"I flicked on the passenger light above my head.
By my wristwatch it was only three thirty-seven p.m., New York time, but, when I gazed out the plane window, the sky was full of coal-like clouds.
"Want some chocolate?" My mother held an 18-ounce duty-free bar of Hershey's almond chocolate under my nose. "It's seven more hours until we reach Tel Aviv, will you survive?"
"No," I said.
That summer, Jordan had given the few Israeli descendants of the ancient city permission to dig up the graves on the Mount of Olives and transport the souls and skeletons of their lost ones to the other side of the border.
My mother, my sister, Ivy and I sat on a packed El Al plane on our way to Jerusalem to participate in a ceremony for an uncle I had never met.
Dot Elizar had been buried, my mother said, in the mixed cemetery among the Arab and Jewish war heroes before the War of Independence divided the city. Now he was going to be dug up and reburied in the new Jerusalem. The Ceremony of the Graves was to take place near the President's House.
Why should I have cared about my uncle Elizar? For many years, we had not visited Israel, though my mother had grown up there, in the rugged and hot geography of what was known in the 1930s as Palestine: I remembered only vaguely going there as a baby, it's hot sun and my mother's childhood house on a limestone street behind some eucalyptus trees.
It was June, 1963, I was fourteen years old, and it was two years after my father's suicide. My mother planned for a long stay in
My mother had never spoken about her brother Elizar or old Jerusalem. The faces of World War II's displaced persons and their refugee boats on the Mediterranean Sea did not appear in the same photographs my mother showed me of herself in Palestine. A playful little girl with short red hair, wearing boy's khaki shorts and hiking boots. The rest of my mother's history I had put together loosely from other pictures she kept in the basement of our Northern Westchester homeglimpses of letters and more photographs of my mother, Ada Silberfeld, the bigheaded woman, hugging the cedars trees of Abu Tor during the bombings and shellings that shook the quiet streets of Jerusalem by 1946. She had married my father, an American, after coming over to New York Harbor with a chaperone, on a War Brides ship from Haifa.
Now she separated the chocolate squares into chunky shards with her stubby fingers, pushing pieces at the back of her mouth, and making a loud sucking noise." The travel agent was such an idiot," she said, pulling at her tent dress. Her legs were bare and her summer jacket was on backwards, the Bonwit Teller label glistening in the soft plane light." But she did tell me we will land somewhere in Europe for a few hours, for the plane to get more fuel."
"In Paris?" I asked.
"Paris? Why Paris? No, I am sure it will be in Switzerland. It will not even be worth it to get off the airplane, Liana. But maybe they will have some good Swiss chocolate on the plane for a change, that is if the stewardesses get off to go make pee-pee in the airport there."
"Oh." I let the airplane magazine I had on my lap slide to the floor with the unspoken embarrassment I felt sitting next to her.
We had been in the air for several hours and the outside atmosphere was changing into a velvety cloak of black and white. The odor of fresh almonds and hardened cocoa from my mother's chocolate permeated the enclosed air, as if the bar were breathing, exhaling a warm, luscious scent.
From Edges by Leora Skolkin-Smith. Copyright Leora Skolkin-Smith 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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