Book 4 of The Promise of Zion series set in post-World War II Palestine during the founding of Israel. Palestine is at a crossroads in history and it appears that war will break out very soon. Dov and Emily are caught in between and in growing danger. Can Dov risk continuing his search for family?
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Last PrayerJerusalemApril 7, 1948
I'm not supposed to cry! Not here. Not now.
Dov Zalinski squeezed his eyes shut and leaned against the cold, damp wall built next to the holiest place in the world.
Holy, at least, for the Jews who used to visit it.
Now he knew he was the only Jew in the neighborhood, certainly the only Jew standing there in the narrow-stepped lane, looking up at the enormous square stones of King Herod's wall. And he shuddered to think what would happen if anyone found out he was there.
To his people, it was the Kotel Hama'aravi, the Western Wall. The last few square stones remaining of King Herod's temple, left standing in a three- or four-story wall, after everything else had been destroyed by the Romans.
The Wailing Wall. Dov had wondered why people called it that before he had come on a refugee ship to Eretz Israel, the land of Zion, several months ago.
But now he understood the name because he felt the cries. The Wailing Wall meant more now than the tears of old Jewish women who had come here to press their foreheads to the cold stone and remember what once was. The men in their black hats and overcoats had once huddled on the left side, the women on the right. Dov knew now why so many had come to this place. But that was before
"He-ya, he-ya!" A toothless old man in a black robe bounced through the street on his donkey, not seeming to care who was in the way. He was coming through.
Dov jumped clear, doing his best to blend in to the Arab neighborhood.
Yes, this wall had once been a place of prayer for his people. But all that had changed about fourmonths ago, after the United Nations vote to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab sections. Ever since, no Jew had dared come to this Arab part of Old Jerusalem.
So what am I doing here?
Dov glanced nervously at the cluster of crooked Arab homes built right up against the wall. No one seemed to notice him. He looked just like any thirteen-year-old Arab boy.
Or at least he hoped so. He was dark enough, with the help of a little charcoal dust on his cheeks; Mr. Bin-Jazzi's idea. It had brought him this far, through a maze of crowded, narrow streets from Mr. Bin-Jazzi's shop on Ha Shal-shelet, the Street of the Chain. For a moment, though, a thought crossed his mind.
Maybe I don't belong here.
Ah, but he did. He reminded himself that this had once been a very Jewish place. He fingered the secret scrap of paper that brought him to the wall and looked for his chance. He would not cry herenot now.
Not for his people.
Not for his city.
Not for his family.
There would be time enough for that later, in a safer place. He'd already faced the fact that his parents were probably both dead, his brother, Natan, certainly missing. But right now he felt like a spy on an impossible mission.
For all he knew, Dov was the only one looking for Natan. He had to find him! After that, he wasn't sure what else mattered.
A pair of doves perched on a ledge high overhead added their mournful calls. And as the east wind from behind him began to drive an afternoon drizzle against the wall, Dov imagined the quiet sobbing of the stones.
Yes, he knew why it was called the Wailing Wall, but to keep his life he had to pretend he didn't. He took another step closer, bent over, and pretended to tie his shoe. The wall loomed not six inches from his head. Would anyone see him?
An Arab woman flicked dirty water his way with her straw broom as she washed her nearby staircase. But Dov ignored her and moved closer to the wall with his two prayers: one on his lips, the other written carefully on a twice-folded scrap of paper. Quickly, he stuffed it into a crack between the huge stones.
There! Dov breathed as he straightened up. He might be the only Jew at the Kotel, but he would not be the last. Of that he was sure.
If God cared.
Do you care? Dov whispered the question into the gray. Then, before anyone could see what he had done, he turned away from the wall, running nearly headfirst into a gang of hard-faced Arab boys.
* * *
"Who are you?" demanded the tallest of the boys. A typical greeting from one of the gangs of young Arab boys who roamed the narrow streets of Old Jerusalem, making sure their neighborhood streets and alleys remained clear of Jews. The boy couldn't have been much older than Dovfifteen or sixteen, maybebut he seemed particularly brave with three friends standing behind him.
Better to keep one's mouth shut and appear a fool, Mr. Bin-Jazzi had once told him, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
"Did Mohammed say that?" Dov had once asked the storekeeper. Mr. Bin-Jazzi had smiled, and of course Dov knew better. His boss and friend was a Christian, a believer in Isa al-Masih, as the Arab believers called the Messiah. But Isa al-Masih had not said it, either.
"Mark Twain," Mr. Bin-Jazzi had said. "An American writer."
Dov was willing to bet no one in this street gang had ever heard of Mr. Mark Twain, either. And he was sure he didn't want to be the one to introduce them.
Instead, he put on his I'm-mute act, pointing to his open mouth and shaking his head to mean "I can't speak." He thought it was worth a try.
"What's wrong with you?" asked the lead boy, or so Dov thought he understood. He had picked up quite a few Arabic phrases in the past months, thanks to Mr. Bin-Jazzi's insistence on daily lessons. So now Dov understood more than he could say, and certainly more than he could read. But he wasn't about to utter a word of the kindergarten Arabic he'd learned. A single word would have been enough to signal to everyone in the neighborhood who he really was.
I'm a Jew, not an Arab! They'll think I'm a spy!
"He can't talk, Gamal," said one of the others. "Just a mute. Let's go."
"No. He has a mouth. A tongue. He can speak."
Gamal looked curiously at Dov, as if trying to decide what color hid behind Dov's crude make-up. Two boys had come around to block him against the wall, and the back of Dov's leg blocked his little prayer note from sight. It stayed partly hidden in a crack between stones, where hundreds of notes had once been wedged.
