There are thousands of stories in the city. These are some of them. This piece was original posted on the WELL. Comments by WELL members have been removed.
Topic 214: Bivas Street, Jerusalem, 1976
# 1: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun, Aug 6, '89 (07:35) 62 lines
There is a neighborhood in Old Jerusalem called "Sh'khunat Ha-Kurdim."--the Kurds neighborhood It's one of the original settlements built outside the walls of Jerusalem. This particular neighborhood is one of the last to become established in the area now generically known as "Nakhlaot" (settlements) in what is now the commercial center of new Jerusalem.
Walking through the area, bounded roughly by Yafo Road on the north, the Old City on the East, Gan Sacher on the West, and perhaps Rehavia to the south, one can still see traces of the old settlements. In fact, taking the alleyways from behind the modern supermarket, HaMashbir L'Tzarkhan, and walking west, one passes through the gateways and archways that were once enclosed each of these various settlements. After five or ten minutes one stumbles into Makhane Yehuda, the large open-air market. If one then turns left to Agrippas street, and follows it a few blocks further west one eventually sees a small alleyway called Bivas street.
Bivas street is named after a relatively obscure Sephardic rabbi. The street is appropriately obscure: only a couple hundred yards long, at no point is it wide enough to accomodate an automobile--or even half an auto. At the northern end is a small grocery store where we would buy tea and delicious black bread. At the southern end, a modern yeshiva has encroached. In between are a few dozen houses and courtyards, and half a dozen synagogues. Somewhere in the middle the street divides such that there are houses to the left, houses to the right, and houses in the middle.
Once upon a time this was a thriving community. Oldtimers would tell me how on the Sabbath all of the synagogues would be crowded. On Bar Mitzvahs and other simchas, there would be no room for guests. When I moved there in 1976, however, it was a neighborhood that was dying. A few of the houses were rented out to students like myself. A few others were inhabited by people that we used to call the "waiting to die" folk--old men and women who would spend their days sitting in the alleyway, doing nothing, sometimes mumbling to themselves, and waiting to die.
On especially sunny days, however, all of the women in the street would come sit outside to exchange gossip. As they talked, their hands would be busy--sifting legumes, sewing, doing whatever chores could be done sitting on a stool in the alley, passing gossip and chatter up and down the street. On such days it could easily take half an hour to traverse the four or five houses from my house to that of my best friend Sara. I would have to stop at each house and chat for a few minutes with each of the women--how was I, what was new, how were their children doing... the stuff of life. It was a good way to live, and a welcome busy-ness.
It is no accident that it was during the year I lived on Bivas Street that my Israeli accent was perfected, and that I became an "honorary" Kurd. I recently spent time with several of the people I lived with, or came to know while I lived on Bivas Street. It wasn't a reunion--I can't imagine any number of us getting together in the same room again--but separately as we passed through each other's towns we spent time together. And it occurs to me that stories about Bivas street might convey what living in Jerusalem was like during that period. The houses on Bivas street--mine and my best friend's--were odd amalgams in which we were unusually integrated into Israeli society, and yet, and yet, they also resembled American pads in the Sixties, I think, more than they represented anything that an Israeli, then or now, would have recognized as familiar.
At any rate, I'll try to post the stories as I have time. And anyone else who was in Jerusalem during the Seventies should also feel free to contribute. To be an American in Israel in the Seventies, was in some way or another, to live on Bivas street.
Topic 214: Bivas Street, Jerusalem, 1976
# 3: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun, Aug 13, '89 (19:24) 209 lines
Ja'ma'ah is slang for "gang." My second year in Israel I had moved out of the dorms and into Habonim House on the edge of Jerusalem. In theory, the house was a collective where we ate dinner together, bought food together, and all worked with neighborhood groups. The project was part of an absorption center for new immigrants in what was possibly the worst slum in Jerusalem, Katamon Tet.
As it turned out, I was an ace fuckup. I was useless as a youth counsellor, and didn't do much with the year other than learn to smoke cigarettes, smoke a lot of dope, drop out of school, and listen to lots of loud, loud music.
