Merav Omer (29 anni, Jerusalem):
She warned me that he would abandon
me, that he would be as unfaithful to me as I had been to my vows, but I could
not be untrue to my heart’s calling. And though he did leave me, it wasn’t for
the reasons she had envisioned. I know he would have stayed, had he not been
forced to flee.
But that was over half a century
ago. The year was 1948; I was sent, aged 27, from my French hometown to the
Holy Land, to a remote village amid the Judean Hills, to join the Notre-Dame de
Sion congregation and help cure the ailing Sisters from a severe outbreak of
the influenza – having been identified by the Superior of my local abbey as
knowledgeable in herbs and natural remedies, a skill inherited from my
That winter, the nights of
Jerusalem were frigid and I found myself shivering as I lay in bed under the
single woollen quilt, kept awake by the shrieking wind carrying with it the
call of the muezzin, unable to fall asleep even after repeating the rosary ad
nauseam. But when the sun broke through the clouds at midday, its warmth would
caress me and I yearned to throw myself into its beckoning arms. Lonely in the
Abbey, where I alone still walked on my own two feet among the ill Sisters and
where all scheduled prayers and activities had come to a standstill, I breached
its iron gates to explore the adjacent hills, pleading that the Abbey garden
could not supply all of the plants needed to concoct the desired remedy; and I,
therefore, had no choice but to seek wild herbs beyond its crenellated stone
walls. As Mother Superior was herself confined to bed with excruciating
muscular pain and hallucinations and in dire need of my promised elixir, there
was no one to question my prolonged absences or to forbid me from wandering to
my heart’s content.
It was on one of those sojourns to
a terraced hillside, as far away from the Abbey as I could reach, that I met
him. I must have been drawn to the music soaring from his reed flute,
stupefying the black sheep lying in a daze on the grass around him. I had, on
previous occasions, spotted those same sheep skipping – wild with joy – from
hill to hill, but the music, like a tranquilizer, sedated them as they lolled
on their backs in the sun. Identifying a tree bark wide enough to conceal me
from his sight, I removed my white apron, spread it over a patch of wild grass,
lay down, and closed my eyes, allowing his music to take me on an enchanted
journey to distant lands. I hadn’t heard music (except for organ and
harpsichord accompanying the choral chanting of hymns) since devoting myself to
God at the age of 14, and had certainly never heard music of this kind before –
its exotic cadences sent a shiver down my spine, lulling me to sleep – a more
profound sleep than I had enjoyed in all the weeks since arriving in Ein Kerem.
I awoke to find the man leaning
over me; from my vantage point on the ground his torso seemed to extend to the
height of the pine trees. He smiled when he realized how startled I was, a
smile that revealed a row of pearly white teeth glowing in contrast to his
caramel-toned skin; a smile reiterated by the warmth and kindness of his dark
eyes. He extended his muscular arms to me – his hands rough on the outside but
soft within – gently lifting me to my feet as though I were an injured lamb.
Enthralled by his presence, thrilled by his touch, I suddenly noticed my apron
still on the ground – stained green and brown from the humid grass – and bent
over to retrieve it. He reached it first and, instead of handing it to me, let
it drape over his forearm.
Placing a soothing hand on my back
he led me to a secluded spot under the luscious pomegranate tree, near an
elusive brook, murmuring “Habibti,” a word I could not understand. But any
sound emitted by his deep, melodious voice, no matter its meaning, would have
been pleasing to my ears. I longed to lean into him, to rest my head on his
shoulder, and my lips somehow brushed his. I had never before felt a man’s
breath against my cheek, had never before felt so safe.
Only the chiming church bells
recalled me from my reverie. I spun around and detached my body from his,
pricking my exposed ankle on a thorn from the rosebush that had, until then,
enfolded us in its exquisite fragrance.
I returned the next day and the
next to find him lounging in the same spot, fluting his hypnotic melody.
Though thoroughly distracted by our
encounter, I somehow managed to concoct the trusty lemon-honey-thyme syrup. One
by one, the Sisters returned to their duties and sacred worship, and my free
time was once again restricted. Mother Abbess, who had promoted me from Novice
to the rank of Infirmerer in recognition of my contribution to the community’s
recovery, now gave me a sour look whenever she’d catch me daydreaming during
her sermon or a slap on the wrist if I doodled instead of transcribing the day’s
She finally sent her deputy after
me while I went out into nature one day. I will never forgive that spy of hers,
forever depriving me of my one chance at true happiness, envious that her own
prime had passed unfulfilled. If not for her, we could have continued enjoying
our midday embraces undisturbed.
The harsh winter had somehow
mellowed by the time Mother Abbess called me to her study. More and more
flowers blossomed with each passing day, birds just back from their southern
expedition cheerfully chirped, and the sun shone brighter. Almond trees adorned
with fragrant flowers, like majestic brides, proclaimed the arrival of spring.
We felt so secure amid their snow-white blossoms, forgetting that they could
not camouflage us – he in his white galabiyah and I in my starched black robe.
“Sit down, my child,” she commanded
when I stepped into her office with a curtsy. “Is there anything you would like
to confess?” She examined me over the rim of her glasses, her green eyes
magnified by the thick lenses.
Lowering my eyes, I muttered
something about devoting more time lately to nature study than to the Holy
“By ‘nature study’ I take you to
mean the exploration of bodily impulses and desires.” I blanched; how could she
possibly have discovered my most intimate secret?
She rose from her seat on the other
side of the desk, strode across the room, and pressed a heavy palm into my
“You have committed a most serious
transgression in your lust for another human being and infidelity toward our
Heavenly Father. You must repent, make penance for your carnal sins, and retake
your sacred vows; otherwise you will have to leave the Abbey and fend for
She walked me through the long,
sombre corridor to my cell – bare white walls with a wooden crucifix as their
sole adornment, overlooking a narrow wrought-iron bed, a wooden desk and chair,
and a porcelain wash basin. My only comfort was the window, framing the Abbey’s
orchard, replete with olives, figs, pomegranates, and vines.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I
threw myself onto the stiff bed and heard the key turning in the lock; I did
not know whether they were tears of longing for my beloved or tears of despair
at the harshness of my fate and the difficulty of the situation with which I
was now faced.
