Excerpts from S.L. Stebel’s WWII epic Rising Star, Setting Sun, now available for publication
“When, a scant generation before World War II, the Japanese offered Zionist Jews Manchuria as a homeland, this little known event set in motion a series of surprising political allegiances and personal decisions which, when all seemed lost, changed the course of the war and brought the U.S. and its Allies a hard won victory…”
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There have been times during periods of great conflict between nations when a series of seemingly random events may combine to create an irresistible force, from which unforeseen consequences will flow. Battles that should be won are lost. Weaker nations rise, stronger ones fall.
On a blustery, wet morning in the bitter fall of 1905, Joseph Trumpeldor, a 25 year-old Jew, the only person of his faith commissioned as an officer in the Russian Czar’s army, strode across the muddy prison compound at Sinagowa in Northern Japan for an appointment with the Japanese Commandant.
Decorated after a bloody battle in which he lost his right arm rescuing ten men, including the Crown Prince Miklavich, Trumpeldor, rather than attempt an awkward salute, observed military formality with an elaborately courteous bow.
The Commandant, beset with those problems attendant upon the care and feeding of thousands of Russian prisoners, braced himself for whatever demand this Jew, who had organized the Jewish prisoners into a group called B’nai Zion, had come here to make. Waving aside an offer of tea, Trumpeldor informed the Commandant that Yom Kippur, the highest of his religion’s holy days, was only weeks away, and he requested that a private room large enough to accommodate them be made available for worship.
The Commandant couldn’t help wondering what mischief might be brewing here – perhaps an elaborately disguised escape attempt. He had heard of Christianity, and of Judaism, and even that a few eccentric Japanese had risked exclusion from their nation’s elite by professing a belief in those exotic religions. Rumors that certain high placed Japanese were even planning to offer Manchuria, recently won from a defeated Russia, as a homeland for the eternally wandering Jewish people, he had discounted out of hand.
Yet uneasy about venturing into areas beyond his jurisdiction, the Commandant told Trumpeldor that he would take his request under consideration, and make a decision as soon as he finished dealing with more pressing matters.
But no sooner had Trumpeldor been ushered out than the Commandant hastened to a nearby monastery, where he consulted with Shinto priests.
The priests, though not much better informed, were able to tell him that a High Temple Tribunal had been formed by the Meiji Emperor to look into the philosophies, politics and religions of all other peoples, including the Jews. The Emperor reasoned that a country as insular as Japan needed to acquire as much knowledge and establish as many connections as it could if it were to take its rightful place in the world. Who better than the Jews, more widely scattered than any other people, to explain that world to them?
Assuring the worried Commandant that they would advise him after studying the matter further, the priests immediately sent a novice to the Emperor’s Court in Tokyo requesting a meeting with the High Tribunal.
The Tribunal wasted no time. Out of a pool of their most eminent scholar-historians, who had already begun the enormous task of recording all of the world’s knowledge, they selected Mashima Turu, eldest son of a Meiji Lord, to travel immediately to the Shinagawa prison camp to observe this mysterious religion first hand.
The Commandant, relieved that a decision of this magnitude had been made by others, summoned Trumpeldor. Magnanimously, he informed the Jew that his request to have a place for private worship had been granted – if he allowed two Shinto priests and a scholar who had come from Tokyo for this very purpose, to be present as observers.
Trumpeldor saw no reason to protest. The service, though makeshift, was appropriately devout. Its participants, though every move was scrutinized by the designated observers, betrayed few signs of self-consciousness.
Mashima, as instructed by the Tribunal, stayed on to interrogate these observant Jews. The more they told him about the origins of their faith, and their people’s wanderings (the “Diaspora”) far from their holy land, called “Alman (orphan) Israel,” the more fascinated Mashima became.
Once the prisoners were repatriated to Russia, Mashima returned to Tokyo. He immediately petitioned the Tribunal to allow him to continue his research in the Middle East: “So I may see and better understand the spiritual beginnings of these indomitable people who have wandered so long and so far, in some cases to the very ends of the earth, sustained by no more than an imperishable faith in their eventual return to their homeland.”
Endorsed by the Tribunal, Mashima’s petition was forwarded to the Emperor, who had recently appointed a Jewish Expert, the young Baron Korekiyo Takahashi, to oversee all contacts with the Jews. The Baron interviewed Mashima. Impressed by the young scholar’s enthusiasm and intellectual depth, he recommended the Emperor’s approval, which was given.
Before Mashima could depart, however, his father died. As the eldest son, it was his duty to manage the family business, which dealt with the budding electronic industry. It was also his responsibility to see that the family line continued. He married Nobuta Yuko, devout daughter of a family prominent as his own. In 1915, she bore him a son, Kenzo, whose superior intelligence and aptitude for languages would one day lead him to work as a cryptographer in the Naval High Command.
It was 1920, two years after the end of World War I, before Mashima was able to make his journey to Palestine. Mashima carried a letter of introduction from Baron Takahashi to a Chaim Shapira, an inventor in the budding electronics field, who was to be Mashima’s host and sponsor during his stay.
Shapira, a refugee from the village of Kishinev, in Russia, had fled the Bolshevik Revolution with his wife, Devrah, and young son, Eli, to the “promised land.” Shapira possessed exceptional mechanical skills. Though a former Talmudic student, he’d become a machinist by trade, then a teacher at the mechanical trade school, where he had developed a crude ionic conductor which, when attached to a generator, nearly doubled its electrical output.
