THE TASTE AND FEEL OF ISRAEL TODAY
THIS YEAR IN JERUSALEM
1 DREAD FLYING. So when, on the morning of March 31, 1962, I finally took off from London on El AI Flight 234 to Tel Aviv, I was bitten by the customary fears. Suddenly we thrust through the clouds closer to the sun and stillness: I began to feel elated. I was, after all, bound for Israel. Eretz Yisrael. Even the tourist office handout, A Visitor's Guide To Israel, had a characteristic warmth to it. “Let’s hope not, but should you require medical attention such services are easily obtainable ...” I was traveling to an unknown country, but I could decently hope not to be counted a foreigner there. My stewardess doled out comfort in Yiddish. My fellow passengers, most of whom had joined the flight in New York, could be considered pilgrims. All of us were going to the Holy Land for Passover, the feast that celebrates our liberation from Egypt. “And when ye shall come into the land ye shall plant all manner of trees” (Leviticus, 19:23). Ahead of us lay King Solomon's Mines, Sodom, the Galilee, Mount Carmel and, above all, Jerusalem. Ever since the Jews had been driven into exile 2J)00 years ago. our daily prayers had entled with the hope. Next Year in Jerusalem. And here we were, 32,000 feet above the sparkling Mediterranean, calmly eating kosher chicken as we cruised at 550 miles an hour, coming closer and closer to a personal fulfillment of the prayer.
Out of the humiliations of the Dispersion, pogroms and anger, the Nazi holocaust, a state had been reborn. The feverish dream of a return to Zion had become a reality. Landing in Israel, a Jewish state, where we would not bend to the sword of injustice but would be responsible for the administration, made me apprehensive. Smiling stupidly at customs officers —thinking, yes, it's true, they’re in uniform, they do look hostile, but they're ours—I was roughly thrust into a queue. So I learnt lesson one early: a cop is a cop anywhere. A taxi, an ancient De Soto, took me to my hotel in Savyon, between Lod Airport and Tel Aviv.
“A LIFETIME OF WAITING ...
The Avia Hotel was comfortable enough—but anonymous, part of an international limbo. 1 could have been on the outskirts of a big city anywhere. The bellboy caused my first moment of panic. He was a Moroccan. Do I tip him—a fellow Jew? An expectant smile, an outstretched hand. Yes. Yes indeed. The bellboy had left the radio on for me. Burl Ives sang, “I wish I was ... a squirrel with a big long tail.” The sign over my bathroom sink read: HELP US TO IRRIGATE THE NEGEV! SAVE WATER! Public Committee For Water Saving.
Outside, bronzed men were laying tiles alongside an enormous pool dug out of the red-brown earth. There was a glow
of light in the distance. 1 heard fervent dancing, hand-clapping . . . the hora. Responding to a cliché, I at last felt 1 was truly in Eretz Yisrael.
All my life I seem to have been heading for, and postponing, my trip to Israel. In 1936, when I was only five years old, my maternal grandfather, a Hassidic rabbi, bought land in Holy Jerusalem. He intended for us all to immigrate. He died, we didn't go. When I was in high school I joined Habonim, the Labor-Zionist youth movement. On Friday evenings we listened to impassioned speeches about soil redemption, we saw movies glorifying life on the kibbutz and danced the hora until our bodies ached. Early Sunday mornings we were out ringing doorbells for the Jewish National Fund, shaking tin boxes under uprooted sleepy faces, righteously demanding quarters, dimes, and nickels that would help reclaim our desert in Eretz Yisrael. Our choir sang stirring songs at fund-raising rallies. In the summertime we went to a camp in a mosquito - ridden Laurentian valley, heard more speakers, studied Hebrew and, in the absence of Arabs, watched out for fishy-Iooking French Canadians. The heroic figure of our youth was the chalutz, the pioneer, and I can still see him as he stood on the cover of God knows how many pamphlets, clear-eyed, resolute, a rifle slung over his shoulder and a sickle in his hand.
