Sacrifices

By

When the Yom Kippur war broke out back in '73, Jews in my city were asked to give all the help they could to imperiled Israel. I myself gave two dollars every day. At that time I was a student, very poor, and two dollars was what I ordinarily allotted myself every day for food. So, quite simply, I was fasting for Israel. And I was determined to continue until Israel was out of danger, or I collapsed, whichever came first.

When your heart is heavy for what you love, and your head light from lack of food, you don't always think as clearly as you should. One day I got it into my head that the fate of Israel was hanging entirely on me. I alone could raise the dollars that would buy the one gun, the one bandage, the one miracle, that would make the difference between defeat and victory.

And so I put notices on the telephone poles along my block announcing ''A Benefit Sale for Israel,'' to be held that afternoon in my apartment and featuring ''Bargain Personal Items.'' That my stock amounted only to a change of clothes that hung like an off-duty scarecrow in the closet, a dozen or so paperbacks, two reams of typing paper, and an old electric typewriter that, when certain keys were struck, trumpeted like a dying elephant - this did not in the least discourage me.

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I told myself that because of the gravity of the days, people would offer more than the things were worth. I could even imagine other Jews gathering around me, eyes brightening with joy at my pocketfuls of money, arms entwining with arms, and all of us dancing and singing to celebrate how a poor man had saved Israel.

But only one customer came to my sale, an old man in the junk business. He squinted at the few offerings, poked, sniffed, but in the end bought nothing. I awoke from my fairy tale, remembering myself and the world.

That night at the cafe where I washed dishes I broke more than usual, and I was afraid the boss would burst into the steamy crashing and fire me. Then Israel would not have even two dollars. But business was so good, and merriment so high, the boss forgot about me, and I was spared.

After work I went where I always went, Stein's Radio & TV. It was open 'till midnight, and it had a big color TV in the front window. Even though the sound was never turned up, I could watch the late news there - the tense, dusty faces of soldiers, the bright, false smiles of leaders, and then go home to worry.

This particular night everything was in black and white, and the film seemed fuzzy, dim. It took me several moments to realize that it wasn't the news, but a documentary about the Warsaw ghetto. Was this an omen? Was what had happened in Warsaw going to happen in Jerusalem? I pressed my face against the glass and watched.

Here were shadows flickering along lost streets, the men pulling wagonloads of furniture that looked brittle as kindling, the women fighting for a place in line to get water. Here were children caught with food in the secret pockets of coats that were much too big for them, much too old for them, their eyes filled with shame and terror.

And here, sitting with her back against a wall and looking off into what the ghetto allowed of distance, was a girl no more than 15. She was completely alone , completely forsaken. People were walking by her as if she weren't there, as if she were already dead. I began to cry as I watched her, and to despair not only of Israel but of the world. If this girl could die like that, what hope for mankind?

Just then, the owner of the store came running out. ''Hey, kid,'' he hollered , ''you crazy kid, what are you crying for?''

He grabbed me and hugged me. Then he lifted me up and, holding me right in front of his wild, jubilant eyes, he said, ''I just heard over the radio our tanks are driving them back! Do you realize what this means? Israel is going to win the war!''

Then, dropping me, he took off down the street, shouting the news at everybody he saw, shouting it even at the stars, as if at rooms where the lights were still on and people were wringing their hands, waiting to hear.

All I could think of was that I wanted to tell the girl in the ghetto we could stop getting thinner now, the world had been reprieved. But when I looked back at the documentary, she and her street had vanished. And doors on cattle cars were closing on others, who did not know that they would be remembered, who would not have believed that in such a world there could be an Israel.

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