First months in Israel, 1997
My initial visit to Israel, meeting my father etc - September to December 1997
My first day in Israel: 25 September 1997
I wake up and see towelling curtains, a fake woodgrain sideboard, an old TV, paintings. A still and humid night.
Across the tiny sitting room a menorah (candelabra) sits on a shelf on a doily next to a toy sombrero and a porcelain ashtray with a tiny reclining nude at its side. Bachelor pad.
White flouro light shines through the big back window, past the shutters and onto a desk covered in chipped laminate. A little blue flag of Israel sitting in a pen holder. A photo of a kindly, lined woman with heavily lidded eyes in an old-fashioned frame.
I reposition myself on the tatty couch. Feel like I'm swimming in the thick warm air. The sound of snoring floats through the darkness, close enough to touch. It rumbles in baritone: the sound of my father. My father! The idea hangs mid-air, hasn't touched me yet.
I'm tired. My portable computer says it's 4.45am. Shit, that's my computer, and we're both in Israel. In Israel.
A sounds floats through the window and into the flat, mixing with the snoring. A voice, a passionate, wavering voice, singing. I get up, thirsty and groggy, and look out towards the light.
From the first-floor flat I see into a courtyard a few metres away, a doorway and, crowding into a room, dozens of men in white skullcaps and scarves, books in hand. On the far side of the room, through the singing white-clad men, I can just make out glowing electric candles, a white dais, two curtains.
The voice stops and dozens of low male voices answer: half chant, half mumble. The voice starts up again. I fell like I'm seeing something I shouldn't. They will see me, these figures in white, if they turn around. I go back to the couch as a ragged chorus starts up, gutterals and vowels tumbling over each other like puppies at play. Then again the cantor's pleading, quavering voice calling out into the thick air, followed by the loud drone of the congregation.
I close my eyes. Was I dreaming before, or am I dreaming now? A horn blast glides in from the synagogue, through the window, and settles on my temples as I fall back into sleep. Israel.
Place: Bat Yam
My father's writing desk
Place: Bat Yam
My second day in Israel: a highway somewhere on the Sharon plain, 25 September 1997
It's my second day in the country. David is driving, I'm observing. To the right sand dunes and power plants, to the left dusty buildings, fields and scrappy industrial estates with razor wire fences. Everything's new, different, painted with white sun. So this is Israel.
David sings along with the radio, his loud baritone booming. We've just finished changing a flat tyre, and David's in a good mood again. I look over at him, this big lively man, and realise, with some surprise, that this man is my father. A few kilometres later we arrive at a roadside tyre shop next to a restaurant. David gets out and talks to the attendant, who comes over and waits as David takes the flat out of the car.
"Come on," he says to me as the tyre is rolled away, "we go eating now." We walk over to the restaurant, a long room fitted out with thick wooden logs. The air conditioning hits me as we walk into a spacious, empty room, past a long servery and to a table at the rear. David shouts a few words to the waitress waiting behind the counter and soon a dark, fortyish man comes out to meet us.
"Yaron! Manichmal!" David shouts, and embraces his nephew. They exchange greetings, I'm introduced in Hebrew, and we sit down at the table. Yaron, who speaks no English, asks David about me as I sit there, trying to understand what they're saying. A minute or two later, David motions me to get up. "Come on, come on - let's go to find the food." We get up and choose from the bain marie - hummus, meats, salads, okra, rice and casseroles. When we get back, a woman has joined the table. She's Yaron's age; a striking, big set woman with strong features and long, curly hair. We're introduced. She looks at me in passing, then continues her Hebrew conversation with Yaron.
For the next twenty minutes I sit and eat while David, Yaron, and the woman chat loudly. Gutterals pepper the air; I'm completely ignored. As they talk and gesticulate, I chew quietly and stare at the handmade wooden bar, tables and beams. Eventually, Yaron and the woman excuse themselves.
