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Jerusalem Interlude


Page 44 of 53


The cheers rose—the first blood was Jewish blood! Eli grasped Ibrahim’s shirt and slammed him back against the stone floor. Blood. There was blood everywhere. Ibrahim broke Eli’s grip as the fabric of his shirt tore apart, and both men rolled away from each other for a fraction of an instant. Eli clambered to his feet and lunged against Ibrahim, who had only managed to climb to one knee. They fell to the stones again, rolling over and over as they struck equal blows.

Ibrahim reached for the dagger that lay just beyond his grasp. Eli cried out as he slammed his fist against Ibrahim’s jaw, knocking him back against the stone of the firepit. Ibrahim looked up to where hot pokers of iron protruded from the fire. He reached up, grasping a poker. In that same instant Eli screamed and threw himself down against Ibrahim, then clutched him by the hair and slammed the Arab’s head hard against the stones of the firepit. Ibrahim’s face convulsed in agony. His mouth opened to cry out. Once again Eli lifted his head and crashed it down on the stones. Ibrahim’s eyes rolled back. He went limp, his chest rising and falling in convulsive breaths.

The cheering died. The rush of the fire was the only sound. Eli released Ibrahim and turned slowly, sliding off to sit against the firepit. He was heaving with exertion. Only a few seconds elapsed before he managed to focus his eyes on the grim hostile faces that glared down at him from the semicircle just beyond the foundry entrance.

Ismael stepped forward. He kicked at the foot of his unconscious brother. He held up his own dagger. His mouth curved in a smile of contempt as he considered the exhausted Jew on the floor before him.

“Now it is my turn,” he said. A new cheer erupted as he crouched to spring with his knife upraised.

Instinctively Eli reached up to the rough stones to pull himself upright. Instead, he grasped the end of a poker, pulling its glowing tip from the white-hot coals of the fire. It turned a fiery arc in his grasp, ending slightly upturned. The gleaming orange tip was driven into Ismael’s belly as the Arab lunged forward to kill Eli. Ismael’s scream drowned out the tumult of the cheering Arabs as the metal spike pierced him through. His eyes widened in anguished surprise; his fingers spread, dropping the dagger. Working open and shut, his mouth formed soundless screams.

As if caught in time, Ismael hung there, impaled above Eli, who looked on with horror at what he had done.

“No!” Eli shouted. “No! Victoria! Victoria!”

In one final convulsion, Ismael grasped the steel of the poker and fell backward to the floor.

Eli scrambled to his feet. There was total silence now as the Muslim crowd considered the quivering body at their feet. “Allah!” The whisper rippled through the crowd. And then a cry of new rage swelled up against the murdering Jew who trembled before them. “Allah Akhbar! Kill the Jew! Kill him!”

“I did not mean to!” Eli cried. “Oh, God! God!” He knelt beside the body of Victoria’s brother and wept, not caring anymore that he was soon to die.

The toes of scuffed shoes moved slowly forward. There was no hurry. Who would strike the first blow? Knives were drawn. They would make this Jew pay for what he had done!

Suddenly, from the pack, another cry went up. Men were flung to each side with startled cries of indignation.

“ELI!” the bellowing voice of Shimon Feldstein cried as he smashed through the mob, using his cast as both shield and weapon. Men fell to the right and left. Others scrambled back from the formidable giant with the plaster arm.

Then the shrill whistle of a British soldier was heard. The crackle of gunfire passed over the heads of the mob. “IN THE NAME OF HIS MAJESTY, YOU ARE ORDERED TO DISPERSE!”

The order came late. Already the mob was running back through the labyrinth of the souk. Thirty Arabs scrambled over toppled baskets and upturned wares to dissolve into the shadows of the marketplace.

Shimon, his jaw set, blood dripping from his cast, stood towering in front of Eli, who still wept and cried out the name of Victoria.

Captain Samuel Orde rushed into the foundry. Moshe was at his side. The soldiers did not pursue the fleeing spectators of the fight. Two dozen soldiers stood ready before the door, their weapons loaded, their eyes scanning the rooftops.

