The Real Hero

 

The Real Hero

By H. William Taeusch

 

Selected clippings from Josh’s scrapbook:
 
New York Times - Oct. 22, 2014
AMERICAN KILLED IN HEBRON, ISRAEL
BY WILLA CHAPMAN
 
An American male was killed yesterday afternoon by gunshot in the center of the city of Hebron by an unknown assailant. The unaccompanied male was Dr. Jacob Marshall, a 52-year-old businessman from California. Details of his death were not immediately available.
 
 
New York Times - Oct. 23, 2014
AMERICAN JEW THOUGHT SHOT BY PALESTINIAN
JERUSALEM AND RAMALLAH, WEST BANK
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed outrage at the murder of an American businessman in the middle of Hebron. Dr. Jacob Marshall was pronounced dead on arrival at Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. Dr. Marshall was a vice president of Nanotech Corp. in Santa Barbara, California. Mr. Netanyahu swore the perpetrators would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Hebron is the site of increasing tensions between Israeli settlers and the Palestinians who make up most of the city’s present-day population. The city is known as the burial place of the biblical patriarchs.
 
 
New York Times - Oct. 24, 2014
ABBAS REACTS TO AMERICAN MURDER IN HEBRON
ISRAEL
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, said the shooting death of an American citizen will be investigated thoroughly, and the perpetrators, whether Jewish or Palestinian, will be brought to justice. Abbas said that this sort of outrage is a daily occurrence for Palestinians. He noted that the American was carrying a book of Jewish religious poems and suggested that he might be suffering from “Jerusalem Syndrome,” an epithet used to describe a particular mental illness afflicting some ultra-religious individuals visiting the Holy Land.
 
 
Jerusalem Post — Online edition - Oct. 26, 2014
an American Martyr for Israel
By Marilyn Gluck
 
An American visitor to Israel died for our country last week. Dr. Jacob Marshall, the American Jew murdered in Hebron, was carrying a paperback of Yehuda Amichai’s poems. Wearing a blue and white tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), he was shot dead in the center of Hebron. He gave his life to dramatize the implacable hatred Palestinians have for Jews.
 
 
New York Times - Oct. 30, 2014
CONGRESS APPROVES WEAPONS FOR ISRAEL
WASHINGTON DC
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 
Angered by the murder of an American, allegedly by Palestinians in the West Bank, both houses of Congress approved an emergency bill to supply Israel with the latest Aegis, THAAD, and SM-3 missile systems. WEAPONS p. 9
 
 
The Real Hero by Yehuda Amichai
 
The real hero of the Isaac story was the ram,
who didn’t know about the conspiracy between
  the others,
as if he had volunteered to die instead of Isaac.
I want to sing a song in his memory —
about his curly wool and his human eyes,
about the horns that were so silent on his living
  head,
and how they made those horns into shofars
  when he was slaughtered
to sound their battle cries
or to blare out their obscene joy. . .
 
 
Jacob Marshall looked at his watch. Ten o’clock in the morning. Jacob was bored and lonely. He dropped the newspaper at his feet on his small balcony with its view of the Mediterranean. The paper was the conservative one with too many words, the one that mocked Obama. Today’s editorials about the nefarious Palestinians and the victimized Israelis were no different from the ones he had read six years ago on his first trip to Israel with his aging mother, his wife and kids, when, on an impulse, he’d decided they should see the Holy Land. Today was the first day of Sukkot, a week-long Jewish holiday, and the country had shut down as Israelis took  their vacations. He picked up the newspaper, folded it and weighted it down on the side table with his coffee mug so it wouldn’t blow away in the light warm wind from the sea.
 
When Jacob had told his wife, Meg, why he wanted to leave his job in Santa Barbara and take a research sabbatical, she’d shouted, “Why Israel, for God’s sake? One of the best universities in the world is fifteen minutes from our door! You should be happy to be of use right here.”
 
He’d tried to placate her. He would be back for the summer and most of the holidays. She and the kids could spend a month in Israel over the winter break. It would only be for a year.
 