When fighting broke out in Israel, following the Proclamation of Independence, on May 14. I94S, 1 lied about my age and joined the Canadian reserve army, thinking how ironic it would be to have Canada train me to fight the British in Eretz, but in the end 1 decided to finish high school instead: so once more 1 didn't get to Israel. In the years ahead my ardor cooled. 1 was no longer a Zionist. Still, 1 always intended to visit Israel and always kept putting it off. Like exercise.
.. . AND NOW I WAS THERE”
Outside, it was balmy; and what with London's sodden skies and bone-chilling damp only eight hours behind me, 1 began to feel elated again. The shuttle-bus to Tel Aviv, a Volkswagen, was driven by a rotund Ethiopian Jew'. “How do you like it in Israel?" he asked immediately.
“I've only been here an hour and a half,” I said.
The other passenger in the bus, an American boy with buck teeth, said, “Eve heen here three days. Leaving tomorrow'. Tonight Em going to see Breakfast at Tiffany's.”
“Did you come all this way to see movies?” I asked.
“But it's a very good movie . . . Em on a world tour, you know." His voice dropped. “Have you seen the second floor chambermaid yet?”
No; not yet.
"She's really something . . . but there's this language barrier," the boy added gloomily.
On the Allcnby Road, boys and girls in uniform, kids with transistors clapped to their ears, lottery-ticket sellers, youngsters with tiny knitted skullcaps fastened to their heads with a bobby pin. passed to and fro. At the corner of Ben Yehuda, a young man leaned against an MG. spitting out sunflower seeds. The wizened street vendors, the fruit juice and sunflower seed sellers, the begel men, all looked Arabic to me. Actually, most of them were North African Jew's. Two American ladies with winged sunglasses and gaily patterned skirts passed with a click-clack of bracelets.
“But have you heard their English yet. Sadie?”
“So help me they speak better than us. They speak like the British.”
C ertainly not. This was a Jewish-madc city with Jewish cops, Jewish generals. Jewish whores, and even a Jewish court circular.
And 1 can still remember how marvelous it was that first night to walk the streets of Tel Aviv where everybody was like you, where you couldn't be goyfrightcned into behaving larger than your true self or be put down for failings other than your own.
The Yiddish CONTINUED ON PAGE 30
THE FEEL OF ISRAEL TODAY
continued from pape 23
“The hora is strictly tourist stuff. It’s folklore for export"
restaurant I stopped at was typical of its kind anywhere. Wine-stained linen tablecloths and toothpicks in brandy glasses, the familiar sour shuffling old waiter with his shirttail hanging out, and here and there satisfied men sucking their teeth absently. "Sit down,” somebody said. It was Mr. Berman. He had sat immediately in front of me on the airplane. "This is your first time in Israel?”
“Yes it is,” I said, excited.
“All cities are the same, you know. A main street, hotels, restaurants . . . and everybody out to clip you. Here they’re champion clippers. What business you in?”
“I'm in sporting goods. I sell guns, sleeping bags, tents.” He laughed, wiped his spoon on the edge of the tablecloth, and began to chop up his strawberries in sour cream. “You'd never catch me spending a night in a sleeping bag. People are crazy. 1 should complain.” Mr. Berman told me he was leaving for Tokyo tomorrow. “The girls in Tokyo are the best. They’re ugly but you can get used to them. Used to them. It’s easy. They wait on you hand and foot.”
I went to Bill Arad’s place. Arad, whose name had been given to me by a mutual friend, lived in an apartment close to the sea. He put on a Brubeck record and poured me a cognac. I told him about the dancing I’d heard from my balcony at the Avia. “Is there a kibbutz near the hotel?” 1 asked enthusiastically.
Arad laughed at me. “They don't dance the hora in kibbutzim any more. It's strictly tourist stuff. Folklore for export. Probably, it's a youth club.” He took me to the California, a gathering place for young artists and intellectuals.
“Do you know anybody in town?” he asked.
1 told him I intended to look up Uri Avnery, the editor of Ha’Olam Haze ( This World ).
