[Note: On my visit to Jerusalem in October 2002, I spoke with Adelina Klein, a poet whose services to the literary community include editing the poetry journal Madregot and organizing monthly literary events at Agnon House. She began to tell me of her experiences during the months of terror, and I urged her to write them down. The following account was the result. – EC]
HOW CAN I BEGIN TO TELL YOU
Perhaps I might begin with that terrible day in the middle of the neverending "intifada." With those moments of mental restlessness and physical exhaustion when the body hesitates and the soul goes on ticking.
But now it is the Passover holiday. It seems as if the machinery of the Shiite bombers had stopped for a moment. We are on our way to the seder at the house of relatives. What a relief it will be for us to step out of the cycle of crazy days and horrifying news and friends getting killed and the government doing nothing, sitting back in the saddle and waiting for the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Yasser Arafat, to stop, by remote control, the campaign which the suicide bombers are carrying on under his supervision. And on the decision of one man, who is a professional war criminal, an entire people hangs suspended, waiting for the next slaughter.
A driving rain slams into the car head-on. The traffic-clogged highway splits, and we turn onto a darkened and deserted road, empty of cars, and to top off the usual feeling of fear this torrential rain is lashing the windows, coming from a weird angle, like a blizzard. And the road running toward us is giving off clouds of steam, as if we are coming close to the center of a volcano.
As from one hallucination to another, our car approaches its destination, we see a group of people standing in the middle of the road, blocking it. We turn off the engine and get out of the car to learn the meaning of this gathering. And we see that the whole family, grandparents and grandchildren, relatives from all over the country, have come out to meet us, bursting into tears of joy. At the moment we did not understand this agitation. Until they opened their mouths and told us why they had been standing on the road instead of sitting at the seder table. In the night their voices echoed like a choir, but finally we made out that there had been a massive attack by a suicide bomber on a hotel in Netanya. Before the start of the seder. One of the little granddaughters had turned on the television by mistake, and from that source the family drew the terrible information. Anxious because of all they had happened, they had tried to reach us by cell phone, but cell phone connections were down. In these abnormal days the downing of cell phone lines increased the pressure and the anxiety of families for their members' fates. Before we could recover from one suicide bomber, another popped up in his place. The days became dark and aimless. So our relatives had gone outside to wait outdoors in the pouring rain for our arrival. It was their way of dissipating the tension that was in the air of the house. I need not describe the troubled atmosphere in which we went through the Passover seder. When it was over we rushed immediately to the television screens to watch what was happening in Netanya, and our eyes saw the horrifying bloodbath which human reason cannot fathom, which that cursed scoundrel had caused.
Next morning we got up for another day, trying to ignore the grim reality and go on. Our menu called for one item we could not get in the supermarket near our home. We didn't want to risk a trip downtown, but thought we might drive to the Supersal in Kiryat Yovel, just a few minutes away by car. But as we were still worn out from the mental and physical stress of the previous day, we decided to go to the corner grocery store instead. We made our purchase and quickly returned home. As we were climbing the stairs, we heard the telephone ringing frantically in our apartment. We opened the door and dashed over to the phone. From the other end burst the breathless voice of a co-worker telling us about the tragic events at the Supersal in Kiryat Yovel. The familiar, dedicated security guard, who had checked everyone who came into the store, old customer or new, from head to toe, had immediately found out the terrorist, a girl of 16 with explosives strapped to her body. And she, seeing that her identity and purpose were discovered right at the door, blew herself up, and he was killed instantly. The second guard was critically injured, and a Jewish girl who just happened to be there was also killed instantly. After that conversation the phone did not stop ringing, as family members and friends, one after the other, called to ask "What's happening? How are things in Jerusalem?" What could we answer? Same as in Kiryat Gat. Same as in Hertsliya. Same as in Ramat Gan or in the north. we were all in the same boat. We ourselves went frantic, calling up close friends who lived in the area, who we knew were steady customers at that store. With relief we learned that they were all right. And while relaxing between phone calls we saw on the television screen the scene of the horror. We also learned that the terrorist had managed to give advance warning to the Arab women who were sitting in front of the Supersal, selling mint and coriander and other garden produce, so they could get out of the way before she committed her criminal act.
