Corporal Man-Child of the IDF was explaining to us about the canned tuna when his cell phone made an alarming noise.
This is because it was an alarm. Home on leave, he was still receiving alerts from Israel about things like incoming rockets, an app especially designed for Israeli citizens. It uses some sort of coordination between the phone’s GPS and missile alerts to shriek and tell you to head for the bomb shelter. Not knowingly under fire, he was perplexed for a moment until he flicked his screen and said “It looks like we’ve got a peace agreement. YESSS!”
Six foot gangly three of 25-year-old military muscle doing a fist pump in your dining room is dangerous to the chandelier. After a moment I exhaled.
It has been a long road for the Man-Child since he put me in mind of Yeats, since I
foisted bestowed my senile car upon him to make sure nothing stood between him and a job, since he texted from under the Iron Dome. It has taken him from suburban basements to a kibbutz to a hostel in Tel Aviv to the Israeli Defence Force, this young man who once read about the Holocaust as a schoolboy and said “I don’t want to be a Jew any more if it makes people want to do that to you.” In the end, in the aftermath of the Wall Street Recession, there weren’t any jobs and the US Army wouldn’t take his spinal curvature and the kibbutz wasn’t working for him and the IDF wasn’t so picky. Nothing more idealistic than that.
“What it is about the tuna fish,” he explained as we settled back down, “is you have to go on some long fucking maneuvers in training and you eat when you can in a hurry and the tuna fish is standard rations. But it’s cold tuna fish and it’s clammy and it sucks, and what you do, is you take a twist of toilet paper and soak it in the oil from the fish and put it on top of the can, okay? Then you set it on fire and you have crispy blackened tuna fish, which actually tastes like something and you have to fight people off if you have it.”
Off duty, the fare is better, I gather. There is the Arab guy who presses his own olive oil (and sells it in reused water bottles), the Russian meat guy, the four vegetable vendors on the same street with Man-Child’s off-base apartment, the fishmonger who beheads and fillets the salmon before your very eyes. “The food’s been a problem since I got back,” he said. “Many trips to the bathroom.” In other nations, but Israel particularly, they do not let you sell food laden with all sorts of chemical shit. It might almost make up for the rockets.
Well maybe. “This app is pretty good, it seems to catch everything,” he said. “Except the time I slept through it. I was in barracks and I slept through the phone and then the air raid siren went off, and the drill is you go out in the hall, because the sleeping quarters have windows that could smash in, only the hall was already full of a bunch of 18 year old women recruits that hadn’t slept through the app and I couldn’t get far enough out of my room to shut the door. And then the rocket hit. About as far away as that Stop sign way down the block?” We had wandered out front by then, to enjoy the balmy breezy Tidewater night and let the Man-Child smoke a cigarette, downwind. “And the door fucking blew shut behind me from the blast and shot me out right into a body heap of these 18 year old chicks, all of us in our pajamas.”
Every young man’s dream, except for the bomb part, I guess.
We went back inside to drink to peace. I had accumulated a stockpile of single malts, and the Engineer had a set of shot glasses, and we lined up the Glenmorangie the Amrut the Clynelish the Laphroiag in a row. “L’chaim,” said the Man-Child, who had probably been speaking more Hebrew than he realized all evening. “Well, that’s ‘to Life.’ You need Peace for Life, though.”
“L’Shalom,” went the second toast: “Peace,” plain and simple: the desire of most of the people in uniform who do the job they’re paid to do and hope nothing ever hits the fan too hard, even if they enjoy the relative immunity of the unit that makes films and public relations announcements, like the Man-Child.
“Is your friend Ben still driving that old car of mine?” I asked, on a random thought. “Nah, it finally died,” he admitted, “the transmission went. Damn, that car took me so many places.”
“Melissa,” I invoked, raising my shot glass and enjoying the nostalgic sound of her name, which I gave to her six months before the Man-Child was born. “Melissa,” chorused the guys.
He wants to go to college, but not here. The IDF will give him a leg up, and he has a homeland now. No idealism, no zealotry: just a place he’d rather be.
He flies back a week from Sunday, no longer the Man-Child, simply a man, as good as he can manage. We get to cross our fingers while old animosities light the sky seven time zones away, because, oh yeah, that peace accord didn’t happen.
A journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time.
So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.
“Pardon me, sir, I’m a journalist. What’s your name?
“Morris Feinberg,” he replied.
“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?”
“For about 60 years.”
“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a wall.”
Pray for us now and in the hour of our birth.