high mountain of Kibbutz Idmit.
"We will spend the night here," Tuvya announced. "They have nice accommodations, and we can eat breakfast at the kibbutz's dining room."
A kibbutz is a communal village. All the people who live in the kibbutz work in the fields, in the kibbutz's schools, in the kitchen, or as housekeepers. They don't get paid but they get a house and food, clothing, and all their needs are provided for. The income from their work is shared by all the kibbutz members - comrades. The children in this kibbutz live in the children's dorms, and their parents live in the adults' living quarters. There are no poor or rich people in the kibbutz; everyone is equal. If the kibbutz is rich, everyone in the commune is rich. If the kibbutz is poor, no one is rich in the kibbutz.
Avi and I got a room for ourselves next to Mom and Dad's room, and in front of Tuvya's children's room.
"Be nice to your brother," mom said before she left for her room. Yea, like I planned to be mean to him; it was always him that started those fights.
"Remember you're the older."
"O.K., good night!" I replied.
The loud shot woke me shortly after I fell asleep. The commotion outside the door intrigued my curiosity, and I opened the door.
"Go back to your room!" someone ordered.
I hate it when some adults think that we children should not be allowed to know anything. I closed the door and waited for the commotion to pass.
I heard someone mentioning poachers, but we were not that close to the border, and we were very high on top of one of the steepest mountains in Israel. You see, there were poachers that snuck across the border, Syria or Jordan, to steal food or livestock. Sometimes, they got caught, and sometimes they committed murder.
I opened the door again, peeking to see if anybody saw me. The door in front of me opened slowly and the long black hair of Anat was the first thing I saw coming out.
"Poacher?" she asked softly.
"No, there are no poachers in this area," I tried to calm her fear. "Let's go see."
"Can I hold your hand?" she asked. "I'm afraid a little".
"Of course," I said. "I'm not afraid, I'll protect you"
We walked out the door of the building into the darkness. The people were gathering at the far side of the kibbutz. We heard them talking about an Arab shepherd that lived next to the kibbutz. He had an old rifle. They were thinking maybe it was he who shot the gun. It had come from his direction. Hiding from the adults, we slowly walked toward the crowd. Then we heard the weirdest noise. It was like a cry, like something we never heard before.
"Leopard, leopard," someone yelled.
"Bring a net," someone else yelled
Someone ran back to the kibbutz's center and shortly after returned with a wide net. We heard before about people who had seen leopards, but it was very rare. Leopards are extinct animals in Israel, and this one could be the last leopard. That is why they wanted to catch him alive.
The crowd surrounded the wounded leopard, and someone threw the net on it. It didn't take long for the crowd to disperse, and we found ourselves alone. It was only then that we saw where we really were.
The kibbutz Idmit was located on a very high mountain. The view was of all the Galilee, the northern part of Israel.
"Look how beautiful this is," Anat said squeezing my hand gently. "What is there?"
"Haifa," I said proudly. We just learned in the kindergarten about Haifa, the port city of Israel.
"Nahariya I think"
We sat on a rock looking at the lights of all the towns and villages around us flickering, holding hands, and listening to the sound of the wounded leopard crying in the dark.
"The Taktok, the Taktok is here. The Taktok is here!" Avi rushed in yelling, "Come. Let's play outside and see the Taktok." Avi was just three years old, he didn't speak very well. Taktok is a tractor in Avi's language.
"Look what you did!" Tata Beya yelled at him in Arabic. (Remember? She speaks only Arabic.) "You brought all the dirt in the house. You always do that! You rush in, and you forget to wipe your feet."
Avi looked at her very seriously and listened patiently ‘til she finished. Then he yelled back, "Blah, blah, blah, blah!" and ran outside. You see, Avi does not speak or understand Arabic.
Tata Beya is staying with us for the summer. We just moved from the house in Havatselet to this bigger place in a Yemenite neighborhood called “Neveh Shalom” - the peace pasture.
"The rent is a little higher," Dad said, "but the place is bigger and we are closer to downtown. This summer Tata Beya will stay with us, and I expect the best behavior from you guys. Nanou, you will translate between her and Avi, so I don't expect any problems."
Sure, no problems. Avi never had the patience to listen either to Dad's old aunt or to my translations. Besides, she spoke Arabic so fast that I didn't have a chance to translate before Avi made his usual remark, which most of the time was "Blah, blah, blah," and ran out.
The new house is not new. It is a small single family house in our landlord's back yard. Our landlord, Mr. Okev, just like the rest of our neighbors, is from Yemen, a small country in the south of Saudi Arabia. They came to Israel in the early years of the state's development.
The Yemenite Jews are the closest to our ancient ancestors. They preserved their traditions and way of life as much as possible. Even the pronunciation of the Hebrew language is ancient, and whenever I went to the synagogue with them, I had a hard time sitting there. Because of their different accent, I could never understand or follow what they were reading. Mr. Okev came to Israel on the “Magic Carpet Operation”. He walked for two hundred miles to the airport with his family and all of his belongings, in order to fly to Israel. For the Yemenites it was the first time that they had seen a plane. For them it was a magic flying carpet. Mr Okev promised God that when, and if, he reached Israel, he would build a house of worship, and so he did.
Mr. Okev was from a very rich family in Yemen. He left all the land that he owned and his business so he could come back to the “Promised Land”. When he came to Israel he sold the jewelry that he had collected and built the house he is living in. Now he was ready to build the synagogue he had promised. It just happened that at the same time the town of Natanya was developing this neighborhood and the big land movers were paving a new road to make a modern street.
For us kids it was a new playground and an amusement park. We would play in the freshly uncovered dirt, build sand towers, and throw dirt rocks at each other that would explode when they hit their target without causing any damage to the skin. This was our favorite war game.
Mr.Okev had three daughters. The oldest one was married to Mr. Gamil, the milk man who worked in the small moshav, Avichail. Every night I would go to their house (also in the Okev's back yard) to fetch the milk for Mom. They had two sons, Itay and Gabi. Mrs. Gamil was pregnant, and they were hoping to have a girl. Itay was my age, but he went to the orthodox preschool, and the only time we met to play was after school or on vacations, like now. Gabi was Avi's age and was home all the time. He played with Avi whenever he wanted. Mr. Okev's other two daughters lived at home with him. The young one, Tova, was engaged to be married, and the middle one, Ester, was working with Mom and Dad at the diamond polishing plant.
Next to the Okev's yard was the Makollet. That's what we call the little grocery store. It means a store that has everything. Saadya, the owner of the Makollet, had an orange orchard in his backyard, Naval oranges. They start to ripen at the end of the summer, and Mom bought them from him every week. Saadya had two daughters and a son. The young son was in the army. The middle daughter was working in the bank, and the oldest daughter, the pretty one, was a stewardess on the Israeli airline, El Al. Shoshana was her name, and she thought that I was the cutest boy she had ever seen. So, every time I came to the store, she would ask, "How is my favorite boyfriend doing today?" Unfortunately, she wasn't there all the time. She had to fly around the world. But when she was there, she would sing songs to me and tell stories about the places she visited in her travels.
"I can't take it any more," said Tata Beya, "Your brother is driving me up the walls. Go and tell him that I'll report everything to your mom when she comes home, and he will regret it for a long time."
The problem with Avi was that you couldn't teach him a lesson. He had a mind of his own. When Mom punished him he didn't care. Even when Mom smacked his little tush, he didn't cry. He would yell, "It doesn't hurt! It doesn't hurt!" Mom's hand would start to hurt and he just laughed and didn't cry.
I walked out to look for him, but he wasn't in our yard. He wasn't in the street playing with Gabi, either.
"He went to Sa’adya's," said Itay when he saw me looking for my lost brother. There was Avi in the orange orchard playing with a big rake. It was two feet taller than he was. Avi lifted the rake up above his head and dropped it in front of him yelling, "I'm a Taktok, I'm a Taktok."
"Put that rake down," I ordered and went toward him. "That's not how you use it. You should just pull it and rake the leaves, not dig with it!"
You might think he listened, but no, not Avi. He just picked it up and dropped it down again and again.
"Stop!" I yelled coming closer to him. "You might hurt yourself. Put it d..."
I never had the chance to finish my sentence. Avi turned toward me and dropped the rake on my head.
“Nanou! Nanou, wake up!”
“Wha-at?” I complained half a sleep.
“I need to go to the bathroom”
“So go” I said and turned over.
Avi didn’t let go. We were left alone in the house while mom and dad went to the movies.
“You're a big boy now, you are five years old and we know, you can take care of your brother. Mom and dad are going to the movies so don’t fight or mess up the house. Just stay in bed and go to sleep. By the time you wake up we will be back home.”
“Yes I know” I said to Mom “I am a big boy.”
It was all fine until Avi decided to wake me up.
“You have to come with me,” he cried. “I can’t reach the door latch.”
It was a big lie. Avi, even being two years younger than me looked almost bigger then me - he was definitely heavier, and the same height as me. Avi was afraid of the dark. He wanted me to get up and go to the bathroom with him. Now, why should I? I was perfectly comfortable sleeping in my bed and really didn’t need to get up just so he can go to the bathroom. I knew he could open the door – I saw him do it before.
“I am not getting up” I said firmly. “You can open the door by yourself – you are a big boy”
“No!” he cried. “You are the big boy, Mom said so.” You have to open the door for me. I can’t reach.”
“Yes you can! I saw you do it before, you are just a chicken and you are afraid of the dark”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes you are!”
“Then prove it to me,” I said. “Show me that you aren’t afraid and go by yourself like the big boy that you are.”
“But you are the big boy!” Avi insisted. “Come open the door for me.
“Big boy or not, I don’t care” I said, rolling over to face him now. “I am not getting up and I don’t care if you make in your pants.”
Avi didn’t make in his pants, nor did he go to the bathroom. He simply took his pants off and made right next to my bed on the floor.
I couldn’t fall asleep. The smell was horrible, and I had to hear him snoring in his bed now across the room.
When Mom and Dad came back, they weren't sure what to do first, laugh or yell at me and Avi. They ended up cleaning it up and going to bed.
Our landlord Mr. Okev had 3 daughters. His older daughter was married to Mr. Gamil, she had the 2 boys Itai and Gabi and was about to have a third baby. Mr. Gamil had a sister who lived up the street. She had 3 kids One boy older than me (don’t know his name) and twins my age. A boy Arnon and a girl Arnona. Arnon wasn’t very friendly, but his sister Arnona was very friendly and very pretty. I loved playing with her, but her brother always interfered, and it was no fun. The only time I could play with Arnona without interruptions was when we were at the kindergarten.
I am not sure how to explain this feeling. All I wanted was to cry. It isn’t that I wanted to cry, it is just that I couldn’t stop crying. I felt weak and shaky, my chest was pressing, and it was hard to breath. Both the teacher and her assistant were all over me. One was sticking a thermometer in my mouth and the other was patting a wet towel on my forehead.
“Arnona,” said Yafa my teacher “I have a very important favor to ask of you. Will you please walk with Haim home? We want to make sure he gets there safe. Sarah, my assistant will send a doctor to his house and hopefully all will be well.”
I was still whimpering when we arrived home. Mom was feeding Avi at the time. As soon as we walked through the door I fell on the floor and I don’t remember anything that happened afterward. I woke up in a white room on a metal bed covered with white sheets and my arm had some kind of pipe stuck in it and it was connected to a bottle full of liquid. My head hurt and I felt weak, but I didn’t cry. Mom was sitting next to me and holding a wet towel on my forehead.
“He is awake!” she called and a nurse waked in to check on me.
“The doctor is on his way,” she said, “it is time for you to go home. Visitation hours are way over. You may come visit him tomorrow.”
I didn’t even have the chance to protest, I fell asleep.
“You have Hepatitis,” said the nurse when I woke up again. “It is a yellow fever” you will have to stay here for a while until we are sure it is out of your system. Meanwhile drink some of this soup, it will make you feel better.”
“Where is my Mom?” I asked as I was sipping the hot chicken broth.
“She went home a while ago. She won’t be able to come visit every day, but I know, she will be here tomorrow during visit hours.”
I had to stay in the hospital of Hadera for a whole month. At first all I was given to eat was chicken broth and slowly, slowly, I was introduced to bananas, salad and other food. Yet, when it came to meat, they had a problem. I don’t like meat, and Mom wasn’t there to yell at me or threaten me with the “no dessert” promise. The only animal part I was able to eat was the chicken skin from the chicken soup. It was soft and kind of mushy, and I liked it a little. The nurses had to collect from the rest of the kids at the hospital the skins of the chicken so I could have a decent amount of protein.
What I remember most of my visit to that hospital are two events that scarred me forever. The first was worse than the second. Every Tuesday they had to take a biopsy. of my liver. Two nurses had to hold me down on my bed each one holding a leg and an arm spread eagle, while a third nurse had to insert the longest and thickest needle I have ever seen in between my legs (yes right next to the you know what) all the way to my liver. It hurt like hell but that was the only way the doctor would know if I am ready to go home. The second one was sort of related to the first. When one afternoon Mom and Dad came to visit was on Tuesday right before the biopsy. I remember crying and screaming for them as I saw them out of the window, walking toward the buss station. I was hoping they would save me from that torture, but they didn’t hear me and kept walking. For many years after that I had nightmares of crying to Mom for help and she simply didn’t hear.
"Aunt Marie will be here this afternoon for the weekend," my mother announced today when I came home from school. I don't like Aunt Marie very much. She always calls me "young boy" with this commanding tone of hers, and then she would tell me what to do or not to do. But I like Vivi her older son, Ines her daughter, Avram, and little dumb Motke.
Vivi is three years older than me. He is strong, and he knows things that old people know. Ines is one year older than me. She is very pretty, and she tells scary stories at night after Mom shuts the lights. Avram is Avi's age. He is nice. And little dumb Motke is only two-and-a half years old.
One day when they came to visit us, Aunt Marie put Motke in an orange crate to play, (we didn't have a crib for him, and he was little anyway), and Avi gave him peanuts. The poor thing almost choked. He stuffed them all in his mouth and didn't know what to do with them. Luckily for him, Aunt Marie walked in the door and saw him with his full cheeks ready to die. She jumped toward him, shoved a finger in his mouth, and pulled all the peanuts out.
"Don't you know not to feed babies peanuts?" she asked with her angry voice. But how should Avi know? He was only three then, and Vivi didn't say anything. He just sat there and laughed.
"What are you laughing about?" Aunt Marie continued yelling. "Shut up, Vivi! I expected better from you!"
Saturday afternoon when we all came back from the beach, we washed, ate, and went to my room to rest, but we couldn't sleep. Only Avi and little dumb Motke fell asleep. Ines was reading one of her scary books. Avram was playing with my blocks. (They're Avi's now; I'm too old for them.) Vivi was staring at the air and thinking; I don't know what. I decided that it was not fair that only Mom and Dad should have a radio. We should have one, too. You see, last Thursday I had checked it out and had seen what it was made of.
It was so simple. It was a box with an opening in the front covered with cloth. It had two buttons in front, one on each side of the opening. The back had one cord that was plugged into the wall. I know, because Dad told me, that it was connected to the electricity cables that were stretched outside. Those cables go to Tel Aviv where the radio station is. The radio, probably, works like the stretched-thread-and-two-cans telephone we made last year in the kindergarten. I was sure, the man in Tel Aviv had a can that he could speak to, and it was connected to all the houses that had a radio.
Well, a box is not a problem. I have that shoe box that came with my new shoes for the holidays. I took a piece of cloth from Mom's sewing box and two bottle caps. I made glue from flour and water. With mom's scissors, that Mom told me to be careful with, I cut a hole in the box. Then I cut the cloth to fit the hole. The problem was: How do I stretch a thread from the hole in the wall to my radio box? The thread is too flimsy. I looked all through Mom's sewing box, and then in her extra material pile and even in her knitting bag. There was no thread that could stretch from the hole in the wall to my radio box. I decided to sneak into my parents' room and check the radio out one more time.
They were both asleep. I walked on my tippy toes and looked at the back of the radio.
"What are you doing here?" Mom asked quietly, so as not to wake anybody. But she made me jump. I always forget that Mom is a very light sleeper, and I could never sneak up on her.
"Nothing," I said, "I'm looking at the radio. I want to know how it is made."
"O.K.," she said "just don't take it apart like you did with grandma's clock."
"O.K." I said and left the room.
It was so simple. It had an electric cord like I saw yesterday when Dad was fixing the light. I went to Dad's tool drawer. It was in the back of the kitchen. I opened it, and there it was, an electrical wire. This one was not even flimsy. It was hard, and it had a copper cord on the inside. I took dad's cutter, and with both hands cut a long piece. I put everything back in place. Dad doesn't like it when I don't put things back where I got them.
Back in my room, Vivi was still looking at the air, only this time he was following a fly that was bothering his younger sister.
I took the wire, pushed it in the back of the box, and made a knot on the inside like we did with the can phone so it wouldn't fall out. I straightened the wire. It will be better than mom's radio because it is straight like my can phone. Now, all I have to do is to plug it in.
The hole in the wall was too high for me to reach. I got a chair from the kitchen, stood on it, and plugged the straight wire in while I put the box next to my ear. The sound I heard was not the sound of Mom's radio nor was it even close. This sound had power! It was vibrating so strongly that it shook me up and threw me across the room yelling "whaaaaw". I fell on Ines's back, and she jumped up screaming.
Mom, Dad, and Aunt Marie rushed into the room.
"What happened? What happened?" they asked, and just before Dad grabbed the radio from my hands, I heard Aunt Marie saying,
"Shut up, Vivi! What are you laughing about?"
Mom has been working now for a few months. Tata Beya has fallen sick and we had to stay home alone. “Only 4 hours a day”, mom thought, “I'll ask our neighbor to look after the boys”.
“As a big boy”, she told me, “I would love you to do something for me. I am starting the pot for dinner I will bring it to boil and lower the heat before I leave. You will need to watch over it every hour I want you to stir it for me. Don't cook your brother's elephant like you did last week.”
“He deserved it,” I said, “he didn't let me play with it and he even broke my wooden toy car I made and hid the drummer monkey.”
“Yes, I know, but you are the bigger boy and you should act like one.”
“OK Mom, I will.”
Beans and onions is what mom made every Tuesday. She would sauté the onions, with salt and a little sugar. She would add the overnight-soaked beans and cook it for many hours. Usually by lunch time it would be ready for us. Dad would come at dinner and have his portion while we are having our light dinner of hard-boiled egg and salad.
I was a good boy, I did exactly what mom asked me to do. I didn't fight with Avi. I did stir the dish every hour until mom came back from work.
“Go get your brother,” she said, “it's lunch time.” She cut a few slices of bread for us and poured the beans on our dishes. We dipped the bread in the sauce and ate the beans with a fork. It was good but it lacked salt. Hmm, I just remembered, Dad was complaining lately that the food was a little lacking salt. Maybe Mom lost her touch, working all those hours and not having her chance to taste it while she was at work. “I was a good boy today”, I thought “ I did all she asked. I will fix the dish for Dad he will like it this time.”
“All right kids, it is time to take a nap.” We took naps every afternoon. “Nanou clean up the table and wash the plates while I put your brother to bed and then you too go take a nap.”
I did just that, I wiped the table clean, washed the plates and utensils and put them to dry. As soon as mom left the room, I took a tablespoon and added three tablespoons of salt to the pot. I stirred it in and went to sleep.
When Dad came for dinner, we were all around the table ready for dinner. Avi had his soft-boiled egg with long strips of white bread to dip in the egg. He would finish his egg with the aid of mom and a small teaspoon. I had my hard-boiled egg cut up on a plate and I forced myself to eat the yellow part by adding a lot of salt. I also ate bread and salad - cucumber, tomato, pepper and onion. I don't like onions, so I always found a way to move them to the side of the plate and avoid eating it.
What happened next made me drop my fork to the floor, Avi fell back wards and spilled the soft-boiled egg all over and Dad spit all he had in his mouth on the bight he took jumping backwards.
Well, of course my little behind turned read from the special treatment I received afterward.
Playing with Fire
This story is very difficult for me to tell. It’s how I lost respect for Mom.
Uncle Moshe just joined the army. Uncle Moshe Mom’s youngest brother was tall now and very strong. His army base was close to our town. He was in the “intelligence”, shahs, don't tell anyone. He learned to read and write Arabic and was involved in something secret. Anyway, every time that he had an evening pass, he would hitchhike his way for a visit and have some of Mom’s cooking. We didn’t have a telephone so we wouldn’t know in advance when he was to come. But mom always had a few moments warning. You see, the bus stop was a few blocks up the road. Avi and I would play outside and the moment we would spot his tall figure coming off the bus or the ride he just got, Avi would run back home yelling all the way home, “Uncle Moshe is here, Uncle Moshe is here.” Mom then would rush and put some water on the fire and rush to the bathroom to make sure she looks presentable. I would run to great Uncle Moshe and skip around him with questions and tells that I had waited to tell him since his last visit.
Uncle Moshe was a funny guy, as much as I didn’t like the fact that we were never allowed to touch any of his stuff we still enjoyed his company. Every visit he would come with a new joke or a new prank to show us. Once he brought with him a whoopee-cushion and placed it under Mom’s seat. Another time he got a fake throw up and placed it in front of Avi and made him almost throw up for real. This time he showed us how to make a tower with matches. He pulled out his match box from his pocket and emptied it on the table. Carefully, he would place the matches one on top of the other. Slowly but surely, we had a match tower.
We played for a long time and before we went to bed, I asked Uncle Moshe to leave the tower as is so I can play with it the next day.
In the morning right after Mom has left for work Uncle Moshe realized that he didn’t have matches for his cigarettes anymore. “Can you go buy me some matches? He asked me. “Here are ten Agorot, go buy them while I get ready.
“Sure” I said and ran down to Sa’adya’s groceries store.
When I came back, I gave the box to Uncle Moshe and his 5 Agorot change. “Keep it” he said, buy yourself some candy.
Avi and I walked Uncle Moshe to the bus station and waited to bid him goodbye before he left. As soon as he climbed the bus, I ran back calling Avi to follow me to Sa’adya’s groceries store. We arrived there out of breath and I asked Sa’adya for another box of matches. “Didn’t I sell you another box just ten minutes ago?” he asked.
“Yes” I said, “it was for my Uncle Moshe, but he wanted one more.” I lied. I knew he wouldn’t sell me the matches if I told him it was for me to play with.
“Hmm,” he said, I don’t like it, but here you go, be careful!”
“Come let’s make the tower bigger,” I said to Avi.
“No,” he said, “let’s make a Koomzits.” Koom-zits is a Yiddish word for a campfire. It means ‘come and sit’. We, kids, loved to go to a Koomzits. There’s singing and dancing around the fire and the best part is the roasted potatoes.
“But we don’t have a place to do it” I said.
“We can do it in the living room” Avi suggested.
“No that could cause a fire and burn the house. We can maybe find a safe place in the back.” I said. We went to the backyard and then I saw the hut where Grandma Okev lived. It was a small house built out of tin.
“See?” I said. “This is a good place. Grandma Okev’s house is made of steel and it won’t burn. We can try making the campfire next to her house.”
“Good!” Avi cheered.
We gathered some small kindling and some paper and placed them next to the back wall of the hut. I tried to strike the match and light it but it didn’t work. They were either wet or I didn’t have the knowledge of how to do it.
“Let me try” Avi said.
“Sorry, you are too young” I said.
“No, I’m not!” He yelled. “If you can do it so could I.”
“No, you can’t.” I said again but then he started to cry and yell so loud that Mrs. Okev came out and to the back and asked; “What are you two doing behind my mother in law’s house?”
“Nothing” Avi and I answered in unison.
“Are these matches in your hands? Don’t you know a ‘five years old’ shouldn’t be playing with matches? Give them to me! Where did you get them from?”
“I’m not five years old.” I said. “I’m six, and I bought them at Sa’adya’s.” Reluctantly I extended my arm and gave her the matches.
In the afternoon when Mom came back, she walked in the house as we were playing with the match tower. “Come on kids!” She said. “It’s time for lunch and a nap.”
We came to the kitchen where she served us lunch and right after that we went to our rooms to sleep.
A few minutes after I got in my bed, I saw Mom coming in with something that looks like a butter knife in her hand. She approached the bed and asked me to extend my left hand forward. I did so and as she grabbed it with one hand, she pressed the knife on top of my hand with her other hand. It was hot. No, it was burning hot. I felt the pain instantly and it took me by surprise so that I couldn’t even cry.
“Now you’ll learn never to play with fire.” She almost whispered.
Next she went to Avi’s room and shortly after I heard his cry and I knew he was getting the same punishment.
It took a long time to heal. We had to go to the nurse for her to put some ointment and cover it with bandages. When she asked us, how come we both had the same wound at the same place I was too ashamed to tell her that I had a mother capable of such a thoughtless deed.
Avi’s wound took longer than mine to heal. But he forgot about it before too long. Yet, the scar that lasted with me was not the scar on my hand and I swore that no matter what, my kids will never feel that way about me.
The big day for Tova Okev has come. She is getting married tonight. I remember, just last week, they had the “Hinna” party for her, something like an engagement party, so the parents can agree that the couple may marry and so they can wish their children good luck on their wedding day. Sometimes I think, a Yemenite Hinna party is a bigger party than a wedding party.
For Orthodox Jews a co-ed party is not permitted. The men must be separated from the women. As for us children, it wasn't important. We were allowed to be anywhere we wanted. First, I spent some time with the men. They had some musicians playing Yemenite music, and they all were singing together.
At the women's party on a big chair sat Tova the bride. I couldn't recognize her. She was full of makeup. She was wearing a long red silk dress decorated with golden flowers. The dress covered her from neck to toe. On her feet she had golden pointy slippers curled up with tassels decorating the point in front. What she wore on her head was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. It was a tall tower, maybe two, maybe three feet tall, all covered with flowers, row by row, every row a different type. There was a row of red roses followed by a row of yellow daisies, followed by white carnations, and so on, and on, some twenty rows of flowers up to the pointy tip of the hat. On the sides of Tova's face I saw colorful straps holding the hat down. They were wrapped under her chin so tightly that she couldn't talk. It was even difficult for her to smile.
Hi Tova," I said, "congratulations!"
Poor Tova couldn't even nod. The hat was so heavy it weighed down her head. All she was able to do was move her cheeks a little to show some kind of a crooked smile.
Grandma Okev, a very old lady, was young again. She was singing and yelling from happiness, "lulululululu," in a very high pitch and at the same time drumming on an empty oil tin can. She surely wasn't herself. Usually she was slow and nasty. Every time when we, the children, came to see how she made the pitas in the round stone wood-burning oven, or how she makes the “mlawach”, the fried flaky dough, she would wave at us with her walking stick and yell something in Yemenite to get us out of there. But not today, today she was happy and silly, maybe drunk. She even offered me some of her pita and humus.
"Hot, hot, very hot!" I yelled, running out of the women's section for water. The humus had some red-hot sauce in it made out of small red peppers and lots of garlic.
"It's good for you! Ha ha ha!" the silly old lady yelled after me, but I couldn't stay to listen to her. I ran to the men's section and grabbed the first glass of water I saw and poured it straight down my throat, only to spit it right back.
"Yak!" It wasn't water, it was “arrak”, a homemade Yemenite alcoholic drink.
