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Category Archives: Al Qaeda

Shock and Awe (2004)

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Dear Stasha,
“I hope you’re not hiding anything about Artyom – infants can’t be as easy as Dimitri says he is!! I’m looking forward to getting home and hugging him really, and looking into his real eyes, not the Skyped eyes!  My ‘residency’  here in Mazar is ending is just about up, but I am ***SO***  frustrated that some of the best soldiers I’ve trained here are set to be transferred, along with lots of men and some women who have been vital to our establishing good relations with the Afghans, to Iraq. They asked my chief civilian resident to go and set up field MASH units in Iraq, because, as your brother would say, Bozhe fucking Moi are they STUPID!!! My mail doesn’t get censored as strictly as the grunts – and it’s a good thing, because I’m pretty pissed off right now. We have influence over about half this country at most. There’s a friendly pol named Hamid Karzai in Kabul right now; you probably knew that. From what I can tell, he’s there because he’s the only Pashtun we can find that any Turkmen or Hazara will talk to, let alone vote for. I’m not sure that they trust him. I know that his brother is some kind of thug – I actually had to face the man down, through an interpreter, in order to get a shipment of artificial organ walls and the clean surgical equipment I needed to do anything but amputate limbs and euthanize thoracic patients!
“This guy paraded around in a white shroud like the humblest peasant, hat the vest part of a three piece suit over it, wore a head covering that looked like it came from Leningrad and not the desert,  and brought thirty armed Pashtuns with him everywhere he went. This is how he displayed that he was a Big Man in Kandahar, and that he could deliver the men who still prefer the assholes that attacked us on 9/11 and got me to go here. He can’t do that. There are fifty Big Men just waiting to knock him off. You just won’t believe what I had to do to get this guy to open up the road from Kabul.
“Remember the story I told Dimitri about Jonah and the Whale? The haftarahthat we sit through when we’re starving at the end of Yom Kippur? Well, I thought of a different scripture. Look it up, Chapter 4 of Megillat Esther. We read it on Purim. Bigthan and Theresh were two thugs who wanted to take out a king from near here. Mordechai the Jew called them out, and they were hanged. Nobody did a thing about it, but the King woke up one night thinking about it, and re-read the events. He discovered that the hero, Mordechai, had received nothing for saving the Kingly ass.
“So, innocently, he asked his viceroy Haman what he should do to honor and show favor to him. Haman, it says, thought that the King could only mean him – Haman – so, sparing no detail, he comes up with a parade with horses decked out in purple velvet, musicians, the whole shee-bang. So the king orders Haman to put such an event together for Mordechai. Well, I decided that this is what I was going to do. We got fifty humvees from all over the North, draped them in the flag of the Karzai family, and trekked in all the supplies we could fly in at one time in from Bagram in a convoy with Karzai’s brother picking the music. You can imagine that he had the road cleared of these mines they can set off with garage door openers, and nobody who wasn’t part of the parade could hang out within half a mile of the road.
“The GI’s had to help out with logistics way befuckingyond, as Dim might say, the call of duty. Hell. They were giving up their own supplies to make sure Waliball’s retinue was happy. I heard someone wanted HANDKERCHIEFS en route, and that the jerk was high enough up that he’s better get his handkerchief, or he would send orders to “his Jurga.” Who knows what he meant, but he got his damn handkerchief. So we got to Bagram, and we got back to Mazar, just in time, too, because a helicopter was waiting for us with a dying kid inside. I couldn’t tell, boy, girl. There was too much blood. Exsanguinaaaaaaation is makin’ me quake, is keepin’ me blee-ee-ee-ee-ee-idin’. Carole King, I think. You were a little girl. You would have loved Carole King. Sometimes I turn her on Sirius over here and cry, when I’m alone.
“Well, I bubbled the bronchiole, tied up the thorax, stitched up the skin, and passed it off to the hospital. Yes, our men and women made that.  As of this email, the girl (it was a girl) lived, and I am trying to keep the family from giving me all their goats.
“Prekrasnichka, I love you very much. I miss you. Give yourself a big hug for me, and don’t bother too much if Dimitri brings those women over. I just don’t want you to be alone, OK?”

Drumbeat (2003)

Cantor Rafael Ben-Berak heard the drone of the omnipresent Fox News channel coming from the caterer’s office before his wingtips hit the top step of the central stairwell at Temple Beth Torah in Port Jefferson, New York. He, Segal, their baby Eitan, and the dog Jezebel had been on Long Island for a total of six months. Segal had found a twelve-step group. Jezebel had found an off-leash trail. Eitan had experienced his first snowfall. Rafi had found a choir, a budget, a salary, and some peace. The country had found Osama bin Laden and let him slip through the tunnels of Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountain range. And now, it seemed that there was an old enemy to confront anew.
“Hey, Cantor, you’ve gotta hear this!” Jerald Ben-Sasson, the caterer and a Jew who could trace his Revolutionary War roots, called Rafi into his office. “Colin Powell is speaking at the U. N.!”