Despite language and cultural barriers, Mashima and Chaim became fast friends. Under Chaim’s tutelage, Mashima became deeply involved in the study of Jewish history and religion. He had been searching for an excuse that would enable him to remain beyond his allotted time and realized, when Chaim showed him his invention, that a solution was at hand.
Mashima sent for his wife’s younger brother, Yoshi, an engineer connected by blood to the Mitsubishi, one of four families who together owned almost ninety per cent of Japan’s wealth. Yoshi immediately saw the commercial possibilities in the ionic conductor, and in late 1921 a licensing contract between Shapira and Mitsubishi was signed.
This business relationship called for frequent trips between Japan and Palestine. During the next decade the bonds of friendship between the Turu, Yuko and Shapira families grew ever stronger.
During this period too the Japanese ruling classes — to which both Japanese families belonged — had been doing its utmost to force Japan’s people into the industrial age, resulting in student revolts, labor and farm strikes, the rise of extremist political parties, and the growing use of military force to achieve the nation’s economic and political ends.
Both Mashima and Yoshi, distressed by what they perceived as their country’s repudiation of Shinto and Confucian principles, turned for spiritual sustenance to other forms of religious thought.
By 1934, dismayed by the Emperor’s acquiescence to the military’s brutal provocation at Mikden, used as an excuse for the army’s invasion of China, Mashima and Yoshi traveled once more to Palestine, where they informed their old friend and Talmudic mentor Shapira that they each had come to a highly personal and difficult decision, arrived at after a lengthy and profound meditation.
They wished to convert to Judaism.
They assured Shapira that they understood the difficulties they and their families would encounter in adhering to the strictures of their new faith in a world that was becoming increasingly intolerant.
Would he help them? And could they trust him to keep their conversion secret, which, if revealed, would jeopardize their position in Japanese society?
Shapira’s answer to both questions was yes.
None of them there realized that only a few years hence their world, and almost every country in it, large and small, would be involved in a violent conflict.
These men of profound faith and deep-seated patriotism certainly had no inkling that one day soon some would be forced to choose between betrayal of faith or betrayal of country.
- CHAPTER 1
The ceremony was held, as scheduled, mid-morning, though the security patrol was already hours late. The kibbutz members were too busy doing their necessary chores to keep track of what their Japanese visitors were doing. And to the casual eye it seemed appropriate for Rabbi Spanbock to give them a tour of the facilities built since their last visit – including the Mikvah, a rude hut next to the synagogue containing the immersion pool.
Further delay was unwarranted, the worried Chaim Shapira assured himself. The patrol, which included the brothers of his new daughter-in-law, was being advised by the battle-hardened British Captain Wingate, and would probably return safely in time for the celebration.
In a small changing room the three silent Japanese, backs to each other, took off their clothes and slipped into the gray cotton robes provided for them. The elder Mashima bowed gravely to his wife, then to his son, before going out to the Rabbi Spanbock, a bearded giant waiting by the pool.
“You realize this is the final step?” demanded the Rabbi. “After this there can be no turning back.”
“I understand,” Mashima replied.
“Then you may enter the pool, symbol of the Jewish faith, and immerse yourself completely,” the Rabbi said. Closing his eyes, he began to chant in Hebrew, a sing-song that Mashima thought held vague similarities to certain Asian music.
Without hesitation, Mashima strode into the pool until the water rose over his head. He stayed as long as his breath held, as if to assure himself that his every pore and strand of hair was thoroughly inundated with his new religion, before slowly, and with pride, walking out of the pool.
When it came Nobuta ‘s turn she did not hesitate either. Looking directly into the Rabbi’s demanding eyes, she answered his questions, then entered the pool swiftly as her husband had. A simple woman whose devotion to her family transcended personal wants, Nobuta prayed that this fierce new God they were embracing would protect them from the terrifying future, about which her husband had predicted such dire consequences.
Kenzo, alone in the waiting room, heard the knock summoning him with pounding heart. Though he opened the door immediately, his step was slow, and not solely from the painful circumcision he had endured the night before.
To one descended from Samurai, pain was to be embraced, not shunned. And the decision whether or not to accept this new and somewhat forbidding faith, with its demanding and sometimes vengeful God, had been his alone.
Kenzo’s father had allowed him complete freedom to choose. His early and sometimes skeptical curiosity had gradually changed into a respect for, and then acceptance of what seemed to him profound truths, leading him to give himself over to the tenets of his new faith freely and without coercion.
But could any ceremony completely erase the traditions into which he had been born? Not one to take his obligations, either temporal or spiritual, lightly, Kenzo approached this irrevocably final moment with trepidation.
“You realize,” the Rabbi thundered, in a voice that seemed to reverberate inside Kenzo’s skull, “that after this there is no turning back?”
“Yes, I realize that,” Kenzo replied.
“Then you may – if you so choose,” the Rabbi said, looking closely at the convert as if to discern whether any last minute doubts had surfaced in this handsome, if inscrutable, young man’s closely-barbered head, “you may walk into the pool, symbol of the Jewish faith.”
Kenzo hesitated only a moment, then, taking a deep breath, he strode into the water. When he finally came up, gasping for air, all of his doubts seemed to have been washed away.
Meanwhile, more than an hour and eight kilometers distance from the Kibbutz, the patrol Shapira had worried about was scattered about a tall rock formation rising up from the burning sands of the desert floor. They were hidden from the view of all except the two men in charge.