All the men laughed at the sight of my agony. I grabbed a pita and shoved all of it in my mouth and ran out of the room.
Purim was and still is my favorite holiday. We get to dress up like our favorite characters, we get to act silly. In fact, everyone dresses up. Not only kids; the bus drivers, the bank tellers, the teachers and everyone in the street. We all walked up and down the main street showing our costumes. We had parties at school, at friends’ houses and little celebrations at home. My friends from school would have “Homan Tashens” - little triangle folded cookies stuffed with sweeten puppy seeds we call them in Hebrew “The Ears of Haman” - “Oznei Haman”. My Mom would make her Tunisian pastries. “Orellets” - deep fried pasta like dough dipped in honey. Or “Yoyo” - hard donuts, also deep fried and dipped in honey. My dad loved them, and he used to dunk them in his morning coffee. Yet, one of our favorite things to do was the games we played.
Purim comes in the beginning of the spring in Israel and we all get to play outside, either with our toy guns being cowboys and Indians. Or for those of us who didn't have the money to buy toy guns who make real explosion noises we made our own home-made noise maker. There were two ways to make a noise maker (don't try it at home, these toys were banned because of bad accidents). It depends on how connected you are to tools. The more complicated was a bent steel rod with the long part being the handle. At the tip of the short side we drilled a hole the size of a thick nail. We got a nail and cot the sharp tip and made sure it fits well and snug in the hole. Now, we would scrape the tip of a match or two and stuff them in the hole. And cover it with the nail.
The way the game was played is simple. One of the kids would yell “Mi BaHoser” and as soon as we would answer “Haman” the kid with the toy would smack the nail hard on the concrete floor. An explosion would surely sound. As you know, the whole idea of making noise on Purim has to do with the “Megillah” - scroll, the story of queen Ester and when we read the name of Haman, we drowned his name with noise. “Mi BaHoser” was heavily Yemenite accented line from the scroll of Ester when the King asked his servants “who is in the yard” Mee BaHatzer” or as the Yemenite would pronounce it “Mi BaHoser” when we answered “Haman” you would hear an explosion.
The other version of this toy required a brave venture to your house and steal the drawer's key. You see, the key had a hole already in the tip. It fits exactly to the large nail. We would attach the nail to a metal string and the other end to loop of the key. Fold the wire in the middle and when time comes, we would smack the key while holding the wire from a distance. “Mi BaHoser” became the name of this dangerous toy. We played with them for a few years until it was banned, and people were actually arrested or payed fine for playing with it. Some kids like most kids were trying to make bigger and bigger noise by stuffing more match powder in the hole. And more than a few times the toy just exploded and hurt the kids.
Mi BaHoser? Boom!
"Tomorrow, children," Hagit, the first grade teacher, said, "We will do some art work. Bring some old magazines, some flour, and scissors."
Finally something interesting! You know, I don't like this school. When I was in the kindergarten, we did things. We built with blocks, painted pictures, played with play dough, and did constructive projects. But this year it's awful! All that we do is copy from the board and recopy at home. When the teacher wrote on the board on the first day "Shalom, First grade" and asked us to copy it in our new half size notebooks, I tried, really, I tried. It took me half an hour to draw the first letter on half of the page. Then, before I had the chance to finish the second letter, the bell rang. The second period I usually spent bothering naive Yemima or Big Rina, Margarina, the fat girl with the long braids.
I remember when one Friday I had to stay after school with her to clean the classroom. I almost burned her braids with the Shabat candles. That was after I found I couldn't set the blackboard on fire. Lucky for us the candles went out. When the teacher found out about it she gave me a note for my mom, but I buried it. Unfortunately, Yona, the dirty boy, dug it out and returned it to the teacher, and she delivered it by herself. I won't mention the troubles I got into.
Anyway, I asked Mom for some of her old French magazines and the scissors.
"Be careful with them," she said. "Those are my only pair. I need them for sewing."
"We will make New Year cards today, children." Hagit, the teacher, said. "Here you have blank cards. Let's make glue with water and flour. Be careful not to get dirty. Then I want you to cut flowers from the magazines, and we will glue them onto the cards."
And so we did. I cut flowers, I cut cartoons, poppies, babies, I cut everything. I made thirty or more cards. Thank god, the bell rang. I didn't know if I could do this for one minute longer.
"O.K. everybody," I announced, "Who wants a haircut?"
All the boys lined up in front of me, and while I stood on my chair, I started shearing everyone’s’ hair. Before the bell rang for the next period, I managed to snip all the boys' hair. I started to cut my own when I felt someone grabbing my arm. Hagit, the teacher, did not know what to say. She pulled me by the arm, turned me around, and spanked my behind. Well, this was nothing compared to what Dad did to me when he heard about it.
Nono Victor Disappointment
It wasn't easy to get Meme Julie to tell us stories. She was always busy preparing food or cleaning the house. But when she came to visit, which was very rare, we were able to get her to tell us some. We were always curious about our history, where meme came from? What did they do in Tunis and all kind of stuff.
“Israel has been and still is a wonderful country. It is the only democracy in the middle east. It has people from around the world and everyone is equal. But, some people equal more.” Meme July started her story. “I never wanted to come to Israel. We had good life in Tunis. Your grandfather was a very respectful man, he was a successful accountant. Nono was the town mayor's accountant and even your uncle Albert had a nice job, he owned a locksmith shop. It was nice until the Nazis showed up.
Everything had changed. Nono had to go to work at the loading dock for the German army and Albert was sent to another camp. I had to dress Robert with shorts, so they will think he was still a child. Lucky for us the war ended before we were sent to be exterminated. We had to start over again, but then the emissary from the 'Sochnut' - the Israeli organization came to Nono's office and promised him a good position if he leaves everything and move to Israel. ‘We will give you a respectful job a place to live and your kids will have a nice school to go to’. They promised.
Nono was an active Zionist, he believed that we all should move to Israel the land of the Jewish people. Nono took a big part in the Jewish Federation and was very involved. But we still had a problem. Tunis had a law that prevented the Jews to live the country. Jews who wanted to emigrate will have to live all their belongings in the country. They will lose everything. They were permitted to take only what they can carry in their suitcase. I am still not sure how I agreed to move. Even after the Nazis we managed to pick up. Tunis was under the French protection and the new Arab government wasn't full in force yet. So, we packed as much as we could all nine of us and we boarded a ship to Marseille, France.
Problems have started as soon as we arrived there. We were not permitted to continue to Israel for a whole year. We were put in a quarantine camps in cramped barracks – until they were sure that no one has some made up African disease. All the kids got the flue instead and we had to send Albert to the hospital. Once we finally arrived at Israel, (your mom was very seasick the whole way there) they put us in, yet another, camp. This one was in a Moshav in the south of Israel. Each family received a tent with water supply in the center of the camp. 'Until we build your housings' they promised. When Nono went to acquire about the promises he received in Tunis he got nowhere. He needed a letter of recommendation from an official who knows his work, ethic and experience. Unfortunately, all the officials were from eastern Europe. Of course, they didn't know him. They would rather give the jobs to people they knew in Poland, Romania, Russia, Germany or Hungary, people with much less experience or credentials. “Protexia” we called it and it followed us for many years.
Nono had to take a job away from us, paving the roads south to Eilat. In the heat with hard labor he wasn't used to. He would come home (to the tent) only on Friday afternoon for Shabat and leave early morning every Sunday. Until he got a mild stroke. He was sent to the hospital and lost site in one eye. We were offered a small apartment in Beer-Sheva and Nono was hired by the town to be the town's gardener. You see? That public playground in the middle of our neighborhood, where you and your cousins play every time you come to visit was built by Nono.
“Every year, from now on,” Said Hagit our teacher, “you will be having a trip somewhere. At first it will be a short trip for a few hours but when you grow up it could be for a few days.”
“Nice!” I said I love trips.
“This year, I mean, next week,” continued Hagit, “Sunday, I want you to come to school without your books or notebooks. But bring some extra food and a water canteen. We will be going on a local trip by foot to Kfar Vitkin and also visit the ‘House of the First’. You should all have comfortable shoes and a hat. No flipflops, which are banned from school anyway.”
I was very excited; we never went on a trip. Well, except with our parents and the rest of our class on “Yom HaZikaron” our Memorial Day, to the memorial square in Netanya. This time we were going on a trip with our teacher and 2 chaperoning parents. No bus ride, we took a long hike. Our school was at the edge of our neighborhood. It was just sand dunes for a long distance. We started walking north of our school on the sand dunes. It was a warm day; we don’t have rainy days in the month of May, so we all were wearing hats – most of us “Kova Tembel” loosely translated “stupid hat”. It was an Israeli symbol, a blue cotton hat. We had a canteen with water and our lunch on our shoulder bags.
“Keep in line,” said Hagit. “Rina! Don’t lag behind, we should all stay together.”
“But look Hagit,” answered Rina Margarina. It’s a skull, like in the western movie I saw yesterday.”
Sure enough, it was a cow’s Skull. All dried up and white as a paper. We all looked at it in awe.
“All right kids, time to keep going we have a long way in front of us and a lot to see,” said Hagit.
About an hour after we left our school, we arrived to Kfar Vitkin.
“This is my house, the one at the edge of the village, right in front of us.” Hagit was very proud to point up. “Look, right in the back here is the cowshed. We raise cows for milk. I want you to meet my husband, he will show you how we milk the cows and what we do with the milk.”
Hagit’s husband was very friendly (I think even more that his wife) he showed us how they milk the cows by hands and how they do it with a machine. We saw how they bring food to the cows and even how they clean up after them. I must tell you; the smell was not so pleasant. But after a while you kind of get used to it. He showed us how they keep the milk in a big tank and how they transfer it to big containers to ship them to the market. After that we all went to her house and Hagit served us cookies and cold raspberry juice, and we left to walk back toward our school.
We had one more stop on the way, “The House of the First”. It was an old stone house on top of a small hill. It was empty and decapitated. The floor was broken up with cracks and sand all over, the windows were shattered and outside of the house was a very old truck and some rusted plow.
“This house is called ‘the house of the first’ because many years ago new immigrants decided to come back to Israel and rebuild it. Said Hagit, “this group was about 20 people who bought it from a Lebanese man and started to work the land. Unfortunately, almost all of them got very sick with Malaria from the mosquitos who were all over the place around this land. This land was mostly swamps. Most of the immigrants died, and only later on when a next group arrived, they brought with them Eucalyptus plants. The trees required a lot of water and were a great way to dry the swamps. After that people have spread and built other houses around – including my house,” said Hagit proudly. Later on, it became a school for the resistance who fought against the Arabs in the war of independence.”
By the time we got back to our school it was time to go home. We all had stories to tell our parents and we couldn’t wait to see where we will go the following year.
“What about your homework?” asked Hagit our teacher.
“I didn't do it. It is too confusing.” I said.
“What so confusing about it? All you had to do was to copy exactly what you wrote in class yesterday.”
“Well, it's exactly that ...” I said with half a smile on my face.
“Let me see your notebook.” I handed it to her unwillingly.
“That is all you wrote?” she almost screamed. “A word and a half?”
“Well, like I said, it was confusing.”
“What was confusing? All you had to do was to copy what's on the black board.”
“I wasn't paying attention; I think I kind of fell asleep. It was boring”
that was it, Hagit lost it. I don't quite remember what she said but it wasn't fun I am sure she was yelling and screaming at me all I remember was the yelling. “I am going to give you a Note to take to your Mom,” she said. “You give it to her and make sure she reads it and comes to talk to me tomorrow.
I took the note and put it in my pocket.
On the way home I kept on thinking, “What is it about this note? My Mom Can't read it not my Dad – they don't read Hebrew; Even I have a problem reading it. I always had hard time reading. I never volunteered to read in class, and no one ever helped me. I was the “slow kid, the hopeless, one the different one, not the Ashkenazi one.” I took the note out of my pocket, dug a small hole in the ground and buried it in. What I didn't know was that some other kid saw me do it and waited for me to go, dug it out and gave it back to the teacher. The next morning Hagit faced me and said “I am walking you home today. I will talk to your mom myself.”
That afternoon we walked silently back, and I had to hide a bit when she was talking to my mom.
“Wait till your dad shows up this afternoon. You kept on telling me you had no homework while your teacher here tells me you had plenty every day.”
It was Friday afternoon; Dad came home early for Shabat. Do I have to tell you? He wasn't happy. “You are not eating dinner with us tonight,” he said. You will be spending the night outside in the shed where people who don't tell the truth stay, and you will be having your dinner there too.”
That evening, after I showered and dressed up with the fresh pajamas, I took a blanket, my dinner plate and Dad ceremoniously walked me to the shed. “You will spend the night here alone.” He said. He stayed outside a few feet away from the shed watching over me. I know because I heard him through the thin walls of the shed and I even smelled his cigarette.
I finished my dinner and tried to sleep on the floor when he walked in. “Did you learn your lesson?” He asked. We don't lie, we do our homework, and we listen to our teachers. Is that clear? Or next time you will feel my belt on your behind... Get your stuff and come home.” Obviously, he didn't want to stand outside the shed all night...
“In three days, we will be celebrating Shavuot,” announced Hagit, “The school will be closed but on the day after tomorrow we will celebrate it with our main school in Avihayil.”
“Are we going to have classes in Avihayil?” Asked Shlomo Yarhi.
“No dear,” she answered, “after school you will be going home to change, and we will meet hear for the parade.”
“Mom!” I need your help”, I need to get ready for the parade.
“Look at the note,” I said.
“What Note? You know I can’t read Hebrew, what does it say?”
“We have a parade today at 5:00 to Avihayil. We need to dress all in white and we need a wreath on our head. Oh, we also need some fruit and vegetables to donate. I will put them during the basket we made in arts and craft class. They will be selling them in an auction to raise money for our school.”
At 5:00PM we were all lined up in pairs. All dressed in white I stood with Shlomo Yarhi, right behind Avi Dagan and Dana. We all had our wreath, even the 4th graders. Mine was made out of an olive branch with a thin strip of the palm tree. My basket was full of oranges, apples, tomatoes, and cucumbers. 2 each.
“Where is your drink?” Asked Shlomo Yarhi.
“I didn’t bring any.”
“Did you forget?”
“No, my Mom said I shouldn’t drink, she thinks I will sweat and catch a cold.”
“That’s stupid!” He proclaimed.
“Don’t call me stupid!”
“I didn’t, it was your Mom who told you…”
I didn’t want to answer him. I was getting thirsty already.
The walk to Avihayil was about 2 miles and it would have taken us almost an hour to get there. Except the incident on the way with Rachel from the second grade. Apparently, her Mom also thought it was a bad Idea to drink water. We were singing all the way up the long hill leading to Avihayil Songs for Shavuot, songs about our school, about shabbat and just popular songs. Rina Margarina was the best singer.
The first group leading our parade were the 4th grade all carrying their baskets on their shoulders, singing; “Saleinu Al Kteifeinu,” – our baskets are on our shoulders. Behind them walked proudly the 3rd grade and they were carrying a little smaller basket. The second grade were loud and rowdy. Their teacher had a hard time keeping them in order. It took the school principle a few times to ride back and forth on his “Vespa” and yelling at them for them to line up and shut up. We were the last group trying not to follow in the second grade’s mischief. But then we heard yells and screams. Rachel collapsed. The principal rode back and asked for water from the teacher. And poured it on Rachel’s head. After a short while she got up and someone had to walk her back home.
At Avihayil we got very excited when we walked under their famous big oak tree that shaded the whole entrance over the road and the sidewalk. It felt like we were walking into a refrigerator. The difference in the temperature was obvious. We sat on the grass facing the stage where it was decorated with piles of hey and big tractors pulling carts full of produce drove in front of the stage just before the performance. They had the choral singing summer songs and even an Israeli folk dance company came to perform in front of us. Despite the incident with Rachel we were all in a good mood. Right at the front of the stage where we placed our offerings, we saw some big baskets with all kind of goodies. When we finally started the auction, our teacher signaled us to start gathering and walk back home.
Dad was waiting for me at the school already when we finally arrived. I was exhausted and he put me on his shoulder.
“Dad” I said.
“Can I have water next time we go on a march like today?” I am very thirsty, and Rachel fainted. She dried up.”
Just before the summer vacation we moved to a new house in the “Se’orah” Street – Barley Street. This neighborhood had streets named after the seven important species of Israel. Like Date, Fig, Pomegranate, Wheat, Barley, Grapes, and Olives. Each had a street. They were mostly short streets and I had friends in every street who went to school with me. Mom had to continue work for half a day to be able to pay the rent and to be able to save for a house of our own. So, she had a plan for us kids. Avi stayed with his friend Moshiko at their house and his mom watched over him. I was to go to a morning “Keitana” - Day Camp. The town on Netanya like other towns sponsored a day camp so people could send their kids cheaply to some activities. Of course, there were other private day camps, but they were too expensive for us.
To tell you the truth, I hated it. First, I had to take a bus to the camp which was in the outskirts of our town in an old British Army camp from before Israel’s independence. The bus was so crowded even in the station there were so many kids they actually stepped on my feet. I was wearing flipflops, so every day I would get more blacks and blues all over my body. The only thing I liked was the arts and crafts, sort of. We made very simple projects. Using a mix of flour, water and paper we made all kind of statues and masks. I didn’t like the soccer games or basketball. In short, I didn’t like any of the activities. We were all spread in tents around the campground, each grade group in a tent. We had worst bathrooms than the one we had in the old shack. The were stinky narrow cabins with a big hole in the bottom. Deep in the bottom they had limestone powder. I was always afraid to fall in. The worse part was the food. Everything was dairy., bread with cheese, bread with butter, a container of yogurt or heavy cream. You know, I don’t eat milk products. I hated to eat anyway but having to smell that was too much for me. That day I went home hungry, so mom prepared a tuna sandwich for me for the next day.
The next day wasn’t much better. Except for the small plains who were flying low over us for some reason. I always dreamed of flying.
“Aouch!” I heard Just before lunch time. A girl was screaming and crying. 5 minute later we heard an ambulance.
“what Happened?” I asked.
“Scorpion,” was the answer, “a yellow scorpion.”
The girl was stung by a dangerous yellow scorpion and was rushed to the hospital.
“I don’t care how much you payed for that camp, Mom,” I said when I got home. I was full of tears. “I hate it there!” And today we had a bad scorpion stinging one girl. She went to the hospital; she could have died. They told us scorpions are hiding under the rocks in the heat. I don’t want to die. I am not going back.”
“OK” said Mom. “Your brother doesn’t get along with Moshiko anyway so you two will have to stay home together. But no more acting up with crazy things like you did at the Okevs. You are a big boy now!”
The rest of the summer we spent playing with the neighbor’s kids. An old lady at the front of our street came to check on us every so often and made sure we ate lunch before Mom came back from work. The best part was when Dad came back from work, we would collect big white snails and use them for bait and went fishing. We didn’t have time to look for worms.
"Take this! And this! And that!"
The sword in my hand was long and thin, the enemy was tall and strong, but I was quicker. Every one of his strokes were averted and avoided. It was hard, but I was hitting back. As small as I was, almost as tall as the length of my sword, I was able to avoid every attempt to hit me. He was coming from the left and from the right. I was sliding from side to side. He hit from above and my sward would be waiting for him and diverting his attack. Finally, as he was lunging forward, my sword made a big circle twisting his arm and sending his sword up high in the air. Immediately, I extended my arm forward and the sword was pushed right into the exposed, soft, tan and beautiful stomach of… No! It was Leah Stetski my second-grade teacher. The real pretty woman, the only pretty woman in our school. The love of my life…
I woke up all shaking and sweating from the fear of hurting the only woman I ever loved.
The sun was starting to rise, and it was time to get up and go to school. Today was a special day -- we had a field trip to Tel-Aviv to visit the house of the laureate poet Haim Nahman Bialick. I remember the stories that Leah was reading to us of his childhood in Russia. He was a dreamer, like me. He never learned much in his little “heder,” a small room full of boys and a very serious Rabbi. All the kids are seated around one table, and all are trying to learn the Alpha Bet. Bialick was very imaginative. He would imagine the letters as characters. The Aleph would be a Chinese man carrying two buckets or the Gimel would be an old man with a walking stick. Bialick wrote a lot of poems that became later on popular songs. Some of his stories were written for children, and some were for adults. One of his most popular songs was “Welcome Back Little Bird”. The bird was just arriving from the South East and Bialick was asking if it delivered his love to the land of Israel.
Now, Bialick was dead. He was one of the first settlers in the new town Tel-Aviv. After his death his widow donated his house to the town, and it became a museum. Today we were going to visit the place. It was going to be a long day. After the museum we would be going to the zoo. Our school was a very small school. We had only 4 classes from first to fourth. There was no way that our class would fill a bus. We were grouped together with another second grade from a neighboring village. Avichail was a small farmers village right next to our town. It had a very big school that held kids from the neighboring villages. Our school was a satellite location of this school.
All of us in one bus were all excited and eager to get to Tel-Aviv. Lea, the love of my life, was standing in the front of the bus with a microphone in her hand and she was leading us all in singing our favorite songs. I was seated next to Rina “Margarina” the real big girl. It was fun sitting next to her. She knew all the words for the songs. I wish I knew them too. I loved singing and with Lea leading us -- there was nothing better.
Two rows in front of me I saw something I’ve never seen in my whole life. It was soft, silky, long, and almost white. This little blond hair girl was jumping up and down in front of me singing her heart out. The hair was flowing softly from side to side almost like waving at me to look at it. And you can bet I was looking at it. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was trying to see the face that came with that hair. Unfortunately, she was looking forward and I couldn’t see her face. I couldn’t take my eyes off her during the whole ride to Tel-Aviv and when we arrived at the author’s house I managed to jump over Rina “Margarina” and rushed to the front of the bus. By the time I got there she was already gone.
I don’t remember anything of what we saw in the museum. All I remember was that bouncing flowing blond hair. I followed her from room to room. Trying very hard not to be too obvious. In the library I had to push my way through the crowd but again when I got to the front of the line she wasn’t there anymore. I rushed out to the living room just to see her passing to the staircase and climb to the bedroom.
Excuse me, excuse me, I would ask every person I bumped into and push my way up the stairs. Oh, no! When I got there, she wasn’t there anymore. I couldn’t believe it. She has disappeared. I spent the whole hour looking for her. Still have not been able to see her face. All I remembered was the bouncing light almost white hair.
At the zoo I remember seeing the birds and the elephants I saw the lions and the tigers but all the time I was looking for my newly found “friend.”
Early in the afternoon when it was time for us to go back home, I was dragging my feet along the way back to the bus. My head drooped down and I had no desire for anything but go home. I lost that chance to see who is behind that white hair. That new creature that was so unfamiliar to me. Walking slowly, I fail to notice the giggly voices behind me and not until I was just about to go up the bus, I heard this voice asking, “aren’t you going up, or are you going to stay here all day?” I lifted my head to see who’s talking to me and I found myself facing these big round blue eyes with long eyelashes. Her full lips were red and pulled into a cute smile. I stood there mesmerized and my mouth slowly opened as I was looking at the long blond hair that hung softly around the smiling face. It felt like the world stopped moving. All I saw was the blond girl. I failed to notice Rina “Margarina” pushing her way trying to get to her seat next to the window and over the wheel. Not until she gave me a shove that almost pushed me to the floor did, I start going up the steps.
I did go up the steps, backward, I saw nothing I felt nothing all I was looking at was the little cute face with the big blue eyes, the full lips and the long blond hair. I didn’t even feel Rina pulling me next to her. All I saw was the new girl sitting next to the window on top of the wheel across the aisle from us. She was still talking to her friend and being very excited she didn’t even notice my stares. Only Rina “Margarina” has felt the change that occurred in me. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked but I didn’t even hear her.
All the way home my eyes were fixed on the new girl. I never learn what her name was when we dropped her in her village “Michmoret” I tried to remember where her house was. And all the way home I was thinking of the day when I will be in 5th grade and join her class.
That night I was dreaming of the zoo. The huge birds that were as big as elephants were waddling in their fenced ground and next to the fence were walking two kids holding hands and giggling one little boy with dark skin and curly hair and a little girl with big blue eyes and long blond hair
I'll tell you this story if you promise not to tell anyone and keep it a secret between us.
Meme Mili walked in Friday afternoon, struggling through the door with her suitcase and a large, flat cardboard box that was shaking from side to side. Oddly, every time it moved it made a chirping noise, and it sounded like something was sliding inside.
"Let me help you, Meme," I said and rushed to the door.
"Take the suitcase, please," she answered. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," I said, "what's in the box?"
"All in good time," she said with a smile. "It's a holidays gift for you and your brother."
Mom walked in the room looking at the odd box and said, "Now what is this? Welcome and happy New Year Ma"
Right behind her was Avi, my brother, yelling, " Meme, Meme, what did you get us?"
We took Meme's case to the bedroom and she put the box on the floor. The noise in the box was getting louder. Then she opened it. I couldn't believe my eyes; neither could Mom or Avi.
There were 40, maybe 50, little yellow fuzzy round chicks. They made so much noise when the box was opened.
"Oh, how cute!" I said.
"Oh, my god! You're crazy," Mom said. Avi reached out to grab them when Mom stopped him saying, "Don't, it's not a toy." She grabbed his hand just before he got to them or he probably would have crushed some. Avi didn't understand his strength.
That night we kept the chicks in the shower. Early the next morning Dad and I started to build a chicken coop. First, we dug holes to put the posts in. Next we stretched the chicken wire around the posts.
"You see," Dad explained," the net has to be fine so the chicks can't get out and the weasels can't get in."
"What is a weasel?"
"It's a skinny long animal that likes to eat chicks, or even big chickens. It catches them by the neck, sucks the blood out of them, and then it eats them."
"And it's a very smart animal, too. It can go through very fine wire fence, or sneak under the fence. That is why we are putting this board on the ground to hold the fence down."
When we finished the fence and put the gate up, we made a little house where the chicks could sleep at night. For that we also made a door and a lock. Only after we checked to see that there were no holes around the fence and that the little house was safely sealed, did we let the little chicks in.
First, we fed them bread soaked in water. Then we bought chicken feed and mixed it with the wet bread.
"You should let them out once in a while," our next-door neighbor said one day to my dad.
"They will eat the grass and some worms and that will balance their diet."
From that day, we started to let the chicks out every other day for an hour or so. I became their shepherd and Avi my brother, was my helper. We had to make sure that they didn't leave the property, and that they didn't eat what they weren't supposed to eat. Then, after the hour was over, we had to gather them into their coop. Let me tell you something, it wasn't easy. We had to scream, yell, kick, and what-not to get them in.
We did that for about a year. Every other day we let them out, watched them, and then gathered them in. Avi developed a game with the chickens. As a matter of fact, there were 39 roosters and one hen. They were like a small congregation. With a leader, a second-in-command, then the rest, with some strong roosters and some just followers. When we were gathering them into the coop the leader always was the last to go in and even after it was in and the gate was shut, it would protest. It'd jump up on the fence trying to open the gate. Avi loved it. He would stand there and kick the fence, and the rooster would jump even higher. Sometimes the second-in-command would join in the fight and jump just as high. So, I also joined and kicked the fence, too. They jumped very high; they passed our height every time trying to hit our faces. For some odd reason, they never tried to jump at us when we let them out. Maybe because they relied on the protection of the fence. Maybe because they were happy out there and didn't have any reason to fight, or maybe because it was the two of us against them, and they knew they didn't have a chance.