“No – gotta see this,” Rafi said, half to himself. It seemed that the Bush Administration ws trying to blame Iraq for the terrorist attacks in New York City since a week after they happened. Now, the Secretary of State was making the case for war on a second front on the floor of the UN Security Council. Now Rafi heard the statesmanly voice of the U. S. Secretary of State intoning a list of Iraqi misdeeds to the world.
 “… cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts on Iraqis’ behavior–Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort–no effort–to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”
This is it, thought Rafi. I hope they still have their civil preparedness drills on the kibbutz.
“You came just in time,” said Ben-Sasson, whose own political philosophy made Reagan look liberal. “Bush is gonna let ‘im have it.”
“Do you really believe Saddam attacked us on 9/11?”
“…from Iraq’s elite military unit, the Republican Guard. Let me pause and review some of the key elements of this conversation that you just heard between these two officers.
First, they acknowledge that our colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, is coming, and they know what he’s coming for, and they know he’s coming the next day. He’s coming to look for things that are prohibited. He is expecting these gentlemen to cooperate with him and not hide things. 
“Yeah, that’ll be the day,” muttered the caterer.
“What are they moving. Jerald? They are moving whole napalm factories? Ultracentrifuges?” Rafi had been on edge about an attack in Israel since 9/11. He trusted the Israeli security on airlines; ever since the rescue at Entebbe, Uganda in 1972 they had created an airtight shield from the sky. Rafi was worried about the run-of-the-mill suicide attack. The Kibbutz was a low-priority target, but Arabs and Israelis lived kippah-to-kaffiyeh in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv. He had breathed easier every week that the Northern Alliance held Kabul, As the Allied/NATO forces that were fanning out over the country let Osama bin Ladin out the back door at Tora Bora,  Rafi’s nerves started jangling again.
“…Here, you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.
How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It’s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.”
The fly on the wall saw a contrast between the demeanor of a war hawk practically rubbing his hands with glee and a knee-jerk pacifist who had carried a weapon against every instinct in his body. The more excited the caterer became, the greater the furrow in the cantor’s brow. As Secretary of State Powell was finishing his argument, Rafi thought back to his friend Jackson, the peace activist sound engineer in Cleveland, and wondered why he felt so out of step with this community. Was this how suburbanites thought? Maybe it’s just that this was the side of the country that had been hit by 9/11. After all, wasn’t it just the previous year that the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Long Island had been stretched so thin for speakers on the Saturday night before the Jewish New Year that the best that Rabbi Landau could get was a Hillel counselor with some pastoral care background?
After playing politics with the Ben-Sasson for a little bit, Rafi walked back to Rabbi Landau’s office. Not there – probably preparing his Wednesday Adult Ed class at home. Fortunately, home was across the parking lot in the parsonage. Rafi checked at the front office. Rose said that the Rabbi was on the line for Rafi.
“What do you think?” Rabbi Landau offered.
“I think the Long Island Ducks are going to win the independent league. What should I think? We haven’t done anything yet to Bin Laden, and now they try to prove Iraq is complicit. Al shileishim v’al ribeiim, (visiting the sins of the fathers on) the third and fourth generation, Rabbi. I think George’s dad wanted a pretense to go into Baghdad in ninety-one.”
“I really wasn’t being sarcastic! That’s what you really think? Maybe you’re right! Oh – oh – oh,” the boyish-faced fortysomething rabbi gasped like the too-eager schoolboy at Yeshiva, “are you saying…”
“Sorry, Rabbi, if you are looking for a conspiracy theorist, you won’t find it here. But I think that it couldn’t have taken long for Bush 43 to see this as an opportunity to atone for a policy failure of Bush 41. After Saddam crushed the people that the CIA so enlightenedly called the ‘marsh Arabs’ when daddy Bush called for regime change, Saddam has had one up on the Bush family. I think this guy ran in 2000 just to be ready for this opportunity.
“Cantor, the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of this war.”

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Hysteria (2002)

Dimitri sat in Arnie’s living room, dumbstruck, when Arnie showed him his enlistment in the U. S. Air Force. Dimitri’s sister Anastasia, who was Arnie’s trophy wife and whom Arnie called “Asha,” sat by her husband on the sofa.
“Kak-what the fuck?! You’re going to go bomb Osama back? What about your career, your tenure track,…”
“Ok, ok, Dimitri, cut it out, stop worrying. I’m all squared away. My assistant professorship is on hold, and the department chair thinks I’ll get tenure credit while I’m in theater. I started investigating this last year, right after Yom Kippur. It was what you said, something about being reconstituted from the ashes at Auschwitz when we came up at Canal Street to get ferried across to Bayonne. I’m sitting in synagogue all Yom Kippur and thinking, “Asha’s pregnant. What do I tell our baby when he asks me what I did when my country was attacked?” Asha and I talked about it, and I started exploring volunteering to serve in Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany. They sorta told me, “Thanks, but no thanks!”
“My reaction precisely. They told me that so much body armor is getting shipped to Uzbekistan that our troops are going to covered from the groin up. “
“So they told you, ‘Don’t come?’”
“No, they said, “Come, but be ready to treat the locals. And learn a little Tajik or Uzbek.”
