Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chapter 16. I will defend

Jael Simcha was thinking about the madness that was this morning. In just the past few hours she had helped deflect a massive Iranian missile strike on multiple Israeli cities, she had admitted to herself for the first time in years that she was ready once again to love a man completely and unequivocally, and she had made love to him - freely, passionately, completely releasing herself to him without any expectations, without any guilt or hesitation. Now, she felt like she had restarted her life, a young and vital life that had been on hold for way too long.

Making love seemed to be the key to escaping from her perpetually blue state. She felt in her heart of hearts that she always knew that it would make the difference. When she was ready for physical intimacy again, she would know she had finally healed. It even made enjoying her morning coffee seem like a new experience. She liked to add a little marjoram, Turkish style, and drink out of a glass instead of a ceramic cup. She often started her days in the apartment daydreaming, staring out the window of the tiny breakfast nook watching the city’s day dawn and marveling that she had the honor of serving the state and an important role in helping to protect it. Everything at the intersection of Yafo and Nevi’im Streets below looked like a normal, sunny, Jerusalem day. Westward, up the hill, was a small home with an interior plaza, in Spanish style, nestled in the tree-filled, upscale neighborhood. She imagined it was hers. There were lots of nice homes below, the shops, consulates and lawyers’ offices that lined the street made it very desirable. Nearby was the Davidka monument. There, at the base of a giant limestone edifice, was the solitary piece of artillery used by the Jewish defenders in 1948 to hold off the Arab assault on Safed. It was a tiny cannon - not as tall as a man - a mortar used to lob shells down onto the enemy, and beside it a quotation from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 37, verse 35, ‘for I will defend this city to save it.’

She had spent a lot of time looking out that window. She admired the bougainvillea growing up the side of the Spanish house. She envied the three adjacent neighbors who had the trappings of wealth - a swimming pool, a Mercedes S500, a Jaguar XJ in that deep green color that turns heads. And the kids, there must be twelve kids among those three families. Life was good.

To the east, just two miles or so, were the ancient walls of the Old City. The only pools were either reservoirs that had been built by the Romans or mikvaot, ritual baths, built by the Jews before the year 70 and the destruction of the Temple. There were Mercedes and Jaguars there, too, but there were more camels and sheep than cars around the Old City. At dawn, before the din of automobiles grows to its standard background noise level, old Jerusalem is nearly silent, to be awakened by the sound of bells. First the sheep and the donk-donk-donk of the lead ram’s bell. And then the Christian church bells, and soon the air is filled with the strange music, the pleasing dissonance the bells create. Jael loved that celebratory sound. She thought it was as close as humans would ever get to singing like birds to greet the dawn. She did not, however, find any romance in the call to prayer that interrupted the chorus of bells and reminded her again of that night in Netanya.

Still, she wasn’t a religious bigot. She had a few really good Arab friends, she was more tolerant than most, except the crazy minority of Jews that wanted just to hand over territory as a result of some abject guilt over who-knows-what. Jael just had a reason not to trust and it was in the form of random flying ball bearings, nails, broken glass and lag bolts delivered by a pretty girl selling roses in a bar off Sderot Nitza Street. But the human conflict that underpinned the Capital, the daily drama, was one of the most compelling things about Jerusalem, the two cities, the old and the new.

The conflicts and opposites were all around. The richness of the city and its clear, cold and crisp springs was just a few miles from the scorched desert and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The neighbors, those Arabs and Jews who chose every so often to kill each other, between periods of uneasy calm and commerce. The internecine drama between the religious and the secular Jew was every bit as heated as the friction between Arab and Jew. As a result of the many factions that formed from the religious and political distinctions, there were perhaps a dozen or more political parties whose members hold seats in the Knesset. Nowhere on earth was there a religious group united by a common ancestor and faith so at odds with itself. Jael had heard that fervor explained, “The Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.”

There was something beautiful about this cacophony of life, this insane bunch of people who had to be at this singular spot on the planet because they believe God set it apart from everywhere else. Fittingly, one could choose to laugh or cry in response to that thought and either might well be appropriate.

After a while, Avi Ben-Tzvi appeared as the elevator door opened.

“Standing down?”

“Hmmm. Just having a shot of black coffee to steady my nerves,” said Jael taking a swig and clearing her throat.

“You know, it was an incredible day today,” said Ben-Tzvi, grabbing a coffee for himself. Jael watched him try to pour with the carafe that always dribbled. The poor guy was wearing a bolo tie, a blue jean jacket, Levis and pointed boots. He was a cowboy from Tel Aviv with coffee dribbling down on his fly.

