The memory of this night will linger for as long as you live
Excerpt from The Book “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” on the experience of Kaf-Tet November in Jerusalem
“At last the dense and somewhat gravelly voice from the radio again rattled the air, and made a cracked but fervid delivery of the final tally: ‘Thirty-three in favor, thirteen against. Ten abstentions and one absentee. The proposal is passed.’
“Thus the voice was swallowed by a roar from the radio, a sound that swelled and overflowed with the human manifestation of triumph from the raised seating in the Lake Success hall, and – paralyzed for two or three seconds, lips parted as if parched, eyes wide and wild – our backwater streets on the outskirts of our Kerem Avraham neighborhood in northern Jerusalem erupted at once with a roar of its own.
And then there I was on my father's shoulders again, and the refined father I knew – the picture of good manners – stood and bellowed with every inch of his being. He released neither words, nor witticisms, neither Zionist campaign slogans nor whoops of unrestrained joy, but an endless, naked cry, like the sound that existed before words ever did. ‘Aaaaaaaaaaah!’ His silence was banished by that long cry, from somewhere deep inside him, emptying his lungs of air. And when they were empty, he inhaled again like a man drowning, and his howling continued. The entire being of the man who had aspired and deserved to be a prodigious professor, was in these moments reduced to a drawn-out ‘Aaaaaaaaaah.’
Then Amos Street and all the Jewish neighborhoods of Kerem Avraham, and Jewish neighborhoods everywhere were filled with tears and dancing, and flags and canvas campaign posters waved above their heads, and car horns blared noisily, and ‘A Miracle and Flag for Zion’ and ‘Here in the Beloved Land of our Forefathers’ echoed in song, and from every synagogue floated the sound of the shofar, and Torah scrolls were taken out of the holy arks and joined in the dancing, and they sang ‘El Yibaneh HaGlila’ and ‘Gaze, Look and See the Greatness of This Day.’ And later, in the wee morning hours, Mr. Oster opened his kiosk, and the kiosks on Zefania Street, and Geula Street and Chancellor and Jaffa and King George streets all opened. Bars unlocked their doors all over the city and until dawn there was free soda and candy, pastries and alcohol, and juice and wine and beer was passed from one hand to the next, and with tears in their eyes strangers embraced in the streets and kissed, while stunned British police officers were swept up into the circles of dancers, appeased by the cans of beer and liqueur. And the British army’s armored vehicles held aloft exhilarated revelers waving flags of a state yet to be established, but whose existence had been guaranteed that night in a hall in Lake Success.
As we wandered among the circles of dancers and revelers on the night of the twenty-ninth of November, 1947, me on my father’s shoulders, he said to me, not as a request, but stating a fact that he knew to be true, as sure as the sky was blue, ‘Take a look around, boy. Take a long, hard look and don’t miss a thing. Because the memory of this night will linger for as long as you live, and you’ll tell of this night to your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren long after we are all gone.
And at dawn, somewhere around three or four o’clock in the morning, the hour by which children should never be allowed to stay awake, I slid under the covers in the dark, still wearing my clothes of that day. A while later, I felt my father's hand lifting the covers in the dark, not in anger for my having gone to bed in clothes but to lie beside me, still fully clothed with the odor of the sweat of the crowds clinging to him, just as it clung to me. (This, in unthinkable violation of our iron-clad rule that at no time or under any circumstance whatsoever, would we go ever go to bed in the clothing we’d worn all day.) My father lay beside me for a few minutes and let the silence engulf him, despite his characteristic dislike for silence which he usually broke as swiftly as possible. But here he was, letting the silence hover between us and even willing it to stay, as his hand stroked my hair. As if in the darkness, my father had turned into a mother.
Then in whispered tones, with no reference to Your Highness or Your Honor, he told me what had happened to him and his brother David – two little street urchins – in Odessa. What the gentile boys at the Polish Gymnasium in Vilna had done to them, cheered on even by the schoolgirls. When his father, Grandpa Alexander, showed up at the school the next day to complain about how they had shamed the two boys, the bullies chose not to return the Jewish boys’ torn pants. Those bullies attacked my father’s father – my grandfather, knocked him to the ground and tore off his pants right there in front of the whole school, while the girls sniggered and said that all Jews were such-and-such. The teachers watched and remained silent, or perhaps they were amused too.
Still shrouded in darkness, and with his hand still roaming my scalp (he had no prior experience stroking a child’s head), my father’s voice awakened from under the covers as the morning of November 30, 1947 was dawning, "You’ll also come up against bullies in the street or at school. And they might bully you because you’re like me, but from now on, from when our State is finally established, bullies will never torment you because you’re Jewish or because all Jews are such-and-such ... Never again. From this night on, it will never, ever happen again.”
And as I extended a drowsy hand to touch his face, just below his high forehead, my fingers unexpectedly felt his tears. Never during the course of my entire life, neither before nor after that night and not even when my mother died, had I nor would I see my father cry. Even that night, it wasn’t my sight but a hand that had witnessed it, for the room was completely dark. Those tears were only glimpsed by my left hand.