Shimon stepped past the unconscious form of Ibrahim and the dead body of Ismael. He clutched Eli by his bloody shirt front, wrapping his thick arm around him in an embrace. “Come,” he said, looking down at the dead man. “We must hurry.”

***

Etta Lubetkin’s eyes took in every fearsome detail of the great Gothic cathedral that towered over the street. A white vapor of snow concealed the uppermost sections of the spire, but the faces of demons and gargoyles leered down at her from pillars and buttresses.

Standing in the niches of the facade, stone images peered down at her with unfeeling eyes. Were those stone hands raised in blessing or curse? Did they direct the myriad hideous demon carved into the vast structure of the church?

For a moment she considered abandoning her quest for the one righteous Gentile in Warsaw. How could a man so kind and brave serve within the walls of a place so adorned with idolatry?

She prayed again before she put her foot on the bottom step of the steep stairs, then looked up at the figure of the Gentile Christ on the cross. That symbol had led the mob that battered down the doors of the synagogue. She feared and loathed that symbol. And yet, beyond these fearsome portals was a man who had called on the name of God in his compassion for her.

She raised her hands to push through the massive bronze doors. Inside, the cathedral was almost as cold as outside. Great arches reared up to join at a peak in the vault three stories above the ground. Rows of wooden folding chairs filled a vast auditorium of stone and beautiful stained-glass windows. The carved image of Mary, a crown on her head, sat above the altar. Rows and rows of red votive candles decorated the steps beneath that image. To either side of the main auditorium were small niches where saints gazed over their own candles.

Etta shuddered at the sight. She scanned the vast, echoing interior of the cathedral in search of the priest. Here and there men and women knelt in their own private petition to some saint or another. Etta did not see the priest among them. Had she made a mistake to come here? Surely to enter such a place was a violation of Torah.

She would walk no farther forward into the gaze of these stone images. Etta was certain now that she had made a mistake by coming here. She turned to go, lowering her eyes for the baleful glare of a being who scowled out at her from a cluster of carved leaves. She looked only at the floor as she silently repeated the Shema: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!

Then she heard her name. “Frau Lubetkin?” The voice of the priest sounded startled, yet he seemed pleased to see her.

She gasped as she looked up to see him emerge from the shadows of an arched alcove just off the foyer. “I . . . I do not know what to call you,” she said awkwardly.

He smiled gently. “I did not properly introduce myself that day. Father Kopecky. But . . . why are you here, dear lady?”

“Please . . . I should not have come. Forgive . . .” She turned to go.

“Frau Lubetkin!” The kindness in his tone stopped her, just as he had stopped the evil men by his voice. “Please wait. Is there some way I may help you?”

She stood with her back to him. She could not move. Not a step. And then she began to weep. She turned to face him, and in spite of the leering, laughing stone faces above her, she told him everything.

***

Inside the thick walls of the citadel, Orde led young Moshe Sachar to one side as the medic examined Eli in the infirmary.

“Go home now. Tell your family what has happened—that your brother is unhurt, but that for a while he will have to stay in hiding.”

“He had no choice. He did not start it.” Moshe felt compelled to defend his brother, although no defense was necessary. It was obvious what had happened.

“We understand that. But—” Orde paused and gestured toward the door and the c

ity that lay behind—“you know as well as I what may be made of this. It is best if we place him in protective custody for now.”

Moshe nodded, still defensive. “They wanted to know where their sister was. But my brother, you see, is going to be a rabbi, and so he has decided he cannot marry her, and so he has not seen her. We were just walking along, you see, and they came up, and then . . .”

Orde nodded and guided the distraught young man to the door. “It’s all right. We know. Tell your parents we understand self-defense around here.”

Moshe looked pained as he left. It was such a nightmare. He left the citadel and ran through the Armenian Quarter toward home.

Shimon looked on from the doorway. His clothes were splattered with blood, but he was uninjured. He listened to the quiet reassurance of Samuel Orde to Eli’s brother and he waited until the young man hurried away before he entered Orde’s office.

Orde exhaled loudly as he faced Shimon. “So you know where the girl is?” he asked wearily.

