Sample text for Real time / by Pnina Moed Kass.
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SUNDAY, APRIL 9
5:00 AM Thomas Wanninger Departure Terminal, Schonefeld Airport
"First trip to Israel?"
I hand it over.
He opens it. He looks at the passport photo, looks at me, looks at the
photo. "Born in Germany?"
"What is the purpose of your visit?"
"I"ll be a volunteer at a kibbutz."
"Broshim. It"s outside Jerusalem."
"Can you show me proof of that?"
I unzip my backpack and stick my hand in. I can feel the sports magazine,
the guidebook. I look sideways inside—there"s a pack of tissues, some stuff
from school I"m supposed to read, chewing gum . . . junk . . . junk . . . where
did I put the letter from the kibbutz? I see him watching me as if I"m some
kind of suspect. Suddenly I think—he"s not going to let me on the plane.
"Maybe you should empty your backpack, Thomas?"
I slide the backpack off my shoulder and squat on the ground.
He isn"t taking his eyes off me for a minute. Another guy comes over, looks
at me, and then whispers something into his ear. He nods and shows this
guy my passport and airplane ticket. The guy walks away. My T-shirt is
sticking to my armpits. Everything is on the floor. Then I see the pale blue
information booklet and the letter is sticking out of it.
"Here it is." I hand it to him. I"m still squatting, waiting.
He looks at it, reads it. "Okay, put your stuff back in."
I jam everything into the backpack and stand up.
"Who packed your suitcase?"
"Did anyone give you a gift or a package or any item to deliver when you
"You"re sure about that?"
"Do you have any relatives in Israel?"
"No—I"m not Jewish." I want him to believe me. He looks at me like he
"For your information, there are non-Jews living in Israel. There are Christians,
Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Druse—do you want me to continue?" He doesn"t
wait for my answer.
He looks at me, lifts the suitcase, turns it around, sees the yellow security
sticker, puts it down. "Do you speak Arabic?"
"Arabic? No, of course I don"t know Arabic!"
"All right. I"m just asking."
"Well, I don"t know Arabic and I don"t know Hebrew. I speak German, like
we"re talking now, right? And English." By now I"m sure I"m not going
anywhere. In an hour I"ll probably be back home. The people in line behind
me are staring at me. Like I have a rash, like they"re going to catch
something from me. No one"s missing a single one of his questions or my
And then suddenly he hands back my passport, my ticket, and the kibbutz
letter. Doesn"t smile, just says, "Okay, you can go." It"s over. He starts
questioning the person in line behind me. Whatever he thought of me, of my
passport, of what I looked like, it"s history now. I can get on the plane.
* * *
5:45 AM Thomas Wanninger El Al flight 01: SXF–TLV (Berlin–Tel Aviv)
The seat belt sign blinks red, the airplane engines start to roar, the plane
begins to taxi. The flight attendants are walking down the aisle, chatting with
passengers, adjusting overhead bins, checking seat belts. Somewhere in the
front of the plane a baby is squealing and then beginning to cry. I see the
mother start to get up, but the flight attendant points to the lit seat belt sign.
She sits down again.
I"m watching and listening to everything, I"m hyped up. Everything around me
looks like it is in fluorescent lights, and sounds are funneling through me on
high volume. I"m going to a place I don"t know, to find out something that no
one at home knows, and if anyone thinks I"m calm, they"re wrong.
I"ve flown only once before, on a school ski trip. But it isn"t the same this
time, I"ll be entering a war zone. And I"m alone. There are flight
announcements about the altitude of the plane, the weather, and perfume and
cigarettes that will be sold duty free. Maybe I"ll buy Mutti a bottle of perfume—
my mother likes scent. Then the pilot announces the estimated time of
The plane reaches the end of the runway and lifts off, tilting away from the
ground slowly with almost no angle. It"s six o"clock in the morning. Four more
hours and I"ll land in Israel. The announcement continues: "Local Israeli time
is one hour ahead." I change the time on my watch. I"ve left German time
behind. I have the whole row to myself. I stretch my legs and stare out the
The plane is cruising over the city. Berlin is concealed behind a thin veil of
rain. Through the morning darkness I can see the dots of highway lights and
the snaking line of traffic. Mutti must be in her car, driving in one of those
lanes leading away from the airport. She probably won"t go back home—she
hates an empty house. If I know her, she"ll go to the office, or travel to one of
the branches of Hanseatic Insurance, or schedule a meeting with her boss.
Mutti has to be busy. She says, "When I work, I forget."
The plane starts a steep climb, moves through clusters of clouds, and then
pulls out into clear sky. Past my own reflection in the window it"s all blue air,
the color of early morning. Beyond the wing the blue is beginning to lighten.
Somewhere the morning has started. It will be late morning when I arrive. The
engines become a monotonous drone.
I unzip my backpack and take out the pamphlet. I don"t bother unfolding it.
I"ve read it and stared at the pictures a hundred times. The green rolling
Judean Hills, the distant outlines of Jerusalem, the orderly row of red-roofed
kibbutz houses, the auditorium, the guest hostel where I"ll be staying. To
myself, and only to myself, I am willing to admit I"m scared out of my mind.