“He's a pornographer,” Arad said. “Clever, but irresponsible. Don't believe anything he tells you about Israel"
Arad introduced me to another journalist. Shlomo. “Do you really call yourself ‘Mordecai’ in Canada?” Shlomo asked, making it sound like 'ar^ act of defiance.
“But it's my name,” I said, feeling stupid.
“Really? In Canada! Isn't that nice!”
The American with the buck teeth was waiting at the bus stop. “How' was the movie?” I asked.
“It was really something. I'm on a world tour, you know.”
“1 leave for Bombay at three o'clock tomorrow afternoon.”
What's playing in Bombay, man? But I didn’t say it. Instead, I said, “Fnjoy yourself."
“I'll only be there overnight.”
It was not yet midnight; I decided to give the Avia's Jet Club, Open
Nightly, a whirl. The hartender turned out to be a painter and an admirer of Uri Avnery. He felt the new, controversial press libel law, not yet passed by the Knesset, was directed against Avnery personally. “The government," he said, “would rather hang Avnery than Eichmann. Shomon Peres hates him.”
Peres is the assistant minister of defense, responsible, among other things, for arms deals; and it was Avncry’s weekly that first revealed that Israelimade guns were being used by the Portuguese against the natives in Angola. To the bartender’s mind Israel has become identified in the Middle East with repressive colonial powers: Portugal, Spain, France. “Uri,” he said, “was the only journalist here with guts enough to come out for an independent Algeria. The other papers stuck by France and the alliance.” France is Israel's firmest friend. “If the new press law goes through,” the bartender said, “this will no longer be a democracy. In the meantime, all the artists and intellectuals in this country will swear by Avnery.”
“I've already met some who think he's a pornographer.”
“He only prints photos of nearnaked girls in his paper because he alone has no party backing. He has to sell papers to survive.”
Israel — “our act of revenge”
The bartender told me that Israel kept a cultural attache in Stockholm whose sole purpose was to lobby for a Nobel Prize for one of the country’s most gifted writers, Y. Agnon. “Buber would have got one last year,” he said, “but Hammerskjöld died as he was translating him.”
Each country to its own cultural problems.
Upstairs I read in the Herald Tribune that Chicago had taken Montreal in the third game of the Stanley Cup semifinals. Mikita had figured in four goals, Beliveau had done nothing.
It was very hot. I considered trying a bath, but there was still the sign over my sink to restrain me. HELP US TO
IRRIGATE THE NEGEV.
Jews can recognize each other, yes, but not by physical traits; by the demands one Jew makes on another. Plant a Tree. Help Us To Irrigate the Negev. These two seemingly innocuous requests evoked for me a lifetime of special pleading. Hire Me, Buy From Me, Vote For Mc, Love Me— I'm A Jew Like You. Yet I v/as thrilled to be in Israel. If I could put what I felt about the country into one image I would say a news photograph of Ben Gurion, taken on his arrival in Canla. It shows that grumpy knot of a PoTisb-Jtrw reviewing an honor guard of Canadian Guards. The Guards arc standing rigidly at attention; Ben Gurion's tangle of white hair hardly comes up to their chests. I have held on to that photograph because of the immense satisfaction it gives me. Israel, you see, could be interpreted as our act of revenge.
In Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel. The Last Tycoon, a Jewish movie producer, who hardly seems the type, is asked, "Why do you keep and ride horses?”
"In Russia." he says, "the Cossacks had the horses.”
Driving into Tel Aviv the next morning we slowed down for donkey carts, motorcycle trucks, and cars so ancient they couldn't fetch fifty dollars on the Canadian market. Weaving through streets of machine shops and junk yards, I saw rusty wheels and dilapidated bedsteads, all being thriftily reclaimed. In the suburbs, we passed blocks of new apartment buildings that looked like concrete biscuit boxes. Renting apartments is almost unknown in Israel, where most people buy their own. A oneor two-bedroom apartment with kitchen and bathroom costs from six to sixteen thousand dollars, depending on the location.
