Thursday, November 20, 2014

We Can All Use Some Lifting

Amid the horror, another sad event: A few days ago, passing his house, I saw the "Baruch Dayan Emet" sign for Raphael Molcho, one of the builders of modern Israel, who passed away on Sunday, b'sayva tova, only a short time after his wife, Rachel. (He's part of a distinguished line- the square down the block from him is named for his father.)

He was a distant relative, and I used to visit him every now and then. He'd sit finishing a whole box of Ferrero Rocher ("Yes, I know I shouldn't, Nachum, but at my age, what difference does it make?" Apparently not much.) and regale me with stories of life in Jerusalem from the 1910's onward:

"Where are you living now? Katamon? [This was a little while back.] Ah, I remember the Battle of Katamon in '48. That was bad. You know I was in charge of arms procurement for the Hagana, and we just took them wherever we found them. We heard that there was a huge cache of weapons in the basement of the Egyptian embassy, on Rachel Imenu- where do you live? Tayassim? Yes, right near there...anyway, we got there and discovered the whole building was literally bricked up, and we had to break in somehow. The problem was, the battle was raging all around us, and the Arabs were fighting to keep us from getting in...and then, in the middle of everything, I saw a chicken running around. A chicken! Remember, Nachum, the city was under siege. We were starving! I dropped everything and chased that chicken all over Katamon. Bullets were flying around me, but finally I caught it, threw it in a sack, brought it back to Rechavia, and said to Rachel, 'Bring this to the shochet in Shaarei Hesed tomorrow morning, we're going to have chicken.'

"Well, the next morning, we discovered the chicken had laid an egg. We didn't have it shechted. Instead, our boys had eggs to eat every morning for the rest of the war."

(One of his sons is a prominent lawyer and chief negotiator with the Palestinians. The other is a well-known architect.)

They always say that the real war heroes don't tell you about the actual fighting. What a hero he was.

OK, another one: "Not all the British were bad. One day, right before independence, I was sitting at my desk in the bank when a British soldier walked in and put a set of keys on my desk. 'What's this?' 'Keys to a tank. It's parked outside.' 'OK, first, you drive that thing around back. I don't want a tank sitting right in front. Next, you take off your insignia and give it to me- I'm not having someone not in a British uniform driving it away.' He did that, and so...we got a tank."
And here's an unrelated (or is it?) story from today, via a relation of a relation via Facebook:

I hope it helps lift your spirits during this difficult time.
This morning I was in a bakery in Jerusalem when I noticed that I was standing behind Natan Sharansky. I summoned up my courage and told him that I had just cited from his book this week in a class I was teaching on Sefer Tehillim. I explained that I told my students the inspiring story of how he had kept a tiny book of Tehillim with him at all times, even when he had to struggle with the authorities to get it back. At that point, Sharansky smiled, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out that a tiny (palm-sized) tattered book of Tehillim. I was stunned, and I asked him “Do you carry that wherever you go?” Sharansky didn’t even pause and he replied “Actually, it carries me!”

I love Jerusalem - the city where Jewish heroes walk the streets.

I'm always inspired by seeing the man in person myself. A number of years ago, my parents found themselves sitting right behind him on a plane trip. My mother asked him for his autograph for me, alas not on one of his books but one she happened to have on her. (She's good at that- she once got a pre-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to sign a washing machine bill for me.) He wrote something like, "Dear Nachum, make aliyah!" A few years later I ran into him at a local event. I told him the story, and said, "Here I am!" He smiled modestly.

Jay Nordlinger (who's not Jewish) once interviewed Sharansky for National Review (again, not Jewish) on one of his later books and projects. At the end of the interview, he said, "I have to you have it on you?" He didn't even have to say what "it" is- Sharansky took the Tehillim from his pocket and held it out. Nordlinger, too, was struck by its small size, but even more by the fact that he was looking at it live. Sharansky's reply in the first story is perfect. And thus the name of this post.

1 comment:

Nachum said...

Bialik once visited his elementary school class and was disappointed that they were learning his poems in Sepharadit- they were written in, and really work only in, Ashkenazis.

So I met someone who met Bialik. Wow.