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Oneg Shabat

By: Elisha Porat

Translated from Hebrew by Suzan Rosenfeld

Yair is my name; my family name is not to be mentioned here -- because it is a well known name in the Yeshuv, a respected one. For the sake of your boundless curiosity I will add only this: I am a violinst and kibbutz member.

An odd combination. A strange combination. Two things that don`t go together. Don`t pay any mind to what you've read in the old newspapers. That is to say, a talent violinist with brilliant career ahead of him. And suddenly, while still young and with life`s pull still vigorous and strong, he gets up and leaves it all and settles down in the deep loess sands around Beersheva.

Nonsense -- note that down so you`ll remember. Utter nonsense. Untruth, or worse, if there`s anything worse than untruth. For what was it that aroused that venomous journalistic wrath? The career broken off malevolently. The musical genius who quit. Or that he threw away his potential on what was mediocre in him, and withdraw to the kibbutz. You, who are familiar with this life, would you believe it? Kibbutz -- what withdrawal is there in it? From what did he withdraw and to what?

You see, everything is open to interpretation. An entire life is before you to interpret. A unique life story, repeating itself perhaps in double motifs. And so forth, ad infinitum. And it`s up to you to decide: perhaps as a journalist -- that is to say, a great musician who became a small kibbutznik.

Or like my colleagues who stayed in the city and describe it as an unforgivable act of folly. An act meriting ostracism and disgrace. Or like my friends the metal worker and the welder -- true friends -- who discern that once this fellow had a different life, different breath, was enveloped in different air.

And it`s true: Once I was a well=known violinist for whom great things were presaged. The giants from Europe and from Russia spoke words of praise about me. That is, the gentle treatment of the salping that is expected one day to be plentifully endowed with fruit -- that true endowment, not counterfeit, for which everyone so yearns. For the record, I am even prepared to add that I haven`t deserted music for a single moment, but have transferred it to a different production line, as people say colloquially these days. I have measured it out in different portions. I have adapted it to the realistic existence which I have taken upon myself. To the existence derived from that reality which I, as an omnipotent creator, quite to the contrary, took upon myself as a privilege and a duty, an effort and a pleasure, to celebrate as the reality of my life. Don`t be hasty and go making generalization right away. I did nothing earth=shaking. I didn`t debase what was lofty. I didn`t raise up the lowly.

That is to say, basically, that I took upon myself the laws and customs prevalent in our bestial earthly kingdom. But I wanted to admit to it a little candle=light. To illuminate its darkness a bit. No, don`t aggravate me with your impatience; not with the help of my music. My music is not lamp oil. I mean the light of a candle in a more spiritual, higher, purer sense. Or, to be more precise, a more purifying sense.

Now, when you pick up a record you look to see: Where is Yair`s playing as opposed to that of the orchestra? Where are his brilliant performances? Where are his wonderful recitals which the journalists trampled so gleefully? Where are those echoing recitatives which he would squeeze out of the violin pressed to his brave chin? Where are they all? Into what ephemerality have they gone astray and disappeared?

The hand which pulled the bow has been exchanged for that which splits clods; the extraordinary fingers have been subjected to the suffering and blisters of a worker on the night shift in the plastic factory; the heart which thumped out tempos and melted time into them has been tuned to the depressing noises of machinery, and his soul he pioneering".

And you can add to your notebook, right away, without hesitation: prolonged, hard years of drought. The burning desert of Beersheva, the hazy loess wilderness along highways shimmering in the heat. Years set ablaze in the great bellows of the desert. Yes, that`s good. It explains the background. It prepares the listener for the period of metamorphosis which comes next.

Here you sow the seeds of surprise. When it comes to the details of that evening after the concert, struggling with one another within a forced succession whose outcome, apparently, is already known to you from your previous conversation. From what we will call your former meetings with the other heroes of the affair. First of all, perhaps you ought to be more precise and say, the other heroines of the story. You persist? Very well: There was one man. Who? Correct, the ever=worried culture coordinator. Yes, I had almost forgotten about him. And really, between us, what importance doyou attach to him? What you say about his being important as an accelerator can be consiered laughble. The nuclear accelerator of this farce, of this drama of degradation.

Take note that I am evading nothing; nor am I denying anything. You expected a firm denial.

Your disappointment is reflected in your eyes and in your fingers scribbling energetically through the pages of your notebook. I wan`t deny it, because I don`t feel myself accused. You want to hear my story too, -- all right. You can add it to the accused". Here in this whole rotten story there are no distinct positions of innocence and culpability; there are no varying distances from the illuminating, nuclear center of some specific justice. We are all stationed in positions of equal punishability. No one among us is more worthy than the others.