I spent the next two weeks in a
dazed sleep, interrupted only by the occasional gunshot, which I supposed to be
a mark of celebration among the villagers. I only hoped that my beloved would
clasp no other woman to his bosom during the celebratory dance, frustrated by
my prolonged absence.
When Mother Abbess entered my cell
bearing my daily portion of bread and water, I rose to face her for the first
time in fifteen days. My feet barely held me, so weakened was I by my near
“I beg your pardon, Mother, but
have no choice but to leave the Order and pursue my passion.”
“It is, of course, as you wish, my
dear, but mark my words, he will abandon you yet and true happiness will
continue to elude you if you step beyond our walls. I hope you have considered
your options carefully.” I kissed her outstretched hand, grabbed my woollen
black cloak, and exited the claustrophobic chamber with a curtsy.
I had lost all track of time and
everything beyond the monastery’s crenellated stone walls seemed oddly dark and
dreary, in sharp contrast to the lushness of the Abbey garden and the fervent
activity of the Sisters working the land. I did not look up as I crossed the
garden, but from the corner of my eye saw one of the nuns flashing me a
derisive smile. I knew at that moment that she had been the informant.
I was astonished at the stillness
of the streets, usually so colourful and lively with the joyful cries of
children at play and of bleating goats. The greater the distance I covered, the
more the village appeared to me deserted. It was then that I realized I hadn’t
even heard the muezzin for the past few days. This impression was intensified
when I reached the stone house with the blue door, where I knew my beloved to
The clothesline, always overloaded
with robes and linens hanging in the sun to dry, was completely bare and the
henhouse empty. The dignified house stood still. No flute music emerged from
within and no one sat drinking cardamom-spiced coffee while playing backgammon
on the arched veranda. No one answered the door, even after repeated knocks
gradually crescendoing in their urgency. At first I was relieved; what would I
say to his mother or sisters if they found me standing there? How would I
explain our relationship? Or even worse – what if his father, the Sheikh,
opened the door, expecting one of his disciples for a tutorial? At least I
would not look out of place in the dark cloak thrown over my shoulders,
complemented by a white headscarf. Perhaps I could claim that I had been
invited to examine their livestock and administer a new vaccine against
I finally grew impatient and pushed
the door open. The interior was just as still as the exterior. Embroidered
cushions were strewn on the floor, books and papers dispersed all over the
Persian carpet, and glasses stained mud brown stood on the low damascene coffee
table. There was no sign of humanity.
I collapsed onto one of the silk
cushions, embroidered with golden threads, and started weeping in my loneliness
and despair. I then fell into a prolonged stupor, I know not how long, and
awoke to the sound of soldiers yelling orders under the window. A pair in
mismatched, badly fitting uniforms rapped the door with the butt of a gun,
which they pointed at me when I had gathered enough strength to rise to my feet
and answer the door. I raised my hands in total submission. After they had
lowered the weapon, I somehow managed to comprehend from their hand gestures
that all of the village’s inhabitants had fled three days before – cleared
every house overnight and rejoined their relatives in Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria
– and the warriors had now come to take any remnant captive. It was then that I
realized that, just as Mother Abbess had predicted, my beloved really had
abandoned me; definitely not for the reasons she had envisioned (unless she had
known about the evacuation and concealed the news from me), but abandoned me
I tried explaining to the soldiers
that I had belonged, up to a few hours before, to the nearby Abbey and was of
French Catholic origin, with no interest in the war and no desire to support or
hinder either side. I then had the insight that would save my life: I told the
soldiers about my expertise in natural remedies and my pharmaceutical skills,
and offered to establish a clinic in that very house, perhaps a branch of the
Red Cross, in order to treat anyone wounded in battle. The soldiers surveyed
the house and nodded their approval. As the Sheikh’s home, it was quite
spacious, with many rooms for different types of injuries and diseases.
The arrangement suited me, as it
kept me occupied during the months in which fire was exchanged between the Jews
and the Arabs. I was glad to remain in my beloved’s home, hopeful that he would
return with the culmination of the war and marry me, as a reward for my
patience and unwavering devotion – finally granting me the long-lasting
happiness I yearned for.
While anticipating the arrival of
my first patients, I prepared the house and put the rooms in order, immersing
myself in family albums, imagining what our children would look like, and
soaking the pillows on which he himself had slept with rose water adulterated
with my own tears. I stroked his musical instruments, considering them too sacred
to blow, and inhaled his distinct scent from the embroidered robes still
hanging in the closet, worshipping the painted ceramic tiles on which he had
But he never did return. Several
months later, Israeli independence was declared and those same soldiers, now
bearing badges of honour, returned to evict me from my beloved’s former
residence, claiming that the house was now needed to settle Jewish immigrants
who had been expelled from Arab countries and European Holocaust survivors. I
had no choice but to return to France and lead a peaceful but solitary life in
my hometown, tending to all those in misery.
I have now returned on a final
pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Though I have given up all hope of ever seeing him
again, I cannot help but wonder if he would recognize me, all bent and wrinkled
as I am today. And though the Ein Kerem landscape has remained much the same,
the houses appear dilapidated and the blue paint on the door and window frames
has started peeling away. Yet, despite the deterioration, it is now an
exclusive neighbourhood long since annexed to Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries,
inhabited by artists in search of inspiration.
And that same virginal spot where
we first embraced – flourishing each year anew with the progeny of those
original pomegranates, wild roses, and almond blossoms – has been discovered
and appropriated by countless lovers since.
Levin, (24 anni,
Yankelevich has fallen asleep in his armchair at 8:47 PM.
Usually he wouldn't have sink into himself prior the end of the weather
forecast, and in particular, he wanted to stay awake for Today's, in order to
tell when to put up the shutters for the upcoming storm.
thought, addressing him as Mr. Yankelevich would be a sin regarding his
true age. The Health clinic's subscription paper from his visit three months
ago clearly states "39.9"
that this description is only accurate regarding his appearance. His hair has
already started residing backwards at 21, and turn gray two years after that.