Shimon nodded. “I was looking for Eli when I came upon the fight. She ran away to take refuge in Christ Church this morning.”

Orde nodded curtly. “I thought as much. Her half brothers are suspects in the Julian’s Way bombing. They have vanished. The stepmother said the two other brothers had gone to find their sister who had run away.” He spread his hands. “Does Eli know any of it?”

With a shake of his head Shimon replied, “They are to be married. She is waiting there now for me to bring him to her.”

Orde pressed his lips together in thought. “Get him cleaned up,” he said quietly. “There are clothes in my locker; we are about the same size.” He frowned. “I’ll just jog over to Christ Church and have a word with her. Explain what happened. Maybe it will be easier coming from me.”

***

Dressed in the uniform of a British captain, Eli entered the office of Reverend Robbins, where Victoria waited for him. The captain had already told her about the attack on Eli at the foundry. The death of Ismael was clearly self-defense. Yes. Victoria understood all that. Yes. Eli must be told that she loved him. That she still wished to marry him.

Orde, Shimon, Leah, and Reverend Robbins waited outside in the hallway. Muffled sounds of grief penetrated the door. Eli wept. Victoria comforted him. Half an hour later the two emerged from the room hand in hand. Their eyes were red from the tears they had shed together, but radiant peace shone from their faces.

“We wish to be married,” Victoria said with her head held high. “Please. We do not wish to delay any longer.”

The minister looked questioningly at Orde, who nodded. At this point the marriage seemed more important for keeping the peace in the Old City. If Victoria was Eli’s wife, who could then say that the Hassan brothers had been defending her honor?

Reverend Robbins led the couple to the small chapel enclosed by stained-glass windows where Leah sat praying. Shimon and Samuel Orde held Eli’s prayer shawl aloft as the wedding canopy. There, beneath the covering of God, Victoria and Eli became husband and wife.

There was a tinge of grief to this moment of fulfillment. For all knew that, beyond the walls of Christ Church, the first howls of sorrow and rage were rising up above the Muslim Quarter of the Old City as the body of Ismael Hassan was carried home.

Bitter, silent, hungry for revenge, Ibrahim Hassan followed after.

39

Peace Within the Walls

It had been absurd, of course, to think that Haj Amin and Ram Kadar would not hear of Victoria’s connection to the Jew, Eli Sachar.

Beneath the Dome of the Rock, Ibrahim sat with his two remaining brothers. Commander Vargen, Hockman, and the Mufti looked on as Ram Kadar stalked angrily from the meeting. He had been deceived by the Hassan brothers. He had been made to think that Victoria was unsullied and pure, fitting to be a wife. All along Ibrahim had known otherwise. Ram Kadar left the room rather than satisfy his impulse to kill the man.

Vargen eyed the grieving brothers with a mixture of disdain and amusement. “And you still believe she is with this Jew?”

Ibrahim nodded. “We have checked everywhere. I do not see how it could be otherwise.”

Hockman sighed thoughtfully. “But the Jew is under the protection of the English. In hiding.”

Haj Amin spoke up. Until this moment he had listened without comment. “Yes. The English have him. The Arab Higher Committee has already demanded justice for the murder of Ismael Hassan. The British refuse to divulge the Jew’s location. They claim the incident was a matter of self-defense.” The Mufti let his eyes linger on Ibrahim’s bruised face. “Of course, this issue of self-defense makes no difference to the propaganda we are making of the incident to the Woodhead Committee. I plan to declare Ismael a hero and a martyr before the assembly.” He nodded toward Ibrahim. “You may find some comfort that your fool of a brother will not have died in vain.”

Vargen smiled broadly. “Excellent! And as for the girl, we may wish to whisper that she is believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by this Jewish swine, Sachar.” He clapped his hands together with pleasure. “It is all working much better than we planned, Haj Amin.” He indicated a stack of lists and plans for the upcoming actions throughout Palestine. “You should inform the Arab Higher Committee of our conviction that the girl has come to harm. They may make the public announcement. It should also be relayed to Radio Cairo as well as to our leaders in Damascus and Amman.”

Ibrahim stared at him in amazement!.“If she is with Eli, it is of her own choice!”

