Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding Yossi, II


          The ‘kidnapping’ of Yossi Kusher was headline news for a month.  Egypt rattled her saber at the Jewish state.  Syrian shells plunged on Galilee farms.  Jordanian snipers fired over the wire of a divided Jerusalem, yet the county was fixated on the abduction of one little boy.
            Ori Zohar scratched at his beard and tugged at the side-locks which swayed in his peripheral vision.  He sat at his desk and pulled out the contents of Yossi Kushner’s file.  With his beard and side-locks, he caught himself swaying over the papers and mumbling the words, as if he was studying Talmud with his grandfather.  He immediately stopped.  A shiver of recognition he wished to go unclaimed pulsed down his spine.
            First he read a three page memo from Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, single spaced, typed on Cabinet stationary, detailing the importance of the kidnapping of Yossi Kushner for the security of the State of Israel.   
            The crime, he explained, had both practical and symbolic importance.  He felt the symbolic took precedence over the practical.  Yossi Kushner’s kidnapping was a threat to secular Zionism, the very keystone of the Jewish state.  
             In his long explication, he even used an example from ancient history: “Zealot impractically in military matters, spurred on by their specious messianic notions, led to the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of the Jewish people abroad.  This impulse, to take history out of the hands of the Jewish state and invest it in some castle in the sky, is as grave a threat as an invasion by an Arab army, if not more so…”
            Zohar turned over Ben-Gurion’s memo.  Behind it and bound with a clip, were carbon copies of daily briefings provided to the Prime Minister on the progress of the case.  Attached to them were several short notes, a few handwritten, from Ben-Gurion expressing displeasure over the lack of progress in the investigation.   
            One carbon copy memo from Omri’s superior, Ahab, explained to the Prime Minister the difficulty of penetrating the world of ultra-Orthodox Jews.  Ahab explained that procedurally and tactically it was easier to plant a team on the ground in Cairo than in a Yiddish speaking neighborhood in London or New York.  The entire intelligence apparatus was focused on the Arab threat, and not finding the Chasidic kidnappers of a secular Jewish boy.  Ben-Gurion’s response was one word: Unacceptable!
            Behind these sheaves of correspondence were  police reports of the crime.  On August 7, 1955, Theo and Anat Kushner reported to the Beersheba police that their eight year old son, Yossi Kushner, had not returned from his paternal grandparent’s house in Jerusalem, where he had been staying for the Sabbath.  The parents were secular farmers living on Kibbutz Gan, on the outskirts of Beersheba.  The grandparents, Shammai and Sarah Kushner, were Ganaver Chasidim residing in Jerusalem.
            The police believed the grandparents were late getting the boy on the bus and told the parents to go home.  But the next day, Theo Kushner returned to the Beersheba police station and told them that his parents had decamped from their flat in Jerusalem and the neighbors claimed they did not know where they had gone.  There was a transcript in the police report:

            Do you get on well with your parents, Mar Kushner?
            Yes, but they have expressed, more than once, their desire that my wife and myself should be more religious… if not for ourselves, then for the welfare of the boy…
            Do you think they took Yossi to make him a Ganaver?  Are they capable of that?
            I didn’t think so, but now I’m not so sure…

            Following this were reports from the Jerusalem Police: interviews with neighbors, and the elder Kushner’s rebbe.  The police suspected evasion and feigned ignorance.   
            By this time the kidnapping had become national news.  The prime minister was involved.  An unnamed agency dealing with internal security investigated the matter.  Their documents were highly redacted, presumably to hide the existence of the agency.  Whole sections were blocked out with India ink.  
            This agency claimed there was no evidence that Shammai, Sarah, or Yossi Kushner were in Israel.  According to the documents, this agency had secured the manifests of a Ganaver travel agency in Jerusalem which listed an “S & S Kushner & son,” as purchasing a one-way ticket to Amsterdam.   
            There were documents from the Passport Bureau claiming there was no record of Shammai, Sarah or Yossi Kushner as having purchased a passport.  This unnamed agency thought it unlikely that Ganaver Chasidim would forge passports or visas, but they could not rule it out.  They also noted that often, although without consistency, El Al employees allowed Ganaver Chasidim to fly without proper documentation, owing to the sect’s reluctance to deal with official agencies of the State.
            This was the last document.  Zohar closed the file.  In a week he would fly to Argentina to establish his new identity among the Ganaver Chasidim in Buenos Aires.  
            And then when possible and necessary, when his new self was ripe in his own bosom and the eyes of others, he would move on to Amsterdam and find Yossi.

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