He has reached final height at his 65th meter, and the constant blending with
his armchair did not make justice with his face hue and weight. A decade ago he
felt discouraged and retired for his domain.
Health clinic's visit was the last time he was to leave his house.
routine started on the armchair, watching the 6:30 AM morning shows, then he
would sit in front of his computer to work as an article transcriber and kept
sitting on the armchair watching the 17:00 PM magazine shows, until falling
asleep on the armchair at 9 PM. At 2:00 AM he would wake up and move into his
also, he had woken up in the middle of the night at his armchair. Only this
time, before he went back to sleep in his bed, he had manage to scold himself
for falling asleep right before the end of the weather forecast. He grew fond
of watching Live television, after all.
woke up at 6:00 AM, he was filled with excitement for the expected Supermarket
delivery which was due lunchtime. For the first time, he has ordered a
Jerusalem artichoke, after he found an interesting recipe over the Internet,
and was curious about its flavor.
PM he wore a fancy shirt and waited for the delivery guy. When the guy arrived,
he was offered to stay for an artichoke casserole. Only 20-minute preparation
time, was stated.
The guest smiled politely, and said he was running
late for the next delivery. Mr. Yankelevich responded that he would still be
invited for later if he wishes to, while the delivery guy, turning already his
back at him, just muttered "Possibly…", and moved about his business.
Mr. Yankelevich knew he would not to come back, yet kept his fancy shirt on
until evening time.
PM, while flipping between the different news channels, he noticed that all of
them have dedicated a large part of the show to traffic accidents. 7 casualties
for today only. Seven. High speed, Road skidding, collusion as a result of not
turning headlights on. No headlights? Mr. Yankelevich was clicking his tongue,
making a tut-tut sound. How come one does not turn any headlights on? Even if
he had forgotten, he would be able to see a car in front of him and reminisce.
This thought made him restless until he fell asleep at 8:59 PM.
PM he woke up abruptly. The relentless thought of cars running with their
headlights turned off bothered him.
had to test it by himself. He had put on the fancy shirt that was laying on the
chair, and left the house.
breeze struck him fiercely. He turned back into his house in order to wear a
jacket, but changed his mind and went back up the road.
wasn’t especially busy at his street, which was why he decided to go by the
main street at his neighborhood. He took the turn into a parallel street,
crossed another couple of blocks, passed down a garden and a commercial center,
crossed another 3 blocks, and another elementary school and finally reached the
destined street. He didn't recall it was that far off.
down a bus station bench watching the cars going back and forth. Everything
seemed ordinary. He came accustomed to the flashing of lights and slowly began
to sink into his mind.
His awareness became increasingly vague, until he
heard a car's rumble, but didn't go blind by it. He then opened up his eyes.
afar, he saw a car driving towards him with its headlights off. He leaped from
the bench, came close to the sidewalk and began flickering with his hand,
opened and then closed, repeatedly, as to signal the other car for its
headlights to be turned on.
was already very close by, as he was increasing his the pace of flickering. The
car went by him eventually, even thought the driver was unaware of his signals,
and left his lights turned off.
Yankelvich was disappointed, got back to the bench and after about an hour
retreated back to his house.
day went on casually, until news time. Once again, traffic accidents,
casualties, Mr. Yankelvich back on the main highway. This time right at the end
of tonight's news.
hour the traffic was far more alive. So many lights, he thought to himself.
This time he kept himself awake and monitored the road. Soon arrived a first
car with its headlights off.
Yankelevich began walking down the main road until cars at the right lane were
honking at him ,fearful that he might leap towards them accidently.
intensively opened and closed his hand to signal an upcoming darkened car, and
as it went close, it all of a sudden lit up its front headlights.
Yankelevich opened his eyes in disbelief and could not believe he caused it
himself. He then done so with 7 more cars, who were passing through that night.
midnight, while the traffic went thinner, he went back home.
going to bed, he felt proud for all those cars which lit their headlights as a
result of a close encounter with him.
following day, he went out the road again at 6:00 PM, as it was turning dark.
He stood still there the entire hour. The cars passing
by all had their headlights on.
Yankelevich was happy about that, yet somewhat wished another driver to come
across his signaling hand.
traffic jam was flooding the road. Cars with their headlights on stood still
for a while now, and Mr. Yankelevich has already began to sink into himself
again, standing, but immediately scolded himself to straighten up.
line of cars replaced the one standing next to him for a while, and among them,
Suzuki Baleno with its headlights off was discovered.
time, the car stood still, so Mr. Yankelevich didn't have to open and close his
hand rapidly. He signaled the car at a medium pace, and that car didn't notice.
on signaling, with increasing pace. Perhaps the rapid hand movement would catch
the driver's attention, he thought.
was no response for the signal yet. He tried getting near the car by getting
down the highway, but was instantly responded by another car's honking.
waving his hand, and closed his eyes halfway through to focus on who's sitting
in the driver's seat. And he indeed managed to see, a girl, in her 30's,
looking across into the opposite lane.
waving his hand, until he caught her attention and got back to signaling by
opening and closing his hand.
looked at him baffled, and did not make a response. Perhaps even frowned a
Yankelevich kept opening and closing his hand repeatedly until the traffic jam
was over and the white Suzuki was swollen among the rest of the jam, with its
headlights off. A heavy sensation of disappointment filled his heart, and after
a short while, when he felt he could no longer contribute, he went back into
falling asleep he reminisced the Suzuki from last night, and was filled with
The next day, by 7:00 PM he has already signaled 4
different cars to switch their headlights on.
like these make it worthwhile" he thought. And once again a massive
traffic jam was flooding the street, and Mr. Yankelevich was left out of work
for the rest of the hour.
traffic jam became loose, he has noticed another car with its headlights
Suzuki Baleno. He refused to believe it, but it was the same girl from
again, she was looking across the other side, and he kept waving his hand until
he caught her attention. He imagined she appeared to signal him as well.
his eyes halfway through again, to focus, and realized she was also opening and
closing her hand in the same style of motion. Why? Thought Mr. Yankelevich, and
before he figured it out, the Suzuki went by, and drove off, with her
after was similar to the one before. This time Mr. Yankelevich has waited to
the white Suzuki to show up. It arrived indeed. This time the girl had her
sight on him without him having to fool himself much.
signaled her, she signaled back, He signaled her, she signaled back, this went
on for couple of times for about 7 minutes.
traffic jam was loosening, the girl shifted her sight back to the road again,
took her hand back over the steering wheel. Mr Yankelevich had sensed another
from her face. She drove off, with the lights still off.
days went by. Weather has turned stormy, yet Mr. Yankelevich, was always on
duty, waiting for that same Suzuki Baleno. And, as it arrived, a flick of Joy
was filling his eyes.
exchanged hand signs frequently, yet she always kept on driving with her
month of daily encounters, the Suzuki was late on arrival.
