All this week, SF Signal is running an excerpt from The Tel Aviv Dossier by Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv.
THE FIRST CHILD’S STORY
Shula, our neighbour from the second floor, just flew like Superman out of her window. I saw that because I was looking at the things outside, and she passed right in front of me. I want to fly too, but Mom will shout at me if I try. Last time I tried I was really careful: I had a Spider-Man mask and I invented a special sticky rope just like Spider-Man’s webs, only a bit thicker because I took it from the washing lines and put raspberry jam all over it. In the end I sprained my ankle and she was so pissed and I didn’t get any allowance for a month. She can be like that sometimes. She says that she has enough trouble as it is, but I don’t believe that. I mean, she can do anything she wants, buy anything she wants, eat anything she wants. So she has to work-so what? I can work too. Last summer I worked in the minimarket across the street, packing stuff in nylon bags, got ten shekels an hour. I got enough money to buy a cool model of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, which is, like, the best attack helicopter ever. But of course Mom didn’t let me get it. She wants me to save my money. I explained to her that even if I save my money, in the end all I want to do with it is buy the AH-64D model, so why wait?
Everything is shaking, and the walls are making a weird sound. Outside, there are screams. Once I heard Mom scream, when that social worker came to visit. She screamed like crazy then, but when I asked her about it she was very quiet, which frightened me. I used to scream some myself when I was little, but grown-ups are not supposed to do it. Mom said so. And now many grown-ups are screaming outside, in the street. Some of them are flying too, just like our neighbour Shula. Maybe a bit slower. They’re very loud. Mom said that if anything happens, if anything scares me, I should call her at work. But I’m not scared. I’m not a baby anymore, I’m the man of the house, that’s what grandpa says to me all the time, and I have to protect Mom. Maybe she’s in trouble. Maybe there’s social workers everywhere, so everybody screams. Mom hates social workers. Maybe they bite you, or sting you, like bees. I once got stung by a bee. I cried for two days-but I was little then. The screams outside don’t stop. Mom’s at work now. Maybe she got stung by a social worker. I really need the AH-64D-I could fly there and rescue her.
Now there’s smoke in the street, a bit like what happened when we put out our Lag-Ba’omer campfire, but cooler, because this one has colours in it. And I hear loud boom and boom and boom, like the thunder that we had in the winter, but I’m not afraid of thunder anymore. I’m a big boy now. I need to find Mom.
I go to my room and wear the blue sweatshirt that I hate but Mom likes, I take my schoolbag and empty it on my bed, then put back only the useful stuff, like the little knife that Mom doesn’t know about and some masking tape and some batteries and a poster with the detailed internal design of the Lockheed Martin F16I, which I got from Aviation Magazine, because you never know. Everything is moving, and in the kitchen stuff is breaking, so I take my keys and go out and make sure to lock the door because Mom will kill me if I don’t. I go down the stairs and out to the street.
There’s wind, and there are dirty puddles all around, and some buildings look funny, and there’s smoke in colours. There are no people in the street, and nobody’s shouting any more. This is a problem, because I thought that maybe someone will help me to get to Mom’s work. But there’s no one. Then I remember my cell phone. I dig in my schoolbag, hoping that it’s still there. Usually I hate it, because Mom insists that I keep it on, and she always calls me just when I’m in the middle of something. Now I think it’s a good idea. But the phone doesn’t really work-it says there’s no reception. I never saw it like that. I hope that Mom’s phone has reception, because otherwise she might scream even harder than that other time. Mom just hates it when things break down.
I’m going down the street, to the bus stop. I hope a bus will come and I could ask the driver to take me to Mom. And then I hear something new, and the smoke is going all around itself, and something huge comes out of it.
It’s a Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow!
This is so cool! I saw them only on TV, and in pictures, like in my Aviation Magazine and The Big Book of Planes and The Full Combat Helicopter Guide. It’s the Longbow, not the usual AH-64, I can see the difference. Mom can’t, but I can. And it’s for real!
