Posted in 1990s, Agnieszka, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Couples, Ezra, Haifa, holidays, Israel, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Agnieszka and Ezra, Continued

My A-Z post for the F day is here.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples picks up where last week’s left off. It’s Rosh Hashanah 1994, and 18-year-old Agnieszka has been volunteering on a Haifa kibbutz with her best friend Lillian (a Western Hindu really into the hippie groove) since they graduated high school in June. Since before she arrived, Agnieszka has had a huge crush on the young director Ezra, four years her senior.

She was initially thrilled when Ezra made great friends with her, but now she’s started to believe this is too good to be true, and is planning to transfer to another kibbutz with Lillian as soon as possible. Ezra, however, has other ideas, and won’t dream of letting his mutual secret crush get away.

I’ve sprinkled in some of the pictures I’ve taken in Haifa and Rosh Hanikra for some local flavor.

***

She was glad when she didn’t catch sight of him in the crowds that night. She sat with an old woman who’d immigrated from Hungary in 1956, Ibolya, who’d come from Ophelia’s birthplace, Gyor. During the refreshments after services, he also didn’t make an appearance within her line of vision. Satisfied she’d eluded him, she left Ibolya and went outside. She would grab Lillian and as soon as the holiday ended on the seventh, they would apply for transfer to another kibbutz.

“You’re not walking home alone at night, especially wearing something like that. It was bad enough you walked here alone. Why did you walk away earlier?”

“Go back to your family. They don’t want a stranger horning in on their time together.”

“You’re not a stranger to me.”

“You haven’t even known me three months, Ezra. You don’t have a special connection to anyone so quickly. Real friendships take longer than that to be established. I am going to take Lillian and transfer to another kibbutz where the director doesn’t pay unwarranted amounts of attention to me.”

“I won’t let you leave. God sent you to Beit Alizah for a reason.”

“I’m no different from thousands of other volunteers.”

“Volunteer or not, I’ve never felt such an instant and intense connection to anyone on so many levels—spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychic, you name it. Like I’ve known you for years, or in another lifetime. And if you do transfer elsewhere to avoid me, I’ll follow you. Something like this doesn’t happen every day.”

“What about your family?”

“They’re staying in a hotel.”

“You spoke to them in Hebrew in front of me. I barely understood a word you said.”

“I’ll teach you. You have a dictionary and four instructional books. It can’t be harder than Armenian, Russian, or Hungarian. But for now I’m taking you on a sightseeing tour. And then we’re going back home.”

Agnieszka took his hand and walked with him to the Mediterranean Sea, next to Mount Carmel, with the ancient city of Acre to the northeast. Further east was the snowcapped peak of Mount Hermon.

“And directly north is the white cliff of Rosh Hanikra, the checkpoint of our border with Lebanon. We built this land up from nothing, but these mountains and the sea have always been here. And when you see something that beautiful, you can’t imagine anyone else having it. They can look, but you know they’ll never love or appreciate it as much as you do, or feel such emotional connection. Something so beautiful can’t be given to someone who can’t appreciate it. And they mean something beyond just beauty.”

“You must be extremely proud of the land.”

“I’m not talking about the land anymore, I’m talking about you.” Ezra slipped his arms around her waist and kissed her, and Agnieszka melted into the curves of his body and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

He was very gentle and at the same time passionate. Agnieszka felt extremely safe in his arms, beyond just the fact that he’d just finished his army stint two years ago. He was full of love, compassion, and deep familiarity that hearkened back from another lifetime.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since the first time I saw you lying asleep in your bed, but I restrained myself for fear you wouldn’t feel the same way. I guess this means you have feelings for me too.”

“Since I saw your picture in the brochure.”

“And you never told me?”

“I was afraid. But not anymore. You can take me back to your room and do whatever you want with me.”

“I respect you too much to sleep with you the first night. A quality relationship is built on more than that. If we’re still together at least a year from now and know this is leading to something permanent, and we both feel it’s time, then it can happen. And I may be mistaken, but aren’t you a betulah?”

“Is that your concern?”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“You don’t have to be ashamed of it.”

“I want you to be the first.”

“If things work out like I believe they’re destined to, I will not only be your first lover, but your only.”

