Real Timeby Pnina Moed Kass
Set in contemporary Israel, this powerful novel is narrated in real time by many voices: Sixteen-year-old Thomas, from Berlin, seeking answers to questions about his grandfather, a Nazi officer in World War II. Vera from Odessa, reclaiming her Jewish heritage. Baruch Ben Tov, a Holocaust survivor. Sameh Laham, illegally employed at a diner. His boss.… See more details below
Set in contemporary Israel, this powerful novel is narrated in real time by many voices: Sixteen-year-old Thomas, from Berlin, seeking answers to questions about his grandfather, a Nazi officer in World War II. Vera from Odessa, reclaiming her Jewish heritage. Baruch Ben Tov, a Holocaust survivor. Sameh Laham, illegally employed at a diner. His boss. Sameh’s friend Omar. A Palestinian doctor in an Israeli hospital. A mother. A soldier.
A newscaster . . .
Minute by minute, hour by hour, these lives and many others unfold—and then intersect in one violent moment on a highway outside Jerusalem. Each is drastically and irrevocably changed. What do secrets, hopes, dreams, and future plans mean after such a catastrophe? Can what was destroyed be made whole again?
Heidi Hauser Green
"tense and heartbreaking...a complex kaleidoscope of perspectives...taut, immediate story...riveting...real-world terrorism...Kass is spot-on." KIRKUS REVIEWS Kirkus Reviews
"exhausting but illuminating...characters are deeply developed and painfully sympathetic as they find that they are inextricably and unexpectedly connected." SLJ School Library Journal
"Timely novel explores the effects of a terrorist act from multiple points of view" PW Publishers Weekly
"shows how drastically lives can change from moment to the next...make(s) a strong impression" HORN BOOK Horn Book
"Good reading for thoughtful teens." VOYA VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
"Tense, terrifying...stories draw readers in...unforgettable is the grief and the chaos of the bombing and its aftermath." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA
Read an Excerpt
By Kass, Pnina Moed
Clarion BooksKass, Pnina Moed
All right reserved.
SUNDAY, APRIL 9
5:00 AM Thomas Wanninger Departure Terminal, Schonefeld Airport
"First trip to Israel?"
I hand it over.
He opens it. He looks at the passport photo, looks at me, looks at the
photo. "Born in Germany?"
"What is the purpose of your visit?"
"I"ll be a volunteer at a kibbutz."
"Broshim. It"s outside Jerusalem."
"Can you show me proof of that?"
I unzip my backpack and stick my hand in. I can feel the sports magazine,
the guidebook. I look sideways inside—there"s a pack of tissues, some stuff
from school I"m supposed to read, chewing gum . . . junk . . . junk . . . where
did I put the letter from the kibbutz? I see him watching me as if I"m some
kind of suspect. Suddenly I think—he"s not going to let me on the plane.
"Maybe you should empty your backpack, Thomas?"
I slide the backpack off my shoulder and squat on the ground.
He isn"t taking his eyes off me for a minute. Another guy comes over, looks
at me, and then whispers something into his ear. He nods and shows this
guy my passport and airplane ticket. The guy walks away. My T-shirt is
sticking to my armpits. Everything is on the floor. Then I see the pale blue
information booklet and the letter is sticking out of it.
"Here it is." I hand it to him. I"m still squatting, waiting.
He looks at it, reads it. "Okay, put your stuff back in."
I jam everything into the backpack and stand up.
"Who packed your suitcase?"
"Did anyone give you a gift or a package or any item to deliver when you
"You"re sure about that?"
"Do you have any relatives in Israel?"
"No—I"m not Jewish." I want him to believe me. He looks at me like he
"For your information, there are non-Jews living in Israel. There are Christians,
Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Druse—do you want me to continue?" He doesn"t
wait for my answer.
He looks at me, lifts the suitcase, turns it around, sees the yellow security
sticker, puts it down. "Do you speak Arabic?"
"Arabic? No, of course I don"t know Arabic!"
"All right. I"m just asking."
"Well, I don"t know Arabic and I don"t know Hebrew. I speak German, like
we"re talking now, right? And English." By now I"m sure I"m not going
anywhere. In an hour I"ll probably be back home. The people in line behind
me are staring at me. Like I have a rash, like they"re going to catch
something from me. No one"s missing a single one of his questions or my
And then suddenly he hands back my passport, my ticket, and the kibbutz
letter. Doesn"t smile, just says, "Okay, you can go." It"s over. He starts
questioning the person in line behind me. Whatever he thought of me, of my
passport, of what I looked like, it"s history now. I can get on the plane.
