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June 23, 1989 - Image 57

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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his man had a dig-
nity about him
him. Almost spec-
tral. As we would
approach one
another on the sidewalk,
skirting the orchard-covered
valley along Herzog Street, I
sensed myself involuntarily
preparing my salute. He was
tall, trim, with a full dark
mustache, very sombre steady
eyes, a wide forehead under a
black skullcap (the kippah of
the religious). A gentle
meditative man, and, I
suspected: lonely. Dressed
unremarkably.
As we passed one another,
he would incline his head
toward me gravely. It always
made me feel he was blessing
me. "Shalom, shalom," I
would call out as we passed,
putting into those words of
peace all I could of
friendliness. "Shalom," would
hover behind me, his
courteous response.
This had gone on for years.
Sometimes I wondered: Why
not take it a little farther? .. .
halt before the man? . . . ex-
tend a hand? . . . ask, "How
are you? You know, we're not
getting any younger, you and
I. I'm past my three score ten;
you're getting on yourself.
Before it's too late, oughtn't
we to make it more than just
a 'Shalom'?" But I never did.
Why? There are more crucial
things in my life I can't ex-
plain. It's almost as if what
had become established be-
tween us was sum and
substance: neither more nor
less was called for.
Okay, if that's how it had to
be, then so be it: there are
more important people for me
to know and I don't know
them — my kids, for instance.
I took my daily walk, usually
met him, exchanged
greetings, let it go at that.
The valley ends against a
cross street, past which has
been laid out a very charming
little park, a pleasant ex-
panse of green grass bordered
by white roses and young tree
saplings. The sidewalk by the
valley continues along the
park, but a refreshing
flagstone walk cuts across to
the park's other side, where a
further flagged path offers
handsome wood benches. A
lovely place for the young to
sport and an old man to rest.
(This old man.)
I had a favorite bench. It
was precisely the same as all
the other benches, but to me
it was special. The thick wood
planks that were laid across
the steel frame to form the
seat, weather had deeply
fissured. It felt good to rub the
hand over these. And right
before me I could watch the
kids at their eternal ball play-

Art by Jean Pollack-Casey

Holy

A curious incident
unites two men
whose conversation had been
limited to a passing "Shalom."

HYMAN GAIBEL

Special to The Jewish News

ing. Things could be worse.
This last year, however, they
in fact became a bit worse —
or should I say, different? I
could no longer take my
morning walks. Because of
the sun that smiles down on
Israel (like a shark with flam-
ing javelin teeth). It in-
cinerated everything in sight
. . . the roses, the grass, the
trees . . . all that lived or
walked under it. I began to
wish I had never left good old
USA. But the news reported
it was the same there. This
didn't make it any cooler here.
All I knew was that I must
keep out of sight of the sun.
So I began to walk even-
ings. Maturity, venerable
sagacity and wisdom had
brought cataracts to my eyes;
I needed strong light to see.
Walking after sundown had
its drawbacks.
For one thing, I passed my
old friend. Only when I heard
his soft quiet "Shalom"

behind me did I know it. This
agitated me painfully. It's one
thing to be handicapped; it's
another to sin against one's
own moral norms. "Shalom,
shalom," I anxiously called
after him. He was moving on
in his steady quiet way. No
response. "Now is the time,"
it nudged me. "Now. Run
after him; explain him your
predicament. He may be feel-
ing you had deliberately
snubbed him. Put it to him.
You may win a friend. If you
don't, you will certainly lose
one." But the devil that rules
me withheld me; I stood star-
ing after him until he merged
with the growing haze over
my eyes.
A chivying remorse,
hopelessness drubbed me on
to the park. Once on my
bench, it was better. I kept
rubbing my hands over the
rough planks, watched the
lads at what in the United
States we called soccer; en-

vied them, blessed them.
What a sorry thing I had
made of my life!
Nightfall comes like a
switch-off in Jerusalem. Long
after the park had emptied, I
sat on. What stirred me was
the lighting-on of the lamp
overhead. I took a waking-up
glance about. Time I was get-
ting home.
My eye caught something
. . . I always sprawl in the
middle of my bench: lay my
cane to one side, my hat to the
other, to occupy it. I like to be
left alone. So I hadn't noticed
that at my left, out of the
cracked end of the foremost
seat plank something was
sprouting. Really! Some seed
or root or shoot — plants
never interested me enough
to learn about them — had
lodged in the cleft, and a twig-
like thing with healthy-
looking leaves was stemming
up, as if the plank itself were
flowering. Indeed, at the tip of

the twig a delicate little
yellow something nooded.
And as if all this weren't
enough for one day, emerging
into the lamplight, my friend!
I don't know why it should
have startled me so, but I
couldn't even bring up a
"Shalom."
He, however, did, grave and
dignified as ever. And halted
before me, his eyes on the
flower. "Ah," he said with
relief, "it is still there." From
beside him a flash came from
his hand.
It disturbed me, plus the
revelation that he could
speak English. I had had a
different picture of him: that
he was a Jew out of the Arab
lands, knowing probably only
Hebrew and Arabic. That
may have been what tied my
tongue to begin with. I cannot
speak those languages, for all
my wishing to speak with
him. "So you know English,"
I exclaimed.
"I served in the British
army," he said, unremitting-
ly grave. And that flash
again.
"I see," I said, tongue-tied
as ever. That flash — it
bothered me. The park was
deserted now; one heard of all
kinds of horror that lunatics
and Moslem terrorists
perpetrated upon defenseless
innocents. After all, what did
I know about this man? Per-
sonable? Yes. But . . . "Well,"
I parried, "good to see you
again. But I've overstayed my
leave. Guess I'd better be
ambling on home;" and took
up my hat and cane, and with
a polite titter tossed a
"Shalom" to him and started
away upon the flagstone path.
Nothing from him.
I was out of range of the
lamplight when I heard a
characteristic sound I could
not at once define. But I was
certain I knew it. No symp-
tom of age enrages me more
than this half remembering.
I glanced back. Unbelievable!
With a short saw my man was
sawing away at the bench!
What was I to do? I was
ready to run away to save my
life; I'm no hero. But I hate
vandalism, destruction. And
here it was before me,
perpetrated by a man I had
respected, even wished to be
friends with. In his hand was
that flashing saw; all I had
was my miserable cane, with
only feebleness to wield it. He
might be a lunatic, or just a
dignified harmless slob. What
to do?
I am one of those great
thinkers who endlessly ex-
amine a problem and then
leap without thinking. "Need
any help?" I called out.
He shook his head; the saw-
ing did not stop.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

57

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