Larry Lefkowitz was born in Trenton, NJ, USA, 1937 and immigrated to Israel in 1972. He is married with 2 children and a grandchild. He has contributed to Voices Israel anthologies over the years. His stories, poems, and humor have appeared in publications in the US, Israel and Britain. His stories in Hebrew have been published in various literary magazines.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Orange will ever remind me of Malka
The other day I smiled at a girl from whose shoulder bag hung an orange ribbon. She returned my smile, no doubt of the opinion that I was a political sympathizer of the orange cause. In truth, I was not; I had smiled at her because she reminded me of Malka. Malka was a member of the settlement which I was given the honor of guarding as part of my army service.
I am 'middle of the road' in my political preferences, a refection of my approach to everything else in my life. Maybe had she known this, she would have accepted it as a manifestation of the 'golden rule' of the Rambam which urged following the path of moderation in all things; albeit that the orange ribbon wearers did not, when it came to the matter of settlements, inscribe this principle of the Rambam on their banner.
One thing about the settlers' protest I could embrace was their choice of orange as an emblematic color. They had adopted it because a short time before, the Ukrainians (a somewhat surprising source of inspiration) had used orange as banner color in their protests which brought to power a reform government that didn't live up to expectations, corruption being apparently too ingrained. (Our country is, in this respect, seemingly on the way to emulating the Ukraine, Bulgaria and, who knows? if it continues in its present course may even revive the golden days of bakshish which oiled the creaking wheels of the Ottoman Empire.)
The settlers’ movement's choice of orange pleased me because it was an offbeat color, one not generally used to symbolize anything and a refreshing change from the blue and white, or red, usually chosen to manifest political stances in our country. Perhaps the orange color appealed to my tendency toward the whimsical, (a "maddening tendency" in Malka's words): Nu, who else would remember from his school lessons the fact that there is no English word which rhymes with the word 'orange'? I also recalled the anomaly that the so-called 'black box' recorder in airplanes is actually orange. These tidbits which I rained on Malka were received by dismissive headshaking on her part together with her admonition, "Your wife is going to have a hard time." "You'll get used to it," I jibed back. She did not reply but her face turned, not orange orange, but pomegranate red.
I was also drawn to the color orange, because it reminded me, historically, of William of Orange and his successful throwing off of the Spanish yoke in establishing independent Holland, which was to provide a home for Jewish refugees from persecution. This revelation Malka received positively, remarking only that "Today Jews are persecuted by their own government," a political comment which, I retorted, was an exaggeration. Sometimes our political arguments became more heated; I could tell when I over-tried her patience: in such situtions she deigned not to answer, preferring to dismiss me with a single click of her tongue, sometihng sufficiently insulting but for the brief view it afforded of her pretty pink tongue against her even white teeth. My description here may be influenced by the reading of the "Song of Songs" on Sabbath evenings in the settlement synagogue which I sometimes attended: spirituality induced in part by army boredom. O.k., Malka's upper row of teeth had a gap in the middle, but somehow I fancied it as a welcome change from their otherwise perfect uniformity.
Malka was typical of the settlement girls insofar as she projected a kind of purity or innocence (that once characterized kibbutz daughters) which seemed to me to be at variance with their purposeful and at times histrionic political manifestations as, for example, Malka's "persecuted by their own government" comment. Malka would call me "leftist" when I angered her during our frequent political arguments and I would call her ”Zeeva” in honor of Zeev Jabotinsky. Concerning Jabotinsky, I once left Malka speechless by telling her that according to the Koran, the Land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan belongs to the Jewish people, so that Mohammed and Jabotinsky saw eye to eye on this. Malka's positive naïveté was a quality which attracted me to her, although her openness and intellectual curiosity were the principal factors which caught me. And she was pretty. Her mildly freckled face and arms (on the rare occasions when I was fortunate enough to glimpse the latter when she rolled up her sleeves in order to wash dishes in the kitchen) imparted to her a childish aspect which appealed to me. I liked also the weave of her light brown and blond hair.
Our relationship was solely friendly, not romantic – I did not wear a knitted skullcap or a skullcap at all. I toyed with the idea of doing so in order to win over Malka, but realized it wasn't for me. So our relationship remained what is, or used to be, called platonic, if Plato as a basis for the definition wouldn't have pleased Malka. Malka once dubbed it our relationship (humorously) "shatnez."
Despite our relationship not being looked on favorably by other members of the settlement (made clear to me by their looks and whispers – especially on the part of the women), Malka was not deterred from being seen in my company. Nor was I from being seen in hers. Malka constituted the only light in an otherwise routine and tedious army service. (Shabat evening meals were another plus.)