They made an unlikely pair: the tall, heavy-set, intense young man wearing only sweat-stained shirt, shorts and the heavy work shoes of the kibbutz, and the small, deceptively frail, impeccably turned out older man in the pith helmet and tailored khakis of the British army.
Orde Wingate, who wore a Captain’s pips on his uniform collar, had found a shadowy cleft in which he could comfortably lean, and read with close attention from a leather-bound book.
Aaron Eldar carried a rifle slung ready to hand over one wide shoulder. His two-day beard bleached near golden under the blazing sun, he moved restlessly from spire to crest, occasionally motioning to one or another of the half-dozen men, dressed as he was, to change positions from where they were crouched behind the rocks below. Continuing to shade his searching eyes, he tried to find a vantage point to gain a more unobstructed view of the ravine winding its tortuous way through the formation hundreds of feet below.
From time to time he turned to glare at the Captain. But the other seemed oblivious to his irritation.
“You consider what you’re reading more important than this mission?” Aaron burst out finally.
The Captain looked up, his china blue eyes seeming to penetrate to Aaron’s soul. “I would say so,” he said. “Since it deals with the word of God. It’s the bible, you see.”
“If the committee had known you were so religious,” Aaron said, scornfully, “they may not have been so quick to put you in charge of us!”
“Perhaps not,” the Captain agreed.
“I don’t see why they would trust any British officer to advise us on how to exact our revenge on these cowardly murderers,” Aaron said, the other’s equanimity causing him to release his barely suppressed anger. “Go home and let us fight our own battles!”
“You would have to display more skill than you have so far,” the Captain said.
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m inexperienced,” Aaron protested. “I personally killed two Arabs when they attacked our kibbutz!”
“And lost how many men?” the Captain inquired.
“They lured us into a trap,” Aaron muttered, hiding his distress that men under his command had been lost.
“Precisely,” the Captain said. “And this time will be different only if you can show some patience.”
“Patience?” Aaron complained. “They wouldn’t have gotten away if we had retaliated immediately!”
“They were hoping you would come after them,” the Captain said. “You would have suffered even greater losses, losses you cannot afford. Now they feel secure, believing you are intimidated. With your Sabbath approaching, they will expect to find you unprepared, as before. If you hope to best your opponent you must learn to think with his mind. Courage – which is not displayed by making yourself a target – is not enough.”
“What makes you think they’re going to come back down this way?” Aaron asked, grudgingly respectful.
“Because they don’t know that you’ve discovered how they come in and out,” the Captain said. “Which they would have done had I allowed you to pursue them. They also believe you kibbutzniks are creatures of habit, devoted to finishing your chores before the sun goes down so you can clean up before your prayers, making yourself easy marks for the more wily Arab. Trust me, they’ll be careless as punters heading for a cricket match.”
Aaron gazed at the other, fascinated, beginning to understand how the kibbutz’s leaders had come to trust this strange Englishman.
“But what if your country decides to go against us?” Aaron couldn’t help asking.
“I am doing what I can to see that doesn’t happen,” the Captain replied. “Why do you think General Evetts and the British Command in Tel Aviv let me organize these patrols?”
“You convinced them of that?” a surprised Aaron asked.
“I did. And now at British headquarters in London they’re considering my plan to take some of the Jewish Agency’s most promising young men for advanced training abroad,” the Captain said.
“Which young men?” Aaron asked. “What kind of training? Where abroad?”
“All in good time,” the Captain replied. He was returning to the contemplation of his bible when they heard a sudden rockfall.
The Captain’s gun was drawn and cocked and Aaron’s rifle unslung when a shock of curly black hair growing wildly over a wide-eyed, sunburned face rose slowly up from behind a rock.
“Hey, don’t shoot – it’s me, David,” the face said, a grin bunching his cheeks into those of an engaging squirrel.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Aaron demanded. “We might have killed you! Think what your mother would say!”
“They’ve buried explosives at key points on our road, just as the Captain said they would,” David said, brushing aside his brother’s concern. “Our brother has gone to tell Chaim Shapira where, while I followed them into the hills…”
“Murdering bastards!” Aaron muttered.
“…and once I was certain they were returning, and taking the ravine back to take us by surprise I outran them to warn you they were coming,” David boasted.
“See that gully below? Get down there and wait till I tell you otherwise,” Aaron ordered, still shaky from thinking how close he’d come to pulling the trigger.
“Down there?” David complained. “You’re sending me so far from the action I’ll be lucky even to see a terrorist, let alone kill one!”
“He’d be more useful at the top of that hill,” the Captain quietly interposed, pointing out the site to Aaron. “When the Arabs come into view, his would be the first shot.”
“Oh, yes, please!” David cried, looking from the Captain to his brother, who did not respond.
“But will you do exactly as I say?” the Captain asked.
“I will!” David cried.
“You don’t know what yet,” Aaron reminded him.
“See beyond that tower of rock? Where two paths cross?” the Captain asked. David nodded, excited. “They will have to come single file,” the Captain continued. “If they take the path toward you, fire when the first man appears around that rockfall. But if they take the path away from you, you must stay quiet and do nothing. Do you understand? Can you follow my instructions?”
“I can! I will! Oh, bloody good show!” David cried, saluting the Captain in a makeshift version of the British army salute. He gave another, triumphant look at Aaron, then scrambled toward the indicated position.
