Read In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist Online

Authors: Ruchama King Feuerman

Tags: #Fiction, #Jewish, #Contemporary Women, #Religious, #Political

In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist (10 page)

BOOK: In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
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Mustafa shook his head. Except for laundry and a little grocery shopping, he was never busy after work.

“You’re coming with me,” the rabbi said. “The rebbe has sent us on a mission.” His mismatched eyes gleamed.

What a disturbance this reddish ball was causing. But Mustafa became excited at the rabbi’s excitement.

Mustafa and the rabbi sat in the backseat of a taxi as the driver moved his car through the press and tumult of Jaffa Road traffic. The car made a sharp left at the UN building, and the street widened; here the apartments looked fancier and there were more trees with broad leaves. “We’re
going to Beit HaKerem,” Rabbi Isaac said. “The home of one of the foremost archeology experts in Israel. Professor Minkus. Teaches at Tel Aviv University.”

“The professor will see us so fast, just like that?” Mustafa wondered out loud.

“Yes, yes. He’s expecting us.” Rabbi Isaac held the wrapped object close to his chest. “His mother once came to the rebbe. She had a tumor and she wanted a blessing to make it disappear. The rebbe said he couldn’t help her. He blessed her anyway. A month later the tumor was gone. Of course, the rebbe takes no credit, but try telling that to the mother.” He glanced over at Mustafa with a half smile. “So, yes, we have a little pull with the professor.”

Mustafa tried to position his head on the leather back of the seat, but he couldn’t get comfortable. A catchy Israeli tune played on the radio: “… 
what you see from here, you don’t see from there
 …” He had never been in a taxi before. He sat watching the pretty apartment buildings going by and the trees with their long broad leaves. This is where the rich, fancy Israelis live, he decided. Not Jews with long black coats or women who were as modest as the mothers in his village.

Professor Minkus, tall and bare-headed, greeted them at the door, his deep dimple lines making a valley in each cheek. Isaac asked about his mother. They chatted as the archeologist brought them into his study. He seated Mustafa in a special chair with little wheels, the rabbi in a seat next to him.

“Come,” said the archeologist, “let’s see what you’ve got.” Mustafa watched as Rabbi Isaac handed over the kitchen towel. Professor Minkus pulled on gloves and placed it on the wooden desk between them. He half-rose from his seat. With great delicacy, he touched the soft red globe, rolling it by degrees. His brows came together over his nose. “The letters,” he murmured, “the letters. ‘
Asu lee mikdash
,’ ” he said out loud. Make for Me a Temple. “From Leviticus,” he pronounced. He flipped through pages of a book. Again he examined the ball. Rabbi Isaac beside him watched the professor’s every move, the rabbi’s lips moving like he was praying. So strange, Mustafa thought. A minute passed. More consulting of books.

Mustafa yawned. He rolled his chair forward and backward. He rolled
it from side to side. What a special chair with wheels on the bottom! The top part turned one way, the bottom the other. It was an amazing chair, as if made for him.

At last Professor Minkus lifted his head and his eyes looked past them, at something out the window or beyond. “I can’t promise and I would need to do some testing, but”—the professor’s voice was thin and strangely excited—“this could be a pomegranate that was attached to a cane or a staff. The kind of staff used during the First Temple period in religious processions.” He expelled a long gust of air. “Believe it or not.”

Mustafa, who had rolled himself to the other side of the room, now stopped.

“How can it be?” Rabbi Isaac said tensely. He abruptly took off his hat. “The First Temple?”

“It doesn’t necessarily mean it dates from the First Temple,” the archeologist explained, and gave the clay fruit another gentle prod. “Perhaps that’s a little too incredible. Such staffs might have been used in the Second Temple, too. Or perhaps artisans made replicas of these objects. But to my eye, what we have here could be from the Second Temple, or somewhere in between.”

Mustafa shifted his eyes from the rabbi to the archeologist.

“But could it be from the First Temple?” the rabbi persisted.

“Well, Isaac, it’s possible,” he relented. “Could very well be.”

At this, Rabbi Isaac’s head fell back. “Unbelievable,” he whispered.

“Well, we won’t know until we test it, of course. Either way, it’s astonishing.” The archeologist placed his instruments back on a shelf. “How lucky for us that you recovered this artifact. And where did you say”—he faced Mustafa who had rolled himself back, flush against the desk—“how did you find this?”