It was hot, oppressively hot, and most people, very sensibly I thought were informally dressed. Not so the ultraorthodox Jews, who clung to costumes more appropriate to their east European origins. They wore black homburgs, or large, round, fur-trimmed hats (streimels) and long black coats (kaftans) and, underneath, jackets and sweaters. The brim of the streimel is trimmed with a dozen tails, representative of the twelve tribes of Israel. As it is written, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Leviticus, 19:27), the men and boys wore beards and long curly sidelocks. In front of the municipal synagogue, one sold lottery tickets, another dealt in religious articles. Beggars lolled in the shade. There was a man with his trousers hitched up to reveal his artificial legs and another with a hideously gnarled face.
I stopped at a café on Ahad Ha-Am Street. Ahad Ha-Am (one of the people) was the pseudonym of Asher Zvi Ginsberg, a brilliant Zionist thinker. When Ahad Ha-Am settled in Tel Aviv in his later years, the street on which he lived was named after him and even closed off during his afternoon rest hours. He died in 1927. Today Ahad Ha-Am is a busy commercial street. As I sat there I was suddenly caught up in a swirl of shrieking newspaper vendors, boys and men, who sidestepped cars and swerved clear of bicycles with an amazing agility, all shouting, "M’ariv! M’ariv!” Minutes later the slow-footed ones, the old and the lame, came shuffling past with their copies of the first edition, their cry more plaintive. 1 bought a copy of the Jerusalem Post, the English-language daily, and was immediately attracted to a boxed notice on page one:
We have lost our crowning glory! The great rabbi Nissim Benjamin Phanna
( hief Rabbi of the City of Haifa and its environs, has been taken by his maker.
Funeral cortege will leave the Rothschild Hospital, Haifa (April 1, 1962) I I A.M.
The Bereaved Family
Bill Arad, in his late thirties, is a married man with two children. He's at his office every morning at 7.30 and his workday ends officially at 3.30. In practice, however, he takes work home with him almost every night. Arad, a highly placed technical expert in the department of civil avia-
tion, has been offered positions by the UN and several of the emergent African states. He could easily earn $15,000 a year elsewhere. As it is. his take-home pay comes to some two hundred dollars a month and his w ife works as well. Arad is entitled to a car and a car allowance, but he does without it. “If 1 need it," he says, “there's always an official one at my disposal." This is not to suggest that he is boring or that he accosts you w ith his virtue. On the contrary. Arad is an unusually charming and intelligent man. He took me to an oriental restaurant for lunch. As we ate our humus (a mixture of ground chick peas, oil. and garlic), he told me that he, like others, had just been levied with a new ten percent tax for immigration.
Immigration into Israel is unlimited. but no figures are released. “Every night,” somebody else had told me. “planes land w'ith people from Rumania, Poland and Morocco. Officially, they are not allowed leave for Israel, but we have an understanding, so to speak, with the countries concerned. How'ever if we began to brag, if official word got out that these Jews were coming here, the flow might stop. And the more people we have." he concluded, "the better our chances."
“A new kind of Jew”
New' immigrants no longer go to tent camps, as in 1949-50. but move right into new housing projects, ugly but adequate. If they are skilled, they find work immediately: if not, there is still employment for them, but they are subject to the frustrations of the labor exchange. The constant flood has all but swamped the country. When it became a state Israel had a population of about 600,000: today, fourteen years later, its peoples number over 2,000.000. Furthermore, the social structure of the country has altered drastically. Once idealistic Russian and Polish Jews, who wanted to come to Israel, made up the bulk of the population. Today Kurds, North Africans, and Yemenites, who were forced — or, if you accept the Arab argument, urged by Zionist agents — to leave their homelands, account for more than a third of the population, many of them having been literally lifted — "upon eagled wings." as in the Yemenite prophecy — from one age slap into another.
