Sunk in my bath, much depressed under the water, I was thinking, as always, of the great masters. As an artist of very small caliber I was constantly obsessing on the world famous contemporary Israeli novelists. I was envious as hell. Suddenly, in my stupid wrath it dawned on me: “If these guys are so internationally acclaimed, and have already tired of the Hebrew rabble, and write about the Hebrew scene purely for export, no longer for local consumption—only faking locality to seem authentic—why not admit the pretense? Why not talk directly to the buyer, admit to your expansionist desires, and write a little memoir of a young failed Israeli writer? A portrait of the artist as a sunk man,” I thought it might be called. So, here goes.
I want to tell you the tale of an Israeli boy. But first, it must be said, that you are far too interested in this country than you ought to be. It really is not so very interesting. True, Jesus Christ was born here. Roamed these hills and walked the plains, and so forth. He really was a tzaddik, a holy loner. Today he would naturally fall under the category of a borderline personality, for who else would advise you to abandon the love of your sister and your mother? Freud would have none of that and neither would we. We shall not be redeemed. We are mother-fucked.
There is also our famous ridiculous political turmoil you are so keen on consuming. So, let me tell you something about this famous scene. It is actually very safe here, for what is one terror attack per day, for a vibrant, campy, mock-fascist-theocratic-democracy? There is hardly any crime here, which owes a lot to the fact that cheating is deemed quite acceptable as a mode of living. And though everyone is so fearful, expressive, and prolific in their talk of utter destruction, Israel remains the one and only nation in its region that is capable of destroying Israel and the whole entire region.
So come, experience the hills, the plains, the wadis. See the Sea of Galilee upon which the Lord’s son walked. We are dependent on it (that is no longer the case, but why be petty, we should be meek), for there is little rainfall, and the shit is piling high, so up-high that you can almost drown in it. In short, we are both fearful of dying of thirst, and, at the same time, very much afraid of drowning in shit.
In its shit, Israel is quite unique. If at first it seemed that I was about to rid you of your myths and tell you only of its ordinary sordidness, then let me correct you; it really is quite unusual, in ways quite unexpected. Much like cancer, it is sustained by unrest until it kills and then falls restful again for 2,000 years.
Jews are prone to die of cancer. Especially the Jews who have come from Eastern Europe. That is, the Jews, who before that, were prone to die of other causes; like genocide, for instance. It is these very Jews who founded the lovely state of Israel, gave it its name and nurture both. So, it is not so very surprising, that with it, they have also passed down their cancerous DNA.
All these things that are being said here might be considered wildly anti-Semitic, things unutterable in this day and age. But I say, why wait? This is our one day, our only age, so I will no longer wait. For I am an Israeli boy and have earned my right to every word, to every grain of hate, nurtured in me from bosom, to yearly reserve duty.
Yes, like a good Israeli boy, I too, was willingly sent to serve in the army. It was both sad and funny. You learn to pass the time, and you also learn that idiocy kills. Though, when I say idiocy, I do not refer to those born with low IQ, but rather people trained and ordered to stay in a state of stupor and languidness, which is the essence of army life, punctuated by bursts of enthusiasm and aggression that are being well preserved under the guise of good humor, for when a time comes. And times do come, every now and then.
There are, of course, other ways to portray what I am here describing. There is a flip-side to the narrative: our ugly twin, the Palestinians. A nation poor and ridiculous unto itself: born by mistake only, given a name by default. Someone asked: “Who are all these poor devils roaming the hills and planes of our master the lord?” And so, the poor devils were called after another hateful nation of olden times who had once settled the land of Canaan. All these things went somewhat over their heads. They were used to being governed and being called under different names for different uses, and so forth. A short history of Palestine. We’ll get back to it later on, hopefully, for there is much to be said, and it is all so very amusing, if only people would not die of it, every now and then. And we do have a tale to tell here.
