– Fiction by Shalom Camenietzki –
On a Tuesday morning Joshua Weinberg received a long-distance phone call from his mother at his York University office. His heart instantly began to pound, as his parents had for almost thirty years been calling him only on Sundays, at his home.
“Shua,” his mother whispered his childhood nickname, then said in English, “your father passed away…minutes ago. I called…as soon as possible.”
Joshua removed his eyeglasses and with the palm of his hand he soothed one eye, then another. He recalled, in detail, a phone call he’d made to his parents some thirty years ago. He was then a bespectacled, pimply, slightly overweight high-school graduate, who had resolved, while on a summer vacation in Canada, not to serve in Tzahal, Israel’s army. In his eyes, spending three years in the army was a waste of precious time; he yearned, instead, to study physics at the University of Toronto. Jerry, Joshua’s uncle, had kindly invited his nephew to stay at his home in Toronto until he found ways of financing his education and living expenses in Canada. “Joshua!” his father cried out, moments after his son had spoken to his mother, “Do you really intend to live with your uncle? I’ve told you, many times, that my brother is a rabid anti-Semite! Every time Israel wins a war or a battle against its enemies, it’s an opportunity for Jerry to condemn, furiously, what he calls ‘Israel’s aggression and land-grabbing colonialism.’ Do you really want to live with a soyn-Issruel,” his father demandingly inquired.
Joshua suppressed a giggle. “What does that mean, Abba?”
“It’s Yiddish for Jew hater.”
“Look Abba, I’m a Canadian citizen. I’ll be borrowing money from the government to pay for my tuition, room, and board. I’ll be living with uncle Jerry for two or three weeks, no more.”
“But what about your military service?”
For weeks Joshua had rehearsed, in his head, answers to a question he knew he would be asked. But now, under intense pressure, he was almost at a loss for words.
“Joshua!” His father’s stentorian voice reminded Joshua of American war movies, where drill sergeants bellow, nonstop, at callow recruits. “What about Tsahal, son? As I wrote to you, you’ll be drafted on November the ninth. You were away, so I took the liberty of reading the letter the army had sent you.”
“But Abba,” Joshua mustered all the courage he was capable of, “I will not be serving in Tzahal!”
“How come?” His father cried out. “Don’t you know what that will do to your mother? To me? Have you thought about us?”
His stomach in knots, Joshua whispered into the receiver, “Abba, my duty is to myself. I –“
“How can you be so goddamn selfish?” His father barked. “Did you ever think about your friends, your relatives, the country? If every eighteen-year-old behaved like you, there would be no Jewish state. Today’s Israelis would be living in all continents, and Arabs would take possession of our home! Have you ever given that a thought?”
Guilt-ridden Joshua wanted his father to understand what his only son was up to. “I want to be a physicist. Politics, any politics, are of no interest to me.”
“Politics,” his father mockingly retorted, “I’m not talking about politics but about personal matters. For ten years you attended school here in Israel, and Imma and I educated you along Zionist lines.” His father paused – for the effect, Joshua thought. “Where did all that go? Tell me the truth! Your mother, by the way, is next to me, motioning me to pursue this topic. Are you afraid of being wounded, or dying? Just tell the army authorities that you’re your parents’ only son, and you won’t be serving in a combat unit, but assigned a desk job. You may even enrol in a nearby college and take evening courses in physics. You’re not the only young man, who dreads seeing blood streaming out of wounds – your own and others’ blood.”
“No, Abba!” Joshua angrily erupted. “How come you don’t realize that studying in Toronto is what’s best for me? It’s what I want!” “Son, your mother is dying to talk to you.”
“Shua,” his mother said gently, “are you scared of the military service? I’m your mother, and I’m scared of you getting injured – physically and mentally, I mean.”
“I’m not scared, Imma. Right now I want to study physics. I don’t want to waste three years of my life on something I don’t believe in.”