Unending immigration has made for an alarming strain on the economy of a land thin in natural resources to begin with, and then there's the smoldering problem of social absorption. Each immigrant group is a ready-made issue. It is known, for instance, that many of the new arrivals from eastern Europe were not so anxious to come to Israel as to quit the communist states. Israel, for them, is only a transit station in the yearnedfor trip to America. These people, too. are among the most desirable immigrants because they are the most skilled. The non-European or oriental Jews create an even thornier problem. Many are unskilled. Others become quickly embittered. For there's no doubt that almost all high offices in the land are filled by western Jews. They are the managers, the executives, and government officials. The Kurds,
AUGUST I I. 1962
Moroccans and Yemenites tend to become laborers, army noncoms and clerks. The army, by tossing young people of all origins into the same units, hopes to break down suspicion and prejudice, but there is already a color problem in Israel and it remains to be seen whether in the next generation or two it disappears or hardens.
On Sunday 1 moved to the Garden Hotel in Ramat Aviv. Sitting out at a café on the Dizengoff Street later in the afternoon, I saw a crazed young man pass, reading aloud from the Hebrew prayer book. Drifting up and down was the inevitable spill of young officers and smart-looking girls in uniform. An elderly Hassid shuffled from table to table, selling plastic combs, toothbrushes, and religious articles. The souvenir shops on the Dizengoff offer gaudy, vulgarized religious baubles — just as they do in Rome. I went to Bill Arad's place again. Earlier, at the Haganah Museum, we had studied models of famous kibbutzim that had been built between 1936-39, the Arab revolt years. These were called "wall and tower" kibbutzim. as they were set up stealthily overnight by units of a thousand men: the wall, the tower, and the outer ring of barbed wire going up first, to withstand the expected Arab attack at dawn. Now', over a shared bottle of cognac, Arad told me how success had changed the kibbutzim. Once, he said, there had been fierce ideological arguments as to whether it was a bourgeois corruption to replace the benches with chairs in the communal dining hall. Today, he said, many people take their evening meal in the privacy of their own cabins. The kibbutz movement was dying. Very few new ones were being started.
Arad and I drifted to the California, where we fell in with two young architects. One of them felt that Uri Avnery had courage and that the Eichmann trial was a mistake. “It dragged on and on." he said, “cheapening things."
"But we had to have a trial to educate the young. They have no respect. They don't understand why the others didn't fight."
At Auschwitz and other camps the ratio of prisoners to guards varied from twenty-to-one to thirty-five-toone, but except for the heroic resistance in Warsaw the Jews of Europe, as far as it's known, went sheepishly to their death.
"We're a new kind of Jew here." the other architect said. “What do you think?"
"I think hunting down Eichmann was brilliant, but the trial was a mistake."
"You're with Buber. I suppose. You pity Eichmann."
"Buber doesn't pity him." I said. “He feels the execution of Eichmann would only help to expiate German guilt. He says for such a crime there is no penalty, and I agree."
"It's easy to criticize."
"I'm an old-fashioned Jew. I criticize."
In Jerusalem, early in my stay. I took a taxi to The Hebrew University. On the way we passed a prison block.
"Today he's in there, " the driver said.
"The Eichmann. '
The olei Hebrew University, on Mount Scopus, is now an Israeli enclave in Jordanian territory. Nobody is able to use it. The new university, built on a windswept plateau on the edge of the city, is made up of a sequence of functional modern blocks. In the library building, donated by Canadian Hadassah, in honor of the Rt. Hon. Vincent Massey, I met Tuvia Shlonsky, a young lecturer and poet. Strolling across the campus, Tuvia told me how much he admired AmcricanJewish writers like Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud. and Phillip Roth. “Nobody here,” he said, “can write with their style.”
“Arc these writers read in Israel?” I asked.
"Unfortunately not. The young think of them as ghetto writers.” He laughed, embarrassed.
