‘On the Edge of Our City’: A Short Story for Yom Kippur by Aharon Appelfeld
A Holocaust survivor wrestles with the angel of history on the beach in Tel Aviv
In September, to admit the truth, there are also pleasant surprises. More and more of our people march on the beach. Sometimes they look like soldiers in a secret unit who have just arrived from some faraway place. They always walk alone, not involved with people, and some secret separates them from the rest. Sometimes I have the impression they have practiced not speaking for months, and now they have no further need for it. Speech, even minimal, disturbs them. Once I was sure that only I was driven out of my mind by the violent music. I was mistaken. Several times recently I have seen one of us threaten with his eyes: Loud music only within the walls of your house, not in public!
A few days ago I got a letter from Tina. She wrote to me about her reading habits. Every day she reads three chapters of the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. At first she had felt closer to the New Testament, but now she knows how to appreciate the factual speech, the silence and the heedfulness, that arise from the ancient Hebrew verses. I like her descriptions and her implied comments. Sometimes it seems to me that she didn’t go there to convert but to learn how to read the Bible.
I answered her right away and told her that here, too, the struggle is not over. It is very hot, the noise is oppressive, and emptiness devours all good things, but on certain sections of the beach in Tel Aviv, our people are seen after midnight, struggling against all those who stain the silence. I didn’t conceal from her that I follow them intensely, that I love their silence, and I’m proud of them.
One night this week one of our own appeared on the beach holding two baskets. One of them held sandwiches, and the other had little bottles of juice. He went from person to person and offered them a sandwich and a bottle of juice without asking for anything. Then he moved on. His way of extending his hand had a kind of nobility that touched my heart. I was about to approach him and thank him, but for some reason I was apprehensive. At last I went up to him and said, “Thank you for the gift.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said and smiled like a child.
“You’re not only giving a gift, you’re also teaching us generosity,” I spoke to him, for some reason, with an elevated tone.
“I don’t mean to teach. I like to make long, thin sandwiches. I also make the juice.”
“Do you come here every day?”
“No. Just twice a week, on nights when I’m not working.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a watchman in the new buildings.”
“A fine action,” the words left my mouth.
He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I like to do it. I wanted to shower him with affection and compliments, but in my heart I knew that he didn’t need it, that it would only embarrass him.
That night I dreamed about the time when I was involved in business in Germany after the war. I sold weapons to the undergrounds in Africa, to Catholics in Northern Ireland, and to small undergrounds in South America. Those were times of great danger, but also times of spiritual arousal. If it hadn’t been for some complications and mixups, I would be a multi-millionaire today. I mustn’t complain. I have enough for my own livelihood and to provide for others. Sometimes I dream about big enterprises that spread out over continents. I hoped that my son would establish them one day. It seems he won’t do that, and it’s doubtful whether I will.
We gave the world Anthony Weiner and Michael Bloomberg, and even our holidays screwed up everyone’s summer