“You’re a clever fellow,” Aaron said, when certain David was out of earshot.
“How old’s your brother?” the Captain asked.
“Sixteen,” Aaron replied. “I didn’t want to involve him, but in our situation even sixteen year olds have to fight. At sixteen our father, Yitzhak, may he rest in peace, had already fought the Russian police while they stood by during a pogrom. By my age, twenty, he’d joined the Jewish Legion, where he won your military cross battling the Turks. By twenty-four he was one of two commanders of the Haganah, then helped found the Kibbutz Bar Gorea!”
“It’s because of your father I came to Bar Gorea,” the Captain said.
Before the suddenly curious Aaron could ask about that, the Captain was looking at the position of the sun, now low in the afternoon sky. “If they come, it’ll be just before dark,” he said, and buttoning his bible securely into his pocket, moved away from Aaron to a better position on the outcropping.
The wait seemed interminable. Aaron lay, like the Captain, prone behind a fall of rock, a cleft giving him a view of the crossing ravines, as well of David’s position across the gulf to the right. The Captain seemed comfortably nestled, his khakis blending into the landscape. To the casual glance he might have seemed asleep, while Aaron squirmed impatiently,raising his head frequently to scan the distance for any sign the thwarted Arabs might be coming.
Surprisingly enough – to Aaron, who prided himself on his sharp vision, and wanted desperately to be first to sound the alarm – it was Captain Wingate who spotted them.
They came swiftly, a baker’s dozen bearing a variety of arms, including a round standpipe that Wingate recognized as a makeshift mortar, grouped in twos and threes, their normally flowing robes belted with ammunition, hawk-like faces darkened to the shade of night so as not to reflect the setting sun, or, soon, the brightening half moon, already risen.
Wingate raised himself up slightly, caught Aaron’s eye, put his finger to his lips, then pointed out the oncoming band. Making not the slightest sound, Wingate rose to his feet, and, making sure to keep the rock formations between himself and even an errant glance up from those below, made his way around the outcropping to his left, where he signaled across the ravine to the nearest man, a bearded kibbutznik named Shlomo, cautioning him, by pantomime, to wait for his signal before firing.
Shlomo, in turn, signaled his nearest companion, who passed it on to the next man, and on to the next and next down the line of eight.
Wingate came back to his original position. Nodding at Aaron, he pointed to where David squatted behind a shattered boulder on the opposite side, chewing his nails, periodically raising his head to peer over the broken rock.
Aaron picked up a stone and whistled it at his brother’s hiding place.
David whipped his head round, saw Aaron, turned wide-eyed to see where his brother was pointing.
Immediately, David became terribly excited. His heart started to pound. It became difficult to get enough breath. The rifle, a British Enfield that had belonged to their father, seemed slippery in his grasp. Sucking in deep, shuddering breaths, David wiped sweat from his eyes, then placing the rifle in a cleft of rock, he rubbed the palm of each hand down his dampening shirt front. Then placing his sweaty cheek against the smooth-grained wood stock, he aimed his weapon in the direction Aaron had indicated.
Keeping his sights trained on where one path became two just beyond the tower of rock, David began curling his stiffened trigger finger into and out of his palm to make sure it would keep functioning.
The first man appeared so suddenly David blinked to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. Then behind the first appeared another, then another and another. As they crossed the V of his rifle sight, he began to make out individual features. Murderers! he reminded himself. They, or others like them, had killed two men of the Kibbutz.
If they choose the other path, I can — must — wait and do nothing, he reminded himself. If they choose this path, I must — can I? — shoot the first man who appears.
His teeth ached. His eyes stung with sweat. Not tears? He could not seem to get his thoughts in order.
Aaron watched the first Arab in line hesitate at the crossing, looking both ways. Choose the other path! Aaron silently pleaded. But the man, bearded, like the religious Jews, took the path toward David.
What was David doing? Aaron asked himself, as he watched his brother lift and lower his rifle. If he did not fire the minute the first man came around the outcropping they would be upon him and past, away from where Wingate and Aaron and the kibutzniks waited. “Get ready!” Aaron muttered, willing David to hear him.
David, squinting to clear his vision, waited till the Arab leading the band came around the tower of rock, finally managed to place the V of the rifle sight in the middle of the Arab’s chest, just where his ammunition belts crossed. Holding his breath, moving the rifle slightly from side to side to follow the Arab, who had a rocking gait, David closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.
And nothing happened. He had forgotten to take the safety off! Panting, he opened his eyes, becoming frantic as a second man appeared. David jammed the small metal safety piece forward, slitting his thumb. Eyes stinging and blurred with sweat and terror and shame, he dimly saw the second man appear in his V sight. This time, when the rifle kicked back against his shoulder, David knew that the gun had fired, though he heard the shot only in memory, and then heard it again and again as the sound ricocheted down the walls of the ravine.
The leading Arab froze. The second man clutched his stomach and stared in bewilderment at the blood seeping through his fingers. Dropping to his knees, he slowly bent forward till his head touched the dust, as if kneeling in apologetic obeisance to his wrathful Islamic God.
The other Arab shouted, waving the others back. In a moment all was chaos. The Arabs turned as one and ran toward the second path, unslinging their weapons as they went, preparing for the worst — which immediately came. As Wingate gave the watched for signal, the Jews hidden in the rocks opened fire. Several more Arabs fell, crying out for Allah’s mercy as they dropped. The survivors rushed for cover, sprawling behind scrub brush and rocks, firing blindly in both directions.
