HELP COMES TO THOSE IN NEED

Saved by the Bell

Tell us about a time when you managed to extract yourself from a sticky situation at the very last minute.


 

I didn’t do it. Help arrived from what I would have thought was the least likely direction. They pulled me to safety at risk to themselves and with no possible gain. Which is what made the experience both poignant and meaningful.

It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

Jerusalem_old_city_sunset

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

Ramallah

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I definitely will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there.

Fight? Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Flight? I was lost. Go where? I stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. No idea what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows.  Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You mustn’t go into dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem quite the thing to do.

Jerusalem_ben_yehuda_street

I never felt endangered, though probably I had been. It was the end of the times when Arabs and Jews could talk to each other, even be friends. I am sad when I think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger to have an Israeli in their house. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are not just two sides to this conflict; there are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had some answers, that I knew something. By 1987 , I knew there were no answers and I knew nothing.

SUNDAY IS FOR PREACHING

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

I was thinking about this recently because of people who passed. A few weeks back I wrote about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play we worked on together (Liberation).  Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. Then a few weeks ago I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses:  “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.” Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Yes, of course we are all going to die of something someday, that does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you anyway. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18 wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought someone would beat me up and leave me bleeding a lot. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You just never know, why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he out lived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer or whatever? Remember what happened to Roger Ebert? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This is the only Sunday I am going to preach on this topic. If you did not get the point, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.