Three siblings in three years, mother had too many babies on her hands. Since Israel is such a great nation for warring, the babies boom almost annually. My brother, three years my elder, was conceived a short while before the Yom Kippur War. This event preceded the birth of my elder brother, just as my brother’s birth shortly preceded the baby boom that was to follow. But I forget whom I am addressing here. So, let me tell you a bit about the Yom Kippur War, and at the same time you might also learn a neat little chapter in Judaic rites and rituals.
You might not be aware of the fact, that we, the Israelites, have our own calendar. It is lunar, I am told. The first day of the new lunar year is much celebrated. About 10 days later, Jewish gloominess reaches its peak. To get back to our story here, on this famous and not so very amusing Yom Kippur of October 1973, a full-scale war broke out and Israel was attacked simultaneously from above and below. Both the Syrian and the Egyptian armies invaded Israel and flooded it with tanks and foot soldiers. Many men were killed, and many fell captive. Generals were utterly shocked, and government paralyzed, with fear of utter and wholehearted annihilation.
The general public was recruited, and finally the day was saved, though losses were severe, in both lives and morale. Not too long before the Yom Kippur War, my father was severely wounded and almost died in a very disreputable war that was only acknowledged as one some three decades later. It is called the War of Fatigue. Because all were fatigued from the previous war, the Six-Day War, that at first seemed to be a tremendous victory but later on proved to be a big bummer. Things in this region are quite strange that way. Victories often turn out to be catastrophic in the long run. In that way, the War of Fatigue, though very inglorious at its time, was at least a success in it not turning into a tremendous victory that would in turn evolve into an utter catastrophe.
I am certain that all these thoughts did not cross the mind of my young yet to be father, as his chest was being drilled into in an effort to save him from drowning. That might sound preposterous, but truth has it, that his own blood was threatening to flood his own lungs and prevent him from breathing evermore. The whole procedure was held under field conditions, and to this day my father remembers the drill bits and blood spurts. Which accounts for why he still nears fainting when syringes, or blood-lettings are involved. Interestingly enough, at the same time, gore, suspense, and murder-mysteries hold his psyche in thrall: Rendell, Leonard, Parker, and Harris are his old familiar good bed buddies.
He still carries two interesting dents in his chest. Relics of the holes punctured through his ribs for the placing of tubes, through which the blood would be drained out of his lungs. The story of his being wounded is both touching and embarrassing. It is a story that would carry great weight in the formation of my character, with which this narrative, being a Bildungsroman of sorts, is engaged.
My father was a lonesome paratrooper in a paratrooper battalion. Since amiability was not his strongest of suits, when a few men had to be lent to an artillery supporting unit, his name came up. So, shipped he was, with two other chaps, to a frontier position called Zahava Darom (which translates into: Goldilocks South), where the small Bitter Lake runs into the Suez Canal, on the new post-Six-Day-pre-Camp-David-Accords-Egyptian border. A position constantly being shelled.
As the soldiers were taking refuge in the fortifications below ground, again, three men had to be picked out to relieve the other troops who were manning the posts. Somewhat awkwardly, when the commander was calling for three volunteers, none would follow. After a long excruciating silence, finally, one of the three new chaps, with whom my father had been lent, raised his arm and was followed by the second chap. So, my father, looking around, and noticing still that none were to join his fellow combatants, raised his arm as well. I think that this might account for why decades later as I was about to join the army, my father handed me one piece of advice: “Never volunteer,” he said, and that I kept to the letter, often shirking the simplest detail.
Anyway, as the three men were coming out of the dugout and into the open space of the ground level, a mortar bomb exploded in the near vicinity of my dear young father to be, and a piece of crude shrapnel was to fly in his direction and enter through his back into his right lung, tearing open blood vessels and threatening in the immediate future to drown his own dear lung, with his own dear blood. Thereby, altering the entire course of history, so as to deny this man his wedding to the woman who was to be my mother, she who was to give birth on a planet thirdly removed from the sun, at the exact distance and angle of axis as to appropriate the life of this here narrative that was bound to be told in a language foreign and read by people fascinated with this land, for all the wrong reasons.
To read more of Orian Morris’ tales for Tablet magazine, click here.
Orian Morris is the author ofLe-ragel ‘avur makhom acher (With My Little Eye).