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  • from Desert
  • Luis S. Krausz (bio)
    Translated by Zoë A. Perry

Even without an alarm clock, I woke up early that sunny, late-winter morning in Kfar Silver, an agricultural school on southern Israel's coastal plain, near Ashkelon. My suitcase, packed the night before, was by the bed, and my bunk-mates were still asleep. Silently, not looking back, I left behind the little two-bedroom house that had been our home for the past six weeks, a prototype of the houses on the kibbutz, where it was hoped that least some of us would move bimhera beyamenu, swiftly and soon. Secured to my underwear with two safety pins was a small pouch, hand-crocheted by my grandmother, that contained my Brazilian passport, a kraft paper envelope with turquoise traveler's checks from the First National City Bank of New York in the amount of six hundred dollars (a small fortune for me), and a ticket to London on British Airways, which Id bought in Jerusalem with a special student discount at a travel agency on Jaffa Road. The agency had been recommended to me by our friend from Sao Paulo, Irene Gebhardt-Freudenheim, a Jewish woman born in Berlin but raised in Uruguay; the daughter of refugees from Nazism, who spoke Portuguese with a Spanish accent and whose parents spoke Spanish with a German accent; whose grandparents and great-grandparents spoke German with a Yiddish accent; whose daughters spoke Hebrew with a Brazilian accent. A long history of diasporas inside diasporas.

The travel agency was located in the heart of what was, at the time, Jerusalem's new city center, on a corner of Jaffa Road, not far from the building that once housed the former offices of Assicurazioni Generali, the insurance company where Franz Kafka worked his first job, with its carved stone lion—photographed by Alfred Bernheim, a German-Jewish photographer who documented the Jewish national renaissance in British Palestine in the 1930s—the same Venetian lion that was described by Amos Oz in My Michael and that casts its stony gaze towards the port, towards the sea, as if searching for the West, for traces of the lost Europe. It was called Peltours, and one Friday morning in Jerusalem, with the group of young Brazilians who'd traveled to Israel to help with the citrus harvest, learn about the country's history, be horrified by the atrocities of the Holocaust, be convinced of the futility of the Diaspora, and immigrate to Israel swiftly and soon, bimhera beyamenu, speedily and in our own days (like in the Passover song); one Friday morning in Jerusalem—back [End Page 112] then the country was poor and, unlike today, people worked on Fridays until two or three in the afternoon—I held in my hands the phone number for Peltours, which I'd jotted down on a piece of paper back in Sao Paulo while on the phone with our friend Irene Gebhardt-Freudenheim, and I called the travel agency from one of those beat-up Jerusalem payphones operated by little tokens with a hole in the middle called asimonim, highly prized souvenirs exchanged among the Jewish teenagers of Sao Paulo. "Do you speak English?" or "At medaberet anglit?" were, as always, my first words on the phone—and, if met with a negative reply, would inevitably be followed by the Hebrew names of the many other languages of the Diaspora: tzarfatit, germanit, sfaradit. Everything except Hebrew, ivrit, the language that we were expected to learn and love, but that seemed as artificial to me as the synthetic orange juice we were given every morning in plastic mugs at the Kfar Silver dining hall before heading out to the orange groves and grapefruit trees, whose fruits were given a sticker with the word jaffa before getting sent to the West, to the affluent supermarket shelves of cities like Paris, Zurich, and Vienna, where they were exchanged for strong currency, for francs and schillings—not pathetic fictions like Brazil's cruzeiros novos or Israeli lira, whose value crumbled in your hand before you could even spend them. Strong currency, used to buy arms and rockets, while we were obliged to...


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pp. 112-119
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