Smoking the Peace in the Middle East

We stand on the Tiberias to Tel Aviv highway waiting or the early morning inter-city bus. As we anticipated the bus is crowded with soldiers and civilians returning to work after the Passover
holiday. My wife and the two grandchildren struggle into the bus, informing the driver that we have four suitcases that we’ll need to stow in the luggage compartment below. The driver activates a switch and a hatch opens. The luggage compartment is too full to fit a sandwich. I stand on the pavement with my four suitcases and a thoughtful expression. A soldier just old enough to grow a few whiskers has a backpack to stow. He leans deeply into the luggage compartment, bending his slim back, hefting, pulling, piling, jamming items of baggage together. He has created ample space for his backpack.

But he steps over his own luggage towards my array, grabs a suitcase in each hand and thrusts them into the space he has created. Again he leans, lifts and shoves. Somehow our cases are all aboard. I hoist the soldier’s backpack, find an interstice and widen it, shove the pack in and hope. The hatch closes and we two ascend, the last of the riders. I pay the modest fares for the 170 kilometre ride for four passengers. The driver apologises: regulations require him to charge the two thirteen-year olds full fare. He is sorry, what can he do? – he asks with a raised shoulder.
Inside the bus all seats are occupied. Three young soldiers lie in the aisle, one sleeps while the other two busy themselves with their screens. From the rear seat a figure in civilian red rises, beckons to me, indicates the seat he has vacated. I must sit.

Amused, grateful, mildly embarrassed, I tell him I’m alright mate.

No, he says, I must sit.

I shake my head.

‘Please sir, sit. Next stop, I descend.’

Three recumbent soldiers in the aisle rise with good grace and make way for the old man with his bulky backpack.

We emerge from the two-hour bus trip at Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. Passover has just come to an end and we are looking forward to eating leavened breads again. We emerge from Security and see before us a huge array of croissants, bagels, seeded rolls and pastries. I take the family’s orders and approach the squat woman behind the counter. ‘Two double espressos, one croissant, one chocolate turnover, one danish pastry, please.’ The woman maintains a studied silence. I stand for a moment, nonplussed. Has she not heard me? Is it perhaps, self-service? Is she perhaps deceased?

After a good time the woman passes me three paper bags. She manages to do this while turning her back to me. She has not spoken. Feeling like a semi-licensed thief I fill the three bags. Mrs Pastry now leans over her ranks of post-paschal breads in my direction, proffering coffee in a paper cup. A second follows. Still, no conversation. 

‘By what sum am I indebted to you?’ – I ask in my courtly, non-colloquial Hebrew.

The oracle now speaks: ‘Forty.’

     

Ellie looks up and laughs through her mouthful of chocolate yeast turnover: ‘Look Saba, Savta!’

We look towards the tee-shirt shop next to Mrs Pastry’s, where Ellie indicates a shirt in pink with the text:
DON’T WORRY

BEYONCE.
‘Ellie, would you like shirt like that?’

Ellie would like a shirt like that.
Ellie and I enter the tee-shirt emporium. Hundreds of tee-shirts of modest price and quality hang from cords suspended from the ceiling. All the shirts are suspended high, beyond human reach. Safe from theft they are also unpurchasable without human help. We look around us. Moving browsily beneath the display a handful of humans considers the merchandise. One sits, cross-legged on stool, like patience on a monument, entirely still. This person is slim, petite, elegantly presented.Her lips are the colour of venous blood. Her skin and hair are of midnight black. I approach her. She does not speak or move.

Hazarding a guess, I ask, ‘Do you work here?’

The merest of nods.

‘My granddaughter wants to buy the BEYONCE tee-shirt.’

Movement now as a slim arm emerges from behind the slight torso. Between two fingers of the hand at the end of the arm sits a cigarette.

The confessed employee inhales deeply and silently.

No verbal response. Perhaps we have visited her workplace during her sabbatical.

‘Can you help us?’

The Queen of Sheba points her cigarette over our heads. We turn and look up and backward for the shirt. We cannot sight it. 

