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Jewish Journal

In the Name of Love

by Orit Arfa

March 28, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Mourners gather at the garden of Moment Cafe.

Mourners gather at the garden of Moment Cafe.

I was looking through my closet this morning for a spring outfit to match the warmer weather, and I found his T-shirt. It's a red T-shirt with the Fox label -- Israel's closest version of the Gap. Once I had laughed that I'd dismissed him from my love life before I had a chance to give the shirt back. I had known he'd be embarrassed to ask for it. Besides, I had liked using it as a nightgown. It's large and long to fit his handsome and broad frame.

I met Baruch last year at my favorite Jerusalem nightclub. He was the clubbers' nemesis: a doorman, the one who decided on a whim when we could enter the club to finally dance. He stood there at the club gate with his arms folded, looking mean and cold, wearing the same stoic look as the rest of the musclemen bouncers.

Even my tight leather pants and my friend's cleavage didn't sway him, so I tried to break his stance. I decided to smile and strike up a friendly conversation. He hardly shook his head in response to my questions about him, until I asked him where he lived.

"I live in Eli," he said. Suddenly, a warm smile changed his tough, macho expression.

"Where's that?" I asked.

"It's a settlement, outside Jerusalem," he said, continuing to smile sweetly. "It's so beautiful. You must come and visit some time."

I didn't think he used that as a pickup line, although precisely at that moment, I got turned on. First, I love it when formidable hunks reveal to me their soft spot. Second, it was one of the first, sincere and spontaneous expressions of Israeli pride that I had heard in a long time.

It immediately triggered in me the same feeling that had been suppressed that year as I sought to secure a firm entrance into Israeli secular society -- and the door of that nightclub. In just that short moment, he touched me, and I gave him my number.

A few months later, this endearing Zionist click was not enough for us to sustain a long-term relationship. We were different in many respects, and we parted amicably.

I bumped into him a few weeks ago at the cafe near my house, and we spoke briefly. He told me that he had quit the job at the nightclub and decided to pursue land of Israel studies. He came alone to the cafe, which is the city's trendiest hotspot for secular singles, and I assumed that he wasn't dating one.

When I thought about it, he probably came to meet a girl. I wished him well, and, of course, didn't mention anything about the T-shirt.

Then, on Saturday night, March 9, I heard a loud boom from my apartment, and I knew that the sound came from the same cafe where I had met him only a few weeks before. I walked briskly 50 feet to the end of my block, only to confirm my worst fear. I saw blood and two writhing bodies on the pavement.

A man, with burned flesh on his face, raced in my direction. Security cleared the area and asked me and my neighbors to go back home immediately.

This time, I didn't need to turn on the news.

Well, I did see Baruch again -- the next day in the newspaper -- on the front page. He had died that night, along with 10 others, including an engaged couple I knew from the Jerusalem night-life scene.

I read the obituary and learned that Baruch was named after a grandfather who also died at the same age of 28, fighting the Nazis as part of the French underground. He was preparing a paper on the phenomenon of suicide bombers.

Further down, the newspaper also printed an open letter that Baruch wrote to the prime minister that he never sent, cleverly urging Sharon to take great action to protect Israel and the settlements, and not to sacrifice victims of terror to a hostile enemy.

Every so often, I walk by the site of the carnage and I think of him. The owners have torn the cafe down, determined to rebuild it. A few people set up camp -- a shrine -- across from the site at the prime minister's house, with signs and posters asking us to leave the territories for the sake of peace.

The irony fills me with sadness. Baruch would have hated the idea that someone wanted him to be a martyr for a cause he didn't believe in. I'm sad because in his death, he showed that the attack really wasn't about a piece of land; it was about what we do in that cafe -- enjoy life and seek love in a free country.

Now when I look at the T-shirt, I don't laugh, and now -- more than ever -- do I wish that I could give it back to him.

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