Still in his underwear, he went inside, turned on the air conditioner and ambled over to his laptop on the couch. He flicked open the file with his nascent research project that he hoped would earn him a master’s degree in biophysics from Bar-Ilan University: Anti-inhibitory function of nanoparticulate polyethylene glycol admixed with serum-inactivated pulmonary surfactants. Maybe Meg was right. The project might not amount to anything. He liked the title though, which had a pleasing inner rhythm. He fooled with it on the screen so that it scanned better:
 
Anti-inhibitory function
Of nanoparticulate polyethylene
Glycols boombaboom
With foolish inactivated surfactants.
 
Jacob’s fingers were large for the small laptop that he had brought from the States. The screen froze. His stomach grumbled. Since his arrival four weeks ago, his intestines had objected to the myriad chemicals in the water from his faucet. He refreshed the screen and checked his inbox, though he had worked through his emails only an hour ago.
 
There were four unread ones:
 
People Search from MyLife Jacob, 2 Profile Views for You!
Overstock.com Shhh! It's a Secret Sale Wed /24/2014
ELI2PLAN@aol.com Ponzi Scheme collapse—Eli Davison.
NHLBI (NIH/NHLBI) Important Announcements from the Division of Lung Diseases
 
He opened the email from Eli Davison, his friend and investment broker.
 
All of his money was gone!
                                               
Years of retirement income accumulated from the university, his signing bonus from Nanotech, his savings, his kids’ college accounts — all wiped clean. Sure. A joke, of course, but not a funny one.  Yet his hands started shaking so that he hit the wrong keys as he tried to access his brokerage account.
 
The records were clear: there was the transfer of his investment assets —  all of them —into the Stein account six months ago. Five monthly reports, all showing a great return. Then, as of a day ago, the withdrawal of all funds.
 
The balance: now zero.
 
Jacob tried to call Eli. The line was busy, and Eli’s answering machine didn’t pick up. Jacob raced back to his computer and responded to Eli’s email: “Joke. Right? Not funny!” It was unlike Eli, who was as solemn as a funeral home director.
 
Jacob threw on jeans and tennis shoes and risked jumping  four steps at a time down six flights of stairs. Racing out the front door of his apartment building, he turned left. On the corner of Pinsker and Allenby, he threw a two-hundred shekel bill at the vendor of the newsstand and grabbed a Los Angeles Times. Jacob dropped pages on the sidewalk till he got to the business section. God! There it was! A little notice about a small Santa Barbara hedge fund, whose founder had absconded with over five hundred million of his investors’ assets.
 
Jacob couldn’t blame Eli, who he had begged and pleaded to put all his money into Stein’s hedge fund for distressed properties — just for two years — with the expected amount to top out at over four million. Couldn’t miss. Then they would move it into bonds, and he and Meg would be set for the rest of their lives. Travel when the kids hit college. Buy the boat. Pay off the mortgage.
 
The paper dropped from his hand. His stomach lurched. A stream of acid rose all the way into the back of his throat. Jacob nearly vomited. He slumped against the side of a building, feeling weak, sweating profusely, and coughed out phlegm into a tissue. A concerned, curious and growing cluster of Russians, Americans and Israelis gathered around him, asked if he was okay and advised a taxi, a drink of water, an ambulance, a call to a relative. An IDF soldier, a girl not more than nineteen, with an assault rifle slung over her shoulder, pulled up a chair for him from the nearest café. Embarrassed, he waved them all away and headed back to his apartment. His first thought was to call Meg. But by the time the elevator reached his floor, he remembered how much she had disliked Stein, who never had a word to say to her at their temple.
 
Jacob could predict her reaction. He’d wanted to join the moneyed clique in the temple, with their private label wines, trips to Chile, bar and bat mitzvahs in Israel and visits with the California politicians eager to meet and greet the big AIPAC donors. He’d done it without telling Meg. It was enough that his adolescent need to drop his hard-earned position at Nanotech, in order to study in a faraway, dangerous land, had already created a torque on the marriage.
 