The latter turned out to be very important. The stars of the neighborhood were a bunch of pre-army kids who had organized themselves into a street theatre troupe. According to legend, the street theatre was begun by a guy named Aryeh Yitzhak who walked into the neighborhood one day and convinced the kids that there were better things to do than practice car theft. The story of the transition between street kids to theatre stars deserves pages by itself, but it wasn't my story and I can't tell it well. In brief, Aryeh started off with improvisation and eventually the kids wrote a story that was a modernization of the "Joseph and the Multi-Colored Coat." In this case, Joseph was a slum kid, and among the scenes were one where Joseph is thrown in jail and raped. It created strong reactions (Many of the stories I heard for the first time years later at parties on Bivas Street when my Hebrew was finally good enough to understand them for the first time). Aryeh Yitzhak himself, however, became disillusioned due to some incidents which drove home the fact that the kids might have gotten a lot of shit together, but they were not yet the clean community organizers he had hoped to foster. He discovered God, and when I went to interview him several years later (while living on Bivas Street) he was totally engrossed in the study of Talmud. He told me that he had made a mistake--he had taught the kids how awful they were being treated, but had not succeeded in giving them the positive force that they needed--the Torah.
The year I moved into Habonim House, the troupe, already without Aryeh Yitzhak, had gone off to Germany for an international theatre festival with their second play, "Noar Mechani"--Mechanical Youth. They took a prize in the festival, and despite the fact that some members dropped out and others got drafted the group continued in the community center of a nearby neighborhood, Kiryat HaYovel as the "Jerusalem Community Theatre." Nafi Salah, the older brother of the one of the kids was made director. I was attracted to the gang immediately. They were younger than I by a year or two, but we loved the idea of street theatre, and we loved to party and listen to loud music. That year all of my American friends in the house dropped out of school. By the end of the year, I was a certified asshole and on speaking terms with almost none of them--and having a great time with the gang. Then the Americans left Israel to complete college studies in the States. Having no desire to join them, I stayed behind--even felt betrayed in some major way that they had gone and left me. Unlike them, I had no American option. My family lived in Beer Sheva and would have been unable to put me through an American school. And I liked being in Israel. I liked getting stoned and listening to loud music. I was in love with a woman from the absorption center. And I was getting ready to write the great Israeli novel. Israel was my chance to live like the Sixties--what I heard about the United States in the Seventies was pretty damn depressing.
By fall, with the exception of my best friend Stephen and the woman in the absorption center I no longer had any close friends who knew how to speak English. I was encouraged to leave the house for the dual sins of being hopeless at working with youth groups, and for being six months or so behind in my rent. I took my first real job--as manager at a kosher chinese restaurant, and spent the succeeding year cooking Kosher chinese food and moving once a month. And hanging out with the gang.
By now, all of them had been drafted. Weekends we would gather at someone's house and drink and tell stories. Moshe Salah and Dani Kali would play guitar and we would all sing along and make up songs as we went. Not everyone fit into the army well. Dani was in army intelligence and actually like it. Shlomo Vazana became somewhat estranged from the group, although he still hung out some, and eventually wound up doing theatre in the army. Moshe (whose brother Nafi directed the next generation of "Jerusalem Community Theatre" in Kiryat HaYovel) eventually ended up doing theatre with kids in Beit Shean. But before that happened, he spent several periods in jail for going AWOL, and once because he simply forgot his gun in a field. Eli Hamu wound up as a printer. He spent the most time of anyone in the gang in jail, but he always did it with style. (I remember a period when Eli was in jail, then released but Moshe was in jail, then Moshe got out and Eli went back in--we had a huge party the weekend everyone finally made it back to Jerusalem).