Not to Mutti, not to Rudi, even though he"s my best buddy, and certainly not
The time off from school wasn"t tough to get. The principal is really hot on us
going to Israel. No generation of Germans should forget is his motto. The real
reason I"m going is my business. And I can"t be a coward.
So here I am, about to land in a country where bombs go off every five
seconds. Why am I doing this? Because I"m looking for information about a
One more time I read the letter I showed the security guy:
Welcome to the SEEK program (See-Explore-Educate-Know) at Kibbutz
Broshim, located outside Jerusalem. Our mailing address is Kibbutz
Broshim, Doar Na 832, Jerusalem, Israel. Since you indicated an interest in
agricultural work, we have arranged for you to work in the hothouses and
plant nursery. Kibbutz Broshim exports flowers, and your help will be greatly
appreciated. You will be instructed by Baruch Ben Tov, a very experienced
I reread the instructions for what I"m supposed to do when I land, though I
know them by heart:
"After landing and passing through Passport Control, look for someone
holding a "SEEK" sign. This will be Vera Brodsky, who lives at Kibbutz
Broshim and will be your "buddy" during your stay. Vera will be waiting for
you inside the arrivals terminal of the airport. In case of any change, call 02-
I shift around in the seat and feel the bulge in the back pocket of my jeans.
The airplane ticket and passport—I forgot to put them back in the zippered
pouch of my backpack. That"s all I need, to lose my ticket and passport. The
passport is dark red, with a stiff cover and a gold embossed eagle in the
center. Printed underneath the eagle emblem, in big letters, is
BUNDESREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND. I run my fingers over the spread
wings. Eagles are birds of prey, aren"t they? Why does a German passport
have an eagle on the cover? Was my grandfather a bird of prey, waiting to
lunge and capture, maybe to kill?
I flip open my passport to the inside page:
FAMILIEN NAME Wanninger
The photo at the left of the typed information is me: unsmiling, brown eyes
opened wide by the flash of the camera, short hair, and part of a white T-shirt.
A high school kid who looks older than sixteen—at least that"s what people
* * *
6:45 AM Interrogation room, police headquarters, Jerusalem
POLICE OFFICER: You understand you"re not under arrest, don"t you?
OMAR JOULANI: If you say so.
POLICE OFFICER: Of course we say so. Why would we lie? We just want
information. You live in the same village as Sameh Laham, right?
OMAR JOULANI: No, in Jabel Fahm. And you know it. You know everything.
But we go to the same high school. When there"s no curfew. It"s our last year.
POLICE OFFICER: Why aren"t you in school today?
OMAR JOULANI: How can I be in school if you brought me here? Anyway, I
don"t go to school. Instead I work. I study at
POLICE OFFICER: And Sameh? Does he also study at night?
OMAR JOULANI: I don"t know what Sameh does. But I study. All night.
POLICE OFFICER: Do you study bomb making?
OMAR JOULANI: No, I study history. Who did what to whom, how the Jews
keep the myth of the Holocaust going while they do genocide to us.
POLICE OFFICER: Congratulations, you probably got one hundred in history.
So, getting back to your best friend. You don"t know what he does . . . ?
OMAR JOULANI: I"m his friend, not his guard. That"s your job. Me, I study
and I work.
POLICE OFFICER: Good, that means you"re a smart boy and a strong boy.
You look strong, really strong.
OMAR JOULANI: I"m not that strong. I mean, I wouldn"t be able to do
anything—anything violent, that is.
POLICE OFFICER: So you"re just into books, right? You never touch knives
or guns, do you?
OMAR JOULANI: I don"t touch them or see them. I swear by Allah. I start
shaking, my whole body, when I even think of someone being hurt. And
Sameh too, he wouldn"t harm anyone. His Jewish boss loves him like a son,
like his own son.
POLICE OFFICER: Oh, he has a Jewish boss. Now that interests us. Where
is this Jewish boss?
OMAR JOULANI: I don"t know. It"s illegal to hire us. Don"t think I"m stupid.
POLICE OFFICER: So you don"t know where the Jewish boss is, what his
business is. Do you know where the bomb factory is? You know about
bombs, don"t you? Your buddy, Rashid, said you were the best student in
OMAR JOULANI: Rashid is a liar and a stinking little thief. You have him in
jail, and he"ll say anything.
POLICE OFFICER: He says you know how to explode bombs, Omar. He
says you have a real touch with them. You get high as if you"re on drugs
when you make them.
OMAR JOULANI: You"re trying to get me to say I"m one of those—a
shaheed. I won"t say it. I"m not. I sell vegetables with my grandfather.
POLICE OFFICER: Where is Sameh?
OMAR JOULANI: I told you, I don"t know. Go to the Jewish man who is his
POLICE OFFICER: We don"t know who that is. No one ever heard of Sameh.
So, Omar, it seems your best friend has disappeared.