He collapsed into the deck chair on his balcony. To the west, tiny jets descending toward Ben Gurion Airport, from all over the non-Islamic world, needled sharp-edged clouds piled low over the Mediterranean. He checked the time. 10:45. He envied his ennui of half an hour ago, wished he could go back, undo the damage he’d done. He opened the balcony door and felt the outward flow of his air conditioning push against the day’s growing heat. To do something — anything — Jacob made another cup of instant coffee and gulped it down, pushing back the bile in his throat. His stomach cramped at the bitter onslaught.
 
 
                                    *                                 
 
 
Two days later, Jacob sat outside the home of Professor Leah Marom, friend and supervisor for his research project, though she was ten years his junior. She was the first and only person he had called during the days after he’d received the news. He stayed away from email after hours of googling the carnage left by Stein. And he ignored the phone in his apartment that rang with increasing frequency as the week progressed. It had to be Meg, he figured, since he knew so few people in Israel. When he’d called Leah and told her that he was dropping out of the program and returning to Santa Barbara, she’d ordered him to come immediately to her home in Caesarea.
 
He was uncomfortable in Leah’s home. Two couples and Jacob sat crowded together in a sukkah on a hot Shabbat afternoon. Jacob wore an unfamiliar yarmulke with a clip that made a clump of his hair stand straight up.  It was hot. Gray humidity lay like a pall over their windless yard. Fliesvisited the scattered remains of a meal that had already lasted over three hours. The others at the table dissected, commiserated, blamed and advised him concerning his being “Madoffed.” Leah’s husband, Tom, explained, in detail, the universal Israeli notion of not being a freier, a dupe, a dope, a mark. Tom said that this prime directive colored all aspects of Israeli life, from buying a used car to the politics of the prime minister. That made Jacob feel even worse, if this was possible.
 
Jealously comparing his plight to the success of his hostess, Jacob wondered how Leah, by the age of forty, had become a full professor, after training in two countries and two languages, while raising three kids. At the top of her game, she was invited to scientific meetings in Asia and Europe. But Leah, in the Bible, he remembered, was Jacob’s second-best wife. Tom, not a freier, didn’t seem to help much, while Leah, with the efficiency of a drill sergeant hustled dish after dish to the sukkah table, mediated among her kids and looked after her guests.
 
Towards the end of the meal, one of the guests, a sixty-year-old man with a white beard, a face like a basset hound and a wife with a wig, gave a short sermon, a D’var Torah. During the week, he said, eating and spending time in the sukkah reminded Jews that God was the source of food, shelter, goods, health and well-being, and that we ourselves should not claim credit for all that we had. The moral was not lost on Jacob — what was gone had not been “his” in the first place. But Jacob didn’t want Jewish religious therapy. Though born a Jew, he hadn’t been raised with religion, and he didn’t want it now. Six days ago, he said, before his loss, he’d wanted time to do something meaningful with his life. Now he wanted money.
 
Disgusted, Leah said that kessef trumped his kissuf — money trumped his yearning — and made Jacob help with the dishes. Handing him a dish cloth, she asked, “So where is this going?” She had turned the question on him. Years ago, when she’d brought her data to him at UCSB, that was the question he had asked her. Leah had wanted her data to be of some practical use. With his help, she had developed a laser technique for injecting nanoparticles into single cells. Jacob still wanted to do something worthwhile with his life, but first he had to care for his family.
 
“You’re a redhead, Jake,” Leah said. “That red hair of yours makes you impulsive. Sometimes it’s good — it brought you here. But don’t let it take you away from us. Your wife works, your mortgage is nearly paid, your kids are in public school — what’s the problem? Stay and discover something. Hell, bring them over. Here, you, all of you, could be of use, not only to yourself but to this country.”
 
“Yeah,” said Jacob. “Israel: a good example of the prisoner’s dilemma.” Before moving to industry at the university in Santa Barbara, Jacob had taught computer science. His freshman syllabus had provided computer-based algorithms to solve the famous problem wherein two suspects are questioned separately about a crime. If one suspect informs on the other, then his sentence is minimal, but if both inform on each other their sentences are quadrupled.
 
“Look,” said Leah, “just because we have problems doesn’t mean there are no solutions. That’s what you’re good at. Maybe you can’t solve the matzav, but you sure as hell could help around here. Leaving now is just quitting.”
 