Eli Hamu, you see, had been an orphan since he was little. He wasn't exactly an orphan, but his mother had died, and his father remarried. The new wife didn't get along with the kids by the old wife, and when they moved to Katamon Tet, Eli and his brother and sister moved into a flat underneath that of the rest of the family. At one point, however, while Eli was doing basic training in the Sinai he decided that he needed a break. He let his commanding officer know that his mother had just died, and was given leave. Unfortunately, Eli didn't make it back to the base until a week or two after the compassionate leave had expired. Winding up in jail, he took the punishment stoically for a few days until, well, he heard that his mother died, and was given compassionate leave from jail. A couple of months later, Eli had gotten a job as a printer at an army base about an hour from Jerusalem. One dark and stormy night it was decided that it was his turn to do guard duty. Like any good soldier, Eli figured that no one was going to attack on such a night and turned in early. About 2 a.m. some jerk of an officer knocked on his door and woke him up.
"I'm sorry to wake you up, soldier, but do you know someone named Eli Hamu who is supposed to be on guard duty?"
"Who the fuck is this Eli Hamu," answered the unflappable Mr. Hamu. "And what the fuck right do you have in waking me up at two in the morning because you can't keep track of your soldiers." It got him an extra half an hour of sleep, but probably added a couple of weeks to his jail sentence when, for once, he was caught.
His last year in the army, Eli got away with his biggest bluff. He pointed out to his commanding officer that because he commuted to Jerusalem, he arrived each morning exhausted and worked like shit all day. On the other hand, if he arrived at 10am and left by 4pm, he would put in a solid six hour's work. Never mind that he had no permission to live off-base. The officer bought the story and Eli rented a room with his girlfriend, Eli(shevah) at the north end of Bivas street, just inside a courtyard, behind the pigeon coops.
This all came later, however. In real time, during the year before Bivas Street, while Eli and the rest of the ja'ma'ah were having fun in the army, Eli's best friend Yamin (a budding photographer) became an epileptic.
Perhaps "became" an epileptic is too strong a term. What is true, however, is that under the stress of serving in the army a latent disease became active, forcing Yamin to go on permanent medication and resulting, at the end of the year, in his early discharge. I had been moving about once a month as different apartments didn't work out, or different combinations of roommates drove me out of my mind. I finally retired to Beer Sheva for the summer to work on my novel and Yamin and I made plans to live together come fall. In the meantime, weekends that I didn't come to Jerusalem, Eli Hamu would often come to Beer Sheva. It was the summer when we realized that I could finally speak Hebrew well and we were in the very heady, very intense stage of rediscovering ourselves as friends. From grunts and single sentence discussions about the merits of Black Sabbath or the Allman Brothers we suddenly discovered a passion for Kierkegaard and Buber and Sarte and what socialism really was and how to change society and how to do effective community organizing ... and life. Mostly just life.
Of the whole gang, Eli is the only one who could be said to be intellectually driven. In elementary school he had been at the top of his class. Unfortunately, his classroom was in a school in Katamon Tet. So when he went to apply for high school he discovered that not even being valedictorian at Katamon school was enough to prepare him for "real" high school. And he was forced to drop out. He never stopped reading or talking or listening or asking. Although the other members of the ja'ma'ah were no less intelligent, it was Eli who was never able to lose the sense of magic imbued by the simple printed word. Of the entire ja'ma'ah, it was only with Eli Hamu that I was ever able to really fight with, and only with Eli that I was ever able to become reconciled once we had fought.
While I was going native and learning Hebrew, the Habonim Project had gone to hell in a handbasket. The year that I had lived there had seen the house rent by ideological disputes, and when the year was over, the house had lost too many people, and the rifts were too great. The ostensible argument had been over when and how to turn over organizing in the community to the people who lived there. The reality of the argument had a lot to do with a sane ability to leave politics aside and make a non-ideological judgement of what could and could not be done given the previous years of work. During the year of my wandering, Beit Habonim pretty much ceased to work in the community. One of the most telling incidents occurred during a community action over a new neighborhood build behind Katamon Tet--Pat.
Pat was a shiny new neighborhood. At one point, activists in Katamon Tet decided that it was time to occupy some of the buildings to call attention to the plight of the young families, just married, who couldn't find work, couldn't find housing, and were living a dozen to a room in their parents homes. Late that night, we broke the locks and hauled our sleeping bags and food upstairs to effect the occupation. Whole families moved all of their possessions into rooms under the cover of darkness. Beit Habonim folk brought a large cauldron of coffee, but as the night wore on, not even the stories told by one of the ja'ma'ah members's parents were able to keep them awake, and they faded--and went home. At that point, my Hebrew was only good enough to catch every second or third word, but I remember being entranced by North African ghost stories and reminisces of the days "back when."