“Over at the Noble Sanctuary, the men are shoveling the ground. These things got into my pail,” he said.

They are using shovels?” The professor’s jaw hung open.

“Ah, yes, it’s very slow with shovels,” Mustafa agreed. “In other parts they dig with bulldozers. Much faster,” he said, thinking the fancy machines would impress the archeologist, but the man let out a loud groan, and the rabbi shook his head and covered his eyes. “I found these things in a big pile of dirt. It was going to be dumped, so I know the Waqf wouldn’t
care if I took it,” he said confidently.

“Garbage,” Rabbi Isaac said in a shocked voice. His cheeks above his beard went slack. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it, and reached for a spot just under his ribs, as if pressing against a sore. “That dirt is the richest dirt in the world,” he said hoarsely.

Mustafa twirled his chair to better see the rabbi. “Rich dirt?”

“Rich with your history, with mine. It tells the story of our temples, where we worshiped two thousand years ago. Why”—he took up Mustafa’s wrist—“whoever prayed at our temple, Jew and non-Jew, knew the reality of God, like a child recognizes his mother. This dirt tells the story of your mosques, too,” said the rabbi, giving him another penetrating look. “And the churches built from Crusader times.” Finally, he released Mustafa’s hand.

“It simply can’t be they’re using bulldozers and shovels,” the professor insisted. “There are rules for digging in such areas.”

Mustafa said, “Oh, I saw it,” and then he clamped a hand over his mouth. Why was he telling these Jews anything? Maybe—his stomach pricked with fear—he shouldn’t have brought this fruit off the mountain. Maybe Sheikh Tawil would be angry. Still, he repeated, “I saw it myself.”

Oy vah voy!
” The archeologist blanched. “It’s like using an ax to perform eye surgery. Don’t they realize, it’s the most important archeological site in Israel, if not the world? A disaster.”

“That’s the least of it,” the rabbi growled. “It’s a desecration, a violation!” He pressed his fingers so deep into the bridge above his nose, Mustafa feared his eyes would pop out.

The professor studied Mustafa’s face. “So, what made you not leave it there?”

“I thought he”—Mustafa swiveled his chair so that his body turned toward the archeologist while his face angled toward the rabbi—“he’d like it.”

The archeologist fell into his seat. He stared with great concentration at Mustafa. “You are a good man. You’ve no idea what you bring to us. Proof to the ones who say our temple didn’t exist.”

Mustafa stared at the archeologist and then the rabbi. In agitation, he twirled once, twice, in the wondrous chair. He burst out, “There never was a Jewish temple up there! Only the Noble Sanctuary and nothing else.”

Professor Minkus looked at him with sad eyes. “Who told you that?”

Mustafa shrugged. “Everybody knows.” He gave the archeologist a pitying look. “A sheikh once told me. Also I heard it from the imams in my village. Even little children know this.”

The professor emitted a gentle, philosophic sigh. He opened his hands in a what-can-you-do gesture while looking at the rabbi. “Unfortunately, that’s the trend these days. Saying it never existed. Temple denial. The Jerusalem mufti said so recently. Your grandfather never would’ve said that.”

“You met my grandfather?” Mustafa exclaimed.

The professor gave an embarrassed smile. “You’re right, I never met him. But I do know what is written in your Koran.” He left the room and came back a minute later with a thick black book that Mustafa sadly realized had to be the Koran. Only Muslims were allowed to touch its holy pages, but what could he do? Grab it away and run from the house?

“Look what we have here. Chapter seventeen, verse seven.” The professor’s finger landed firmly on the verse. “See here how the Koran talks about Allah’s punishment of the children of Israel for their sins? See how it writes of the destruction of our temple?” The pink tip of his finger hovered over
. “If it was destroyed, it had to have existed once, no?”

He pushed the book toward Mustafa who, distracted by the professor’s knowledge of both Arabic and the Koran, scanned the verses. “And here, chapter thirty-four, verse three,” the professor continued, “and ten others like it. Muslim tradition is one hundred percent clear about the existence of Solomon’s Temple.”

The rabbi, now standing near the window, called out, “Professor, I didn’t know you were such a
talmid chacham

“I have to be a Torah scholar, in this profession.”

Mustafa finished reading the verses and lifted his eyes. “Oh, Professor, you didn’t understand my words,” he said slowly, straining hard to remember what his mother’s cousin once said. “Your Temple couldn’t have been here, on the Noble Sanctuary, where our mosque and shrine are.” He nodded. “I think that’s what I meant.”

