Aviadi, when you were four we traveled once up to Mount Hermon and took – you and I – the cable car.
That ski resort’s cable car is actually a chairlift, as you know, but you couldn’t care less; you had always glued your nose to a car’s window once it started moving, unable to stop swallowing the views from the surrounding world. Let alone that day, when you climbed a mountain for the first time in your life.
You sat on my knees. I hugged your little stomach forcefully lest you fly out, but you placed your two hands on the chairlift’s railing as confidently as a skipper commanding the open seas from the helm, and overlooked the unfurling view with the curiosity of a discoverer. The slow climb, the subtle wind, the tweet of a passing bird and the silence in which both of us solemnly proceeded between heaven and earth – all bewitched you.
I have been to many mountains in many places over the years, some flat, some conic, some bare, some forested, some cliffy and some volcanic; they hypnotize me too. And who better than us, the residents of Arnona, know how the view from atop the mountain looks different every morning, and how its winds, whether stroking, whispering or howling – always entrance.
And yet mountains, just like they fascinate, can also terrify, and worse, they can deceive. That is how, for instance, the ancient Greeks were convinced that the gods actually resided atop their own Mount Hermon, Olympus, and the Japanese thought the same thing about Mount Fuji, and the biblical Arameans thought of the Kingdom of Israel that “their god is a god of the mountains” (I Kings 20:23).
But God does not reside in the mountains, as the grandfather after whom you are named could have attested.
YOUR GRANDFATHER told us very little about what he went through during the war, but from what little he told us, seven lines in the book he edited in memory of his brother David, we can learn several things about mountains.
“On April 15, 1944, I was severely wounded,” he wrote. “It happened near the Prut River in eastern Galicia near a village called Mikuliczyn.”
Because of his injury, grandfather was evacuated westward to a town called Munkacs.
I checked and learned that the place where your grandfather was wounded was in the eastern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and the place where he ended up soon afterward was in their western foothills. This means that in the interim he crossed the Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathians are among the world’s most beautiful mountains. Rising higher than Mount Hermon, they roll for nearly 1,500 kilometers; they are densely forested and they are checkered with picturesque villages, brooks, pastures, hunters’ lodges, summer houses and ski resorts.
But your grandfather did not climb those mountains in a chairlift, much less in his father’s arms. He crossed the Carpathians with a ripped leg and shrapnel throughout his body, after a bomb exploded near him, and while the worst war in history raged on both sides of the mountain. To its east, millions of German and Russian soldiers fought under an incessant barrage of artillery, mortar, armor, aircraft and Katyusha rockets, leaving behind them every day thousands of new casualties between ashen villages and leveled towns. And on the other side of the mountain, the Jews were being murdered.
I checked and learned that the day on which your grandfather was wounded, April 15, was that year the day after the seventh day of Pessah. It was also the day on which the Nazis shoved most of Fascist Hungary’s 800,000 Jews, including his own parents, into the ghettoes from which they were soon led to their deaths.
In other words, morally speaking, the mountain your grandfather crossed was no less ablaze than the mountain Moses descended before breaking the tablets, except that in the foothills of Mount Sinai people merely violated “you shall have no other gods beside Me” and “you shall not make for yourself a graven image,” while in the foothills of the Carpathians they violated “you shall not murder,” and “you shall not steal,” and “you shall not bear false witness,” and “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” It isn’t difficult to imagine your grandfather, in the spirit of Psalm 121, lifting his eyes to the mountains and asking: “From where will my help come?”
THE EVER-TURNING sword was flailing all about him, but eventually your grandfather emerged from the Carpathians, like Noah from the mountain of Ararat, to help rebuild the world that survived the flood. And when he finally arrived in the Promised Land, he once again climbed a mountain. But this was an entirely different mountain. Grandfather Zvi climbed this mountain – Mount Scopus.
His own father, Ya’acov, of whom we don’t even have a photograph and after whom Yaki is named, told your grandfather in one of their last conversations: “What you study, no one will ever take away from you.”
Your grandfather saw in that a will of sorts, and he studied here during the Hebrew University’s last months before Mount Scopus was disconnected from Jewish Jerusalem in the wake of the War of Independence. He returned here decades later to study yet more, as a retiree.
It isn’t difficult to reconstruct what went through his head when he first surveyed the view from here, like thousands of Jews before him over the centuries since antiquity. The mountains of Jerusalem looked to him like a pale shadow of the mountains in whose shadows he grew up. The Judean Mountains hardly reach the Carpathians’ knees, and they offer none of those distant peaks’ gushing brooks, virgin forests, wild bears and ski resorts.
Yet he knew that by climbing up here and studying as a Jew in the very place from which the Romans stormed Jerusalem, he was coming full circle. And he also knew that to us Jews climbing God’s mountain requires not that the mountain be 3,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 feet tall, but that the man climbing it, as David observed in Psalm 24, has clean hands and a pure heart.
YOUR GRANDFATHER, grandmother, uncles and aunts survived horrors, but they were and remain ordinary people, even though fate condemned them to climb the mountains alone.
In many ways, your grandfather was like you. Like you, he liked telling
jokes and he had a hearty laugh, he was curious and researching, and he
could occasionally imitate someone, and he loved soccer, and he cared
about his appearance, and he appreciated beauty, as you can tell from
your grandmother’s looks.
Aviadi, today you begin climbing your own mountains. You no longer need
your father to hold you, the way you did that day on Mt. Hermon when
you were four. But even so, whether at the mountain's foothills, up the slope, down it, or at its summit, remember that you, we, your siblings, your cousins, your friends, your neighbors, and indeed these mountains, where you and I were born and raised and where your grandfather now rests in peace – are no longer alone.www.middleisrael.com