Above them Aaron and Wingate opened fire. The Captain stood in a classic firing range position, shoulder to the action to present a narrower target, triggering each shot at a different target; Aaron, cold as winter, squeezed off each shot as if he had all the time in the world.
David, meanwhile, could not take his terrified eyes off the kneeling Arab, who continued to moan into the dust. As the cries and shouts of the other Arabs rose in volume, David became aware that the action was now out of his range of vision. Rousing himself, he cocked another round into the rifle’s firing chamber, and running out from behind his cover toward the sound of the fighting, took a circuitous route to avoid the fallen man.
Aaron, from his vantage point high above, saw him first. “Get back!” he shouted, almost overwhelmed by rage and fear, standing up as David came rushing down the ravine into the middle of the crossfire. “Get under cover, you little brat!”
Bullets snapped by David’s head like infuriated wasps. He crouched, and turned to run back the way he had come – too late. He felt a blow in his left leg, and it crumpled under him, sending him sprawling… and saving his life.
The firing by the kibbutzniks ceased. In the momentary lull, the two Arabs carrying the mortar managed to set it up. They fired two rounds. One hit just below the frenzied Aaron and the cooler Wingate, throwing up a fountain of dirt and rocks, causing both to lose their footing. The other hit on the flat, sending a spray of shrapnel hissing like malevolent hail past where David had been standing just a moment before.
Aaron recovered first. Picking himself up, sick with fear for his brother, raging against those who might have killed him, he began running down the treacherous slope toward the mortar, firing from the hip. The two Arabs struggled frantically to aim their weapon at this madman charging them. Higher up, Wingate, on his feet again, calmly re-loaded, and draping himself across a flattened boulder, provided covering fire to keep the other Arabs under cover.
One of the Arabs dropped the mortar shell and fled. The other rose to meet Aaron, drawing a wicked looking, crescent-shaped knife. Aaron, using the rifle sling as a catapult, whipped his rifle at the man, now screaming obscenities at him in Arabic. The gun stock caught the Arab in the throat, and the man dropped, suddenly silent, his windpipe crushed.
While Wingate called a halt to the chase of the few fleeing Arabs who had survived, Aaron hastened to his brother. David lay white-faced, clutching his leg, aware of his narrow escape.
“You froze!” Aaron raged, paling at the look of his brother’s leg, whipping off his belt to use as a tourniquet.
“I still got one,” David muttered, barely able to speak. “The others ran.”
“You what?” Aaron demanded, when he had finally staunched the flow of blood.
“I killed one,” David said, more loudly.
“You almost got yourself killed, you mean!” Aaron exploded.
“He’s alive,” David said. “Over there,” he went on, too weak to point. “Help him.”
“I’ll help him,” Aaron muttered. But when he rolled the Arab over – after making sure the other was incapable of doing him harm – Aaron found himself surprisingly gentle. To no avail. The man was dead.
After tending to their own wounds — mostly cuts and bruises from those few frantic minutes of the fire fight — they buried the seven dead Arabs where they had fallen. Afterward, Aaron was impatient to get his brother home. But Wingate delayed long enough to offer a prayer in the name of Allah.
“What kind of Englishman are you?” Aaron demanded, when the Captain had finished. “You read the English Bible, you know how to pray in Arabic, yet you fight with the Jews…”
“As a member of the Plymouth Brethren,” the Captain said, “I consider it a singular honor to fight on the side of the Jews!”
“The Plymouth Brethren?” Aaron repeated.
“We believe in the Cause of Zion. Our Puritan forebears were the original Zionists – in 1621 they invited Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel from Holland to join them, believing that if the Jews settled in England, and America, the ‘scattering’ prophesied by Daniel would be complete.”
When the Captain strode off, a chastened Aaron returned to the grave sites. Bowing his head, he muttered an amen, though not loud enough for anyone, save his brother, to hear.
- CHAPTER 2
By the time the weary band returned to the perimeters of the kibbutz it was near midnight. From some distance away, while still in the hills, they could hear the explosives set by the Arabs being detonated by the kibbutzniks. Later, when they reached the road in the still reverberating silence, they could hear the mutterings of the Shapira generator. Inside the walls, they saw that the lights of the meeting hall, inside and out, were burning.
“They’re worried about us, I suppose,” Aaron growled. “As if we can’t take care of ourselves!”
“They may have visitors,” Captain Wingate said.
“You knew people were coming?” Aaron demanded, but the Captain only shrugged in answer.
Before they reached the compound, Chaim Shapira, alerted by the perimeter guard, met them outside. He was immediately concerned about David, as if related as much by blood as by marriage – and waited until the doctor had cleansed and bandaged the wound and pronounced David out of danger before telling Aaron and Wingate of the morning’s momentous events.
“The Turus are here,” he announced on the way inside. Then after pouring them each a glass from his favorite bottling of the kibbutz’s wine, he said, “They have converted to our faith. They are now Jews!” And lifting his glass, he shouted “L’chaim!” draining it at a swallow.
“Slowly, Chaim, one day you’ll choke yourself,” murmured his wife, Rebecca, who had come into the room.
“L’chaim,” Aaron managed, and drank from the wine — which he found heavy and astringent, not at all like the sweeter liqueurs he favored — before he dared voice the shock he felt. “But they’re Japanese!”
Chaim smiled. “And you think God is a Semite, like yourself?”