One day Avi was sick, and he couldn't come to help me. It was me and the chickens. No problems! Right? Sure, right. I opened the doors, and just as usual, the chickens stormed out and started wandering around looking for food. I sat down on a bench that Dad had made a long time ago and watched the chickens doing their thing. Suddenly I remembered that Dad wanted me to rearrange the back yard because we had made a mess when we played orange packaging, you know, like in the big plant where they sort the oranges and package the best for shipment overseas.
I got up and started picking up the toys. They were scattered all over the back yard. I walked and picked up the toys, walked and picked up, again and again. When I got to the small and heavy table, the one Mom does the laundry on, I bent over to pick it up. Then I felt something behind me. I turned around and that leader of the pack was right in front of my eyes jumping up and down trying to poke me in the face. I dropped the table and tried to scare him away but then came the second-in-command and he tried to poke me, too.
"Ma! Ma!" I yelled and started running away from them. "Ma! Ma! Maaaa!"
Mom came out wearing a towel around her head. She was still wet from the shower. "What? What happened?" she asked while she tightened her shower robe. Then she started laughing, and she laughed loud and laughed again.
"Mom! Do something!"
The two roosters were right behind me jumping and poking my behind. I ran faster, but they were right behind me.
Mom stepped out to the yard still laughing. She took the towel off her head and waved it at the wild roosters. The second-in-command turned around, and Mom chased it away, but the leader was still behind me. I ran out of our yard into the street with the rooster behind me. Mom realized that the rooster was still behind me, so she ran to the street, too. By now, I was all the way out at the end of our street at the main street next to the bus stop with the rooster behind me, and Mom, cracking up, waving the towel behind it. Everybody on the street stopped to look at that embarrassing situation. The moment I got to the station; the bus arrived. I jumped into the opened door and looked behind me while the bus started moving. Mom reached the rooster, threw the towel on it, caught it by its legs, and took it home. At the next station I got off thanking the bus driver for the help and walking out without looking back, but I could feel the stares penetrating my back.
Guess what we ate for Rosh Hashana's dinner?
“Nanou”, Mom called me. “We will be having guests this weekend, so I want you to clean up your room with your brother and clear up the mess in the back yard. Do your homework early so you will have time to play with Yehoshua”.
“Yehoshua HaParu'aa?” I asked. There is a children song and an illustrated book called “Yehoshua HaParu'aa” it translates to “the Wild Joshua”. It tells about a boy who didn't like to wash, groom himself or even cut his hair and nails. His hear grew long and his nails where so long he couldn't hold anything. His teeth were black and so on.
“No, silly!” He is the son of Dodah Dolly - your uncle Albert's wife's sister. (Are you confused yet? Well, I was.) Do you remember, my mother oldest brother Albert? He married a beautiful, tall blond who came from a famous family. Her father was a descendant from a long family of Rabbis in Tunisia. By the time they moved to Israel, Dolly has lost most of her blond color of her hair and it turned darker from the hot sun in the Israeli “Negev”. They have 2 children, Yudit and Haim. Yudit is 2 years older than me and Haim is a year younger than me. Every time we visit them Yudit likes to play school. She puts us all together sitting on wooden crates and she teaches us songs and draws picture on a small black board. I bet you she will become a real teacher when she grows up. Mom said that her Mother Dolly is planning to open a preschool day care and Yudit will be her assistant.
Anyway, Dodah Dolly has a sister who lives in Jerusalem and she is coming to visit us for the weekend. They have never been on the beach and decided to come and stay with us for a few days and go to the beach. Everybody loves to stay with us when they want to go to the beach. Mom is a good host; she cooks and makes sure everyone has a comfortable place to sleep even if we all have to share the same room.
“You will have to share your bed with your brother” she said. “Yehoshua will be sleeping on Avi's bed with his Mother. So, go and start cleaning up your room.”
You have to understand, when Mom says “your room,“ she really means Avi's room. Avi has his own room now with all the toys. I sleep in the entrance to the house on a folding army bed. We play in Avi's room or outside when the weather is nice.
“We will be going to visit them too.” Mom promised, “when your brother is old enough and you will get to see Jerusalem.”
The next day both Avi and I were waiting eagerly to meet our new “cousin” and get to show him all the toys we made and play with him. Well, Wild Yehoshua was a clean boy and nicely dressed. But the moment we showed him to Avi's room he jumped on all the toys and within less than five minutes he managed to mess up the room and ran to the back yard and messed it up too. All the work we put was wasted. The toys were all over the place half of them broken, and when we went to the beach, he almost drowned because he didn't stop running around, his mom chasing him all over until he ran into the sea and a big wave knocking him down. My dad had to jump in and pull him out.
Maybe he wasn't as dirty as “Yehoshua HaParu'aa” but he was just as messy and wild. It took Avi and me a week to fix the toys and the mess he made.
The Huge Hamantaschen
"Purim is coming soon," Leah my favorite teacher announced. "We are going to put on a play for Purim with the second-grade class. Now I want you to behave yourselves like an older class is supposed to."
She was so pretty. I think that I fell in love with her right from the beginning at the second grade. She was tall and slim. She had dark hair and green eyes, and she spoke so softly and nicely even when I was bad. Now I got used to it, but at the beginning I was so in love that I couldn't concentrate in class. I would daydream about how we would walk on the beach and how she would hold me in her arms and how...
"Wake up Haim! You are not paying attention again!" she would say to me, and I would look at her with this sorry look so that she would forgive me. Sometimes she would ask,
"What are you dreaming about all the time?"
Now really, what can I tell her? Put yourself in my place, what would you do? "Sorry teach! I was dreaming about you and me on the beach?" Yeah sure!
"Uh (or Aw) nothing, I don't know, nothing." this was all the extent of my answers.
I remember how last year she took a leave when she was pregnant. Even then she was beautiful. I, Arnon, Shlomo, and Zvia -- the girl without the underwear -- went to visit her on Shabat day. We spent all day looking for her house and when finally, we found it she was not there. She went to the hospital to deliver a baby girl. I can't wait to see how she will look when she'll grow up. I bet she'll be just as pretty.
It just happened that Avi and I had gone to see a Purim play at the “Ester Theater”. It was called "The Huge Hamantaschen", and guess what, this was the play our teachers wanted to put on. Do you know the cliché about the ship and the two captains? Well, that is exactly what happened. All of us were outside in front of our classes waiting for our parts and instructions, but it seemed that the teachers couldn't make up their minds.
"That's not how it goes," my teacher would say, "The old woman doesn't have the flour to bake..."
"Oh yes, she does," the other teacher would say, "but her husband doesn't have a job and he just..."
"No, no!" Leah would get angry, but they handled themselves pretty well. They went for advice to the expert.
"I saw the play last week," I approached them. "Maybe I can help."
"How well do you remember?" the other teacher asked.
I wanted to answer, but Leah my favorite teacher did it for me.
"He has a perfect memory. Last week he recited half of the movie he saw. I wish he'd put in the same effort remembering the stuff I teach."
Here we go again, go tell her that she is the reason I can't concentrate in class. Anyway, they listened to my advice and appointed me assistant director. I also got the part of the hero who saves the poor family and pulls the huge Hamantaschen out of the oven. Even Mom came through. She sowed for me the best soldier outfit from Dad’s old uniform. Together with the “Uzi” toy gun Dad bought that looked so real, I was the perfect hearo.
The play was a success. Everybody was cheering and clapping, and I had to come out many times to bow.
"You're some artist!" said my beloved teacher.
“Well, that's what I want to be when I grow up.”
“I have a chore for you today” Mom announced, “I need you to go Se'adya buy some oranges for us.” Se'adya was the store owner next to the place we used to live (remember? My brother hit me over the head with a rake in his yard?) “Go visit with your friends Itai and Gabi” she said. “Don't stay too long, and on the way back home pick up 5 kilos of oranges. He has the best navel oranges and he gives us a good price. Here is some money and be careful on the road.”
I missed playing with Itai and Gabi. Ever since we moved to the “Se'ora” (Barley) Street. It was about a mile away. Both of them were in the orthodox school at the end of their street. I went to the secular school at the other end of our neighborhood, so we didn't have much time together anymore. There for whenever I had the chance to visit them it was a fun day for me. Itai's father was working at the Moshav Avihayil milking cows and he used to bring us milk daily. Not anymore unfortunately, now we have another milk mad who exchanges our empty milk bottles with full ones next to our door every morning.
Itai had a “Pitango – Surinam Cherry Tree” in their back yard. It was another reason I loved spending time with them. Their tree was big – much bigger than most. The Pitango tree usually was actually a bush they use for hedges. But this one was a tree with tons of fruit almost year-round. The Pitango is a red fruit with a distinct sweet smell and taste. When it isn't fully ripe it has a very sweet and a little sour taste. I loved it when it was fully ripe dark red and juicy. It has a big pit a little bigger than the cherry but softer, so you have to be careful not to bight through it, it is very bitter.
Itai was a very generous kid, if I expressed that I liked one of his toys he would mediately give it to me. In no time I had my pockets filled with all kind of small toys. Before I headed home, I had to give them all back because his mother showed up and made a big scene about it and demanded I returned them. I wish I kept at least one as a memoir of my best friend. But this is another story I would tell you some time letter.
At Se’adya’s place I picked up the heavy load of oranges and walked home for dinner.
Today the big tractor came again. It was yellow, big and noisy. All the kids were afraid of it. Yona, the dirty boy called it a bulldozer. "You see," he said, "if it doesn't have wheels, it's a bulldozer." That big thing didn't have wheels; it had these odd-looking chains, one on each side, like the big old tank in the Hebrew Battalion Museum in Avichail.
Last week when the tractor came for the first time, the driver dug a big hole in the ground and made a bigger pile of sand next to it. After the driver left and the tractor was sitting silently with its huge plow on the ground, (Dad told me that the reason for the low position was to prevent kids from getting crushed by the heavy plow when it's left alone after work.) we all went to play on the big pile. Yona, the dirty boy, sat on the tractor, made loud noises, moved his arms up and down, and pretended he was the driver. All the rest of us played on the pile. We would climb to the top of the pile and then roll down to the bottom of the pit, or sometimes, we'd slide down on our bellies. I found a big piece of cardboard from a large box and used it as a sled to go down the steep hill fast. It was lots of fun.
The next day the tractor covered the hole and left, but the following day it came again to the other side of the street next to Gadi's house near the newcomers' temporary settlement. "They're building more houses for more newcomers from Morocco," Gaddi said. "That's what my dad told me," he added. Again, at the end of the day when the tractor driver left, we all went to play in the pile, going up and down, up and down. Again, the next day the tractor covered the hole and left us without the pile. I remember how we all stood next to the temporary fence that said, "Keep out, people working" and sadly saw our favorite playground disappearing.
So, we decided to protest. Today, before the tractor started to cover the hole, we would climb on the pile and play. As soon as we got back from school, we went to the site and snuck behind the one-armed foreman who was yelling at the driver, "Left, right, left, left, no, no, right!" We climbed the hill, tumbled down to the pit and up again, just to roll down again. All that without knowing that the tractor had started to cover the pit.
"Get away from there, right now!" We heard the foreman yelling at Yona, the dirty boy, who was at the bottom of the pit. "You too," he pointed with his only arm at the newcomer boy from Morocco, Rammi.
Rammi and his older brother Pierre had been in Israel only two months, and they didn't speak Hebrew yet. I spoke French with them, and I was the translator for the children in our neighborhood. Rammi was only four-and-a-half, and Pierre was eight. He was supposed to be in the class above mine, but he went to the orthodox school and was kept back a year because of his difficulties with Hebrew.
"Out, out, all of you! All of you! Can't you see we are working here?" The foreman kept on yelling at us. None of us wanted to stop playing, but we had no choice. I translated the message to Rammi and Pierre, and they got out of the pit.
"Out there, behind the fence, all of you!"
He was a mean man. The foreman obviously didn't like children.
We all stood next to the fence and sadly watched the big ugly tractor covering our playground, when suddenly, Rammi jumped into the pit. He started climbing the pile at the same time that the tractor was pushing the sand into the pit, and before a moment passed the little boy was covered.
"Get out of there," I yelled in French, but Rammi did not get out; he was all covered.
"We have to do something," I said. But no one was there. I looked back and saw all the children running away yelling while Pierre was running toward his home crying,
"Mama, Mama, Mama."
For a moment I didn't know what to do. I stood motionless, for a long time, I think. Then, I don't know how, but I found myself in front of that big monster waving my hands and yelling. "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
The driver didn't see me, neither did the one-armed foreman. The noise of the tractor was very loud, nobody heard me. So, I shoved two fingers in my mouth and blew a loud whistle I ran to the side of the tractor. The moment the driver stopped, I climbed on those ugly chains and yelled,
"Stop, stop. Th... th... there's a boy covered in... in the hole."
The driver immediately jumped out and said,
"What? Where? Come with me."
So, we both ran down the pit and started to dig. From the corner of my eye I saw the other kids running back from their homes, Gaddi with his father; Yona, the dirty boy, with his big mother; Moshiko with his father and his funny Turkish grandfather; and Pierre with both of his parents. As the driver and I started to dig, he yelled,
"Someone, please get an ambulance!"
The sand was fine, and it was very easy to move. Before too long we pulled Rammi out. He was all blue and lifeless. He looked like a rag hanging on the driver's arms. The driver laid Rammi flat on the ground and bent over him to blow air in his mouth. Is that how dead people look? I wondered to myself.
"What happened?" I heard someone asking.
"My baby!" his mother screamed.
The driver was still blowing air in Rammi's mouth when the paramedic arrived, and, at the same time Rammi opened his eyes, coughed loudly, and started crying.
"We will have to take him to the hospital. Who are his parents?" the paramedic asked.
"We are right here," Rammi's father answered in broken Hebrew.
The paramedic picked up Rammi, and they all left in the ambulance. At the same time the police arrived and made their way into the crowd that surrounded me and the driver.
"Who saw what happened?" the tall policeman asked.
"I did," I said.
"You? Come here. We have some questions to ask you."
Well, the police were not the only people to ask questions, because after the police took the information from me and took the driver to the station, I had to spend the rest of the evening, the next day, and the rest of the week talking about it.
Chicken without a head
I’m sure you have heard the expression “running like a chicken without a head”. It took me a long time to connect my memories to the actual quote so believe me it makes a lot of sense.
When it was time to take the leader of the flock to his executioner it was I who went with Mom to the Rabbi. This Rabbi was also the local “shochet” -- slaughterer. People would bring the chickens to him and would pay him 10 Agorot per chicken. And he would slaughter the poor fowl.
“I’m not going next to that rooster.” I told Mom as we were going to the back yard to get the chicken. “Well, I’ll get this one but it’s your job to catch his friend.”
Reluctantly, I agreed and we both walked in the chicken coop and started to look for the culprits. Finding the leader of the band was an easy task. He came out to greet us as we walked in. Immediately I positioned myself behind Mom.
“Would you please relax!” said Mom. “He won’t hurt you. Now go get the other one. Here’s the string to tie his legs with”.
Easier said than done: As Mom was snatching the leader of the band I was trying to get his second in command. The noise that the leader was making probably alerted all the other chicken because now they were all gathered in one corner of the coop and as soon as I got there, they all moved to the other corner. All that time, still making even more noise. They were squawking and jumping one on top of each other that it was hard for me to see where is the chicken I wanted to get. When I finally located him, I lounged at the pile of chicken and fell right on my face with all the chicken around me squawking and jumping and some were even on top of me. I rolled up, shaking all of them away from me and looked around me seeing chickens all over. It wasn’t easy finding the rooster I was looking for. All of them moved to the other corner of the coop. And again, I took a long plunge into the pile but this time I was able to catch the rooster by his right leg. He tried to pull away scratching me with the other leg. All the other chickens were trying to fly jumping and waiving their wings and making a big cloud of dust surrounding us. With my left hand I grabbed the rooster’s other leg and by that time Mom was ready to help me tie the string on his legs keeping them together and preventing him from moving far from where we were.
It wasn’t an easy task taking the chicken to the “shochet either”. You see, they were not light, each weighting about 10 lbs., big, balky, and feisty. All the way to the shochet they fought with us constantly trying to turn themselves upside down and sometimes they were trying to peck on our hands. I was constantly changing the arm that was holding the chicken. The struggling and the fighting took a lot of me. Mom, for some reason, had an easier time with her rooster. She just gave a big shake with her arm and the rooster relaxed and was quiet for a while until he forgot about the shake and tried again.
“Mom,” I said, “what happened to Itay and Eliezer?”
“They were in an accident.”
“What kind of accident, Mom?”
You see, Itay who was my best friend before we moved from Okev’s house and his brother Eliezer just died. I heard about it from dad last night. There were talks about the kids who were just killed by a bus in our neighborhood for two weeks now, but we never connected it to my friends. They were walking on their way to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for Gabbi their brother when they were run over by a bus that took a turn a little too fast.
“Nanou,” said Mom, “it happened too fast for anybody to know exactly what happened.”
“I was wondering how come Itay didn’t come to play with me last week and the week before.” I said.
“Well, we didn’t know about it until dad went to Sa’adya to get some oranges. He was very upset, as you saw yesterday. Dad and I are going to visit with their parents this evening and you’ll have to watch over your brother.”
“Why can’t we come with you, Mom?” I asked.
“Well, it’s an adults’ thing, it’s not wise to have kids around when someone died.”
“But Gabbi is there too.” I persisted. “Why can’t we go?”
“Because it’s going to be too late and you know that you have school tomorrow.”
We continued walking quietly and I kept on thinking about the last time I played with Itay and how we picked the little red and sweet fruit of the Pitango tree.
When we finally arrived to the shochet’s house we were tired and scratched – me more than Mom. The rabbi probably saw us coming because he came out to great us as soon as we got to his doorstep. “Hag Same’ach!” he said. “Same to you” we both answered.
“I see you have 2 chickens here do you want to do the ‘kapparot’ ceremony?”
“Oh, I forgot all about it.” Said my Mom. I should have brought my other son here too.
The “Kapparot” ceremony is a special tradition that we do around the high holidays. The rabbi kills the chicken so we would live. Just in case we sinned, and we were about to be punished or die.
The next thing that the rabbi did was to call me to come closer to him. He picked the poor rooster and held him by his legs. He put one hand over my head and with the other hand waved the rooster over my head, making circles around my head and mumbling some prayer. Next he started to handle the rooster and check it for blemishes. He felt under his wings and around its belly. He looked at the legs and made sure nothing was broken. He tilted the chicken’s had and with a very sharp razor blade he quickly cut the poor rooster’s neck. It was a small cut under the head, but it bled a lot and the rooster didn’t even have a chance to protest. The rabbi threw the foul to the floor and did the same thing to the other one. I couldn’t believe what happened next. The moment that they hit the floor they started to run (the shochet had taken the strings off) They ran all over the place. They fell and got up rolled over, jumped and kept running.
“Mom!” I said looking at her with a questioning face. “They are not dying.”
“They are dead already” said the shochet. It’s just an instinct. Their nervous system is doing it. They are dead the moment I cut their throat because they don’t get the blood supply to the brain. But the muscles are still active and since they are not getting any signal from the brain, they are just going wild, but it will stop very soon.”
It took forever. I don’t know how long it took them to stop I felt like it will never stop.
The running chickens were still in my mind when we got home and even weeks after that. All the time I was thinking of my friend Itay and his brother Eliezer dyeing. Probably running and tumbling all over the street like the dying chickens. Then, after the holydays when we went to the movies, it was very difficult for me to understand how come Snow White didn’t jump around, after eating the poisoned apple, like a chicken without a head.
Today we were dismissed early. The teacher said that it was too hot to learn anything,
"It's above 40 degrees Celsius. It's a Hamsin," she added. "So, go home everybody, drink a lot of liquids, and stay in the shade."
I hoped that the children from the orthodox school were dismissed, too. I didn't want to play alone, and Avi, my brother, was still in the kindergarten, they never got dismissed early. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to tell you today. What I wanted to tell you is about what happened when I got home.
Mom was working with Dad at the diamond factory. She worked only half a day. She left the key hidden on the floor behind the propane tanks next to the door. All I had to do was to reach behind the gas tank and get the key. It was a big key. It didn't need a key chain.
Like I said, I came home early, and just as usual I reached behind the tanks to get the key. But, unlike usual, I felt that the key was too smooth, too slippery, too... it moved!
Without thinking about it I pulled it out and then dropped it on the pavement. It was a little snake, an asp, a common poisonous snake. It was a baby, colorful and slimy, and it didn't have its venom developed yet. But how am I supposed to know, I am a kid too!
There were only the two of us, the dragon and the dragon slayer. I ran to the back yard, picked a pitchfork, ran back to the front of the house, and...
"Ahhaaa!" I poked the dragon in his stomach.
"Ahhaa! naa! waa!" I poked him again and again, but the dragon didn't die. He just bled a little and wiggled, probably laughing at me. What am I to do? I ran to the street and the first man I saw I asked,
"How do you kill a dragon? I mean a snake."
"Oh, that's simple. You crush his head," the man said.
"With what?" I asked.
"With a rock or a brick like this one, Why are you ass..ki..ng?"
I didn't have time to answer him. I have an important fight to finish. I dropped the pitchfork, picked up the heavy rock and dragged my feet to the fighting ground.
"There you are," I struggled "I'm back. Don't think that I was afraid of you." Without another word I dumped the rock on the snake's head, incidentally, covering its whole body.
Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I put my leg on the dead dragon and waited proudly for Mom to come back.
Ever since we moved to this rented house it seems like our financial status was getting slowly better. This house was on a large private land with 2 large bedrooms. One was our parent’s room and the other one was Avi’s with all of our toys. My bed was set up in the foyer. Mom was working ½ a day and Dad started to bring work home. He went back to his original love - Jewelry making. Dad and I collected wood that floats on the beach and we found a few big pieces, we managed to build a jeweler’s bench and put it at the far side of the foyer where he would work every day after he came back from the daily job he had. Working hard and many hours Mom and Dad were saving money to finally buy our own house or apartment.
The back yard had a nice collection of trees; a dates palm tree right in the center front, a big old olive tree on the right of the hose bordering with our neighbor. On the front left side, we had a guava tree and a rare fruit called “Annona - sweet apple” it had a peal that looked like dragon scales and the inside was white, juicy and sweet. Going back to the left side of the house we had a two in one tree, it was a grapefruit and sweet lemon tree. Behind the house we had a huge tree with many round uneatable fruits that looked like olives. Avi and I loved to ply with them. For us they were ammunition we would shoot with a tube or fake fruit for our fake packing plant, where we would pack the fruit to be sent over sea. Behind the big tree we had a small hill with grape vine, apple tree and peach tree. They rarely had any fruit - the birds would eat them before they had a chance to ripen. At the far back bordering our other neighbor grew a Mexican cactus with small red cactus fruit. Dad was telling me not to eat them, but I did anyway. They were red and juicy with a little less thorn than the popular “sabres”. Next to them stood two tall pine trees. We used to pick the cones and throw them in fire to open them and get the pine nuts out of them. The pine needles were thick and strong, we used to make decorative chains with them. On top of one of them we spotted a nest. Avi immediately wanted to go grab the baby chicks. No matter what I said to prevent him from doing so he didn’t give up.
“It is a crows’ nest” I said. “They are dangerous, don’t you remember the story about the boy who got pecked by the crow and he fell down?” I reminded him, but, no avail.
Avi Climbed up to the top – he was fearless – while I was yelling at him to come back. He came back alright, lucky for him there were no crows and no chicks. The nest was empty for a while now. Except for a few eggshells nothing was in that nest.
Every summer people in Israel get 2 weeks off from work, usually around the month of August. Our family from Beer Sheva love to visit us during this time and spend time with us on the beach. This time mom was very proud to show of her new refrigerator. Until now we had an ice box. It is like the refrigerator but without the actual motor or lights. Every day the Ice would be delivered by the ice cart who would drive around town and sell blocks of ice. We usually buy ½ a block daily. It kept for a day. The ice would melt and drain into a container which we would dump every day. But the next day we would need to restock the ice. The problem was in the weekend. There was no delivery on Shabat. We would have to make sure nothing that could go bad stay in the ice box. we had to eat all the food Mom made on Friday.
Now we had the new “Amkor” Israeli made refrigerator. We didn’t have to buy anymore ice; we could keep the food for longer and even the meat, or the milk would last through the weekend. So, with all the guests who came to visit we could keep food for all of them and not worry.
That summer we had a full house. I don’t know how we fit them all. We had Uncle David (Mom’s Younger brother) and his wife Rina and baby Momi. Momi fell of his bed as a baby and lost the vision of one of his eyes. He became a very disagreeable child. David and Rina brought with them also her niece Na’ama who was a little older than me. Uncle Rone and his wife Rachel with their little girl Batya. We all went to the beach together. We carried sandwiches and cut up watermelons as well as my Dad’s fishing gear.
When we return home, we were faced with a little problem; the shower. How are we all going to shower when we had a small sun heated water tank. Mom came up with the idea of just having everyone shower with the hose outside in our yard. We were having lots of fun, specially the kids, except for Aunt Rina who insisted on showering indoors with the hot water and on top of it finishing all the hot water and living a “mess” according to my Mom. This wasn’t fun. Mom and Aunt Rina got into an argument and a shouting match that lasted for a long time. Mom never forgave her for talking back at her when she was a guest at our house. They stopped talking to each other forever. It put us in a very odd and uncomfortable situation. Uncle David was my Moms favorite brother and it was hard for him to take sides. Somehow, they managed to be civilized and keep the family together. Many times, later, Uncle David would come to visit without his wife, or we would go to visit him without Mom. It kept the family at peace.
If you were looking for a romantic place where you can take your girlfriend or wife at night, or even a place where you can take you your kids for a quite relaxing afternoon on the water you would go to “Nahal Alexander.” A river named after Alexander the great. It was a bout ½ hour bus ride north of Netanya. A little walk from the station would bring you to an interesting restaurant on the northern side of the river. It had a big aquarium filled with formaldehyde and a shark. Yes, a real dead shark. We all would look at it mesmerized every time we stop there. Next to the restaurant was a nice dock with wooden rowboats lined up for rent. Some were for two and some for four or even six. Depending on your group. Further away at the end of the dock was smaller extension where fishermen stood and tried to catch some fish.
Mom, Dad, Avi and I went to Nahal Alexander on one Saturday afternoon. We rented a boat, but Mom didn’t go on it.
“I have to set our place closer to the shore so we can all have something to eat,” she said. But we all knew she was afraid to go on the shaky boat. Maybe it was the bad experience she had when they came on the boat to Israel and she got seasick.
After half hour of rowing up the river we docked and joined Mom at the shore. Avi and I took a walk to see where the river drains into the sea. The water was shallow, very shallow. We could see the fish swimming between the sea and the river in the brackish water. We crossed the river to the other side and started running all over the place. We both loved that stretch of clean sand dunes. This area was not developed. We could see the village far away to the south with the small houses of the farmers. Avi and I would climb to a small sand hill and roll down toward the beach. Until we heard Mom calling us to get back for dinner.