Agnieszka could barely sleep at all that night, thinking about Ezra and how strong his arms were, how soft his skin, his electric touch. She couldn’t wait to make love to him. She knew she could never go back to America.

 
Posted in 1990s, Agnieszka, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Couples, Ezra, Haifa, holidays, Israel, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Agnieszka and Ezra

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Saga VI, Children’s Children, of my magnum opus Cinnimin (which will end up as one book in 12 volumes, all of it bar the opening and finale handwritten). It’s now September 1994, and Cinni’s granddaughter Agnieszka is volunteering on a Haifa kibbutz after high school.

Agnieszka has had a huge crush on the young kibbutz director, Ezra, since she saw his picture in the brochure, but now she’s starting to feel like she were dreaming if she ever thought she stood a chance with someone so handsome, who’s not a virgin, from a different culture, and four years older. Her cousin Toni and her friends Lillian, Raina, and Nate are trying to tell her they think Ezra likes her back and not to be so quick to rule out romance, but Agnieszka has made up her mind to leave with Lillian as soon as Rosh Hashanah is over. Her plans, however, are soon derailed when Ezra finds out about them.

***

Lillian had just changed her hair color to peach and was looking through the yellow pages for tattoo parlors. Then Ezra came into the room looking for Agnieszka.

“Isn’t it just a little bit odd for a kibbutz director to pay so much attention to a volunteer?”

“With any luck, she won’t be a volunteer forever. Third time’s the charm. I want her to meet my parents. They came here for Rosh Hashanah, and my brother Alon.”

“Did you know Agnieszka goes to services at your synagogue? She told me and Toni she’s seen you there.”

“She goes there with some of my residents?”

“There and back, alone. You’re the only resident who gives us the time of day.”

“I can’t let that continue. She could be raped or killed walking alone at night. Nobody would dare harm her if they saw who her escort was.”

“Yes, she’s always talking about how well-built you are, like a Greek god. I’m sure everyone notices it, but it’s sure made an impression with her.”

“Does she say anything else about me?”

“She’s my second-best friend after my cousin Crystal. I can’t betray her confidences.”

Agnieszka came into the room wearing a low-cut blue silk dress. Ezra turned into one huge smile.

“You’re even more beautiful than usual. I’m going to insist you walk with me tonight. I don’t want some lowlife to rape or murder you. My parents and brother are here till the holiday ends on Wednesday night, but they’re staying in a hotel. I can walk you back to Beit Alizah tonight without them. I’d also love to show you some of the scenery at night.”

“How many directors are that nice to volunteers? Out of all the current volunteers, you’ve picked me.”

“I felt an instant connection to you. Like déjà vu. And you’re also beautiful.”

“I’ve never had a problem walking alone at night. And you’ve only known me for two and a half months.”

“I hope I get to know you for the rest of my life.” Ezra took her by the hand and led her into the main house, where his king-size room was located. “I want you to meet my family. That’s my fifteen-year-old brother Alon, and my parents Talia and Dov.”

“Is this your girlfriend?” Alon asked in Hebrew.

Confident that Agnieszka only spoke English, Russian, Armenian, German, and Hungarian, Ezra spoke back to them in his native tongue. “She’s a volunteer from America, in Atlantic City. She’s here with her friend Lillian for two years, and I fell in love with her the moment I saw her sleeping her first morning here. Tonight I’m going to tell her how I feel.”

“A volunteer?” his mother pestered. “There are no women in the city, or other residents?”

“That’s why it’s so strange. I can think of no other reason why I’d feel such a connection to a volunteer besides she was divinely sent here. I think she’s a keeper!”

“You’ll probably be rejected again. I’d be highly surprised if she cares for you enough to remain here and not go back to her life in America.”

Agnieszka walked out of the room into the evening. She didn’t care that Ezra walked after her trying to get her to come back. Nobody had ever heard of a director lavishing so much attention on a volunteer. It was too good to be true. She had nothing over a local girl. Perhaps he even had an ulterior motive, like Pete had for being nice to Octavia. The thought repulsed her.