We gather we have made our visit at a time when the spirit of enterprise is not active.

Ellie, richly amused, decides she can be happy without beyonce.

Instead, chuckling, she takes photos of the the tee-shirt in the display.  
At ‘Abulafia,’ the Palestinian bakery in the ancient port city of Yaffo, men in pious black yarmulkas queue to buy pastries from Palestinian men in tee-shirts.

In Hebrew and English the shopkeepers wear tee-shirts reading, ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.’ Others wear shirts that read, ‘Headquarters of Israel-Palestine peace.’ As shopkeepers the peacemakers are indistinguishable from Jewish Israelis in their generous disdain towards customers. My wife, an attractive grandmother, speaks a clear and correct Hebrew. The bakery boys affect not to understand her menu enquiries. One shrugs and directs Annette to his colleague. He too affects non-comprehension. He winks at his colleague and turns away from Annette, his face closed.
When a second customer approaches, Annette’s two refuseniks compete to serve her. This newcomer is forty years Annette’s junior. 
Now I try my luck. ‘A toasted pita please, with salad filing.’ The man I address does not look in my direction. Like a magician, he flicks an unseen cigarette from nowhere into his mouth. Exhaling dragon-like he grunts something indistinguishable. I look around, find myself the sole customer and ask, ‘Pardon?’

‘Harif?’

Harif is the Hebrew term for shrewdly intelligent. In fast food places it means, ‘spicy.’

‘A little, please.’

This is the second time I have spoken the P-word. ‘Please’ gives me away as surely as it betrayed Annette. Despite our better than serviceable Hebrew, we have revealed ourselves as that least assertive of all tourist species, the Anglo-Saxon.

A second smoker materialises, slides my pita into a toasting oven, smoking all over my lunch in transit.  

Moments later, seated on ‘Abulafia’s’ dusty stone steps we enjoy our smoke-toasted borekhas, pitot, and pastries. Too hot to handle, ridiculously inexpensive, memorably good. 

   

Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going?

This blog has spent the Passover period training for the Boston Marathon. Training has consisted exclusively of that intensive form of carbo loading which is the consumption of loads of matza. As matza is highly constipating carbo unloading has presented a challenge. Reminiscent of Martin Luther, who struggled mightily with his bowels, the Passover observer passes little.

In short I have been busy: as a result the blog has followed the admirable maxim of the ancient Sages of the Mishna: “Do much, say little”.

Shortly the blog will have much to report: of a visit to sit at the feet of another Ancient Sage, Dr Paul Jarrett, 95-year old surgeon of Phoenix Arizona; of fetching myrrh to Jack, the new babe born unto us Goldenbergs in San Francisco; of drinking GOOD COFFEE ! in New York City!!! (at ‘Little Collins’, my nephew’s celebrated joint on Lexington Avenue); of learning the latest in neuroscience from Joseph John Mann at Columbia Presbyterian; of Shabbat observing in New Rochelle; of entraining to Boston on the Sunday; and on Monday 20 April of observing Patriots Day in Boston.

On Patriots Day much is afoot in Boston, when this Athens of the United States becomes Sparta. The public holiday commemorates the ride of Paul Revere and the start of the American Revolution. (I refer to Boston as Athens as an incubator of wisdoms but also as the place of Gauguin’s masterwork, ‘Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going?’ That painting and its title encapsulate the entire enterprise of human storytelling.
The painting is strategically located in a gallery situated directly across the road from Dunkin Donuts [Aussies must indulge the local spelling] where the donuts are certified kosher. But I digress.)

gauguin.org.au

For us runners Boston is THE marathon. More broadly, Boston, most humane of cities, hosts the most charitable of marathons. The event admits both the athletic elite and the footslogger, those who qualify by their speed over 26.2 miles and those who qualify solely by fundraising. I belong to the fundraising sluggards. This will be my fifth Boston, a further opportunity to put my feet to the service of the good. Unavoidably we come here to evil: in my old home town of Leeton a bride who loved the colour yellow is murdered unaccountably one week before her wedding day; in Boston bombs explode the innocence of thirty thousand runners and one million natives. Three die, two hundred and sixty four injured – many grievously – survive.

