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Truths and consequences (working title - will probably change)

by Shani 

Posted: 06 April 2008
Word Count: 3251
Summary: I think this is the start of a much bigger story and I would really welcome feedback

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My father had campaigned for Palestine since he’d been old enough. Some of the family were already there. They were the religious ones, still living according to the letter of the law with no sign of intellectual progress or progressive thinking. I’d offered to adopt one of their brood. They’d had 7 within the first 8 years of their marriage before Mother Nature had stepped in to stop any more but they were still mourning their lost opportunities and looking for explanations in psalms and ceremonies. I wasn’t deemed holy enough for them. The last time I’d seen them in Jerusalem all nine of them had been living in 3 rooms. It was no life for any child. The middle one, Simi, would have been the best prospect, the brightest eyes mind and smile, the one most likely to go to university. But they wouldn’t let Simi go with me. They didn’t really want Simi anywhere near me. I was considered a corrupting, bad influence, tolerated only because I’d brought them charity from Ma and Pa.

Simi seemed destined for a life of rules and rituals, a pious existence with an arranged marriage and a tribe of little Simis ready to carry on the traditions. It was almost unthinkable that my Ma and Simi’s Pa had the same heritage, upbringing and bloodline. They both had 7 children but there the similarities ended. Ma had left the old country when the ethnic cleansing started and met Pa in her new home. He was dodging the draft but he’d never been a shirker. He’d grafted from the day he’d got off the boat and so had Ma. Simi’s Pa had never lifted a finger, save to turn the pages of his holy books. I wondered how Simi would manage to grow up honouring this man, my mother’s brother.

Work hard and have a good name had been Pa’s two tenets and we all knew that if we broke those commandments that the wrath of Ma and Pa would reign down far worse than any divine damnation.

Simi was 10, I was 40, my Laura was nearly 20 and almost finished at finishing school. She’d written over 2 months ago but the letter had only just reached my address in Jaffa. Her handwriting was perfect, her grammar immaculate, her tone enthusiastic and her news dull. I knew I was having the sanitised version. I’d heard from the captain of the boat I’d travelled on that the Swiss finishing school I was paying for was renowned for turning out ladies who lunched, drank, smoked and hustled at poker. What it wasn’t possible to learn at Finishing School such a Captain would be likely teach any well groomed lady on a grand tour. My Laura was living by the family code and letting me believe that she was working hard and preserving the family’s good name. She’d been like her father from the day she could smile. She could twist your heart and make you love her and in loving her you’d forgive her anything. That’s why her letter was dull. No-one with as much spirit as my Laura, no-one with such an engaging smile and such sparkling eyes could be living such a neat and tidy life in Switzerland. Would I have preferred it if she’d told me she was sneaking out in the middle of the night for secret rendezvous? Did I want to know that her dancing eyes were dead still when she played a hand, cigarette holder in the other, with no thought for how she was spending the money I’d earned to send her there? She was just like her father but I didn’t begrudge her her fun, the way I did him. The mother in me didn’t want to know the truth but the modern woman in me did. She was having her time and it was my duty to allow her that. Her father had had my money but it was my duty to stay married until Laura’s future husband had been found. I couldn’t let her go to a future with my divorce as her dowry.

I thought of Simi and Laura, whose worlds would never meet, cousins who would have no understanding of each others lives, linked by blood and separated by beliefs. Laura would have never conformed to any rules let alone religious ones. Born between these wars she was the fêted first grandchild. Little Tuttie my Ma called her and indulged her in a way we’d never been and never with any hint that they would have preferred a grandson. They’d almost had one, David, born 10 years ago but not brought home.


May 1942

Dearest Ma

Geneva is simply glorious at this time of year. We are all jolly excited about the summer ball next month and have been practising the latest steps that Gwen learnt when she visited her sister in law in New York. She said it was absolutely tearing there. Her brother and sister in law took her to see the ‘movie’ Philadelphia Story, she said it was ripping and claimed that she saw Bette Davis outside the New York Russian Tea Rooms but we said she was mistaken, everyone knows that Hollywood and New York are ages away from each other. We’re all agreed that Cary Grant is dreamy but have great debates about whether we’d rather look like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers. I think I’d like to look like Katharine and dance like Ginger, I shall enjoy practising.