“Are we making you angry?” “Yes, Imma, you’re right. I am angry! We’ve covered all bases, and this phone call is getting us nowhere. It doesn’t look like I’ll ever change the way you and Abba feel about me studying in Toronto. Have a good day, Imma!”
“We love you, son! Don’t forget that your parents want only what’s best for you!”
He kept mum, Joshua, for fear of uttering words he might regret.
For eight years, Joshua studied physics at the University of Toronto, and eventually graduated with a doctoral degree. He then taught at York University and pursued a predictable academic career. Every summer, when his parents visited him in Toronto, the three of them avoided talking about Israel, its neighbours, and the Palestinians. Such discussions infuriated Joshua, who listed, one by one, all the wrongs and injustices said to have been perpetrated by Tzahal and Israeli governments. Eventually, Joshua became so critical of Zionism that he yelled at his parents that the Jewish state carried no legitimacy whatsoever.
But what really caused Joshua’s parents to despair was their son’s decision not to speak Hebrew, a language he called “a weapon in the service of colonialist land grabbers.” Joshua knew, though, that his parents took comfort in Judy, his Jewish wife, and her teaching her two sons Jewish traditions, like lighting Shabbat candles on Friday evenings, or eating no bread during Passover. Joshua was so ambivalent about Jewish traditions and customs that he seldom mentioned them to his sons.
“Shua? Are you there?” His mother’s soprano reintroduced Joshua to the grim reality of his father’s sudden death. “Imma,” he let out after wiping his eyes dry with his forearm. “I’m terribly sorry,” Joshua now spoke Hebrew, “my…my… heartfelt condolences.” His heart now sank painfully.
“Thank you, son,” she replied calmly, in Hebrew, as if nothing momentous had taken place. “Abba talked about you before he went into a coma.” She lapsed into a long silence before uttering, “Shua, there are issues you and I must discuss.”
She sounded frail, his mother, but her voice was clear even though she’d just lost her husband of forty years. Heart thumping, Joshua waited till his mother regained her composure.
“It’s regarding your father’s burial,” his mother stated. “He’ll be buried here, in Tel Aviv, of course. But I’m begging you, Shua, do attend your father’s funeral! And for your own peace of mind, honour your late father. I’m well aware of your criticisms of Israel, but I need a shoulder to cry on,” she implored. “Come home,” she raised her voice, “think about the years you lived in Israel. Let no ideologies diminish your love of your father.”
Anger came over Joshua as he recalled his father’s fury and ruddy face when Joshua rejected Zionism, the State of Israel, modern Hebrew, Tzahal — as if he were proclaiming his independence.
His mother’s pleading now reignited a flame of guilt Joshua believed he’d come to terms with, decades ago. Unexpectedly, his filial duties now felt stronger, much stronger, than any politics and belief-systems. Despite his furious condemnation of Israel’s policies and practices, he experienced a physical attachment to his parents, as if his hip were fused to his parents’. Was it because he was an only son, Joshua wondered.
All his life Joshua had known that his mother could no longer conceive after he was born. The supposed anatomical link to his parents humiliated Joshua, it made him feel as immature as his two, twenty-something sons. He thought of hanging up and telling his mother that he wanted no part in his father’s funeral, that the latter’s death had liberated Joshua and allowed him to experience all manner of strong emotions.
His feelings now verging on panic, Joshua whispered, haltingly, into the receiver, “I’ll be in Israel…as soon as possible, Imma. My wife and sons will also be at Abba’s funeral.”
“Thank you, son, you love of my life.”
The best arrangement Joshua could make was to to fly from Toronto to Tel Aviv with a five-hour stopover in Amsterdam. That left him plenty of time to compose a eulogy of his late father. He did, to his own surprise, write it in Hebrew, though he had, for decades, avoided writing and speaking that language. As he struggled to find words to express his grief, he was surprised by the inspiration that came over him, unexpectedly. Words and phrases he had for decades suppressed now streamed slowly, but smoothly. After writing and rewriting his page-long speech, he realized how well it described certain aspects of his father’s life. A melancholy, grieving Joshua realized that he’d committed to paper only a fraction of the emotions inundating him.