“Avi, you’re spilling it!”

“Ah! Shit I couldn’t feel it until you shouted! Shit! Shit that’s hot!”

“Come here, sit down and relax. Here’s a napkin. It’s not so bad, sit and let it dry.”

“Oh, Jael, I’ve been under a lot of pressure.” He looked down and shook his head in disgust at the wet spot on the crotch of his jeans, “ and I’m wound way too tight right now. I had to get outta’ there. Daniel was going through this whole thing about resetting in case there are attacks in response. I know the routine, and he knows I know. Daniel’s tough on me, you know, because I’m the eldest member of the team.”

“I know, Avi. I’ve noticed. Everyone has. But you’ve respected his authority. The mission was a success.”

“I know.”

“Well, then what’s wrong, Avi?”

“I think I need to go back to Yeshiva, I want to get a Master’s in Talmudic studies.” Jael raised her eyebrows at the comment. “I feel drawn to it. I think I could be a good rabbi and I need to find out,” Avi lowered his head and a wisp of steam rose from his coffee and left a cloud on the lenses of his glasses, He looked up over the top of the black plastic frames, “What do you think?”

“I think I just had a somewhat similar thought about my own situation. Really,” Avi looked at her as though wondering if she was patronizing him. “Here’s what I think,” She reached out and took his hands in hers.

“Avi, we were just in a war. We were on the very edge of that war, but we were in it. That kind of experience makes me...makes us...reevaluate our lives. You love Israel, don’t you?”

“Yes, with all my heart. I love my country and I love the One who gave it to us.”

“Then you must do what you have to do. You must follow your heart.”

“Go over that line again, David, would you please?” Obama asked his Chief Political Advisor, David Axelrod.

“Sure. We understood the risks and we understood that previous administrations had come close, but had failed to capture the King of Terror.”

“I don’t know. Just say, ‘we understood the risks but we knew the the American people were tired of hearing that we missed him again. But, don’t call him the King of Terror, “ Obama chuckled, “It makes me think of Larry King.” Several people laughed out loud at seeing the President loosen up and chuckle. “I don’t know why I think of Larry King at all,” he said, and they laughed even louder.

“How are we explaining how we found him?” asked Obama.

Axelrod was prepared for that one. “I think we have to say that we had assets on the ground that just picked up his trail and had been following Bin Laden for a very short time. We did not know that Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs were collaborating with this murderer but the fact that they were developing a nuclear capability and meeting with him is chilling.”

“I love it! It makes such good sense. Ahmadinejad isn’t collateral damage then, he deliberately put himself in a position where he could get hurt. He collaborated with Bin Laden!”

Hillary spoke up, “That’s the Bush Doctrine, Mr. President.” Leon Panetta couldn’t help but look right at her and smile, the two aging politicians went way back.

“Oh my gosh, you’re right. Well, we’ll stay one step away from drawing that conclusion, then.”

Axelrod spoke up, “Mr. President, The Bush Doctrine is just a group of words that frame a diplomatic position. Bin Laden being brought to justice is a reality.”

“Yes, David, that’s absolutely correct.”

“If anyone brings up the Bush Doctrine, you have the answer.”


Obama surveyed the room and decided the worst was over, “Thank you people. Job well done. I’m heading upstairs. I have a few calls I must make, and Gibbsy’s scheduled a press conference for about an hour from now so we’ll be busy until then. Ah, listen Mike, I’d like you and Hillary to be there. Leon, I’ll need you for follow-up conferences. David, I need you there, too. Why don’t you kinda’ tandem up with Gibbsy. Also, Jim Jones. Definitely, you need to be there. Okay, people. I’m gone,” and with that, the President turned and left the room.

Strangely, the room grew silent. No one spoke, although a lot of eye contact and half smiles were exchanged - meaning nothing. Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton remained seated. As the last few people exited the room, Panetta stacked the several notebooks and papers he had at the ready. After they were neatly arranged, he took his pen, and placed it on top of the stack.

“Well, Leon,” said Hillary, “how do you think it went?”

“About as well as it could have gone, I would say.”

“I think you’re right,” she concurred, as she stood across from her old friend, still seated at the massive conference room table.

“Where’d you get that pen, Leon?”

Panetta looked down at the gold pen he had just placed on his stack of notebooks. “Hmmmmm. I don’t remember.”

“Isn’t that the UN seal?”

Panetta picked the pen up and studied it closely. “Yeah, it is.”

“It’s very nice,” said Mrs. Clinton.

“Thanks,” said Panetta.

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