Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Miracle Man of Nahariya

"You might get to see the Rav tonight," Nissim tells me with relish as we splash along the damp streets of Nahariya. "He cured my sister's cancer."
"Well, he made it so she never had any. We brought her in. The doctors were sure it was cancer. Told her to come back the next day for some deeper tests. To find out how much cancer she has, where in her body it is. I went to the Rav. He said, 'don't worry. Go home. Take her in tomorrow. There won't be anything.' And I took her in, and the doctor said the same thing, 'Go home. There isn't anything.'"
Twirling his beard about his index finger as he bounced along Ga'aton Street, this live-wire Moroccan seemed a bit out of place in Nahariya. Herding his Shabbat (sabbath) guests around the flashing neon restaurants and nightclubs, weaving between a flock of teenagers ornamented with dangling ipod earpieces, dodging a five-foot scowling sparkplug of a man whose leather-jacketed arm was wrapped around his compensatory six-foot Russian knockout blonde, this didn't seem quite the setting in which one would expect to find a man dressed like a biblical shepherd. On Shabbat no less.
"This is the best place to be a Jew on Shabbat!" Nissin exclaimed, drinking in the energy. "It just needs a few changes. I grew up here. Not religious. Nobody was religious when I was young. I remember when we saw a man with a kippah. A kippah! On Ga'aton Street! We thought he must have been lost. But things are changing. Now we have schools, synagogues, mikveh, everything. And we're building more. Now I teach at a religious school. It will take a generation, but we'll move the world. Real change takes time. "
As we turn the corner, my hand brushes against a sign pole, it's cold smoothness suddenly giving way to a sharp scratch. Glancing down at the pole, I notice it's ripped and punctured, as if some enormous prehistoric beaver attempted to use it to dam the Ga'aton River. There's only one thing that can cause that kind of damage.
Yes, Nissin nods. He points to the street, at what looks like a pothole, except with gouges radiating outward. The impact crater of a Katyusha rocket. Pausing to take in my surroundings, I notice that not only did the shrapnel chew up the sign pole, it pocked and peppered the concrete wall of the building next to us.
"They messed up that war," Nissim says.
"Yeah," I tell him, rehashing the mantra I've heard ad nauseum since arriving, "the officers and soldiers sat in their bases and let the soldiers do the fighting, they sent out orders to attack and retreat, minutes apart, they didn't have enough food-"
"No!" Nissim interjects, "They made one big mistake. They didn't call ME! I called them. I begged them to let me fight. Begged! I have experience too. I'm combat. I fought the first Lebanon War. Went in in 1982. Three years fighting against Fatach. I've never had so much fun! We could have won. We could have smashed Hizbullah forever."
I've heard quite enough of the 'we could have won' line. "Look," I tell him, "as long as the Arabs hate us, it doesn't matter if you smash their organization. Whoever survives will just make up a new one and keep killing. You fought Fatach, now we're fighting Hizbullah. The only way have complete quiet would be if nobody lived there at all."
Nissim smiles at the idea. "You are wise."
Pushing throught he door to the apartment stairwell, I'm confronted by a black-hatted, smiling face and an outstretched hand.
"Shabbat shalom," I shake.
"Shabbat Shalom."
We all receive the greeting. Launching himself up the stairs, Nissim flaps his hand as if it were singed. "The Kedushah burns. That was the great Rabbi! His grandfather is the Holy Baba Sali! You were fortunate tonight."
After five stories of stairways, we burst into the apartment. I stroll towards the window. We're only two kilometers from the border with Lebanon. I should be able to see it from here.
"Is that Lebanon?" I ask.
"No," Nissim tells me, "By the merit of our holy Rabbi, Lebanon fell into the sea during our Shabbat prayers."
"But what are those lights out there?"
Nissim naps his fingers in disgust. "Lebanon." he sighs.
"Some day, they will never bother us again. You can move mountains if you are patient. Real change takes time."

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