When Joshua and his family met his mother in her small apartment, she looked pale and her face seemed frozen despite the brave face she put on. And yet, her dim eyes and strained face revealed how she’d been holding back tears and loud sobs. He kissed his mother effusively, Joshua, and she embraced him tightly, as if consoling her son was more important than her son comforting her. She asked him plain and simple questions about sightseeing Israel, as if her son and his family had come to Israel not to participate in a funeral but to enjoy a vacation. Joshua’s mother took the liberty of suggesting that her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren tour Jerusalem and Galilee in the days ahead.
“How about you, Shua,?” She challenged her son. “Why don’t you join them? You’ve never visited east Jerusalem or the Wailing Wall. You were living in Canada at the time of the Six Day War.”
Rattled by the eulogy he had written, Joshua felt it would be absurd for him to plan trips, any trips. He yearned to spend time with his mother, to feel close to her and reminisce about his deceased father’s life. He would console her, even though she valiantly suppressed her grief. “I’ll hang out in your apartment, Imma. We’ll talk about Abba. That’s the best way for me to spend my time in Israel.”
“What about you visiting the Wailing Wall and east Jerusalem?”
“Some other time, Imma. I promise.”
It occurred to Joshua that he’d visit the Wailing Wall only after his mother had died. He would then have no one but himself to console.
The funeral took place the next day, in the early afternoon. A few dozen relatives and friends of the family attended the ceremony. Joshua read out loud his eulogy so passionately that it surprised himself and others. The conflicts between Joshua and his father seemed to have vanished completely, signalling the beginning of a new era, as his wife had put it.
“What new era?” Joshua asked himself. It bothered him that neither his wife nor his children understood a word of the eulogy he’d composed. Would they ever understand Joshua’s bewildering relationship with his parents, its peaks and valleys? Dressed in black, Joshua’s mother wept throughout the funeral, as if her front of bravery had proved to be so painful that tears now streamed down her wrinkled face. Joshua’s wife, also dressed in black, repeatedly dabbed the wet corners of her eyes with a Kleenex. Joshua wished he too could cry and unburden himself of the tears and torments festering inside him. His weeping would set an example to his sons, who wore dark suits and looked very sombre, if not traumatized. “What am I bequeathing to my sons,” Joshua wondered, now that grief had rendered him dry-eyed, but vulnerable. He felt unable to utter words that might have soothed his mother, his wife, and his sons — perhaps himself, too. At the burial, Joshua, his relatives, and his father’s friends shovelled freshly upturned brown soil back into his father’s grave. The prayers over, a bearded, bespectacled man from the Burial Society approached Joshua, his bony forefinger and thumb grasping a glittering razor. “Time has come to slash my jacket as an expression of mourning,” Joshua remarked to himself. He regretted that his rarely-used black blazer would be irreparably damaged, and yet he allowed the representative of the Burial Society to slash his jacket’s lapel, then slit his two sons’ jackets as well. Once more Joshua hoped he had served as a model for his children, a wish so profound that he could barely find words to express the agony threatening to immobilize him. After his father’s interment, Joshua in vain tried to suppress the recurring images of dirt being plunked down back into his father’s grave, and yet he remained as focused and alert as a sniper. At night he tossed in bed, he sipped water repeatedly, and read a few pages of a novel by Amos Oz he’d found in his mother’s apartment. Sleep felt like an unattainable hope, and only after hours of agonizing alertness did he fall asleep. That night he dreamed of walking, interminably, inside a vast, well-lit warehouse with large wooden containers resting on the floor and forming two rows. Only narrow paths separated the rows of containers from one another. In the dream Joshua walked anxiously along the paths, searching for a container with his name inscribed in Hebrew letters. “Where is my name,” he asked himself, his feelings poignant and painful, as suddenly the lights went off. Peering at the darkness all around, Joshua could barely see the containers, so he gave up on finding one bearing his name. He then noticed a far away, faint light and he asked himself, “Is that a burning candle?” Heart pounding, he began striding toward the dim light. Upon reaching what was, indeed, a burning candle, he noticed an old man wearing a black skullcap and a prayer shawl, seated on a low, rickety chair and reading a newspaper.