"You see this place?" David says after they leave, "My nephew, he made it all. He's a very smart man, with the business and the wood." He taps his head for emphasis. "That girl, that's his wife." David leans back in the chair and looks around. In a voice tinged with regret, he announces "Ay yay...come on Stefan, we're going now."
We make our way out of the restaurant, the heat attacking us as we open the front door. We walk back to the tyre shop. The car is waiting for us. I get in the passenger seat, watching as David takes out his wallet. The attendant stops him, and they chat for a minute, then David walks over to the car, chuckling. "Ah, Yaron, he come and pay for me already" David says as he gets in. "When I had tractor business, I was a big, rich man, and I help him. So now he help me. Come on, now we'll go to Segula, you'll meet more relatives there." We turn back onto the highway and soon take a turn-off for a few hundred metres. In front of us, low dark forms shimmer on the horizon. "What are those hills?" I ask. "The Jerusalem hills" David answers casually as he steers. I'm fascinated. Jerusalem, THE Jerusalem, hidden in those shapes, only a few kilometres away.
A couple of minutes later we reach a small farming town shaded by eucalypts and set in the middle of flat fields. The main street looks like a small Australian town - a patchwork of ragged-looking houses, paddocks, sheds and the occasional sheep. We pull into the car park of a large building; its wooden facade reminds me of the restaurant.
We walk through the front door. To our right, through a long wall of glass, dozens of children yell and run around an outdoor swimming pool. To the left, a door leads to an office. "I see if he's here," David says, and enters, emerging moment later with a "no, he's not here now." We keep walking down the hallway. A few metres on, the corridor opens up into a large and airy reception hall, dotted with firms and white plastic table settings. A waiter in a white shirt and black pants wanders around cleaning tables and replacing serviettes.
"You see this? Yaron, he built this all too. You see the roof?" David points to the glass ceiling. "He's made it so he can open it when the weather is good." I look up at the impressive structure and see that the entire roof is on rails, and that the two halves can be slid back to reveal an open sky. "Yes, and he make the swimming pool also. Now all the children from the Moshav come here for the pool." David wanders around, talks to the waiter, then motions for us to go.
We pass the office on the way out; this time a hard-looking man in a gold chain and short-sleeved shirt sits behind the desk. David sees him, shouts a greeting and we are waved in. I'm introduced and the two speak in Hebrew for a couple of minutes before the man excuses himself and we make our way back to the car. "He's Yaron's partner. Spend many years in the Army, now they have the business together. He's married to the daughter of my sister."
We climb into the Suzuki, head back onto the main street and drive for a few hundred metres before pulling into a driveway attached to an old house. "Come on Stefan, we meet my sister" David says as he gets out of the car. We walk inside and are met by a friendly, bespectacled old woman with curly hair who takes us into a sparse living room, Her singlet-clad husband watches TV sport. Food and drinks are brought out, and David chats away in Hebrew as I exchange embarassed, wordless grins with the couple.
Eventually David and I leave, and this time he takes me to a house next to a shed. "We see if my nephew's here." He knocks on the door: there's nobody home. I follow David as he walks around the back of the property. It's overgrown and strewn with metal beams and engine parts. Stretching out in front and to the sides are flat expanses of fields. David wanders over to a tarpaulin-covered lump sticking out of the long grass. He lifts the tarp and inspects the contents. "Stefan, come, come look." I walk over and take a look at a motley collection of dusty steel ovens, trays and shelves. "This all from my business. Ay yay...I lose so much money. Now I try to sell all this: one man says he wants to buy, but he's a Nudnik, he wants to get a cheaper price all the time." He runs his fingers inside an oven drawer, inspects some trays and lets out a long sigh. I see him now in that desolate paddock, knee-high in grass as he holds up the plastic, framed by fields, and rusted iron tanks.
Eventually he lets the tarp back down and walks over to the property next door. "This is also from my nephew" he says as we approach a large, steel-clad warehouse. "This is where Yaron keeps the wood and makes the things. He also grows the young plants. Big place, huh?" I nod. "Ah yes," he says, "Yaron, he makes a good life. A good life." He casts another long glance over the structure. "Come on Stefan," he announces, "we're going now." We head back to the Suzuki. I look over the fields and to the hazy hills in the far distance. Somewhere in those hills, I think to myself, is Jerusalem.
