Resting on a Hillside Near Jerusalem

A serious reader advised me today that he had decided to subscribe to this blog. Flattered, honoured, I dedicate this post to Jesse.

Our car flies down the highway, down the great hills from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, she is builded upon hills.
Beautiful city, too greatly beloved. O, beauteous vista, joy of all the earth.
The hills swoop down, around, down. Forests of green rise above us on our left, falling away beneath us on our right. These treetops are lower than we! Our car is an aeroplane.

Abruptly, we land. This is Beth Shemesh, House of the Sun, a town that might have tumbled off the edge of Jerusalem, falling halfway down, coming to rest on a hillside. For me, for my family, this is a town without shops, without noise or busyness, without time. We come here to visit the cemetery at Beth Shemesh.

This cemetery does not speak of sadness. Not a place of wrenching grief. A place of quiet, a place to feel the peace, to think and remember. In this place the dead lie beneath their uniform headstones, of cream – Jerusalem stone. No pretentious texts, no display: modest memorials only in the democracy of the dead.

Graves cluster on small levelled paved areas, discrete suburbs, each one looking over forest into the green and the blue. There are many of these minute suburbs, each out of sight of all the others. When you stand on one of these secreted spots, you cannot see or hear the world. The cemetery is called Beth Olamim, the house of eternity. A good place to spend eternity, especially if you like the countryside.

The narrow roadway within the cemetery climbs and twists. Spiralling up, up, our car stops above the small semi-circle of stone where Helen and Henry lie.

Helena emerged from Auschwitz, a great spirit within a pixie body, a witness to the worst, a stranger to hatred. Like an ancient mariner fired to teach us all, she lived to teach, to champion the forgotten and to fight racism.
Helena – to the end – formidable for the good.

Henry, previously a tall athlete and distinguished international jurist, weighed just six stone after Auschwitz. He never noised his role in the camps where his fellows elected him as their judge. He heard cases where the currency in dispute might be a crust of bread, quite literally death or life to the parties.

Engraved on the tables of stone in Hebrew text are brief epitomes of these people whom we knew and revered.
Helena Mann – “a branch plucked from the fire”, she revived the oppressed.
Henry Mann – “Justice, only Justice, shall you seek, that you may live.”

Their only son, a man now in his sixties, prays quietly at their gravesides. His wife lays a pebble of each of the graves. No haste, no noise as they honour two of the great, townspeople of eternity. Not lost, not forgotten.
Their son completes his unhurried praying.
He has not finished here. He spends patient minutes wiping away the dust that the wind has deposited on the graves. Every unwelcome speck removed, the son polishes with his sleeve the stones that guard his beloved ones.

Ruby My Love

Crossing the world to meet Ruby, to feel her feel, to smell her smell, to catch her smiles, to hear her voice – her voices actually; meeting this newest granddaughter after she and I have waited for each other for three months; holding her close in her crying moments, in her moments of calm, watching her slow smiles of pleasure as she fills a nappy; hefting her little body, laid prone along my forearm; bathing with her slippery-smooth pink body on my lap; whispering, crooning, humming, singing silly sweet nothings to a bundle whose gaze meets mine only fleetingly.
With her barely four kilograms, this small potentate holds me hostage: she reduces me with a cry, with a smile she plenishes my wrinkled life with freshness.
All this, in the Festival of Spring in the holy land, where Ruby and we, her suitors, estivate.

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OVERPOWERING REASONS TO SPONSOR ME IN THE BOSTON MARATHON

The Boston Marathon is the premier amateur marathon in the world. “Amateur” is surely an oxymoron – who could love running up 26.2 miles of hills, let alone 42.185 kilometres?
Answer: only an oxy moron would love that – ie a moron who enjoys oxygen deficit.

Your representative in this blue-riband, black-chip event is such an oxymoron.

I have been training every day, dainty little 5-10 kilometer runs in the Central Australian desert and Israel’s Mediterranean coast – runs that will prepare me for Boston as usefully as picking dandelions for a world heavyweight bout. However, as of yesterday, all has changed, changed utterly: a terrible fitness is born.

There I was slouching towards Bethlehem when I lost my way. The result? I ran for three hours. I became a distance runner once again. I loved the feeling. I can’t wait for next Sunday’s four-hour run, after which I’ll taper my training. First time in a decade of marathons that I’ll have reached a high-enough point of preparation from which tapering is feasible.