“What’s your name?” Joshua asked the ghoulish figure. In utter silence the elderly man continued to read his newspaper, seemingly unaware of Joshua and the question he’d asked. He woke up abruptly, Joshua, his heart racing. It took him numerous deep breaths before he calmed down a bit. Surely, he told himself, the elderly man in the dream represented his dead father. But what did the warehouse, the many containers, and the search for his own name signify? Only one idea occurred to Joshua: now that his father had died, he’d have to re-think his identity and his priorities. “But what am I supposed to do,” he asked himself. His only certainty was his difficulty to fall asleep and stay asleep. He rolled out of bed to shave and shower. His wife would soon wake up, he reminded himself, and she’d help him decipher some of his dream’s incomprehensible ingredients and their underlying, peculiar meanings.
“Did you sleep well?” Judy asked her husband as she squinted at him standing up by their bed. Her bright, brown eyes conveyed surprise at seeing Joshua shaved and dressed up at dawn. “I feel alright,” Joshua replied calmly, to reassure his wife. He sat down on the bed, hugged her, and in detail shared his dream with her. Judy agreed with her husband that his dream expressed strong emotions about his father’s recent death. She added that Joshua was searching for a new identity, now that his father would no longer be there to inspire or confront him.
A while later, Joshua, his wife and children enjoyed a hearty breakfast at his mother’s. While having coffee, Joshua and his wife agreed that she and their sons would spend the day in Jerusalem. It was a cool, beautiful fall day, but Joshua insisted on staying with his mother in her apartment, and comforting her.
Seated on an armchair in his mother’s small living room, Joshua told himself that despite her grief, his mother still looked younger than seventy-eight years old. Her closely cropped head of hair had for many years been dyed black, and her blue, elegant eyeglasses indicated that she had an abiding interest in appearances despite her painful grief. She was a bit overweight, his mother, and the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth and eyes were faint, but noticeable. On that day she had on a white blouse and black pants, but no makeup or jewellery. She spoke calmly and looked composed, as if the tragedy of her husband’s sudden death hadn’t affected her deeply yet.
Joshua held his mother’ hand as they chatted about his father’s life once he’d retired from his job as high school teacher of English. He spoke, however, much less than his mother, since last night’s dream – or was it a nightmare? – was on his mind constantly. How will his mother interpret his dream, he anxiously asked himself. “Imma,” he eventually opened up, “last night I dreamed about Abba.” In detail he described his dream, then asked his mother, “How do you understand it, Imma?” His own, rather exigent question displeased him, because it might have upset his mother unnecessarily.
She took her time before uttering, “I’m not Joseph in the Torah,” she said, “and I’m not good at interpreting dreams. Still, I agree with you that your dream is about your late father. The warehouse, I feel, represents our home in Ramat Gan, the home your Abba renovated from top to bottom with almost no help from tradesmen. He and I loved our renovated apartment, it was the home your father had built. We moved into this small retirement home two years ago, when your father was too frail to do the necessary hard work around the house.”
The home your father had built. His mother’s aside somehow made a lot of sense to Joshua. He felt that her plain words had somehow rekindled a host of feelings he couldn’t ignore. All at once the dream made some sense, even though Joshua, a scientist at ease with abstractions, had no inkling of what the dream’s peculiar ingredients actually meant. What, he asked himself, did the large containers, or the single burning candle allude to? Joshua felt his mother was right: he’d dreamed about the home his father had loved so much. It also occurred to him that the warehouse’s sudden darkness represented his grief over his father’s death. Though plain, the various interpretations of Joshua’s dream struck a powerful chord with him, and yet he was convinced that portions of his dream were riddles no one would ever solve satisfactorily.