Email: 4 October 1997
From: Stefan Schutt
Subject: A Gun for Jerusalem
Date: Sat, 04 October 1997 11:54:16
I've just come back from a trip to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea; here's the report from your Bat Yam correspondent. It's a short one so read and be happy!
A Gun for Jerusalem
Yesterday, my dad his girlfriend Nava and I went for a day trip to the Holy City and the Dead Sea. Before we left, my father strapped on his handgun,just in case.
We drove for 50 kilometres along a road that started as a non-descript, flat highway and turned into a picturesque winding road following the valley route to Jerusalem. We passed old forts, monasteries and the wrecks of Israeli armoured vehicles - a reminder of the vicious 1948 war in which two of my relatives fought. We also passed a police roadblock and a number of new Orthodox settlements on the top of nearby hills.
As we neared Jerusalem, the hills became bigger; many of them featured stone-lined terracing, and many were built upon with rows of gleaming new white houses.
White, too, was the overwhelming impression we got looking over Jerusalem; the landscape was bleached and baked, the sprawling expanse of white sandstone buildings (old and new) surrounded by olive trees, pines and rocky outcrops. The only break in the sea of white stone was the gleaming, golden Dome of the Rock sitting like a lighthouse beacon inside the hilltop fort of the Old City.
As for a description of the Old City, you'll have to wait for the next mail, as Nava didn't want to go inside. As an Israeli she was worried about her safety inside the labrynthine alleyways of the ancient city. We contended ourselves with a drive around the outside of the Old City walls, observing hordes of Orthodox Jews and buses of Muslims milling around the entrances. After a picnic and a wander around a renovated street - the scene of one of many bombings - we walked past a group of teenage soldiers holding Uzis, and headed out of the troubled, beautiful city.
As soon as we left Jerusalem, the scenery became truly spectacular. The mountains lost their cover of green as the desert really began; now all we could see were jagged, desolate peaks painted in white, tan and yellow. The only signs of life in this rocky wilderness were occasional Bedouin camps with tin shacks, open tents, cars and camels. It was, in every sense of the word, Biblical.
We were now only 50 kilometres from Amman, the capital of Jordan. The awesome moonscape continued to unfold around us as we drove towards the Dead Sea. Then, suddenly, the mountains ended - and we were looking over a vast, dusty plain with the vast Jordanian mountains in the hazy distance and the shimmering blue of the Dead Sea to the right. We drove past date farms, abandoned Kibbutzim and army camps.
Ten minutes later we'd reached the Dead Sea. The road was sandwiched between the western sea bank on the left and the dry, stony Israeli mountains on the right. Somewhere up in those hills, in a cave only minutes from the car, is where a young shepherd stumbled on the Dead Sea Scrolls earlier this century. We passed a decidedly casual roadblock and headed south along the blue-green sea, the lowest point on earth. (400 metres below sea level, if I remember correctly).
We kept driving, past groups of seaside holiday makers. The sea was flecked with white spots where the salt had collected. Eventually we reached what looked at first like the end of the sea, but was actually a huge mining project where the seawater had been channelled before being released into the basin. Besides megatonnes of salt, the Dead Sea holds vast quantities of valuable minerals such as magnesium.
When we reached the main Dead Sea resort, we discovered those minerals at first hand. Bathing in the Dead Sea is like entering a swimming pool filled with liquid jelly; it looks like refreshing, cool, blue water, but when you enter you find yourself surrounded by a warm gooey mineral broth so full of salt that your tongue stings if you taste the water, and so thick that you can stand up in water deeper than your body without your feet touching the ground. Try to swim and you'll look like an idiot as your legs flail about in the air. You leave the sea covered in an oily, salty film that only a freshwater beachside shower will remove.
