The Holy Land
by Joe Palmer
[ people - april 09 ]
Like you I am sad, O Michal...
And like you doomed to love a man whom I despise...
Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David
And she despised him in her heart.
Homeless, at age seventeen smack in the middle of our previous century, I went to school to find a home, to make my way in the world like Johnny Appleseed with his sack full of apple cores, looking for a place to grow fruit. Of course I didn't know what I was doing! Nobody never told me nothing; I had been suffering from glaucoma, in constant pain for four years from an injured eye that had gone to cataract. They say never to play with dynamite caps with good reason.
Back then in Middle America, medicine was like barbering, a trade you picked up by hanging around a hospital, sort of like today, except now the hospitals are bigger and the doctors' union is stronger. The first doctor my mom took me to said there wasn't nothing wrong with me, I was just scared. The second doctor said my eyeball was full of blood and it was no wonder I couldn't see. For years I swallowed foul-tasting medicine and endured frequent hot compresses to dissolve the clot, and soon came glaucoma and a cataract, a whitening of the lens that follows a bang to the eye. Then the dilated pupil showed the grayish-white lens in my bad eye, the cataract in the lazy eye, blind as a cave fish, because my mom distrusted doctors, no wonder, in those days when surgery was more a branch of butchery, when she had seen too many friends and relatives come out of the Good Samaritan Hospital dead. Doctors depended on the placebo principle then even more than they do today, rather like spiritual advisors and Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man, charlatans all. Like lawyers. Like all of us.
Don't never go under the knife, Honey.
There I was, in a residence hall at a college where I met three fascinating first-year students - two bizarre Arab youths from Palestine dressed in full regalia like Prince Faisal, and a lovely Jewish girl from Königsberg who, since the expulsion of the Germans in 1945, had lived in Lithuania, Israel and New York. The foreigners turned me towards learning as an end in itself, and to thinking about how much more complex the Old World seemed compared to the American Midwest I knew.
One of the young men was a nephew of King Farouk of Egypt, the other a Quaker and a schoolteacher. The girl had been living with relatives in Brooklyn where her parents had sent her for safekeeping after the partition of Palestine in 1948 and the ensuing chaos. The foreign students were eager to talk about Israel and Palestine at every opportunity. Struggling through Arabic, Hebrew, French, and German in order to get at English, they were still working out personal knots that preceded the culture jolt they felt in Indiana, home of the Know Nothings and the modern Ku Klux Klan. I befriended the boys from Palestine as much as I could, finding their views and reactions fascinating and their habits exotic. They put sugar in their milk. They had to learn to urinate without squatting or wetting their flies. They missed Turkish toilets. They thought the absence of beggars and thieves on the college campus in downtown Terre Haute was a trick. The police must have been hiding them somewhere.
Michal Davidov, the pretty girl from Israel, was not so accessible as the boys who lived together in the men's residence hall, for in those days residence halls were like monasteries and convents, sexual segregation was absolute, having sex was taboo and so it was an even stronger imperative than today, the pill was far in the future, and further away was the sexual revolution that demystified and bestialized copulation and all that leads up to it, ruining romance and enchanted evenings like the ones I had with Michal. Every evening at closing time, a curfew that varied with the school calendar, dozens of pairs of couples stood magnetized in public embrace until the last second in the courtyard of the entrance to the girls' residence hall, doing the dance of love, even in rain and snow.
The value of penny candy at Hallowe'en drops to nearly nothing as children bring home baskets of the stuff and eat too much of a good thing. The best candy disappears first, but there are plenty of leftover, mediocre kisses for those who eat until they get sick or wiser mouths take the goodies away. Germaine Greer went trick or treating, preaching in her book, The Female Eunuch, that women did not realise how much men hated them, and how much they were taught to hate themselves. Her argument opposed the old, old ways, bringing us pornography instead of romance, mutual masturbation instead of love making, along with the pill and feminism in all its vicious vulgarity, as if we were all barbarians. Such anarchists as Greer do not realize that less is more. Too much of some things, like sex and liquor, causes a headache. One perfect cherry, a fact, is worth a gallon of jam, an artifact.