Lunchtime over, Joshua held his mother’s moist, warm hand as he announced, “Imma, this afternoon I’ll be taking a walk in Ramat Gan, to visit our old home in Modi-in Street. It was, emotionally speaking, my first home, since I have only very faint and indistinct memories of my early years in Toronto.”
“Do you want me to accompany you?” she asked, evidently eager to take part in her son’s quest.
“Thank you, Imma. But I’d rather be alone with my thoughts.”
The bus to Ramat Gan was a vehicle taller, wider, and longer than the Israeli buses of his adolescence. “Thirty years!” he guiltily exclaimed to himself. “For decades I haven’t cast my eyes at my first home.” As he ambled toward the apartment building where he and his parents had lived, he looked left and right, making sure that no meaningful details escaped him. He treasured every house, apartment building, front yard, and trees he encountered, as if he were setting those sights aside for a rainy day. Most houses Joshua encountered on his way to what used to be his home were one-storied and considerably smaller than his home in Toronto. Often they boasted tall, leafy ficus trees by the entrance, green hedges all around the properties, and mowed lawns in the front yard. “How neat, how prosperous, how green,” he thought. There was nothing to suggest that Israel had been at war, intermittently, with its neighbours. He recalled how the walls of almost all houses and apartment buildings had once been lime-white, but the Mediterranean sun seemed to have baked the walls and created what Joshua experienced as light-brown pie crusts. With bated breath he watched the street’s numbers go down: 93, 91, 89. He distinctly remembered his old address: 81 Modi-in Street. In the past there were no postal codes in Israel, he recalled; he felt very sad about forgetting the phone number of his home, in Ramat Gan.
The apartment building bearing the 81 number had changed immensely, and it took a while before Joshua recognized it. No low wall of cinder blocks encircled the property, as he’d expected. And it surprised him to see two ficus trees joining one another to form a leafy, green arbour two feet taller than himself. And instead of a lawn in the front and perennials on both sides of the building, he caught sight of a rock garden with large, green cacti enlivening it. How elegant, he thought, how thoughtful and more imaginative than his memories.
The brick walls of the three-storey apartment building of his teenage years had been plastered over completely, and together with a new red-tiled roof it cheered up Joshua, who felt as if his heart were being pinched sadly, but pleasurably, too. He admired the new, marbled floor at the entrance to the building and its glimmering blue door. “How modern, how prosperous-looking,” he thought. “How long can I stand before the apartment building where my first home was located without attracting undue attention,” he wondered. Here he was, a middle-aged physicist now teary because the old memories he was now prospecting filled his heart with sweet, but pungent melancholy.
“The apartment building I remember has changed irreversibly,” Joshua thought, “just as much of Israel is almost beyond recognition.” He remembered the wide freeway he’d travelled on, two days ago, from the airport to his mother’s apartment. How overwhelmingly large, he felt, when he compared it to the narrow, two-lane roads he remembered.
He strode into the renovated entrance to the building he’d lived in, and saw a set of numbers next to the names of those living in the various apartments. He remembered that six was the number pinned to the door of his family’s apartment. Twice he pushed that button, but heard no ping or buzz. He was about to push the button again when a distant woman’s voice declared rak regga — just a moment. Impatient and heart racing, he looked forward to comparing his memories to the realities of today’s Israel. Eventually, when the door to the apartment he’d buzzed opened, he saw a brown-haired young woman with dark-brown eyes holding an almost bald, fat, and beautiful baby in her arms. A dark-haired toddler with a runny nose clutched his mother’s jeans with both hands, as if afraid of what the stranger might do to her.
“Good afternoon,” Joshua uttered softly, his breathing shallow and slightly painful. “My name is Joshua. I lived in your apartment for ten years, many years ago.”
The woman furrowed her brow, as if waiting for Joshua to finish a prepared speech. “She’s probably accustomed to realtors eager to help homeowners to sell their properties,” Joshua told himself, feeling he was as intrusive as a telemarketer calling at dinnertime.