“It’s not that,” Aaron protested. “They have their religion — why would they want to take on one so …so…”
“Special?” Wingate offered.
“You can ask them that yourself,” Chaim replied. “Right now they’re at prayer, and then there’ll be a small celebration. But they need rest, especially Kenzo — ”
“Kenzo’s here too?” a delighted Aaron interrupted..
“– who is somewhat indisposed,” Chaim continued. “His circumcision, unlike his father’s, was rather painful, and – “
“Kenzo’s become a Jew also?” Aaron asked, now dumbfounded. “Isn’t he in training to become an officer in the Imperial navy?”
“Why should that be a problem?” Chaim asked. “We worship God, not men.”
“But don’t the Japanese consider their Emperor to be divine?” Aaron asked.
“The Old Testament is clear – thy shalt not worship any Gods before me,” Wingate said.
“Only those participating in the ceremony — and the Shapira family, which now includes you, Aaron – and Captain Wingate, will know,” Chaim said. “Agreed?”
All there nodded, and proceeded to the Schapira house, where cakes and wine were to be eaten in celebration, Rabbi Spanbock led the assembled — now every one a Jew save one, even though a professed Zionist — in prayer. Then turning to the Turus, the Rabbi asked: “Have you chosen names for your new faith?”
“We have,” Mashima replied, equally solemn.
“What name have you chosen?” the Rabbi asked.
“Abraham,” Mashima replied.
“You are now Abraham, father of many nations,” the Rabbi said. He turned to Nobuta. “And what name have you chosen?”
“Ruth,” Nobuta replied.
“You are now Ruth, mother of great men,” the Rabbi said, and turning finally to Kenzo, he asked: “What name have you chosen?”
“Jacob,” Kenzo replied, this time his hesitation so brief as to be almost imperceptible, even to himself.
“You are now Jacob, giver of bread to his brother,” the Rabbi announced, and blessed the three new converts in Hebrew.
“Now give me some bread, Jacob,” Aaron bellowed, after the amens. “The sweet rolls there, with the raisins — for now I am truly your brother, am I not?”
Everyone at the festive board laughed except Wingate. His slight smile was attributed to his British reserve. But of them all, he alone had noted Kenzo’s hesitation. And he could not help wondering which of the two named, if it came down to it, would prove stronger, Jacob or Kenzo?
Wingate turned to Aaron, who was describing to Kenzo the firefight with the marauding Arab band.
“You’re a real warrior, Aaron,” Kenzo said. “In another time, had you been born Japanese, you might have become a samurai.”
“You really think so?” said Aaron, flattered.
“And if you survived,” Wingate said dryly, “you might work your way toward becoming a daimyo. Would you excuse us, Kenzo?” he asked. “I have some military matters to discuss with Aaron.” Kenzo bowed, and went off to join the others.
“A daimyo?” Aaron wondered.
“A feudal lord,” Wingate said.
Aaron snorted with laughter. “Well no daimyos among the Jews. Here everyone’s his own boss!”
“That must change,” Wingate said. “You already have leaders some are willing to follow — but you must have many more leaders skilled in tactics and planning if you hope to survive the coming war.”
“There’s a war coming?” Aaron asked.
“Hitler has just appointed himself War Minister,” Wingate said. “What clearer signal of his intentions do we need? Even now, in Spain, he and his puppet, Mussolini, are testing weapons and training officers. If we are not to fall behind, we must do the same.”
“We?” Aaron snapped. “We already have all we can handle keeping you British off our backs with one hand and fighting the Arabs with the other. If that German maniac keeps you occupied in Europe, so much the better!”
“Aaron, my fiery young friend, please try to understand,” Wingate said. “Do you really think, once Hitler makes his move, that he’ll ignore the Middle East? Modern war runs on oil. The Germans and the Italians will be over here before you know it. We either survive together — or go down together!”
“Even if you’re right, I don’t see there’s much we can do to prepare for it,” Aaron said, shrugging. “We have to fight with whatever weapons we can get, learning as we go.”
“That simply won’t do,” Wingate said. “Not any longer. Luckily, your top people — at both the Jewish Agency and the Haganah — agree with me.”
“You’re in touch with the Haganah?” Aaron asked, startled, the illegal Haganah supposedly out of bounds for a British officer.
“I’m an intelligence officer on special assignment with them,” Wingate said. “They agree with my evaluation. As I told you, they’ve given me approval to train a cadre of volunteers with leadership potential. In Spain, to answer your earlier question.”
“Spain?” Aaron murmured.
“Both sides in the Civil War there are using the very latest equipment,” Wingate said. “The revolutionary forces under Franco are supplied by the Germans; the government mostly by Russia – though certain other democratic countries are sending money, supplies, and even men.”
“Isn’t the Spanish government Communist?” Aaron asked.
“It’s a republic, with a popularly elected government,” Wingate said. “And yes, Communists are part of it. That may be a problem later. But right now the fascists are close to taking over a country that nearly bridges the Mediterranean between Europe and North Africa, which provides a speedy route to the oil of the Middle East. If you’re interested,” he finished, “you’ll have to say so now.”
” Spain, eh?” Aaron repeated. “I love flamenco music, perhaps I should buy a guitar?” And grinning, he saluted Wingate.
“I’m delighted to have you join us, but I doubt you’ll have much time for music,” Wingate replied, unsmiling, and they returned to the party.
