Page Two: "Your Job Is to Get the Paper Out"

On the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, overwhelmed with wonder and the terrible history

Page Two

Preparing for Israel, I was unprepared. Overwhelmed with wonder – at the land, its history, its presence, my past, my ancestors, my blood, all stained with the terrible ongoing ambiguities, often seemingly unresolvable – as we drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Listening to the guide, unlike many places where there are periods of silence on any tour, here it was obvious much was being missed, even with the narrative presented by an articulate, knowing guide, of depth and thought-provoking. Without suggesting resolutions he clearly articulated conflicts. History thy name is Israel.

Okay, so what did I think, what did I feel? Mostly disgruntled. Way too unprepared. Memory isn't what it once was, which was never very much. But there is no place I had read about more. The lack of recall was acutely felt.

When I first came to Austin without thinking about it I did expect wooden sidewalks and tumbleweeds, and that was in my late 20s. Decades later, there I was, in Israel, with my version of the place particularly calcified in my head – historic blended with modern. Except that is what it is, but so much more.

Driving on that road the guide mentioned we were on Highway One. Much of the war of 1948 was fought here with the successful blockade of the road threatening the Jews fighting in Jerusalem. Finally an alternative highway was dug out of the rocks through the wilderness to rescue the city. During and after the truce, this supply line helped change the balance of power.

Exodus, book and movie, held sway over my teenage years as much as The Fountainhead (book, not movie), ideological addictions I later had to kick. But on that road, when our guide said that, I thought of people very much like my little-known grandfather who emigrated instead to the United States. And my father. Almost a vision of them that maybe I've never had before, in this place I'd never been where they certainly hadn't lived. But in a way I never had before, I understood their passions and their fears. Overwhelmed I softly sobbed to myself as the terrible history of it sunk in, a road too many on all sides had fought and died over. And I knew this road. I smelled and felt its history with an intensity the more holy places we visited lacked, though they were of course fascinating.

There is a terrific Ken Kesey story in The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog about driving his son to a wrestling match when they got hit by a train. His son was thrown from the car, passed out with a gaping wound in his head. Immediately Kesey tried to resuscitate him. He started praying. What he wrote about later was that what was so remarkable was not that he started praying, but that he knew right where inside himself to go to do so.

This was history I knew but hadn't thought of in so long. It overwhelmed me. I was racked with emotions. This continued not only on and off during the rest of the trip, but later when Sandy and I talked about the history.

Accepting as given that to many this is more the story of an imperialist invading army occupying their homeland.

This was of my past and in my blood. It made thinking about the situation there no simpler than before. Actually feelings became far more complex, the reality overwhelming the mythology. We spent Christmas evening in Bethlehem.

The tensile pain of the situation is there, though downplayed and ignored by everyone. It is not as though they obsess on it. But I remember my first run through drinking my way all night through Salt Lake City, where the drink rules are very strange though not terribly stringent. Still everyone drank as though on a desperate mission, part of an imperiled brotherhood. Not to compare an ancient alcoholic binge in Utah with the current situation there. But the air is fraught. Which makes the historical connection both muddier and more pronounced.

Answering the question: What was it like? It isn't just sightseeing (though there are plenty of sights) as much as you might expect it to be. As so many of us have some profound connection to the place. Not only is there more history there but it impacts a still-terribly complicated, horribly unresolved present. So I'm not even sure what I felt yet. I know it was more profound than I expected it to be, though I had considered the likelihood that it would be profound. Not to be a pompous ass, I expected it to get to me. But I didn't know it would get to me there, deep inside, exactly where it should.

Many things, not always as serious as bombs, get in the way. But you move forward, proudly and with purpose. Because, God help us, this is what we do:

By arguably the first recorded car bomb, The Palestine Post building was destroyed by terrorists on Feb. 1, 1948.

From O Jerusalem! by Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre:

"By the time [editor Ted] Lurie reached his newspaper, sheets of flame were already gushing out of the pressroom and a stream of his wounded friends were staggering up the smoke-clogged stairs. The street around the building was a sea of broken glass. Its red stone facade had been scorched sand yellow by the blast, and, like ink blots, great black splotches stained its surface. From the buildings around the Post, householders stared unbelievingly through their shattered windows at the scene below them.

"A pair of American newsmen, Fitzhugh Turner of the New York Herald Tribune and John Donovan of NBC, helped pull the wounded from the pressroom. Lurie rushed to the clinic where they were taken, to oversee their treatment.

"At midnight, Lurie's wife tugged his sleeve. 'Ted,' she said, 'what are you going to do to get the paper out?'

"He looked at her, his blue eyes incredulous. 'Are you crazy?' he asked.

"'Your job is to get the paper out,' she replied coolly ....

"By six o'clock in the morning, faithful to its daily rendezvous .... It was a bedraggled, sad little sheet reduced to one page, but it proudly bore the logotype of The Palestine Post."

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Israel, Israel, Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, Exodus, The Palestine Post, Ted Lurie, Ken Kesey, Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre

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