Dinner was light; tuna sandwiches and watermelon for dessert. As Mom and Dad were packing up, I found a glass jar and picked it up. I went back to the river and with a few swipes was able to catch a small fish in the jar. It was a small, a little bigger than a tadpole.
“Can I take it home?” I asked.
“Yes,” Said Dad, “this one will survive if you feed him and make sure the jar is clean. Unlike saltwater fish who die quickly. So, this will be your responsibility.
On the way back I was holding the jar close to my body making sure it doesn’t splash all over the bus. At home we kept the jar on the windowsill in the kitchen, right above the sink. This way I can see it every day and change the water when needed without making a mess. Fish, as I called him survived and lived with us a few months. I was changing his water weekly and feeding him breadcrumbs daily.
One day, Lea, my favorite teacher asked us to bring something to show and tell from home. Everybody brought a toy or a book, but I brought Fish. I was very careful walking all the way to the school, walking slowly to make sure I don’t spill the water and when I arrived to school, I put him on my desk for all to see.
We all had our chance to show and tell and I told the class how I fished Fish and how I have been taking care of him. Everybody came to look at the fish closely and was very impressed. Unfortunately, Shlomo Yarhi wanted to see it too many times. I had to put it in the shelve under the desk, but he kept on creeping and puling it out to look at it.
“Today we will learn about two visitors who come to Israel. One in the winter and one in the summer. These are two birds. The wagtail who comes to visit us in the winter all the way from Siberia. Would you please put that fish away!” Yelled Lea in the middle of her story. “this is the last time I am telling you, Haim!
The other bird,” she continued, Is the hoopoe bird. It comes to us all the way from India and stays here for the summer.”
You might think that Shlomo will listen. Well you are wrong. Again, he creeped and pulled the fish out of the shelve and this time put it on his desk. Lea walked fast, grabbed the jar and poured it out the window.
I never stopped crying, all the way home and all night after that. Mom, for the first time had to come to school with me the next morning and confront the teacher whom as you might guess was not my favorite person anymore, even after her apology.
Uncle Albert and his wife Dolly had 2 kids, Yehudit who was 2 years older than me and her brother Haim who was a year younger than me. They just moved into a new apartment provided by the government’s organization in Beer Sheva that leases to new immigrants young couples. It was a two floors building with an entrance in the front to a staircase that lead to the second floor where my uncle’s unit was with another unit in front of his. Each unit had a small yard. The top floor had the yards in the back and the bottom floor had the front yard. Each had a fence and a gate. Uncle Albert had a few tomato plants, some hot pepper and “na’na” a Mediterranean mint. We Loved to spend time there because besides the plants, they had a lot of toys for children to play with. Even some swings, a slide, and a small sand box. This summer we came to stay with my uncle’s family for a few days.
Haim wasn’t an agreeable child, he did not like to share his toys and whenever one of us would play on one of the setups, whether it was the slide or the swing he would cry and demand for his turn to play. Unlike him his sister was much friendlier. She did not mind sharing, in fact she loved playing with younger children. She was the “teacher”.
“Come kids, sit in front of me, yes, you too Haim”.
“I don’t want to play with you.” Said Haim.
“If you sit with us, I will let you play with my favorite doll.”
Haim sat and was quite for now.
“Repeat after me,” said Yehudit. “Yismechu HaShamayim” (that means the sky will rejoice).
“Yismechu HaShamayim”, we would repeat the song again and again. “Yiramaya, Yiramaya, Yiramaya aaa Umlo’oh.” Or at least that’s what I thought we were supposed to sing. Being so confused with all the languages I spoke, many times, whenever I didn’t understand a word, in songs or stories I was told, I would assume that it is something I will learn sooner or later. “Everyone knew more than I did,” and there for I took it as is. “Maybe when I grow up, I will learn”.
It took years before I learned that the song, we were singing was a verse from the book psalms from the bible. A song we sing every Friday evening. Whatever I thought was “Yiramaya” was really “Yir’am HaYam” – the sea will roar. The skies are happy, and the sea and all of its inhabitants will roar with praise to God.
As much as I liked the praise I received for speaking 3 languages I never felt as part of any group I joined. There was always a feeling or an outsider. Some words I didn’t understand specially in Hebrew.
"Look at this," said Mom as she opened the mail. "You've got an invitation to appear in court. It says Mr. Nani Haim Tibi you are subpoenaed to appear at The Court of Peace on 9 am., Monday, January 5th.
"What is it all about?" I asked.
"It's probably about the accident you witnessed."
"Last year. The one with the boy and the bulldozer. The one you saved. The one you kept on talking about for six months."
"I did not," I responded defensively. It wasn't my fault that everybody kept asking me about it.
"Anyway, you have to go to court, and probably you'll have to tell the story again, and I'm sure you're going to like it."
"But Mom", I said, "what about school?"
"I'll have to give you a note so your teacher can excuse you from school that day. You'll have to go to your girlfriend Dafna and ask her for your homework."
"She is not my girlfriend," I said defensively again.
"That's not important," said Mom. "What's important is that you get the homework."
When the day came, I was up before Mom and Dad. I didn't sleep very well anyway. All night I was thinking about my beloved teacher and how she responded when I told her about my subpoena.
"I'm so proud of you," she said to me as she patted me on the shoulder. "You're going to do just fine and we'll all wait for you to come back and tell us about it."
She is so pretty; she is even prettier than Mom. I love this teacher. I wish I were older. Then she would love me back. Every time I think of her, I can't sleep at night. I can't eat, I can't do anything.
I washed up, I wore my new blue pants that Mom made from Dad's old pants, the new white shirt Meme Mili gave me for the holidays, and my black shiny shoes. Everyone at the bus station looked at me with admiration.
"Are you getting married?" someone would ask, or they'd say, "Don't you look nice."
"No, I'm not getting married," silly, "I'm just going to court."
Even the bus driver had something to say. Well, it is not every day you see a child dressed so nicely, especially when it's not a holiday.
The Court of Peace was downtown next to the Workers' Bank “Bank HaPo’alim”. We entered the court room and were seated in the first row in front of the judge's platform. Not long after the court room was all full. I saw the bulldozer driver, the armless nasty foreman, and many other people I'd never seen before.
"Court House!" an usher yelled, and we all got up. The door behind the judge's desk opened, and His Honor, the judge, walked in. Not before he sat down, were we permitted to sit.
To my surprise. the judge did not start with our case. There were many other cases before he got to ours.
First, there were some traffic violation cases. (A case is a problem that the judge has to solve and rule in favor of or against. I never knew that before.) Then there were cases of married people. For example, a woman sued her husband for beating her. The judge ruled in her favor and the husband had to pay a fine and go to jail for ten days. By this time the woman had a problem with this ruling. Her husband was the sole supporter of the family. If he had to pay the fine, he would not have the money to buy food for his family, and even more so if he goes to jail. Who is going to work and bring money for the family? Well, that's the law and we all have to obey the law. I never understood that.
"Wake up! Wake up!" Mom whispered, "It' our turn now."
This stuff was boring. No wonder I fell asleep.
"Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?" I heard the usher asking the “tractorist”. (That's what they called the bulldozer driver.)
"Yes," said the tractorist while holding his right arm up with the left on a Bible. "I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth."
The driver answered all the questions he was asked by the sanegor and the categor (the lawyers, one for the family that is suing, and one for the building company that is being sued). He told them how all the children were jumping up and down the pile and how the foreman asked them to get out. How he didn't see the little boy that jumped in right in front of the bulldozer, and how I came out and stopped him. He told everything. He left nothing for me to tell.
"Nani Haim Tibi, please come to the witness stand!" I heard the usher calling. My legs started to shake. I was never on a witness stand. What will happen if I forget something and not say all the truth? Will they send me to jail? I walked slowly to the stand and waited.
"Do you swear..." the usher started to say and handed me the Bible.
"Stop!" the judge ordered. "He is too young. He doesn't have to swear. Why don't you tell us what happened on the day of the accident?"
"But the driver already told you." I said, disappointed.
"It's O.K. we want to hear it again from someone who saw it all. Someone that we can trust," the judge continued politely. He was very nice, and I was only too happy to tell him the story right from the beginning.
I told him how the bulldozer came and made the new pile for us to play in, and how three times the driver destroyed it, after every time he made it. I told him about our decision to play in the new sand pile while they were working so we could enjoy every minute of the pile being there. I also told the judge how nasty the one-armed foreman was and how much he yelled at us. I told him how hard he tried to get us out of our playground. I was hoping that the judge would punish him for being so cruel, but the opposite happened. The judge just thanked me and dismissed the foreman saying he did the best he could, and it was not his fault that the boy was covered with sand. Again, I still don't understand it. Of course, it wasn't his fault that the little boy was covered with sand, but he was still very nasty, and that's not the way to treat children!
“Nanou, Avi” Mom called to us, “Put a pile of underwear, socks, your nice Shabat shirt and pants, and a few changing cloths. We are going on a little trip for a few days. I will pack all of it in a suitcase.”
Mom and dad planed a trip for the whole family to Jerusalem. I never was in Jerusalem. I knew people from Jerusalem. Do you remember “Yehoshua HaParua”? We will be visiting him and his family.
The way to Jerusalem was not an easy trip. We had to take a bus to the bus station. We had to stand in the isle because it was full. From there we took another bus to Tel Aviv. On this bus we had to make sure we sit right behind the bus driver Avi would get seasick and throw up all over. In Tel Aviv we took a short bus ride to the train station. The station was crowded, and it was hard to find a good spot for all of us to sit together. My brother and I had to run along the train and look for a few empty seats for all of us.
“I want to sit next to the window” exclaimed Avi.
“No problems,” said Dad. “You sit on this side next to Mom and your brother will sit in front of you next to me.” Avi had to sit facing the front and I faced the back. We don’t want him to throw up again. Once we were settled, I looked out the window and felt a little odd for a moment when the train next to us started to move while we were standing still. It felt like we were moving backward slowly and quietly. But as soon as it picked up speed, I realized it wasn’t us moving.
The road to Jerusalem was very pretty. Unlike the mostly flat desert road to Be’er Sheva, this road was hilly and full of trees. As we left Tel Aviv, we saw from a distance on the left side the airplanes landing and on the right side the orthodox village “Kfar Habad”. When we got closer to Jerusalem, we entered a narrow valley at the foot of the hills. It is called “Bab El Wad” – the door of the valley.
“This is a very famous place” dad told us. “Do you see the building here on the left? With the Hebrew graffiti on the wall?”
“Yes I do”, I unsewered.
“It is in Jordan territory. We lost it in the war of independent. Look forward on the two sided of the train and next to the road, do you see those abandoned trucks?”
“Yes”, said Avi, “I have a toy like that one”.
“During the war of independence, the Jordanians surrounded Jerusalem and prevented us from going in or out. We had to find way to bring supply to the people under siege. Many Volunteers loaded trucks with food, supply and even water to bring up to the city. We found a side trail and drove up at night, but we were ambushed and most of the trucks you see here were stopped.”
“Did they all die?” asked my young brother.
“unfortunately, most of them. Some were able to reach the city and save the people, but we lost the old city of Jerusalem where our most holy place is and some of the villages surrounding the city.”
When we arrived at the bus station in Jerusalem, we had to take one more bus to the part of the city where Yehoshua’s grandfather lived, “Ein Karem”. It was also a very pretty area where old houses from hundreds of years ago were set along the hill facing west overlooking the beautiful valley. The house of Rabbi Abraham – Yehoshua’s grandfather – was one of those Arab houses. It had a packed dirt floor. His wife would pull water out of the well in the middle of the house to water the floor daily and pack it smooth. The water in that well was undrinkable, it had red thin worms you can see every time she pulled up the bucket. The roof of the house was a round dome and the walls had carved deep shelves. They were beds, lined with straw mattresses and covered with clean white sheets for us to sleep in.
The next morning the Rabbi’s wife prepared a delicious breakfast. Fresh Cucumber tomato and pepper salad, Scrambled eggs and crispy toast. Ad from there we started to visit the city. The first place we visited was to the “Church of Visitation” a Franciscan church not too far from the Rabbi’s house. It was walking distance, so we didn’t have to take a bus. We spoke French with the priests, and they showed us around the beautiful old church. It had nice paintings on the entire walls of biblical scenes.
Not far from there was the famous “Hadassah” hospital and “Mount Hertzel” where we saw the tallest tree in Israel. It was planted by Hertzel the father of the Zionist movement himself. A place that is still making me feel sick to my stomach is also not too far from the Rabbi’s house. “Yad VaShem”. A memorial for the victims of the holocaust. We saw awful pictures of the Jews in the death camps and all kind of objects that were collected there, like soap made of human fat, or a pile of shoes or eyeglasses and more. In short, for many years after that, I still have nightmares.
David’s tower was located right on the border between Israel and Jordan. It towers over a building where King David is buried. I have never been next to the border of any country. Yet it looked just like a road gate with policemen on the other side. They even waved back at me when I waved to them.
“We will be going to a restaurant today for lunch,” Mom said with a smile.
“Really?” I asked, “we never go to a restaurant.”
“True”, said Dad, “Because Mom cooks much better than restaurants, and they are very expensive.”
“But we are not home for me to cook”, continued Mom, “so we will go to a sit-down restaurant like regular tourists and eat lunch.”
I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but, I do remember it was better than Mom’s cooking. Well, it isn’t fair for me to compare, I never liked most of Mom’s cooking. It was either too spicy, too mushy, or simply not to my taste. I hardly ever ate any meat. If it was up to me, I would just live on fruit. But fruit was only for dessert, and only if I finish my dish. And since I usually didn’t finish the dish, I hardly ever got to eat fruit. For a long time, I ate only chicken and before that, when I was sick in the hospital, I ate only chicken broth with a little chicken skin. Until one day it went the wrong way and I stopped eating chicken skin.
“Now, remember kids, you have to finish the whole plate or no dessert, this is way too expensive to throw away. And the dessert this time is not fruit,” said Mom.
When the waiter came and asked what we wanted to order, I had no idea what I wanted. There were so many options. One thing for sure I wanted was French fries, Mom hardly makes them for us.
“Why don’t you try this?” Asked Dad. “The calf liver stake” it isn’t tough, and it taste like the chicken liver you like.”
When it arrived, I was shocked how big that piece was. I forced myself to finish it, I was curious about the dessert. It wasn’t bad, but, the French fries were much better. That was the first time I actually liked beef but don’t ask me to eat it again. Avi, on the other hand, had no problems eating anything you gave him as long as the plate looked good and clean. For dessert I picked a piece of sideway layered chocolate cake that looked like a pyramid. It was very good and ever since we went to a restaurant I always asked for this cake.
The next place we visited was the Museum of Israel and the “Knesset” – the Israeli parliament. We did not go in. Both Avi and I and even my dad found it to be too boring to even try. We came and saw, now it’s time to leave.
Long time ago in a land far, far, away lived a small beetle, “Jukitta” was her name. Dad started to tell us a story. We were all sitting on the floor around him in Aunt Marie’s Back yard. It was one day before Vivi’s Bar-Mitzvah”. Vivi was there with his sister Inez, his brothers Avram and Motke, My cousin Batya and her baby brother Ofer, My cousin Yudit and her brother Haim, and even Momi Uncle David’s don and his baby brother Ranni. Our eyes were all looking at My Dad’s direction listening to his story. I heard this story already before, even from Meme Mili yet I always loved it and anyway, Dad was a great storyteller. And now that he had a little wine to drink, he was a little funny too.
This was late at night after a very eventful day. We were in Ashkelon an old city in the southern part of the Israeli shore. It dates back to the Philistines. Remember the story of Samson and Delila? Well, it happened there. On the shoreline stretched an archeological park. Many cactus plants were spread in between the old digs and structures. They were barring fruits. A lot of fruit, “sabres” the cactus pair, is very sweet yet very prickly on the outside. After spending a few hours on the beach swimming and making sandcastles we decided to pick some sabres and bring them home. This was not an easy task. We had to create some tools for this job. A long stick like a broom stick for example was needed, an empty can with two nails connected to the end of the stick in a 90-degree angle. We would reach the sabres cover it with the can and twist. The fruit would fall of the branch and stay in the can. We would drop it into a big container and fill it with water and ice. The combination would soften the little thorns and make it easier to peal them. That day we picked up so many pairs that we had enough to feed the whole family and guests who came to the Bar-Mitzvah party. Not without a price, we all ended up scratching some part or another of our body from the tiny thorns.
“Jukitta was a brave beetle and very industrious,” Continued Dad. She was a very good cook. Her favorite dish was soup. Everyone in the neighborhood loved her soup and they lined up to grab a bowl for lunch. Her biggest fan was a little mouse who lived across the street. He loved her soup so much that he fell in love with Jukitta. After a long courting period he asked Jukitta to marry him. To his delight she accepted.
‘will you teach me how to make this soup?’ asked the mouse.
‘Well, there is a lot more than just ingredients and technique involved.’ She replied. ‘you have to give it your all, your soul your love.’
‘I will watch you and learn’ said the mouse. And so, he did. He watched her cut the vegetables and how she sautéed the onions and added the garlic and so on. He loved the most how she used her long spoon to stir the soup as it was cooking. She did it slowly and with a lot of patience.
One day Jukitta had to go to the market to get some salt and a few more ingredients for the soup she was planning to make the next day. ‘Will you watch over the soup for me?’ she asked Mouse. ‘All you have to do is slowly stir the soup when you see it bubble.’
‘Sure, I will be happy,’ answered Mouse.
As soon as she left, Mouse jumped right in and took the long spoon and started to stir. He was having fun and started to sing and dance while stirring. Unfortunately, as he was dancing, he dropped the spoon by accident into the pot and lost it in the soup. Mouse panicked, what am I going to do? He was running all over the kitchen looking for a spoon to replace the one he dropped in the soup to no avail. There was no extra spoon. It was Jukitta’s only spoon. Finally, an Idea came to mind. He had a long tail; he could use that. So, mouse stood on the top of the pot balancing himself he lowered the tail down and started to stir the soup. When Jukitta returned from the market mouse was so excited, he jumped of the pot and ran to great his lovely wife. ‘come, come Jukitta’ he sang, ‘come taste the soup.’
Jukitta walked with him to the kitchen and looked at the soup. It looked good, a little thicker than usual and it even smelled a little better, something was different. She looked down at her loving husband and suddenly asked, ‘Mouse, where is your tail?’”
“EEEEUUU” we all cried as my Dad was laughing, and I was scratching my knee. In fact, I was scratching my knee all night long and during the next day at the synagogue while Vivi was reading the Torah and even the night after and all the way home. When we arrived home, Mom looked at me and my knee. “We need to take you to the doctor” she said. My knee was swollen and full of puss. The doctor had to lance it and gave me medication and ordered me to stay of my leg for 2 days until the swelling subsides.
“It is time for me to tell you about your uncles,” said Meme Milli. I loved Meme Milli, she is the best person I have ever met. You can never do wrong with her, at least when it comes to her grand kids. Even when one of my cousins stole some money from her. She just gave him more money. The “Jukitta” story was actually hers. She told it to me a few times, but, the most favorite were the stories about my Dad and his brothers. She didn’t tell me much about her daughters except that they were very pretty.
“After my husband, your grandfather, passed away, your Dad had to take over many roles. One of them was to take care of his brothers and sister. Yes, I had some help from the husband of my older sister Mayssa. If I need help disciplining the kids, he would step in. What I didn’t know was that he also spoiled them. When your uncle Claude was getting into a fight with the neighborhood kids and usually lose, he would run crying to my sister’s house, and she would give him a cookie and her husband would talk with him and give him some courage.
But the secret that your Uncle Rone was holding from me was a big one. Rone loved sports, he was a good runner and was also a good swimmer. The beach was too far for us to visit, but there was a swimming pool in the middle of the town, 2 bus stations from our house. Three times a week, after school, your uncle would go to his uncle and would get a little money to pay for the bus ride to the swimming pool. He would practice every day and he got better and better. One day he came home after school wearing a medal hanging on his neck.
“Look Mom what I got!” he said.
“What is it? A dog Tag?” I asked.
“No, Mom, it’s a medal, I am the team champion at the swimming Pool.”
“What? What swimming pool? What are you talking about?
“I have been practicing a lot at the town pool and now I won the championship”
“How come I never heard about it before? How are you getting there? Where did you get the money from? Wait until your brother comes home, he will teach you a lesson.”
When Eli, your Dad, came back from work I called Rone and put him in front of his older brother. “Look what your brother did!” I said to Eli. The look on your father’s face was so confused that I didn’t know how to take it.
“What do you want me to do about it?” should I Beat him? Punish him? For being a champion? Would you like him to mess around in the street instead? I am glad, and proud of him!”
“Aaaahhh! You kids! I don’t know how I am going to keep on going like that with you.”
“Are you ready?” asked mom. “We have an appointment with your new school, you don’t want to set a bad impression before you start.”
We had a long walk ahead of us. The new school was closer to downtown Netanya. We were about to move to a new neighborhood.
“I wish we were staying here” I said to mom.
“I know,” she said. “Me too, but you saw the landlord decided he wants to move back into this house and your Dad has found us an apartment. It is going to be our apartment, no more paying rent.”
“Yeah, but all my friends, and I will have to start over at another school.” To myself I was thinking about that blond girl I met on our class trip to Tel Aviv. I will never have a chance to be with her in the same class.
“You will make new friends.”
“I hope so.”
The new school was called Be’eri” after Berl Katzenelson, a Zionist leader who started the Israeli Union. The school was located on “Be’eri street and right next to the Union’s Medical Center.
“See”, said Mom, we will need to get a new doctor too. Here is the medical center we will need to go t when we are sick.”
We walked up the stairs that were leading to our new school. It was a big school, much bigger than my school in Ein HaTchelet, even bigger that the one I was hoping to go to in Avihayil. It had two big building; one had 2 floors and we can see right next to where the little kids were studying, they were building one more tall building. The office of the principal was in the long one floor building not far from the “arts and crafts” classroom. This was something I have never seen before and I was very excited about the prospect of exploring my skills there.
“Did I offer you a sit?” Yelled my new school principal.
I jumped off the sit, as he immediately changed to a smile. A crooked smile, with a pipe pulling it to the right. He had half of his face frozen. I was told he had a dead smiling nerve on the right side of his face. He was darker than I was. His mom was Yemenite, and he was bolding in the front center of his head. Not many Yemenite people get to a position like a school principal. Unfortunately, in Israel, those days, only Ashkenazic Jews were able to get an important job. Our principal was a new phenomenon, His father was Ashkenazi and therefore he was able to use his connections to get his son to this position. Slowly but surely Israel was starting to mix its people and creating a new generation much less racist.
“I guess they didn’t teach you how to behave at your old school,” he said. “Whenever you go into someone’s else office or house, always, ask for permission to sit down.”
“I will,” I said shyly.
“Have a sit please,” he pointed to the 2 chairs in front of his desk.
Mom and I sat and looked at him waiting, as he was looking at my school grades and progress.
I see, you didn’t have the highest grades, but I see you are a very bright boy, you have a very good potential.”
“Except that he is in dreamland” interrupted Mom.
“There are three different classes in our school. One for the smart ones, second for the ordinary kids and a third for the ones who need a little help.” He continued. “I could put you with the kids who need help and I am sure you will be able to get great grades there if you put your mind to it, but I am afraid you will be too bored. I will put you in the tough 5th grade and you will have to work hard to keep up, but you will eventually make it.”
The move wasn’t so easy either. I went with dad to the “shook” – the open market where the porters and their horses were waiting for their daily jobs. Dad made an appointment with one of them and he came to our house to estimate the content of our house and how many carriages he will need to make the move. It turned out he needed 3 “platforms” – long flat carts pulled by horses. Each cart had a porter driving it and they were old skinny yet very strong. One of them just put the big refrigerator on his back and walked with it all the way to the platform.
The new home was small, much smaller than the hose we rented but it was ours. It had a small kitchen a small shower, a dining area and two rooms connected to it. One was Mom and Dad and the other acted as living room and our sleeping space. We had to get 2 folding beds. Every morning Avi and I would fold the beds and push them to the sides of the room and pull the living room table with two chairs in the center. The best part of the place was our little balcony. We were on the first floor and we were able to see the back yard which the whole building shared right in front of us. Our building had four floors and four entrances. Each entrance had two units on each floor with a narrow staircase connecting us all. This neighborhood had a few similar buildings there was one building in the northern side, it consisted for some reason all Ashkenazi people. The building behind us had only people from Libya or as they called themselves “Trabelsis” or Tripolitanians – the other name for the people who came from that country. To the west we had about four other buildings all the same as ours, but I didn’t venture to that area.
Our apartment was in the second entrance and in front of us lived the Garon family who recently moved from Turkey. The parents didn’t speak Hebrew, they spoke Ladino, it a language spoken amongst the Jews from Spain and other country where the Jews were expelled in 1492. Like the “Yiddish” language it was a way the Jews developed since the Hebrew language was a holly language and was saved for services and Torah study. The Garons had 3 kids one tan age boy who finished his elementary school and went to work at a bicycle repair store. And twins a year younger than me. Yaakov and Sarah were very nice kids, most of the time. When they wanted something, and their Mom didn’t approve Sarah would start to wail for a long time in an annoying way that it disturbed even her aunt who was living at the fourth floor above them. “Who! Woooooohhhhhhh” she would cry sometimes until she fell asleep. Yet, Sarah was very pretty. She was a little shorter for her age, but she had a long flowing hair down her back, black and silky. In no time we became friends and we would visit each other and have many play dates together. Yaakov even slept over many times. On many Shabat days we would go to the beach together carrying our tuna sandwiches and fruit in a bag and Dad would have his fishing gear. It was a long walk to the beach from our new place. But it didn’t stop us from climbing up the hill with the sand slide and going down through staircase of the cliff to the beach. Those stairs were washed out almost every winter and the town had to repair them.
At the beach we would keep walking north to the same old beach where we used to go when we lived in Ein HaTchelet. It was a rocky beach. A good place for fishing. The first thing we would do was to collect worms.
“Look Nanou and Avi,” said Dad. “you need to get really close to the rock and dig deep in the wet sand with both hands. Pull out as much sand as you can and dump it on the rock. Now, wash the rock with the sea water and see if there are worms in the sand. Like that one, see?”
“Nice!” I said.
“Yalk!” Avi said, “Disgusting!” almost throwing up.
Yaakov was better, he even learned how to put the worm on the hook. Avi liked holding the pole but not touching the worm. We all had a fishing pole and we would stand and wait for the fish to bight. I lost interest in no time and went to play with Sarah.
“You can’t trust the people in that building,” said Dad about the southern building. “Most of them don’t work or go to school. As you can see, they fight amongst themselves all the time and I would be happy if you don’t make friends with them.”
I personally didn’t like that idea; I liked to make friends and give everyone a chance. But Dad said and so I didn’t. Dad and I were busy setting up his new Jeweler’s desk. This time he had it made by a professional. That heavy desk we had built from the woods we found on the beach was dismantled and put away. The new desk had drawers and a nice leather apron to catch the cuttings of the gold and even a nice light and a lot of new tools. I loved looking at dad work. He made all kind of jewelry. I saw him make rings, chains, earrings and even crosses. I think it had a calming effect on him. I wanted to make some too. But Dad told me never to touch the tools in his desk. The tools I had were toy tools. I got them when I was very young, they didn’t cut anything or hold anything. They were plastic or wood. The only chance I had to work with real tools was at school, at the arts and craft workshop.
