Music'al Notes

Israel

Our friend Allan was the Sherriff of Galilee. At least that’s what we called him. In actuality he was a commander in the border police and was often called on to settle disputes between Israeli and Jordanian farmers whose land abutted the Jordan river. He lived in one of the most beautiful spots in Israel, Kfar Kish. The Moshav (a cooperative community of farmers) in the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, faced Mount Tabor. As Bible readers may remember, Mount Tabor is believed to be the place where Jesus began to radiate light and talk to the prophets Moses and Elijah. It is also the site of a battle between the Israelite army and the Canaanites. (the Israelites won after God intervened by sowing panic among the Canaanites). In those days, the drive up to the Church of the Transfiguration at the top was quite perilous but you were rewarded with a magnificent view of the Jezreel Valley and the fabled site of Armageddon.

Once when visiting Allan and his wife, Maxine, we were introduced to a neighbor who was a beekeeper. His honey produced from wildflowers was renowned and we often took some home.

Motti, the beekeeper, was in his mid-forties, very fit, completely bald and had piercing blue eyes that gazed with intensity. He was soft spoken and amiable. After he left, Allan asked me what I thought of him.

“He looks like a killer,” I replied.

Allan laughed.

“During the Lebanese war which was started to eradicate the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), soft- spoken Motti and few of his commando friends commandeered a Jeep and drove right into the heart of western Beirut where the PLO had their stronghold. They toured around the neighborhood taking photos. They were totally fearless.”

“Once,” he continued, “A friend was having an issue with the harassment of his girlfriend so he and Motti visited the guy to ask him to desist. The guy took one look at Motti, who didn’t say a word, and turned white and forever disappeared.”

From then on, his honey tasted better.

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My first job in Israel was selling high-quality Danish furniture. The store was called Danish Interiors and was owned by a South African. It was a great place to work because the staff were mainly ex-pats like myself, young, educated and interesting. Some of my best friendships started in “Danish,” as we called it. This was a time (early seventies) when there was a large emigration from the west and as most of us were ex-pats, making new friends was really important.

It was also a great pick-up place; a good percentage of the clientele were wealthy Israeli women whose husbands were often somewhere else.

One day an Israeli man approached me and placed an order for a large quantity of furniture. It was a special order and I explained that it would take four months to arrive.

“Is this a guaranteed time frame?” He asked.

“Yes.” I replied, “We do this all the time and four months is highly accurate.”

He looked me in the eye, held out his hand, and said, “I work in the diamond trade and shaking hands is the only guarantee we need.”

I clasped his hand and shook it.

I placed the order and about once a month, I called him advising him of the progress of his order.

In the third month, I phoned and told him that the order was booked to be loaded in a container the following week and it would arrive on schedule in Haifa Port.

Haifa Terminal at night. Image courtesy of Pixabay/R-Janke.

That week, the Yom Kippur War broke out. All ships and their containers scheduled for Israel were commandeered by the defense forces and used to transport urgent materiel for the war effort.

I called my customer and of course he understood as he himself was just leaving for the front.

Not being an Israeli citizen, I was not conscripted so my wife and I volunteered to work in a kibbutz in the north where we had the mind-numbing, all-day job of sorting apples by size.

The war over, I was recalled to “Danish” to resume my job. As many of the staff were still in the army, I became a delivery man, a furniture assembler and a trouble-shooter before I returned to my sales job.

I received word that my client’s shipment was finally on the water. I called him.

“It’s on the way. The boat will dock on Tuesday, it will take a couple of days to unload and sort and we are planning to deliver the order sometime next week.”

He thanked me for the good customer service and said that he would recommend me to his friends. This was great as I worked on commission.

The boat docked in Haifa and the unloading began. In those days, containers were lifted off the boat using the kind of large cranes you often see in docks. While transferring my container, the chain snapped and the whole box dropped into Haifa bay.

The final phone call was not easy.

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The drive to the Sinai was magical. The road that parallels the Dead Sea is particularly beautiful in the early morning when the sun illuminates the Negev desert as it rises above the Jordanian mountains to the east. This was 1972 and Israel, at that time, controlled the Sinai Peninsula so travel into the desert was easy. We had been living in Israel for about a year when we decided to visit Sinai for a few days during the Yom Kippur holiday. (Yom Kippur is the holiest day for religious Jews.)

Passing through Eilat we continued south until we reached Nuweiba on the Gulf of Aqaba. It was there that we set up our tent and sleeping bag. Nuweiba is now a small town but back then, it consisted of a couple of makeshift shacks run by local Bedouins selling basic foodstuffs and swimming gear. After an al fresco dinner, we went for a swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf and settled down to watch the sunset turn the hills of Saudi Arabia orange, pink and blood red. We stayed in Nuweiba for a couple of days, doing nothing more than swimming, eating and talking to other Israelis and Bedouin. We then packed up our gear and moved south to Dahab which was as desolate as Nuweiba. Dahab has wonderful coral reefs and we did do some snorkeling. There was a Bedouin camp nearby where we bought water and food. We often chatted with some of the tribesmen and found them to be very friendly and inquisitive.

This, our first vacation since we moved to Israel, was idyllic. The vast expanse of the desert, the colors, the light and the waters of the gulf all conspired to calm and seduce us.

As a child, in my bedroom at night in cold, rainy Glasgow, I would read stories about exotic places like the Sinai, dreaming of visiting them someday and now, here I was, living that adventure.

We drove home on Yom Kippur taking the more westerly road through the Negev. We were, with one exception, the only car on the road. The journey was quite long as we were about 250 miles from home but the lack of traffic made it go quickly.

When we approached Yavne, a small town south of Tel Aviv, the road narrowed as we entered the town center. Our car was a Triumph Herald convertible and we drove with the windows down. The car had no air conditioning and it was too hot during the day to open the roof. Up ahead, we saw a crowd of people. This was odd as, until that point, the countryside and towns had been deserted. As we got closer, we saw that the crowd consisted of young, orthodox teenagers. They started to yell and as we passed, a deluge of stones hit us. Some were quite big and we managed to roll up the windows before any came inside. Then a large rock landed on one of the side windows, breaking it. Many others left dents on the sides of the car. Shocked and frightened, we continued driving trepidatiously hoping to avoid a repeat performance. We made it home and vowed never to venture out again on Yom Kippur.

The following year, as a safety measure, we stayed home. Food was bought and some friends stayed over. We awoke to the sounds of tanks rumbling by; it was 1973 and the Yom Kippur war had just started.

Header image: view from Mount Tabor, Israel. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Zairon.