Yankelevich was moving back and forth anxiously at the Station.
has gone by since the usual time of her arrival, and still she hasn't arrived
looking forward to seeing her any minute now, but that did not happen. His body
white car he has seen from afar, made him hopeful that it is indeed the white
Yankelevich has become really desperate. He was left upbeat till morning time,
and at 6 AM got back to his house.
hoped that perhaps she's contracted a mild flu and therefore was missing from
the road, and still, he had a hard time falling asleep. When he finally did, he
was barely asleep.
following day, he kept his eyes peeled. Perhaps the Suzuki Baleno has made it
through before the traffic jam, and he just missed it, so he thought.
didn't get to see it before, or at the actual time she was supposed to get
will come…" he thought to himself.
11th hour, Mr. Yankelevich has been filled with remorse and began to realize
that today as well, the Suzuki will not be present.
fool" he scholded himself again.
lights were turned off. You could have knocked down her window and just tell
her, you miserable coward. If something has happened to her, it is all your
He had a
tough time withstanding the sorrow which came with her absence, and retired to
his home early.
He sat on
his armchair, and fell asleep until morning time.
the supermarket Delivery guy showed up. He grabbed the groceries from his
hands, put them aside, and was unable to unload them.
to his boss that today he would not be send him any transcriptions, and went
will be at the Station starting 3 PM. Perhaps the Suzuki has been rising early
lately, and so he was missing it, he reckoned.
standing on the sidewalk bed, and did not look astray from the road even for
single car passing down the road, has skipped his inspecting gaze.
was inspected sevenfold, yet the Suzuki hasn’t arrived even after dark.
PM, he sat on the bench at the bus station, and out of desperation began
sinking into himself once more. When he had almost fallen asleep, an ongoing
flickering has began blinding him. In reaction, he had shut them even harder.
Flickering continued bugging him. Mr Yankelevich was annoyed. By the time he
could get a decent nap, he was rudely interrupted. He opened his eyes and as
vivid bright headlights were blinding momentarily.
eyesight was restored, he noticed a White automobile. He was filled with
The Suzuki Baleno.
ok, it's ok" he mumbled. He reduced his sight to focus and looked at the
raised her hand, and began opening and closing it. Mr Yankelevich wanted to
open and close his hand too, but the car's headlights were on.
helplessly across the Suzuki Baleno. Out of the blue, the girl has stopped
signaling, but kept her arm raised.
began to pound her chest. Two fast-paced, repeated poundings. Mr Yankelevich
Had no clue about what she's up to, but began pounding his chest as well. And
so they were both pounding their own chests in front of each other for a minute
Mr. Yankelevich has stopped. He felt his heart pounding fiercely.
was filling his body. He looked into the ground, then looked at the girl once
has stopped pounding.
appeared smiling. He began smiling too.
Tomorrow would be a different day" he reckoned.
Mor Deree, (27 anni, Beer Sheva):
Night winds are coming. My body
shakes, my heart begins to pound and I can feel it burst inside me. I'm
revising the prayers quickly and praying hard they would let me pass. It's
already 18:00, the curfew has begun and I don't know how I will pass the guards.
I cover my head. I'm sure I will be recognized, but I have to try to pass. I
enter an alleyway, hoping the darkness will hide me, and in my head, I'm
thinking only of Yosef, Eliyahu, Charlie and little David who haven't eaten all
day. I muster the courage and walk towards the guards. They yell at me,
"aji lhina dria!" (Come here at once!) One of them approaches me
quickly, my head is right next to his and he demands with a shout:
"Barhawat!" (Documents!) What are you doing outside at this hour? You
know you can't pass. My heart is pounding fast and I talk fast and explain: I
just now got out of the shoe store, I live in the next street, I couldn't get
out on time, here is a permit that I work there. He takes the documents angrily
and walks towards his friends. I'm standing by trying to listen to their
conversation but they talk too fast, I can't understand. He comes towards me
and I'm clenched and nervous, he throws the documents on the ground, pass, and
it's the last time. I got in quickly and went to madam Jerby's house; a big pot
is on the table. I tell her thank you, kiss her cheeks and enter my house. One
door separates my house from madam Jerby's house. I enter and hear loud crying
and yelling, take a deep breath that fills the chest and start cleaning up the
mess. I'm holding David in my arms. Eliyahu, Yosef and Charlie are playing,
Massoud is doing his own thing and my mother is trying to calm me down. The pot
is on the table, everyone is seating and eating, it's quiet in the tiny room we
all live in. It is finally quiet.
David emitted, the slip was soiled,
I don't have time to clean up. I organize quickly, put on a dress, try to
patiently put on the pantyhose, a shout is heard in the background and I rip my
pantyhose. Never mind, no time. My mother stays with David at the house; I will
walk with Charlie and Yosef to school and take Eliyahu to kindergarten. When I
open the front door, my heart already begins pumping fast, stress sneaks in me
and I'm restless. My children are around me holding hands. It's already a
repeating ritual. We stick to the street, try to be invisible, just not attract
any attention. Charlie and Yosef are at school, such luck. Now only to get
Eliyahu to the kindergarten. We walk fast, I get a bad feeling, and I hold
Eliyahu in my hands and start running. I see two people fighting; a whole
commotion of people around them and one curses the other. From the yells, I
understand it's about a theft. The punishment for theft can be severe but the
Arabs solve it amongst themselves, they don't call the police. That is what I'm
afraid of, I heard about violent incidents when a Jew was blamed for a theft
just to charge someone. I shiver, Eliyahu feels my fear and starts screaming,
five more minutes of walking and I'll be at the kindergarten. The commotion
blocks me and I can't find my way. People begin crying out for help, I look
around me again, stop for a second and calm down. I have to get away from this
commotion. I caught my breath and began making my way through the crowd. I
approach the kindergarten, Eliyahu is screaming and I just pray to god to help
me. I made it and got to the kindergarten. Eliyahu is fine and I'm calmer. This
situation can't continue to be like this, life in Casablanca isn't easy and the body is already
tired. There is no way to stay here anymore.