Michal's folks had sent her to Indiana at her request, assured that she would be absolutely safe in person and property under the care of Dean Fallows, the mother superior, and her corps of neutered monitors, chaperones, and overseers. For her part, Michal said she had wanted to go away from Boro Park and her family's friends, as far as she could go so that she would not further catch the eye of a Jewish mother looking for a suitable wife for her son. She was afraid she would be obliged to marry some old fart if she let her aunt's friends ruin her life in Brooklyn.
In Indiana Michal and the Arab boys had more in common than they had at home in Israel. Taj, Yusuf, and Michal formed a united front, defending the Holy Land as if, as it says in The Tract about the Places and Conditions of the Holy Land, "The land of Jerusalem is situated in the center of the world." It was certainly the center of their world, to them a point in their time continually referred to like a birth, a death, a fire, or a war.
The land of Jerusalem is Palestine, sometime home to Philistines, Egyptians, Canaanites, Amorites, Hyksos, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Ottomans, Arabs, and Jews. Alexander the Great conquered Palestine in 332 BCE, by the way.
The sanctified city on a hill, Jerusalem, holds the tombs of David and Solomon outside the Sion Gate, surrounded by buildings that contained the Upper Room where the Last Supper was celebrated and the Eucharist established. The Emperor Titus burned the city in 70CE, but not the Room, which became part of a convent built for the Franciscans by Sancia, King Robert of Sicily's queen.
The convent was taken from the Franciscans in 1560 by the Grand Vizier of Constantinople on petition by a Jew who had been refused permission by the Franciscans to worship at the tombs beneath the convent. In Islam David and Solomon are held to be Prophets. At that time Moslems considered Christians to be of little value, so the vizier took the tombs out of the hands of the infidels.
"Putasneme Christianum?" You don't think I'm a Christian, a common expression in those days, was the equivalent of "What do you think? I'm nuts?"
Solomon's Temple and the palaces and shrines are now gone. The Queen of Sheba left no memoirs, what a pity! The only inscription from those days is on Hezekiah's aqueduct, a tunnel that was begun by digging at both ends and meeting in the middle, a feat of engineering we can still perform. Compare the Chunnel, which was off by only three centimeters.
We learn from those texts rejoicing in their destruction that the invaders used the sanctuary of the Temple for the altars and worship of many deities in addition to the God of Israel. The Israelites were only one of a multitude of peoples worshiping in Jerusalem in a variety of mosques, churches, and synagogues, just as today. It has been calculated that in the course of its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
Titus took Jerusalem, Bar Cochba took Jerusalem, and Hadrian took Jerusalem. Everybody, it seems, took Jerusalem, so we must accept in good faith the worth and authenticity of the places hallowed by the prayers of countless pilgrims. Constantine allowed monasteries and hermitages, and his mother, Saint Helen, built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher around 325 CE, now with Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, and Ethiopian altars. Julian the Apostate restored the Jewish Temple on the site of the Capitoline Jupiter. Justinian built a hospital for sick pilgrims. Nestorians, Byzantine Christians who originally converted from Zoroastrianism, Manichaenism and Mazdakism, and numerous adherents of the old Babylonian paganism, as well as Mandaeans and Gnostics crowded the city. In 602 CE Chosroes II, the Persian despot, massacred the inhabitants. The Persians and the Jews working together slaughtered from 60,000-90,000 Christians. They also destroyed Saint Helen's Holy Sepulcher.
For six hundred years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, Jews tried to rebuild the Temple at the place nearest Allah, the Temple Mount, where Mohammed got on his horse to ride up the Seven Storey Mountain, the seven steps of Purgatory, to Paradise.
Thus the history of Jerusalem is "little more than a record of damage and repair to the Christian and Moslem sanctuaries there," wrote D.S. Margoliouth in his beautiful book Cairo, Jerusalem, and Damascus (Oxford 1906). Palestine is the Holy Land, and Jerusalem is its Mound of Venus, its pubic triangle, the Holy Grail.