The matzav. The intractable “Situation” between the Palestinians and the Israelis that made the Irish conflict look like a minor spat between three-year-olds.
 
Back in his Tel Aviv apartment, Jacob finally called  Meg. Their marriage, not the best and not the worst, took the hit but didn’t crash. She could go berserk over relatively minor catastrophes: a broken lamp, a running toilet, bats in the garage. But in a real crisis, Meg surprised him. After he had left for Israel, she had discovered the paper trail of what he had done, and she had let it be, also caught up in the prospect of real wealth. Meg had tried to reach him for days. It was the talk of Santa Barbara. Others among their friends were also hurting. The funds and Stein were gone. Stein’s wife remained in a house no longer her own, befuddled and banished from all social life. The town’s best lawyers turned away clients, saying the funds were unrecoverable.
 
“So that’s it,” Meg said.
 
“I’m so sorry . . .” he began.
 
“Sorry doesn’t begin to cover it,” she said, cutting him off.
 
In the past week, Jacob learned that his position at Nanotech had been consolidated due to the market downturn, and, though they would see what they could do for him, the prospects were not good. They’d already stretched, they said, to accommodate his  self-indulgent little sabbatical. Why couldn’t he leave the research to the young hotshots? A little old to retool, wasn’t it, Jake? He didn’t add this news to the phone conversation with his wife.
 
Jacob spent the following days encaved in his apartment. He paced. He ate what little remained in the kitchenette. When the food ran out, he went to a neighborhood shwarma stand and washed the shaved meat down with diet Coke, while he watched  well-heeled tourists swarm the streets of Tel Aviv. The hot sauce cramped his stomach, and it felt like penance.
 
And then, soon after he updated his return ticket to California, Jacob vomited a golf ball-sized gout of blood into his bathroom sink. Amazed, he looked at the bright red pool. It couldn’t have come from him. He’d barfed it up with no pain.
 
He’d not had much appetite, just some heartburn and fatigue, along with what Meg would call “a normal reactive depression.” Other than that, he felt fine. He was unused to thinking about the mechanisms at work in his body: he’d ever needed to; his health had always been perfect. He solved problems without much rumination about their causes.
 
But blood was a problem. He felt his pulse race, but whose wouldn’t after seeing all that blood in the sink? When Jacob flagged a taxi and asked to be taken to a hospital, the driver just shook his head. “Ani lo meveen anglit,” he said, indicating he didn’t or wouldn’t understand. Hadassah was an Israeli hospital — Jacob was canvassed for donations yearly, so he said, “Hadassah,” and held his stomach.
 
The drive took over an hour, and he was dropped off at a traffic circle in front of a maze of buildings, many of which were still under construction. He’d gathered that five hundred shekels for the taxi would have taken him all the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Once again, a freier.
 
In the emergency room, everyone was shouting. He faced a young clerk, behind the glass, and said “Anglit.” She shrugged and pushed a clipboard under the window. Ignoring the Hebrew on the form, he wrote his name and address and printed VOMITED BLOOD at the bottom, assuming they would want to know that. Almost immediately, a male nurse kneeled at his side, applying an electronic blood pressure cuff to his right arm. As the pressure tightened, the nurse asked, “Where you from, luv?” the nurse asked.
 
“That’s Hebrew?” Jacob said.
 
“Naw. Had you pegged for a Yank minute I saw you.”
 
The pressure cuff hissed. Jacob could feel his pulse beneath it.
 
“Hmmmm,” the nurse said, shaking his head, making his single earring dance, as he looked at the digital readout. “But the good news is you’re on the fast track today.” He waved over an aide with a wheelchair, while firing off a list of questions. Had this happened before? How much blood? Any pain? Bleeding problems? Weight loss? Appetite? Bloody stools? Meds? Chronic illness? Previous hospitalizations?
 
“Previous?” Jacob asked.  “I’m going to be admitted?”
 
“Little doubt of that, luv. Pressure’s low. Probably a bit of blood working its way down your GI tract.”
 