All around, the beach was covered with Russian immigrants sunning big pale bodies and soaking their skin in the medicinal water. We did likewise, and after washing off the caked-on salts with a quick shower, headed back to Tel Aviv via the hilltop city of Arad, only minutes from Hebron, nerve centre of recent Arab-Israeli tensions.
On my first visit in 1997 with David and Nava
Sign on church in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jerusalem
Meeting people connected with a free orthodox Jewish hostel in the Old City, 7 November 1997
I enter the Old City's Jaffa Gate, walk past the Tower of David, the hotels and the kebab stalls and, recalling the instructions I'd been given over the phone that morning, head towards the Armenian Quarter. I walk down the Armenian Patriarchate road and turn off under a stone arch. I continue down tiny, winding Ararat Street - whose street sign has been altered to read "Arafat Street" - past dwellings and doorways. Soon I reach an anonymous-looking building on a corner. I look around until I see a plaque stating "Heritage House" and a buzzer. I press the button, the door opens and I step inside. A bearded Orthodox man with a broad New York accent waves me into the office. "Hey! I'm Yossi. You are...?" "Stefan." "Stefan....where you from my friend?" "Australia." "Oh yeah? Where in Australia?" "Melbourne." "Well, well....one of my associates here is also from Melbourne. Take a seat." He sits down at the desk and grabs a pen. "So you're Jewish, Stefan?" "Well..." He looks up at me. I think of the best sales pitch I can muster up. "I guess the Halacha would say no. My father's a Sabra but my mother's not Jewish. I'm in Israel to learn more about my Jewish heritage - which is why I've come here."
Yossi pauses from his scribbling and looks up. After a second or two he resumes, speaking as he writes; "hmmm....I think that'll be OK. What's your second name?"
He finishes the formalities, hands me a towel and leads me upstairs to a room with Masada Room written on the door. All the rooms have a theme: King David Room, Karo Room, Akiva Room. We enter the Masada Room; it's like an implausibly clean backpackers' hostel, freshly painted and lined with new bunk beds. A wet shirt and towel hang from the wrought-iron balcony overlooking Ararat lane.
A chubby young guy sits up from one of the beds. "Hey Brett," says Yossi. "How you doin'? Meet your new roommate his name's Stefan." Brett and I shake hands. "Bathroom's round the corner on the left. Curfew's eleven, and midnight tonight. Make sure you're back in time or you won't get in. You goin' to Shabbat dinner tonight, right? Go to the drinking fountains at the Kotel in half an hour and Jeff'll come around to fix you up. Don't forget we got some good programs coming up; how long you staying for?" "Two nights I think." "Shame, you'll miss the Torah Living seminar. But there's a heck of a lot more stuff on. Tomorrow at twelve is Shabbat lunch and then there's the four o'clock dinner downstairs. We'll see you there, pal - have fun." Yossi heads back down the stairs.
* * *
"Where you from, Stefan?" asks Brett in a friendly American drawl.
"Melbourne, in Australia" I answer."Oh right - there was a guy from Melbourne here last week. Orthodox guy. You follow the whole mitzvot thing?" "No, my family's secular". "Yeah, mine too. I'm here to take a look at all that stuff....you know, the whole Jewish roots thing". He lays his head on the pillow, hands behind his head. "So, where are you from?" I ask. "Atlanta. Not such a big community there". "How long have you been staying in this place?" "A week this time. The time before, about three weeks." "And they don't mind?" "No, I been to a lot of the programs. I'm interested. Sometimes they kick people out if they stay for a while and don't turn up to anything. The place exists to turn secular people religious - it's funded by this Orthodox organisation from Canada. Couple of weeks ago they kicked out this French guy who was here about a month." "So you think you might go religious?" "I don't know man. It's a big ask, y'know? All the rules and stuff....I don't know if I'm ready for that. Guess I'm still figuring it out." He looks outside at the fading light. "Hey you better have your shower and sort out your stuff - Shabbat'll be starting soon."