If I was tolerated, amusingly or bemusingly, by the settlement members – by virtue of my army service contributing to the defense of the settlement – I was never made to feel at home. Except by Malka, who brought me cookies from the kitchen when I was on guard duty, and treated me to other little favors which meant a lot to me.
The settlement conducted periodical meetings where settlement defense and other problems were discussed. These I attended, unless on guard duty at the time. I considered it part of my duty, in case 'defense matters' were raised; in addition it provided something to do. At one of these sessions, I actually spoke (I am reticent by nature). Outside the confines of the settlement there is a path which leads to the rear of it, passing between a crevice of sorts and bordered here and there by bushes. I had thought it a natural route for terrorists bent on attacking the settlement. At the meeting I pointed this out. And I had a suggestion to warn of such an attack. As I described it, I reddened, fearing the suggestion might be too fantasy-based .(Yours truly is an avid science fiction reader; Malka mocked this non-torah related interest of mine -- she called the stories “grandmother tales”; yet after I described the themes of some of the stories, particularly those written by Jewish writers or dealing with Jewish subjects, she showed a definite interest in them while pooh-poohing my suggestion that the tales of Rabbi Nachman of Brazlav were not far removed from science fiction stories. Other stories she simply laughed at – particularly one set in the future, where offspring of Israeli and Japanese (!) parents functioned as super-mercenaries. "Samuraichiks," she dismissed them.
My suggestion was that, instead of posting a guard near the path (we were strapped for sufficient guards), there be installed under the surface of the path a device which would raise the alarm when stepped on by a terrorist. The device would be turned on every evening after dark. My suggestion was greeted with silence. I attributed the silence to disbelief or rejection, but then I perceived that the audience had not yet completely digested it. The silence was broken when Dov, a respected figure among the settlers, rubbed his chin and pronounced his opinion that it wasn't a bad idea. He turned to Eli, the settlement's electrician, and asked him if he considered it feasible. "Why not?" Eli replied with enthusiasm, and I could see he was already mentally working on its implementation.
With such dual backing, I saw a few heads nod in agreement with my proposal, others nodded in my direction, and a few faces even smiled at me; among them, Malka's oval one. I could read her mind: Maybe your science-fiction ideas weren't so fanciful, after all.
Within a week the system was up and running and my status in the settlement upped a notch, most of the settlers relating to me now as a benign curiosity, no longer as a complete loser. Malka, I could discern, was delighted. Apparently the 'pressure' on her not to be too close to me (lest there develop a relationship with the goy) had lessened, if it had not evaporated.
Approximately a month later, the sound of automatic fire woke me up in the middle of the night. I leapt from my bed (we were supposed to sleep in uniform and with boots on, but nobody honored the latter order, and the former was often honored in part). I ran out, barefoot, clutching my M-16. The whole settlement was on its feet. A terrorist had been killed by another soldier on guard duty, who had been alerted by the alarm, and had surprised and dispatched the terrorist.
I hadn't heard the alarm, only the shots (a kind of poetic injustice, maybe). Although the credit for the kill justifiably went to the soldier -- he garnered the back-slapping and verbal praise -- some of the settlers smiled in my direction, and a couple approached me with "Mazel tov", one with "Mazel tov on the boychik." Yet what pleased me more than ahything else was Malka’s flushed-with-pride “Well done.”
In one fell swoop my status in the settlement was established; almost as much as the soldier who had finished off the infiltrator. In this high-tech era my contribution was esteemed.
Malka could now meet with me openly, and people who had ignored me previously or granted me a curt hello, greeted me warmly and with smiles. No longer was I an 'outsider', if not yet an 'insider.' I had achieved the status of a kind of honored heretic. Unfortunately I had acquired such status but a month before finishing my army service, yet, I consoled myself, better late than never.
About six months later I bumped into Malka on the street. We talked briefly. She was engaged. "Mazel tov," I said. Although there had never been a chance for us romantically because of our obvious differences, I felt a pang of regret. Perhaps it wasn't until then that I realized how much I cared for her.
My eyes, maybe from habit (a Pavlovian reaction by now ingrained due to my settlement service), searched her person for something orange on her. I found it, ultimately, in the form of an unobtrusive plastic orange bracelet encompassing her thin wrist (upon the latter I had always wanted to plant a kiss, but never had). So like Malka: who didn't go in for the orange ribbons or orange shirts or skirts worn by more outspoken Amazons of the orange legion. Though even these displays did not approach that of a middle-aged woman I once spotted bedecked in an orange shirt and orange skirt, sporting an orange handbag and orange hat (I could not help speculating if her undergarments were also orange!).
Obviously an American.