In the morning, neighborhood stores, and parents, brought us breakfast. The former did not always contribute voluntarily, but among the leadership of the occupation squad were also members of the local organized criminal gang. It was with a slightly queasy feeling that I watched on store owner "convinced" to contribute towards breakfast. Later, food in hand, I proved myself a formidable backgammon player and held my own against the local champion.
And eventually, the police came. I don't remember any more whether it was the first afternoon, or if we stayed an additional night, but eventually they came and evicted us. It was the usual chaotic scene with gang leaders ready to go "mano a mano" with the cops, with the cops a bit freaked out and brutally ready to live up to their reputations. I watched people thrown out of the apartments, including pregnant women thrown downstairs and all the while the police cordon holding us back....
In a last gasp of community organizing it was decided that several members of the original theatre group, along with associated neighborhood mafioso, would study in a special program to become youth counselors and community organizers. By now I had "gone native" to a fair degree. I was facing the question of what to do with my life, and trying to figure out what my responsibilities were if I wasn't going to serve in the army. Despite a previous abysmal failure to display any aptitude for the job, I decided to join the program and to become a youth counselor to work with street gangs in Katamon Tet. Yamin, was going to study as well, and that cemented our decision to move in together.
The house we eventually found was a few doors down from Sara's new digs, on Bivas street. It had been "modernized" by the owner, who himself had moved into modern housing in Pat--a neighborhood with which we were already rather familiar. The remodeled slum house had the requisite two rooms and a modern two-burner stove. It even had indoor plumbing. (Okay, so you had to walk through one of the rooms to get to the bathroom, but still...) It looked affordable. We prepared to move in.
Topic 214: Bivas Street, Jerusalem, 1976
# 5: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun, Aug 20, '89 (02:19) 152 lines
Finding a place to live is never easy. It doesn't get any easier when the city in question is Jerusalem and everyone wants to live there. For sure, there are home finding agencies, and ads in the paper--but these are almost always for the more expensive places. Instead, we did what one always does in these cases. We walked. Street by street, door by door, we wandered through Nahlaot asking people if they knew of a place to rent. It wasn't hard to find families which were renting out single rooms, but Yamin and I wanted a separate unit with two rooms.
Sara had found it no easier before us. She had decided to live with a friend of hers from Ein Karen named Annie, who had recently returned to the city. In between Ein Karem and Nahlaot, Annie had fallen in love with an American, Go, who had gone bedouin in a big way and had a herd of sheep in the valleys outside of Jerusalem. Go also grew the amazing marijuana that Sara would put in the frying pan and dry on the stove each shabbos.. Marijuana, after all, was not easy to find in Israel. The usual form was hashish, which was generally quite common and relatively inexpensive. Over the next few years it would just become voguish within Israel to grow marijuana and harvest the leaves. A friend and I, for instance, planted the first crop of "Hatzbani green" in the frigid cold waters in the northernmost corner of Israel just under Hermon mountain. Unfortunately, we didn't realize the extent of growth in the area. So, in the spring we walked up the paths to remote spots and planted our crop. We assiduously avoided the area until fall, when we discovered that the jungle was too thick to penetrate. We tried walking up the Hatzbani river to reach our planting sites, but not only was the water within a half a degree of freezing, but the rapids were almost insurmountable. Finally, we reached the area where the grass should have been. And we couldn't even make our way out of the river to rescue it.
All was not lost, of course, the marijuana thrived and the river carried seeds downstream over time in a most satisfying manner :-).