The desk was setup in the far end of the balcony where there was no chance it would get wet from the rain or too dry from the sun. Every night Dad would cover it with a tarp. Sometimes I Would pick under the tarp to look at his tools and wish I had some.
One day I was introduced to a new tool at school. It looked very much like dad’s Bow Saw. Except, that it had a much deeper bow. It was designed to work with plywood. To cut shapes and create ornaments. I loved working with it. At the arts and craft workshop I cut trees and flowers out of thin plywood, painted them and made all kind of stuff. I was so tempted to use Dad’s saw but didn’t have the courage to take it out of the desk. I just peeked and looked at it, wishing I had one. Now you might think I am crazy or that I am making it all up but whatever happened next, I still can’t believe happened.
In the forbidden building (that is how Avi and I called it) Lived a young family with three daughters one was much older than us but the other two were about our age, they seemed quiet and sweet. They were also very cute, but do you remember? We were not aloud to make friends with the people who lived there. Yet, I saw the two young girls walking toward our balcony. I never talked with them before, I didn’t even know their name. They walked straight toward me, there was no doubt about it.
“Hey!” One of them said to me.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Look what I have,” she said and extended her arm showing it to me. I was speechless. She held in her had a brand-new bow saw.
“Can you use it?” she asked. “I have no use for it, we were just cleaning out our house and I found it. I don’t know what it’s for. So, do you want it?”
“Do I want it?” I asked quietly. “Are you a fallen angel? I was praying for this for a week. I’ll tell you what, you give me that and I will make stuff with it we can all play with. I will call you when I am ready.”
For the next two weeks I didn’t go out to play with the neighborhood kids. I was rushing back home with pieces of play wood the teacher gave me. I was drawing lines on them and cutting along them and before you know it, I built a small puppets stage. Mom gave me some left-over cloth she had, and I made a curtain. I took the heads of dolls Avi broke and sawed new bodies for them with places for my fingers to move like arms and only then, I called the two girls to come play with me. I was waving hi to them every day when they came back from school. But this time I waved them to come over. I never learned their names, but we got to spend many days playing together. They brought some old broken dolls too and we made even more poppets. I ended up giving them that whole theatre and felt so good about it.
After School Clubs
“Mom, Can I have six liras please?”
“What do you need it for?”
“I want to join a club; it costs six liras per month.”
“We don’t have that kind of money to spend,” said mom, “But I will talk to Dad and we’ll see what we can do. If it is that important to you.”
This was a nice club to join. Almost everyone in the fifth grade joined. For the first time I actually joined a dance class, Israeli folk dance. Those days, Israeli folk dance was very simple. The repertoire was not big or complicated, so in no time we learned a few dances.
circle dances, line dances and yes, partner dances.
“Alright everyone, partner up!” Yelled the dance teacher over the loud music. He was a tall guy with curly blondish hair, and he was very loud. Everyone found a partner almost at once. Being the shortest boy in my class didn’t help getting a partner. No girl wanted to dance with a shorter boy, and a dark skin one too, no matter how cute or smart he is.
“Will you be my partner?” I heard a shy, soft voice behind me. It was a light brown wavy hair girl, actually shorten than me. “My name is Zehavah, she said.”
“Ahhh, shsh sure,” I said. “m m my nnname is ha ha Haim.”
With a sweet smile Zehavah extended her hand and we became partners. She was also the last kid who couldn’t get a partner, but I can definitely testify, it was everybody’s lost. Zehavah turned out to be a great partner, she, like me, learned the dances very quickly. She even was able to help me when I missed a step and it didn’t look like I didn’t know what I was doing. This was indeed fun.
For the next 2 months, every Tuesday we were dancing together, and I walked her home after the club. Taking slow strides as if to extend the time together. We talked about movies and the beach, we talked about food and how I didn’t like to eat and how she could eat a cow and still be hungry. Zehavah was in the second Fifth grade and I didn’t get to see her much except for when we danced. Her house was a little off from my way home, so it was difficult to get together. Two months later when I got my report card and mom didn’t like the results, they stopped giving me the money to continue dancing. (40 years later I met Zehavah at a dance session in NYC and for one evening we danced together like we never stopped).
Don’t feel bad for me, I found another club, and this one didn’t cost money. One Sunday as I arrived at school, I saw Ariella Lanski, from my class with other two girls standing in front of the bulletin board and talking out loud.
“I am definitely joining,” I heard Ariella saying. “I was a part of that last year and we had a good time.”
“Me too,” Said Nehamah Lerner. “I love singing.”
“Singing? I jumped in. “What about singing? I love singing too.”
“It isn’t for you tzutzik!” Said the third girl who was in the 6th grade. “I have never seen a boy in the choral.” Tzutzik wasn’t a nice name to call someone. In Yiddish it meant “very small.” Often big boys would bully me and call me tzutzik, for being really small for my age. But a girl calling me that was unacceptable.
“Let me see that!” I said and approached the bulletin board.
“Wanted!” It said: Singers, of all ages, who want to join the choral. Auditions on Wednesday, right after school.
Pnina the music teacher was short and had short hair. If you didn’t know here to be our teacher, you might think she was one of the older kids. She played the accordion (like most of the music teachers in Israel) She also played the guitar and had a very nice voice. We loved her classes; we didn’t have to do anything but sing. Sometimes we would get out of hand and really misbehave. She would stop and wait for us to relax before she continued with her class.
Everyone was already there when I walked in. All the girls were seated, and Ariella Lanski was hovering over the teacher next to her desk being a little too close. They all turned and looked at me.
“Are you sure you are in the right place?” Asked Pnina and whispered to Ariella “he is so cute!” I think I saw Ariella making a dissatisfied face.
“This is the choral auditions, right?” I asked.
“Then I am in the right place.”
“Hmm, let’s see, stand in front of me please. Ariella please take a seat with everyone.” Now I know she mad a face. “Can you sing this?” and she sounded an Aaaa.
“Aaaa” I repeated.
“Aa aa aaa”
“Aa aa aaa”
“Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Tee.”
“Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Tee”
“Nice! And you don’t have a problem being the only boy in the choral?”
“It is better than being with all the bullies at soccer.”
“Fag!” I heard a whisper from one of the girls, and a giggle from another>
“Hmm, all right, take a sit in the front row, right next to Nehamah. Nehamah please make some room next to you for Haim. That is your name? Right?”
I nodded and sat next to Nehamah.
This was not what I expect it to be. It wasn’t just singing songs. We had to do some voice exercise. The songs were not the popular songs we hear and sing every day. They were picked by our teacher. And the thig that through me off was; forget the melody you already know. We had to learn to sing in different “voices”, harmony. Because I was the only boy, I had to learn the melody that was set just for me, and to Ariella’s dismay I had many solos. Please, don’t get me wrong, I had nothing against Ariella. She was a very pretty girl, taller than me with long black hair, blue eyes, and very popular. She even befriended me at first, at the beginning of the year. But once she realized it was affecting her popularity, she avoided me. Now I was becoming “popular”. For the first time in the school’s history we had a boy in the choral. For the first time we had a 5th grader singing the blessing for the candles of Hanukah. I even had a new friend who walked with me home every day after school.
Her name was Shlomit Bar-Menachem. She was the daughter of Netanya’s Mayor. She had two brow long braids on the sides of her had. She was a very smart girl. She Always got “A” on her tests. I got C and below. She lived across the street from us. Her side of the street was for the middle-class people. It had some of the oldest villas where most of the “Ashkenazi” people lived. We loved talking about so many things, sometimes we even sat on a stone fence and I forgot to go home for lunch. Mom was very upset with me.
“But, mom,” I said, “she is very smart, and we talk about a lot of things we share.”
“If she is that smart, maybe she should help you with your homework.”
The next day on our way home I asked Shlomit if she could help me with the homework. She was happy to do so, and we agreed that after the nap and the 4:00 snack I would come over.
I had to wait a while, I knocked three times. Their house was a big villa, and I could see the fancy Saab of her dad was parked in the shaded and gated driveway. When the door opened, I almost fell to the ground. In front of me stood our mayor wearing only his underpants. I took a long breath and asked if Shlomit was in.
“Are you Haim?” he asked. Our mayor knows my name, I can’t believe it.
“Yes, I am”
“Come in, Shlomit is in her room.”
On the sofa in the living room sat a teenage boy leaning over a board with all kind of bulbs and electronic parts.
“This is my second son,” said the mayor. He is playing with his radio kit he put together. Still can’t make it work.” My older son is in the army. So be nice to my youngest child.” He finished with a smile when he knocked on Shlomit’s door.
Dad Had new bicycles, the bike with the racing handle. I loved riding them. I would wait every day for Dad to get back from work so I can ride them around the block. Bike riding didn’t come easy for me. Dad bought me cool bikes a few years before, but they were defective. Dad found them at the bike store. Used folding bike from Japan. The problem was the size of the wheels. They were very small. You couldn’t find replacement for them. So, by the time I learned how to ride them the inner tubes were full of holes and even the outer tube was damaged. Dad had an old bike which he finally replaced with a newer one (not brand new) and he rode them to work every day. He had a laundry clip in his pocket all the time. He would clip his right pant whenever he rode, to avoid getting stuck in the chain.
The new bike was tall for me, but I handled it pretty well feeling safe and proud of myself for being so tall. I had only one problem, Stop signs. Dad had explained to me that a stop sign is very important. In Israel they had the same shape as the rest of the world, but it didn’t say stop. It had a symbol of an opened hand facing you. My problem was, again, I was too short. I had to tilt the bike to the side whenever I needed to get off and run with it a few steps to get started again. It didn’t stop me from having fun. Dad promised me that for my bar-mitzvah he will get me a brand-new bike. My most favorite part was the ride up the tall hill, pushing hard with all my weight and then riding back down in full speed.
We recently finished a special course at school. We learned “Road Safety”. We learned to look side to side when we cross the street. We learn how to signal before we turn when we ride our bikes. But the most important part of that course was to help the little kids cross the street. Every day before school starts and after it is over, we would stand in crossroads dressed in special vests and holding a pole with a stop sign. Whenever we saw the little kids come, we would swing the pole and stop the traffic, let the kids walk across the street and then Swing back the pole to let the traffic go and stop the kids from crossing. We were doing something important. We were responsible kids.
“Dad, can I take the bike for a ride?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
“Yes, I did, I even finished reading the book from the library.”
“All right then.”
I took the bicycles out of our building entrance, that is where we keep bikes, and ran to the road. Not too far from our house was the first stop sign. I stopped stood next to the bike and looked side to side, making sure no one is coming, ran with the bike and continued riding. I Signaled with my left hand pointing up (that is how you signal to turn right) and took the turn. Drove to the end of the street, signaled again and turned right again now I was back on our street again. I turned right and continued riding. From behind me I heard a scooter, I decided I will turn left and get out of his way, I extended my left arm pointing to the direction I was about to go and took the turn. At that moment I Heard a screech and I was knocked off the bike. I struggled up and saw that next to me laid a guy I knew from our old neighborhood. A relative of the Okevs. He brushed himself as he was getting up. I mediately was checking his Vespa I would hate to be responsible for the damages to his scooter. Knowing perfectly well that I was not the one causing the accident. But, you know, the adults are always right…
From behind me I saw my dad walking toward us and he stopped at once to look again at us. He almost fell down but then he controlled himself and kept walking. Behind the scooter on the road laid a big cracked watermelon. Dad thought it was someone’s head. He was relieved when he saw me standing up talking to the guy who was checking me up. The guy insisted that it was not his fault and he made my dad sign a paper releasing him from any damages and that he releases us from any damage to his scooter and left.
Pondering about it for many years, I still know I was doing the exact thing I was taught at school. He was driving too fast in a neighborhood full of kids.
“Wake up Nanou,” I heard mom whisper, “Dad and I need to go to Be’er Sheva. We just received a telegram, Nono just passed away”.
“Oh no!” I said sadly.
“I have your costumes ready for you and your brother laying down on my bed. Breakfast is ready on the table and there is food for lunch too. Dad will be back tonight. Behave yourselves and don’t get in trouble.”
Nono, Mom’s father was sick for a while. He had a stroke a few years ago and wasn’t able to work. Half of his body was paralyzed. He had hard time talking, he forgot Hebrew and French. For some reason he was able to talk only in Arabic and even that was very difficult to understand. Only Meme understood him. She took care of him all the time. Meme would feed him, was him, shave him and dress him. All her time was dedicated to him. Whenever we came to visit them, Mom would take over the kitchen and prepare food for everyone, we would help clean the house so Meme can have a few moments rest. Now she will be resting for a long time. She will have no one to take care of. I wondered how she will continue her life.
Mom made me a green costume like “Robin Hood’s”, complete with a hat and a feather. I had a wooden sword that I carved out of a long straight branch. I also had a bow and arrows hanging on my back. Avi Dressed up like a girl. He looked like a cute little girl. We walked toward school quietly and enjoyed the costumes everyone else was wearing. Purim is still my favorite holiday. We get to be whatever we want to believe we are. Prince and princesses, king and kings, clowns or wild animals. All the times Mom was the one who made our costumes, unlike the store-bought kinds that most kids had. We didn’t have the money to spend on this privilege, but Mom’s costumes always looked better, they looked real and convincing. She always made them from leftover material she had hanging around the house. Mom had a pedal sawing machine and enjoyed working with it. She made a lot of our cloths. One of the things she made was a winter coat from one of my Dad’s old army blanket. It had a hood and big buttons and kept us warm. Whatever she made for me she made one for Avi too. It was easy, because Avi wore the same size as I, even though he was 2 years younger.
Walking up the stairs to the school I met Yosi Dahari of the seventh grade dressed like a prince with a long plastic sward on his belt.
“Hey! Robin Hood, want to have a swards fight?”
“You don’t have a chance”, I answered “It isn’t like the “air boxing we do when no one actually wins or lose.” We loved playing “air boxing” like the actors in the movies when once in a while we pretend the punch was so hard, we fly backwards like in the Elvis Presley movies that I loved so much. I learned his songs even when I didn’t understand a word I was singing.
“Oh yea?” Yosi continues. “I will get you on the first minute”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I replied. I loved sward fighting. I saw a few movies with Gene Kelly and learned from his moves. To me it was like dancing. I was able to par anyone of our neighborhood kids. I was fast and light on my feet. If only I was as strong as some of them, I wouldn’t get picked on so many times or bullied as much.
“You think you are good at that?” He came and shoved me; I almost fell back down the stairs.
“Look, I am telling you; I don’t want to fight you.”
“Listen to my, you little chicken, do you think that if you are dressed like robin hood, you are him? You have a choice; you spar with me or I beat you up.
“As You wish, on guard!” Before I finished the word, he launched at me with his sward from above. I deflected it easily and launched forward poking him in his belly.
“That’s not fair!” He screamed, “I wasn’t ready.”
“Let’s start over,” he said and extended his sward toward my belly. I averted it easily and tried just defending myself without attacking for a while. Every move he made I was able to defend. Just before the bell rang, I extended my arm forward to poke his belly once more he deflected my sward upward but didn’t move. The sward hit him one centimeter above his eye and punctured his skin. Yosi without saying a word, turned around and ran to the nurse’s office.
“Before we continue the costume contest,” announced the vice principal Moshe Kotler, “I want to remind you, there will be only ½ a day of school tomorrow. It is “Ta’anit Ester” (the fast of Queen Ester) and Tel Hai Memorial.” Tel Hai is a kibbutz up north in Israel. The story goes that there was a hero who lived there. His name was Josef Trumpeldor. He was wounded in world war 2 and lost his arm. Trumpeldor was one of the Kibbutz leaders and was defending the kibbutz when the Arabs were attacking just before the war of independence. He was shot just before they were able to save the place. The legend was that his last words were “it is good to die for our country”. Yet, the truth was he actually mumbled some Russian curse that sounded like that Hebrew sentence.
“Friday is a day off,” Moshe continued, “Purim, so have fun. And for now, let’s celebrate and continue with the contest. Who’s first?”
Of course, I didn’t win the contest, I didn’t even come close, there were much more creative costumes. But I had my chance to show off my skills with the sward. One of my favorite creative costumes was “ShoomDavar” – Nothing. The Word Shoom in Hebrew means garlic or “not”, and there was a newspaper called Davar which means something. One of the little kids made a hole in the middle of the paper and stuck his head through it. He wore it like a poncho. On top of the “Davar” paper he glued garlic, “Shoom” and here you got it ShoomDavar – Not a thing.
“It was a nice day but the sadness of losing my grandpa was hanging in my conscience. I waited for my brother and we walked home together. Dad came back home late, he told us that we will be going to stay with Mom for the weekend in Be’er Sheva She is sitting “Shiva” in mourning for her father. We Took the bus to Tel-Aviv early next morning and from there took the train to Be’er Sheva. There we met with all my cousins and uncles and aunts. Well, mostly the family on my Mom’s side. It was crowded at Meme’s house, so we split and some of us went to stay at my uncle Rone and His wife Rachel. The next day Dad gave us some money and all of the cousins went to see a movie. Just so we won’t go crazy at meme’s house. She never liked kids and having all of us at her house would be a little too much for her. “Trinity” was the name of the movie. Some silly western comedy.
“Let’s play like in the movie,” Suggested Vivi.
“Yeah!” everybody yelled, and we walked to the park Nono built. At the edge of the park I found 2 car tires and a wide wood plank. I put the plank on top of one of the tires and started jumping on it. It was a perfect trampoline. I was jumping very high.
“Hey, put the other tire under it” suggested Haim. I piled the tires on top of each other and put the plank on top. It didn’t take long, after two jumps, which were pretty high I hit the side of the plank on my way down. The plant slipped and the other end of it hit me right under the chin. I was bleeding for a long time until aunt Dolly Put a bandage on it. Mom was not happy.
“You went to the movies while I was here sitting Shiva?”
“We will be starting a new tradition this year,” said Frida our teacher. “Now that there won’t be any more Army parades or marches. We decided to start marching ourselves.”
Every year, for “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” the Israeli Independence Day we had a big army parade. Most of the time it was on the street of Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem. I never got to go to any of them. We couldn’t afford it. Last year my aunt Rachel got us tickets and we got all excited to go. It was happening in Be’er Sheva. We would take the train and stay at Aunt Rachel’s house (I don’t know why we always call it Aunt Rachel’s house instead of Uncle Rone’s house – they are both my parent’s siblings). I was so glad we arrived early to the train. There were so many people, lined up all the way to the street. As I said, we were early, so we got to our seats, but soon after it got so crowded there was no more places to sit or stand. People even were piling on the luggage racks.
The next day was the Independence Day’s Parade. We were sited on bleachers along the main street with a few hundred thousand people. The parade had to start early in the morning. Be’er Sheva was a desert town and would get very hot for people to sit outside.
Before we know it, we heard the speakers play the Israeli anthem. We all stood up and sang along the anthem. Soon after the first squad of soldiers started marching in. They were marching all in unison to the beat of the music. We saw soldiers from all facts of the army. The foot soldiers, the paratroopers, the air force and even the women soldiers dressed in skirts and sandals. After them we saw all kind of vehicles. Armored vehicles, missile carriers, and even the heavy tanks who ruined the roads with their big heavy metal chains. No wonder they were canceling the parades. Besides the price of the gasoline to run all the vehicles, the time for training the troupes just for show and the price of running the plains who came later and flew really low and scared Avi to death. Avi didn’t like noise, he hated even the fireworks the night before.
The day before Yom Ha’Atzma’ut was the Memorial Day for all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defending Israel. We had a siren blasting at 8:00 AM, everyone would stop what they were doing and stand up straight silently for one minute until the siren would stop. There were many memorial events and even the radio played soft Israeli music. And at night just as the sun set, we would hear one more siren but this time as soon as it was over everybody would go out to the street to celebrate. (A few yeas later this second siren was eliminated – too harsh of a change from sadness to party.) The streets were so full of people, you couldn’t walk without rubbing onto someone else. There were concerts and dances as well, of course the fireworks.
“So, kids we will have to get together outside at 10:00 and stand in triplets, straight lines and practice marching and singing. For 2 weeks straight, every day at 10:00 we would line up and march for about 2 miles singing and cheering for our team. Well, of course we cheered this was after all, a competition. We had to dress up with a unique costume. We had to create banners and decorate them. We had to write cheers for our team. The best team would be the first in line to receive ice-cream and the bragging rights. This was fun, no one had problems missing classes in the middle of the day, not even the teachers. Those weeks after Passover and before the Independence Day except for Yom HaShoah which was another sad day in memory of the Holocaust, we would enjoy the fresh air and feel the approaching summer.
"The Arabs are coming! The Arabs are coming!" Bentzi came rushing to the front lawn yelling his lungs out. "The Arabs are coming! Don't you understand what that means?"
We were all sitting on the grass choosing teams for “Hands Up”, a game we were about to play.
"What are you talking about?" Uri asked.
"It's not the first of April anymore!" said red head Benjamin. We called him Gingi.
"No, I'm serious," yelled Bentzi, "They're here, the Arabs." His name was Ben Zion, but his mom called him Bentzi, and so did we. "I'm telling you the Arabs are coming. They're in our woods behind our landslide hill."
"Next to the Chawalulus?" asked “Rita Chita” with her scared voice.
"Oh, relax," said Yoni, "Nobody is going to hurt you even if you beg them to."
"What should we do?" asked Rivka.
"We should call the police" said Bentzi.
"First let's see if he is telling the truth," I said.
We passed the Chalalulus' block very quietly. We didn't want them to get involved. They only caused problems, and we didn't want to have a neighborhood war. (The Chalalulus, that's what we called them, are the immigrants from Libya. They're loud and hot tempered and so are their disagreeable children. We called them that because they say “Chaala” for come here, “Chawa” for what, and they scream “Lululu” whenever they are happy.) We can’t get them involved when the Arabs are coming. After the Chalalulus' block we climbed the tall sand pile and entered the woods. We walked very quietly and were very careful not to step on any dry branches. Avi, my brother, climbed a tree. He loves climbing trees. One day he climbed a very tall pine tree just to see if there were eggs in the crows' nest. This time he climbed the tree so he could check the distance in front of us.
" There they are," he whispered. "Next to the berry tree."
We all inched carefully to the bold area next to the berry tree, each one of us hiding behind a tree.
"See that," said Bentzi, "Told you."
"Yes, you told us all right" I answered, "These are not the Arabs, these are Bedouins. I trust them more than I trust you. They are very friendly, and they even serve in the Israeli army."
"I don't care," he continued, "for me, they're still Arabs."
"Cin I helb you?"
The Arab accent startled all of us. We all turned around to see who it was. Bentzi lay on the floor in an instant and covered his head with both hands, but it was only a young boy maybe ten or eleven years old.
"Oh, hi," said Rivka, "He is so dirty," she whispered to Rita Chita. "Ahem, what is your name?"
"Hamid," the young boy answered. "Hamid Iben Mahmood, my fath..."
"O.K., see you later, bye," Rita Chita said and turned around to leave. In an instant everybody left, including my brother Avi. I was left with Hamid alone.
"My name is Haim, nice to meet you," I said and extended my hand.
"Nice to meet you."
"Where did you come from?" I asked, "Are you planning to stay here for good? When did you arrive here?"
"We came from the south near Beer Sheva, and we are on our way north to Mount Carmel. We will stay here for two more days. The sheep have to rest and eat well before we continue."
"Do you have any brothers and sisters?" I couldn't resist my curiosity. "Don't you go to school?"
"Oh yes, my father is a sheik and he have many children. He has three wives; I am the son of his youngest wife. The other brothers and sisters are of the other wives."
"So how about school? Do you go to school?"
"Of course, but not now. You see, it didn't rain in the south this year, and we had to move north to feed the animals. I had to take a break from school. Come with me. I'll introduce you to my father."
We walked toward the tent. It was a huge tent made of black wool. There was a divider in the middle. On one side were the sheep and goats. On the other side was the family's area. Hamid's father was sitting in front of the entrance to the family's area. He was sitting on a big pillow and next to him was a tall glass bottle that had smoke coming out of its top with a long hose reaching to the sheik's mouth.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Nargila – Hookah, a water pipe. My father likes smoking the nargila. Baba, meet my friend, Haim."
"Salaam aleikoom!" said the man in Arabic, that means peace be with you.
"Aleikoom salaam!" I answered.
"Oh, you speak Arabic?"
"Just a little," I continued in Arabic.
"Come boys, sit next to me."
A young woman covered all in black came and brought a pot of water, put it on the fire in front of us, and gave us cups.
"Shay," she said. That meant tea.
"Yes, shukran," I said.
She left for a moment and brought pitas, some spices, and dates. The tea was boiling by then and the sheik poured some for us. He poured my cup first, then he poured Hamid's, and only then, his own.
"You are our guest today, and anything you wish, we'll give you."
"All I wanted was to look around and see the animals," I said quietly.
"So, it will be done," the father said. "Just finish your drink and eat some. Then Hamid will show you around."
Last year at school we learned about the Bedouins. I remembered that it would be an insult if I didn't eat or drink all that was served. Not that it was bad, just that the tea was very strong and very sweet. The spices for the pita were different, something I never tried before. It was called “Zaatar”, some kind of Syrian Oregano mix. The dates were the only thing I really liked.
"You know," Sheik Mahmood said, "In bad times three dates and a pita is all that we eat a whole day"
"Yes, but only in bad times so don't worry about it. You can eat as much as you want."
I felt guilty. Hamid just told me that it was a dry year in the south, and that's the reason they came here. I shouldn't eat so many.
"Eat, eat!" He repeated himself.
"No, thank you, I had enough. My stomach hurts" I lied. This trick always works.
We went through the curtain that divided the tent. They had sheep, goats, some chickens and baby sheep, little, white, and curly. They were crying, "Bah, bah," and were nursing milk from their moms. Outside Hamid showed me the camels.
"They carry all the load," he said. "My brother has a pick-up truck, and he takes most of the stuff on it, but Dad doesn't want to buy one. We are Bedouins, he says, not spoiled lazy people."
There were some donkeys and some horses next to the camels.
"This is my horse," Hamid said proudly, "Do you want to ride it?"
"No thanks," I said, "My stomach still hurts." I was a little afraid of riding that horse, but you didn't expect me to tell him that, do you?
The next day I came to play with Hamid, and again, his father invited us to sit with him. He told us stories about horses, and heroes and we drank more tea and ate pitas.
When I returned home, I saw Bentzi on the front lawn.
"Gave up on your friends?" he asked in a nasty tone.
"Wait a minute," I said " It wasn't me that left the field when we met the Bedouins. They're very nice and I had a very good time with them."
"I'm not a traitor. Why don't you come with me tomorrow and you'll meet them too."
"Only if everybody comes, too"
He was afraid, I knew that, he was afraid.
The next day I rushed back from school, and as soon as everybody showed up, we went to see the tent.
"Where is the tent? What happened?" Avi asked disappointed.
"They're not here," said Rivka.
"I forgot," I said, "Hamid told me that they were leaving today."
We all turned around disappointed and walked back to our favorite playground. After a few slides down the sandy hill we all forgot about the Bedouins.