The shoe store is small; Massoud
sits and greets the costumers. Sometimes his face is reconciled and sometimes
angry. He doesn't have an endearing affability and he is angry most of the
time. I explain to him: be nice to the costumers, it is our livelihood. There
are days when he doesn't even come in, he just disappears and I sit and greet
the costumers. I have no way to assist, I'm not a shoemaker, all I do is
organize the shoes in boxes and clean up. His work tools are so dirty. One day
I just told him: "Massoud, clean the tools, it doesn't look good, there is
so much dirt!" Then he answered me angrily: "Don't tell me what to
do. I know best, a good shoemaker is one whose tools are worn out. It shows
he's doing a good job. I like the dirt, don't touch". Sometimes when he's
not looking or when he disappears, I secretly clean the tools and get scared
he'll catch me. He doesn't understand this place is our livelihood.
We have a costumer who comes once
every two weeks, mister Jalame, and he has twelve children and two wives.
Massoud and him can sit and talk for hours about mister Jalame having two wives
and how he wants more, and I always see in Massoud's gaze how he is enjoying
the thought. I think he wants another wife, but it will never happen. One
Friday we hurried to close early before the Shabbat enters. A moment before I
closed the store's metal door mister Jalame came with his little son whose knee
was bleeding. The sandal Massoud fixed was completely torn. Mister Jalame's
face was red and he was breathing heavily and yelling at Massoud: "Wait!
Don't close, the shoes came apart because of you and the kid fell and got hurt!
What did you do? How do you work? What, did you fix them while you were
drunk?" Massoud didn't know what to say. He was surprised from mister
Jalame's vehemence and I was afraid he would talk back to him with anger. I
tried to calm both of them, moved my hand across Massoud's back and told mister
Jalame: "I'm sorry, don't worry, give me the sandals, take these for free,
they are new. Come back Sunday noon and get the sandals which would be good as
Sunday morning came and mister
Jalame was the first one to enter the store. He didn't say a word, took the
shoes and left. It's been two weeks and he never came. It's been another month
and another month and I understood he will never come again. I was worried
mister Jalame's friends will stop coming as well. Massoud started being angry
and disappeared from the store more often. The money was running out. We missed
this month's rent and the owner came to demand the money. I kept stalling with
a smile: "Rada ana nachles, rada yakono li laflosh" (Tomorrow I will
pay, tomorrow I will have the money). However, I knew the day would come when
the smile won't be enough. A few days later I got to store earlier than usual
and saw three or four Arab men pulling out the merchandise and throwing
everything on the ground. I stood by, looking, couldn't move. I was scared, I
didn't have the money, a smile won't help here anymore. I went back home and
realized we don't have a way to earn a living anymore, and looking for a job is
dangerous. I don't know what to do.
Charlie is twelve already, Casablanca is not a good
place for him. He is not developing enough and I fear for the future of my
family. He is the eldest, he is big - I tell myself. He will know how to handle
this. I go to him and tell him about my plans; he doesn't object or argue with
me. He is smart enough to understand it's hard on me as it is. I explain to him
what I know and he asks me many questions I don't have an answer to: "When
will I see you, mom? What about grandma? Where will you be? How will I find you
when I graduate? Where do I send the letters?" I don't even have one clear
answer to give him. I hug him and say: "Vladi, ikbol felhar, ana
tithabek" (son, there will be better days, I love you). I packed his bag;
we left early in the morning, I brought some documents with me and took him to
the Youth Aliyah offices. I didn't understand much, they told me he would study
in an Ulpan. I was glad. I left him there and went back home.
Something changed in the air. The
neighbors are shutting their blinds early, the street goes silent in 17:55, and
the fear is felt in the silence in the street and homes. I start hearing about
Yosef Kadosh: "He's a good man, this one. He helps Jews get to Israel; he has
a lot of power". We manage to contact him, were explained what to do and
bring. "Before everything you have to sign a document which claims you
undertake to never return to Morocco",
said Yosef. For my part, I agreed instantly. I will never want to return here.
Yosef said he'll be in touch with us when he'll know more. "In the
meantime go home and wait". It was already late, my feet are tired, and
the stomach reminds me that I ate nothing but bread and margarine in the
morning. Massoud doesn't really care what will happen to us and what we'll do,
some husband I got.
We haven't left the house in a
week. We're all together in one room. I can't breathe and I'm choking. We
closed the store because we couldn't make the rent and Massoud comes and goes
without saying a word. My mother, the kids and I are staying at home and not
going anywhere. I stayed with David, Yosef and Eliyahu and I'm assuming Charlie
is on his way to France
already. I'm not sending them to school and kindergarten because it has become
too dangerous to walk the streets. My stomach signals we'll hear good news soon
and I try to stay optimistic. It's been two weeks since I last heard from Yosef
Kadosh and I try to keep busy and occupy my thoughts. I imagine Israel in my
mind and tell the children every night about the journey we're going to have,
try to prepare them for every scenario even though I don't really know anything
either. I try to be patient and my thoughts sail to the land of honey, to the
place where we could live among Jews, friends, thinking about the peacefulness
that would fill my life where I could raise my children with dignity.
