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In 1948 while on her way back to England from war-torn Jerusalem, Emily is delayed on Cyprus, where she...
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In 1948 while on her way back to England from war-torn Jerusalem, Emily is delayed on Cyprus, where she finds her friend Dov's mother in a Jewish refugee camp and wonders how she can get this news back to him.
April 19, 1948
"Down!" Reb Herschel shouted a warning as the windowpane shattered into a million pieces on the living room floor.
Thirteen-year-old Dov Zalinski didn't need to be told. He tumbled to the floor behind the man's old, comfortable easy chair and put his arms around the two little girls with him. Golda and Haviva sobbed in fear. They probably wanted to be near their uncle, their mother ... anyone but Dov, a stranger in their home.
"Shh. It's all right," Dov whispered, though he didn't believe a word of it. What could possibly be all right about this? The window now gaped like a broken-toothed grin punched out by a bully from the other side of Jerusalem's Old City walls.
What could be all right about this? he asked himself once more as they huddled behind the flowered chair. Haviva held her hands over her ears, but they wouldn't stop the next burst of gunfire.
"Golda? Haviva?" their mother called from the other side of the room. From the sound of things, Dov guessed Mrs. Elazar was pinned under the window with her brother-in-law, Herschel, and her youngest daughter, four-year-old Naomi. He couldn't tell which side of the room was in more danger just then.
"We're over here," Dov loudly whispered back between more thunder bursts of shellfire. "We're okay."
Not quite. In fact, they were most certainly not okay, kneeling in the remains of the living room window. From the Elazar living room, Dov could look out through the empty window up at the Old City wall and imagine the rest of Jerusalem beyond that. They were so close, in this crooked house on the Street of the Steps, to the shadow of the ancient outsidewall.
That, of course, was the reason for the danger they now found themselves in. What else had Dov expected when he'd crawled through Mr. Bin-Jazzi's tunnel with his brother, Natan, just two days ago? If he'd hoped to tell the story to the world, the story of how Jewish Old Jerusalem was fighting for her life, he'd certainly come to the right place.
As long as they don't shoot up my transmitter. So much for the Voice of the Haganah, Israel's main army of volunteer freedom fighters. Dov peeked around the chair to where he had stowed his small shortwave radio device.
Five-year-old Haviva's fearful sobbing grew louder.
"It'll be over in a minute," Dov whispered. "Here, you want my apple?"
But Haviva just kept her forehead to the floor and shook like a leaf. So Dov stuffed the crab apple back into his pocket. It was mostly bruised, anyway.
A year older than Haviva, Golda kept one arm around her younger sister and the other around Dov. He'd already noticed Golda was the leader in neighborhood games up and down the stairs or out in the Batei Machse Square, where the kids played Kick the Can. She was the one who seemed to yell "One, two, three red herring!" the loudest, too.
I don't think they're going to be playing too many more games out there now. Dov clenched his teeth. Not after this attack.
If he had wanted to, Dov guessed he could toss a well-aimed stone over the nearby Old City wall through the hole where the window had once been. The small, warm house where Dov had found a place to stay guarded a spot in the wall's shadow halfway between the Zion and Dung Gates. Their attacker could be hiding anywhere over in the Arab neighborhoods clustered around Mount Ophel. Beyond that lay the Kidron Valley, then part of Jerusalem called the Silwan.
The idea of trading stones for bullets was silly, of course. A joke. But this attack surely wasn't.
"Is this the war Uncle Herschel has been telling us about?" asked Haviva.
Uncle Herschel. Not Dov's uncle, of course, but the girls'. Dov called him Reb Herschel—like Mr. Herschel, a name of respect.
Dov had been afraid to ask what had become of the girls' father. Away? Killed? In any case, Dov was surprised Haviva had found her tongue so quickly.
He shook his head. "The war hasn't begun yet. Two more weeks. Then comes the real war."
With bullets breaking their window, it seemed odd to say, but he knew what his older brother had told him was true. Reb Herschel had said the same thing. Two more weeks and the British would leave Palestine. Two more weeks and the Jewish people would declare their independence after nearly two thousand years. Two more weeks and they could begin to live in peace, in their own country. There was only one problem....
Another Arab bullet found its mark through the gaping wound in the window. This one buried itself with a sickening crackle in the wood trim on the far side of the Elazar living room—perhaps two feet from Dov's nose. Haviva shrieked. And Dov decided the overstuffed chair wasn't much of a shield, after all.
"Reb Herschel." Dov raised up on his knees. "I've got Golda and Haviva."
"Down the stairs, then," decided the man. "We'll be right behind you."
Dov flinched at the sound of another boom, like distant thunder, and then a crash. But this time the shooter must have shifted his target. They heard a thud from somewhere outside and then the dull tinkle of crumbling rock. Perhaps this round had hit the side of the house.
Now was the time to move.
