While the headlines blare the bad news – ground invasion in Gaza, rockets in Ashdod – I sit here on a 500-acre ranch in northern New Mexico, working on a novel (my first) about my family's storied history in Israel.
I arrived in the Land of Enchantment just last week, and it was Saturday before I took my first trip to Santa Fe. I got what I expected: moccasins, feather earrings, a green chile quesadilla so good it made me wonder why I’d given up dairy in the first place.
What I didn’t expect was this: to stumble upon a hookah shop (The Hookah Shop, the sign read), find a nice-looking Arab guy with a killer smile standing behind the counter.
Where are you from? I asked, surveying the spread of bongs, vapor pens, not a hookah in sight. Egypt?
He smiled, said, Palestine.
I nearly shrieked.
Me too! I said. I mean…sort of. I was born in Boston, but my ancestors are Palestinian Jews. There’s no other way to put it. My grandmother was born in Jerusalem. My great-grandfather was born in Hebron.
Hebron? he said, looking puzzled.
In Hebrew, it’s Hevron. Bil’Arabi, I said, recalling my one semester of college Arabic, I have no idea.
I’m from Beitunia, he said. Near Ramallah.
We nodded, smiled, felt a surge of recognition. I mentioned the war.
Tears came. He reached across the counter, stretched his long, sun-tanned arms over shelves lined with glass bowls in purple, yellow, green, and gave me a hug. We’re cousins, he said.
I sucked in my cry. I can’t stand it, I said. I hate it.
He blinked his brown eyes, telegraphed, Me too.
Let’s send our prayers, I said. To everyone there.
We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, sent our love and compassion to the Israelis and Palestinians – i.e. people – living in fear of rocket fire, missile landings, the unceasing cycle of reprisals and more reprisals that never seems to end.
We opened our eyes, shared a brief look of pain and understanding, then moved on to the business at hand. How much for that one? I asked, pointing to a small, amber-colored water pipe that looked like something I might have smoked in Tel Aviv during the late nineties.
Twenty, he said.
I inspected the merchandise, figuring if I hadn’t purchased a bong since high school, it'd better be a good one. And guess what? I found a crack.
Look, I said, pointing to the fine line that circled the stem.
Okay, he said, fifteen.
I offered ten.
When we reached the cash register, I told him about the time I’d met a young Palestinian in Berkeley, who, like my great-grandfather, was born in Hebron. But when I'd told the boy at the falafel shop about my family, about the 1929 massacre of 67 Jews that my great-grandfather had somehow managed to survive, he didn’t know what I was referring to. Massacre? he’d said. Jews from Hebron? My grandfather told me there were no Jews in Hebron until the 1940s. You have a computer? I’d said. Google it.
The hookah shop owner, whose name was Montasser, still didn’t get it. Hebron, I repeated, the ancient city where Abraham and Sarah are buried. The place where –
Aaahh, he said. Halil. The place where the problems started.
Yes, I said, remembering the Arabic name for Hebron. The place where the problems started.
I reached into my purse, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, then hesitated before putting it in his hand. What if the crack gets worse? I said. What if the stem breaks? I thought about it for a second. Maybe I should just spring for the extra ten bucks, I said, buy the one without the crack.
No, he insisted. Take this one.
Why? I asked.
Because if the glass breaks, he said. Then you’ll have to come back.
Rebecca Spence is a freelance writer based between LA and the Bay Area. She is currently at work on her first novel.
We welcome your feedback.
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.
Terms of Service
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.