Anyway, Annie was coming back to Jerusalem and Sara hunted and hunted for the right apartment for the two of them. Finally she found a three-room semi-detached house on Bivas street where the road temporarily split in two. Sara rented the house and Annie arrived to move in. Annie took one look at the house and realized that this just wouldn't work. Sure, there were three rooms, but each led into the other. The final room had it's own door to the street, but this meant that at night Annie would have to exit the house and go in the other door anytime Sara needed privacy and Annie wished to do use the bathroom or kitchen. Annie and I shared the house while Sara was out of the country and I was househunting with Yamin. Since Sara and I had generally clarified our lack of physical relationship, I was now madly in love with Annie. It might actually have worked out, but once she decided that the house was not made for two people, Annie moved out to S'fat where she found a natural foods teacher and a new boyfriend.
The three of us were very strongly vegetarian at that point, or rather, Sara and Annie were, and I was rediscovering dead animal. We bought grains and nuts from an old woman in northern Jerusalem. That year a couple from America opened a bakery collective and began baking the most amazing organic whole grain bread in the world a few blocks away. And some other Americans opened up a real health food store--one that sold you flour without bits of grinding wheel in it and shrink wrapped all of the fruits and nuts so they didn't get dirty. And, of course, we lived within blocks of Mahane Yehuda, a huge open-air market where fresh vegetables and fruits and cheeses and any other household needs were dirt cheap--and selecting and bargaining for them was a daily pleasure. Tough wooden boxes filched from the market late at night became my bookshelves, and later, when a friend bought a horse, we went to the market every couple of days for greens that the grocers would throw out. One of my fondest memories of Mahane Yehuda is the day Yamin and I moved into our own place. After paying the deposit we had about $4 to live on for the next week. We went to the market and carefully bargained for a tomato here, a cucumber there, and wound up with just enough food. Yamin would bring home food cooked by his mother--wonderful intensely hot Tunisian food that caused me to forsake my vegetarian ways. Often on Friday nights we would both go to the family house back in Katamon Tet for dinner.
The blocks of Katamon Tet in which Yamin's family lived had made sociological history when they were built. They had been put together in the late fifties to resettle immigrants from North Africa who had been living in ma'araboth--filthy shanty towns put up as instant housing during the tight days of early statehood. Among other problems, the blocks were built for typical European families with two kids. Since the average North African family had eight kids, and included several generations, it proved impossible to settle individual families in single apartments. Instead, the Jewish Agency simply removed some walls allotting families two, or even three apartments as one.
Unfortunately, the project was done is such a shoddy manner that the blocks went from new housing to Jerusalem's worst slums within hours. The blocks were so bad, that kids a few blocks away with whom the Habonim folk were working were afraid to join groups that contained kids from blocks 101 and 102--the core of Katamon Tet. In fact, Katamonim, the general name for the several Katamon neighborhoods contained letters aleph through tet, except that there was no Katamon Zayin. Since the letter zayin in hebrew also has scatalogical meaning, it gave rise to the bitter phrase "Ein Katamon Zayin mip'nai she-ha-memshala lo sama zayin al katamonin"--there is no Katamon Zayin because the government doesn't give a fuck about the Katamon neighborhoods. Despite this, the other Katamon neighborhoods ranged from upper middle class on down, and it was only Katamon Tet, really, that represented the bottommost rung of the social ladder.
Yamin's mother was, and is, perhaps the world's best cook. His father had a promising career cut short by a severe drinking problem and the family circumstances were not good. Although the older kids had all made good, the younger ones were affected by their father's illness and never achieved the same success--except for Yamin (who also broke seriously with tradition by moving out of the house before getting married). By the time I got to know the family, the father had undergone treatment and was no longer drinking. He had also found employment as a security guard. It wasn't much, but it meant that the family was again moving in a positive direction and was additionally buoyed by the successes of the older kids, and Yamin's mother's work as a house cleaner during the week.
Yamin's father also bottled some nice wine each year with grapes that he would purchase from an Arab in one of the villages behind the city. This would get pulled out on special occasions such as Jewish holidays. Katamon Tet, after all, was on the literal edge of the city. If you walked south of the Block 102, you were in the Jerusalem Hills, a hop and a skip away from several villages, and out of sight of everyone but the occasional hiker or wandering shepherd. It was not uncommon to see a peddler with fruit or vegetables on a donkey in among the housing blocks.