Following yesterday’s odyssey I looked at my legs: they are indeed beautiful. Even the varicose veins at the back are beautiful. If there is a demand, I will send photos of the veins to my donors.

Around mid-year, Hybrid Publishers will publish my new book, a novel (titled Carrots and Jaffas). This is a sensational creation in which a pair of humans of opposite genders meet, fall in love, fall into bed, copulate, conceive and deliver – a story. If you love it half as much as I do, you will be thrilled to receive a copy of the first edition, signed and inscribed by the author. All you have to do is to read the attached Unusual Offer. The largest subscriber/donor wins the copy.

Every donor of $50.00 or more will receive a signed copy of my earlier book, My Father’s Compass. This book, too, was HIGHLY recommended by the author.

Avoid the rush: donate now, donate often.
Many of you have friends who have a lot of money and very large hearts; please pass on my offer to them.

If you look at where the money is going at http://hopkintonrespite.com or http://www.youtube.com/user/HopkintonRespiteTV , you won’t need the special offer to feel good.

Go for it! All you need to do to say goodbye to your money is to sponsor me in the Boston Marathon.

Time is short: the marathon will be run – as always – on Patriots Day, falling this year on 15 April, 2013. Please send your donations directly through this link– http://www.razoo.com/Pheidipides-Foolproof-Investment-Opportunity

I’ll send you news from now until the aftermath (is there ever a beforemath?) of the marathon.

Howard/Pheidipides Goldenberg

In Israel

Parable: A frog is swimming in the River Nile. A scorpion hails him from the bank: will you please give me a ride on 

on your back across the river?

The Frog replies: no, you’ll sting me and I’ll die.

Scorpion: no, I wouldn’t do that.

Frog: word of honour?

Scorpion: word of honour.

Frog, swimming over to the bank: alright, climb onto my back.

All is well until they are halfway across, when the scorpion suddenly stings the frog.

Frog, dying: why did you do that? Now I’ll die and you’ll drown.

Scorpion, drowning: this is the middle east – what did you expect?

 

I understand President Obama is visiting Israel at precisely the time as the visit of my family. I believe this to be a coincidence: neither party knew the other was coming.

However it seems their agenda might be the same.

At the play centre today, a bigger boy, perhaps 4 years old, pushed grandson Joel, aged one year and 358 days. Joel fell over. He arose and pushed the other child.

Joel’s mother said: Don’t push, darling. 

Another who mother had witnessed the exchange of shoves, interceded on Joel’s behalf: Really your boy was simply defending himself. The bigger boy started it.

Joel’s mother thought for a moment: Yes, but it doesn’t solve anything does it?

Joel’s defender, smiling: You can’t have lived here very long. Of course, you are right, it is not a solution. But tell me, tell us all – everyone here needs to know – what do you suggest?

 

 

 

 

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 19 March, 2013

Time Keeper

My mother, Yvonne, was famously late for everything.
One day, her sister, Doreen, visited Mum; it was the day before Mum was to undergo surgery. In old age, the two sisters always got together on the eve of any hospitalization of either one of them, in case the patient ‘pegged out’, as they put it.

Doreen was examining the contents of Mum’s jewellery box; Mum was indicating which piece would go to whom if she were to peg out.
Doreen held up pretty pendant watch on a gold chain. She said, “Yvonne, this is lovely. You should wear this watch more often.”
Dad, hearing this and all too aware of Mum’s tardiness, laughed:” Yvonne doesn’t know how to tell the time.”

“Yes, I do”, said Mum, “I just don’t approve of it.”

A jury of his peers: twelve good men and true

On the third day it is not difficult to find a seat in the courtroom. The crowds that spilled and filled the streets on Monday have stayed away. I sit in the back row of the rectangular courtroom. The presiding officer in his traditional robes and the stenographer and the sheriff occupy the frontmost places. They sit facing the barristers. At their left sit the jury, two rows of mature faces and bodies, leaning forward, held tight in attention to every word and gesture. Serious people, taking their serious duties seriously.  Opposite them, the defendant is seated so far to the left of the court that I can see his profile from the very back.

