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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 17 June

It’s really Wednesday, about one or two in the morning. I was out when it was still Tuesday, watching a huge blood-red moon rise. Unfortunately the parking lot was filled with our youth, each of whom announced his arrival by leaning on the car horn. In days of old arriving royalty would be announced by trumpeters. Some things don’t change. Now it is relatively quiet. A freight train. Some highway noise. And a silver-white full moon so bright it blots out most of the stars.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 June

You know my predilection for being early: “Better an hour early than five minutes late”. Well, this time I overdid it and parked near the dentist’s office some ninety minutes early. I know the area well as Rachel’s dentist is close by. In fact, the offices are separated by a block-long covered passage, dark and dingy, whose major attraction – whose only attraction – is a public toilet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the COURT YARD I sat in front of a headless figure described as “MAN BODY WEARING TOGA WAS BEFORE IN BOSTON”. I considered contacting the Boston police and informing them that a headless, toga-wearing drug addict from Boston was now in Ashkelon.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 19

We had guests. Actually, Rachel had guests. I spent most of the time hiding in my room. The girl, a photojournalist working for the NYTimes, and her minder. I was introduced at the beginning, did my tres charmant shtick, disappeared, then emerged at the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday night, 21 June.

Friday morning, ready to wash the floors, Rachel booted me out once again. “Flowers?” I called out, trying to keep the screen door from hitting me on the way out.

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

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

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

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

He is also big on vaccinations.

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

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

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

Returning from shul today Rachel was in conversation with several women, one of them our rabbi’s wife. “So many people seem unable to take the initiative to rebuild their lives, to build new homes and farms and businesses,” said the rebbetzin.

“Many don’t have the money” said another woman.

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

Tuesday, June 23

We are in the third week of a postal ‘work action’ with no end in sight. This means that cities and large towns have regular mail service but outlying areas, called ‘the periphery’, have none. Mail isn’t picked up or delivered. If you have to mail something you drive to a town. But if you are waiting to receive something, you are out of luck.

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

It’s really like this all over.

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

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

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

Very dear friends sent me an inspirational Chabad piece titled “Before Dawn” which begins “They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation… That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before – but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn.”

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

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

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

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


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