Don`t forget that in your hurried scribbling in your notebook. I quote: Equal reward for different work. That`s the nucleus of the collective idea, isn`t it? So allow me to ask, does this mean material reward or a reward which is not material? Televisions or a reward from above? Let`s see if your`e as smart as you make yourself out to be. Go ahead, try to give me an answer: What reward is meant here? And don`t make it easy on yourself, please. When we say work, what work do we mean? Serving this great Golem, the kibbutz? Or the service of the individual within the community? Or serving idols?

You see, you can immediately discern the weakness of formulas. Music in exchange for kibbutz. Neglect of the individual personality in order to blend into kibbutz existence. Conquering the wilderness of the Negev around Beersheva. With the strength of hands runing back and forth along a conveyor belt of melted plastic, and not with the volunterable strength of musician`s hands. Understood? I won`t mention my last name, and I will not allow you to mention so much as a hint of it. I have the feeling that everything will be revealed if I should say it in public. That is to say, as long as those who know the family is a distinguished one, purebred, real, among the foundation stones of the Yeshuv, as long as that is all they`re talking about -- it`s not so bad. But the moment they start making ignoble connections and pointing out questionable blood relationships and known madmen in the family who must have passed on the iron=clad rules of their madness to someone, to some distant offspring -- no, I refuse to put up with that. Not even at the price of the story. You won`t find any of that on the dust jackets of records. Neither beneath my picture nor above it.

By the way, I have also renounced making records. You didn`t know that either? What`s with you, man? Why didn`t you prepare properly for this meeting? All these things lose their importance if I`m having a dialogue with an ignoramus. You mumble and lead me to think that maybe you really know something, and that you curiosity is based on something deeper. And in the end, only shameful shallowness. You simply neutralize all the enjoyment I might have gotten out of the story. Sluggard -- go learn something about the history of the Yeshuv, the history of great people, the history of the kibbutz. Have you ever heard of A.D. Gordon? Have you read Brenner? And, damn it, what do you even know about music? There`s more to life than gossip. True, it`s sometimes hard to find in it more than snatches of gossip made by mere shadows of human beings within some lump of time collecting dust on its way through the present. Right before our wondering eyes. But this way you are liable to lose interest in what`s going on around you.

All at once I shiver as I feel a sudden draft blowing from within that zero, moving quicly toward me, making me dizzy for a few moments and then, fortunately -- my good fortune -- leaving me alone. Such polar frigidity, if it lays hold of you, can empty you of everything that was in you and leave you an empty and puzzled child, as if you had never travelled and experienced all those years, as if during their passage you had never been charged with an electrifying load which keeps you alive, as you are, longing for the music which you will never be able to play, and secretly taking pride, a miserable foolish pride, that after all, if art has eluded you and will not return, there still remains in your closed fist the train of the raiment of another existence which will not fly off and vanish so quicly. A settled, comfrtable existence that you don`t have to run after. On the contrary, it chases you. Sometimes kibbutz". Pioneering". Sometimes it can be termed sacrifice. And sometimes it can be said that you have sold you soul to the Satan of Justice. Do you know what it means for your hand to cry at night from longing for a touch of the bow, for the vibration of the strings, the smell of laquer, the curvature of the wood, damned eroticism", as you inquired.

Snare or pit? Facing your open notebook and your young hand running through it, I find it very difficult to phrase my words. I could simply throw the raw materials, main points, hints, and principles at you, and leave the job of formulating it to you. But I don`t trust you. I`m afraid you`re liable to disappoint me. It`s not just a matter of formulating things. It`s a much more inclusive organization. You have to decide which portion of the tremendous flow you`re going to freeze. Then you have to decide how many times to magnify it, which details you wish to conceal, and which, out of strange gleeful vengeance, you wish to highlight. That is to say, who within you to leave exposed -- which may prove dangerous although that`s something you can`t know beforehand. There may be danger inherent in it, and also pleasure. When you are alone with the violin you are doing the same thing: freezing a bit of time. And afterwards, when it begins to rise and float on the face of the formuessness, you choose yourself a focal length and a wave and frequencies and modulations and magnify and clarify. But not the wole segment. Only portions of it. The ones that seem relevant to the matter at hand. And here you are lost if the ear of your audience interferes. No deals under the table.