Posted in Agnieszka, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Contests, Couples, Ezra, Haifa, Israel, Writing

The Heartbreaker Hop—Meet Ezra

The Heartbreaker Hop is asking what constitutes a heartbreaker, what happens when a hero isn’t so perfect, and what he can do to make it better. For the list of participants, click on the link above, as WordPress doesn’t support Javascript. You have over 300 chances to win some great prizes, by commenting on each participating blog and leaving your e-mail address. I’m offering a 10-page critique. First grand prize is a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, second prize is a $100 Amazon or B&N gift card, and third prize is the following swag pack:

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I’m offering a post from the POV of one of my heartbreaking heroes, my sexy Israeli Ezra Arnon Skoloda.

I’m Sgt. Ezra Arnon Skoloda, and my beautiful wife Agnieszka and I run a kibbutz called Beit Alizah, House of Joy, in Haifa. I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, but after my mandatory military service, I moved to Haifa and became the director of a kibbutz. It was a dream since boyhood to live on a kibbutz. And I was hoping to find a wife in Haifa too.

I had my heart broken by two women I was dating, and then I met my Nessa in June of ’94. She and her best friend Lillian Hitchcock had just graduated high school in America and come to volunteer on a kibbutz for two years. At first I was annoyed when I saw one of the new volunteers was still sleeping when I came to meet her, but only till I saw how beautiful she was. Because she was only 18, and I was 22 and with more experience, I didn’t tell her how I felt at first.

It turned out Nessa was in love with me too all along, and had actually fallen for me when she first saw my picture in the brochure. I wish I could say our relationship was perfect, unlike my previous experiences, but real life isn’t about happy endings with hospital corners on silver platters.

I know I caused her no small amount of grief because I didn’t take things to the next level as soon as she wanted. I made a huge mistake by giving my virginity to some girl who didn’t mean anything to me when I was 17. I always told myself that the next lover I took would be my soulmate, and that I had to take time to make sure the relationship was lasting and leading to marriage.

We came close one night in the summer of ’95, when we got back together after Nessa had dumped me a few weeks before. She saw my one-time lover Irit, and was so upset at putting a face to my sexual history. I sent her pleading love letters every single day, and finally took matters into my own hands that night. I managed to stop myself before we crossed the point of no return.

Then I upset her by waiting too long to propose. Even her grandma got on my case about not marrying Nessa soon enough! I’d bought her a ring when we were in America for some family celebrations a few months earlier, but I hadn’t gotten up the nerve to give it to her yet.

It’s so cliché, but I found a goodbye note one morning in September ’96 and raced to the airport to stop her from getting on a plane back to the United States. I proposed to her in front of everyone, and took her back home to Haifa. Of course, in those days airport security wasn’t what it is today, so I was able to go all the way to the boarding gate as a non-passenger.

In 2003, I did something I perhaps shouldn’t have, and caused Nessa a great deal of torment. Until just recently, some terrorists were stalking us and trying to kill us, and now my Nessa is in a dazed, unconscious, coma-like state. The doctors say she’s just suffered a series of huge shocks and needs time to recover.

One of my Nessa’s little sisters made aliyah in June 2003 after she graduated high school, settled on the kibbutz with us, quickly met a young soldier and fell in love, and was married by the fall. Tragically, my new 18-year-old brother-in-law was murdered while serving in the West Bank. He wasn’t killed in the line of duty. He was murdered by terrorists.

I was so furious I went over there myself, tracked these three assassins down, and killed them. I wasn’t thinking with a cool head. I just wanted to revenge the great wrong done to my 18-year-old sister-in-law. Not only is she a teen widow, but she also found out, shortly after the murder, that she was pregnant with triplets.  That poor kid doesn’t deserve all this. 

Some relatives of the murderers then tracked my family down, and began terrorizing us. They broke into our home on several occasions, and I thought they’d killed my Nessa and our twin girls after the first break-in. The second time, I came in to find one of these punks about to rape my wife, as our girls watched.

I thought Nessa would be happy I saved her, but she decided to leave me. She blamed me for bringing this menace into our lives, and was going to take our girls. She even told her sister that she didn’t think she loved me anymore. Thankfully, she changed her mind soon after, but the thugs were still after us.