- CHAPTER 3
Greenwich Village, New York
The rally for Spain filled Washington Square, the noisy crowd spilling over into the adjacent streets, creating momentary concern among the handful of police assigned to the park. But as soon as the entertainment on the makeshift stage started — the flamenco singer’s high-pitched raucous lament electrifying the crowd into silence — the police relaxed. The hodge-podge of radical, mostly immigrant blue collar workers, fresh-faced college students, sprinkled with well-coiffed women and business-suited men, was united in its support for the beleaguered Spanish Republican government.
Banners on the stage urged those in attendance to SUPPORT THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES! and FIGHT FASCISM!
A number of young people wearing ribbons in the colors of the Republic were working the crowd, distributing petitions and selling red berets.
Susan Scheuer, a slim, vibrant young woman with quick intelligent eyes, brown as the curly hair crammed under her red beret, had used a ready smile and warm voice to dispose of most of her stock of the symbolic head gear.
Excited by the crowd, pleased by her success, rehearsing an explanation for her worrying mother as to why she was late coming home from the school her parents had scrimped and saved to send her to, worried about confessing that she was once again involved in politics, Susan had not noticed the young man following her. Scott Galvin, his athletic frame clad in a Princeton blazer, had come down from college with his roomate Petey Hoyt at his father’s invitation “to observe history in the making” at the victory celebration for Fiorello LaGuardia, who had just won re-election as mayor of New York on the Fusion Ticket. Scott’s father, Byron, though a Wall Street lawyer and a born Republican, was one of “the little flower’s” prime backers.
But Scott and Petey had become bored by the yelling, smoke and confusion in the crowded hotel ballroom, and after thanking his busy father for “an experience I will never forget, sir”, and, touching him up, at Petey’s urging, for spending money, he and Petey had wandered out to explore the city. Petey had suggested they go to the Village, where there was a bohemian element, not letting on to the painfully shy Scott that “loose” women were rumored to abound there.
Petey was not interested in political rallies, foreign or domestic. But Scott was fascinated by the music and the eccentric nature of the crowd — and then by the exotic good looks of the young woman in the red beret.
Promising Petey he’d be right back, Scott plunged into the crowd after Susan, wanting a closer look, hoping for he didn’t know what, since he had never in his young life spoken to any girl he didn’t know.
When Susan became aware of Scott, she pretended to ignore him. When he continued to follow her, she wheeled to confront him. “Got something on your mind, buster?” she snapped, and then became so confused by his unexpected good looks that she blushed.
“No …no,” Scott stammered. “I was just — just trying to make a contribution!” Suddenly inspired, he pulled out the ten dollar bill his father had given him.
“Go ahead,” she said, holding out her beret. “Drop it in.”
Scott debated whether to ask for change — then with a sigh, opened his fingers and watched the bill flutter into the beret.
“Aren’t you the generous one,” Susan observed. “Such generosity of spirit shouldn’t go unrewarded.” And to her shock and amazement (nothing compared to his) she suddenly found herself grabbing his shoulders (muscular, she was to later remember) and pressing her lips against his cheek. Then, turning away, aghast, she fled into the crowd.
“Wait, wait!” Scott called, hastening after her.
“What is it?” she demanded frantically, face still flushed, when he’d caught up. “Only one kiss to a customer – sorry, but those are the rules!”
“Yes — no — I mean I w-want — to g-get — to know you,” Scott stammered, cursing himself for being inarticulate. “When you’ve finished here, maybe we can go somewhere and … and … and . . . ”
“You got one kiss, and you think that means the rest comes easy, I suppose,” Susan snarled. “Get lost, buster, go feel up a Vassar girl, that’s more your type!”
“You tell him, sister!” said a nearby blue collar man.
“Leave her alone, Bud,” advised another, biceps bulging under rolled-up shirt sleeves, stepping between them. “Thanks, brothers,” Susan said. “But I can handle it.” She turned to Scott: “Better leave while you’re still in one piece,” she advised him.
Scott summoned what was left of his dignity. “My name’s not Buster, it’s Scott,” he informed her, and again not knowing what else he might say, left.
Susan thanked her rescuers with a forced smile, and, having kept an eye on what direction Scott had taken, managed to intercept him as he was exiting the square.
“Hey, you there, fella, Scott!” she called.
Petey, meanwhile, had also spotted Scott. Both he and Susan reached him at the same time.
“I want to apologize for almost getting you beat up. It was all my fault,” Susan said.
“Two bucks,” Petey was exulting. “I can get my ashes hauled for two paltry simoleones!”
“W — what?” Scott stammered, reddening as he looked from his friend to the girl who so attracted him.
“I said if you’ll just let me have two dollars, I can…” Petey began, when Scott hastily interrupted.
“I heard you!” Scott cried. Then, to Susan: “What did you say?”
“Never mind!” Susan said, turning away. “Better take care of your randy friend.”
“I’m broke,” Scott explained to the dumbfounded Petey, then ran after Susan. “Please don’t go,” he pleaded. “Talk to me.”
“I don’t believe we have anything in common,” Susan said icily, and forcing her way through the crowd to the stage gave the burly, dark-featured man in charge of fund-raising her beret full of money — mostly change, except for the ten dollar bill lying on top.
“How can you possibly say that when we don’t know anything about each other?” demanded Scott, close behind her.