And I ask myself: Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going?

The small town of Leeton turns out to honour lost youth: multitudes gather in the park wearing yellow; married women hang their bridal gowns on front fences; on the victim’s planned wedding day brides all around the country add a dash of yellow to their apparel.
In Boston the city grieves, runners shake their heads, and return to the marathon with intent. Among them is one Gillian Reny.

“The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital will support life-giving breakthroughs in limb reconstruction, bone regeneration, orthopedic and plastic surgery, and skin regeneration. Established by the family of Gillian Reny—a young, pre-professional dancer who was critically injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings—the fund will fuel cutting-edge research and clinical programs in three areas:

Stepping Strong Research Scholars
: The Research Scholars project has two components: using stem cells to advance bone regeneration, and developing better methods to regenerate skin and heal wounds to reduce the suffering of amputation.  

Stepping Strong Trauma Fellowship
: The Trauma Fellowship will train the next generation of trauma surgeons in advanced techniques for treating acute and complex traumatic injury. Fellows will gain proficiency in surgical management, rehabilitation, limb reconstruction, and scar management.

Stepping Strong Innovator Awards: 
To inspire innovative research in areas including limb regeneration, limb transplant, advanced stem cell technology, orthopedic and plastic surgery, and bioengineering, BWH will offer Innovator Awards through an annual, competitive, request-for-proposal process. These awards will fund high-reward projects by our best and brightest physician-researchers.”

This is the good for which my feet will run on Monday April 20. This, like the wearing of the yellow, is the good that transcends evil. This is the good to which you can contribute. Go to:

A High Churchman in Hobart

It is my first day at work in the Royal Hobart Hospital. Apart from my bride, I know no-one in this town. From the far side of the ward I become aware of a wide smile upon a moon face. The face sits above a clerical collar and a generous body and it is moving relentlessly closer to me. The nearer it comes, the wider the smile, until it is upon me and I am a bit wary.

I don’t know this bloke and he doesn’t know me. Why is he so happy to see me? It can only be the yarmulka on my head that attracts him.

I sense the imminence of uninvited salvation.

Friar Tuck sticks out his hand. The hand is soft and warm and firm. Hello, he says, welcome to the Royal. I’m Father Jim.

This bloke is irresistibly charming. I say – I’m about to go home to eat. How do you like Indonesian cooking, Father Jim? My wife is making fish, it’s a new recipe – would you like to join us?

Jim accepts and is delighted to meet Annette. He makes no comment about the fine garfish bones which are inextricable from Annette’s delectable Indonesian sauce.

It turns out that Jim is the Anglican chaplain at the hospital. That is his day job. By night and at weekends, he is one of the founders of a tiny Order of celibate Christian men who provide refuge for people who are lost or homeless or in crisis. They call their Community St. Michael’s Priory.

Every needy person, every demanding, manipulative and lost person in Hobart comes to the community and is greeted by wide smile Jim.

Celibate himself, Jim marries everyone else at the Royal. Nurses, doctors, morticians and clerks – Jim ushers them all into matrimony. But Jim’s best efforts are not proof against the rising tide of divorce that washes away his marriages. So he stops marrying people.

Father Jim joins us for Shabbat meals on Friday night. He reads the Haggadah with us at Passover, recounting our exodus from Egypt.

We leave Hobart but whenever he can, Jim visits us in Melbourne for Shabbat or Passover.

Years later, he leaves the Royal and the Priory and becomes a prison chaplain, then a chaplain to the dying in Melbourne. He welds himself to our children with the warmth of his smile. He comes to Synagogue with us, collarless, wearing one of my yarmulkas, and soon is taken for an Israeli.

He retires and goes to live in England, writing to us, posting us cuttings from texts by his favourite religious leader, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi.

Over 35 years Father Jim is our friend. He celebrates the religious differences between us.