Two of my new friends, Taj the Moslem and Yusuf the Christian, were eager to talk about the holy places in their ravished homeland and the confusion of politics and ethnic greed they had seen there. Michal the Jewess, on the other hand, was not political. Her relatives had lost so much of property, livelihood and dignity that she did not feel the consequence of what had been taken away, first by the Nazis, then by the Soviet Russians, and then by the Zionists, because she did not remember being safely and happily at home anywhere. Living proof of collateral damage whose hope lay in staying under the radar, she did not want to be noticed, and until she spoke you would have thought she was a Wasp, whose curly hair must be the envy of many a prom queen.
Around the beginning of the 20thC, two and a half million European (Ashkenazi) Jews immigrated to the United States, to the true New Zion. For centuries the Jews of Germany, of the Rhineland, who were dispersed throughout Eastern Europe, had stuck together in closed communities, helping their best and brightest sons, the rabbis, to raise families, a consequence of which was to elevate their intelligence level by one order of magnitude, making the Ashkenazis' average IQ 115. In contrast, Catholics turned their best and brightest into celibate priests.
At the end of WWII, Zionists still wished to re-establish their glorious homeland of Israel in Palestine, to turn back the clock, reverse their losses, and reclaim their glory by magically compensating for the catastrophes they had endured. The pull of the Holy Land has never ceased among them and among many of the Oriental, Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean. They too have gone to Israel, to become part of the Palestinian Semitic underclass there. The Zionists of Israel have brutalized not only Palestinians, both Moslem and Christian, they have swineherded obviously religious Jews too, from the beginning. Zionists are seldom religious and are ashamed of Jews who are ostentatiously so, just as worldly Americans are ashamed of their Evangelicals and Holy Rollers praising the Lord publicly like maniacs. One fact you will not read or hear in the American mainstream news is that Israel is a secular state just like the USA.
The true Anti-Semites of the world are in fact the Zionists who despise the Semites as a little people, a silly people, petty, barbarous and cruel. According to these elitists, Palestinians and many Jewish groups in the Middle East are Semites, but not the European Jews, the Ashkenazis, who pretend their ancestors were not Semites. However, genetic "evidence of shared maternal ancestry of Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews" makes the anti-Semitic Zionist claims silly, as if the blood-lines are worth a damn in today's world.
At a meeting of new students, the director of the men's residence, Mr. Glasscock, introduced our Arabs dressed in summer- white robes and kafiyya headcloths, with silver-sheathed daggers at their belts. Elated by their exotic, cosmopolitan presence, Glasscock asked the Palestinian men what they intended to do in the future when they completed their educations.
The older fellow, Yusuf Qutub, an earnest, long-suffering Quaker, said that he wanted to go back to the refugee camps to teach his people so that they would be ready for the return of their land when the Zionist usurpers were thrown out. He explained the Arab argument about the present situation of three-quarters of a million uprooted, enharshed sufferers stuck in squalid conditions in crowded camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza without immediate hope of recovering their houses, land, or means of livelihood. There were glum faces all around.
When asked what he wanted to do in the future, the younger, Taj El-Dein Taji Farouki, his moustache neatly trimmed, said he wanted to get a big, black Buick automobile and cute, blonde girlfriends. There was general applause, as if entitlement by social class is right and natural. Taj was a prince, and as such he could by rights have whatever he could get. It is obvious to all that a population sorts itself by wealth, birth, and social class, especially in democracies, and stepping across the lines may be criminal, as defined by society and its governing bodies. A benevolent monarchy, with blurry lines, is thus the best form of society, according to those who have thought deeply about such matters.
Governments excuse criminality, you know. No king is ever a thief. No president ever gave no-bid contracts to his friends illegally. Government gives the right to use property that otherwise belongs to others, and to pardon thieves. Government is an oxymoron legal theft. It depends on how you look at any situation. If, for example, the United Nations approves it, then there is no recourse except force of arms. War, like government, is immoral. It always involves making people do something in others' best interest, usually with compulsion and violence.