“Right, so I got someone in World Languages to give me some Uzbek training tapes. Then I went off to Ft. Bragg for Basic Training. That sucked. I’m thirty-two, I used to play competitive tennis, and I used to spend nap time on rotation on our treadmill. But I never hiked in steel-toed boots with a sixty-pound ruck (that’s military-speak for “backpack”) on my back. And I never, ever imagined myself chanting that puerile crap they say to get through the march.”
Dimitri restrained a look of puzzlement. Ivy Leaguers sprinkled their speech with vocabulary like, “puerile,” that Dimitri last saw while preparing for his verbal SAT.
“So what were the calls between you guys like?” Dimitri looked from his wing chair first to Anastasia, then to Arnie.
“I just told him every night to leave off the girl recruits.”
“I told her back that since I was too tired to move anyway, it didn’t much matter, and if they sent me to Afghanistan as they promised, all the women were in burqas anyway.”
“I told him about Mama’s story about Soviet fashion – “
“Oxymoron,” Dimitri interrupted his sister.
“Exactly, Glupui, kak buik – moronic like an ox.” Dimitri and Anastasia laughed.
Arnie reveled in the image of stupid oxen parading Soviet fashion and Central Asian burqas. He returned to the current topic of discussion.
“Well, the reason we asked you up here is to talk about what’s happening next. I ship out to Afghanistan next Monday.”
More silence.
“Like I said, everything is settled here, except that Asha is pregnant. I’d like you to consider transferring to Princeton and finishing your education degree here. Asha might have an easy pregnancy, or maybe not. But you’re her brother. You’ll save on rent, you’ll get a great degree, You might even be the first family member to see your new cousin born into the world. I’m only planning a two-year tour of duty. I want to set up a decent trauma unit there, train some staff, save some lives and go home. Maybe I’ll even learn something about trauma surgery. I should get leave for the baby’s birth, and eight months later, another short leave. Then I’m done.”
Arnie paused. Dimitri continued.
“Arnie, Stasia, you know that Stasia and I hardly talked from when I left home to when you got married.”
Anastasia continued, significantly, in Russian. Arnie did not understand. “Я сожалею об этом, димя. Я интересовался той же самой вещью, которой ты был; не похожение на наших родителей. Таким образом мы стали, как говорит, карикатуры нас непосредственно, чтобы не походить на них. Я хочу знакомиться с тoбoй снова. Пожалуйста скажите да. (I’m sorry about that, Dimya. I was interested in exactly the same thing as you were, not to be like our parents, To that end, we became, how do you say it, caricatures of ourselves in order to avoid being like them. I want to get to know you anew. Please say yes.)”
Arnie did not interfere with the obvious impoliteness of his wife’s switch from English. He sat, quietly, in his white country club tennis shorts, socks slightly dusted from the clay surface, and his white polo shirt with the Princeton insignia on the front left panel. He leaned into the exchange between the Kats siblings, his fingers pressed together in a subconsciously learned gesture of control.
Perhaps the “steepling” gesture worked. Perhaps it was Anastasia’s appeal to regain the lost opportunity of fraternal kinship. Perhaps it was the opportunity to bring dates, maybe even Samantha and her Ukrainian girlfriend, to the palatial digs of a Princeton professor. In any case, Dimitri’s savings were dwindling and the degree was still at least a year off, so despite the insult to his pride gnawing away at the periphery of his machismo, Dimitri agreed.

Two Big to Fall (2001)

“It was like a big rumble – first I thought another train had just passed, but then after a few minutes, the rumble just got greater and greater. Shit, Dimitri, I was less than two stops away from being turned into human sawdust.” Arnie Goldstein, Dimitri’s brother-in-law, a Princeton professor and thoracic surgeon specializing in pulmonary trauma, had invited the family to his six-bedroom, four-bath Toll Brothers mansion in Hamilton for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Dimitri usually arrived last at family gatherings, and was first to leave. His father, Maksim, still could barely say a full sentence to Dimitri without mentioning his disappointment as an immigrant parent on the choices Dimitri had made. This time, because Arnie had made a point of befriending Dimitri while engaged to Dimitri’s sister,  Dimitri came early in order to spend some man-time, free of the status differences between them.
“Yeah, I had a prep first period. The kids in my second period are always the hardest, because they’re the Russian and Ukrainian kids. They know I’m Russian, so all they want to do is jabber on in Russian with me. So I’m sitting at my desk, trying to get some materials together to try to keep these guys from going off on – “
Dimitri slowly became cognizant that he had just disrespected his brother-in-law’s near death experience for a full fifteen seconds and…
“Arnie, you were WHERE!?”
“Yeah, Canal Street, headed south. Another two minutes and I’d have been rubble.
“JEEEEzus!! What happened!?”
“The lights go down, flicker, then off. At first, I say, Damn. I am not going to make it.”
“Make what?”
“I had an appointment with a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. He wanted to look at my research for stenting a collapsed lung for commercial viability. I think I mentioned that when I was at your parents’ house for Passover.”
“Right. That was one of the few things I remember. You know how much I like those gatherings.”