“Did you hear?” Aske Bentzi.
“Hear what?” Asked Uri.
“They are going to demolish all of our playgrounds.”
“What do you mean?” Rita Chita jumped in.
“My father said they are going to build a whole new neighborhood over there, there and there. Even all the way up where you and your dad go to pick up those green leaves.” He meant the spinach leaves my dad and I keep on collecting at the cliffs above the beach. Mom and dad spend a long time making that concentrated black sauce to make the spinach and bean soup. That sauce can last years if you keep it in a cool place.
“So, are you telling me that big puddle that is drying up now will become a building?” I asked.
That puddle is located just north of our 3 buildings across the street of the tall sand slide. That crossroad is a very dangerous place. Every other day there is an accident. Because people don’t pay attention to the road and drive too fast. There was no stop sign, not even a yield sign. One day, me and Rivka decided to do something about it. Rivka had a bunch of thick chock sticks. I asked her to bring it one day after school and we painted a stop line on the road exactly before the crossroad. People actually slowed down and stopped. For a few days there were no accidents on that street. Until the rain washed the line. It took years and many accidents until the city put a stop sign and eventually a round island in the middle of the crossroad to prevent people from speeding up.
“Yup!” Bentzi answered.
“There go our sorrel plants.” We love those sour wildflowers. They come out every winter next to that big puddle. One year that puddle was so big we actually made a raft and floated on it. On the other corner of the crossroad was a red flat dirt field where the boys from the close neighborhoods come to play sucker. No matter how many times I tried to fit in and join playing with them it didn’t work. I would never kick the ball straight and when I was put as a golly, I would literally fall asleep. Or simply sneak out the old dying grove. In the springtime that whole grove with its dying orange trees was covered with tall yellow daisies. They were so crowded and tall we made mazes, paths and trails. I had a hideout under a small tree where I would go to play. All that area soon will be taken over by big bulldozers like the one who covered my friend Rami.
“All right guys,” I said, “before we lose it all how about we make the best of it and go play ‘Hands Up’ in the daisy grove?”
Everybody grabbed a stick for their pretend guns, and we ran to our favorite hiding place in the maze.
“Tomorrow is a day you are all waiting for.” Announced Frida our class teacher.
“Our yearly trip,” interrupted Ariella Lanski.
“That’s Right,” continued, “and I would like to remind you what to bring with you. This is going to be an overnight trip. Next year you will have 2 nights trip. I enclosed here a list for you to take home, but in short, you will need a backpack, a sleeping bag, canned food for 2 days, fresh fruit, a canteen with water, a hat, and medicine if you need it.”
We were all too excited to listen to her, everyone was whispering or talking about what they are bringing. And, when you have more than 40 kids in the class this could be very noisy.
“Don’t forget the paint,” said Yosi “I am planning to paint all the girls. I will wake you up in the middle of the night, we will crawl to the girl’s room and we will paint their faces while they sleep.”
At home, mom pulled out dad’s old army backpack, a new sleeping bag she just bought two days ago, an aluminum canteen, three cans of tuna, a can of corn and a can of green peas.
“Tomorrow I will make you a few sandwiches, and you will have some fruit and vegetables in a plastic bag,” said Mom. “Here you have a first aid kit and a second aid kit. You remember how to use a needle and thread?”
“Of course,” I answered, “I see you are including a few buttons here too, thanks!”
“Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. I woke up before everybody and checked my list for the 5th time. At the school two huge trucks were waiting for us. They were specially converted trucks for school trips. The back of it had an open back canvas covered four rows of benches where about sixty kids cramped together. Bags under our seats and at the end sat our teachers with a few parents who joined us. Most of us were glad our parents were amongst the chaperones. We didn’t care if we were comfortable or not, we were all happy to go on a two-day trip. except maybe for “little Ilana” who started crying as soon as we left. Frida sat next to her and it took some time for her to calm down.
I forgot the paint, but I didn’t tell anyone. Yosi didn’t forget, the whole way he was talking how he was going to get up in the middle of the night and how he heard about the water trick. “You know,” he said, if you take someone’s hand while he sleeps and you stick it in a cup of water, he will piss in his bed.”
“Never heard of it,” said Yakov Bloom, “but I did hear that if you rub a pair of shoes next to someone sleeping you can change the retheme of his breathing.”
Our first stop was at the kibbutz Ein Harod in “Jezreel Valley”. It is located next to a famous spring from biblical time. We saw a museum and we were allowed to play in the shallow pools of the spring. For lunch I paired with Sha’ul Shriber the son of the judo teacher.
“What did you bring?” He asked.
I showed him my sandwiches and cans.
“Want to share? I offered.
“I tell you what,” Sha’ul continued, “we will share one of your sandwiches and open my can of tuna. I have lemon and salt and we can mix it up and make a light tuna salad.”
This was the best tuna salad I ever had. Mom never made it that way, she only opened the can and put it on the slice of bread.
That afternoon, we climbed the Gilboa mountain. This mountain is half naked. No trees grow on it. It was cursed by king David when His best friend Jonathan and his father King Saul died fighting the Philistines. Nothing grew on that part of the mountain but the view from it to the valley was exquisite.
“Tomorrow,” said Frida after we finished our dinner, “we will go to Beit She’an. And from there we’ll continue home. Now, get ready for bed. The kibbutz was nice enough to offer us lodging. The girls will stay in those rooms on the right and the boys on the other side.”
It took us a while to fall asleep. We all stayed up late talking quietly, ignoring the chaperons’ yells. All of us except Yosi. Yosi fell asleep right away. In no time he started to snore. By midnight when it was time to go paint the girls faces Yakov Bloom tried waking Yosi up. He called his name, shook him, he even put his hand in water. Yosi didn’t wet his bed nor he woke up. He kept on snoring and we couldn’t go to sleep. Without a word, Sha’ul Shriber dug in his bag and pulled his toothpaste. He took the cover off and squeezed the paste into Yosi’s nose. The snoring stopped and we all slept like babies. In the morning Yosi was the first to wake up. He creeped to the bathroom without talking to anyone and he stayed quiet all the next day.
Dad didn’t sleep well again last night. Dad has an ulcer in his stomach. If he has a bad day at work, he takes it too heart and his wound wound fester and it hurts him. A week ago, Dad received his dismissal from the army reserves. He was reassigned to the “Old Crew” the town defenders because of his ulcer. The only thing that helps him is eating yogurt or just resting. Now dad has a new thing to worry about; The “Old Crew” wants him to take a new course. He will become a medic. As you remember, Dad didn’t even finish elementary school. He had to go to work at the age of 11 to help support his family. Dad’s reading skills were not so good. In fact, he barely knew the Hebrew letters.
“I need your help,” Dad told me. “I need you to help me read this book.” He showed me a big book of anatomy. “Oh, and this one too.” And he showed me another book of medical procedures in the battlefield.
It was not easy; I wasn’t a great reader either. The words looked backward to me so many times. And it was very difficult to concentrate with all that was happening outside. It was the holiday of “Shavuot”, we were sitting on our balcony and trying to read Dad’s anatomy book. Outside on top of the neighbors’ roof stood a bunch of the Libyan kids. On top of the fourth floor each one of them had a bucket in his hand. The moment one person came out of the building a bucket of water was emptied on him. There was no escape from them. On the ground other kids were holding water hoses and were washing every walker by.
“Oh that,” said dad, “we need to concentrate. The Tripolitanias have an old tradition. They believe we need to be washed of our sins and be pure for the receiving the Torah. Anyway, let’s continue, should we get inside?”
“No, I’m ok, let’s continue.”
I learned how to put a bandage, how to stop bleeding and even how to give a shot or an infusion. I learned the names of the bones and the names of the muscles. Dad was learning too, it wasn’t easy for him, but he was ready to take the test and he passed it and was happy to become a medic.
Mom make a special Tunisian Juice. Mom didn’t have a large menu, most of it I didn’t really like. But this juice was really good. It was made from an ingredient that takes time to collect, sometimes years. The juice is called “Luzata” and it is made from bitter almonds. Not just bitter almonds, you can buy at the stores. This was made from the seeds of the apricot. The season of the apricot fruit is very short. A month or two at the beginning of the summer. Mom would buy maybe a kilo or two. After eating them we would break the very hard shell with a hammer and collect the almond that is hidden inside. There for it would take about a year or even three to collect enough almonds to make one bottle of concentrated juice.
When we came back from Passover vacation, we found right next to the spot where we park our bikes, a long pole laying on two metal legs and another pole leaning toward it. It was a balancing pole. At 10:00 AM the long break, Moshe Kotler the vice principal stood in front of us.
“Now that we finished our daily calisthenics, I Have an important message for you. The game “Big Donkey” is banned all over the country. It is too dangerous, many kids were hurt, were paralyzed or even died. You may continue play “little donkey” under supervision, but no more “big donkey”. This is why we added this balancing beam for you to play with.”
None of us said a word. We were all dumb founded.
Little donkey was a game we mostly played at gym classes when one kid will bend over with his hand on his knees. And the rest of the kids will jump over him with the help of our hands pressing on the kid’s back, one kid at a time. The last kid in the row will then band over and we will start over again. Now, “big donkey” was a little different; We would break into two groups, one group will be the “donkey” and the other will be the jumpers. The donkey group would line up one behind the other against the wall and bend over forming the long donkey. The jumpers would jump on top of the donkey and pile up as many people as they can. If the donkey collapses that group will lose. If any of the jumpers falls, the donkey wins.
“I hate that!” Said Yosi.
“Yeah, that is no fun,” said Yakov Bloom, what are we going to do on that balancing beam?”
“Walk on it,” Ariella Lanski jumped in.
“And then what? Asked Sarah Mimon.
“Jump off,” Ariella answered.
“We could see who lasts the longest on the beam,” I suggested.
“You’d be the first to fall, Tzutik!” I heard someone yells.
“Big Shot,” I answered, “let’s see you try.”
Big Israel from the seventh grade stepped out and walked toward the balancing beam.
“After you,” he bowed down and pointed toward the beam, “After you, tzutzik!”
I had no problem walking on the beam, it was an old thick electric pole. I got to the center and turned around. Big Israel tried to climb up and his weight took over him and he lost balance and fell before he even managed to the top. Everyone was laughing as he was trying again and again.
“Let me try,” Bentzi called and pushed big Israel aside. He managed to climb up and walked toward me. He extended his arms toward me, lost balance and fell off. I am not sure why I was able to stay on, maybe the fact that I was small for my age and closer to the ground. I was able to keep balance for the whole break period. They came up one after the other and all fell off before or just as they reached me. This was getting boring.
The next day we tried it again for the first few breaks but by the time the long break was over we were thinking of the seasonal game; “Gogoim”, or by the real name, apricots pits. This was a simple game, in fact two games. One was called “closer to the wall” and the other was “pit in a can”. The ideas were simple; A bunch of kids would stand in a line and throw the apricot pits toward the wall. The one who gets closer to the wall wins and he gets to keep all the pits. Or, again the kids would line up and throw the pits toward the can. The kid who would get the pit in the can would collect the rest of the missing pit. I was better in playing the closer to the wall part and was able to collect a few “gogoim”. I had to find a way to win more gogoim. Watching the “pit in can” game one more time gave me an idea. I went home and looked for my new shoe box and made a few holes in the cover, each a different size. Next to each hole I wrote a number. On the big hole I wrote the number 2. On the smaller one 5, and the smallest one 10. I asked Avi to loan me his stash of gogoim and collected all of mine. I took the box with me to school the next morning and on the first break I placed it on the floor in the corridor and announced: “New Game! If you get the gogo in any of the holes you get back the number that is next to the hole.” In no time I was collecting apricots pits more than I could dream of. The next day I brought an extra bag for the pits and by the time the season was over I had so many pits that my Mom was able to make 4 bottles of the concentrated juice. Unfortunately, my fingers weren’t so happy, all the times I missed the pit while striking it with the hammer I had bruises to testify.
6 Days War
Dad got a special gift for his birthday, "a baby".
It all started about a year ago, late spring of 1967, we just returned from the town's public swimming pool. The 6th grade teacher led us to the gym for an assembly.
"What is it all about?" Someone asked. "It's probably about our swimming lessons, you saw how Uri pushed Tanya into the deep water and she didn't know how to swim."
I looked forward those lessons. I loved the water, but I didn't know how to swim in deep water. Mom promised me that when I know how to swim well, she'll let me go with my friend to the beach unsupervised.
"Quiet! Quiet everyone!" The principal yelled, "Quiet!"
The whole school was there even the little kids from the special 1st grade.
"We gathered here today for a very important reason, so I want everybody to cooperate and pay attention. There is a possibility that Israel will be going to war. As you all know the Arab nations are surrounding us..."
"This time they won't escape!" I whispered to Sarah Markovich.
"Is there something you want to share with us, young boy?"
said the principal.
"Who me?" I said (how did he hear me?) "No sorry".
"There is a possibility that the Arabs will penetrate our borders and sand planes to bomb our towns. For such occasions we must be prepared. We have to practice emergency drills. For now you will hear the school's bell ringing intermittently. This will be the sign for you to - quietly - get up and - nicely - without talking, young boy."
I hate it when people call me young boy.
"You will walk" The principal continued, to the underground shelter. We designated a spot for each class, so I expect every class to walk to their area, sit quietly and wait for instructions. In case of a real emergency you will hear a siren going up and down and, in this case, you’ll do just the same and - quietly - walk to your assigned places. if this happened to be on your break between classes please don't run, just walk to your regular assigned places as if your teacher was with you."
Nobody expected this kind of talk. Back at the classrooms our teacher explained again what it all meant and what we should do at home. "You should tape the windows like we did in class and at night dim all the lights. I'm sure that your neighbors will get together to dig trenches. Offer your help because most of the men are enlisted in the army and the women wouldn't be able to do much without your help."
"How are we going to see in the dark?" asked Sarah Markovich. Sarah and I shared the desk for the last two years.
"Well," said the teacher, "the idea is to dim the light so 'planes will not see us at night. Even car lights will have to be painted, leaving only a thin opening for the light to show. We will all just have to be more careful."
"And what about the swimming lessons?" Asked Bully - Israel the fat boy.
"Yes, what about those swimming lessons?" Asked Sarah Mimon.
"You see children," said the teacher, your swimming teachers had to go to serve the army just like all the other men in Israel. I'm sure that after all this is over, they'll be back, and you'll have the opportunity to swim again."
That afternoon, when I got home, Mom was waiting for me with a shovel. "Your brother is already helping the neighbors dig the trench.
Roni Halali brought bags from his dad's store, your job is to fill the sandbags with the dirt that the older boys are digging," Mom said, "so hurry up, finish your lunch and go and help them."
All the young men were drafted to serve on the border, the middle age men were in the local defense with my dad, he's a medic. It was all up to us boys to defend our neighborhood. We will dig the best trench so everyone can fit in and be safe. You see, not every building had a shelter or a basement, only the brand-new ones were designed with a big basement. Our neighborhood was built long ago, and they didn't anticipate aerial attack. By evening we were all done. Mrs. Halali brought raspberry juice and a radio. We all sat outside our new shelter / trench and listened to the radio for updates and instructions.
Next morning, as usual, Sarah Mimon was waiting for me next to her house to walk to school together.
"Say, my dad had to go to the army today," she said, "how about your dad? Did he get drafted?
"Yes" I replied, "but he is in the local forces. He doesn't have to fight this time. He is a medic and he will be at the "Red Magen David" station. But I'm worried because my Uncle Claude, was drafted yesterday morning and his wife entered the hospital to have a baby last night. I don't want to think about what will happened if he never comes back."
"He'll be back," she said. "The war didn't even start yet and we don't know if there will be war."
"You're right, we don't know. Oh, guess who was drafted today?" I continued.
"I don't know, who?"
"No, our mother!" I teased her. "I saw him this morning with his army clothes entering a bus."
"You're kidding. What will they do with us now? They sent us home early yesterday because of the gym teacher."
"I don't know. I kind of like this war stuff maybe they'll cancel school altogether."
"Yes, don't you wish," she said when we entered the classroom.
I went to my chair next to Sarah Markovich, Sarah Mimon went to her place at the back of the class and waited quietly for the bell to ring.
Right after snack break, the siren sounded. The substitute teacher stood up. You could see the color in her face changing and a worried look appearing.
"Let's all get up quietly and walk to the shelter," she said.
At the shelter that is our audio-visual auditorium, under the nature center, all of us sat at our designated areas. Some girls were crying softly, some kids were whispering but it was extremely quiet. The principal didn't have to do his "quiet" routine.
"We will wait here until the calming siren will sound and then we'll send you all home." The principal announced, "Meanwhile we'll watch a movie."
We didn't have a chance to see the movie. The moment the light went off the calming siren went on.
"School will be canceled for now. Please listen to the radio to find out when we'll resume," said the principal When the light went on. "Don't wander around on your way home and when you're there, stay in your neighborhood. We don't want anybody to get hurt."
On the way home I walked with Sarah Mimon and Uri, the tall boy whose father is in jail for attempted murder of his wife's lover. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and two jet fighter planes flew above us at a very low altitude. Uri started running and yelling something that sounded like "mom" or something. Sarah grabbed my arm while I looked up at the 'planes. They were very fast, but I had the chance to see their marking. They were blue and white. Those French made "Mirage" were my favorite Israeli plains because they looked just like the paper 'planes I made during English class.
"Don't worry" I said to Sarah Mimon, "they're ours, but I think we should hurry home anyway."
Again, Mom was waiting for me on the front lawn.
"Dad was here earlier but he went back to his post," she said. " He said that there is nothing to worry about. But I can't help it, I always worry."
Just as I got home the sirens sounded again. We all rushed to the trenches and jumped right in and the sirens sounded the "all clear".
" What is going on?" asked Uri.
"We didn't have a chance to get in the trenches and they sounded the all clear" said Rita "Chita".
"They don't let the Arabs' planes get in our country." said Bentsi.
"Listen to this" said Gila my mother's friend, while holding the transistor radio. " They said on the radio that we shot down 250 Arab war planes. Can you believe that?"
"Unbelievable!" Said mom.
Now another neighbor came out of her house. It was Hana Televisia. She got her nickname because of her odd habit of yelling every time she opened her window. She also held a transistor radio in her hand, but she was listening to an Arab station. Hana Televisia was yelling and crying.
"Woo, woo, my God they are coming, they are in Tel Aviv. We are all going to die. The Arabs are going to throw us all into the sea. Woo Woo..."
"Those chalalulus" said Uri's mother "When are they going to learn to speak Hebrew or at least listen to a Hebrew station?"
Lucky for us, her older son came home, and he comforted her and explained to her that that news was made-up propaganda by the Arabs countries to stir up chaos and panic in Israel.
That night, following the radio's instructions, we dimmed all the lights and anywhere we went we had a transistor radio. For five days we were all listening to the news every hour. The Radio played only Israeli music. New songs were written, and new jokes were invented all about the feat of the Israeli army. The most memorable moment was at one night when we all sat on the front lawn listening to the radio. The radio announcer sounded very excited. He was describing his steps and the soldiers' steps in the old city of Jerusalem. I felt a big lump in my throat, as he was approaching the Western Wall and, as soon as he touched the Wailing Wall, a new song was played on the radio -- a song that became one of the most famous songs in the world. It was "Jerusalem of gold".
The morale in Israel was very high and we felt invincible. We have the best pilots in the world and the best army, and no-one will ever defeat us. But then the real truth started to appear. Yes, we won the war, but at a very high price. Every family in Israel lost someone in this war, whether it was a father, brother or an uncle.
When the policeman knocked on our door, I knew who would never come back. Uncle Claude, Dad's youngest brother, the one that just had a baby, was in the first jeep that entered the city of Gaza. He was also in the first jeep that was hit.
It was terrible. I had never seen Dad cry before. We all cried. At the "Sheva" at Meme's house, Mom promised that she was going to bring Uncle Claude back. For a while I didn't know what that meant or how she was going to do that, but then I understood, I am going to have a new brother.
“Hey, Haim!” I heard Nehama Lerner as I was picking up my chair to put it on top of the table before leaving for home. “The new music teacher is looking for you.”
“Me? Doesn’t he know what happened with Pnina, the old teacher? She practically had her heart broken.”
Last year after winning the choral festival I stopped coming to rehearsals, every time finding another excuse. Until Pnina caught me playing “hands up” on her way home.
“Your Mom is sick?” she asked.
“I don’t want to see you again!” She said in disappointment.
I was banned from the choral for the rest of the time in our school.
“Yes,” Said Nehama Lerner, “but she is no longer here.”
The new music teacher, I think, was a long lost relative of mine. His name was Yitzchak Tov. Tov is the root of the word “good” in Hebrew. And so is my last name – at that time they pronounced it “Tubi” because of a clerical mistake who extended the letter Yod to a Vav and there for changed the sound of last name. He was also from Tunisia, where my parents came from. I liked him, he kept us singing a lot of new popular songs while playing his accordion. Now he wants me to rejoin the choral. To be again the only boy.
“He likes your voice,” said Nehama Lerner, “I think it was Ya’el Helbort who told him about you too.”
“Ya’el,” I thought to myself almost out loud “I love that blond.” She is pretty, a good singer and I saw her play the guitar, my favorite instrument. I never even imagined she noticed me. She was in my classroom, but we never talked. She lived at the rich neighborhood on the way to Avihayil, those people don’t look at us “low class Sfaradim”. It is still puzzling me how a people who’s been discriminated for all of its history can be discriminating within its people.
“I heard a lot about you, young man,” said Yitzchak Tov. “You have a good voice and can carry a tune.”
“I guess, I could.”
“We need you to sing the blessing for the candles of Chanukah this year. Do you think you can manage it?
“This year I am planning also to have an orchestra playing with us. It should turn out very well. We had some new budget for new instruments, and we have some kids who are good musician. I am very excited about it. Yitzchak was proudly smiling as he was telling us about the changes. We started rehearsals right away. Of course, I was feeling very proud of myself and through the corner of my eyes I could see Pretty Ya’el almost smiling.
Two days before The Chanukah celebration I was woken up with the usual classical music at 6:00 Am and unlike every morning I heard an Aria from one of the Italian operas. I was so excited, I never heard that before. And the voice was so deep and strong I was trying very hard to imitate it. Avi my brother jumped in and joined me with his squeaky voice (Dad always made fun of his whining).
“Can you sing like that”? he asked and was changing the key (I had no idea what key was at that time) back and forth. “I hear, only professionals can do that.”
“Of course, I can,” I answered proudly. And we both walked to school singing off and on key different songs.
The next day, at the last period, our parents came to watch our Chanukah celebration. For the first time ever, Dad showed up and sat proudly in the first row. His son is about to sing the blessing in front of the whole school.
First the kids with the instruments walked up to the stage and everybody was cheering them up. Next the choral kids walked up and yours truly was the first kid on the first row. Standing proudly, trying to look tall. “I have a surprise for Yitzchak today. I will sing like a professional.”
We sang a few Chanukah songs and then it was my turn to step up to the “Chanukkiah”. The orchestra gave us a few introduction cords and I started the blessings, holding the candle in my right hand and started to light the first candle. When I got to the second candle, I decided it was time to show my professionalism. I changed the key in the middle of the blessing. The gasp I heard that came from the audience scarred me so much I dropped the candle. Lucky it turned off. I quickly picked it up, relit it and continued the blessing with the original key. In the corner of my eye I could see Yitzchak brushing his hair in amazement or maybe frustration. Once we finish and everyone clapped their hands, I heard Yitzchak tov yelling at me; “Tubi, remind you to talk to you about musical Keys!”
“T’U BiShvat Higi’a, HaHamor Hichri…”
“You better stop it Haim, or I will send you to the principal!” Frida yelled at me. “How many times are we going to go through this?”
“At least once a year,” I whispered to myself. “on T’U BiShvat.” T’U BiShvat is the holiday of the trees. It is the time we plant trees in Israel. According to the Rabbis T’U BiShvat – the 15th day of the month of Shvat falls exactly at the time when it is no longer cold and not too hot. The best time to plant trees, When the people of Israel left Egypt God has ordered them to plant trees all over the land of Kna’an, to convert the dessert to a fruitful land. There were many songs to help us celebrate the New Year of the Trees. One of them is the one I was singing and rudely interrupted. The only difference is, my words are different. The original song translates to “T’U BiShvat arrived the holiday of the trees.” Yet, the song I was singing translates to “T’U BiShvat arrived the donkey pooped, T’U BiShvat Passed and the donkey finished.” No wonder the teacher got upset.
“Our vice principal Moshe Kotler arraigned for us a new plot to plant trees this year,” continued Frida. “We will walk up to the hill next to Avihayil, once we are over the hill, we will find the plot with a lot of cans full of dirt and small pine tree plants. We don’t have enough shovels so we will have to share. Each one of you will dig a small dich big enough to fit the plant. So, don’t dilly dally one or two digs of the shovel should be enough.”
“when will we be leaving?” Asked Yosi. I am sure he was thinking to dich us and go home before dismissal, he lived on that hill we were about to climb.
“Right after the 10:00 o’clock recess.”
Just like the Yom HaAtzma’ut marches, we lined up in pairs. I was standing next to Sarah Markovich. I have been sharing the desk with her this year. Frida moved me to the front row next to Sarah to help me concentrate and to stop me from pulling the red braid of Vardit Bercovitz. Sarah was a skinny freckled girl, very quiet, but also very smart. She always got “A” on every subject and the teacher thought it will help me to sit next to her.
“Did you tell her yet?” She whispered to me, we lined up 2 pairs behind the leading pair.
“Tell who? What?”
“Ya’el, I saw how you were looking at her.”
“Wo? Me? I wasn’t looking at her.”
“Sure, you weren’t, you practically stalked her yesterday. Even Frida yelled at you to look at the board and not to the back of the room.”
“I was reading the new poster.”
“That poster was there from the beginning of the year.”
“Well, I didn’t see it before.”
“Because you were blinded by Ya’el who is sitting under it.”
“I can never tell her; she is on a different league.”
“What? Because she is Ashkenazy? I am Ashkenazy, and I like you.”
“And rich. And look at me, I am the shortest skinniest in the class. You can’t. see me with a magnifying glass of a deaf watchmaker.”
“You are funny! She does see you and hear you. Did you forget? She was the one who told Yitzhak Tov about you.”
“What if she turns me away? It will be embarrassing. I will burry myself under the plants we are planting today.”
“Stop Talking there Haim!” Friday yelled again. “Keep in line with everyone and watch where you are walking.”
It took us about half an hour to get there and sure enough, we were in a field overlooking the “Hefer Valley” Cans with small pine tree plants were spread around the plot. We started digging one hole at a time and planted each one of the saplings, we patted the ground and watered them from a watering can that was waiting for us. Sarah Markovich and I were finished quickly and were seated on the side of the road waiting for the rest of the kids to finish so we can go back to school. We will be dismissed early today, Yosi didn’t have to sneak out.
“So?” Sarah Markovich whispered.
“Stop! I am afraid to talk to her.”
“You are not afraid to talk to me.”
“This is different, you are my friend, we share the desk.”
“Maybe some other time.”
“Sure… what are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“My Mom prepared some fruit pastry, dry fruit and nuts for dinner. What about you?”