I found a folded yellow note under
the door someone dumped quickly and left. I start reading: Tuesday 2:00 a.m.
get to the old stone tower, on the right there is a large wooden door. We'll be
waiting for you there. Take only one suitcase not to draw any unnecessary
attention. Please memorize the details and burn this note after reading. God
bless you, Yosef Kadosh. A great feeling of relief together with stress washes
over me. I whisper the details to my mother; we memorize them and burn the
note. No time today, it's already Monday and tomorrow we're leaving. All our
possessions will stay here, all the clothes my sister sent me from America can't
fit in the suitcase. I will take only a few things that will remind me of the
good times in Morocco
and will leave the bad behind. I took the jewelry I got on my wedding day and a
few clothes for the children and us. I took one suitcase for five people and
left behind twenty-nine years of memories. It's time for new memories.
We got to the old stone tower and
entered the door. There were many people. We huddled in the corner and kept
being whispered to to stay quiet. After a few hours, buses came and took us the
was still dark. The sun will rise in a few hours. I was afraid of what the
light would bring and preferred the darkness. Everyone boarded the ship; it was
four-five stories high. We slept on mattresses, everybody together, close to
each other. The ship sailed and I started breathing again.
Massoud and I wanted to go up to
the deck because the ocean was making him sick. Eliyahu was beginning to show
symptoms of sickness too. My mother stayed with Eliyahu. Yosef, David and us
went outside to get some air. We started making our way through the crowd.
Everything is crowded, mattresses everywhere and I try not to bother anyone. I
started walking fast, the kids were running ahead of us and Massoud was
slightly behind. I kept going, assuming he'll be alright. All of the sudden, I
heard a voice calling me: "Alice!
here!) I see Massoud yelling and waving at me to come and I don't understand
what is going on. I approach him and he waves his arm, look. I'm shocked.
Charlie is on board with us! He looks so exhausted. Here I thought he was in France already.
Massoud, untypically, went to get mint tea and stroked Charlie's cheeks to calm
him down. He told him: "Mommy and daddy are here, don't be afraid".
Charlie smiled, couldn't figure out what was going on, sipped the tea and fell
The sun I was afraid of was shining
bright and I was shining with it. There is a feeling of a new era in the air.
The smell of the ocean excites me and the wind blows my hair. It feels like a
movie scene and I'm the star. Today is Friday and the feeling of Shabbat moves
me. We are all sitting around an improvised Friday table, a plastic Kiddush cup
and Massoud chants the Friday night prayer. I eat plain white, tasteless rice
with a pinkish looking fish in hot sauce, but I don't care, it feels like a
five star hotel meal to me. The ship docked in France where Charlie got off alongside
dozens of youth who went to study Hebrew in the religious school for boys. I
couldn't take Charlie with me, I didn't have the documents and the Youth Aliyah
guide who escorted the boys convinced me it will be the best for him to study
in France for a few years
and then come to Israel.
I agreed with her and said goodbye to Charlie again. It wasn't easy. Scruples
and thinking whether I made the right choice will haunt me forever. Days pass.
I lost track of time and can no longer keep count on how many days we've been
on the ship.
Shouts wake me up. My hands are
feeling around, looking for the children, and I can't find my glasses. I'm sure
I've put them under my pillow and keep searching. My hands caress Elyihau, who
is still napping in spite of the shouts, nothing wakes him up. Yosef is already
awake, I can't see his face and start stroking it only to discover my glasses
on his tiny nose. Yosef! I told you not
to play with the glasses, they're not a toy! I can't see anything without them.
The turmoil continues and people are hurrying to the deck. Massoud is gone and
my mother is holding David. I gather everybody and we're going outside. I hope
we're not caught and will be sent back to Morocco. People keep shouting and I
still don't understand. We're approaching the deck, the sun's high beams blind
me. I got a little light headed, closed my eyes, stood up and took a deep
breath. The shouting continued and turned into warm, pleasant words – We got to
the holy land, Israel!
We stood there together, Massoud joined and the ship docked in Haifa port. A warm feeling fills me as we
leave the ship. I dropped on the ground, kissed the dry land and my tears wet
the hard soil. I'm home, Baruch Hashem (Thank God).
Friday came and it's a holiday for
me. I'm looking for bus number 33 to get me to Ofakim. I set down in the
slightly stuffed bus, hoping to sit by myself, but oh no – a fifteen year old
teenager sits next to me. He starts playing with his Iphone and plays music
without headphones. Mor the educator is about to come out and give him a
lecture about manners. I gathered my patience and growled at him: "Either
lower the volume or put on some headphone, please". Luckily, my tone of
voice served me well and he put on some headphones. It's about a twenty minute
drive from Beer-Sheva to Ofakim, but as the years go by and I get older it
seems shorter. I don't mind staying on the bus for an hour even though I
usually hate public transportation. Something about me is addicted to the
The trip to grandma's house is
accompanied with inexplicable excitement. Sometimes it feels like falling in
love for the first time and the butterflies in my stomach overflow me. Maybe
it's because this city marks for me my first home and the family history I'm
not entirely familiar with. Whenever I get to the city I'm overwhelmed with a
childhood memory I can't tear myself away from: I'm at my grandma's yard
driving a small blue iron bicycle, around me are green strips of grass. I'm
pedaling on the narrow path that leads to the wormwood bush, I pick some leafs
and put them in the basket on the back of the bicycle. On the way back I pick a
few anemones and put them in the basket as well. I knock on the brown iron
door, which is boiling from the sun. My grandma stands in front of me with a
big smile on her face, "come in y'binti, why did you pick anemones again?
You know it's forbidden", I smile shyly, which reconciles her quickly.
"Never mind y'binti, I'll make you some tea with wormwood".
Every time I get to her house, the
memory comes and is replaced immediately with the reality that hurts my
stomach. The grass was replaced by cold cement that covers the entire yard,
because it's hard for grandma to clean and weed. She asked for a smooth,
straight cement surface so it will be easy to walk on with her walker. The
anemones are gone and she buys the wormwood from the greengrocer. I knock a few
times and no one answers the door. I know she is there; I open the window next
to the door and call her. Slowly she comes and opens the door. I lean towards
her and kiss her soft cheeks. "Grandma, it's me, Mor".
know, I had a feeling you'd come. What can I make you to eat? To drink? There
is root beer in the fridge". "No, grandma, I don't want anything.