1 had lunch with Reuben Ben Zur, an Israeli insurance broker I had met in London. Ben Zur, who lives in an elegant Arab-built house, is very active in the Rotary Club of Israel. His, in fact, seemed a soft middle-class home, but his charming young wife, who kept forcing more cake on me, had once smuggled grenades into Jerusalem under her dress, and even now there was a disquieting high stone wall only 200 yards away, marking the frontier with Jordan. "In order to be a Zionist,” Ben Zur said, quoting Weizmann, “it helps to be a little bit crazy.” He didn’t like the idea of my looking up Uri Avnery. “He's a scoundrel,” he said.
One of the clerks in Ben Zur’s office took me for a drive. Yizhok, who had just done a month's duty on the Jerusalem frontier, took me to the position where he had served. (Israeli girls serve two years in the army. The men put in two and a half years and following that, until the age of forty, they can be called up for a month’s annual training.) “No tourists come here.” he assured me. We climbed a stony hill to an abandoned courtyard where the Israelis and Jordanians occupied sandbagged positions about 100 yards apart. “When I served here,” Yizhok said, “we used to gossip every morning and throw fruit back and forth.” There has, I’m told, been only one shot fired in anger across the frontier in the last three years. It was in a dispute over a card game.
From the lookout at Ramat Chen, Yizhok pointed out Mount Zion, the road to Bethlehem, the hill where Solomon's tomb is supposed to be, and, baking in the distance, the walled Old City. The Old City is in Jordan, so for fourteen years now the Jews have not had access to the most sacred of relics, the Wailing Wall, part of which dates back to the time of Solomon's temple. In the dead of night, according to legend, the Schechina or Divine Presence appears by the Wall as a white dove to coo in sorrow'.
I told Uri Avnery about a fellowtourist I'd run into at the hotel, a Mr. Hersh. “It's sad,” I said, “but he feels unwanted in Israel.”
Avnery said, “But for the middleaged tourists from America, the oldtime Zionists, this has to be paradise and no criticism is possible. They come here as to heaven on earth and they want it pure, not filled with quarreling human beings. Those old
men would cut oil their fingers for Israel. It's true they wouldn't settle here, but they will pay for it. They are, in a sense, the backbone of the Israeli economy.” Yet, he felt, Israelis arc anti-Jewish. They have no interest in Amcrican-Jewish culture. "As far as most people here are concerned your middle-aged tourists are shirkers for living abroad. They come here to be delighted by Jewish cops, a Jewish army, well, they have to pay for it.”
Avnery’s office has been bombed twice and he himself has been beaten up once. He describes his weekly as one-third sex and sensation, one-third Time-style, and another third modeled on the Paris intellectual weekly, l’Express. “Ours is the only true opposition paper,” he said. “The only one without hidden subsidies.”
Israeli newspapers are usually attached to a political party. Histadrut, the organizer of labor as well as the biggest industrial combine in the nation, advertises in all the party newspapers, but not in Ha’OIam Haze (circ., 25,000). When Avnery's weekly revealed that Israeli arms were being used in Angola, having picked up the story from the London Observer, the report was denied by the government. But Avnery insisted and the other, more reputable journals were obliged to investigate the claim. They came back with concrete proof that some Israeli-made arms were in fact being used in Angola. “The government,” Avnery said, “then said they had sold the arms to Germany and had no idea where or how they would be used. That much is true. But what is also true is they have known Germany had no need whatsoever for Israeli arms . . . They buy them for show, out of guilt . . . Also they are too clever to send their own arms for use in a dirty colonial war. So,” he said, “once more we get the worst of both worlds.”
We drove past Ben-Gurion's house. The prime minister has three homes. An official residence in Jerusalem, his own house in Tel Aviv, and his desert home. Avnery said, “He really hates the desert, but he is a man with a rare sense of style. If he is going to be interviewed on American TV he flies out to the desert by helicopter a half hour before the camera crew. A half
hour after they've left he's back in Tel Aviv.” Avnery speaks of BenGurion with warmth. “Nobody here can touch him politically. Unfortunately, there is personal hatred between BG and Nasser. All politics in Israel hinge on when will the old man die. There hasn’t been a new idea in the Middle East for years and nothing will happen until after BenCiurion.”