“I know that you belong to a club at Princeton, of which there is nothing in this world more snobbish, and that you don’t know how to handle money, which comes from having more than you know what to do with, and that you think women are born to cater to men,” Susan stated. “Furthermore, in thinking about your so-called generous donation, I now realize that you did it just to impress me — which I admit you did, for the moment – until I realized you were thinking, just like your friend, that it would be a cheap way to get your ashes hauled!”
“Cheap?” the dumbfounded Scott managed. “That was a ten dollar bill!”
“Cheap to get me, Prince-ton,” Susan said, snapping her fingers under his nose in time to the castanets being played by the gypsy dancers on stage. “Better get back to your friend before he dies of sexual frustration!”
“Nice work, Miss Scheuer,” the man in the rumpled suit who’d taken the donation hollered, trying to make himself heard over the foot-stamping dance that rattled the stage boards. “You got time to make another round of the crowd?”
“Sorry,” Susan said. “Gotta get home.”
“Don’t run out on me,” Scott begged, pushing after her. “Nothing you think about me is true!”
“No?” Susan demanded. “Then why are you wearing a bow tie?”
“What’s wrong with a bow tie?” Scott asked, fingering the bow in bewilderment. “This is hand-tied, you know, it’s not one of your dime store clip ons.”
“You see?” Susan said. “Only someone who’d wear a bow tie wouldn’t know that working class people wouldn’t be caught dead in one.”
“Okay, so I’m slow,” Scott said. “Explain it to me.”
By this time they were out of the square. Susan finally looked directly at the importuning Scott – which was, she was to admit to herself later, a mistake of overpowering significance. He was no doubt the most handsome, clean-cut, physically attractive young man she had ever stood this close to. And kissed! She flushed, remembering. And the imploring look in his naiively innocent, sea-blue eyes was more than she could resist.
“Buy me a hot chocolate,” she said. “And I’ll consider it.”
“Great!” Scott exclaimed. He took several steps with her toward the line of stores on the opposite side of the street, then stopped, in some dismay. “I can’t,” he admitted, lamely. “I gave you all the money I had.”
Susan couldn’t help it — she laughed until her tears ran. “See?” she finally managed. “You just can’t handle money. Never mind, I’ll treat.” And putting her arm through his, she ran him through traffic to the drugstore at the corner.
Once they’d given their order, both became inordinately shy. They sipped at their chocolate drinks then for a time, avoiding each other’s surreptitious glances. “Well go ahead, talk,” Susan finally said. “That’s what you said you wanted to do, isn’t it?”
“Are you a Communist?” he asked.
“Why on earth would you think that?” she replied, startled.
“The red beret,” he pointed out. “And Russia’s supplying the Spanish government with arms, isn’t it? I mean the Communists are really running the popular front, aren’t they?”
“Well, well,” Susan said. “So some information about the real world does penetrate those ivy-covered walls? No, I’m not a Communist — I just want the working man to get a better shake, that’s all. And we’ve got to stop the dirty fascists somewhere, haven’t we? I mean it may be no skin off a blue-eyed Protestant’s nose whether the Jews are reduced to the rank of second class citizens, or whether the Catholics kill each other off, but to the rest of us it’s a matter of some importance!”
“What makes you think I’m a Protestant?” Scott asked, somewhat shaken by her intensity.
“Aren’t you?” Susan demanded.
“All Saints Episcopal,” Scott admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t know or don’t care about what’s happening!”
“You did donate money,” Susan agreed.
He didn’t know if she was mocking him or not, and decided it best not to pursue it. “And you — are you Catholic?” he asked.
Susan laughed, though not so freely as before. “Jewish,” she said. “Does that frighten you?”
“Why should it?” Scott asked.
“I’ll bet you’ve never ever been this close to one before,” Susan said. “Not knowingly, anyhow.”
“Maybe not,” Scott said. “But I like being close to you,” he went on to say, reaching up to wipe at the trace of marshmallow on her upper lip, then blushing at his own boldness.
Susan hastily wiped her mouth with her napkin, then busied herself in her purse to dig out money for the chocolate.
“I’ll pay you back for this,” Scott said. “If you’ll tell me where you live — ”
“No need for that,” Susan said. “Thirty cents is not going to break me.”
“I want to,” Scott said. “In fact, I’d like to take you to dinner the next time I’m in New York — in fact, I think I’m coming back to New York this weekend . . . ”
“It wouldn’t work,” Susan said, patting his hand. “Can’t you see we don’t go together — with you a shaygets and me a Jewish girl, it’d be like adding vinegar to cream … ”
“A shay-gets?” Scott asked.
“A goy,” Susan said. “Yiddish for gentile boys.”
“You’re prejudiced,” Scott said. “How does that square with your liberal principles?”
Susan stared. “That’s the last thing I am, is prejudiced,” she stated.
“Prove you’re not,” Scott said. “Have dinner with me.”
“It wouldn’t work,” she said. “It can’t. We’re too dissimilar.”
“You haven’t given me a chance to show we’re not,” he said. “Saturday night?” he asked. “Where will I pick you up?”
“I’ll be in Manhattan all day – but I’ll meet you somewhere,” Susan said, finally.
“Under the clock at the Astor,” Scott said immediately. “At six.” And he dropped the hand he hadn’t realized he was holding, starting away before she might change her mind.
“Be sure to bring plenty of money,” Susan called after him. “I’m a very big eater!”
Scott grinned and waved and kept on going, so elated it was all he could do to keep from breaking into a flat out run.
To request a copy of the full manuscript, contact:
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