I'll take something to drink in a minute". Nevertheless, she doesn't quit.
"Eat something, drink something", and until I don't do so the entire
conversation will be about food. I go to the fridge, open a bottle of root beer,
pour it in a glass and sit next to her. I'm looking for her good ear and like
always, get it wrong. Through her right ear, we have a conversation. My hand is
stroking her back and I can feel the huge arch in her back. Her hair is wrapped
with a scarf that covers her gray, flowing hair. On her nose, she has big brown
glasses that cover almost her entire gentle face, and a long purple dress wraps
her body, despite the hot weather. "Aren't you hot, grandma?"
not at all. I like it this way."
what did you do today?"
did I do? Not much. I woke up early, ate, did some exercise in bed, took a nap,
spoke with your mother and then you came. And how are you? How is school?
is great. I'm having a good time. Grandma, where is your red box?"
the closet, at the bottom, on the same shelf as the shirts."
I go over to the closet like a
little girl who just found a treasure. I look through the shelves, it's not
where she said, I keep looking and find it. I sit next to grandma, hand her the
box. She places it on her knees and with her special gentleness she takes off
the lid and puts her hands in the box. Inside there are black and white
photographs, old crumbling pages. We go through every photo and grandma tells
me. "This is madam Jerby. She was our neighbor in Morocco, a very
good woman. She was a big saint. Poor thing. She never made it to Israel and was murdered in Morocco".
Her tone of voice changes when she speaks about madam Jerby. This is not the
first time she tells me about her and every time something in her voice
changes. She keeps looking through the photos until she finds the one she was
looking for and asks me, "do you recognize them?" I look closely but
can't quite figure it out. She takes off her glasses, takes the photo closer to
her eyes and point with her fingers, "this is Eliyahu, Yosef, Charlie,
David, grandma Itto and Massoud. This is before I sent Charlie to school in Paris". I see tears
clogging her eyes and she wipes them quickly. I bring her a handkerchief and
she holds it firmly in her hand.
changes the subject and moves on to other photos, "look, this is the shoe
store where we worked, these are the regular costumers. This was a good friend
of your grandpa, mister Jalame. He would come often to the store. Grandpa and
him would sit around for hours, talking, drinking arak and laughing. If I'm not
mistaken, I remember that a month or two after this picture was taken we came
why did you come here? Don't you miss Morocco?"
she starts answering in Moroccan, she speaks too fast and I can't understand
every word. I stop her. "Grandma, slower, I don't understand". When
she's this excited I understand I touched a sensitive nerve.
life there weren't easy, and I lived worrying all the time. Here it's the best
and I'm glad we came here. I have nothing left there and I don't miss it. Are
you hungry? Can I make you some lunch?" When she speaks about food it
means she doesn't want to speak about something else. I get the hint.
grandma, I'll make you some." I open the fridge, see some food in boxes
and heat up some meatballs and rice. We sit at the table. Grandma is playing
with her food; her fork touches the meatball and falls back to the plate.
"Grandma, eat, why aren't you eating?"
eating, don't worry."
is a knock on the door but grandma can't hear it. I tell her someone is
knocking and go open the door. It's the next door neighbor, Mrs. Bitton, coming
to visit grandma. Mrs. Bitton enters, I ask her if she wants to join us for
lunch and she said she already ate. She goes over to grandma, kisses her on
both cheeks and sits down next to her. "Alice, akes bark?" (Alice, how are you?)
mejiiana, akes bark madam Jerby?" (I'm good, how are you madam Jerby?)
Ya’aqov Raz Shalom
(24 anni, Jerusalem):
up the stairs to the third floor of an old building in a bad neighborhood.
are pilling, the plaster is falling off and it seems like the smell of piss and
sewer has been stinking the stairway for some time now. Half way going up I
start to feel nauseas. Most of the doors don't have any apartment numbers or
any other signs of residency. Everything seems dirty and forsaken.
where Nilo is coming from, makes me feel a latent cloud of sadness hovering
over me and a bitter taste swelling my tongue.
I stop in
front of a door I suspect to be where his family lives. I take two deep
breathes and knock it three measured and cold times. I can hear some sounds
from behind the door, but fail to figure them out. Maybe it's somebody moving a
chair or opening a sliding door, on theirs way to open the door.
start to creep on me and I am having second thoughts about the whole situation,
maybe I have knocked the wrong door? Maybe I shouldn't have stopped by like
this, unannounced? Why am I even here? I haven't seen Nilo for months by now.
Mother answers the door. She looks so old, like a creature from another time.
She was surprised and bewildered to see me. From the look of her face, the
family hasn't expected any guests to stop by for a visit in a long time.
ask her about Nilo she seems even more curious and suspicious, she lingers for
a second, then asks me am I a friend of his, and I nod quietly which oddly
seems to give her some sense of comfort.
lets me in, she offers me something to drink, but I decline. "Maybe a cup
of tea?" she insists, but I'm too anxious to drink.
don't know…" she starts preparing me.
is not acting like himself lately. He is been so strange ever since… you
again, trying to act as calm as I can, while avoiding any further conversation.
worried…", she continues, "I don’t know what's wrong with him… he is
always tired and he barely speaks with anybody…", her breath becomes
heavier, her hoarse voice from years of stress and chain smoking starts to
good he has a friend… it's just the first time I see you… can I ask you
closer, as she whispers, "people are talking… saying Nilo is messing
around, out all night with the devil knows who, using some drugs… calling him
names, I don’t know… Do you know any thing about any of this?"
woman couldn't even bring her self to finish the sentence. I didn’t want to be
responsible for what might happen to her if I say anything.
eyes, Nilo was her own angel and drugs were the devil's incarnation.
"He is a good a kid… but you know… people talk,
all the time, all they do is talk…" she murmured for a couple of seconds
almost inaudibly, desperately to herself.
at this poor old washed out woman that watched her son dies and desecrated,
makes one think is there enough gold in the belly of earth to bring her Rama
down, knowing she will now start asking me all her questions, like an African
pagan discovering fire.
never mind, you are a good man, I'll keep you in my prayers", she turns
back to me, struggling to keep a straight smile "please, come in, he is in
the living room, watching TV…" she says as she closes the door behind me.
enter the room, I see an old worn out carpet and a young kid that looks about 4
or 5 years old, playing near a TV that sets on the sports channel.