Perhaps it is immoral and absurd to fight over the Holy Land, the crossroads of the Old World haunted by a million ghosts. Nonetheless, it is a typical human act to claim land and buildings, private and public property belonging to other people, as our own. Since there are no more Native American lands worth taking by force (just ask the Algonquin, Iroquois, Cherokee, and Sioux), Israel has become the American West in the East, America's Kaliningrad in the Levant, a big American exclave six thousand miles east of Chicago, the new Crusade. Israel, the United States' largest dependency has got more than 118 billion dollars in economic and military help, America's largest child.
More different kinds of people have put their stamp on the major city in the Holy Land, Jerusalem, than on any other city in the world, according to a primary source of much we know about it and the people who were there a millennium ago. In the "Tract about the Places and Condition of the Holy Land," Tractatus de locis et statu sancta terre, in The Crusades and their Sources, Essays Presented to Bernard Hamilton, ed. J. France and W.G. Zajac (Aldershot 1998) can be found a set of impressions written around 1170 CE, a basic text, with a few later insertions, often quoted by numerous writers and historians of the Crusades. Those observations are entirely unscientific, anecdotal, precious, and fun to read.
In the Tractatus we read that the Holy Land has been the "common homeland" of ancient peoples, the Elamites and later Medes and Parthians, and other ancestors of the Kurds and every other group of Western people with a history, a locus of civilization centering the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus.
There among the Christian sectarians at the time of the original Crusades were many Franks, a general term meaning Europeans or Latins. "Warlike men," they alone shaved their beards and typically wore no hats. They were Catholics. They were divided into several peoples, the Germans, Spanish, French, Italians, "and other races who share Europe." The freedom-loving Pisans, Genoese, and Venetians were excellent sailors, businessmen, and fighters, but they were envious and quarrelsome, which trait the Saracens exploited, setting them against each other.
Knights Templar and Hospitaller fought the Saracens side by side, the red-cross Templars to the right of the Holy Cross standard, the white-cross Hospitallers to the left, the black-cross Knights Teutonic behind the Templars. The Templars were always in the van and in the rear when necessary, chanting, "Non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tuo da gloriam!" Not to us, Lord, but to your name give glory! The corpsmen of the Middle Ages, the Hospitallers, were in the funnel of the fighting, and just as today they did the necessary.
In the 12thC, the Order of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem, Orden der Br¸der vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem, was founded.. In the 13thC, when Christians went to make converts in the Baltic lands, fighting between the Teutonic Knights and the Prussians was ferocious. Chronicles of the Order state the Prussians would "roast captured Teutonic brethren alive in their armour, like chestnuts, before the shrine of a local god." The Teutons were Christianizing the pagan Poles and Lithuanians, converting or savaging them. The Knights Teutonic founded Kˆnigsberg in 1255 in honor of King Otakar II of Bohemia on the site of a destroyed Prussian settlement. The Teutonic Order was finally defeated by the Poles and Lithuanians in 1410, and the order disappeared by 1525, becoming the Order of Dobrin in Prussia and the Knights of the Sword in Livonia. Like the Templars and Hospitallers changing into other Latin orders such as the Order of Montesa in Valencia, the Order of Christ in Portugal, and the Order of St. Stefano, which the Medicis raised to fight against the Turks, the knightly fraternities devolved into monastic orders.
I met Michal, tall, slender, and outstanding in the right places, at the mixer, a social tea where the Dean of Women introduced the freshman girls in the huge salon of the Women's Residence, with its dozens of easy chairs and couches where both feet of every person had to touch the floor at all times, or else a proctor could blow the whistle on you, literally, embarrassing embracing couples flush with sexual and social frustration. That evening only several pairs of girls were dancing together to recorded music. Most of the boys stood around petrified, wondering what they were supposed to do. Dr. Fallows, the Dean, who might have been Nurse Ratched's mother, called for order, and then she introduced Pearl from the Congo, a tubby little Black girl who sat like a ham in a butcher shop, not understanding the Dean's English. At that moment I saw a striking girl making her way towards the doorway in order to escape through the front and only entrance to that citadel of virginity. I followed her, after she had signed out at the desk, and caught up with her just outside in the courtyard.