* * *
5:45 AM Thomas Wanninger El Al flight 01: SXF–TLV (Berlin–Tel Aviv)
The seat belt sign blinks red, the airplane engines start to roar, the plane
begins to taxi. The flight attendants are walking down the aisle, chatting with
passengers, adjusting overhead bins, checking seat belts. Somewhere in the
front of the plane a baby is squealing and then beginning to cry. I see the
mother start to get up, but the flight attendant points to the lit seat belt sign.
She sits down again.
I"m watching and listening to everything, I"m hyped up. Everything around me
looks like it is in fluorescent lights, and sounds are funneling through me on
high volume. I"m going to a place I don"t know, to find out something that no
one at home knows, and if anyone thinks I"m calm, they"re wrong.
I"ve flown only once before, on a school ski trip. But it isn"t the same this
time, I"ll be entering a war zone. And I"m alone. There are flight
announcements about the altitude of the plane, the weather, and perfume and
cigarettes that will be sold duty free. Maybe I"ll buy Mutti a bottle of perfume—
my mother likes scent. Then the pilot announces the estimated time of
The plane reaches the end of the runway and lifts off, tilting away from the
ground slowly with almost no angle. It"s six o"clock in the morning. Four more
hours and I"ll land in Israel. The announcement continues: "Local Israeli time
is one hour ahead." I change the time on my watch. I"ve left German time
behind. I have the whole row to myself. I stretch my legs and stare out the
The plane is cruising over the city. Berlin is concealed behind a thin veil of
rain. Through the morning darkness I can see the dots of highway lights and
the snaking line of traffic. Mutti must be in her car, driving in one of those
lanes leading away from the airport. She probably won"t go back home—she
hates an empty house. If I know her, she"ll go to the office, or travel to one of
the branches of Hanseatic Insurance, or schedule a meeting with her boss.
Mutti has to be busy. She says, "When I work, I forget."
The plane starts a steep climb, moves through clusters of clouds, and then
pulls out into clear sky. Past my own reflection in the window it"s all blue air,
the color of early morning. Beyond the wing the blue is beginning to lighten.
Somewhere the morning has started. It will be late morning when I arrive. The
engines become a monotonous drone.
I unzip my backpack and take out the pamphlet. I don"t bother unfolding it.
I"ve read it and stared at the pictures a hundred times. The green rolling
Judean Hills, the distant outlines of Jerusalem, the orderly row of red-roofed
kibbutz houses, the auditorium, the guest hostel where I"ll be staying. To
myself, and only to myself, I am willing to admit I"m scared out of my mind.
Not to Mutti, not to Rudi, even though he"s my best buddy, and certainly not
The time off from school wasn"t tough to get. The principal is really hot on us
going to Israel. No generation of Germans should forget is his motto. The real
reason I"m going is my business. And I can"t be a coward.
So here I am, about to land in a country where bombs go off every five
seconds. Why am I doing this? Because I"m looking for information about a
One more time I read the letter I showed the security guy:
Welcome to the SEEK program (See-Explore-Educate-Know) at Kibbutz
Broshim, located outside Jerusalem. Our mailing address is Kibbutz
Broshim, Doar Na 832, Jerusalem, Israel. Since you indicated an interest in
agricultural work, we have arranged for you to work in the hothouses and
plant nursery. Kibbutz Broshim exports flowers, and your help will be greatly
appreciated. You will be instructed by Baruch Ben Tov, a very experienced
I reread the instructions for what I"m supposed to do when I land, though I
know them by heart:
"After landing and passing through Passport Control, look for someone
holding a "SEEK" sign. This will be Vera Brodsky, who lives at Kibbutz
Broshim and will be your "buddy" during your stay. Vera will be waiting for
you inside the arrivals terminal of the airport. In case of any change, call 02-
I shift around in the seat and feel the bulge in the back pocket of my jeans.