On a navy
blue stained and rotten couch, which looks like it was there for centuries and
the house was slowly and pivotally built around it, laid a decayed, dead
figure was wrapped in a blanket and wearing a white stained and ragged silk
coffee table next to him, was a cup of tea with a blend of different kind of
leaves, a pack of rolling papers, a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of wine, a
lighter, a pipe, a slice of lime, an old book, a fork and a plate of rice and
beans from a couple of days ago.
the black hair, the curly coarse beard and the eternal cigarette that was
hanging from the tip of his mouth, I try to catch the glimpse of a sight, from
the man that used to be Nilo.
that more women have loved, than he could have ever loved back, but less than
he ever did, was alone.
right in front of him and try to make eye contact, but his dead empty eyes gaze
in the TV. I can almost hear in the background soft piano playing through his
unforgettable smile, I look embarrassed at his gravestone blank expression that
never seemed to recognize its mourners.
kitchen, steps out young black haired and tropic rain skin, Amina. She comes
out of the kitchen, like a nymph from Nysa. She looks down at me with some
polite hint of disdain as she whispers something in his ear that makes him
laugh and takes away his cup of tea back to the kitchen.
Amina from the days she used to wait for Nilo to come back from long warm
nights in meaningless sweaty beds with women that wanted to love him more than
they could ever have. She was always there, waiting for him to come back to her
in the end of the night.
all of us, even though I always hoped that one day I'll end up with a girl that
will remind me of her. But we came from different worlds. She lived two
blocks away from Nilo and was one of his many
neighborhood girlfriends, and I was one of his artsy friends that he was just
fooling around with. And Amina didn't want anything to do with me.
I try reluctantly.
how are you? What you've been up to? You don't answer any of our calls, you
don't call any of us back, your moms saying you lay in bed all day… what
happened?", he looks at me with his distant eyes, then he smiles and leans
his head back exhaling "I'm good, thank you. How about yourself?"
back and unfold, "I'm doing alright… you know, we met about two weeks ago,
all of the old folks… for old time's sake, we missed you there… just seeing how
everyone is doing, reminiscing… We even talked about you, you remember Natalie?
Of course you do…" as I answer myself rhetorically with a self-loathing
laugher, I notice Nilo's eyes slip a sparkle and his lusting for life smile is
cracking his dead lips. That moment, I knew he remembers everything, just as
well as I do. A part of him moved, probably the same part that misses Natalie's
milky blossoming skin and her folding thin lips.
said, she has seen you not to long ago. Saying she tried to call you, but you
didn't answer, you just ignored her and walked away"
stayed still like worthless ashes of a stone statue deserted by time,
"ahh, sorry about that…", he murmured sparsely.
I wish I
could tell what was eating Nilo up. But all I knew was that it hasn’t left much
came back from the kitchen eating a fig, to kiss her broken and defeated
valentine and to light him another cigarette. As she lays in his lap like a
wild leopard, he ask her quietly, "Amina, do you mind showing our guest
his way out?" I abide, trying to find a hint of old Nilo, in his vacant
follow her to the door, I ask gently "Amina, I was talking with Nilo's
mother before, and she is worried about him…" She looks at me confused,
"I mean, he never leaves the house, what is he doing all day?"
upset, "what are you talking about? There's nothing wrong with Nilo. He
was working 10 hours every day until he got fired last week, but he is doing
the best he can and we will find something else…" I nod submissively and
turn to depart from a door that has already been shut. Every time a door closes
behind me a part of me dies or at least stays in that room, I still didn't
quite figured it out.
with Amina about Nilo was like talking about a man I have never met before. I
couldn't imagine Nilo in working clothes doing any kind of manual or hard
labor. Wasting his life like this, I knew he could be doing so much more with
his time. It made me a bit mad at Amina.
As I left
his house, oddly floating through the filthy stairway, barely managing my own
arms, I dose away. Like a pack of wild wolves trying to chew
down every bit of whatever glory left, thoughts
started running through my head, trying to figure out the riddle of the Sphinx.
never really one of ours.
honestly believe that Nilo never really liked any of us, not me, not any of his
friends, not his own mother, not even Amina. It was like, he couldn't stand
a burden he had to carry, a disease he couldn't shake off. I remember how he
used to keep losing his stuff everywhere, missing the bus or getting lost in
even mildly crowded places. How poorly he handled questions… There were times
he couldn't even tell you his own name. There was something about him that
could have never adept to our reality.
I have wondered, how such a great and beautiful mind, can be so misunderstood.
For most of his life, Nilo has been missed out and overlooked. Misjudged and
disfigured. It's like nobody ever took the time to try to see him. Like we have
lost him somewhere along the way, and never bothered to look back for him. And
if it was up to him, he would have remained unnoticed for his entire life.
though, all along, we all wished that one day we will be able to understand
some part of him before it will be too late. Searching in the wrecks for
Atlantis, for Rosetta stones and secret omens for his kingdom to come. It was
his eyes that had some way of crawling through the backdoor of your mocking
soul and into your heart.
in his eyes today, I have seen a man that has given up. Something had changed
him. It was too late…
nothing to save from the coals of when we watched our leper Achilles burst in
flames and collapsing into itself. It was like seeing a shooting star. With all
its marvel and glory, blazing through the flaring sky, enchanting and agonizing
at the same time, scolding through the void.
streets, cities, states, continents and deities he created and inhabited inside
his head for years, melting in the cosmic infinity. Sinking to the depths,
decaying, draining into deep space by omnivore time. Like a rare collision of
abnormality and reality… planet Nilo is utterly dead.
I think about it, the clearer it gets.
wasn't meant to live among us.
watched him burn out, and Eve wept.
for me, I have more likely faded away, each day at a time, a bit by bit.
And I wish
I could say, I have someone to do so, for myself as well.