Half an hour later, Brett and I weave our way through the white stone alleyways, under arches, down stairways, through the metal detectors and further down to the large Western Wall plaza. It's almost totally dark; on the far end of the plaza, seven flames burn above the milling, dressed-up crowd. The prayer area in front of the Wall is packed with swaying, chanting Hasidim. A group of boisterous young Yeshiva students sing religious songs and dance through the chatting crowd, arms linked. Swallows circle and dive above the mass of praying figures in black coats and hats. I'm mesmerised by the scene.
We head to the drinking fountains and join a loose group of vaguely lost-looking people, whom we assume are also waiting to be assigned Shabbat dinner places. Brett meets a Moroccan he'd been to dinner with the week before. I watch the small birds circling swiftly, then returning to their nests between the stones as the Hasids bob beneath them, prayer books in hand.
A few minutes later a short, fit man in a natty Orthodox suit and stylish broad-rimmed hat strides towards us. He's clean-shaven and bursting with energy. "You guys here for the dinner? OK. I'm Jeff You are....?" We volunteer our names. "Good. Come over here and join this group." He directs us to a young woman in a flowing dress and a sheepish-looking twenty-year old. "You'll be with Rabbi Stein tonight" Jeff shouts before waltzing off to round up more dinner guests. Soon our group expands to six, and a few minutes later we're led away through the back alleys of the Jewish Quarter, up two narrow flights of stairs and into a small, basic apartment where a long table with about 20 places has been set up in the flat's main room. At the far end of the table, which only just fits in the room, group of teenagers sit fidgeting and giggling.
A slight, bearded man appears from the tiny kitchen area. He's wearing an apron over his Orthodox suit. He puts out his hand and smiles nervously. Instantly I warm to him. "Hi, I'm Barry Stein," he says in a New York accent. "Please, wash your hands and take a seat. I'll be with you shortly. Do you know how how to wash your hands for Shabbat?" He shows us how to use the two-handled pitcher to wash one hand, then the other, then directs us to our seats. We squeeze past the other guests, sit down and wait as more people trickle in. Soon the table is full. More people arrive and we move up to accommodate the newcomers, including a thick-set, middle-aged American with a full red beard who sits down next to me. Rabbi Stein comes by, sans apron, and distributes skull caps. "OK then," he says in a quiet voice, "looks like we're all here so we'll begin. Who's been to a Shabbat dinner before?" Most mumble a "yes" in response, including the teenagers who play distractedly with their cutlery.
After the ceremony is over, Rabbi Stein sits silently for a minute or two with his eyes down, then looks up and, shyly at first, begins an eloquent, moving discussion of spiritual values and responsibility. He talks about being humble, adaptable, aware and responsive to the needs of others. It's a beautiful speech, and I hang on to his words. Some minutes later the unassuming Rabbi finishes his talk; I look down the other end of the table and see the teenagers fidgeting with the remainder of their meals.
For the rest of the evening we talk with our fellow guests. "I used to be in the Marines," says the American next to me in a loud, booming voice. "After that I worked as a cop. That was back in the States. Then 30 years ago, I got the call, made the most important decision of my life, thank HaShem, and ain't never looked back."
So what does he do now he's in Israel, I ask. "Well, I got a postcard business, but I also got my other work." And what was that? He smiles knowingly, leans back and declares; "I take photos of Arabs entering the Jewish Quarter. They come in to case the place. Hamas has scale models of the Jewish Quarter; they're planning a takeover. Their guys come into the Quarter in pairs. You can always pick 'em out - new white trainers, short haircuts, phone on the right hip, jeans, big gym bodies. They come here to hang out in cafes, check out the surroundings and lose their fear of Jews." So where do you take the photos from, I ask. "Oh, you know," he says evasively, "here and there."