Madame Roux is such a drag insisting that we learn our verbs and conjugations every which way, but of course I will do it.

Lillian wrote and reminded me that Grandpa was in Geneva in 1939 but he doesn’t know any of the places that we visit because he was busy with his Congress all the time. It’s such a shame it really is the loveliest place and I think that if one is lucky enough to travel that one really ought to get to know the beautiful places.

Ray thinks that Uncle Sol is going to be one of the Boys in Blue now that he has his wings. Just think he’ll be able to take all of us flying. I wonder whether he might fly me from Geneva to Jaffa it would be so much less dull than the train and boat.
I do think we’re lucky not to be in England at the moment. The war sounds so terribly tragic for people. Joyce’s Pa is a doctor in London, Harley Street I expect, but he writes that there are people without homes in London, how ghastly.

Of course this war is awfully bad luck for you. I know you were so looking forward to settling in South Africa. Perhaps it will be over by Christmas and you’ll be able to continue your voyage. If I haven’t met Mr Right by that time then I shall come to join you.

Ma, dearest, you know I don’t like to ask but the summer ball is so important and I simply must wear the right dress. The prices here are terrific. Joyce thinks it’s because of the war but I don’t think that can be right. Even I know that Switzerland isn’t in the war and why would a war make beautiful dresses so dear? It only took two weeks for the money you wired to arrive last month much speedier than the silly old mail and I am certain I could find the most perfect outfit for a few more Francs. I know if you were here you would make me a wonderful creation and I would have loved that more than anything but I suppose I shall have to make do with something shop bought.

All my love



July 1942

Dearest Ma

Jaffa is so hot and dusty. The sand blows in through every crack in the brickwork and you can never sweep it all out. Sometimes it comes straight from the beach when the hot winds blow. The locals call it a Hamsin. Other times the camel trains traipse it through the town from the front en route to their next building project.

But the ants, dear Ma, you have never seen such swarms, it’s worse than any Pesach plague. You can’t leave a crumb of food out without a line of workers descending. Not that anyone would leave any food out. Between the heat, the ants and the shortages we treasure every morsel.

There is local produce at the Thursday market and I take a stall there to sell the clothes I’ve made during the week. Thank goodness for the Singer. If I’d taken the books instead of the sewing machine I’d have had no opportunity to make any money.

In this current climate there seems little hope of a passage to Johannesburg and between the need to sew in order to survive and the need to sweep to save drowning in sand reading is a luxury for which I have little time.

Laura wrote from school and is full of the joys of summer fun. Everything is tearing or ripping which is her new way of saying ‘right grand’. Will they understand her in Yorkshire when she returns, I wonder. At least in Geneva she is safe from sand, ants and war.

The holier-than-thou Uncle M received your donation, almost with thanks. He took his focus away from his book and made eye contact with me as a sign of gratitude. Even back then, in early May, the Jerusalem sun was hot in those airless rooms. It seemed so cruel to keep the children in long sleeved clothes, socks and stockings and his wife bundled into a wig and a headscarf. They didn’t invite me to stay for a meal or to return for another visit but doubtless if I arrive with a donation it will persuade them to open up their holy home. At least we know they are not likely to fritter it on fripperies like my lovely Laura, they’ll probably eke it out like Friday’s chicken.

Sol is stationed outside Tel Aviv in a unit set up by a chap called Wingate. He had an evening’s leave last week and we managed to meet up but he spent most of the time with at least one of his eyes on a local girl. She was from Germany and landed on the Tel Aviv beach 3 months ago. We tried to talk to her in Yiddish but obviously our Lithuanian variety didn’t meet her educated German standards. Still, in this pioneering place we’re all refugees from somewhere. I’ve gone from boss back to being seamstress and she from middle-class Berlin to the bottom of the barrel. Maybe it’s life that’s the great leveller. We had a fine time at a place called Café Batya (named for the owner’s wife). The chopped liver was excellent but the chicken soup wasn’t a patch on yours, it was probably a Latvian or Pollack recipe!

