Ori Zohar thought of his dead grandfather in vivid and unsettling vignettes. The old man often stood before him, as if the witch of Endor had conjured him up instead of Samuel.
Zohar had been orphaned as a toddler, and his Yiddish speaking grandfather raised him until he was fourteen and ran away to the same kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley where his parents had lived and died.
The visions came in fits and starts, like a movie showing on a broken projector, the frame moving in and out of the light which gave it life and action: His grandfather studying with him over a page of Talmud, mumbling. His grandfather wrapped in a prayer shawl, facing east, praying toward the destroyed Temple. His grandfather admonishing him in his Hungarian Yiddish to be true to the Torah, down to the slightest of injunctions.
Zohar stayed with his grandfather until he was old enough to leave. When he left the old man was sick. Zohar was too young to remember the death of his parents, so their departure felt like desertion.
So when he was fourteen, Zohar felt no compunction about abandoning his grandfather. In fact, there was a strange feeling of reciprocity in the act, a kind of overturned justice, as if he had traded life for life, act for act. But the purgative course he expected at the kibbutz never really happened. Day by day a creeping dread entered his life, as if being alone was the ontological status of the world. He found no redemption in the place where his parents had departed this world. He expected to find them, and it was as if they had never existed.
When Zohar left Jerusalem for the kibbutz he shaved his side-locks and flossy beard and became a farmhand in overall and boots. He seldom thought directly of his grandfather.
It was only several years later when he entered the intelligence service, where human connections are key, where some measure of trust gained and fostered, scrutinized and tested against a backdrop of common goals is essential, did he realize what an awful sin he had committed by leaving his grandfather to die alone. He had trampled on a trust freely given. He had learned nothing from a human interaction.
But he pushed this all from his mind, stayed on the task entrusted to him. And didn’t the new identity papers in his pocket already have claim to another self? He no longer had to create alibis for Ori Zohar’s infractions.