“Give ‘em a break, Dim. You really never know what might happen.” Arnie’s half-hatched dodo of a thought needed no completion. Not this New Year. Not this September. As Rabbi Amnon of Mayence said about the Book of Life – and Death, “the seal of every man’s hand is set thereto.”
Arnie continued as Dimitri looked pensive – and oddly receptive.
“I never thought of what a cocoon the subway is. You just check out of the world, cocksure you are going to emerge – like Jonah and the whale.”
“From Hebrew school. You know, the whale picks you up in the maelstrom and uncertainty of Manhattan life, and then it vomits you out on dry land, hopefully safe and sound, right where you should be. Not this time.”
Dimitri inched to the very front of the taupe fluted leather Chippendale chair in Arnie’s drawing room. With his elbows on his knees and his jaw resting on his fist, he looked for all the world like Rodin’s sculpture, “The Thinker.”
“When the lights went out, and the subway stopped, I was thinking only of what the suits at Cantor Fitzgerald would think about me showing up late. The whale never sleeps. You can make an appointment anywhere in Manhattan at 4:30 am. The next thing I remember was the blue glow of all the cell phones. Rows of blue rectangles. Then, a buzz of consternation.”
“Right, duh. If you just can’t get a signal in the beast’s belly at a random train stop on a good day, what made us think that we were going to get any action out of our devices in an emergency? Someone did it – a conductor, I think – the woman made the announcement in our car to pay attention to her voice only in this car.  She instructed us to save our batteries, and turn the cell phones off, because we were safe where we were, and that she would bring the news to us as soon as she got any. She had the wisdom to suggest that we get to know each other, The woman must have known something. She suggested we tell our seatmates or fellow straphangers what work we did in seven words or fewer.”
“So what did you say?”
“I came up with something like, ‘pop balloons in lungs to heal walls.”
“I bet that one crossed some eyeballs.”
“May have, but I couldn’t see. Nobody could. I thought that it would be a good idea to follow up by asking people questions, but all they wanted to hear about were my balloons. The I. P. lawyers at Princeton – I. P. means “intellectual property” – buzzed in my ears, you know, if I release the information into the public domain, I can’t get rich off it, but I told them anyway. One of the passengers, I guess a college student at NYU, created a good laugh when she called it “a condom that goes down the wrong way!” 
“Did you tell her you’d copyright that line if she didn’t do it first?”
“Good one, Dim. The weird thing is that it started a discussion of different ways to die – like a kind of gallows humor. Sex and death. I mean, it was sick! Sick, but funny. I think that the whole car picked up on the theme. I overheard the blessed, “I want to pass out of consciousness in bed with my beloved,” to the sick, “I saw this cartoon once that had someone beheading his boss in a file drawer  and sticking a bunch of daisies in the empty neck.”
“Too bad someone didn’t have a recorder on. Or maybe they did.”
“If so, you’ll be able to find it on the Internet soon enough. It’s amazing what people will say when they’re contemplating the end.”
“My students would love it. Maybe I’ll teach a lesson on black humor. I might even ask Mom if she remembers any in Russian.”
“Ask your dad instead. Your mom seems way too polite.”
Dimitri fidgeted at the thought.
“How long did you sit in darkness like that? How was the air?
Arnie lifted his head ever so gently, slightly, as if to remember the olfactory sensations of the day.
“Funny you would ask that. I expected to notice a slight staleness of the air as time passed, but quickly I saw people taking Kleenex out and sniffling or sneezing. I didn’t think that we were under attack at that moment, but I guessed that a part of the subway had collapsed. Then I thought about all the redundant construction techniques in there, and I thought, “Naaah. No way. An airplane could hit the Amsterdam Gardens and the people in the subway would feel a shock, but that’s it. No breach. I read a briefing once that covered that kind of accident.
“So I stopped thinking about above-ground accidents, and started wondering about a bomb. You remember the last time they tried to bomb the Towers, right?
“I was in Israel at the time.”
“Well, ever since then, I’ve been looking for a truck bomb to go off in the Lincoln Tunnel. A hundred million PSI of the Hudson River washing away half of Midtown. Now I was sure in my own mind that some Khaled Abu Jihad or somebody had planted a bomb on the subway. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to freak anyone out. I’d be the one who would have to tracheotomize the victim. After a good twenty minutes, our conductor comes back, and confirms what I already knew. She says ‘There’s an explosion up ahead of us that has cut power to the subway. It’s a mess, but MTA has all their towing engines on the job, and all the trains are being towed out of the area. Please stay calm, and wait for more instructions.’
“Well, we weren’t about to jump out the train and wage war against the rats. So there was little to do but sit while our conductor kept whispering to the motorman. Looking back, I can’t believe that I made it out alive.”
Dimitri put his hands on the curved leather wing of the Chippendale chair. He shifted positions, not from boredom, but from dead sensation he was feeling in his legs from the pressure of the edge of the seat on his major blood vessels.
“After a while, we heard a pneumatic gasp from a valve open, which I guessed was the motorman’s door. I looked up, and noticed a spotlight falling out of the front cabin. Recognizing what was happening, I told the other passengers that the motorman had put on an emergency helmet with a spotlight, and he had jumped out of the cabin. Someone suggested he committed suicide. I calmed the moron down, ‘cause I knew he wouldn’t have put a hardhat with an emergency lamp on if he were planning on offing himself.
