Friday, March 21, 2014

Strong as Death, III

           Dear Father, David wrote, and that was as far as he got.  He wondered how he should tell his father what he was doing and that he was leaving Palestine.  He wondered how he would tell him without coming right out and telling him, as he was forbidden to do.  The problem was so perplexing that Shemesh put down the pen.  What was he doing writing his father, anyway?  He was the youngest son of Ezra ibn Sholmo, a prominent Iraqi Jew, who had buried three young wives and sired nine children, seven of them boys.   
          David was the youngest son, and his mother had died when he was an infant.  His father, a great communal leader, a man of business, a prosperous land holder and confidant of the Iraqi king, was a distant, frightening figure.  David came to Palestine at eighteen more out of domestic fear than genuine Zionist convictions. 
           What was there for him in Iraq?  His father had laid out the course of his life, and David was not only not allowed to question this path; he was not even permitted to ponder it.  Ezra brokered no discussion; he entertained no compromise.  
            He ruled his family like a Levantine despot.  When he heard David was going to Palestine, he flew into a rage.  The Zionist project will destroy us, he screamed.  A Jewish state in Palestine will make Arabs hate us, he pounded his desk with his meaty fist.  They will see all Iraqi Jews as traitors and fifth columnists.  We will have to go to the Jewish state with only the shirts on our backs, whether we want to our not.  David was so afraid he could barely speak, but he told his father that his arrangements were already made.  He was leaving tomorrow.  It was the boldest moment in his life.
            “If you go to Palestine, you’ll be dead to me,” were Ezra’s last words to his son. He pronounced these with the same damaged rage he would employ if David announced he was to marry a gentile. 

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