The defendant sits alone. Neither relatives nor his lawyers are at his side. Unlike his clansmen present in court, he is thin, with the body and bearing of an athlete. With his crown of tight black curls he might be an ancient Spartan at an Olympic Games. His full lips are a cherub’s. Lean and triangular, his not very black face is a wedge of concentrated intent, sharp enough to split the phalanx of jurors opposite.

Along with the judge, the lawyers are the actors here. They speak only sufficiently loudly for the judge and jury to hear. They stand with their backs to us, their quaint wigs and heavy black gowns somehow not absurd. They address witnesses gently, their speech respectful, patient even in cross-examination. On March 7 last year, how did you spend the day? What alcohol was it you were drinking? What time in the day did you begin to drink? Do think you were affected by alcohol? ‘Little bit drunk, not full drunk’: can you explain that to me? I see – full drunk means you lie down and fall asleep. So, on that day you were not full drunk?

Due procedure, due ceremony, due deference: a man is on trial for his liberty; a man, a citizen, a human being.

Seated next to me is a spherical lady who might be in her thirties. I ask her does she know the defendant: I’m Liam’s aunty, she whispers.  In Alice, in Yuendumu, avuncular status might make you closer than a parent – or precisely the opposite, your foe.

But Aunty’s bearing is not hostile towards her nephew.

Clustered in the row in front of ours are half a dozen more who would be relatives and supporters of the accused, men, women, two children. Even the children are quiet, church-quiet, respectful to the rituals.

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By the River Derwent, there we sat down.

The Hobart Synagogue is Australia’s oldest. It was not always thus:  Australia’s first Jews arrived in Sydney – involuntarily – on the First Fleet and built a synagogue well before the Hobart structure arose in Argyle Street. Fortunately (for Hobart) the Sydney Synagogue burned down.

For one year, my wife and I worshipped regularly at the Hobart Synagogue. Ten males over the age of thirteen are needed for a quorum for public prayer in Judaism. Such a group is a minyan, from the Hebrew word for counting. In 1970 we were a small minyan – we counted just four – my bride Annette, Mr. Fixel, Mr. Lewis and Mister me.

In its heyday in the 1890’s the Hobart Jewish Community numbered fifteen hundred souls. They were as numerous as the community in Melbourne. By 1970 no Jew of my generation had married Jewish and remained in Hobart: if a person had married a Jew they had left Hobart and moved elsewhere to do so. Annette and I arrived to join the last Jews in Hobart. Or so we thought. But  Russian Jews and South African Jews arrived after left and the community has never quite completed its dying.

I conducted the services. Mister Fixel was Viennese. He arrived punctually and sat erect, his polished brown scalp  and his wide brown face shining in attention. His pronunciation of Hebrew was like my own, a relic of the Germanic, which was distinctive, archaic, and until then  -for me – an embarrassing secret. Mr Fixel himself was a relic, elderly, childless, a survivor. His manner was indelibly courteous and sweet and grave. His sister Heide had survived and lived together with him and Mrs Fixel, whose first name was never pronounced in our hearing. Mrs. Fixel was petite and had fine features and singing Viennese-accented speech. Heide, round faced, brown faced like her brother, moved in her orbit around him, ostensibly serene, a silent satellite.

Annette believed the Fixels had lost children in the Shoah. They lived in Macquarie Street, just over the fence from us, near the lower slopes of Mount Wellington.

Mr Lewis interrupted his Sabbath rest in order to join us and resumed it promptly on arrival. Small, stocky, older than the Fixels (who must have been in their late fifties), Mr Lewis wore a large hearing aid. He’d arrive, sit down and get back to business. He’d snore while I sang. I recall my singing never disturbed his audible rest.

There existed a scattering of Jews, totaling about thirty, who had other business to attend to on a Saturday morning. One of these was the president, Clive Epstein, a bookmaker. Clive was old too, a pillar of the congregation, one of those pillars that function at a remove. He was tall, broad, vigorous and ancient. Whatever Clive said was law and whatever he said, he said in a loud ocker-accented voice. His nose was large, curved and red and he bore his vivid Australianness like a badge of office. His was the authentic voice of Australian Jewishness, the voice of legitimate authority. Lesser Jews, European Jews, quivered and subsided before the Traditional Owner.

We left Hobart after one happy year, left the Fixels quietly lamenting in their dignified way. Mr. Fixel’s face shone with a smile of grief, the smile he wore always, the smile that faced a world in which his future had been taken away.

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 10 March, 2013