I must finish now as the daylight is fading and fuel is one of many things we’re short of here. Someone should have taken a better route when he left Egypt!!

With much love to everyone and many promises to write again soon

From the Promised Land



“Pesh, are you ready? I’ve got a 24 hour pass and I don’t want to waste it waiting for you.”

Sol had always been the patient one in the family but his time here, on a base, without his usual freedom to dream had brought out a new side to his personality. We’d pooled our resources. His soldier’s pay, my sewing pittance and Ma’s special occasion present and we were going to spend an evening seeing the sights and delights of Tel Aviv. Peshy was my familial nickname and however endearing it didn’t sit well with me, too much connection to days of old and times gone by. I didn’t want those links. Mine was to be a journey forward and only a few, specially select links to the past would come with me. Sol had ribbed me about trying to escape from the family clutches when I set out for South Africa. He thought I’d never walk away from the business we’d set up but for me it had only ever been a means to an end. It saved me from being a wage slave to others and let me save enough to try explore the new world. Of course if I’d been allowed to train as a teacher I might have stayed where Ma and Pa had settled, or I could have left sooner, but as university education was the prerogative of sons I’d had to prove to be a woman of worth in other ways.

“Pesh you are the most infuriating sister I have”. Sol was standing in the doorway hands on hips and foot tapping. “At your age a bit of rouge is not going to make much difference or improvement.”

“I’m ready, already. And stop calling me Pesh.”

I’ve always called you that; I’m not going to stop now.”

“I shan’t answer to it.”

“Then I’ll badger and provoke you until you break. I’m army trained now, not just your little brother.”

“Don’t do yourself down. You are my most annoying little brother and given J’s propensity for irksome behaviour that’s some achievement you have.”

Sol smirked at the insult I threw him. We’d always bantered at home and there was a warm comfort in falling back to this old sparring partnership.

“Right. Let’s go solider boy. By the left, march.”

“Crikey Pesh in full flow that’s scarier than any sergeant major.”

“Call me that once more and I’ll show you a side so scary that even a Sten gun won’t protect you.”

We’d planned to walk along the beach from Jaffa towards Tel Aviv but we’d only gone a few hundred yards from the clock tower before a truck of British soldiers drove past and pulled up a little way ahead of us. One of them jumped out and hailed Sol.

“Need a ride some place mate?” his cockney twang called, “you and ya lady friend.”

“That’s no lady – it’s me sister.” Sheffield born Sol called back

I boxed his ear to the amusement and applause of the boys in the truck and as we approached the outstretched arms offering a hand up made me pleased that I’d taken the time with my powders and paints. Miss Rubenstein’s refinements had been worth the investment.

We travelled along the coastal road with the boys from the Royal Worcester Regiment, Sol playing a name game with them to establish mutual connections. He and a chap called Browning found that they’d known each other through a business associate. Browning had worked in a Manchester factory and one of their salesmen had done a deal with Sol over some curtain fabrics in 1936. The factory was now full of women working overtime to produce blackout fabrics.

I found myself seated beside two lads, a Scouser called Macky and another cockney who to everyone’s amusement was called Harris, they dropped the aitch. My married name was Harrison and when he introduced himself I was taken aback to hear those syllables. I’d never really thought of myself as Mrs Harrison and for a brief moment I worried that I was about to find a long lost relation.

“So what’s your name Miss er Mrs – “

There were a couple of nudges as the more observant amongst them noticed my wedding ring.

“Just call her Peshy. She’ll answer to it.”

A box on the ears would not suffice this time so I swiped Sol as hard as I could round the back of his head causing the truck to explode into laughter and calls of ‘boys in blue can’t fight for toffee, they even get beaten up by girls’

When the barracking died down I introduced myself as Paula, “short for Paulina I explained but not as formal”.