Dimitri interjected. “So how long did you have to wait until someone said something?”
“You read my mind – again, ” Arnie continued. “Practically before the parabola from the guy’s headlamp stopped, our conductor announced that they had hatched a plan. They were going to shut the emergency brakes, one by one, and assuming the third rail was still live, they were backing up to Canal Street and evacuating from there. I was really concerned about my appointment at this point, so I called above the murmuring, ‘Will there be alternate service to Cortland Street from there?’ She replied that the explosion had shut down the area, and that people were being evacuated from the World Trade Center area.
“What happened next could have been an acoustics experiment in reinforcing and dampening harmonics, because everyone gasped and went, “What happened?!” in the same moment, some loudly, some soft, high, low, but all at once. The conductor had put her hard hat on. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was pretty good. Like they’d rehearsed this scenario.”
“Well?” Dimitri urged, leaning forward into history.
“She said something like, ‘It’s no surprise to anyone in this car, but something big has occurred. First, our evacuation plan will put you on Canal Street, where you should turn toward the docks. The air is filled with dust and ash, so make sure you have one hand free and something to cover your face. What I know is that the World Trade Center has been hit by a plane, and that one of the towers has collapsed.’
“The buzz on the train now sounded like crowd noise on a sitcom.  The conductor repeated that a tower had collapsed, and that burning debris was everywhere. ‘I have been given no further information. I need to know what’s happening too, and I will relay information the moment that I get it and have been cleared to do so. The motorman has reentered the cabin, and we are reversing to the next emergency brake.’ Did I mention that the low hum of a generator served as a soundscape for this insanity?”
“No,” responded Dimitri, “but it would make sense.”
The pause that fell on Arnie’s drawing room felt like a news broadcast over which the camera had lingered just a bit too long. Like everything this week, things just weren’t right. Dimitri did not follow up. Arnie was supposed to go next, but he sat still for a moment, pendant from the moment that just passed and the moment that was to come.
“Well, now the hum increases in pitch – I swear I thought it was coming from inside my head, and maybe everybody felt the same thing.  We back up with a start – and then a stop. It doesn’t take much to travel the sixty feet between emergency brakes on the subway. This process repeated five times in all, and then what a sight when we got out at Canal Street! Imagine a snowstorm had hit Manhattan, and you were getting off the subway after drifts of snow had blown down into the subway. Only it wasn’t snow, Dimitri, it was ash.”
Dimitri gasped. “Bozhe fucking moi! It’s like the Towers were two giant crematoria, but they got the gas wrong and blew up the building along with the Jews inside. If it had happened tomorrow, the Black-Hatters would have trumpeted that this was the punishment for the sin of not observing the Lord’s Festivals or something.”
“Yeah, as it was, we felt pretty much like a marching herd of zombies. I guess you could call it a “life march,” instead of a death march. I think the people at MTA were just doing what they had been trained to do, but by my account, they sure did it well. I don’t think they were coordinating with the Coast Guard, but by the time we got out of the ash-trap called a subway entrance, there were two ferries and several riverboats waiting to take us to Bayonne. “

Tupper Lake (1998)

Segal had slipped on a wet rock near the top of Sawyer Mountain on Day 3 of the Great Escape. Sawyer Mountain barely merited the name; only an 847-foot climb, there was no challenge here for Rafi or Jezebel, but none of the little family had been up a mountain since Rafi had hiked up the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.  Rafi did not need any prompting from Segal to pack a first aid kit; in fact, it was he that double-checked that it was in his backpack, under the water bottles. The best he could do was field-dress the gash, and even though Jezebel ran down the hill to get help, Rafi knew that Segal could do this with his help. He grabbed a gnarled beech branch,  snapped off the small part to fit Segal’s build, and handed it to her.
K’chi – ani e’ezor otach. Take – I’ll help you.”
Rafi interpreted the scowl on Segal’s face as a good sign. She had almost thrown him down the hill when he was trying to debride the wound, and now she expressed way too much embarrassment, cloaked as hostility, to be in shock. The two of them and the beech staff made it down about halfway when they were joined by Jezebel, with a dad named Charles and his two boys, about ten and eight years old, in tow. Charles took the arm that had been holding the staff. Segal shot a quick glance at the older boy. 
“Is it OK if your son takes the walking stick?” she asked Charles.
“Barry?” Charles looked down at his older son, who had Jezebel’s leash, limply, in his hand.
“Thanks, Dad! Thanks, Ms. …”
“Ms. Siegal. It’s such a nice stick. Dad, I think it’s just your size!”
“It’s broken a little rough, sorry,” Rafi apologized.
The Adirondack field medical station was staffed by a male nurse with the body of a distance runner, which of course, he was. Fortunately for Segal, he was able to administer injectable anesthetic above the wound site before he started debriding. Still, Rafi and Jezebel both jumped at the yelp emanating from the procedure room. In all, the nurse put eleven stitches in Segal’s knee, and sent her home with a note that specified that her outdoors activities be limited to canoeing and horseback riding, and then only with waterproof bandages if she were to be around water.