The aide pushed the wheelchair at speed, with imprecations, stops and starts, through a crowded hallway. Nobody seemed to visit the emergency room unless accompanied by immediate family, aunts and cousins. Hebrew and Arabic saturated the corridor.   Twenty minutes later, clad in a hospital gown, Jacob lay  supine,  in a room that contained one other empty bed. Young medical students sorted themselves at the door, and, eventually, a semi-fluent English-speaking woman, a girl really, wrote down answers to the same questions that the emergency room nurse had asked. 
 
Left alone, Jacob looked out his window, as the afternoon sun lit up the beige stone buildings scattered across the hilly outskirts of Jerusalem. Wind fought the tops of palm trees. It was like an arid, sea-less Santa Barbara. He had heard of ulcers that bled. Some iron supplements and Maalox, he figured, and, unimpeded, he could resume his agonizing about lost assets.
 
A resident physician came in assembling her notes. She approached Jacob tentatively and said she needed to do an exam. An hour later, she had poked and prodded every part of him and, partially hidden by the curtain, pushed what felt like a fist up his rectum. Then, thoughtfully, she examined a wad of thick black stool on the end of her gloved finger.
 
Jacob asked, “So, what’s the verdict?”
 
“Verdict?” she asked, not used to idiomatic English.
 
“What’s the matter with me?”
 
She made a little moue and snapped off her gloves. “Oh no, sir, the attending doctor will discuss with you. After the tests are done.” And she was gone.
 
Three days later, after more physical exams, a barium swallow, an abdominal ultrasound, an MRI, a barium enema, a loathsome gastric endoscopy, daily bloodlettings, a bone marrow examination and two transfusions, Jacob lay in his hospital bed feeling no worse than when he had entered the hospital. All this seemed over the top for an ulcer.
 
His one phone call to Meg elicited sympathy admixed with plenty of continued worry over the lost funds. He’d trumped only some of her righteous anger by getting sick. Glad he was getting good care, she said. Kids were fine. Let her know when he’d be out of hospital.  
 
A new physician entered the room. She was about forty and wore the usual head covering of religious Jewish women and a long-sleeved but tight mono-colored cotton shirt with a full blue skirt that fell to her ankles. High, high heels.
 
“Frigoletta. Head of GI division.” The doctor sat on a chair and leaned towards Jacob. She was attractive. Lots of jewelry but no rings. He guessed that rings would be a problem for rectals. No examination this time. No more tests. No bloodletting. This was it.
 
“Honored,” Jacob said.
 
“Not good news, I’m afraid.” She had an Italian accent that made it sound as if it should not be bad news.
 
“A bit of cancer in the stomach caused the bleeding. The rest of the GI tract is clean. But the biopsy showed the growth is pretty aggressive. We can operate in the morning and take it out. What questions do you have?”
 
He wanted to talk with Dr. Frigoletta in her native language. He wanted  her to lie down and put her arms around him so he could smell the perfume in her hair and think of nothing. Sure, he could think of questions, lots of them. “Okay,” he said.
 
 “Okay?” the doctor asked. “Non più? No more?”
 
 Jacob sighed. He didn’t want to ask questions. “Look, doctor. You know the questions. Just give me the answers.”
 
The doctor nodded, not unsympathetically. “Chances are good we can get it all out. Maybe some radiation and probably six months of chemo after the surgery. Depends on the complete pathology and inspection of the peritoneal cavity. A rather big incision. You get out of the hospital in ten days. A fairly clear prognosis after the surgery.”
 
Jacob turned on his side and looked out the window at the yellow sky. Sand from the Judean desert colored the atmosphere, blown across the city by the evil wind, the sharav, that made juvenile delinquents strangle wild cats in the back alleys of Jerusalem, the home of the three great Abrahamic religions. If he could choose, which one would do him the most good now?
 
After the operation, Leah stopped by with some of his clothes and his laptop from his apartment. She quizzed Dr. Frigoletta, the nurses and the medical students in direct Hebrew. They were too daunted to question her relationship to Jacob and gave up all the information that they knew.
 
Jacob emailed Meg with all the particulars. What was there to hide? It was stage four adenocarcinoma, the worst kind. He might live for a few years, maybe longer, but the chances weren’t good.
 