“Ah, then let’s go back to chapter seventeen, verse one. The sanctity of the Noble Sanctuary derives from this Koranic verse: ‘Glory to Allah who did take his servant for a journey by night from the sacred mosque to the
farthest mosque.’ ” The professor left his finger on the last word like a post. “And what is the farthest mosque?” he asked. “The commentator, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, sums up the traditional Islamic understanding. He writes that the farthest mosque must refer to the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem on the hills of Moriah.”

“I don’t know this Abdullah fellow,” Mustafa said, and made a slow, tentative chair twirl.

“Oh, he’s pretty standard.” The professor frowned, and the long valley ridges in his cheek dug in deeper. “Anyway, I have many other sources to prove it to you from your own Koran. If you doubt the Temple’s location, then you have to doubt your own mosque’s location, too. Don’t worry, Mustafa, there’s room for both of us to exist, your mosque and our temple.”

Mustafa held his forehead. Words and more words. His head was beginning to ache.
. “I will think about it,” he mumbled.

“But isn’t there an Antiquities Authority to protect the site?” Rabbi Isaac, who had been pacing, now stopped. “They’re destroying our past. How can the Waqf do this, and how can the government let them?” At the word
the rabbi gave a look of apology toward Mustafa.

Mustafa pivoted his chair to face the professor. He also wanted to know the answer to the rabbi’s question. Crazy Jews, he scoffed. Talking, always talking. Simple. It meant the mountain wasn’t truly theirs.

Professor Minkus said, “This reminds me of the famous story of King Solomon.” He nodded at Mustafa, “Maybe you know it? Two mothers come to King Solomon, each claiming that the live baby is theirs and theirs alone. King Solomon says, ‘Let’s split the baby in half, a piece for each of you,’ and the true mother calls out, ‘Let her have the child.’ Her love transcends her claim to the child. Let the child live even if will it go to another, to her enemy. The false mother says, ‘Let neither side have it. Split it in two like you said.’ Her pleasure is in death and in depriving the other one. Both histories—Jewish and Muslim—are getting destroyed here, and the Islamic authority doesn’t care.”

“Excuse me, Professor Minkus. It’s not that the Waqf administrators don’t care. They care very much,” Rabbi Isaac said sharply. “Who, after all, wants to have archeological evidence of another religion on their very same site of worship? A religion that preceded theirs by at least two thousand years? Judaism has a way of arousing insecurities, you know.”

The professor gazed down at the pomegranate. “So you say it’s deliberate vandalism?” He stroked his forehead, lost in thought. “Then you must take this precious fruit to the police commission in the Russian Compound. I’ll write a note and give you a proper container for it.” He took out pen and paper and scribbled something. “Maybe we can get them to stop or at least to monitor the digging. Here.” He handed the paper to the rabbi, then stopped, smote his forehead. “Ah. How can I let such an important relic out of my sight? No, Isaac. It can’t leave my office. Anyway, it needs testing.”

“Excuse me, Professor.” Isaac stood right next to the pomegranate. “I have to remind you, it’s not yours to decide.”

The two men took each other’s measure. The professor said, “Still, it was Mustafa who—” He put an arm on the custodian’s shoulder (his good one), but Mustafa was far away, thinking about his mother who always had a reason not to see him.

“The true mother never lets the child go,” Mustafa blurted, “even if the child should die! The true mother”—his eyes darted around the room—“it’s the other one! The one who says ‘mine or no one else’s.’ ” He raised his fist. “A Muslim doesn’t fear death, not his own or his child’s.” A verse from the Koran sprang from his lips, the one his mother’s cousin was always quoting: “ ‘Long for death, if ye are truthful. But they—the Jews—will never long for it. And thou should find them greediest of mankind for life and greedier than idolators.’ ” He nodded with satisfaction, that he could recall the verse so well. Now, no one could say he was stupid.

The rabbi looked at him with a face both sad and amazed. The professor was shaking his head. “It’s a different culture, a completely different way of viewing the world. The more they long for death, the more it attests to their belief in the world to come.”

Mustafa smiled and swiveled again in the chair. The professor, though not religious, understood.

“You should read your own Koran!” the rabbi called out. “God told Abraham to take his son off the altar. To live for him, and not to die for him! He doesn’t want your blood!”

BOOK: In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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