Yossi called last night around 10:30 and said he’d like me to come to Ma’ale Levona and discuss his book. He suggested I take the bus from my location to the Central Bus Station in downtown Jerusalem, and from there take the 8:15 bus north to a village across the valley from Ma’ale Levona. So, I got up early to give myself lots of spare time and took the bus downtown. Went right past the Central Bus Station and, before I knew it, wound up a half hour away from it. By the time I got back, I had missed the 8:15 bus going north by 1 minute.
The phone Danny gave me yesterday was an old one and, although it had Yossi’s number entered into it, the number was an old number. Couldn’t phone Yossi to tell him I missed the bus and would arrive an hour late. But, I reasoned he would figure it out when I didn’t show up.
Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station is like New York City’s Grand Central Station. It’s a multi-story building with hundreds of shops, cafes and places to get lost. I was standing there in the middle of it all wishing I had someone to tell me where to go when Yitzchak (from Ma’ale Levona) walked up and said, “Shalom.” He had just arrived from Ma’ale Levona and had lots of time to show me around. Just then, Yossi called my cell phone and asked if I was on the bus. After we got our signals clear, Yitzchak showed me around and stayed with me to make sure I caught the 9:30 bus.
As the bus moved through Jerusalem picking up passengers headed north, I was struck by the monochrome coloring of the city. Basically, everything is some shade of white or tan or brown except for the roads (blacktop), the olive trees (dusty green), the rooftops (dusty red) and the occasional shock of flowers (various dusty colors).
Soldiers are everywhere: very young men and women, mostly in their late teens carrying machine guns nearly as long as they are tall. Clumps of Ultra Orthodox Jews stand together on street corners, all wearing long, black coats and black hats too small to really fit their heads. Beards are never cut or trimmed. Even the youngest boys have side curls hanging down to their shirt collars.
We left the northern edge of Jerusalem and immediately entered the desert. And, I do mean immediately. Dirt and rocks in all directions. We passed through an army checkpoint with more young soldiers and their long machine guns.
We took the new highway, skirting the large town of Ramallah which is too dangerous to drive through even though it is the most direct route north.
On the top of each hill is either an Arab or an Israeli settlement. You can tell the difference: Houses in the Arab villages look like homes of the rich and famous, scattered randomly about the hilltop, looking as if each owner was trying to “one up” his neighbors’ house: multiple stories, balconies, archways. In the Israeli settlements, the houses are all arranged in planned, orderly rows. All look alike with dusty, red tiled roofs and lots of dusty landscaping in the little yards.
Arab villages have no fences or gates. Israeli villages are heavily fenced with a main gate guarded by a man or woman with lots of bullets in his (or her) gun. Many of the Arab villages are built without permission on land that has not been purchased and with materials they have “found” while the owners of these estates pay no taxes to the State of Israel. Meanwhile, Israelis are being removed from areas which they were encouraged to settle, on land they legally purchased decades ago and on which they have built thriving communities.
Olive trees are everywhere on both sides of the road. Low, stacked stone walls run in all directions meeting one another here and there. Some go for miles, separating ancient vineyards and groves owned by peoples long forgotten. These stone walls (and the stone terraces on every hillside) are the only remaining witnesses to the men and women of Bible times who walked this land and planted the ancestors of these vineyards and olive groves. The walls remain to mock the memory of every great civilization whose armies ravished the land only to be reduced to a paragraph on the page of some schoolboy’s history book.
Occasionally I saw attempts to grow corn or sunflowers, but this is not the fertile Jordan River Valley. What grows around these rocks is the olive tree which, like the desert camel, needs little water.
Yossi called a couple more times to make sure I got off the bus at the entrance to the yeshuv of Eli (pronounced “A-lee”). He told me twice, “Don’t enter Eli, but get off the bus at the security gate at the entrance.” (The operative word here was “entrance”). He even made me give the cell phone to the driver to make sure he let me off at the entrance. Even though the bus driver explained that there was no bus stop at the entrance, Yossi was adamant. By this time, everyone on the bus was chuckling as if my behavior had provided them with a refreshing change from their normal, hum-drum, morning ride to Eli.
When we pulled up to the security gate at the entrance to Eli, there was Yossi, with his hand out to stop the bus. When the passengers saw Yossi, everyone began to Oooh and Ahhh and say, “It’s Yossi. It’s Yossi Maimon!” I suddenly realized that my stock had risen in their eyes. Yossi even had to step on the bus and greet everyone and shake the bus driver’s hand. Again the lesson: “It’s not what you know but who you know”. Or is it “whom you know”? I’m sure one of you will comment on that!
Yossi bought some food at the store and we drove across the Valley of Levona to his Yishuv, Ma’ale Levona, meaning the Hill of Levona. “Levona” was a rare spice that once grew only in this valley. The spice was important because it was one of three used to make the oil for the Temple.
The rest of the morning was spent eating grapes, drinking coffee (more on coffee later) and discussing whether or not Yossi considered my suggestions worthwhile to incorporate into his book. I wanted Yossi to understand that I realized how much a book is like a child to the author. The parent can have negative attitudes toward his own child’s behavior, but youhad better think my child is wonderful in every way. We talked for more than two hours and Yossi liked many of the things I shared. Then Yossi fixed lunch. My assignment is to rewrite three chapters and show them to Yossi to see if he wants me to rewrite all of them.
Yossi was coming to Jerusalem and so brought me back to the Central Bus Station from which I figured out how to get home. On the way we discussed many issues pertaining to Israel, the religious and non-religious make-up of the State, and the current war.
OK, guys. I’ve heard from a few of you. Is anyone else out there reading this stuff, or is it just too deadly boring?