A maintenance of the status quo, in Avnery's opinion, suits the internal politics of both sides. The two outstanding Egyptian-Israeli problems, he feels, are the refugees in the camps on the Gaza Strip and cold war politics. The maximum number of refugees Ben-Gurion is willing to resettle comes nowhere near the minimum Nasser would agree to. Nasser wants a neutral Middle East, including an Israel disassociated from power blocks, but Israel, Avnery says, as presently constituted, is dependent on western handouts for survival. The economy, he maintains, is totally unrealistic. It is based on continued help from Zionists outside the country (American, Canadian, and British bond drives primarily); international loans; and German reparation money. The reparation money, an estimated 100 million dollars a year, will soon be coming to an end.
“Israel insists on behaving as if it was not a Middle Eastern country,” Avnery said. “The Jews will continue to pretend they are a western power. Nobody is really interested in what goes on in Alexandria and Beirut, so closeby, but they will go rushing off to New York and London, where they can parade as heroes in the Jewish communities . . . From the beginning, going back to the days of the earliest settlements, there has never been an attempt to assimilate with the Arabs.”
We drove to Avnery’s apartment, the top flat of a seven-story building overlooking on one side, the Mediterranean, and on the other, all of Tel Aviv. Uri pointed out the big Histadrut building. “Our Kremlin,” he said. We stood by the window for a long while. Finally, Uri said, “You know, I love it here.” He laughed at himself. “In London, where you live, everything’s been done. Here, we’ll see.”
One of the most popular means of moving between cities is the sherut — the shared taxi. The service is quick, regular, and cheap. On Thursday morning I joined six others in the inevitable rattling De Soto with shattered windows and started out for Hadera, an hour’s run along the coastal plain. Hadera, a sun-bitten industrial town (pop., 30,000), has the rare distinction, for Israel, of not being listed as “a place of interest” in any of the official guide books I'd seen. Only a mile from the sea, the dry dusty town is built on sand dunes: nearby, there are many kibbutzim and Arab villages. My cousin Shmul lives there.
I had not seen Shmul since we had both been kids together on St. Urbain Street, in Montreal, more than fifteen years ago. Once my grandfather strapped me for igniting a band of firecrackers and dropping them into Shmul’s pocket.
ShmuPs shop, the Hadera Locksmithy, was shut down. He wasn't home either. But his wife, Sarah, let me into their apartment. Sarah is a New Yorker. She and Shmul keep a strictly orthodox home. They met on a kibbutz on their first trip to Israel some years ago, and then again in New York where they were married and had a child. Shmul learnt his locksmith’s trade in New York, bought equipment on credit, and returned to settle in Hadera with his family. Their apartment, small but really quite a decent place, was found for them by the Jewish Agency and, as a new immigrant from Canada, Shmul was able to buy it for £8,000 Israeli (roughly $5,000). Shmul, who works long hours, earns only about $350 monthly, and his taxes are high. Sarah told me Hadera is visited regularly by the Habimah Players; the Bolshoi has been there once. So has the Senegal Ballet. She is impatient with Israeli red tape and misses her family; otherwise she’s happy in Israel. I asked her about the Moroccan Jews I had seen on the street.
“A problem? Wherever you have black and white,” she said, “there’s a problem.” She added she wouldn’t like dark Jews to move into her apartment block. “With the least excuse,” she said, “they take out a knife . . . The worst are the ones from the Atlas Mountains. They’ve just come out of the caves.”
The living-room bulged with bestsellers. A cha-cha record lay on the floor. Sarah, like so many of the Americans and Canadians I met who had settled in Israel, retained a reserve of arrogance about the gesture. “Don t forget,” she would say, “we didn’t have to come here. Like the European Jews.”