Hockman shrugged. “Does that matter? It serves the cause just as well either way. Remember, Sachar killed your brother and now perhaps he laughs at you as he lies in bed with your sister. No doubt she laughs as well.”

These words caused Ibrahim to cry out in fury. He held his head in his hands. I have been betrayed! Betrayed by a man I once called Friend! Betrayed by my own sister! They will pay for their betrayal!

Haj Amin looked upon Ibrahim’s anguish with some pity. He addressed the two younger brothers. “You are being taken north to Haifa to fight against the British there. As long as your sister is alive and in the hands of the English and the Jews, you are not safe in Jerusalem. And then there is the matter of the posters . . .

“Insh’ Allah,” muttered Daud and Isaak with one voice. “If it is His will.” They gazed reproachfully at Ibrahim. He had brought this upon them. Death and disgrace. It was his fault for trusting the Jew. Now they would all pay for the folly of Ibrahim Hassan.

Haj Amin clapped his hands, summoning a bodyguard to the door. “You must call Ram Kadar back into our presence,” he instructed. “He must be made to play the role of the anxious, grieving bridegroom left without his bride.” Haj Amin inclined his head toward Vargen. “I am certain Kadar would kill the woman himself if he had a chance, but this will be better for the sake of appearances.”

“You have learned much from the Führer,” Vargen said. “Of such small incidents, whole governments and nations topple, and new kingdoms arise.”

Haj Amin raised his land languidly as he looked up toward the heavens, “Insh’ Allah, commander. May it be His will.”

***

Herschel wished that he had listened to Hans and never returned to the home of his uncle. The meeting had not been the sentimental farewell of one man to another as Herschel had envisioned. It had ended in an awful argument. Without any apparent regard for the fate of Herschel’s parents, his uncle had stormed and raged and called him ungrateful. Herschel had run from the house, slamming the door behind him, closing that chapter of his life with irrevocable finality.

For a moment his old depression returned. He was alone. Utterly alone. Perhaps, he thought, he should return immediately to the shop of the gunsmith, buy a gun, and turn it on himself! Then no matter what happened, he would never again feel pain or fear or loneliness.

“Wait! Herschel! Stop, will you?”

Herschel stopped on the sidewalk but did not turn around. He loo

ked down as the slap of his old friend’s shoes sounded behind him. Nathan Kaufman, breathless and flushed, nudged him hard on the shoulder. He stood panting before Herschel, admiring the new clothes and the new Herschel.

“I will be late,” Herschel told him brusquely.

Nathan appeared very young compared to Herschel. “Late? Late for what? You stay away all this time, and the first thing you tell me is that you will be late! What is all this?” He tugged on the overcoat and grinned at the gleaming shoes. “You look like a rich man.”

“I have a job. I cannot be late.” Herschel began to walk and Nathan walked beside him.

“There is a dance tonight at the Aurora Sports Club. You want to come? Remember the carefree days, Herschel?”

“They have never been carefree days for me. At least your papers are in order. Mine have never been.” He raised his head, resisting any memory of happiness. “No. I have business. I cannot meet you.”

“You look different,” Nathan said, and the tone of respect in his young voice once again instilled a sense of mission in Herschel.

“We all have to grow up.” Herschel sighed and looked away, a dramatic and mysterious gesture that made Nathan frown and nod as if he understood.

“Well, yes. But at least come to the dance, will you?”

Herschel’s feeling of importance was evident in his voice. “I have things to do.”

Nathan did not argue further. “Then will you meet me later? At the restaurant Tout Va Bien? You know it. On boulevard de Strasbourg.”

“Yes,” Herschel agreed, although he knew he would not go there. It would save any further questions from Nathan, who seemed very much a child now.

“Good! Nine o’clock. All right?”

Herschel shook Nathan’s hand in farewell and boarded the Metro, getting off at Strasbourg-St-Denis as Hans had instructed him. He ran up the steep steps. On his right was the Scala Cinema, where he and Nathan had watched dozens of subtitled movies in the carefree days. The sight of the marquee made him shake his head in wonder. Could such entertainment still go on when the world was such a terrible place?