"Come on, girls." Dov tried to pull them up by the shoulders. It wasn't as hard as he'd feared; Golda and Haviva weren't about to let Dov leave them. "We've got to get out of here."
The question was, to where? He froze at the top of the stairs, his knees suddenly turning to noodles.
Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. A fresh round of gunfire filled the young night with bone-chilling echoes.
"Wh-what's that?" dark-eyed little Naomi wondered aloud.
"Machine gun," answered Reb Herschel. He took her in his arms. "But don't worry about a thing. It's still far away."
Dov shivered at the cold breeze that filled the living room. Naomi grabbed her uncle's gray beard as reins and rode his shoulders down the stairs.
The other girls gripped Dov's hands as if their lives depended on it. And maybe they did. Dov sighed with relief at the darkness outside the front door. At least now they would not be a target anyone could see.
"Which way?" Mrs. Elazar asked.
As if in answer, a flashlight snapped on and lit up their faces. Dov blinked in surprise until he heard his brother's voice.
"Is everyone all right here?" It didn't matter that Natan Israeli was only nineteen, just five and a half years older than Dov. He looked tough as a pirate, thanks to the shock of black hair poking out of the bandage across his forehead. And in the stark shadows behind the flashlight, he held his shoulders proudly and stiffly, as if he was every bit in charge.
Naturally. Wasn't he a member of the Irgun? The small, radical Jewish group prided itself on being tough and fearless, on doing whatever it took to win Jewish freedom. Their ways and ideas were rough, dangerous, frightening at times. Even so, Natan had wanted to sneak in with Dov to join the ragtag group of Haganah defenders, now trapped in the Jewish Old City. He'd insisted, even. That had to count for something.
"We're all right." Reb Herschel looked around as if to double-check that they were. One, two ... all three of the girls.
Dov was still holding Golda's and Haviva's clammy hands when his brother's light found them once more. "They were scared, Natan."
Dov didn't have to explain himself. Natan waved for them to follow, then switched off his light—just as another burst of gunfire whined off the stone wall behind them.
"Oh!" Mrs. Elazar stumbled over Dov's heels, and he tried to help her up from the slick cobblestone, still wet from the late-afternoon rain.
"Hurry!" Reb Herschel grabbed his sister-in-law by the waist and dragged her on. Dov and the girls quickly followed. Only, where were they going?
"Come on, come on!" Up ahead, a hunched man waved a flickering kerosene lantern at them. They hurried around the corner, putting one more layer of buildings between them and the crazy shooting. And then the man was at the door of a ground-floor apartment, still waving his lantern.
"Herschel!" Mrs. Elazar gasped and pulled back for a moment. "Not the Liebermans'."
Reb Herschel didn't answer; a thunderous explosion of shells behind them spoke for him. It was the Liebermans' or the street.
"Of course there's room for six more." Mrs. Lieberman looked just as old as her husband, stooped and wrinkled. She waved them in as if they were stray cats.
"But we can't impose on you like this." Mrs. Elazar still didn't sound sure.
Impose! Dov was in no mood for a street camp-out.
"Nonsense." Mrs. Lieberman smiled. "You stay here as long as you need to."
But when Dov stepped inside he saw why Mrs. Elazar had held back. She must have known how small the Lieberman apartment was. Compared to the roomy two-story flat they'd just escaped, well, this was a closet. A small sitting room was barely large enough for a few people to sit in, knee-to-knee, on the floor—when it wasn't doubling as a bedroom or a dining room. At least there was a tiny, separate kitchen with a closet. The two women were given the honor of sitting in the apartment's only two chairs, while the three girls piled onto one of the narrow beds.
"Here," said Mr. Lieberman, sounding like a host at a dinner party. "We'll push this table over against the wall. Plenty of room."
Plenty of room. Dov stood by the door, wondering what had happened to his brother. But Natan had faded back into the night, the way he always seemed to.
"Some tea, Savta. Please." Mr. Lieberman pointed in the direction of the kitchen. "We should fix our guests some hot tea."
His wife shot him a look, a quiet message of some kind. He blinked and nodded. Message received.
"Well, as you know, most of us are a bit short on kerosene. Perhaps someone will get through the barricades tomorrow with more. But until then, please make yourselves comfortable with a cup of nice, cold water."
Dov almost smiled at the sound of the words. "Make yourselves comfortable." Another volley of shots sounded outside, and he peeked out the front door, just to make sure Natan wasn't out there somewhere. Like Dov, he, too, had made it to the Promised Land after the nightmare in Europe had separated their family. And now, here was Natan, helping to defend the remaining Jews in the walled-in Old City.
"Did you see that?" Golda had joined him at the door. She pointed out into the darkness at a shadow that ... "There! It moved!"
"I saw it, too," Dov whispered. He could not take his eyes off the shadows. An invader? A soldier? He gripped the edge of the door, ready to slam it shut.
Freedom Trap (PROMISE OF ZION) by Robert Elmer
Copyright © 2002, Robert Elmer
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.