When they returned to the Indian Lake Motel, Segal threw on the TV, which divided time between CNN and Animal Planet. It was on CNN. The next thing thrown was Segal’s pack – on the full-sized “parent” bed, as a foot rest. Before she even got her damaged leg up on the pack, Rafi turned around with a start.
“At approximately 10:35 this morning, the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were pulverized in devastating, apparently coordinated attacks. A shadowy terrorist group calling itself Al-Qa-Ida claimed responsibility.” 
“Shit. Od pa’am, here we go again.”
“What!?” Segal, still stung by her embarrassment over the accident at Sawyer Mountain, misinterpreted Rafi’s comment.
“Just last time I was on a vacation with Margaret and the Soviet Union fell apart. We got married, and the half of Rwanda slaughtered the other half. Now what?”
“Let them kill themselves for all I care.”
“Segal, think. This is…”
“Right. I wasn’t thinking. The damn Percocet hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“It’s OK. We can still have a good time here – we can go back up to Blue Mountain Lake, you can canoe, we can go to the museum – and then Jez and I can go up the mountain and you can take a day trip. Where would you like to go where they don’t want dogs?”
“This is the ‘Dacks. Where don’t they want dogs?” 
“I don’t know. Maybe if you go to Old Forge, you’ll see Anne LaBastille. Maybe, you’ll just have a good time – you’re the one who likes Thoreau, after all.”
“And you’re the one who is keeping his head on his shoulders.”
“Where else should my head be?”
“It’s an expression.”
“I know. I always wanted to ask someone that.”
“I love you, too. Now let me make an icepack for you. Do you want a snack before you pass out?”
“I don’t know – whether I’m gonna pass out or not. But I would like a snack. Do we have any tuna salad left from yesterday?”
Rafi was happy that he let Segal take them grocery shopping before lunch yesterday. He was happier that, whether it was tuna salad or a ten course dinner, he always doubled the recipe. Kibbutz cooking was for twenty, never two.
* * *
Itinerary for the rest of Week 1: 
Rafi: Blue Mountain, Castle Rock, and Chimney Mountain (with Jezebel), one golf course, a half-day at the Adirondack Museum, eight hours vocal practice (motel manager likes Mozart, but guests have a problem with high notes plus hangovers).
Segal: One car tour of the Western Adirondacks, a picnic lunch at Singing Waters Camp Grounds (with Jezebel), one paddleboat cruise on Raquette Lake (with Jezebel), one dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant (with an autographed copy of LaBastille’s Woodswoman), two half-days at the Adirondack Museum, and a half-day at the Adirondack Center for the Arts. 
All Participants: A boat trip through the Blue Mountain Lake and connected bodies of water.
Jezebel: Three mountains, a campsite picnic, a paddleboat cruise, and lots of good charcoal-grilled meat in the evenings at the Indian Lake Motel.
On the way up to the much more touristy Saranac Inn in Saranac Lake, at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 30, sat the old crossroads town of Tupper Lake. Rafi and Segal wanted to visit the historic synagogue there. The village was founded in 1844 as a lumber center, but its Jewish history began in 1905, when Mose Ginsburg, a small dry-goods trader, suffered the death of his horse there. After burying the animal, he set up shop at the train depot, creating Ginsburg’s, the largest department store for a time in upstate New York. Wherever Jews establish themselves, they create a cemetery and a religious school, so says the tradition. The latter became Beth Joseph Synagogue, which maintained a museum of Jewish life that was open year round. Mose Ginsburg’s daughter was visiting the synagogue when Rafi and Segal came in. Jezebel waited outside, providing a friendly welcoming committee. 
An octogenarian named Mr. Joseph served as docent that day. He seemed pleased to have visitors, particularly Jewish ones. When Rafi let on that he was studying to be a cantor, the old man grabbed his tie-dye and, looking up at Rafi with hopeful, almost pleading eyes, he urged, 
“You are staying close by?”
“Yes, we are staying in Saranac Lake.”
“Then you must davenwith us Friday. Our services start at seven. The whole Jewish camps are here as our guests. We would be proud to have you as hazzan.” 
Rafi and Segal looked at each other, puzzled.
“Let me show you our prayer book. You take it; you bring it back Friday.”
The nonagenarian daughter of the synagogue’s founder entered the museum wing at that moment. Almost as tall as Rafi and Segal, she could have given Joseph a rub on his bald pate. At ninety one years of age, the woman stood straight, and walked without a cane. She seemed ready to launch into the canned speech she gave tourists whenever she graced the museum wing, but Mr. Joseph turned quickly and grabbed her dated polyester blended jacket with mint and yellow checks on a beige background.
“Muriel, do you know who we have here?”
“Who is it, Jacob?”
“It’s Hazzan Ben-B’rak, from Temple Beth Sholom in Philadelphia.”
“Hazzan Ben-B’rak, what a pleasure! Welcome to Beth Joseph!” The doyenne of New York retail west of the Hudson remembered the passage from the Haggadah, the telling of the story of Passover well, in which a dozen revolutionary rabbis plotted the Bar Kochba Rebellion against Rome over a Passover Seder in the town of B’nei-B’rak. 