Meg phoned him within minutes of his sending his email. She said sorry-sorry-sorry, she would come as soon as she could, but her practice, their only income, would just cover the upcoming mortgage payment. He replied he was fine with that, and fell into his usual pattern of reassuring his wife. He would return when he could, he said, when the chemo was in hand. There was really nothing that she could do for him in Israel. It was best she look after the kids. Nanotech had gold-plated medical and life insurance policies — even for their lesser executives on leave. Not to worry. Talk soon.
 
And then a massive wave of depression rolled over him. It was neither unnoticed nor unanticipated by the hospital staff. Nurses, doctors, social workers — and finally a psychiatrist — all stopped by his bedside over the next few days. His incision healed. With more blood flowing in his veins, his uneventful recovery from surgery lapped against the resistant shore of his psyche.
 
For distraction, he read, in English, the Israeli papers that Leah and her troops showered on him. He read yet again about the matsav. The Situation preceded Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 that established the state of Israel. Naqba, the Catastrophe, the Palestinians called the new state of Israel. The Israelis had explained it all to him —  before he vomited blood. They want to extinguish us. Jews would not let that happen again. Arabs, Palestinians, could walk freely within Israel, but a Jew walking in some Arab quarters of the West Bank or Gaza would be beaten, stoned or worse. Why? Because they — the Palestinians — believed we’d taken their land, but we were here first.
 
A bejeweled Hadassah volunteer pushing a cart of books, mainly in Hebrew, came by daily. With a particle of interest, he ran his eyes over the small selection in English. 
 
Jacob’s nausea stirred and his stitches hurt as he leaned out of bed to pull a small volume from underneath the Roberts, Grossman, Clancy and Oz novels from the English section on the cart. He remembered the name of Amichai from Leah and Tom’s hot sukkah. Something about real Jews not playing in the pool at Caesarea with Israel in jeopardy. He read the introduction that said IDF soldiers leaving for active duty frequently brought along their paperbacks of Amichai’s poems.
 
He read some poems at random. Amichai’s poems told the reader to love and protect the family, love and protect the homeland.Other poems were humorous. When he laughed out loud, heads popped around his door to see if the depressed cancer patient was going off the deep end.
 
The psychiatrist had said all sorts of feelings and reactions would surface and, “don’t be alarmed; it’s  normal.” Also, he said, the chemo would weaken his stoicism, and “sometimes this was a good thing”.
 
On his seventh post-op day, Jacob lay in his hospital bed, bored with the newspapers. Tension in Hebron between the Israelis and Palestinians was growing, and there were beatings and stabbings, incursions and reprisals. Feelings on both sides were murderous.
 
At 10:00 pm, his cable TV picked up the latest Clint Eastwood movie, the one where tough, laconic Clint protects the weakling Hmongs next door from a neighborhood gang. Jacob wished he could get to be as old as Clint — and as tough. He dropped the remote when he heard, “Hey, Pop,” and “Yo, Dad.”
 
Jacob could not believe it. His sons stood at the foot of his bed, trying to grin at their bedridden father with an IV stuck in his arm. Jacob felt warmth suffuse his body. He smiled and shut his eyes tight, then opened them to see if his boys were really there.
 
“Watcha watching?” His older son, Josh, appeared half a foot taller than when Jacob had seen him almost two months ago.
 
“Clint,” Jacob said. The one syllable was all he could trust himself to say.
 
“Oh yeah, Gran Torino,” Abe said, glancing at the TV. “Cool. Clint fakes out the gangbangers by pretending to draw on them. They kill him but are arrested and can’t hurt Clint’s neighbors anymore.” Abe, his younger son, the scholar with ADHD, had to tell everybody everything. With his new glasses, he looked like Harry Potter.
 
“Hug, guys,” Jacob said and opened his arms.
 
They fell onto him from either side of the bed, then disengaged awkwardly.
 
There was a pause as they sorted out the too many things to say from the too many subjects to be avoided.
 
“Another hug,” Jacob said, and this time they stayed close, during an entire commercial break for an Israeli Pepto-Bismol ad, until Abe stopped snuffling. “Caught a cold on the airplane,” he mumbled into his father’s pillow.
 
