Facing West Toward Jerusalem

Klein, Yossi

FACING WEST TOWARD JERUSALEM A tale of vision (and revision) from the West Bank YOSSI KLEIN My friend Simcha is moving his family to the West Bank. We meet on the bus that is taking settlers to a...

...Do you know what time it is...
...They began talking about time and space, and the dislocation between the two...
...The whole world is with them...
...Couldn't hold anything...
...He knew that Israel was Exile because he still felt alone: no community, no warmth...
...So why are you here...
...He would press shut his eyes and conjure up the faces of everyone he knew, hear them call his name and imagine sharing their recognition of his presence...
...It looked to Simcha like an operating room, except that the young men were the patients in their own experiment, attempting to inhabit the bodies of dead Jews by reenacting their customs, reviving them with familiar symbols and returning to the moment just before their passing...
...the images scatter across the hills...
...He felt vaguely cheated whenever someone said to him, "Shalom...
...Chadesh yameinu k'kedem," they sing, "Renew our days as of old...
...An accordionist appears on stage...
...Perhaps the Jewish people had really died, and it wasn't a coincidence that Israel's longest ongoing debate was the question, Who is a Jew...
...most of the windows are jammed...
...I ask...
...The Arabs are going to win...
...here where all those buried in the Exile will materialize, burrowing their way beneath the earth and the waters, a procession of restless bones, and those given no burial will float on the winds...
...Simcha looked for them at mass rallies near the Soviet Mission, at lectures by famous Jewish thinkers, at Yiddish film festivals whose worn footage dissolved the screens...
...fore...
...Young Americans, black hats pulled tight over their long hair, ritual fringes hanging from their jeans, sat on benches around white-clothed tables...
...and when he awoke he found himself reincarnated into an imperfect facsimile of a world he once knew...
...Welcome to the cattlecar," Simcha says to me, gesturing at the aisle blocked by baby carriages, women in long sleeves grabbing at children rolling under the seats, husbands in black suits shiny from the sun, straining at tiny columns of print in pocket-sized Talmuds...
...here where Abraham wears a black fedora and Sarah sings Yiddish lullabies to Isaac...
...Simcha's real world had disappeared into air...
...The rabbi is followed by a government official who says settlements will soon be built on all these surrounding hills...
...I tell Simcha that Israeli politics could be summed up in the words of that song, all factions attempting to revive an imagined golden era: Agudah the shtetl, Gush Emunim the Davidic kingdom, Labor the early days of the kibbutz, Likud the time before the flood when both banks of the Jordan were shelter to millions of European Jews...
...Simcha pushes his black fedora back above his forehead, his long face stuck into its roundness like a misplaced peg...
...The settlers empty the bus, black figures against the white expanse, as if the old chalutzim had been followed and overtaken by the shadows of the nomad Jews they had tried to escape...
...Like secular Zionism, which had not freed the Jews from exile but banished them from their true selves...
...Simcha says to me, "Orthodoxy is the only past that's left...
...the man asked Simcha...
...The main thing will be the yeshiva...
...The Jews of Europe had even died together, communities intact, but in the air had been somehow blown apart...
...The mirror overflows with familiar sights...
...Concentric circles quickly form, the outer rim a shuffle of old men and little boys curling limp fingers into one another's palms, ringing a cadre of young men clutching each other by the shoulders, laughing and spinning...
...and when the spinning slowed he would wonder who the face in the mirror really was...
...here to this place of our beginnings where we shall end our days in peace amid the reconstructed ruins of all our temples...
...I imagine its slender glass shattering from the weight...
...Quite a place, isn't it," Simcha says to me from the side of his mouth...
...They crowd around a stage perched at the edge of the desert, draped with a banner that says, "Anachnu al hamapah""We are on the map...
...Simcha lifts his youngest son onto his shoulders and bounces in place, watching the dancers from a distance...
...As a child, Simcha would stare into the mirror and repeat his own name, but it was as if a disembodied voice were confronting a face it had failed to inhabit...
...The bus swerves to a halt beside a half-dozen trailers scattered among white stones and thistles...
...Where are you from...
