A lot has happened since our visit. After all, it was 50 years ago. Those seven kids who were squeezed into our new Peugeot 404 station wagon are now all over 50, the eldest almost 60, all middle-aged. Certainly they’ve forgotten the trip.
The two dogs, and please don’t ask me why we took them at all because now it sounds crazy to me too, are long gone. Actually Gringo, with her pervasive halitosis, made the trip quite miserable. Luckily the car wasn’t air-conditioned, so we all benefited from open windows and fresh air. She, a street mongrel foundling from Newark, finally died of advanced age, having enjoyed a round trip to Israel and many of life’s comforts along the way.
Horatio, on the other hand, a purebred and expensive basset hound, a low-to-the-ground and pretty unintelligent dog (or was it all of his species?) was apparently kidnapped one day. Despite the frenzy of his owner – my friend — which resulted in a fortune spent on lost dog signs and newspaper ads, Horatio was never to be seen again in the upscale Ramat Aviv neighborhood of Neve Avivim, where it had seemed safe to let him occasionally meander unescorted — or anywhere else. I never missed him, although I hoped he was safe and well-tended. The cursed boy was really not housebroken, despite years of trying to make him civilized, and he had had several accidents on our own premises! I am a well-known dog lover, but Horatio never earned my admiration or affection.
So, there we were, with the kids starting at age almost 10 and descending until 2. They were all thin, and no one took up very much space. No wonder we could all fit into one car, although safety was not our main concern. In 1973, in Israel, there was not much focus on seat belts or child car seats. Thus we piled in, four full-sized adults, seven kids, and the two animals. And we were off on a trip, similar to others we had taken numerous times before, from when that car was delivered in the summer until my husband’s consulting contract with the Israeli government reached its conclusion over a year later.
Israel is a small country — but there’s an enormous amount for travelers to see. We tried our best to see much of it. This trip was to be to Nablus, known better to some as Schechem, an ancient city with lots of history and sites. Unfortunately, it seems that now, 50 years after our first attempt, we will still not do the Schechem tour. You won’t find me scouring TripAdvisor for hotels or B&Bs in Nablus. As a matter of fact, all these many years later, we still avoid long stretches of Route 60.
But back in 1973, we pulled up in the center of town, and — you will just have to trust me on this one — the dogs didn’t want to leave the car. Such was the level of tension that we adults also sensed it, although the kids remained impervious. None of us could get the dogs out to eagerly search for special spots (although Horatio, as previously indicated, could not have cared less).
Admittedly we were a unique set of visitors to the old city. A new car with yellow Israeli plates, not blue Palestinian ones, had entered the town’s center, mercaz ha ir in Hebrew, packed with Jewish adults and children, and dogs of no religious identification at all, and was preparing to dislodge its passengers. No one challenged anyone, and yet something foul was in the air. It was the malignant stares, the unwelcoming glares, and the bristling hairs. The dogs felt it first, and then we, the supposed grownups, felt it as well. We decided to leave. And so we did.
Since that time, that stretch of road that leads to Nablus and then north to Jenin has not been a place we seek to explore. This unwelcome feeling persisted even more when, during the Yom Kippur War a scant few weeks after our aborted visit, my husband used this same vehicle as a most needed volunteer to bring troops from Jerusalem to areas skirting Nablus, on a very dark, dangerous road, headlights painted navy blue to avoid being observed.
Thus, this part of the area, commonly known as the West Bank, and its attractions, remained of limited visitation by our family.
Our grandson, now a sergeant in the IDF, a paratrooper, is serving Israel in the northern West Bank, mainly now in the outskirts of Jenin and Nablus. His is not an elective visit, of course. He goes where he is ordered and does what he is told. Emphatically.
Thus the other night he joined his fellow troops and entered a Palestinian home in Jenin. They were looking for weapons. He described the home as a mansion, very large and imposing. They found no weapons but the owner’s relatives in the neighboring house did have a large cache of guns.
I am a savta with a lively imagination. My grandson tries his best to minimize the danger when he speaks to me, which is usually daily, except for Shabbat. I knew, earlier in his IDF duty, he was doing guard duty on the Lebanese border. He told me it was boring and quiet. My newspaper readings were less definitive on that subject. And I, having personally experienced the Yom Kippur War as a civilian, knew better than to self-interpret or second-guess military locations as being safe or quiet. That war began at a time when troops were mounting but all the pundits expected heightening tension, not full-fledged war. Quiet and boring! Safe. Pundits!
Of course I worry. How could I not?
Places like Jenin and Nablus, where our soldier is now a guard, checking documents at entrances into the city, are not friendly, welcoming places. When they see our young man, in his uniform, with his rifle, they see the enemy, not the sweet, kind, loving, smart person that he is. Not the wonderful son, brother, uncle, and grandson. Not the fine human being who ends each phone call to me saying, “I love you, Ro.”
His duty to his adopted country is infinite. He took an oath to defend that place. He tells me that all the time. I don’t want him to be riddled with fear. I do want him to be careful. He says he has to do what he is ordered to do. Period.
And so, when I think of Nablus and Jenin and the Lebanese border and I recite the prayers for the IDF, I have a special focus, a special sergeant, brought up in Essex County, a graduate of a superb New Jersey day school, who is devoting himself to joining his fellow chayalim in guaranteeing the safety of our Israel.
I pray, may He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may the verse be fulfilled for them: For it is Hashem, your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.
And so may it be.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!