Listening intently are Brett, Anna -the girl in the flowing dress I'd met at the Kotel - and Ruven, a bony, fragile-looking man in his 60s. "Wow," says Ruvne, "it's so different here to Pittsburgh." "So you still live in the States?" asks the ex-Marine. "Yeah," says Ruven. "I come here to Israel every year, to go to the dinners and be with new friends, like you guys." He smiles tentatively at us. "So why don't you come home to your people and move here?" Ruven blinks and looks pleadingly at us. "I...I...it's hard. It's my home over there." "But this is your home. God gave us this land so we can lead the nations and bring back the Messiah. Look at me - I made aliyah and I never looked back. You should come home and be with your people." Ruven wrings his hands. "I want to...but you know...I had some trouble and...I just need peace and quiet. I'm sorry...but..." "The place for you is here with your people. God wants you to come right on home." "I...I'm sorry...I would if I could." Ruven looks at us plaintively.
Anna, who's sitting next to Ruven, changes the subject by asking me in an accented voice where I'm from. I tell her and ask her the same question. "The Czech Republic." "And you live here now?" "Yes. I moved here three years ago." "Are your parents here too?" "No, they're back in Prague." " So you moved here by yourself?" "Yes. I converted when I was 16 and decided to move to Israel." The marine looks at her for a second, turns away and starts talking to Ruven. "So your parents aren't Jewish?" "No." "So what do they think of you being here?" "They don't understand why I'm doing this." She shrugs her shoulders and takes a mouthful of bread. I look in astonishment at this young woman who gave up everything she knew and moved to a new country, a country where she would be rejected by much of the religion she'd embraced so enthusiastically.
I'm lifted out of my thoughts by the teenagers, who, having finished their dinner, squeeze past me and head for the door. Rabbi Stein watches them leave, then announces the final prayer. Once this is completed, I ask Anna if she's also staying at Heritage House. "Yes, the women's building. It's just around the corner from the male dorms." As the other guests file past, I ask her if she could help me navigate back to the hostel through the confusing maze of stone alleyways. As I'm doing so, Ruven comes over to us.
"It's alright, isn't it?" he asks pleadingly. "I want to move here, but right now I just..just can't." "That's OK Ruven," Anna says. "You just have to do what's right for you." "That's right Ruven," I say, "You can only go when you feel ready." I excuse myself for a minute to say goodbye to the host. Rabbi Stein is sitting on his own at the far end of the table, a serious expression on his face. I take a seat next to him and tell him how much I enjoyed his talk. "Thanks," he replies. "I'm just concerned that I didn't get through to the young group that were here. These dinners are so different every week." "But they were just young kids - I was like that too." "I guess. But it's also important to reach as many people as possible, especially in these times. It's my responsibility as a Rabbi." "Who knows - one day they may remember some of the things you said tonight." I see Anna motioning me from the other end of the table, pointing at her watch. "Do you have the time Rabbi?" He tells me it's about 11.30. "Oh - I'm sorry but we'd better get back before Heritage House closes. I was told they close up at midnight." We exchange goodbyes, then Anna and I make our way down the stairs. It's a balmy, windless night in the alleyway.
Anna tells me more about her life as we walk. She'd developed an interest in Judaism in her early teens, finished a Jewish Studies course at university in Prague and finally decided to convert, much to the horror of her family. As a penniless 16 year-old, she'd defied her parents and moved to Israel, looking after children to survive, throwing herself into yeshiva study and completing the stringent Orthodox conversion process - the only type recognised by the Israeli state. She'd had a boyfriend who was a soldier in the Israel Defense Force, but, Anna says, this had ended when his superiors discovered he was seeing a non-Jewish foreigner and pressured him to end the relationship. I ask her what plans she has now. "Oh, you know, just keep learning and growing. You never stop learning in this country! And what about you?" I tell her about my plans to head back to Australia and write a book about my experiences in Israel.