He placed his hand on his chest. “Do you mind…if I have a look…at your home? It’ll take only a minute or two. I know, I know. You have two young children, and I don’t want to disturb you. I just want to see your apartment, and how it compares to my memories of my home, about thirty years ago.”
The young mother bent down slightly and held her toddler’s hand. “I’m Miriam Azulai,” she said in a self-confident, clear voice. “Could you please come back on Friday afternoon? Right now my apartment is a mess,” she laughed. “It’s a lot of work to care for two little children. I promise that on Friday afternoon my home will be spic and span, all set to celebrate Shabbat,” she laughed again, pleased with herself, and what she’d said.
“Please,” he implored, “I live in Canada. Come Friday I’ll be flying back to Toronto. I’m asking you, please allow me to look around. I’m no realtor, and no potential buyer, just an ordinary person aching to glance at the home he lived in for ten years. You see, my father passed away, and I came to his funeral. I haven’t been in Israel for many years.” He vowed to keep his political beliefs to himself, lest he alienate the young mother.
Miriam let go of the toddler’s hand, and with splayed fingers combed her hair. “Okay, come in, please. Have a look. I understand,” she smiled at Joshua kindly. “But I want you to know that I feel embarrassed. My apartment is a mess,” she laughed, almost proudly, then took her toddler’s hand, swivelled around and walked two steps ahead of Joshua.
He entered a corridor with a coat rack to his right and an oil painting on the wall to his left. A few steps further and he saw, to his left, a living room with an imposing, glass-topped coffee table fronting a green, three-seat sofa. Indeed, stuffed animals, numerous Lego pieces, a Teddy bear, and many toy cars and trucks littered the bare floors. The walls were painted a shade of maroon, so different from the off-white walls he remembered. In one corner of the Azulais’ living room, a muted television set was on. He recalled his parents’ huge radio and record-player exactly where the TV set was located now. The home he remembered was at the time crowded with antique furniture and on its walls there hung reproductions of fine art. The apartment he was visiting now impressed him as a slightly inhospitable location.
“You may have to excuse me,” Miriam said, “the house is a bit bare. We moved in only two months ago. We’re house-poor,” she laughed, “and have no money for furniture, curtains, and carpets.”
“But your home looks so modern,” he commented in a kind, flattering voice. “You have new windows, and new light switches.”
“The Goldbergs, the owners of this apartment before us, renovated it from top to bottom. They moved into a big house, in Ramat Hasharon.”
He continued walking along the corridor and saw a dining room with a round oak table and four upholstered chairs. He recalled his parents’ long, rectangular dining table and massive chairs they’d bought in Toronto and shipped to Israel. Three times a day he’d sat at the old table to have meals. Where was that dining set now? He decided to ask his mother.
“Do you feel like seeing the kitchen?” The woman’s voice put an end to his reveries. It appeared as though she enjoyed him playing close attention to her home, and to her.
“I’d rather have a look at what used to be my own room.”
He took a few steps forward, then turned right. His bedroom had been transformed into a baby’s quarters: a large crib with a colourful mobile above it stood against the wall and, next to it, there was a wide, brown chest of drawers. He looked out the window and was glad to find out that the ornamental lemon tree of his childhood was still alive and well in the back yard. Joshua had in mind asking the young mother whether the lemon tree still produced tiny fruits in late summer, but he’d forgotten the young woman’s name, though she’d articulated it clearly. His excitement and mild anxiety had made him temporarily forgetful, he told himself, to calm down.
He straightened up his spine, and all at once feared that he might burst out crying: his old bed had stood where the baby’s crib was now. How many afternoons did he spend on his bed, daydreaming of love and beautiful girls? Across from the baby’s crib, where his desk used to be, there was, decades ago, a comfortable chair where he’d spent countless hours reading, listening to music, or daydreaming. “Straighten up your back,” his mother used to pester him, “or you’ll end up looking stooped like an old man.”
