Sandor came alone, unannounced, unexpected. The night was dark and moonless; he
had chosen the lower entrance that was unlit, knowing that the family used the
brightly illuminated one in the back. The doorbell rang, and there he
Unusual in this neighborhood, a hasid in full uniform: shtraymel
tilted a bit rakishly, but shtraymel it was. Long coat of shiny gabardine –
black; black suit, white shirt, no tie, black beard. Hasidic rabbis never go
anywhere without an escort – only if there is a death in the family or someone
is in the hospital does the rebbe come to you – but he came alone.
him Sandor, a diminutive of Alexander, someone much admired by the ancient
rabbis – but no longer to his face. Others call him Rackover rebbe, Rackov being
a tiny town in Poland where his grandfather had once carried on their small but
I sat, bare-headed, waiting.
Sooner or later
he’d tell me why he came.
In the dark of night. Alone.
He sighed. I saw his lips move as he made the blessing over the tea.
said nothing. Finally I spoke.
“Rodef. They are
talking about rodef. Moser.” It was uttered in a conversational tone, but
I sighed as well. His tone was not accusatory.
persecutor – a Jew who persecutes his own people.
Moser is the one who
betrays you to the authorities. Over the centuries, the moser, or moyser in
Yiddish, and the rodef, have both been considered the lowest of the
If a Jewish court of law passes a sentence of moser on a fellow Jew,
the non-Jewish government carries out the execution. Either way: death for a
moser. Death for a rodef. Sandor looked at me and then lowered his eyes. Perhaps
he was apologizing for their decision.
Who are “they”? you ask. A group
of rabbis, loosely organized – if at all – but powerful enough for their
decisions to carry weight.
Influential enough to get the word out. The
same decision that condemned Yitzhak Rabin to death, though not necessarily the
same rabbis. The killer only pulled the trigger; “they” triggered him.
studied Sandor’s face. “You placed yourself in danger tonight.” He
“Am I so important?’ I asked.
“Am I a prime minister?”
He looked steadily at me. “They think you are a moser, father of the fathers of
all mosrim.” His tone was even, flat. “Don’t put them to the test. Go!” The term
he used, “father of,” is equal to another rabbinic term – “father of the fathers
I sat like a stone. Not rigid.
Just settled – a
stone in its rightful place doesn’t want to move.
He spoke. “I won’t come
Or maybe he said, “I can’t come again.” I can’t be sure. Of
course, he had broken the code, the inner code of the inside rabbis. “I won’t
come again. But I could not stand silent on your blood.”
I shuddered. I
knew the verse to which he was referring. Thou shalt not stand silent on thy
He asked me to let him out the way he came. I did not
turn on the stoop light. He did not offer me his hand before melting black on
black into the night. I was too stunned to ask why he wore a shtraymel on an
ordinary weekday, one neither Sabbath nor Holy Day.
Which Sandor was here
tonight? The warm, almostnephew requiting childhood love and adolescent
affection? He had not even looked at me. Was he sealing over the closeness we
had shared since his childhood? I realized something else, too, another chilling
detail. He had not said hello. He had not said good-bye.
He had waited
for me to speak first. He had followed the protocol for visiting a house of
I was already being mourned.
And I was also the mourner,
mourning my own future death.
Had I been visited by Sandor the
almost-nephew or the other Sandor, leader and counselor of the Sages? Perhaps he
hadn’t come of his own accord. Perhaps he had been sent. Perhaps by the gentler
rabbis who abhor bloodshed. Perhaps by the haters who nonetheless don’t want to
kill a fellow Jew if there’s another way.
I packed during the night, when
the aching calls of the muezzins rang across the Jerusalem valley below the
Turkish walls of the Old City.... With false dawn the church bells tolled from
the Armenian church just inside the wall, and from the Dormition on Mount Zion,
echoed by tinnier sounds from within the Christian quarter itself.
noon, I was on a bus to Haifa. Rodef means persecutor, the one who pursues. But
I was the one being pursued, I thought, as I faded into the bus and through the
I felt uprooted, torn from the comfort of my home, from my
The adrenaline that came with being hunted had reinvigorated me,
but now, in the embrace of a ship’s cabin, gently rocked by the sea, I fell
I dreamed of my wife and making love; of strange women walking
by, exuding desire, but of making love to my wife. And I dreamed also of
fearsome death figures waiting for me, and killers with knives lurking around
I dreamed of horses riding through a steamy land I did not know,
and of a beautiful figure of a woman whose speaking voice rang as true as a
tuned bell in a perfect belfry, in a synagogue whose cupola had a cross on
People in shrouds reached out to me, but I knew my wife’s arms were
waiting and death would not claim me.
I awakened refreshed, ready to make
some decisions. The first had been made: I had fled.
Should I now go into
hiding? How far did their threat go? If I stopped my work, would they call off
the hunt? Or would they, pursue me still, relentless? Would they become the
rodfim, the pursuers, the persecutors, and I the nirdaf, the pursued? Was I
under a death sentence in all circumstances, or would staying in Israel be the
basis for my execution? Would remaining abroad mean a stay of execution? I must
begin to weave a web of lies. Lies are always more certain than the truth. All
my life I have tried to fight lies and lying, but I must learn a new skill and
adapt quickly. Will I be able to? I am faced with a much more immediate problem,
however: Where to go right now.
The writer has been a senior civil
servant, an academic and head of Keren Hayesod-UIA. A Tale of Two Avrahams spans
the eastern Mediterranean from Israel to Greece and Italy, and joins its heroes
across a distance of four centuries. It is available at Amazon.com, in both
paperback and Kindle editions and soon in Israel at firstname.lastname@example.org.