”So,” Jacob said. “How did you guys get here? Israel? The hospital? Even getting onto the ward after visiting hours? ‘You guys Mossad?”
 
“Cool, Dad. Did you see it? Munich?”
 
“Abe, you’re turning into a regular warrior.”
 
“Naw, he’s still just a wuss,” Josh said. “I have to look out for him. He almost got on a plane for Hong Kong.”
 
“So not! I just thought the Chinese attendant at the gate was hot.”
 
“So, you’re here,” Jacob said. “Sit. Relax. Drink something. When did you get in? Mom okay?”
 
That question was too soon. His kids busied themselves with looking around the room.
 
Finally, Josh said, “She’s okay. Still pissed at you for losing the dough. Dumb, Dad. All the Steins are a-holes.”
 
But that was that, and then they talked about the things the boys were doing. Being the center of their respective universes entailed a great deal of zest and not more than the usual adolescent angst. They were fully engaged in their activities, school going well. Not too worried about parental concerns. Maybe just concerned that they should be. Their mother had withheld “the details.”
 
Jacob basked in their company. Abe cranked the back of the bed up and down, flipped through channels and Josh took over his father’s laptop — to keep up with homework, he said.
 
“Yeah, right,” Abe said. “Just be sure you clean out the porno cookies when he’s through, Pop.”
 
Energized by the arrival of his kids, Jacob told Dr. Frigoletta that he was feeling normal, fine. Was there some mistake with the diagnosis?
 
“Scusa,” she said, “Not possible. We see this sometimes. This, how do you say, ‘comeback,’ after the diagnosis and surgery. There’s even a phrase for it in our country. La miglioria della morte. It means that, sometimes, when we know that we may be dying . . .  sooner than anticipated, then we may actually feel some relief and envision our lives with passion and peace.Your children have been better medicine than anything we could give you.”
 
Two days later, he was out of the hospital and scheduled for six more weeks of intensive outpatient chemotherapy. At his discharge, Dr. Frigoletta gave him a small watercolor of the Amalfi coast, where Jacob had told her he had spent his honeymoon. “Andare facil,” she said, “take it easy,” and, despite religious strictures, she hugged him tight while his kids smirked. Then she gave them a hug, too, which was pretty well received.
 
Back in his Tel Aviv apartment, his kids bunked on the balcony that was still warm enough at night. Hearing that his boys had arrived from California, Leah arranged a sailboat from the Tel Aviv marina, and they spent the day coasting up to Caesarea, where they dropped Leah on the beach near her home. Then they sailed back to Tel Aviv at dusk, as a westerly picked up. Abe and Josh took turns at the tiller and drove the boat hard, resisting the worried captain’s indications that the main could be reefed. The sea hissed by, at the coaming, as the boat heeled, and they made seven knots through the water on a broad reach. Jacob sat propped up with cushions against the cockpit bulkhead and recorded every move, every phrase and every smile of his two boys. Jacob was feeling well. On his own, he had stopped going to chemo after a week and was now riding the last dose of the Valium/Benadryl combination that Frigoletta had given him for nausea.
 
A few days later, after spending most of the time on the beach, where the boys showed off in the modest surf on rented surfboards, Jacob took them by taxi to Ben Gurion Airport, where he put them on a return flight to LA.
 
Not once had Jacob’s cancer been mentioned, but it had hovered over them like the divine cloud that guided the Biblical Jews wandering in the desert. Their mother would pick them up. She had known it would be better for Jacob that the kids came in her place. He appreciated her professional insight. As a psychotherapist, she would still be processing the twin facts — the financial loss for which she could kill him — and now the cancer that would do it for her.
 
At the end of the security line, Jacob hugged his boys and risked kisses, Israeli fashion.
 
“Be well, Dad,” Josh said. He brushed Jacob’s cheek with another kiss as he turned quickly. Hefting his backpack, he pushed his brother towards the check-in counter.
 
A week later, on a balmy afternoon, Jacob took another taxi all the way from Tel Aviv to Hebron. Areas of Hebron were usually closed off to Jews. In his pockets, he carried only cash, a copy of his passport, the Amichai paperback and a key to his apartment in Tel Aviv, tagged with Leah’s contact information.
 