Joshua wished he could smile, but his face had turned stiff. He turned around. The toddler was standing up and leaning his head against his mother’s thigh, now that she was holding the baby high up. “Yes, the apartment was renovated,” Joshua broke an unpleasant silence. He feared she was smiling at the old coot on the verge of weeping as he explored what had been his home, a long time ago.
“Yes, the apartment has been renovated,” Joshua commented, “but I still recognize the skeleton of what used to be my home.” And for the first time ever, it occurred to Joshua that the Hebrew bait stood for both house and home. Despite his vow to stay calm and composed, tears filled his eyes.
“I hope my messes won’t spoil your good mood,” the young mother asserted, as if to soothe Joshua.
“That’s okay.” He wiped his eyes with his shirt’s sleeve. “I remember when my wife and I had our first baby, many years ago. Our home was always a mess.” Miriam’ smile now expressed understanding and compassion. Joshua liked her.
“Do you want to see the other bedroom,” the woman asked, and out of the blue he remembered that her name was Miriam, Miriam Azulai. “I’ll have a quick look at other rooms,” he muttered, surprised by the intensity of his feelings.
In what used to be his parents’ bedroom he came across an unmade queen-size bed. Miriam rushed to stretch out its bedcover with her free hand, as if to hide embarrassing stains on the sheets. He smiled as he recalled, amusedly, his childhood’s wonderment about his parents’ giggling, on their bed, on Saturday mornings. “You can come back again this week,” Miriam gently offered. “Just call me in advance, so I can tidy up the house.” She laughed, at once embarrassed and shy, but genuinely welcoming. “I don’t like people to see the balagan at my home.” Joshua remembered the slangy word for mess and disarray. “That’s kind of you, Mrs. Azulai,” he remarked. Calling her “Mrs” was remote and detached, perhaps even ungrateful, he feared. “I wish I had the time for another visit,” he let the young woman know. “I immensely thank you for your kindness.”
“You see,” she smoothed her hair, “we tzabarim aren’t as blunt and confrontational as it is often rumoured.”
Tzabarim, Israeli-born Jews. The children of the Zionist dream who at times derided Jews born and bred in the Diaspora. He smiled philosophically as he asked, “Why did you mention Israelis? Was it because of my accent?”
“Yes. You pronounce some Hebrew words the way Americans do.”
An American? Somehow it bothered Joshua to hear that he no longer spoke an accent-free Hebrew. He turned to Miriam and said, “Nobody has ever commented on my accent. It’s not surprising, really, because I haven’t spoken Hebrew for many years. At any rate, thank you for allowing me to take a look of your home.”
Once back on Modi-in street, Joshua decided not to turn around, and not to look back at the building where his home used to be. His conduct reminded him of movies in which characters on their way to the door turn around either to make a point, or to have the last word. He feared that if he turned around, he might bawl like an infant. As a rule, he kept his feelings under lock and key, and the likelihood of a crying jag in public perturbed him. To manage his upset, he strode down the street quite fast. But suddenly he stopped marching toward the bus stop and stood up on the sidewalk, feeling bewildered. He didn’t care what passers-by might think of him and his weeping. He had so much on his mind that worrying about strangers’ reactions to himself felt irrelevant, even silly.
Though Joshua wasn’t spiritually inclined, the death of his father, last night’s dream, and visiting his first home augured inevitable changes to his attitudes. One change, him speaking and writing Hebrew, had already taken place. He asked himself, at once intrigued and fearful, what beliefs, ideas, and memories he would retain, and which ones he’d eventually shed or discard.
About the Author – Shalom Camenietzki
Shalom Camenietzki was born in Brazil. He attended high school and university in Israel, and obtained his doctorate in psychology from the University of Kansas in 1970. Since 1981, he has been in private practice of psychology in Toronto. So far, ten of his stories have appeared in Canadian literary magazines. In 2006, Thistledown Press of Saskatoon published his collection of stories titled “The Atheist’s Bible.” In 2020, the University of Regina Press published his memoir of bipolar disorder called “Out of My Mind: A Psychologist’s Descent into Madness and Back.”
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