I suggested coffee, she agreed, and I made a friend I cannot forget. "That mixer has served its purpose," I said. "Here we are. Why did you leave the mixer?"
"I want they don't know my name and I come from Israel."
I promised her I would keep her name a secret. After I had plied her with my southern charm and all the courtly manners I could recall, she took my hand, and smiling, she said, "Goy meets goil."
I asked her to explain: a non-Jew is a goy, and goil is how they say girl in Brooklyn, where her aunt's family lived and where she had finished high school in Coney Island at Lincoln High School. And the fact that I had just been graduated from Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana, was a coincidence almost too great for me to bear, superstitious as I am, and it surely foretold that we were meant for each other. An erect male sexual member, you know, has no shame, conscience, or sense of personal, intellectual, moral, or civic responsibility. While it is turned on, all rationality follows its command and bends reality to fit its directions, no matter how difficult or unlikely. Love is insanity, and God is love.
Michal smelled of Ogilvie Sisters soap, with a hint of rosemary. Dressed in a yellow corduroy full skirt, a blue nylon sweater and black and white saddle shoes, she could have passed for a cheerleader anywhere in America. Hand in hand, we claimed a booth at the Terre Haute House restaurant where we nursed our coffees and asked a thousand questions. She had heard of Hillbillies, and now she had met a live one.
Blue jeans were still work clothes in those days, so boys wore chinos, military khaki or tan cotton pants, with v-neck sweaters or sports coats over GI-style t-shirts. Sweaters, ankle-length skirts, flats with bobby sox marked teen-age girls as students. Today such outfits look as archaic as bustles and bows, but we thought them sexy, a learned response, no doubt. Girls didn't yet wear slacks except to slack off like Katherine Hepburn in the movies or to build airplanes at Willow Run like Rosie the Riveter.
The Book of Esther in the Talmud (the Gemara in Megillah 15a) mentions that Michal was extraordinarily beautiful; even looking at her face would make a man want to leave his own wife for her, I'm told. I'm sure I would have wanted to leave my wife for Michal, if I had had a wife, I think.
The Torah (Deut.17:17) mandates that the king "shall not have many wives," by the way; the maximum number permitted to a king under this rule, according to the Rabbis, was eighteen, so that tale about David and Michal in the Bible is not like Romeo and Juliet, although it sounds like part of a play, with David, assisted by Michal, escaping out a window. Biblical references, especially those with an evident moral, should be taken after being shaken thoroughly, and sipped, not swallowed whole.
My teacher Albert Marquardt, who had a very tender heart toward his pupils, used to end his lectures with the admonition, "Don't kick against the pricks!" He always appeared to think we laughed in understanding his intended message to be that one should not make a task, like a study assignment, any more difficult than it is in itself. What we chose to understand was that we should not deny sexual urges. The expression alludes to a passage from Acts, 26:14, which reads "And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." The phrase refers to the act of an ox kicking in irritation at the sharpened wooden rod, called a prick or goad used by his driver when tilling soil. Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to persecute some more Christians when he had a stunning auditory hallucination in which Jesus spoke to him. Some say he made the whole Christian Thing up. It could be the case that Paul (Saul) saw with blinding sight that mankind is incorrigibly vicious and therefore must be forgiven and loved, or else we would all kill each other in revenge for the nasty things we do to one another.
May I, 1187, the Hospitallers and Templars were defeated by the Muslims at Nazareth. July 4, 1187, the Battle of Hattin was lost by the crusaders; Hospitallers, Templars, and the "flower of the nobility" were devastated.
