Handful of Fog

Handful of Fog

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The kibbutz library was in a bomb shelter, but I wasn’t afraid of bombs. I was afraid of the harshness of the desert, a shore with no sea. I was afraid of the harshness of the people drenched in angry sweat, grease of tractors, sand and grit. We were young, but everyone around me seemed old and serious and more competent than I could ever hope to be.

I was 18 years old and hopped up on ideas of an international proletarian revolution, Jews returning to the means of production, Jewish nationhood and all that.
Tiki wasn’t having any of that: no persona of overworked martyred pioneer, no ideological excuses, no judging of others because they weren’t what she was. She wore a green army jacket, had her hair in braids. She bit her nails down to the cuticles. For some inexplicable reason this put me at ease.

So I took the risk and asked her what book she recommended I read. I was devoted to reading in Hebrew, believing perhaps that my own redemption might be expedited in the language of my people — a language more concise, that trimmed the fat of excess vocabulary. I walked= Halachti, I saw=rah’I’ti; you exchanged two words for one. Language to build and be rebuilt.

Tiki was the same way. Nothing extraneous about her. Milk a cow, throw a basketball into a hoop, build a therapeutic petting zoo, enhance experimental agriculture, teach Africans how to farm, go to Rwanda…Never hoopla, never a word wasted, and never God forbid, take herself, anyone, or anything too seriously.

After a look that questioned if I was serious; my thick American accent camouflages my fluency, she handed me the book Hofen Shel Arafel (a Handful of Smoke), by the Israeli writer of Iraqi descent Sami Michael. Michael writes about the aspirations and struggles of both Jews and Arabs. This new approach in modern Hebrew literature was controversial, as was I.

Sami Michael was active in a Communist Youth Movement in Iraq, at a time where Hitler’s ideologies were seeping into the everyday life in Baghdad. Michael had been condemned to death by the Iraqi government that was not fond of his communist exploits. He was forced to flee to Israel and ended up in Haifa.

Haifa! When I first made Aliyah I was going to major in sociology at Haifa University, but the melons in the kibbutz fields were too sweet and the classes too crowded. Tiki met me at a flea market in Haifa and we bought some cool lace fabric and I don’t know what else. And then I left the university. It was Sukkoth and we had a talent show in the Sukkah. Leah and Jeff sangתשים את השריון בתוך תיבה , Jeff and Brett sang Father and Son, Jeff forgot the words but it was still the most beautiful music I had ever heard. Tiki just laughed and shook her head “Eyzeh Jeff zeh! Eyzeh Jeff.”

At night, in the few hours we had from Melon packing then back to Melon picking I made my way through Hofen Shel Arafel. I was most taken by these lines from the book:

I am leaving Iraq totally. For ever. Until my death I will not see the Tigris. I will stand in a foreign street, in a foreign city and scream, and no one will hear me. It happens in my dreams. I already miss everything and I am still here.”
A Handful of Fog

It was as if Tiki knew me already. Knew that as much as I loved my choice of being on the kibbutz I was always somehow clumsy and out of place. Yet when I would eventually leave I would not feel anymore whole. It’s as if she foreshadowed my Iraqi boyfriend while in the Israeli Army. I would understand his life and family because eventually I read every one of Michael’s books. It was if she knew my civil rights heritage would find translation from my childhood marches in Boston and Washington, DC to Kikar Malchei Yisrael –now Rabin Square. Wiser and less naive because of what I’d read.

Or Yehudah, Ladino, and Turkish Jews all came to me via Tiki. I think it was because of Tiki that I had the courage to major in Hebrew Literature, without which I would not have met my uhm el fahm family; would not have begun translating, and would not be the writer I am today.

When Roy fell in love with her I plotted and schemed with him to overcome his shyness and make the move. Back then Tiki still had her signature 2 braids and her dog Duke who bit me every time I walked by — but I didn’t take it personally. It was a small price to pay for such an amazing friend.

When my sister got leukemia I thought about what it must have been like for Tiki to to lose her sister. Everytime I plug in a koomkum I hear Roy telling me to put my shoes on because that’s how Tiki’s sister was electrocuted. There’s nothing in the world like a sister. In my first years on the kibbutz Adam Soloway came up to me in the pool and said: “Why do you have a beard like my grandfather.”

That was when I knew it was time for me to forgo my misguided feminist notion of ‘natural’ womanhood. Ronit took me to my first chin wax but I had to endure the beautician’s disdain: “Oh you have so much hair that’s disgusting!”

Then Tiki came to the rescue like a true sister. She would boil the wax and lay out the rags, and as soon as I walked in Roy would flee: “OH I just don’t know how you too can do that to yourselves.”

Even after I left the kibbutz, when I came back to visit, we kept our tradition. In the way that sisters do.
One time when Roy and Tiki visited me in Boston we took a hike to Mount Monadnock which Tiki affectionately named Har Minudnik. I’ve never gone back– it is forever Minudnik in my mind.

Like an older sister she scolded me when she thought I was making too much of something little, paying attention to someone I should ignore. And she told me stories of her adventures, one after the other. She never stopped helping, discovering, listening, figuring out the practical solution when everyone else was just finding the words to discuss the problem.

I cannot write Tiki was. I already miss her but she’s still here. Here: I know you can’t see me but I’m pointing toward my heart.

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