Kiriat Shemona had no ruins like Hatsor and no holy tombs like Meyron, but it had the fort of Tel Hi. In the late forties and early 50’s, Kiriat Shemona was one of the hundreds of villages and towns, which sprung across the Land of Israel like Spring weeds, growing in most unlikely places. Its main street, Tel Hi Boulevard, came down from the fort of Tel Hi, about one thousand meters above, and ended another thousand meters below, a short walk past the Jewish National Fund nursery.
Our apartment perched on the Eastern side of the Mountain of Naftali, below Tel Hi, sat about fifty meters above the Hula Valley, which some time before I was born, was a swamp.
I lived with my mother, who, before I came into being, became known as Miriam the librarian. My mother came to Palestine from Morocco, before the independence of Israel. The year was 1948. She was barely three years old.
My grandmother, Esther, lived in the Moshava, North East below Tel Hi Boulevard. Her small semi-detached dwelling sat in a small plot among black round stones, vestiges of an age, when the earth shook and the land spit fire. Her plot was intended for farming, but the Labor government, which controlled every move in town, had changed its plans.
Grandma Esther walked the fifteen minutes that separated our houses, at least twice a day. In the morning, her walk was brisk and her route hardly deviated from the imaginary straight line that linked her house to ours. She came to take charge of me while mother went to work. But in the evening, her life wore a different pace, for she strolled away, leisurely, taking much more than the time required for such a walk. Along the way, people greeted her with a touch of reverence, to which she responded with demonstrations of affection known only in a world that exists no more. It was a ritual during which love was exchanged between friends in public, without any shame at all.
My grandfather, Jose, one of the many mayors who ruled the town, quit his coveted post suddenly, as if to adopt a strange habit, that is, disappearing for months without any satisfactory explanation, at least to me, when I was a child. When he resurrected in town, his appearance changed and he no longer spent his time taking care of other people’s business but devoted most of it among us, caring for my grandmother, my mother and me.
While growing up, I knew that ‘in the spring of the year 1948, grandpa was one of the early birds who deserted his old home in the Maghreb to build a new one in the Land of Israel!’ Much later, when I grew up, I discovered that he was involved with immigration. He, I was told, brought perhaps 18,000 Olim from Morocco in 1948 and 1949, and more than 300,000 in the 30 years thereafter, but I did not hear him take credit for it.
Upon grandpa Jose’s disappearance, we received his letters via an address in France, reassuring us, that the sun shone on the Land of Maghreb and that its climate remained benign.
Around that time, the postman brought also letters from Canada, from Michael Levy, an old friend who left Israel, also suddenly, although a promising career was ahead of him. His letters were addressed to Miriam Kesus, my mother. Kesus was my mother’s maiden name, before she became Ben Moshe.
My mother, Michael Levy and I had one thing in common, we spent a good portion of our childhood at ‘Yeshiva Ha Levy,’ a school which did not require head cover and where scholastic demands were light enough not to spoil our day dreaming, the secret of our happy childhood.
In my dreams, I tried to imagine what my father was like and sometimes, an image of him appeared before me, making me think that he was Michael Levy. But, in one room in our home, old pictures told another story, my father was real, he had a Brith Milah, a Bar Mitzvah and a Hupa. But, my father was absent and his absence made him legendary, especially because of the void he left in our life.
I heard many tales about my father and there were several versions to each, my mother’s and my grandma’s. And when men resurrected in our midst, my grandpa’s Jose and my surrogate father’s Michael, added their own accounts.