“Oh, the same.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“What?” Said Sarah Markovich.
“I was invited to be a Cadette at the Military Highschool.”
“Wow! Really? That’s wonderful! But wait a moment, don’t you have to have high grades? And you know your grades aren’t that high.”
“Yeah, more like that low!” I said with a smile. “Do you remember we had to take that weird exam?”
“The psychological, yes.”
“Well, maybe this had something to do with it. Moshe Kotler also told my Mom he wants me to apply for that fancy school for gifted kids.”
“You are gifted, alright! A specially in English.”
“What can I say, I don’t like that mean teacher. Admit it, no one likes her either”
That mean teacher was Tzila. She didn’t like me either. No matter what I did or try I could never do good by her. The only thing I learned in the last 2 years of English classes was to say and write “Tzila Is Gorilla.”
“Here Haim,” said Ariella Lanski, “I managed to get from the teachers’ office a box of colored chalk, go for it!”
“I will do it tomorrow, before school starts.”
The next morning, I got up early to my Mother’s surprise and walked to school. I was the first in and went to work right away.
Everybody was quiet when the bell rang. Tzila walked, surprised, looking at everyone who are usually noisy. And then she turned and looked at the blackboard she lost her balance and immediately sat on her chair and jumping right back from fear. Her chair made an explosive noise. She fell back to her chair and held her head with her palms while her elbows on her desk. She turned around again to look at the blackboard. The Board was decorated in multicolor large statement “Tzila is a Gorilla”.
“He did it!” yelled Ariella Lanski and pointed at me. I couldn’t believe the betrayal and said nothing. Of course, I was sent to the Vice Principal and he gave me 2 weeks off from school after talking to my Mom…
It was time to go to the “military recruiting office”. I was told not to eat anything before going there and to get there on time. The office was in Ramat Gan, about an hour drive from my house if you go by car. I had to be there at 8:00AM. So, imagine, at 6:00 an eleven years old kid who looks like he was seven leaves his house and walked ½ a mile to the bus station. And take it to the central bus station. There I buy a ticket to Tel Aviv and bored another bus. After an hour ride to Tel Aviv I take another bus to Ramat Gan. The whole way I had people looking at me, who the hell let such a little boy ride a bus on his own. I was proud of myself for making it on time. It was the same military base where my uncle Rone took me so many years ago. I recognized it by the same tank at the entrance.
“Nani Haim Tubi?”
“Follow me,” said the nurse.
I followed her to the X ray room, and from there to a room where 3 doctors asked me to undress and they looked at me from all directions, asking me to move that way or that, bend down and stand straight. They took my blood and urine then asked: “How old are you?”
“You look much younger, any medical problems?”
“I had hepatitis when I was five. Oh, Mom asked me to tell you that I am allergic to dust.”
“Hmm,” said one of the doctors. “This could be a problem; our students have to be very healthy. We have them crawl in the mud, run in the desert and all kind of physical difficulties. We don’t know if this is a good fit for you.”
I walked away to the bus to take me home humiliated and sad, I remembered how Shmulik made fun of me when he heard that I got the invitation.
“One thing for sure,” I told Sarah Markovich, “I will never mention my allergies again”.
“I would like to introduce you to the new Mariners teacher,” Moshe Kotler the Vice Principal and our new class teacher said. “Zak. He is the former and director of the ‘Zevulun” Youth Organization. He will teach you how sailors navigate and how to row boats. If you wish, you may join Zevulun and also learn to sail sailboats.”
This was very exciting, except for one or two boys we were all very happy. The girls had some other activity – something to do with home keeping, I think.
“I am not sure whey the girls aren’t a part of this class,” said Zak, “my daughter is a very good sailor, but we would do the best of it.”
“When are we going to go on the boats?” asked Sha’ul Shriber.
“What do we do in the winter when it rains?”
“Well, we will try to plan more indoor classes in the winter, but rain never stopped boats from sailing.”
On the following week as soon as classes were over, we all walked to the “Zevulun” beach where the club was located. Zak showed us a few different boats and how to make a pole knot.
“See this boat? He pointed on a small boat hanging from the ceiling upside down. “this is a 420 sailboat. It is an Olympic sailboat. Next to it is a boat that looks the same but much bigger it is the flying dutchman.”
“Are we going to sail on those?” I asked.
“No, these are private boats. We will be sailing on this one first.” He pointed to a wooden boat with three rowers’ benches. “It is called Caravel. We will be using two of them. Later on, we will be using that one” Zak pointed at a much bigger boat with eight rowers’ benches. “This one is a Wailer. As you can see both of these boats have a divider in the center, it is for the keel. We insert it when we use a sail to keep the boat straight instead of drifting sideways.”
“Where is the sail?” asked Yaakov Bloom.
“See here on the wall we have the masts. We will used them in good time. Today we will learn how to set up the rowing oars. First, I would like you to check these metal forks they slide in the holes on top of the sides, next to the benches. The oar rest in the fork and this bump in the wood prevents it from sliding off.”
“Ouch!” we all turned to look at Yosi. We never understood how he manages to get in trouble. He had his leg stuck inside the fork. It took Zak a few long minutes to help it slide off his leg.
A few weeks have passed, and we learned to row and sing the retheme of the rowers and even the proper way to catch the waves back to the shore. The Caravel where Yosi was rowing took the wave on the wrong time and they were thrown over. Lucky for them they only got wet. It was time to learn to move to the wailers’ boat. For that we had to take a bus to the Alexander River. Remember? The one where I found the little fish, long ago. Next to the Shark restaurant. Once we got there, we saw that the big boat was waiting for us ducked to the pier.
Something about the water always get me excited. If I only knew how to swim, I would have probably love it even more. Unfortunately, I lost the chance to learn to swim at the 6 days war when the canceled the pool classes. I knew how to tread water but that was it. Now with this new mariners’ class I have the opportunity to be around water even more. So, of course I was excited to be in Alexander river, seeing the shark in the restaurant and the romantic dock with all the small rowboats.
We all climbed up to the wailer and took a seat on the benches. We all knew what to do even if we never really climbed on a wailer. We got the oars and placed them in the fork and extended to the side of the boat.
Zak was ready for us, sitting next to the rudder.
“Now, we will practice some turning without the use of the rudder.” He declared. “You all know how to row while sitting with your back to the direction and pulling the oars as long as you can, together with everyone at the same direction.”
“You also know how to row forward and the boat will go backward.”
“OK then, my left side row forward and my right-side row backward, go!” and sure enough the boat was turning in place.
“Now everyone, row backward, we will go up the river.” And so, we did. We rowed for an hour all the way pas the turtles bridge where we saw many turtles swimming under us. Now it was time to get back. Everyone was tired.
“I can’t go on,” said Yosi “I am too tired.”
“Me too,” Yaakov Bloom said.
“Me too,” Sha’ul Shriber said. In fact, everyone was tired and gave up on rowing.
“Hmm,” said Zak “I guess we will not go home tonight.”
For some reason, I didn’t give up. Instead of rowing one row, I took two rows, one on each hand and continued rowing. To my advantage, the river was flowing on the direction I was rowing. So, in less than ½ hour we made it and it was easy for me.
“You made it!” Exclaimed Zak “Look at them, they are all sleeping.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Well, since you are the only one who stuck to the task, I am extending a complimentary Zevulun membership to you for the next 2 years, until you go to high school. See you on Saturday morning at the club we’ve got special training for you.”
Special training was the best. I joined the big kids on the other wailer and we actually pulled up two sails. We sailed north all the way to Michmoret, north of Alexander river. On the way back the sea was getting rough and most of the young sailors got seasick, yet I still was having fun.
One rainy day we were forced to have mariners’ class indoors, but as soon as we finished Zak came to me and asked if I could go with him to the club, there was an emergency.
The sea was very rough, it was cold outside, and the rain didn’t stop. We got out of his car and ran to the beach. The wailer was bouncing from side to side and slowly filling with rainwater. The other kids were already there holding each other’s arms and forming a human chain from the beach to the boat.
“You are the smallest one and we need to throw you into the boat. You will have to lift the anchor and throw us the line. We will do the rest.”
The waster was almost freezing cold. Everyone was pulling me from one to the other all the way to the boat. The last two people threw me upward to the boat. It was difficult to pull the anchor. I was almost the same weight. Once I had it in the boat, I threw the line and sat down shivering. While everyone was pulling the boat to the shore and pushing it to safety in the club.
On the way home I kept on shivering even with the blanket Zak gave me.
“You were brave today, thank you!”
We walked to my house and at the door Zak again thanked me and told my parents how brave I was.
At the shower I experienced something very interesting. No matter how much I shot the hot water. The water was still too hot for me. My feet felt like I put them in boiling water. I had to sit in almost cold water for a long time until my body’s temperature was getting back to normal. I was a little sick for the next few days and it was worth it.
“Big Nail and Little Nail were neighbors” Dad started, “Big Nail was very rich and Little Nail was very poor.”
We were sitting all around him at the yard in front of and Rachel and uncle Rone house. All the kids of our family loved to hear Dad’s stories. He was a great storyteller and he also did some magic tricks the little kids loved even more.
“Big Nail had a big flock of beautiful sheep. Little Nail had only one cute little sheep. He loved his sheep and took care of her. He shared his food with her and protected her like his child. One day, Big Nail invited a few friends for a party. He wanted to feed them all but by no means did he wish to waist any of his sheep for the dinner party. He had to get the sheep from Little Nail. And so, he did. In the middle of the night he stole the sheep from Little Nail and roasted it for his dinner party.
“No way, cried Batyah, aunt Rachel’s daughter.
“Well,” said Dad, “it wasn’t the only bad thing he did. He tried to take over the Little Nail’s Grape vine.”
“Horrible!” Said Batyah.
“But then the king was one of the guests and he heard what had happened. The king was very upset. He took everything the Big Nail owned and gave it to Little Nail.
I am not sure why did Dad call them Nails but, hey, it is his story.
“Nanou!” I heard Mom calling, “Come back in we need to get you ready for the party tonight. Aunt Rachel can’t wait to wash you.” Yup, embarrassing, it is a mitzvah to wash the Bar-Mitzvah Groom.
“OK Mom, I am coming. Dad, tell them the Jukitah story, the little ones didn’t hear it yet and the older ones will love hearing it again.”
It was the day of my Bar-Mitzvah Party. Mom and Dad decided to make it a small party because the death of Uncle Claude they didn’t want to upset Meme Milli. So tomorrow we will be taking a bus to Jerusalem. For a year now I have been preparing for this moment. Well may be two years. Even before the war I have started to go to the synagogues in the neighborhood. Every Friday evening and every Saturday morning I would visit one or another synagogue, until I found my favorites. One of the synagogues I liked was practicing a Tunisian / Algerian tradition. It was located close to a home for the handicap on the border with Avihayil. A group of orphans was attending there every Friday evening and Saturday morning. They were walking about 2 miles each way with their school director. They all knew the prayers and most of the time lead the service with the cantor. I asked the cantor to teach me and help me get ready for my Bar-Mitzvah, but he said he was too busy and gave me a name of some other Moroccan Rabbi who specialized in preparing kids for their Bar-Mitzvah. He attends the Libyan (Tripolitanian) synagogue closer to my house. Are you confused yet? The synagogue I attended every morning the summer before was Ashkenazic where I learned The Talmud. Or at least tried to. They had two rabbis there. One who taught us the Gemarah all in Aramaic and he always insisted I pray before studying. I didn’t know what I was doing. What to read when to stand and when to sit or sing out loud. I gave up on them quickly and went to the Libyan synagogue.
There were a few reasons for me to choose the Libyan Synagogue. The fist was it was close, to my house. Less than a mile. On the way I found a Pitango bush and always had some snack on the way there and back. The service was easier to follow. They didn’t have the frills of the Tunisians. They didn’t read the vowels in the Ashkenazic way or the Yemenite. It was simple and friendly. My favorite part was the “Kabablat Shabat” The welcoming of the Shabat with songs. We would sit in a circle and each one of us would, in turn, sing a verse or two of the songs and all would join in with the refrains. On Shabat when it came the time to read the Torah, it was fun to see the auctioning of the “Torah Portions”. No, we didn’t cut the Torah to pieces. Reading a part of the Torah is an honor. Since the Synagogues in Israel don’t charge membership, the only way for them to survive is by selling Torah Portions and donations. For my Bar Mitzvah Dad bought some silver decorations for the Torah Scrolls of that synagogue. And of course, he bought the auction and all my close family shared the Torah Portions. That was on the Shabat Service. For the Week Service after the party we had that trip to Jerusalem.
After the “washing of the groom” I was dressed up by Aunt Mary, the new shirt and pants were custom made by a fancy tailor in Netanya. I had to go see him three times last month for fittings and adjustments. Uncle Rone was testing his tape recorder. He wanted to record me telling me speech “D’var Torah”. I worked on it for a long time. My teacher wasn’t a very nice person. Every time I forgot some line or a melody, he would smack my hand or even slap my face. That wasn’t fun, so I was very happy not to see him anymore and I was ready to deliver my speech and my Torah Reading.
“This day, God has created IS a day for celebration.” I opened my speech.
“IS!” said Uncle Moshe. “Did you guys hear how he said IS?”
“Shut up Morris!” Interrupted him Ant Mary. “Let him finish his talk.”
I spoke about the Torah portion and about the feeling of getting older. Thanking my parents and everyone who helped me get here. Of course, everyone had clapped their hands and it was time for gifts and dinner.
“Nanou!” Called Mom when I was trying my first cigarette. “Come I want you to meet your older brother.”
“My what?” I coughed the first breath I took of the cigarette and last. “Who?”
“Your brother, I had him when I was about your age.”
“You were married before Dad?”
“No, silly! You see this is Moshe, Like my brother Moshe. His mother, the older woman over there, had hard time delivering babies. She had 4 miscarriages, and 2 babies died right after birth.so we came up with a solution. Maybe she was cursed so all of her kids would die. There fore if someone would buy her future kid the child might survive because it wouldn’t be her child. I quickly volunteered to buy him. As she was pregnant, I offered to buy her baby for 1 Lira. So, you see? This is my first son. He was born healthy and lives for 18 years now.”
“Nice to meet you!” I extended my hand to shake his.
“It was a nice speech!”
“I expect you to do the same tomorrow.”
I found an ashtray and put out that first and last cigarette. That was not a fun experience, it reminded me the pipe I made when I was six years old from the branches of the castor tree. I was coughing for half an hour just from the smell of the grass I stuffed in.
“The bus Mom and Dad rented was waiting for us early in the morning. Everyone came to the driveway next to Aunt Rachel’s house and before seven AM we were on our way to Jerusalem. This time we drove the short way; through Hebron and we stopped at the burial cave of our ancestors. Before the 6 Days War we had to drive around, almost to Tel Aviv and then turn sharp east toward the Holly City. Now the west bank of the Jordan River was again in the hands of the people of Israel. I remember, shortly after the war how the Arab towns next to Netanya were opened for Israelis. They were practically cheering us as we walked in. They had opportunity to make more money. We brought more busines to them and they were happy. At least for now.
Both sides of our family were on the bus Mom’s brothers and sisters and their families. As well as Dad’s sisters, and both my grandmothers. After spending a half hour in the patriarch’s cave and another pit stop for all the boys on the side of the road, we made it to Jerusalem. I can’t explain the excitement we all felt as we entered the old city. As we walked across the invisible line where just a few years ago I saw the Jordanian guards. We walked through the long and crowded market and avoided with difficulty the peddlers who were promising the best price for the souvenirs they were selling.
Once we arrived at the western wall, I don’t think I saw one pair of dried eyes. All of us were holding our tears even the little kids. We found a rabbi with a reading stand next to the” Mechitzah” - divider between women and men. I handed the new camera Uncle Moshe gave me back to him and asked him to take some pictures. This was one of the first Bar Mitzvahs performed at the Western wall since it was back at the hands of the people of Israel. I read my Torah Portion proudly and shook the hand of the rabbi. I walked to the divider and received kisses from Mom and my grandmothers. As much as I hoped all my school friends would have been partying with me like most of the kids, I was so proud to have such an experience. All the way back home I was in a daze, I forgot about the other places we visited on this trip. I forgot about the dome of the rock or the Rachel’s tomb and how much Mom enjoyed haggling with the peddlers in the market. I just had my Bar Mitzvah at the most holly place of the Jewish people.
“Moving again?” I asked mom.
“Well,” said mom, “yes, and we will be moving again after that in the summer.”
“Why? Haven’t we moved enough? We have our own house.”
“We bought a new house, down the road, much bigger, on the 3rd floor.”
“Will I have to change school again?”
“No, we will move to the “Kibbutz” in Ein HaThelet for a few months until the new house is ready for us. You will be riding the bicycle to school. We rented a small house for the next few months in the back yard of a house next to your friend Avi Dagan.”
“In the early 20th century way before they created the city of Netanya there was a little Kibbutz on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Once they city of Netanya was formed, the kibbutz was dissolved and became part of the city. Some of the residents still live there, my former classmate Avi Dagan was one of them. At first, we weren’t good friends, I think he was Jealous of my friendship with Dafnah. But later on, we became friends and kept in touch after I switched schools. We both were in the same science club. We experimented with all kind of projects, but my favorites were always electronics, radio, communication. One day I came to Avi and handed him a speaker I took of an old radio. Put it in your room I told him, and I showed him how to connect a cable to the connections on the speakers. We extended the cable all the way to my house where I had another speaker.
“Wait here,” I said, “just listen to the speaker.”
“Nothing is coming out of it”
“Nothing yet. Just wait.” I said and left for my house.
“Avi! Can you hear me? Over.” I called onto the speaker in my room.
“Wow! Yes, I can hear you perfectly.” Avi Dagan answered in surprise. “How did you do that?”
“Well, I read in one of my hobby books that speakers have a reel around a magnet and when we speak to it the membrane moves the reel and creates electricity, just enough to transmit my voice.”
“That is amazing! Now we need to set up a way we can call each other. Like when we come back from school or when we get up in the morning.”
“No problems, we will run one more thread with cans on each end and a big nail hanging in the middle. When we pull on it it will shake and ring.”
We ended up talking to each other every afternoon. We even helped each other with our homework.
Avi Dagan also invited me to join this youth organization called “HaShomer HaTza’ir” – The Young Watchman. We had fun there. We were singing every Friday night and the gatherings and even did some Israeli folk dancing. On occasions we would have activities on Saturday evenings too. One of them was a color war. We split into two groups and had a task to get each other flags. We spread out next to the “Tubruk” water tower, a little north of where the town summer camp was. I remember crawling toward the other group but then someone jumped on me from behind and tagged me. The next day the group leader came to our house and tried to convince my parents to allow me to go to a long weekend trip. Mom didn’t think it was safe and didn’t let me go. Anyway, I gave up on the “Young Watchman” because I learned that this was a lefty group. Almost communistic, and they wanted to return all the land we just won back to the Arabs.
I tried another group, the “Maccabi” They were related to another political party. Actually, the one that was in power – the Labor Party. I didn’t like them either. They required uniforms and were too much like a military organization. Avi Dagan didn’t hold it against me and we kept on playing with our home made “telephone”. This short move to the “Kibbutz” had one good result, I got to walk home with Ya’el. I discovered that Ya’el lived on my way home one day, when I rode the bike a little after school and saw her walking home. I stopped the bike so hard it made a black mark on the road.
“Hey!” I said.
“Hey!” she replied.
“Can I walk with you?” I bravely asked.
“Sure, I didn’t know you live that way.”
“It’s temporary.” We are moving to our new house next month.
For the next few weeks we walked together every day and loved talking about many subjects but especially got to sing our way in harmony. But I could never brave it up to ask her out.
“Earlier that year we took a state mandated test, something like the SAT, but for younger kids. It had 300 questions. It covered math, Bible, history, Hebrew language, and we also had to write an essay. The essay I wrote was a short sic-fi fiction story about a kid who flew to Mars and met with some creatures, I don’t remember … But I do remember that on the next day when all the answers for the test were published to my surprise I had only two mistakes out of the 300 hundred questions. We practically forgot about it until Moshe Kotler announced one day; “Kids, I just received the results of the Standard Tests. It will help us all figure out where will you be when time for high school time comes up. The kids with the high scores will be able to go to the any school they want. Unfortunately, the kids with the lower scores will not have such a great choice and might have to join the work force or go to a trade school. When I call you by name please come up and get your score and be dismissed to go home.
I waited patiently as Moshe Kotler was calling one child after the other. He went alphabetically but he skipped my name.
“Hey!” I called out, “You skipped me!”
“Yes, I know, wait till the end, I need to talk with you.”
As soon as everyone left Moshe Kotler told me he was not going to give me the results unless I come with my Mom the next morning before school starts. Needless to say, Mom had a fit and wacked me over the head. There was no bus service from the Kibbutz to my school. Mom had to walk with me pushing my little brother’s carriage while I walked by holding the bicycle.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said Moshe Kotler to my Mom as we sat down. “We didn’t have in our school such a score.”
“Well, we know he doesn’t have good grades, he can’t concentrate, so you made me come all the way here by foot to tell me my son didn’t pass the test?”
“I am sorry, I didn’t know you had to walk so far, but that is not why I asked you to come here. Your son passed the test like no one else in our school history.”
“What?” I said. “I knew I passed it long ago, I had two mistakes.”
“Three,” said Moshe Kotler. “We have a dilemma, the schools you applied to turned you down. I think you should set up a meeting with the schools’ psychologist, he will guide you to what to do next, according to him you also have a very high IQ. Anyway, congratulations! Go join your classmates, the bell is about to ring.”
Mom walked back home, not knowing what to think or what to do to me next. On my way home I was dreading what will happen when I get there but walking with Ya’el was comforting. “I am going to ask her out today.” I was sure of it. But this time she was the one who talked almost the whole way. Except for when she asked me about the results of the test. All I said was that I passed it. I didn’t mention what the score was or the whole story of my Mom coming to school. When we finally got to her house, she was about to walk home I gathered all my courage and asked; “Ya’el, do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” she said, “we can talk about it tomorrow.”
There was no tomorrow. I was so excited I jumped on my bike and drove off without paying attention to where I was driving. I totally missed the pothole and the bike flipped over. I flew in the air and fell with the bike handle hitting my collar bone. The pain almost took my breath away. With a lot of difficulties, I got up and started walking toward home dragging the bike with me. After about a mile I couldn’t handle it anymore. I knocked on the first door I saw in front of me and asked for a cup of water. When I finally got home, mom saw my condition and totally forgot all about what happened at school that morning. She made me eat lunch and sent me to bed.
“Dad will be here soon, and he will take a look at you.”
Dad Just smiled and mediately said; “you broke your colar bone. I will make you a sling and tomorrow you will see a doctor.”
“There is nothing we can do about it, kid.” Said the doctor. “you are young, it will heal fast. You need to wear this sling for three weeks and rest. Here is a note for your school. You will have to stay home for the next week.”
Across the street from where we rented the house was a big villa owned by some French millionaire. It had a nice swimming pool and big windows opened all around the house it even had a Helicopter pad. As I was sitting on my chair looking at the sea, I saw many trucks coming over and unloading big equipment. It took about a day for them to set up. To my surprise they were shooting a movie. Some very famous French actors were in it. I asked them for their autographs and I still have it in my memoir book. Yet, to my disappointment I learned that the actors in movies don’t necessarily know their lines. For each scene they had to shoot and reshoot so many times, the director was getting frustrated and the actress was about to cry but after about a week as they were about to pack the equipment. We also were repacking our house and moved to the new house. No more walking home with Ya’el. When I got back to class, and everyone was asking about my arm I heard Sarah Markovich whispering in my ear. “You know, she has a new boyfriend. Some big kid from high school.”
After giving up on the two youth organizations there was one more group I wanted to try. “The Scouts,” they were not affiliated with any political party and in fact, they are International.
Walking to the Scouts center took a while. It was on the south side of the town. As I was walking, I could hear the sound of people’s forks or spoons hitting the plates and the sound of people blessing or singing Shabat songs. I wasn’t sure who to see or who to talk to when I get there. But as soon as I arrived, I realized I didn’t have to worry about it. Shlomit Bar Menahem was there, as well as Nehama Lerner and Sarah Markovich who smiled at me as soon as she saw me. Everyone was dancing in a circle to the “Bon Fire Dance” there was no music, so everyone was also singing the melody of the dance. Standing to the side of the entrance was a tall boy who reminded me someone I knew but couldn’t recall.
“Hi, my name is Haim.” I said and extended my hand. “You look familiar, where did I meet you?” As I was saying those words I realized, I never met him. He looked so much like an Israeli famous singer – Arik Einstein.
“I am Ephraim, but you may call me Efri.”
“You don’t dance?” I asked.
“Me? Never! Well, almost never, I dance slow dances with girls. See that long-haired blond in the circle? That’s my girlfriend, Hana. I dance with her,” he said smiling.
“I like dancing,” I said. “But I am too shy.”
“You like dancing?” Efri asked. “Then, why don’t you come with us after the activity? There is a party at Toshko’s house.”
“I don’t know Toshko.”
You don’t have to know him; we have a party every week at someone else’s house and we don’t have to know everyone. We dance and have fun.”
“OK, I will come but I can’t stay long. I got to be home by 9:30.”
The party was fun, I got to meet a whole new group of people. They all lived on the southern side of the town where the middle-class people to upper class families live. They were all in a different school. Most of them went to “Itamar Elementary” it is the school where I went for the science classes. The music was also fun, Toshko liked to play “oldies” music from the 50s mostly slow dances. I took a deep breath and asked a girl who was standing in the corner with a coke in her hand if she wanted to dance. To my surprise she agreed.
Her name was Azriella and she also went to Itamar Elementary. We danced a few slow dances but kept our body in about an arm length from each other.
“I have to leave after this dance”. I said looking at my new watch I received from Mom and Dad for my Bar Mitzvah.
“Me too,” she said, “will you walk me home?”
After saying goodbye to Efri, we walked for a while without talking. Her house was not too far from the party. I walked her all the way up the stairs to the fourth floor where she lived.
“Will you come to the party next week?” She asked. “It will be at Hana’s house.”
“I think so.”
“Great!” She said, she leaned over, gave me a kiss on the cheek and entered her house saying, “see you there.”
That week I was busy with high school searching. I met with the psychologist and he suggested I try a boarding school up north called “Meir Shfeya” after a philanthrope Meir the father of the Baron de Rothchild and an old Arab village the baron bought the ground from - Shfeya. It is an agricultural school where you study half the day and learn the other half. Dad and I went to check the place. A bus to the old main road. And then another bus to Zikhron Yaakov and a cab to the school. The road from Zikhron Yaakov to Shfeya was a pretty one. First you had to take the windy road down the hill with small houses on each side. Once we passed the main valley road, we started our climb up. Again, very windy road but instead of little houses there were fruit groves on each side of the road. Just before we got to the top, we saw the tallest cypress I have ever seen. It was thick and dense, standing just next to the road. I remembered the logo of the school on the pamphlet, it had a drawing of a house next to a tall cypress. I was told it was the second tallest tree in Israel.
“We have all kind of chores here at the school,” said the school director. He had a wooden left hand. I couldn’t take my eyes from it.
“will I be working with the cows? Milking them?” I asked.