“May I introduce my wife Segal Gottesdienst?”
“Mrs. Ben-B’rak, a pleasure.”
Rafi stepped up. “Ms. Gottesdienst. I was stubborn, and I kept my name under the huppah.” That was Hebrew, or Yiddish, for “altar.” Sort of.
Quickly, the information was exchanged, and it turned out that the Grand Lady of Retail had taken a call from a rabbi from the Reform Movement who was also vacationing in the Adirondacks and looking for a place to pray that weekend. Of course, Mrs. Ginsberg had extended the offer to the rabbi that Mr. Joseph had given Rafi. 
“How long has it been since there were two clergy on the bimah at the same time here?” Segal asked. 
“I was only a very young girl when my father started the shul, but I don’t ever remember it happening.”
“Not even on the High Holy Days?” Rafi asked.
“No, not even then.”
“Well, with your permission, Segal, we accept! Let’s make history.”

Indian Lake (1997)

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Rafi had been married to Segal for six months when the whining about wanting to go to the Adirondacks became a little too loud. Segal was a big fan of the naturalist and writer Anne LaBastille, author of Woodswoman, about her experiences living in a log cabin with no utilities in the forest at an undisclosed location, somewhere outside of Old Forge. Readers of the book thought they could identify the locale as on Six Mile Lake; even though they were wrong, the specter of a throng of hero-seekers drove LaBastille into the forest on whatever body of water allowed her to receive her mail by motorboat.  Segal was as fired up about spending time in the woods as she had been about making aliyah, emigrating to Israel.
Not satisfied with the student’s year abroad, or even finding a job through an agency, Segal had lived on a kibbutz. No, make that two kibbutzim.She went once out of a Jewish nationalist fervor, with the intention of returning. The second time, she had made aliyah. This second time, she joined the governing body of the kibbutz, drove a tractor, became fluent at Hebrew, and even dated Orientals. Not Chinese pilgrims, learning about the triumph of the New Socialist Woman. In Israel, the term referred to Jews from Arab lands. This guy was an Iranian, an irooni. She liked him because he was shy. Rafi was a little like the irooni. She couldn’t tell why she found his social clumsiness attractive. Why do some women prefer facial hair, some prefer clean-shaven men, and some like three days’ worth of stubble?
“I don’t think we’re ever going to do something unless I do it myself, are we? ARE WE?”
“You said that, not me. Why are you saying this now? We talk about this over Pesach; I agreed we’ll do it this summer.”
“But it’s JUNE!” Segal raised her voice. It was reaching the level of annoyance that it had when he had just dumped Margie six weeks before and then he turned down a request for a dinner party so that he could attend a stargazing party at the Cricket Club. Strictly secret; a friend of a friend worked there, and he would unlock the gates if everyone could get there at the same time. Late arrivals would have to climb an eight-foot-high fence. The lights on Willow Grove Avenue didn’t stay on past 1 am, so it was very dark, suitably flat for telescopes, and manicured beyond the possibility of tripping and damaging valuable equipment. By the end of the fight that ensued when Rafi was demonstrating that he would not meet Segal’s every demand, she half-yelled, “I think this relationship has gone on long enough, don’t you?!” Rafi did not. He had fallen madly in love, and as far as he could tell, so had Segal. Best news? It was with each other. So ma yesh?
Rafi tried to defuse the current situation.  “Let’s walk up to Borders, get some coffee, and buy a Lonely Planet guide. We can make our reservations when we get back.”
Borders, to the annoyance of all their Mt. Airy clientele, closed at 6 on Sundays. Mt. Airyites always laid the blame for that one on the twenty society ladies who ran Chestnut Hill. Rafi and Segal were renting a house right next to Jenks School. Segal, who worked mostly from home, would lug her laptop on some days, or just take a tablet more often, to the Borders three blocks away at the top of Chestnut Hill. It was Rafi’s job, when he would let their Norwegian Elkhound Jezebel (the name was Rafi’s idea) out to pee, to toss the basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and Nerf balls back to the kids waiting at the picket fence. Conveniently, it was 4:30 on a Sunday, so the school yard carried the usual weekend variety of basketballers, kids playing dodge ball, a young woman pounding tennis balls against the wall, and a few kids on bikes, several with training wheels, riding in circles while one parent watched. Jezebel relieved herself; Rafi had taken her running earlier in the day. No basketballs to worry about; the players were too old to control the play that poorly. Segal shut down the computer. Jez came in. Rafi gave her a biscuit. Rafi slipped on his Birkenstocks and Segal tied her shoes. Up the hill they walked. Rafi surged ahead, and remembering himself, slowed down and let Segal pull even. Rafi held the door open at the big bookstore. Segal started, by habit, to the magazine section. Rafi, heading off to the back of the store, shot off, “I get the guidebooks. See you in the coffeeshop in ten minutes.” Rafi felt Segal’s glower on the nape of his neck. She makes the money, she makes the decisions. But she would make his year hell if they did not go, not to mention that the whole marriage might be endangered.