"Or did someone cut out his tongue?" The gang's leader went on.
Dov shivered at what he thought Gamal said and turned to the right. Even if he couldn't understand all the words, he could follow the meaning and the tone.
And it sounded evil. They would not let him go until they'd had their sport.
"Come on," said Gamal. "Open up."
But Dov wasn't about to open his mouth to Gamal or to anyone. The last time he'd done that, during the war, a German concentration camp doctor had nearly choked him with a flat wooden stick.
"Oh, a stubborn one." The leader leaned closer, a fire kindled in his dark eyes.
Dov clenched his fists, ready for what he was sure was to come.
"Come on, Gamal." The boy at Dov's left turned to their leader. "Forget it."
But Gamal brushed them aside and said something else, this time too fast for Dov to follow. Something about a tongue. Maybe he wanted to see if Dov had one.
Dov knew he had to get away, so he jerked to the right, leading with his elbow. He hadn't meant to catch the third boy's stomach, but
"Ohh!" grunted the boy, gripping his stomach. He crumbled to the side, but the fourth boy took his place. If this was turning into a rumble, the odds were still three to one in the gang's favor.
"Hey, you!" Gamal lunged.
In the tussle that followed, Dov did his best to even the odds. But this gang had obviously done their share of street fighting. One grabbed Dov's left arm and twisted hard. Gamal grabbed his right.
"Hold still, kid!" he ordered. Dov squirmed with all his strength, but it wasn't enough. His sleeve ripped, and they shoved him against the ancient wall. His head snapped back and thunked against solid stone. Any harder, and his head would have cracked like one of the shriveled watermelons in the Arab suq, the street market.
That's when Gamal's expression changed.
"Well, well. Would you look at this."
Dov knew without looking what they had discovered. But no matter how hard he struggled, there was no getting free of the double grip. It was too late.
"A Jew. Look at the number on his arm."
By this time Dov felt certain his life was over. A mob had started to gather around. Mostly young street toughs like Gamal and his friends, plus a few older men, as well. Some women stood around the edges, calling, chattering. All to see the unfortunate Jew who had wandered into the wrong Old-City neighborhood, at the wrong time. Now they would bring an end to this sin, he was sure. Dov had heard about what some of the mobs had done recently.
"What's this, Gamal?" called one. "A Jew, come to pray?"
Someone spat at him. And now Dov was thankful for the sweet gray drizzle falling from the sky, almost as if God himself were wiping the tears from his cheeks.
A few others added their own comments, but Mr. Bin-Jazzi had not taught him how to curse in Arabic and Dov was glad he couldn't understand most of the words. He was pretty sure he did not want to.
Lord, he found himself praying as the noise of the mob grew louder. Strangely enough, he didn't feel scared. Only disappointed.
I'm not done yet, he prayed. I have someone to find first.
He had come all this wayout of the Nazi death camps of Europe, the ashes of Polandfor this? Would God cheat him out of seeing the end of the story?
Dov would have been ready for blows, for a kick in the ribs, a slap in the face. But he wasn't ready for the water, full in his face. The dirty water caught them all at the same time.
"Hey!" shouted Gamal, and his gang loosened their grip on Dov's arms as they sputtered and turned. "What"
Dov knew he wouldn't have another chance. He ducked and fell to his knees as the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd swayed and shouted in surprise at the sudden attack. Above and behind him, he glanced up for a moment to see the woman who had been sweeping her steps. She flew in with a broom, swinging her weapon and screaming.
"Animals! I'll get you!"
But who was the animal? Him? Them?
I'll let them decide. Dov crawled through the mud and the crowd, looking for an opening. They had to see him coming through, but by this time everyone seemed more interested in the joust by the wall. A crazy woman with a broom against a street gang. A few people even laughed and cheered.
Let me through. Please! As soon as he could, Dov stood and pushed his way through the crowd. He stumbled backward, turned, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him. It didn't matter to where. Just away from the crowd, away from the gang.
Around an alley corner, the crowd sounds fell away behind him. He leaned for a moment against the mossy shade of a stone building, his chest heaving. And he wondered.
Is this what an answered prayer is like?
Maybe the start of an answer, he finally decided. And he also decided against reminding God about the note in the wall, at least not so soon after he had placed it there. After all, Dov still wasn't quite used to addressing the Almighty. He didn't want to come across like a pest. Of that much, he was sure.
The crowd cheered once more, and Dov thought he heard footsteps running his way.
Which way now? he asked himself. Left would take him back to the safety of Mr. Bin-Jazzi's shop. The place he had called home since he had arrived in the Old City.
No, he shook his head, I've already told him good-bye. After all, the shop wasn't safe anymore. Not with so many gangs. Nowhere in the Muslim Quarter was safe anymore. Not for him. And not for Mr. Bin-Jazzi, if he again allowed a Jewish boy under his roofas he had, up until that morning.
So it was decided. It was time to look for the rest of the answer to his prayer.
Dov waited until the runners had passed, then hurried out of the alley. If he stayed on the main streetEl Wadit would eventually take him through the Damascus Gate and out of the Old City. Yes. That was the way out.
He lowered his head and ran.
Copyright © 2001, Robert Elmer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In this book Dov has signaled for his lost brother Natan and in Jerusalem only to find out that he is an Irgun Terrorist! Exciting book to read and shows how Dov will react to Natan and the difference in how Natan reacts to seeing Dov again. Great Book to read.