(Suspect looks at the floor and does not respond.)
POLICE OFFICER: Three days and no one knows where he is.
OMAR JOULANI: Sameh has a cousin in a village near Jerusalem. Maybe
he went there.
POLICE OFFICER: What is the name of the village?
OMAR JOULANI: I can"t remember.
POLICE OFFICER: Try. Try very hard.
OMAR JOULANI: Please let me go home. I"m sure Sameh will show up
today. You"ll see.
POLICE OFFICER: Why do you say that? Why are you so sure?
OMAR JOULANI: They are without food in his family. He must work.
POLICE OFFICER: We can keep you longer—you know that.
OMAR JOULANI: I know that. But I know nothing. Nothing. Please.
POLICE OFFICER: Release him.
* * *
6:45 AM Baruch Ben Tov Kibbutz Broshim, Judean Hills
The boy from Germany is coming today. His arrival throws me back into the
past. He"s not the first German student to come here, but he"s the first who
will work in the flower fields and hothouses. The first who will be under my
supervision. Of course I was consulted. Will you mind working with a German
boy, Baruch? I was asked. No, of course not, I answered. I am a member of
the kibbutz and will do my share. But I am uneasy. What will this Thomas
Wanninger say when he sees the number on my arm? Will he foolishly
apologize? Will he speak to me in German? Does he know I speak German?
It is an intrusion in my life. I will speak to him in English.
The sun has risen, warming the air and making the last of the night sky very
light. I hear the birds speak to each other, the dew hangs transparent from
each petal, the sprinklers whirr in the still spring air. I always walk up and
down the rows of sunflowers at this hour. No one is here. I can say, "Rachel,
Ruchele," and no one hears me. Her name is my morning prayer.
Rachel was wonderful with her hands. She would have planted sunflowers
and dahlias, petunias, daisies, everything. Even in the room under the roof
she painted flowers on the enamel plates we ate from. Her hands were like
the wind and her imagination endless. She turned the attic into our palace.
What she would have made of this solitary place, this small house I live in!
And books—goodness, how she loved books. She would smile to see me
now, not the professor of anthropology I wanted to be but a simple gardener.
If she were here, she would lead me by the hand to my shelf of poetry books
and she"d recite the poems of Goethe, the German poems we both learned in
school. Remember, she"d certainly say, and laugh if I couldn"t remember
some lines or the teacher who taught us.
But she"s not here. She was buried fifty feet from the wall that closed us in,
surrounded us, in the old cemetery of the ghetto. The Germans bulldozed it,
looking for tunnels. God only knows where her body is now.
All of us who hid in the attic that night had to run for our lives. I wrapped her
body in the flowered down comforter, her and the baby together.
Vladek and I timed the German patrols, waiting for them to pass through our
street. When we heard the steps of their heavy boots fade away, we dared to
creep out of the attic and down the stairs.
We dug the grave in the muddy soil between the sewer pipes and the wall.
There was almost no time to hold her and the baby, seconds only. No time to
recite the words of Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Only time enough for
those six words I"d known since I was a child: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai
Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad."
Thomas Wanninger will arrive this afternoon. I will be polite and considerate
to him. After all, I have not lost my senses. He"s a young man, he"s not to
blame for my past.
* * *
6:45 AM Sameh Laham Zebedeid, Palestinian Authority
When I"ve got my hands in the grease and food scraps of the stinking sink
full of dishes, I talk to myself. This is what you will be doing when you"re
twenty-three, Sameh. And twenty-four. Forever, probably. You"ll be washing
the floor, scrubbing the marks left by soldiers" boots. Is this what you will be
doing, Sameh? No, Sameh, you will not be doing this. You will do something
brave and heroic. You will save your mother"s life, and your sisters and your
brothers will remember you forever.
I know the fields that lead back to the diner. I know them like the narrow
streets of my village. I could be blindfolded and still find my way to Zebedeid,
to the intersection, to Jerusalem. My mind is a map of bushes I can hide
behind, gullies I can drop into, holes in the barbed wire I can squeeze
through, boulders I can roll to cover a cave. I know all of these. I am the lord
of this territory. It is mine, no one else"s.
Omar is a pal of mine from school. He"s from Jabel Fahm. He was the best
soccer player in our class. Quick as a fox and eyes that saw all the moves
on the field. I should have been born in Brazil, he always said—I would have
been greater than Pelé. He said it so often we started to call him "Pelé."
Last month, when I came back home, zigzagging around the blockades,
proud I"d fooled those little soldiers, he laughed at me. You want to be a
hero, he said, listen to me. And he told me about his idea, an idea that would
make me a hero.
It"s almost seven. The Boss called Omar with a message: Tell Sameh he"s
still got his job if he comes back today. Today I"ll go back to work.
Copyright © 2004 by Pnina Moed Kass. Reprinted by permission of Clarion
Books / Houghton Mifflin Company. Please verify quotations against the
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Germans Israel Juvenile fiction, Germans Israel Fiction, Terrorism Fiction, Interpersonal relations Fiction, Family Fiction