Friday nights Yamin and I would arrive, trudging carefully up a stairwell which had obviously been used as a urinal in the recent past. Usually the lights were broken as well. Once we arrived at the flat we would sit and watch TV and munch "garinim"--sunflower seeds, while his mother finished dinner. The contrast between the shiny clean, friendly apartment and the smell on the other side of the door never failed to astound me. Most of Yamin's brothers and sisters had married and moved out. There was one older brother, Eli, at home, and a younger brother (Itzik) and sister (Shoshana). Itzik was missing a hand--a grim reminder of the morning when he had wandered into a construction site and found some blasting caps. We used to worry a lot about him. For now, he was a star pupil and an amazing soccer player. But we also knew that there was little future for a one-armed kid from the slums. The family was dragged through the courts for several years trying to get some monetary compensation to help, and eventually a pathetic settlement of a few thousand Israeli pounds--not even enough to send Itzik to college--was made.
Eventually it would be time for dinner. There would be the final Jewish broadcast of the early evening, a rabbi would wish us all a good Shabbos, and the Arabic language soaps would come on. As Yamin's father recited the kiddush and motzi, we would all have an eye stuck to the television. The kids all spoke Arabic. I tried to follow the Hebrew subtitles. After dinner, we would once again group formally around the TV set, Yamin's mother and sister would brew hot, thick Turkish coffee in little glass cups, and we would sit and munch the "garinim" until it started to get late and we headed home. Since no buses ran on Friday nights, we were forced to either make the 45 minute walk, or catch a ride in one of the collective taxis that replaced bus service. The way it worked was that the taxi would sit on the corner until the requisite half-dozen passengers appeared. We would each kick in the couple of pounds required to cover the fare, and the driver would head towards downtown. Along the way, he would drop people off wherever they wanted and perhaps pick up extra passengers. Depending on the route he took into town, sometimes we got a ride almost to our door. At worst, we were left off in the center of town, near HaMashbir (the large supermarket chain, and the downtown landmark)--a five minute walk from home.
Topic 214: Bivas Street, Jerusalem, 1976
# 10: Ari Davidow (ari) Sat, Aug 26, '89 (18:12) 117 lines
A. D. Takel (adapted from a satire written originally in Hebrew)
Did I meet Takel on Bivas Street? Or, was it later? It really doesn't matter. I have a vague memory of walking one night down Bezalel Street very late, through downtown Jerusalem in the stillness of 4am on Ben Yehuda Street and finally winding my way through Yafo gate and around to Damascus gate on the northern side of the Old City. If you walk from the gate, bearing left, and then turn left on the second corner, you will find the all-night Arab bakery. At some point the bakers were discovered by the people who inhabit the middle of the night. At first, people would just buy fresh bread, straight out of the oven. Then the bakers added a cooler with soft drinks and cigarettes. After 2am it was the only place in Jerusalem where one could purchase anything.
And the smells! This was the fresh, soft bread covered in seeds that one would purchase in the old city from street vendors throughout the day. At your request, they would break an egg on top and add some cheese. We called it pizza; and topped with zatt'ar a special mix of Middle Eastern spices rich in cumin and herbs, you couldn't ask for a better breakfast. Outside the door one might meet almost anyone--junkies, politicos, students, businessmen with insomnia. It was a magical place where some sort of truce in time existed, where everyone could sit outside in the warm Jerusalem air, nibble slowly at the pizza, smoke a cigarette, drink a bottle of Tempo oranj, or coke.
For some reason I was walking alone that night. Usually, it was Eli and Yamin and I who found ourselves awake at the strange hours of the morning and walked together for some food. Sometimes we would stop at the corner where the northern wall of the old city met the western wall, where opposite the round that encircles it lay the bakery of the bagelakh maker. He was an old man who had been making his hard, pretzel-like rings of dough since before the founding of the state. He had that grizzled pioneer veteran look and a slightly European accent. One talked with him through a small slit in a steel door--the slit a grim reminder of the years between '47 and '67 when snipers would often shoot a few rounds in his direction. The warm, just-baked bagelakh were good, but seldom did we stop there to eat. Nothing, but nothing ever matched the pizza at that hour.