Maybe a week ago, these terrorists captured us in the marketplace. Haifa is Israel’s best-integrated city, so this kind of situation is very unusual for us. Normally all five major faiths are friends here. They forced us onto our knees and held us at gunpoint, and refused my pleas to kill only me and let Nessa live. We weren’t even allowed to hold hands in our would-be final moments.

As one of them had a gun to my head, there was a rain of bullets, and Nessa passed out. I flung myself over her, and found she was still unconscious when the rescue was over. Ironically, the man who organized our rescue is the grandfather of these scumbags. 

Nessa briefly came to at the police station and again at home, but quickly lapsed out again when she thought I’d been killed. I can only hope she comes to soon. I’m about to go to Jerusalem to pray at the Kotel for my wife’s recovery. Maybe a miracle will happen after I get home? This is after all the land of miracles and wonders, the land whose continued existence and survival is a miracle.

Posted in 2000s, Haifa, Israel, Jerusalem, Photography

Quarter-Century Mark

Today is the last day of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Three major things happened when I was 25:

1. I finally learnt to drive, though I wasn’t to get my car till I was a month shy of 27. I’d grown up with the media-perpetuated stereotype that everyone automatically takes driver’s ed in high school and is driving by 16, usually in a car their parents give them for a birthday present. Total BS. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person who was given a car by her parents, and she had to earn that present. It wasn’t given to her automatically.

My brother learnt how to drive the same year I did, though he’s 6.5 years my junior. He was a better learner than I was. I was so terrified in the early days of being behind the wheel. It was like I couldn’t believe I was responsible for moving this huge heavy machine all by myself. I was scared out of my mind the first time I drove on a road, to say nothing of being on the highway.

Practice makes perfect, and I’m a pretty good driver today. I didn’t pass my road test till the third try, but I’ve made up for lost time since.

2. I finally went on Birthright in June 2005. Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel for youth between ages 18-26 who’ve never been on an organized trip there before. It’s really important for building pro-Israel advocacy and a strong, positive Jewish identity. The trip has changed so many lives. I applied several times at uni, but was put on waiting lists every time. I applied again after graduation, but was on waiting lists then too.

One of the trip leaders was actually a girl I’d gone to uni with. I went with the IsraelExperts group, on a Boston-based trip. It’s impossible to describe the beauty and awe of this amazing land where ancient and modern co-exist, where five religions live together, where the events of the Bible happened. There’s a Magickal, mystical element to the passage of time, sort of like the so-called “mystical vav” in the Torah.

Beautiful mosque, beautiful purple flowers

This is the Sidna Omar Mosque, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It hasn’t been used in decades, but after the city’s reunification after the Six-Day War, it was restored and protected.

So beautiful and yet so off-limits and audaciously built right on top of the Temple Mount

I’ve gotten some much better pictures of the Dome of the Rock on my later two trips. It’s such a beautiful, integral part of the Jerusalem cityscape. I love the idea of a Third Temple being built as a universal house of prayer for all peoples, with no animal sacrifice, but not on this spot. World War III would break out if zealots destroyed the Dome of the Rock just to build a new Temple on the same spot as the old ones.

The Santa Claus House

This strange place is called the Santa Claus House. It’s in Haifa, Israel’s most well-integrated city, where all 5 faiths live together in love, peace, and harmony. Every year, lots of people, regardless of faith, come to this house to celebrate Christmas together.

3. My grandpap died. I’ve previously written about him and what a wonderful person he was. He was a product of his time, but he was also a very, very good person. He lived what he knew, even if some of his attitudes come off as close-minded or racist in the modern era or in a larger city. I know a bit what that’s like myself, having grown up considering words like “Eskimo” and “mentally retarded” to be socially acceptable, yet today many people consider them offensive. I couldn’t help the language I was taught when I had no frame of reference to think that was bad.

My grandma was given some “Grandmother Remembers”-type book by my parents when I was young, and she gave it to me when I was an adult. In the “Grandpap Would Like You to Know” page, she wrote that he wasn’t a bit mad at me for the time I accidentally turned on one of his beloved lawnmowers and sent it barreling down the hill in the backyard towards the woods.

I was four years old, and fooling around in the toolshed. I ran away when I realized what I’d done. Grandpap had to run after the lawnmower to catch it before it got too far into the woods and down onto the highway below. Apparently he often laughed about the incident.