...But never did a stranger approach him and say, "Shalom aleichem": aleichem, the plural "you," because a Jew was never alone but part of the collective soul of Israel...
...Who shall be comforted and who tormented, who shall be lowered and who shall be raised...
...I ask Simcha about the settlement's industry...
...There were six million Jews in America: Could it be...
...Bullshit," Simcha whispers to me...
...Where had it gone...
...Some guy invented a gadget that keeps lightbulbs from prematurely blowing out," he says...
...Simcha imagined a Yom Kippur in Poland, the walls of his nostrils charred as he snorts smelling salts from a silver vial, each part of him jarred awake, alert for the trial: He sifts through the contradictory evidence of his past, sorts each memory into sweet and pungent piles on opposite sides of the scale...
...Simcha places a paper bag under his mouth, wipes his face and says, "I was the same way as a kid...
...My mother used to tell me, 'You want you should look like me in 1945?'" Simcha contorts his mouth to one side like Edward G. Robinson and says to the child, "You dirty brat," then gives him a loud wet kiss and passes him to his wife Chaya, who is oblivious to Simcha's mimicking routines that are so frequent it is difficult to tell whether his own accent most closely resembles a dockworker's, a homosexual's, a mafioso's or a Brooklyn Jew's...
...His most recent article in moment, "Art and Soul," appeared in March 1982...
...It was as though, when about to be reborn, the Jews of Europe had chosen from the wrong pile of clothes, ignoring essentials for the trivial: A Yom Kippur melody, a pastrami sandwich, the past preserved only in fragments, each isolated recollection inhabited as though it were a world restored...
...Instead of rescuing the remnants of Diaspora culture and piecing together the Jewish people, Israel had created a materialist Western society, a false body for the Jewish soul...
...On stage, a rabbi quotes from the prophet Amos, who was born in a town that once stood on this spot: " 'And I will turn the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them, and I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them,' says the Lord your God...
...From here a flat emptiness rises into sand dunes and then red mountains, blurred by blue mist from the distant Dead Sea...
...To be a bargaining chip," he says...
...His son leaps into his lap, and Simcha hurls him into the air, nets him with bony fingers and then shakes him as if to make sure that what has fallen from the air is really alive...
...On the seat in front of us, another son begins to vomit...
...Look kids, we're here...
...and then a sudden cry of joy as the scale begins to balance, quivers: reprieve...
...A few months after Simcha first arrived in Israel, he had been approached in Jerusalem's central bus station by a man in black, thin and hunched...
...Simcha could not argue the point...
...Here on this land, the real Land of Israel, not that modern state which betrayed the messianic promise to restore all severed pasts...
...What happened to Yamit is going to happen to us...
...moans now beneath the tilting weight, the thud of his fist against his heart as he recalls each wasted moment of sin, his crusted mouth choking out the words, "Who by fire, who by water, who by hunger, who by thirst," hands clapping furiously and lips twisted into a kind of laughter as if he is pleading insanity...
...Golus, Exile, the man said, was not just separation but distortion, everything turned into its opposite...
...We meet on the bus that is taking settlers to a ceremony dedicating their new home, at the tip of the Judean Desert, the last Jewish presence before the Jordanian border...
...the settlers say to one another, and for a moment the mounds of sand look like a ring of new settlements, shtetls as far as the eye can see...
...the man persisted...
...Mazel tov...
...At such moments, Simcha knew he had lived beYossi Klein is a free-lance writer living in Israel...
...Simcha imagined he had been carved from the night...
...American Jewry was a failed materialization, a collection of passersby who did not recognize in one another the missing pieces of themselves...
...Nothing has been lost, nothing misplaced...
...says Simcha, and his three sons, damp sidecurls clinging to their cheeks, stare wordlessly at their new home...
...everyone stampeding into the past now that the euphoria of Israel's creation has waned, no longer concealing the destruction of all our Jewish worlds...
...Though it is one of the hottest days of summer, the bus is not air-conditioned...
...At night he could even recall the instant of his own dissolution: his body sent to a pile of clothes on the right, his spirit to a funnel on the left...
...Simcha followed the man back to his yeshiva...

Vol. 8 • December 1982 • No. 1


 
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