Monday, October 30, 2017


The weather system in Israel is summer. In late October when the temperature drops below 80, parents bundle kids in winter jackets. After the first rain, the smallest toddler wears winter boots, sometimes a scarf.

In Ulpan (intensive speed Hebrew class), a woman from Sao Paolo sits to my left and a troupe of refugees from Lyon to my right. When Gabrielle is called on to recite she sounds like soft slippers turning tiny pirouettes. Translations between Brits and Yanks conflict. What is a car bonnet? Why would I need the services of a clark? Outside, winds kick up; strong rains follow.  Instinctively, we students, from myriad natal cities with apposite weather systems, applaud. 

Shabbat afternoon the cobblestones are wet, but that doesn’t stop the guys in my courtyard from shooting hoops. A ball is on the rebound from the backboard. The shooter leans back in wait. All are silent. I’ve caught a universe in microseconds of suspense.

I knock on Annie’s door. She’s new to Israel, new to widowhood; new to the breathing machine beside her armchair. For now, she’s staying with her daughter’s family. Annie raised her kids in L.A., her grandchildren are Sabras.  One grandson, Levi, is home from the Army for Shabbat. He sits on the couch close to his newly married sister. They disagree about the English translation of a newspaper article. I catch only a few words, but clearly the sister is winning. 

Other grandchildren and Annie’s son-in-law come into the living room, groggy from their Shabbat naps. Her son-in-law buttons his cuff links and tells Levi to get ready for mincha, the afternoon service. Levi’s sister punctuates the air with a final point. Levi rises, stretches, and asks his father if he should bring his machine gun to synagogue. The father considers, then nods and answers quietly, “Yup. Good idea.”

I have never seen a gun up close. The two men leave. Annie notices something on my face. She’s a lovely, slim lady, with bright, kind eyes. She looks at me carefully, and tells me a story from the past year of Levi’s military service.

Last winter and summer he was stationed in a hot zone, danger; he was under heavy shelling, rockets, the whole works. Levi got few breaks for Shabbat and no leave for his sister’s wedding, shocking in Israel. While her family slept, Annie’s daughter, Levi’s mother, drowsed at her kitchen table. As night wore on, the tick of the clock above the stove, the flash of the broken microwave timer, the hum of the fridge, advanced on her like assassins.

One Friday afternoon, exhausted, her hands wet from preparing for Shabbat, Levi’s mother answered a soft rap at the door. It was her son, in uniform, carrying the same equipment I just saw leave for synagogue. “Levi” she repeated, over and over, sobbing, then crumpled to the floor. Levi settled himself on the ground by his mother, saying nothing until she recovered.

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