The rough, dusty route to Tel Aviv moved through a variety of neighbourhoods. The sunset over the Mediterranean was completely different from the ones I’d been used to. In this part of the world day turned to night in blink rather than through shades of twilight. We turned off the coast road, the sea and setting sun now behind us and headed towards Dizengoff Street, the centre of this new town.

Dizengoff, named for a past mayor of this developing city, was centuries beyond Jaffa in terms of modernity. I was quite shocked by the number of vehicles – cars, trucks, buses, motor cycles.

Jaffa was only just down the coast but its mules and other beasts of burden would not fare well in this part of town. The width of the street reminded me of European Boulevards. I’d been to Paris with J on a buying trip in 1935, so much had changed in 6 years.

Many of the Tel Aviv town planners had had their education and inspiration in Europe at the Bauhaus and this was showing through in their works here. The atmosphere, however, was nothing at all like I remembered from Paris. With the exception of motors that replaced braying the sounds here matched those in Jaffa especially the shouted greetings that initially sounded aggressive but which suddenly switched to fraternal tones. There were no polite British handshakes or careful continental kisses, here everyone was greeted with a bear hug that expressed both relief at having found each other safe and unspoken condolences for those who would never be present again.

As the emotions mixed so did the languages. Those from HM Forces spoke English but among the locals there was German, Russian, Arabic, Yiddish and the modern version of the biblical tongue, Ivrit. Sol and I had a few words in the new lingo and although we’d always spoken English at home we’d made a point of understanding Yiddish so we’d always know when Ma and Pa were talking about things they wanted to keep from us. That was another startling difference in this new culture.

Here everything was open to discussion. There were no inappropriate questions – age, salary and non-appearance of spouse were all acceptable dinner table topics. Back home we’d been good at keeping things to ourselves. It wasn’t seemly to discuss money or marital matters and of course ladies were never older than 21. I think the first phrase we’d ever learnt in Yiddish was ‘not in front of the children’. The number of views being propounded around us backed up what we’d learnt when Pa had returned from the last Zionist Congress in 1939 with tales of the debates that had taken place over how the new Jewish state might be established, ‘2 Jews have at least 3 opinions’ he’d say in his more exasperated moments. Ma had a different tack. ‘If they ever have peace with their neighbours they’ll start a civil war’. Even this prophecy didn’t stop them sending us out with blue and white tins chanting ‘a penny a day is the JNF way’. We’d been Pa’s foot soldiers for many years and now here Sol and I were – this year in Tel Aviv – with no thought for whether next year might be in Jerusalem.

At this time, 1941, people lived from day to day and took what they could from life

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 13:14 on 09 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Shani,
I enjoyed this, there's a lot in it. It's a novel, I'm guessing. I particularly liked the letters. I did think though that the phrase 'such a drag' stood out as modern. Although I know that some phrases we think are modern are in fact old. This could be one of them. 'Tiresome' though is a very 1940's phrase.
I thought there should be a comma after 'braying' and 'in blink', an A missing here?
There's one very long para at 'Simi was 10...' It could do with breaking up a bit.


Simabuka at 12:37 on 10 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Shani

I also managed to read it too. Very enjoyable and I agree with Becca the begining was so atmospheric that it sounded like the beginning of a novel and lured you in.

My only crit was, although the letters were interesting and continued the story line - I didn't feel that I came into them smoothly from the narrative - more like a stumble.

But great stuff and I would certainly read some more.

What do you think Becca?

Re this section of the site - I am afraid I have had Becca comment on any of my work - but if you stick around then maybe we could make a threesome - does that sound right???


Becca at 13:29 on 10 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Brian,
Do you mean this group isn't very active at the moment? I guess it isn't. I'll give some thought to it.

Simabuka at 07:53 on 11 April 2008  Report this post
Hi Becca

Taking a scroll around there are a small number of groups where the tumbleweed tumbles. But this group has a very active and supportive host - so the only reason I can think that no much critting or uploading goes on is because everyone is busy with other things (been guilty of it myself)

So I don't think there is much more than you can do as a host, than what you are doing already.

So no criticism intended.



Oh and when I asked "what do you think Becca" I meant did the narrative suddenly jump into the letters??


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