Rafi knew not to order until Segal was on the way up the steps. He started browsing The Adirondack Book. History of the region. Boring. Geography. Lo ichpat li. Guide boats. Blorcz. Okay, okay, the index. Here we go. Camping – she’d never go for it. Bed and breakfast – too nice for me. I’d rather let her stay at a hotel and I’d camp on top of Mt. Marcy. Well, maybe Blue Mountain Lake – half as high. Well…
Segal materialized with her normal array of writing and tech magazines. She asked for Rafi’s coffee order.
“I’ll take a café mocha, cold, no ice. Would you like to stay at a bed and breakfast, a campgrounds, a motel, or some combination of the two?”
Ma yesh, Rafi, anachnu y’cholim livkhor acharei she’anachnu osim kamah zayin kri’ah! Maduah chayav l’cha ish rutzi-rutzi? Ben kamah atah, hamesh? (WTF, Rafi, we can make that decision after we do some fucking reading! Why do you have to be Mister Hurry-Hurry? How old are you, anyway, five?)”
Breathe, Rafi. “I will look at the books. I will make some lists. You order the coffee. Rak anachnu tz’richim la’asot mashehu b’itim k’rovot (Only we have to do something soon).
That evening, Rafi made lists of high-end, middle-range, and low-budget choices for each of the five geographic regions in the Adirondack State Park. He knew that Segal would make the decision in any case, but he would damn sure not take the blame. Segal was not going to work Monday without the decision being made.
* * *
The first stop was a detour to Cooperstown. Actually, below Cooperstown, on I-9, at the Viking Kennel, specialty breeder and boarder of Norwegian Elkhounds.  Jezebel was the first Elkhound that either Rafi or Segal had ever met; now, as she bounded out of the Saturn to meet the permanent residents of Viking Kennel, she was surrounded by silver doggie butts with tightly curled white, silver, and seal-tipped tails, wagging like icy circus hoops, the front ends being spade-shaped noses all sniffing her rectal cavity for a personal postcard.  The breeder remarked that Jez was a “stunning exemplar of the breed, clearly the work of a master breeder and a miracle of Nature.” Rafi and Segal would laugh at this on the way into the historic baseball village. Jezebel came from the Montgomery SPCA, Conshohocken Branch.
Rafi was not much of a baseball player. The game was not popular on the kibbutz. But Madonna had just costarred in the movie A League of Their Own, which told the story of the All American Girls’ Baseball League, and Segal wanted to come back with a Negro League souvenir for her boss. Plus, Segal, who had grown up Anastasia, was from the town that was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League.” Neither spouse had any illusion that Cooperstown was going to be the highlight of their trip, but as Segal had discovered the Viking Kennel, both thought that it would have been a shame to pass up on the opportunity for a pilgrimage. Neither one thought that the sun would be setting by the time they retrieved Jezebel and headed north to Indian Lake. As New York Route 10 droned on and on, and the sun dipped lower and lower, Segal grew testier and testier, and finally exploded with the phrase that serves as the ultimate rejection of a man,
Eizeh GEVER!What a (stupid, worthless, arrogant, ignorant, brazen, morally suspect) man!”
Rafi jutted his jaw against the barrage of buyer’s remorse as well as against the treacherous winding and lack of illumination on Rt. 30. Whenever Segal got too loud, Jezebel would trumpet her disapproval. Otherwise, the dog nuzzled the back of her parents’ necks, first Rafi, then Segal.
Finally, Rafi dragged the car into the Indian Lake Motel. The host’s cabin was dark, except for a clip-on flashlight that illumined a paper ripped out of a spiral notebook. On the paper was scrawled, “Rafi, Segal, Jezebel.” When Segal lifted it out of the pitted aluminum screen door, a dog biscuit fell out.
Suite 6 sported a double bed, a bunk bed, a TV with cable (this fact, advertised prominently in a laminated card with 1” stenciled letters reading, “CABLE GUIDE,” convinced Segal that she shouldn’t go with the cabins), a kitchenette, and a dining table. In short, a palace by Manhattan standards. Sadly for Rafi, Segal had never lived in Manhattan, and she didn’t grow up on the kibbutz, either. These were the Adirondacks, for heaven’s sake, thought Segal. She resolved to have a miserable time. She did not tell Rafi that she was planning to fall back to CNN instead of springing forward into her adventure. Rafi was already planning the first day’s hike up Sawyer Mountain, a little “stretch-your-legs” outing to make sure that everyone was adjusting to the altitude. “Everyone” included Jezebel. Elkhounds were bred from before the Dark Ages to be vanguards. Rafi had trained Jezebel to run at an 8:30 pace for five or six miles, but neither they nor Segal were much adapted to hills.
Segal threw her backpack into the lower bunk and began directing Rafi.
“Get the crate.”
“Where’s Jez’s bag?”
“Do you have your meds?’
“Where’s the ID? Where’s my purse?”
Ma yesh? Al tid’f’ki alai!
D’fok alai” is a cognate, roughly speaking. Very roughly speaking.
It was all that Rafi could do to keep from moving Segal’s backpack and curling up with Jezebel in the lower bunk to go to sleep.