And it’s shooting! Yeah! I think those are Hellfire missiles, and they fly above and I can’t see where they’re going to hit, somewhere over the buildings. There’s a great booming noise, more than thunder, more than anything, and I think I hear a building falling. And then there’s smoke coming out of the Longbow . . . no, there’s smoke around the Longbow, the smoke with the funny colour, and now the Longbow takes a turn . . . no, maybe something is moving it, like when I play with one of my models, like the one of the McDonnell Douglas F15E Strike Eagle, which is cool but not as cool as the Longbow. Especially the real one. And now the Longbow is on its side and its going down and I feel the wind of the rotor-it’s huge!-it’s going down right at me, the rotor is coming at my hea-
THE BOOK OF DANIEL,
For Daniel, running away from the Yeshiva was an affirmation, not a negation. He was relatively newly come to the yeshiva; had grown up outside of Haifa, in an entirely Epicurean household; his grandparents had survived Auschwitz to come away convinced of one thing, which was the absence of God. At the age of sixteen, and following an unhappy, and unfulfilled, love affair and an abortive suicide attempt, he began the process of conversion to Orthodoxy. His parents were unhappy. His grandfather refused to welcome him in his house. But Daniel, with the stubbornness of the young, retained his course.
He abandoned his jeans for pressed black trousers, grew peyes, the long sidelocks of the observant, began attending a boy’s yeshiva and studying the Mishna and the Gmara, the two parts of the Talmud, attended prayers, put on teffilin, the long leather straps one wraps around one’s arm and head with every morning and evening prayer. In short, the boy Daniel became a miniature Chasid, spending his days in study and his nights in faraway dream lands where the lord God was a compassionate warrior and he, Daniel, his prophet and companion.
Long before that moment on the sidewalk, with the city torn apart before his eyes, Daniel had dreams in which nameless horrors were plotting to seep through and suffuse the waking world. They were shapeless, formless things. They were not evil, nor were they good-they simply did not fit into a Jewish moral framework, or even a generic human one. At the same time, Daniel had dreams of women in various stages of undress which made him wake up sweating, so consequently he did not pay much attention to the first sort of dream.
Seeing the things tearing up the buildings, however, made him remember. Watching as a screaming, terrified child was lifted up into the air, hovered there and then-he tried not to look but
couldn’t-the child’s neck had twisted impossibly and through the torn neck the child’s bloody insides were sucked out in slow motion, the intestines like a question mark hovering in the air, each drop of blood like the pip of a pomegranate. The boy was spat out: his empty shell bounced against a wall and came to rest beside his bicycle. Daniel didn’t see where his head went. The boy’s insides hovered for a moment longer before they, too, were spewed into the street below, forming a shapeless, formless puddle that erased the no-parking lines drawn on the road. How could God allow such things to happen?
He had had doubts; his faith was like a building with weak foundations; it needed constant repair. There were those in the yeshiva who spoke with utmost certainty of the messiah’s return. Such a return would herald a new era: no more wars, and peace alone would reign; all Jews would keep the mitzvahs, the commandments of God, and all the goyim would recognise and know the Jewish God. And others still spoke of the End Days, and the time the dead would rise: but it would only be the dead of the Jews, and a few selected goyim, perhaps.
His grandparents believed there was no God. In that they were very much like the Orthodox, for it was belief that powered them. But he, Daniel, did not believe as much as sought belief; did not live so much as dream. And the dream lands which he saw were vast and alien and terrifying places where human faith was a small and inconsequential thing, in a universe which cared nothing for those tiny pinpricks of light in a dark cloth who called themselves people.