Like me, Taj, Yusuf, and Michal were scholarship students. The state of Indiana was paying our tuition and the American Friends' Service Committee paid for the foreigners' room and board. You see, America is not only a free-for-all opportunity to get whatever you can take. The people here invent socialism as they go along, with a little help from their friends. They call it "practical charity."
Michal could have taught geography and history at the college if she had known how to talk the local language. It was from her I acquired my first romantic love and a passion for other languages and cultures. With her black curly hair and bright blue eyes, and my blond hair and hazel eyes, we were opposites in complexion, the halves of a ball that spun around a common center for a while.
My Holy Grail, Michal, was a gift from the Holy Land. Michal in the Bible was King Saul's younger daughter. Saul didn't like David for several reasons, so he sent David into battle with the Philistines again (remember Goliath) in order for him to kill 100 of them to collect their prepuces the way GIs used to collect Vietnamese ears. He had to pay the bride price of one hundred Philistine foreskins, which her dad demanded for her hand, in order to take her as a wife. Saul thought that in the course of so much fighting surely some one or more of those Philistines would do David in, killing him, thus solving some of Saul's problems.Well, old David, the big show-off moyel, brought Saul two hundred freshly brissed Palestinian shvantz tips. In case you don't know, Jews are not allowed to keep their own foreskins. There's no problem keeping other people's.
In the Medieval Holy Land there were many men with shaggy beards, the Greeks, who spoke their own language, and disagreed with the Romans about the Holy Spirit coming from the Son, and who were very cunning but not very good fighters.
And there were Syrians who were like the Greeks, except that they trimmed their beards, speaking Greek at church but Arabic at home.
The many Armenians there were able soldiers but they disagreed with both the Greeks and Romans in the practice of the Christian religion, having their own holidays. They hated the Greeks, but were amenable to Roman Catholic ideas.
The Georgians, great fighters, wore their beards and hair very long. All were tonsured, their clerics with round domes and laymen with square domes covered by tall hats. They imitated the Greeks in religion, but had their own language.
The Jacobites and Nestorians, members of various monophysite (Orthodox) Chaldean congregations speaking Syrian-Aramaic and Babylonian tongues, Harrian, Assyrian, and so forth, often feared as sorcerers, inhabited the Holy Land.
In a metaphysical sense all of the sanctuaries that ever were constructed in the Holy Land (and elsewhere) still exist. The religious bodies never ceased to exist as an institution at once mystical, traditional, and conventional. They may be gone in our time but they are still there in theirs. Our view of time is like a camera's shutter, a blink only slightly shorter in time than a human life span.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. - II Peter 3:8, and Psalm 90:4
The Jews, it seems, were absolutely expelled from the Holy Land in the 2nd Century, but the spirit and memory remain s. They returned in force in 1948. The Moslems were expelled from Spain in 1492, but today the Moros have returned and are building new mosques even in Granada near the Alhambra. Christianity nearly faded away outside of Europe during the Middle Ages, the missions to China, for example, resting quiet for long years. Nestorian Christians had made Chinese converts and built churches in the 7th and 9th Centuries and again in the 13th and 14th. The Jesuits went to China in force in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Church going underground there until it was expelled in the 18th century. In the 19th and 20th C Protestant and Catholic missions flourished, until the Communists took over, yet today there are perhaps as many as a million Chinese Christians intending to send missionaries along the old Silk Road to re-evangelize the Moslems in Central Asia.
Michal Davidov really opened my eyes to the complexity of history and the beauty of understanding how bits of knowledge interlock. Knowledge puffs us up but love builds us up, she always said.
Michal was born in Kˆnigsberg, in East Prussia, but not in the ghetto. I pronounced ghetto like get toe, instead of geddo, to her amusement at first until she realized that my ignorance was genuine and profound. That's not why my people called themselves the Know Nothings when asked about the American Nativist Party, which rose in fear of immigrants of other ethnic color in the Redneck Nation before the War Between the States. They claimed to "know nothing" about the politics of prejudice and exclusion while hypocritically mistreating, dehumanizing, and shunning outsiders, avoiding or impeding anyone not white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. The Know Nothings' sympathies were with the South in the Civil War, and remain so today. But me, as a Know Nothing, I was merely ignorant.