Sarah went next door to phone another cousin of mine, Benjy, who taught at a school in Pardess-Hanna, closeby. I hadn't seen Benjy since his bar mitzvah eight years ago. He had grown into a tall, thin, introverted boy. A knitted skullcap was clasped to his head with a bobby pin; he wore a beard. We went for a stroll before lunch. Benjy tried to explain why he had left Canada. “If I read in the paper that a Frenchman had killed somebody I didn’t care, he’s a Frenchman, but here everybody’s Jewish and I care about everything.” He hadn’t felt at ease in Canada. “I would al-
ways think that on: day I'd have to leave, all the Jews would have to leave. It's not our country.'
Beruv intends to study law in Israel.
1 asked him if he didn't think the relisions community had an influence, out of proportion to its numbers, on the secular life in the country. "Elsewhere.'' he said, "1 would be for separation of church and state, but this is Israel. If civil marriage were allowed there would eventually be two nations."
His reference, indirect, was to Deuteronomy, 23:2. "No bastard shall enter the assembly of the Lord: even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” What is meant by bastard here is the child of civilly married parents. In other words, for ten generations, the orthodox would be bound to consider the issue of a civil marriage a bastard and would certainly never intermarry with him.
I went to a liquor store to buy a bottle of cognac to take back to Shmill's house. Benjy interrupted the transaction. "Is this bottle kosher?" he demanded of the shopkeeper.
"Don't worry," the shopkeeper said impatiently, "it's kosher, it's kosher.
Orthodox Jews are not very popular in Israel. They are considered a throwback to the ghetto, that is to say, they are old-fashioned Jews rather than modern Hebrews. Though the orthodox minority, through its three political parties, actually holds only eighteen out of 120 scats in the Knesset, it keeps a bullying clamp on the day-to-day life of the religiously indifferent majority. They arc able to do this because the Mapai, which has formed every government since the state's inception, has often had to form a coalition in order to make tor a clear majority in the Knesset. A partnership with the religious parties has always been the most attractive because, questions of orthodoxy apart, they have given Ben-Gurion a free hand. The upshot is that, in Israel today on shabbat, from sundown on Friday to sundown the following day. all public services stop and most shops are closed. Dietary laws are observed in the army and hotel dining rooms are under the supervision of the rabbinical council. The importation of nonkosher meat is forbidden, and kosher meat is more expensive.
My cousin Shmui no longer calls himself Hcrscovitch. He has, following a popular immigrant practice, given his name a clearer Israeli ring. He is known today as Shmui Shimshoni.
“When I first came to Hadera," he told me, “the locals thought I was crazy. For forty years, they said, there has never been a locksmith in towm. what do we need one now for? Then, out of sympathy for a new man, one by one they looked for something in their attics to bring into my shop. My first customer brought me an old suitcase. The case was locked and the key was lost. He asked if I could open it and make him a new key. When I did it for him he was amazed. He had to go home to get money to pay me. ‘I never thought you'd be able to do it,' he admitted . . . Over here, we believe in letting the other man live. As long as you're not a pig, everybody helps out."
Less impatient than his wife with
Israeli red tape, Shmui is also more tolerant of dark Jews. "Remember Dudel? He used to live in Israel. He went home because he fell in love with a Yemenite girl. In Canada, his family said, w'hat. you're going to marry a nigger, and back in Eilat, the girl's family said, what, marry a white one? Isn't it silly," Shmui said, shaking his head in disbelief. He took me to his shop. "Yes. it's true I could earn more in Canada," he said, "but this is my home now."
He has put in two and a half years in the army, serving in the Sinai campaign. and now moves in a relative!) classless society. Shmul's friends include teachers, doctors, booksellers, and laborers, as well as small shopkeepers like himself. “Another thing is that I decided not to stick only with Americans. That would be like our parents coming from Poland to Montreal and starting a ghetto." One of his closest friends, he told. me, w'as a Moroccan. "The Arabs you see on the
street have difficulty finding w'ork. The) are paid lower wages too. It's not nice, but the feeling is. 'Who can trust them?' "
A car pulled up outside. The trunk was locked, the key lost. Shmui gathered together a clutch of ke\s. The last thing he said to me was. "1 hope you haven't heard too many complaints here." ★
This year in Jerusalem will continue in the next Maclean's.