He passed through streets that looked like what he saw on CNN- like Beirut looked after the Israeli bombings, like Baghdad looked after the Americans came to visit, like Sarajevo after everyone else in Yugoslavia was finished with it. He ducked between buildings and searched for survivors, but all he could find were corpses. The smell of destruction burned his nose; it was the stench of smoke and rubble and blood and singed flesh. It made him think of his grandfather’s stories, of the time he was a boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, running between shelled houses, knowing he only had moments to live.
He wanted to pray, but which prayer? The She’hecheyanu? Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment?
On second thought, perhaps the Kaddish was more appropriate. He ran, not knowing where, and as he did his fedora hat fell and was snatched by the wind. He raised his hand to his head and, on an impulse he couldn’t quite understand pulled off the yarmulke that was there.
Bareheaded before God, Daniel ran.
THE YURI ARCHIVES,
PART I (AUDIO/VIDEO RECORDING)
Dubi is taking too much time setting the scene. We’ve got to evacuate this cellar in two hours, and he’s still stuck in scene three. Rami, the cameraman, is growling under his breath. I’m holding the boom, so I’m being quiet, though I have a bad feeling about this whole thing. Something is wrong, but I don’t know what. Amir, who’s playing the Golem, is really suffering, because he’s wearing this ridiculous cardboard outfit Dubi’s girlfriend created. This is probably the most horrible part of being a film studies undergraduate-having to rely on your fellow students’ girlfriends, boyfriends, parents and, in at least one case I know of, a grandchild, for all the auxiliaries. For poor Amir, of course, the horrible part is right now, being stuck as such an auxiliary, no doubt melting under the two improvised lamps Dubi got in the flea market after finding out that all the university’s lighting equipment was already taken for other students’ productions.
The ground shakes. Dubi says, “Did you feel that?”-and then it shakes again. Some of the stuffed animal heads that we put on the wall (all made of plastic, found at a sale in a costume shop) fall down. Dust is coming up through the floor. Dubi says, “Look at this!” and turns to Rami and says, “Shoot it! Shoot the scene just like that! Is the camera rolling?”
“Yeah,” I say, and raise the boom over Amir’s head.
“Amir, remember your part? You’re rising out of the ground, flailing your hands, but slowly, right? As if you’re in pain. Got it? Scene three take seven, action!”
Amir drops to the ground, into the dust, starts rising up with his cardboard-covered hands above his head, feebly moving, rather pathetic. He starts coughing. I get that loud and clear in my earphones.
Dubi shouts “Cut!” and adds, “OK, we’ll fix this in editing, let’s do
another one-” and the ground shakes again, and in my earphones I hear that something is seriously breaking apart.
“There’s something wrong,” I say.
“Yeah,” Dubi says. “The lighting is all wrong. Let’s try this again with-” and now there’s another sound, a tearing sound, and I can see, not really believing that I’m seeing it, a gap between the wall and the floor.
“Amazing!” Dubi says. “Is the camera rolling? Rami, are you getting this?”
“Yeah,” Rami says, and my recorder is running too, and in my earphones all hell is breaking loose. Metaphorically speaking. I’m an atheist.
“What’s going on?” Amir says, trying to get out of the cardboard outfit.
“I don’t know,” Dubi says, and there’s that gleam in his eyes, the one like Cameron had when he accepted the Oscar for Titanic, “but this film just turned into a documentary. You’re still rolling, Rami?”
“Yeah,” Rami says. “Keep quiet.”
Everything is shaking, everything is turning loose, and I hear wind building up outside. We’re in a basement, but I still hear it. Then, suddenly there’s no ceiling. The walls are floating, the chairs, the table, the lamps, the camera, we are hovering, and the floor below us rotates slowly. And then I get it.
“It’s a tornado!” I shout. “We’re flying into a tornado!” “In Tel Aviv?” Dubi shouts back. “Impossible!”
And as the ground below us rolls, faster and faster, and we take off into the sky, and suddenly I think-it’s just like the flying farmhouse in The Wizard of Oz; and I can’t help wondering where we might land, and whether it’ll be in black-and-white or colour.
[Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt!]