While we were still glued to the radio and television we started to worry about our neighbor Mary, who had been missing since the seder night. In her absence our entry-way seemed a bit deserted and silent. We wondered if she had gone to her children in Netanya for the seder and just hadn't returned yet. Another day passed. Our neighbor Mary stood in the doorway, and we embraced her as if we hadn't seen her in months. We asked what she had been doing and where she had spent the seder night. She said of course, with her children in Netanya. But everything was all right there. Except that at the moment she was hurrying, she had to go to the shiva at the house of her husband's sister, whose sixteen-year-old daughter had been killed by the cursed terrorist in the Supersal in Kiryat Yovel. Yes, small world!
That day we did not want to go to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, where there was to be an exhibition opening and a chance for poets and writers to sell their books. But after the events of the past two horrible days we could not longer bear to watch television and listen to the news. A phone call from one our poet friends roused us out from our thoughts. To his question whether we were planning to go to the Jewish Quarter we gave a noncommittal answer. But he assured us faithfully that getting to the place would not be dangerous. A special bus would convey us right to the spot. Everything would be well secured and heavily guarded by our soldiers. We talked it over, and when another writer friend called and asked us what we were doing about the Jewish quarter and the exhibition, we said we'd trust in God and go. She was delighted with our decision. On the way from our apartment to the exhibition, after we had picked her up on the way, we turned on the radio and heard the news. A terrorist had blown himself up on the passengers in a bus in Tel Aviv. Full details not yet available.
We were already on the way to the Jewish Quarter. The capital city, Jerusalem, was sunk in gloom. And veiled, like us, in fog. And no one was coming to visit the city. And you would never have known it was a holiday. But just here, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, everyone was dressed for the holiday. Klezmer bands were playing in streets crowded with men, women and children. A festive, musical atmosphere. And to tell the truth, if we drew spiritual strength at any point in that holiday which was so full of dramatic and horrifying events, it was by virtue of that short time when we were in the Jewish Quarter! True, we did not sell a single book, for in the prevailing atmosphere of grief people were more in a mood to listen to the music and look at the visual art. But the very strange encounter between the Orthodox residents of the Jewish Quarter and the broken-spirited secular poets had its effect, and we felt spiritually refreshed and strong enough to go on.
And then there was the day when our dear friend, the learned storyteller and old-time Jerusalem tour guide, Pinchas Tocatli z"l, was killed by a woman suicide bomber on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. On the news they said that "an elderly man" had been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. That "elderly man" was a wonderful personality, hale in body and in spirit. He ran a well-known insurance agency. He represented the tenth generation of his family in Jerusalem. He brought up children and grandchildren beautiful to see and beautiful in spirit. A dear man who would have a bicycle race with his 18-year-old grandson every morning at sunrise. He excelled as a guide whose pure, precise Hebrew shone in the Jerusalem folk tales he would tell to the listening group. His graciousness and the aesthetic sense that showed in his paintings made us writers and poets feel close to him. He appeared regularly at almost all the literary events in the "Penpoint" series I organized and held monthly at Agnon House. Many of our colleagues in the north still remember the tour which I organized in Jerusalem with him as guide, leading a group of 150 writers on a loving and expert tour of the lanes and courtyards of Jerusalem. His wife Chanah, may she have long life, told us at the shiva that her grandson had found an invitation to one of our literary events beside the bookcase, with a note in his handwriting that he intended to come. But he did not come, because on that afternoon the terrorist carried out her dreadful act and blew him up. So that his body could not be identified that day. Only at midnight, on our return home from the literary evening, did his noble countenance appear on the television screen beneath the title: "The body of the 80-year-old man who was murdered by the Palestinian woman terrorist has been identified." Pinchas had been walking innocently down Jaffa Road, intending to buy himself a paintbrush. Many of his paintings adorn the walls of the family apartment, exuding the vitality and spirituality of a wonderful artist. A man of spirit who loved colors, human beings, and above all - life itself.
Another time my colleague, Yonah, had to go to a shiva after a bombing in Jerusalem, and when we asked who the mourners were, it turned out to be an old friend of ours, whose brother had been killed in the bombing. The brother and sister-in-law of her brother's son had been killed in one of the earlier bombings in the city. Her brother's son had adopted their two orphaned children. And now his father had been killed in a bombing in the Gilo neighborhood. And when we came to pay our respects we heard the grandmother tell this tragic story, now softly, now in a loud voice. And when she wondered what she was going to tell her grandchildren when they asked: "Why was Grandfather killed in the bombing too?" – to this not even the member of Parliament who was present at the shiva could give an answer.
The government seems mired in inertia. It does its best to give explanations. But it doesn't seem to know how to take responsibility as in days past. It seems as if the winners in this bloody battle are the commentators and news broadcasters.