Soon we approach the alley leading to the hostels. As we do we pass a young woman. Anna turns around and shouts "hey, Michelle!" The woman stops and she catches up to us. She's small, white-skinned and wearing a grandmotherly summer dress, her slightly crossed eyes framed by curls on a porcelain doll-like face. The two gossip about their old school a yeshiva in the old city - and talk about their schoolmates. Then the talk moves on to Netanayu's policies. I can't believe my ears when Michelle, in her clipped English accent, accuses the Prime Minister of being too left-wing. "Oh, he's far too wishy-washy. He's trying to please everyone, especially the united goyim." She smiles. I'm getting spooked. "I mean, when Kahane talks about expelling the Arabs, he doesn't mean lining them up against a wall and shooting them or anything." I realise she's talking about Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Kach movement, an extreme right-wing Jewish group now outlawed in Israel. I'd read about this group in books.
Michelle smiles again and says casually, matter-of-factly: "We'd just shipall the Arabs out of Israel in lorries and vans." I look at the face of this unlikely extremist, framed against the white stones and the peaceful, star-speckled Jerusalem night. "You see, Kahane's the only one to do as the Torah says - smite your enemies and all that. The whole idea of this country having a democracy is ridiculous; you can't please everyone if you live according to Torah." She looks at her watch. "But we'd getter get back to Heritage House before it closes. See you at lunch tomorrow!" Anna watches her go.
"She's an odd girl," Anna says, "but good fun to hang out with. I'd better get back too. To reach the men's hostel, follow this alley another few metres then turn left. You can't miss it. Hopefully we'll see you tomorrow. Take care." Dazed, I say goodnight, walk to the hostel.
'Chritmas', Hannukah and Ramadan overlooking the Kidron valley, 1997
Haifa, October 25, 1997
Haifa Beach, 6.00pm. It's getting darker as I clamber down the rocks and
onto the foreshore. It's a warm evening; families and elderly couples
promenade along the wooden walkway, sucking in ice-creams, walking or
chatting in the usual loud way.
I've spent the day discovering this likeable, relaxed port city, first
wandering down from Tzippi's place on the flank of Mount Carmel, then over
to the fairy-tale Baha'i Temple with its golden dome, air of silence and
manicured gardens. Then a detour to the cave of the prophet Elijah, which
looks out at the ocean from a low ridge near the bottom of the Mount. This,
they say, is where Elijah rested before he thundered up the hill to do
battle with the 450 idolatrous priests of Baal - a curious piece of
Jerusalem in a largely secular and businesslike town. Entering the shallow
cave, I examined the ancient Greek graffiti, velvet curtains and cluster of
mumbling, swaying Jews, greeted the unhinged would-be holy man hanging
about the entrance, and scampered over the highway beneath the cave to the
Now, near the end of the day, I wander along the beach, my day pack on my
back, heading north towards the busy end of town. It's night by the time I
reach a dead end, a long sea wall and a pier that stops me from wandering
further. I take a moment to savor the scene; the blinking lights of patrol
boats and beacons ahead of me, stars above, and the yellow glow in the
apartment windows lining the street behind. It's quiet and contained, like
living in a cage you can't see, but have grown to accept.
I look down and notice something moving in front of my feet. A little red
light dances on the black sand ahead of me. I spin around to see a man
silouhetted in an apartment window. A laser toy? The sight of a gun?
Whatever, I'm incensed and I face him for a minute, my hands gesticulating,
then on my hips. I turn around for a minute, to show him I don't care, then
look back. The light is off, the man has gone and the blinds have been
drawn. I leave the beach and head for the apartment-lined street, turning
left at the next intersection.
Soon I reach a larger street that runs from the beach towards town. Along
the far side is a long, seven-foot high concrete wall covered in razor
wire. It's the continuation of the same wall I'd seen spanning the beach.
Stencilled on the wall in red letters I read:
Military area. Do not take photographs. .
I look down the street and see a stream of slouching young men in green
uniforms enter and leave through a guarded gate. I walk towards a group of
shops clustered around a roundabout at whose centre stands a neon Star of
David raised on a post. I picture myself minutes earlier, ambling
suspiciously around the perimeter of a military area in the dark, a pack on
my back. I find a phone, call Tzippi and tell her I'll be home in an hour.
One version of why the Jews perished in WWII, proclaimed in a little 'museum' on Mount Zion