Because her father was a pharmacist, Michal's family was permitted to live on the main street of Kˆnigsberg, near the Cathedral where Kant is buried, near the major business offices, and not in the ghetto or in the Burgfreiheit outside the city proper. After WWII, in which Königsberg was demolished, the Russians kept the enclave as their seaport on the Baltic, and renamed it Kaliningrad. Immanuel Kant was born and taught there, but, a wag once told me, he never left the region because he didn't mind those Russian winters. Born to a pious, immigrant Scots/German family, Emanuel changed his name to Immanuel after he learned Hebrew. I'm still thinking about that.
When the Nazis confiscated their buildings in Kˆnigsberg, the Davidovs had already sold much of their property, enabling them to take refuge with relatives in Vilnius until the end of the war. Following its formation in 1948, Israel adopted the Law of Return, granting Israeli citizenship to any Jewish immigrant. As many as 700,000 refugees made their way into the country, and were housed in tent cities. Michal's father had been able to pay for their passage to Israel, and to find work in a hospital, but there were no decent schools available to Michal, and no comfortable apartments or houses to be had. She was both concerned for her parents' safety, and excited to go to America to live.
With me Michal was both affectionate and cautious. She had learned "defensive necking" in Brooklyn, that's what she called it, an all-holds-barred, stand-up bout except for short periods. In those days people could not have sex easily or casually, so they made love under adverse conditions and with passionate seriousness. If a couple made out on a picnic blanket in public, someone would call the cops.
Most everyone my age could write a book entitled How to Make Love Standing Up. It's not as easy as it seems at first glance, especially in public. There are several obvious practices or tricks of the trade-off soon learned through experience, among them in cold climates the wearing of overcoats that hide both sub-and-supra-cingular activities, and the shorter one of the couple standing on a curb or box thus leveling the playing field. Lesser-known ways to get together involve clothing selected to facilitate approximation. Blue jeans help to improve dry-frotting. Wearing suspenders allow flies to hang open without the trousers and slacks falling down. And so on.
Nonetheless, when nature is ready to sweep a couple off their feet, they need a place to lie down, a place to get naked. For us seminarians there was the Terre Haute House, now defunct, where for the price of a room privacy could be had, but we had little money for incidentals and the cost of a room would make me broke again. One weekend I had earned ten dollars playing trumpet with Jesse Duckworth's Dixie Band at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Danville. That Sunday morning I boldly rented a hotel room, and then with the room key in my pocket, too nervous to smile I met Michal at the Residence. We strolled down the few blocks to the hotel and jumped in a side door, climbing the stairs to the third floor where the pricey, stuffy little cell, its double bed turned down, waited.
Intending to cohabit illicitly, in a strange, bidding place, we were both confused and put off. Each of us sat in an easy chair, and smoked a Philip Morris cigarette, as it was a swell hotel and we were both moviegoers, while we thought about what to do next, sharing the ashtray on the glass table next to the Venetian blinds.
"Would you rather go to a movie?" I asked. The situation was about as sexy as a math quiz.
Michal left her cigarette burning on the ashtray, sat in my lap, and kissed me. Then she told me that she was withdrawing from school at the end of the fall quarter, the next week, and returning to New York in order to go back to her family in Israel. She saw no point in being taught by people who knew less about the world than she. Her chosen major subject was world history, and the only new things she found to learn at the college were in Freshman English. Her professors, she said, were as ignorant as I was. But she did not love me for my knowledge.
Her parting gift to me, my goodbye present, was offered with open legs, and soon I was on my back on the bed, with Michal astraddle me in an embrace I will never forget, an spasm so strong I stiffened, choked, and gasped for fully half a minute as she squeezed the gist out of me. When I opened my eyes, I could see out of both of them. In the twist of love, the opaque lens of my bad eye had detached and fallen back inside my eye. I could see again.