An Encounter

On the train to Haifa during Hanukah there were many empty seats, but the old gentleman with the same hairline as Ben-Gurion’s chose to sit opposite me. I removed my purse from the table separating us and he nodded as if to say, It is unnecessary.

I studied his closed smile. Before Herzliya I asked where he lived.

He let me understand that it was a small place, fairly unknown. Ginosar.

Sea of Galilee

I restrained myself from jumping into his lap and licking his face by saying, “I volunteered there in the summer of ’66.  I was twenty-one.”

He expressed surprise by opening his eyes wider and tilting his head.

I love Ginosar, the lake, mountains, sky, moon, date palms, waves, huts, the heat.

He seemed overwhelmed by my enthusiasm and withdrew. I bombarded him with questions. By Netanya I knew that his parents left Germany after the ‘33 elections when Hitler came to power. I knew that he worked with youth at Ginosar, specifically a group of young people from Iraq. They were fine youth and he loved them. I knew that he had three sons who no longer lived on the kibbutz, that Ginosar was still a kibbutz, not totally privatized, that the dining room served dinner on Sunday – Thursday nights and that he was one of a handful of members who still ate there. On the other days he prepared his own food and ate by himself in what I imagined was his small hut, full of cacti under a window that faced the Sea of Galilee and small water colors of Mount Arbel on the walls and letters from his Iraqi youth who had made good, some in the army, others in hi tech. The letters were organized neatly in a folder placed under his TV. And there were photos of his grand children in Nepal, Quito, Vancouver, photos framed in silver facing the Sea and I felt sad for him and his loneliness and wanted to go there to Ginosar to cook him a simple meal of lentils and rice.



Without his asking I told him that I collected chicken eggs in the summer of ’66 and he said there was no longer a chicken house, nor fishing boats and that the main sources of income for the kibbutz were the hotel, greatly enlarged since ’66, and agriculture, but no there were no longer grapefruits, like the ones I had picked during Sukkot of ‘67 when I returned to that Eden.

I wanted to ask him a thousand more questions but by Givat Olga I understood he preferred to sit with silence and watch the country whiz by and I imagined how every slice of the landscape aroused within his short frame a deep memory of his life in Israel in the pristine ‘60’s, war-torn ‘70’s, failing ‘80’s , hopeful ‘90’s and how today he was left to buy food at the kibbutz grocery store and cook for himself, even on Friday nights. I wondered about his wife, but sensed he did not want to go there.

We sat with  silence until Hof Hacarmel and during that silence I marvelled how a geographic location one could pinpoint in longitude and latitude had the power to change one’s life, for that is what Ginosar did to me. There I encountered a rebirth of the senses, a world unmediated by books poems and paintings. I discovered the beautiful rawness of the sensate world. I too held in my tears for remembering how scared I was at twenty-one to take in that raw world and how, at the same time, I craved it.

We nodded good-bye at Hof Hacarmel. Five minutes later I saw him, short, waiting for a bus. The destination:  Tirat Hacarmel. I imagined he was going to visit his wife. No, she had not died of cancer in ‘93. She lived in the basement of a nursing home on the dementia ward. Every week, after he visited one of his Iraqi sons in the Negev, he took the train to Hof Hacarmel and from there a bus to visit the wife of his youth, the woman with whom he had once shared a world full of  memories.

About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
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10 Responses to An Encounter

  1. estherhecht says:

    In Israel it seems that there is only one degree of separation.
    Thanks for a lovely post.


  2. Hanukah is a time that we are usually transported back millenia to a time of hope. Your post gave me the sense of time-warping as well, to a time and place that I wasn’t expecting. Your enthusiasm and his inwardness were palpable.


  3. This is lovely. Did you take the magnificent pictures?


    • Thank you so much Tzirel. I took the photos two years ago when I was in the Galilee. My current Kodak mini easyshare is anything but easy and has given me nothing but tzuris. I am awaiting the delivery of an iphone 4s which I hear takes great photos. Hopefully I will master the technology within the year.


  4. margie Tutnauer says:

    Very strong encounter, Judy. I love the way your memories came back so clearly
    as you traveled up the coast.


  5. Ruth Shidlo says:

    You make me feel like jumping on the next train.


  6. Liz says:

    Beautiful telling.


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