Afterwards we would sit on top of Damascus Gate smoking some hash, or maybe just tobacco, and watching the people pass too and fro. Eventually we would call down to a muezzin on his way to call the prayers and ask the time. Discovering that it was truly late, we would walk unsteadily down the stairs and find our ways home.
On this particular evening, finding myself alone, I sat down outside the bakery to savor my pizza and found myself striking up a conversation with an old man sitting next to me. He was obviously religious and I expressed surprise at finding one such as him in a place that was obviously not kosher. He grinned. I broke my pizza in half and handed him a piece. The grin disappeared behind the pizza.
So we sat and talked and waited for the false sunrise. He said his name was Takel. Later, I discovered that it was often preceded by two initials, but never, ever discovered what they stood for until one night he confessed that he had stolen the initials only when he had come on the second aliya. Inspired by David Green's call to Hebraicize names, Takel became Aleph Daled Takel, in honor of the great labor writer A.D. Gordon.
Takel claimed to have been born in Uganda, which in the early part of the century turned out to be even less hospitable towards Jews than Mother Russia. By age 14 he had arrived in the Holy Land just in time to heed Green's (now, Ben Gurion) call to build the road to Tiberias and found kibbutzim. Takel started off with Ben Gurion building the road to Tiberias, but after a bitter ideological dispute broke off and took his splinter party south to build the road to Beit Shean (a sleepy town just north of the bulge in the pre-'67 borders).
Takel commanded a Palmach group during the War of Independence, and afterwards served many years in Ben Gurion's cabinet. He and "Dudu" appeared to have a love-hate relationship. For over a decade Takel would get upset at BG and resign, then Ben Gurion would resign, then Ben Gurion would get called back and finally, Ben Gurion would convince Takel to join him once again in the new government. The final split occurred in the early Sixties right before the Lavon affair (which also signalled Ben Gurion's final hejira from the Premiership). At that point, Takel was beset by questions and tired of everything. He joined an anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox yeshiva in the "Mea Shearim" quarter of Jerusalem. For a few years Takel remained immersed in his Talmud and Torah. He married the rabbi's daughter, a widow named Gertie. Then one day he turned on the radio and he heard something new. It was psychedlic music. Takel's life was saved by rock and roll. He pawned his set of holy books and took the first plane to San Francisco. He spent a month living in Golden Gate park listening to the Grateful Dead and anyone else who would play. He took guitar lessons from Jorma Kaukonen because "Ace" Weir was doing the same. When the money ran out, Takel returned to Jerusalem where he organized Israel's first psychedelic rock band. In fact, it was Israel's first rock band, period. They gave one performance in Haifa in 1968, electric cool aid acid test and all, and were banned immediately from ever performing in Israel and throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Takel's hippy days were over.
At this point, an embittered and slightly permanently stoned Takel might have retired for good, and indeed, that was his plan. But by the early Sixties Gertie, his wife, had gotten tired of minding the home fires and had run off to Tel Aviv with one of the younger yeshiva students. There they opened Israel's first porn shop. Takel was outraged. He organized some of his old cronies and firebombed the shop leading to years of litigation and recrimination. To this day, many Israelis view the firebombing of the "Eros" sex shop as the opening round of newly violent religious response to secular ways. Certainly at that point, no one would have given odds that Takel and Gertie would ever be on speaking terms again, or that Takel would escape a well-deserved, hefty jail sentence. But "protexia"--the concept that things are done by having friends in the right places--was strong, especially for former cabinet ministers. When we met at a Grateful Dead concert at the Greek last week, Takel moaned that he should have taken the sentence--the precedent he set was used again to free members of the Jewish underground over the last couple of years, and Takel found it depressing.
Takel and Gertie got back together, too. No one would claim that Takel became the prototypical feminist male, but neither did Gertie ever again play the role of housewife and laundress. The two of them somehow worked out a vividly comfortable space between them where they could live with each other, and away from each other when necessary. And, as both of them told me on numerous occasions throughout the years that I knew them, where would either of them have found anyone remotely like the other?
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