Security was evident everywhere. Near the Cave of the Patriarchs, he got out and walked toward the Arab shuk. As he crossed the perimeter of the town center, two IDF soldiers checked the only other thing he carried, a plastic bag that contained his prayer shawl, a recent purchase. He was bareheaded, no yarmulke. The soldiers detected no reason to detain him and let him pass.
 
He walked through crowds of homeward-bound Arabs who shopped for hummus and bread before being summoned by muezzin for Maghrib prayers at sunset.Well past the guards, near the center of the crowded Arab shuk, he felt as if he had reached the place he had been searching for most of his life, like HaMakom, the place where his biblical namesake had dreamed of angels climbing between heaven and earth. He unwrapped his new tallit and placed it over his shoulders. Its white wool glowed in the setting sun —  and marked him.
 
Stunned, most Arab passersby shrank from his proximity, but one walked by quickly and jammed an elbow into his side. Then Jacob staggered as two fist-sized rocks, thrown hard, hit him in the back. The IDF soldiers noticed the tallit, the provocation and began to move swiftly toward him.
 
Jacob gasped from the pain. And, like being hit by a Zen master, it shocked him into sudden awareness. His plan was all wrong. What was he thinking? Was he a nutcase? Getting beaten up or even killed for some misguided Boy Scout notion of sacrifice and honor? Clint wouldn’t do this — strive for bootless heroics. His mission, his role, his meaning was not to save Israel. His wife was right. He should be home.
 
Relieved by his epiphany, he lifted the tallit from his shoulders and turned back the way he had come. He wondered if he could write poetry in his remaining time on earth and fingered the paperback in his pocket.
 
Was it too late to try,
Near the time that you die?
 
 
The sound of a gunshot reverberated off the stucco walls surrounding the shuk. Jacob felt a massive blow but no pain as an areola of blood spread across his tallit that he held in front of his chest. The nearby shoppers raced for doorways or dropped to the ground. Jacob, too, fell to the pavement.
 
 
                        *                     
 
 
The Israeli president kindly sent plane tickets for Jacob’s wife and children so they could attend the funeral in Israel. There was a fancy dinner at a downtown Jerusalem hotel, sponsored, in their honor, by a right-wing member of the Knesset, awkward for all of them. The boys wore jackets and ties for the first time since their bar mitzvahs. They were dazed from jet lag and grief, and then from the crass thumping of dirt on their father’s wrapped body in the open grave. Leah was there, having arranged everything. Meg was appreciative but guarded with the woman whom her husband had told her about so frequently. And then, another elegant and capable Israeli, Dr. Frigoletta, introduced herself to Meg. The boys clung to both of these familiar women who had cared for their father when their mother hadn’t been there.
 
Many suspects had been arrested, but it seemed unlikely that any would be charged for the shooting.    
 
After not many days back in Santa Barbara, the initial adulation that their school classmates had showered on Abe and Josh faded. Meg received a Fedex from Israel containing a watercolor of Italy, a copy of Jacob’s life insurance policy and letters for the boys.
 
Holding his letter in hand, even though he still felt his father might have been some kind of weirdo hero, Josh wondered why he hadn’t come home to be with them when he died. They would have taken care of him.
 
“Maybe he thought it would be easier for us,” his mother said.
 
As she reached to tousle his hair, Josh jerked away from her. He threw the letter on the floor and then he slit his eyes like Clint’s in A Fistful of Dollars. “What’s wrong with hard?”

 

 

Copyright © H. William Taeusch 2015

H. William Taeusch grew up in Wooster, Ohio. He received a with a BA in English from Harvard, an MD from Case Western Reserve, and an MA from the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He has worked as a neonatologist and lung researcher for over thirty years. His stories have appeared in numerous journals and in the anthology, Israel Short Stories. Taeusch lives in Oakland California, and Jerusalem where he is working on his first novel.



 

Please click here to donate to JewishFiction.net  
Tax receipts will be provided for both American and Canadian donations.



Please click here if you would like to join our mailing list.