“Possibly,” he continued. “You might work with the chickens or in the vegetable garden. Depends on what you are good at. But this should not interfere with your schoolwork. You will have plenty of time to do your homework and even socialize with your new friends. Oh, that hand of mine you’ve been looking at...”
“Yes, I lost it in the war of independence.”
“Wow! A war hero!” I thought to myself.
I had a lot to think about, leave home and be independent, no more Mom on my case for doing my homework or giving me curfew. But then, I will be missing my brothers and my friends. Well, I will think about it, now I have to get ready for the party. Efri and I are meeting at his place and from there we will go to his girlfriend’s house.
“So, what do you think?” I asked Efri. “Should I go to that school?”
“I don’t know, how is your new girlfriend Azriella?”
“She is not my girlfriend, we just walked home together.”
“Anyway, want to go to the beach together tomorrow?”
“Ein HaThelet, with my father, my Mom doesn’t allow me to go to the beach on my own.”
“There is your answer, you need to get away from your mother. At that school she will not get on your case.”
“Hmmm…” I nodded. “anyway, have your father drop you off at my place. We will go fishing and we will have sandwiches and have fun.
“Sure, now go dance with your girls, she keeps on looking this way.”
It was fun on the beach, Efri was late as expected, but we managed to get a nice spot next to my father’s favorite fishing spot. Avi showed Efri how to catch worms. The sea was calm, we had no problems to swim in between the rocks and look at the pretty fish. After two hours we had our tuna sandwiches and took a long walk on the beach.
“Hey, do you have special sex education in your class? Asked Efri.
“I am not sure; I know that the nurse came to talk with the girls while we were having arts and crafts.”
“I picked at their class the other day,” said Efri. “They were talking about something the nurse called the time of the month.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember when Hana was yelling at me last party and we almost broke up?”
“Yes, I also saw Shlomit looking at you at the same time.”
“Shlomit? Really? Not important now, Hana was having her time of the month.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Every month girls have a few days when they kind of bleed and, I don’t know, but it hurts them, and they act weird. So, whenever I see Hana acting up, I stay away and carve my soap. Look at it,” he said and showed me a piece of soap he was carving, trying to make a ship.
“Nice! Doesn’t it melt in the water?”
“Yes, but I don’t use it to shower.”
“My Mom would never let me; I better find something else to carve as soft as soap. I love carving. Did you see the Soldier’s head I carved at arts and crafts? It is hanging on my wall. I also made a Hanukkiah with Uzi bullets my uncle gave me from the war.”
“Show me when we get back home. Shlomit you said?”
“Yes, Shlomit the red head.”
Efri stayed for lunch and after an afternoon nap we walked toward his house.
“So, are you seeing Azriella again today?”
“Yes, we planned to meet down under her house at the Rio ice cream place.”
“And then what?” He asked
“I don’t know, we will probably take a walk on Hertzel Street, I don’t know.”
It was 10 minutes after 7:00 and I was on my second ice cream cone. Azriella was supposed to be downstairs at 6:30. I thought I saw her in her balcony for a moment, but she never came down. The gate to her house entrance was locked, so I couldn’t go up and knock on the door. I couldn’t call her; I didn’t know if she had a phone, (not everyone had a telephone yet). I waited until 8:00 and went to Hertzel Street for a long walk before going home. For the next few weeks Azriella didn’t show up to any of the parties and by the end of the summer I was ready to go to high school. I said goodbye to Efri and promised to write and visit him in the holidays.
Bird, birds are singing early in the morning. That was the first sound I heard on the first morning I woke up at the new boarding school. It took about one minute before that beautiful sound was muffled by the sound of the musical clock. It was blasting all over the school. Just before the radio program starts at 6:00 AM. The smell of the pine trees was still in the air. When the door opened, and the house mother walked in to make sure we were up. There were six of us in the room: Mark from Morocco, Hezi the Fisherman son, Short Naftalie the son of the cook, Tall Avraham – also from Morocco, Shimon who was a nasty boy from the moment I met him and myself. It took a few hours for all of us to get to our room and to settle down. We introduced our selves and went to the dining room for dinner. The six of us sat on a big table with two other kids from another room. Food was a light Israeli salad, scrambled eggs, bread and some fruit for dessert. I don’t think I paid much attention to what I was eating, I was too involved talking with my new roommates. I learned that both Mark and Avraham came from Morocco a few years ago without their parents and were at our school for two years already. Nasty Shimon was a son of a criminal father (he didn’t tell us – Mark whispered in my ear). Shimon was picking on anyone who is smaller than him and there were a lot of them, including me. Naftali was a sone of a cook in a Jerusalem hotel. He lived in a small village on the way to Jerusalem. Hezi was a handsome boy a child of a divorce family. His father had a fishing boat and his older brother was handicap and worked as a pharmaceutical delivery driver. I was the only one who didn’t have anything interesting to tell. My parents were happily married, I didn’t have a criminal person in my family, I didn’t even come from another country. I liked to sing, but I discovered that Hezi was a lot better singer. He even wrote his songs.
“When do we find out what is our job assignment?” I asked.
“First thing after Breakfast.” Said Mark. “I know already where I am working, I will be at the vegetable garden.”
“How do you know?” asked Hezi.
“Those of us who were here last year and spent the half of the summer vacation working were assigned our jobs.”
“Kitchen?” I almost cried, “I was promised to do some agricultural work.”
“All the positions are taken, and you are needed in the kitchen.”
It was the kitchen, as opposed to the dining room. The kooks were dressed in white with aprons and hats. There were three of them, in their fifties or so, very disagreeable. But then I met David. A small older man who was in charge of the kids working in the kitchen. When I say small, I mean very small, he was shorter than I and as skinny as I was. He had a happy face, almost permanent smile.
“Welcome to the kitchen!” he said, extending his smile even more. “I want you to meet your kitchen partner, Matilda.”
“Hamnah hm mmm my nnn name is Haim.” I stumbled over my words. “nnnNice to meet you!” I don’t know what it is with me and blonds, she had long light hair, blue eyes and a chin dimple.
“Nice to meet you too!”
“All right, follow me, you two.”
We walked to the back of the kitchen where we found 3 big pots full of machine pealed potatoes. Next to them were three upsides down milk crates for us to sit on. David had three pairing knifes.
“We are going to peal all that the machine wasn’t able to.” Each potato had a few dents and folds where the machine didn’t peal, and we had to clean that part out. David and Matilda were talking about the summer and about what class she is taking. I was just dumbfounded; I couldn’t say one word. I was just mesmerized by the beauty in front of me.
“Be here tomorrow right after breakfast,” said David when we finished the big piles of potatoes. Unlike today, we have a lot more work.”
After lunch, I had to go to my studying session. This semester we were working in the morning and studying in the afternoon. It will change in 3 months and again three months after that. I was assigned to the middle level class – because of my low grades. Yet Dad promised me he would buy me a guitar if I improve my grades and be transferred to the level one class. This was not an easy task. I gave it all, I was reading late at night and doing my homework as soon as I got to my room. I even stayed up in class and didn’t dose off on daydreams. That part was easy, Matilda was not in my class. She was a year older than me.
The next morning, I was introduced to the big pots. When I say big, I mean huge. They are so big I could go inside and have room for three more.
“We just served eggs and hot grits,” said the cook. “I need you to wash those two pots. Use this brush and soap, here is the hose to wash.” Every morning it was my task to wash the pots from the night before for the rest of that semester. Of course, I had to sit with David and peal potatoes or other vegetables. My brand-new fancy boots, as I discovered, were not made for working in the kitchen, they were not waterproof. The smell of the boiled milk made me sick to the stomach just as much as every time I was thinking to ask Matilda out.
I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. Have ever had a tooth ache? I never did before. The whole side of my face was hearting. By the morning my face was swollen.
“You need to go see the nurse,” said Leah the house mother. Go right away, I will let the kitchen know you can’t make it today.”
“I will call you a cab to take you to Zikhron Yaakov. This is the address of the doctor and he will take care of you.” The nurse was saying as she was writing down the address. “Meanwhile, I gave you this pill. It should make you feel a little better.”
The last time I went to the dentist was a few years ago when they came to our school to do a checkup to all the kids. They found a few cavities and the local dentist repaired them. It wasn’t painful but it was uncomfortable. I dreaded it this time I knew it wasn’t going to be fun.
The dentist was an older man, maybe in his 60s. He made me sit on this odd chair and started to look at my mouth. I am not sure how to describe pain. But all I can tell you is, it hurts a lot. My body was so tens, I was kicking my legs hitting my fists on the chair. The doctor did not use any numbing on my second rout canal. He found three teeth that needed help. His drill was so old and shaky with all the belts turning it even his hands were shaking. As he was twisting the tool in my mouth and digging deeper into the rout of my tooth.
I can’t give you so much numbing medication,” he claimed. I will never know why but trust me, it took years until I mustered some courage to see another dentist.
By the time I got back it was late in the afternoon. I went to my room and fell asleep. I even missed dinner. Not that I missed much. Remember? I am a picky eater, I don’t eat milk products, I don’t like much red meat and except for cucumbers and tomatoes I don’t like much vegetables. My favorite food was and always is fruit. We didn’t get much of it at our school either. Working at the kitchen I learned that the cooks didn’t really like kids or their job. They wouldn’t get out of their way to please anyone. Red meat was always over cooked and hard as a shoe leather. Fish was always greasy and dry on the inside. The soup had no flavor and the cooked vegetables were over cooked. There were only a few things I liked from that kitchen. French fries and schnitzel once every other Friday. Roasted chicken, also every other Friday. And my favorite dish I came up with was to mix the plain rice with the beat salad. If we were lucky, the dish we ate on every Saturday’s lunch wouldn’t burn or dry out was “Cholent” – an over night dish most Ashkenazi people eat.
“Where were you yesterday?” Asked Matilda, “I didn’t even see you at school.”
I pointed to my cheek and continued pealing the potatoes.
“Oh, that sick old dentist, or should I call him the cobbler? I will never go to him again.”
“I wish you went there with me,” I thought to myself, “I could use some pretty face to cheer me up.”
Leah the house mother, was in her early fifties but looked like late sixties. She was tall skinny and very disagreeable. Sometimes I wondered how her husband, who was very calm and friendly, dealt with her. Every morning, just before 6:00 we would hear the radio on the PA system playing the same music just before the morning program was about to start. In time I learned to hate this music for waking me up in the middle of some delightful dreams, like about me and Matilda making out. Right after the noisy music Leah would come in our room and call loudly; “good morning!” Seeing that we didn’t get up she would try a little louder. When we still didn’t budge, she would pull our blankets and yell “GOOD MORNING!” Sometimes we wouldn’t move even after that. After all, we were talking late at night, the six of us, and really didn’t feel like getting up so early. Leah would then go out and grab a bucket full of water and pour it on us.
We had to do something about it.
“But what?” Hezi the singer asked.
“Maybe we should sleep under the beds” Mark from Morocco suggested.
“She would still yell and scream at us” Avraham the tall boy answered with a shrug.
“I know,” said Naphtali the son of the cook, “we should put a trap for her. You know like on top of the door, with water.”
“Now you’re talking” Nasty Shimon said clapping his hands together.
The next morning, we left the door opened a smidge in and placed a bucket full of water on top of it leaning on the wall. When Leah would walk in, she would push the door and the bucket would pour on her. We couldn’t sleep all night we were all excited and anxious to see her get wet. I didn’t even go to the bathroom, I held it till morning. I didn’t want to spoil the set up. It was just right, and we weren’t sure we would set it up that way again.
“Good morning” we heard Leah yelling as she Kicked the door in. “What the hell is that?” she yelled even louder as the bucket fell to the floor, missing her all together. “Are you trying to kill me? Anyway, it has been done before and this is why I always kick the door when I see it slightly open. Better luck next time. Now get the hell up and clean up your pig sty.” She didn’t let us off easy that day. She flipped our beds three times to show us how we should have set it right and she poured three buckets of water on the floor to make sure we washed the floor her way. Naphtali suffered the most. Nasty Shimon was abusing him verbally and physically.
“You and your nerdy ideas” he said while slapping Naphtali on his head. “Now we have to pay for your stupidity, I swear I’ll make you pay for it,” slapping him one more time, “you’ll never come up with another idea again.”
Our room was on the second floor and there was a long balcony that connected between all the other rooms. There was a railing that prevented people from falling over. The balcony was opened and the water we used to wash the floors had to be pushed down over the edge of the balcony. I was holding the rubber mop and pushing the water slowly over the edge when I saw Leah coming out of the girls’ room downstairs and walking outside the hallway. I couldn’t be happier at that moment. I backed up, angled the mop just right and when she walked under our door, I just pushed the mop strong enough to shove a good amount of dirty water right on Leah’s head. Of course, I backed up into the room holding my hand on my mouth and trying not to laugh. I was dying to look out to see her, but I knew that she would punish me. So, I had to stay and listen to her yelling and cussing. Only after she had walked toward her home to change, did I peek to see her all wet and dirty.
When she came back, we were all on our way to class and she couldn’t tell who got her wet. I kept it quiet and didn’t tell anyone, although I think that Hezi the singer saw me do it, but he too, didn’t tell anyone.
“What are we going to do next?” asked Shimon the brut, the next evening. “Naphtali, you are the one with all the ideas why don’t you come up with something new? We have to do something about her.”
“How about we all sleep naked?” asked tall Avraham. “You know, she’s an old lady and she would die just seeing us like that, and if she sees my big…”
“Oh, shut up!” interrupted Nasty Shimon, “if I have to hear about Avraham’s big dick anymore.” Shimon lost the bet to Avraham the last week. They were arguing about who’s sexual organ was bigger. Now Shimon couldn’t bear the defeat.
It was agreed, we all slept naked and this time we really slept. We were all tired from the night before and we didn’t even stay up to talk late.
I was woken up by a sharp laugh. I didn’t even hear the nasty music that comes every morning. Not even the “Good Morning” yell from Leah.
“What do you think I am?” She was laughing.” Did you think I never saw a naked boy in my life? I have three boys older than you and I had to wash them all. Not bad Avraham, but I’ve seen bigger…”
We just could not believe our ears. That old dame didn’t even care that we were naked. She pulled the blanket out of each of us and walked out yelling. Better clean your room before I come back. This time I was waiting for her and I collected all the dirty water I could muster. Again, just as she was walking under my room, I gave a strong shove and got her all wet.
“You idiots!” Would you look before you push the water? Look at me, I’m all dirty and wet. Now, from all the rooms next to me I saw kids looking and giggling. But again, I kept quiet and didn’t tell anybody. That night we were all talking about the wet Leah and we were laughing aloud. “Now if we could just get her to stop being so nasty in the morning” said Mark from Morocco. I think I have an idea I said quietly. I didn’t want to get Nasty Shimon too excited. He could get on my case just as he did to Naphtali.
It took some doing but two days later I managed to get the supply I needed. I had to go to the barn where they keep the cows and get a long rope. I went to the infirmary and asked for some baby powder and from the supply room where Leah’s husband worked, I got some white sheets. Our room had a tall ceiling and beams were stretched across. I had to climb on top of our closets, jump to one of the beams and while hanging on it, I tied the rope and jumped down. The next morning, I was woken up by my friend David Tuito who milked the cows earlier than the alarm clock. I pulled on the rope to make sure it was still tight, wrapped it around my neck, dropped the remainder through the pajamas and stepped on the end. Now I wrapped myself with a sheet and waited.
When I heard Leah coming closer to our room, I leaned a little to the side to give the illusion that I was hanging from the ceiling and waited for her to come in.
“GOOD MOR…” She didn’t finish her sentence. Leah saw me and fainted. She fell to the ground in a big crash. It took a bucket of water to wake her up, but by that time I pulled the rope down and hid it away like nothing happened. When she opened her eyes, she saw me again but this time I was dressed in my pajamas and looked at her so innocently that she almost fainted again, but Mark helped her up. She was not sure if what she saw was real or a figment of her imagination.
“What happened?” I asked, “you walked in and dropped to the floor. We thought you had a heart…”
“You were….” Leah started to say.
“Were what?” I asked as she was pointing to the ceiling beams.
“I thought you were dead. I’m sure I saw you there hanging.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m all wet, I better go change” she said quietly and struggled to get up.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” I asked quietly and helped her up.
“Yes, I’m sure” she said walking out all humiliated and upset.
When you get to high school in Israel you start pre military training, it is called GAD’NA. Once a month a soldier would come to the school and teach us about guns and some theoretical tactics. But once or twice a year we went to a military camp somewhere in a remote location. We would stay in a big tent with about 20 low beds lined up in two rows along the tent.
“Attention!” Hezi the cadet on duty called.
We stood up next to our beds as the corporal walked in to check on us. He walked and looked at each of us from top to bottom. He checked to see what’s on our beds, next to it or under it.
“It looks like we have a lot to do in the next few hours,” he said. “For now, everyone out and line up in triplets.”
“Attention!” Yelled Hezi again. We all stood in triplets in sort of straight lines. Corporal Yona stood in front of us smiling a mean smile.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Corporal Yona said. “First, you need to learn what positions are called. The attention command means; stand up straight, legs spread out hands behind your back stretched under your butt.”
“Like so?” asked Mean Shimon.
“No talking in the ranks!!!” Yelled Corporal Yona, “and yes like so. When I say at ease, it doesn’t mean you are dismissed, it means your hands are relaxed and not as tense under your butt, they can rest on top of it, on your lower back. At ease!” He yelled again. And we all relaxed our arms.
“Stand Shut!” He yelled once more. “For that one you need to bring your heels together, hands to the side of your body and fist tight. Heads up, you there the second row on the right!”
Anni jumped and stood up straight. She was whispering with Daniella next to her, Daniela jumped to the Stand Shut position just as well.
“One more thing before we start moving, your lines. Shoulders Up! When I call this command all of you except for the first triplet look to the left, raise your left arm and bring it to the shoulder height of your friend on the left. Now you at the far end bring your left arm forward to the shoulder of the person in front of you. Everyone lineup accordingly, Hands Down! Left Turn! I will show you the correct way to do it tomorrow. Now Forward March! Left, Right, Left, Right, Left…”
After a few marches around camp we were back to the tents. The camp was located at the south of Israel in the Negev Desert. It was hot during the day and cold at night there for we were supplied with thick blankets. We were taught how to do a military blanket fold. It had to never show the blanket’s edges. It has to be folded inwards and show one-fold on one side, two on the opposite side, and four on the two other sides. We received three blankets each. One of them was to be stretched on the bed. It must be so tight that when the corporal dropped a coin on our bed it would bounce back.
Running, is not one of my strong interests. To run in the desert isn’t fun. I was told to inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth. And so, I did. Except that my nose started to burn after the first 100 yards. Next I felt my chest hurting. I finished the kilometer walking. Even the girls did a better job, well, most of them. Something about running simply didn’t agree with me. I could walk for ever or even dance for days, but the bouncing and the breathing didn’t work for me. Not short running or long distance. Only on the beach, where the salty air was filling my lungs and the sand under my feet, was I ever able to run. What I was good at was “sit ups” I could do 80 sit ups in ninety second. Unfortunately for me, we had to run every morning and do some calisthenics but some days we had trips and other chores. The first one was to weed an onion field for the kibbutz Yotveta. I can tell you for sure, if you didn’t cry ever in your life, you are going to cry if you were in that field, no matter what. We each had a pointy how in our hands and we had to carefully dig out the weeds around each onion. Carefully, not to hurt the onion. It wasn’t easy, the onions already smelled strongly and sometimes the weeds were a little too close to the onion and you bound to have an accident and hit the onion with your how. So, imagine, each one of us working close to each other and everyone keeps missing and hitting the onions. The only saving grace was the snacks we received. Kibbutz Yotveta is famous for two products; The dates and the milk. The cows of the kibbutz were grazing on very nutritious grass that grows only in that area of the prairie. Their milk was very thick and heavy. Adding chocolate to that milk made it the best “Choco” drink. The dates were also a product of that hot and semidry prairie. They were big, juicy and sweet. Every day for the 2 weeks we spent at camp Be’er Orah we received this wonderful snack; dates and choco.
The next day we went on a hike. We went to the King Solomon copper mines and saw the archeological digs. The beauty of Israel appears in many places. In one day, you can go skiing in the morning and SCUBA diving in the afternoon. Israel has everything the USA has but in much smaller size. The beauty of the snow mountains in the north, the green valleys, and a few canyons in the Negev desert. We left early, right after the morning exercise to avoid the heat of the heat of the on our long walk to the Red Canyon. The name of the canyon fits its name. the water and wind shaped rocks to the side of the canyon were red. The shape of the rock was also very interesting. We got to see a huge stone mushroom and at one part of the canyon we found a few sand pits; each had a different color sand. Red sand from the iron, green sand from the copper, yellow from the sulfur and more. We collected a little of the sand in different bags and brought them back to camp. I found an empty glass bottle and started pouring the colored sand in layers. Using a long stick, I pushed the different color layers to create shapes in the bottle. It came out so nicely that I kept the sand with me to make more of these once we get back to school and I could get other bottles.
Those canyons and dessert scenes brought back memories of me and Yossi Sha’abi climbing the cliffs over the beach in Netanya. We even fell down 30 feet once. We saw a movie about some mountain climbers climbing the Himalayas or was it the Alpines. It influenced me and inspired me to start climb hills and cliffs. Yossi and I put on our sneakers and found some ropes and started exploring our cliffs together. Now that we got back to Shfeya I collected the rope I used to scare Leah. As soon as school session was over, I dropped my books and walked to the fence. I packed a water canteen and went to search for walls to climb.
A little east of our school there was a lime quarry. The whole eastern side of the hill was carved down, forming a tall white wall. “Mount Blank” I called it, a perfect wall for climbing. I had to leave the school grounds through tear in the fence. I found a strong tree right above the quarry. I tighten one end of the rope around the tree and dropped the other end over the edge. I had two hours before dinner, so I ran down the side of the hill to the bottom of the wall and looked for the rope. I found it hanging about twenty feet above me. I grabbed some dirt from under me and scrubbed my hands with it and jumped toward the first bump on the wall. Being so skinny I was able to pull my self up easily. The wall had many bumps, but they were sharp so in no time I was full of scratches. It was a welcome relief to reach the rope. I managed to tie the rope around my stomach the way Dad taught me when he was training to be a medic. Now I didn’t have to be so close to the wall an pulled myself up faster.
“Hey! Yes you, up there!” I heard an angry voice from below. “You are trespassing a private property!”
I didn’t even look back, I pulled myself up quickly, pulled the rope and ran back to my room. At the dining room, Magi the head counselor stood up and announced that tomorrow morning we will be skipping our regular duties and joining the orange grove crew for an emergency picking. Rain or shine, we all have to be at the center parking lot to board the truck.
“Before we start serving food,” he continued, “It came to my attention that some kids were trespassing to the quarry. I must stress, this is a dangerous place to be. No one should go there under no circumstances.”
“Finally!” I said to myself, as we lined up to go on the truck. It is the second semester that I am not working at an agricultural task. After working in the kitchen, they moved me to housekeeping, not just housekeeping, I had to work for nasty Leah the house mother. We had to cramp in the truck, sitting one next to each other yet there were still kids on the parking lot. Our driver drove 6 feet forward and stopped abruptly. All of us slid forward squished onto each other. Suddenly we had room for the rest of the kids. As soon as we drove off it started raining. It was getting colder and we were hoping it would stop by the time we get to the grove. There were no picking oranges in the rain.
“Here you have a clipper one for each one of you,” said the overseer. “Each one of you, pick a ladder and push it next to the tree. We have short ladders and tall ones depending on the size of the tree.”
“Can we eat the Oranges?” Asked Naftali.
“Oh, that, yes, you may eat as many oranges, but you may not bring back to your room any oranges”.
The rain has stopped but it was cold, very cold. I picked a middle size ladder and approached the first tree I saw. Besides the clipper and the ladder, we received a side bag to collect oranges. It had a fold on the bottom with a clip to open the bag and dump the oranges in the big container. The container was six by six by three-foot height. It took about 50 bags full of oranges. Once it was full, Mark’s older brother would come with a forklift and carry it to the edge of the grove and pile the containers until the big truck will come and take them to be packed and shipped all over the world. Big Jaffa oranges are very popular. They are sweet and juicy, trust me, I had a lot of them that day. By the time we finished (we couldn’t finish before each one of us filled his container) my fingers were numb, my toes were frozen, and my nose couldn’t stop dripping.
Winter came and left, and spring vacation was around the bend. My grades were getting better. Dad was about to buy me a guitar. I even had a teacher who liked me a lot; the biology teacher. She was called Yosefa and she lived on the school campus. She had a little cute VW beetle. We did a lot of experiments in her class, but my favorite part was when we went on nature hikes. I learned about the different between the coins snake and the viper. They look very much the same even their head is the same except the shape of the cubes on the back of the snake. The viper has connected brown cubes forming a zigzag pattern on its back. The other snake has the cubes separated they look like brown coins – there for his name. The viper is a very poisonous snake – it had two fangs in his mouth that can kill you within 30 minutes. The coins snake looks the same, I guess to scare predators, but has no fangs and is totally harmless. We also learned about the trees around the school campus. I collected pieces of pine tree bark to carve them in my free time. I made little boats with a small sail to float in the bathtub for my little brother. Instead of getting in trouble with the quarry for trespassing I started to go on mature hikes on my own. Well, not exactly alone, a little black puppy decided to adopt me. He followed me everywhere I went. Together we found a little cave hidden under a bush where I built a little fireplace and a small bench. Whenever I wanted to hide from mean Shimon and his torments this was the place to be. In time I was able to bring scraps from the dining room to feed my little friend and he waited for me every day after school so we can go to our hiding place. On days right after the rain, at the bottom of the pine trees, small yellow spongy mushrooms would come out. “They are not poisonous,” I remember Yosefa telling us. “If you look underneath you will see the mushroom doesn’t have the sections like most mushrooms. It has this sponge, when we pick them, we should cut the top and leave the stem on the ground. This way on the next time it rains it will grow a new top. My favorite meal became fried mushrooms in scrambled eggs which I cooked on the fireplace. From the kitchen I “borrowed” a small frying pan, Eggs I got from the chicken coop when no one was looking, and I managed to have some nice snack to supplement to food I didn’t like in our dining room.
One day, as I was carving a heart on a tree trunk, I heard a little yelp and saw my little friend jump in fear. I looked again and found a snake lifting his head as if to attack the dog. I quickly recognized it as the coin snake and through a stick on him I managed to catch him by his neck and put him in my school bag. In my room I hid the snake in a pillowcase and tied it up until the next day. The first thing I did when school was open was to go to the biology lab and showed the snake to Yosefa. She was very excited about it. We put it in an empty aquarium, and she promised to feed him and take care of him.
Unfortunately, when I returned from the Passover vacation my little friend was nowhere to be found and when I walked in the Biology lab the aquarium was empty and I found my snake in a jar – like the shark in the Alexander river restaurant. I said nothing, I went to my room, picked up my new guitar and walked to my cave and started to learn some guitar cords. On the next day, I looked up for Mark’s older brother and we planned a revenge, using the forklift he drives so expertly. Two days later, Yosefa walked out of her little house and couldn’t find her cute beetle. Well, not until she looked up and saw it sitting on her roof.
- more to come