The airplane ticket and passport—I forgot to put them back in the zippered
pouch of my backpack. That"s all I need, to lose my ticket and passport. The
passport is dark red, with a stiff cover and a gold embossed eagle in the
center. Printed underneath the eagle emblem, in big letters, is
BUNDESREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND. I run my fingers over the spread
wings. Eagles are birds of prey, aren"t they? Why does a German passport
have an eagle on the cover? Was my grandfather a bird of prey, waiting to
lunge and capture, maybe to kill?
I flip open my passport to the inside page:
FAMILIEN NAME Wanninger
The photo at the left of the typed information is me: unsmiling, brown eyes
opened wide by the flash of the camera, short hair, and part of a white T-shirt.
A high school kid who looks older than sixteen—at least that"s what people
* * *
6:45 AM Interrogation room, police headquarters, Jerusalem
POLICE OFFICER: You understand you"re not under arrest, don"t you?
OMAR JOULANI: If you say so.
POLICE OFFICER: Of course we say so. Why would we lie? We just want
information. You live in the same village as Sameh Laham, right?
OMAR JOULANI: No, in Jabel Fahm. And you know it. You know everything.
But we go to the same high school. When there"s no curfew. It"s our last year.
POLICE OFFICER: Why aren"t you in school today?
OMAR JOULANI: How can I be in school if you brought me here? Anyway, I
don"t go to school. Instead I work. I study at
night. you? Your buddy, Rashid, said you were the best student in
OMAR JOULANI: Rashid is a liar and a stinking little thief. You have him in
jail, and he"ll say anything.
POLICE OFFICER: He says you know how to explode bombs, Omar. He
says you have a real touch with them. You get high as if you"re on drugs
when you make them.
OMAR JOULANI: You"re trying to get me to say I"m one of those—a
shaheed. I won"t say it. I"m not. I sell vegetables with my grandfather.
POLICE OFFICER: Where is Sameh?
OMAR JOULANI: I told you, I don"t know. Go to the Jewish man who is his
POLICE OFFICER: We don"t know who that is. No one ever heard of Sameh.
So, Omar, it seems your best friend has disappeared.
(Suspect looks at the floor and does not respond.)
POLICE OFFICER: Three days and no one knows where he is.
OMAR JOULANI: Sameh has a cousin in a village near Jerusalem. Maybe
he went there.
POLICE OFFICER: What is the name of the village?
OMAR JOULANI: I can"t remember.
POLICE OFFICER: Try. Try very hard.
OMAR JOULANI: Please let me go home. I"m sure Sameh will show up
today. You"ll see.
POLICE OFFICER: Why do you say that? Why are you so sure?
OMAR JOULANI: They are without food in his family. He must work.
POLICE OFFICER: We can keep you longer—you know that.
OMAR JOULANI: I know that. But I know nothing. Nothing. Please.
POLICE OFFICER: Release him.
* * *
6:45 AM Baruch Ben Tov Kibbutz Broshim, Judean Hills
The boy from Germany is coming today. His arrival throws me back into the
past. He"s not the first German student to come here, but he"s the first who
will work in the flower fields and hothouses. The first who will be under my
supervision. Of course I was consulted. Will you mind working with a German
boy, Baruch? I was asked. No, of course not, I answered. I am a member of
the kibbutz and will do my share. But I am uneasy. What will this Thomas
Wanninger say when he sees the number on my arm? Will he foolishly
apologize? Will he speak to me in German? Does he know I speak German?
It is an intrusion in my life. I will speak to him in English.
The sun has risen, warming the air and making the last of the night sky very
light. I hear the birds speak to each other, the dew hangs transparent from
each petal, the sprinklers whirr in the still spring air. I always walk up and
down the rows of sunflowers at this hour. No one is here. I can say, "Rachel,
Ruchele," and no one hears me. Her name is my morning prayer.
Rachel was wonderful with her hands. She would have planted sunflowers
and dahlias, petunias, daisies, everything. Even in the room under the roof
she painted flowers on the enamel plates we ate from. Her hands were like
the wind and her imagination endless. She turned the attic into our palace.
What she would have made of this solitary place, this small house I live in!
And books—goodness, how she loved books.
Excerpted from Real Time by Kass, Pnina Moed Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Pnina Moed Kass is an American who has lived in Israel for more than thirty-five years. She is a professional writer whose credits include short stories, television series, and picture books. This novel was inspired by real-life events that, sadly, are a part of the complex everyday reality of living in the Middle East.
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