Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Israel, Tel Aviv

Was in a park in Tel Aviv a few days ago. A little old guy hobbled over and sat next to me on the bench. He was talking to me in Hebrew. I responded in English. He said, “I don’t speak English, you don’t speak Hebrew,” and raised his hands in exasperation. We sat in silence a while. Then I asked if he spoke Russian.

He said, “You speak Russian?! I asked you if you spoke Russian!”

I said I hadn’t heard him. So then he began to talk. He told me he was from Poland. He had worked in a Russian store a while and learned Russian. Then he had worked in a factory in Germany, and he showed me the five-digit number tattooed on his left forearm. Immediately after that he came to Israel and served in the Israeli army. He had been in Israel 50 years now. He had sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters. He asked me how long I was going to be in Israel. Leaving in a few days, I said.

“To where?”


“Why do you want to go there?” he said. “Why not stay in Israel?”

“I don’t speak Hebrew,” I said with a smile.

“So? Stay here and you’ll learn it. I didn’t speak Hebrew when I arrived, and I learned it.”

“I could,” I said, and nodded.

We sat in silence a while again. Then he got up and hobbled off.

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