Any compromise is rotten. Only what your inner ear whispers to you. Don`t take the audience of you listeners into consideration. They`re charmed. It is you who are leading them. They have only two external ears, connected to their heads. But you have more. You have an inner ear joined to other systems as well as to the systems of your body. A sensitive ear which absorbs sounds from other wordls. They sit spellbound. You are bound to the source which pours into you. They stretch out to you, to the motions of your hands, to the pressure of your fingers, to the sound waves which you create from within your body, fron within your body warmth, your sweat, your metabolism, your horrible smells.

You stretch in a different direction. You have someone else calling to you through openings torn in the acoustic lining of the ceiling. You are different. They are blind. Don`t see the light penetrating through those openings. They are unseeng. They think that there is no rent in the ceiling.

That only fluorescent lamps are shedding light upon them. You have more. More light gets through to you, flows to you, standing on the little stage, the vase of lilies for concert nights shaking on its stand from the impact of the notes. You are alone with the sources that have opened up to you tonight. Here they are. Their hearts open up to you. It is you who bring forth and present to them. Don`t collapse under the weight of this responibility. Ignor them.

Woe to you if you stop to ask: What do you think? Do you like it? Run ahead. Don`t stop. Store away the profusion now so that you`ll be able to scatter it to them, crumb by crumb, on the day the heavens close themselves to you and you can recive no more of their light.

Damned eroticism." I have already told you, and I repeat. You don`t know whether you are bringing down or being brought down. Whether you are conquering or are vanquished. It is a wretched crawling from the snare into the pit. And again, back and fourth, over and over. There are always charming young women standing there, the smell of their youth astonishing -- hanging their legs over the concerte stairse and turning their heads back at the sound of the screen door... The slight, faint breeze ruffles their soft hair, and your heart bursts within you foe what is unobtainable. Here, if you ask me, I am prepared to make a declaration: The most beatyful thing in the entire world is the soft hair of a young girl blowing in a gentle breeze. Don`t misjudge me for being so frank.

Everything else, I tell you, everything else is just stories. A cabin whose foundations are rotting. A neglected garden. Bats devouring all the juicy fruit of the mimosa tree. Just a young girl`s hair blowing in a gentle breeze and my heart coes to a standstill. The spring returning the screen door with a forceful slam. A car disappearing in the darkness between the trunks of the Indian birches with their notched bark. That is only the background, I tell you. Don`t aggravate me. Write it down exactly like that: background. I take the cabin and turn it upside down, pull it up with its foundations. Until the fifty=year=old iron rods are suddenly exposed and I throw it far away, and in its place bring a lawn on Shabbat or a lounge deserted after a celebration or a drinking party. Do you get the idea? You move your bow, and from the belly of the violin produce the necessary note, which vanishes among the accessories. It can make its,way in any direction. Because, for it, any direction is true. Trees, roads, hauses -- all can pass away. Because they are not true. They are here only by accident. A sort of wrapping which may or may not be removed. But the true note is not interchangeable. It is one of a kind.

Follow it and see how it escapes from the lounge in the direction of the cabin. As if of its own accord, by the force of gravity.

Damned eroticism". From the snare of the concert stage into the pit of the wide bed in the guest room which the violinst is given for the night. And the long road from the sandstorms around Beersheva to this humid and burdensoe coastal plain which now threatens to settle on his tired heart and burst it by force of these things which only he realizes will never return. And follow him further, as he escapes, like a youth after his first act of love, through the window with its shattered hinges; as he makes a soft landing on the earth of the neglected garden; as he hurries instinctively in the direction of his car parked in the unfamiliar lot, turns on its lights, flashes, slices the foliage=encased darkness with surprising spotlights; turns in place and without even checking to see if he has thrown all his things into the trunk, he lurches ahead, wildly, until the degrading encounter with the gatekeepers on the way out of the kibbutz.It`s obvious that your heroines have filled your granaries with usful information. You`re in a bad way. Your filled notebooks won`t save you. You`ll have to decide: Do you favor them or me? The marks you put down on the paper with such amazing speed will not let you avoid a slow moment of thought. Where to now? With Yair to the pits yawning at his feet at each concert? With Zipporka and with all the complainers in the world, who are always betrayed by people more important and more noble than they - taken advantage of, led by the nose until finally a cruel justice is done to the swindlers? Or perhaps with pretty Naomi, with her lilies, her soft hair waving in the afternoon breeze? The sheet music which her pretty hand turns fore. Her body, her bed, her searing warmth. Or with the culture coordinator, who wasn`t involved in the affair at all but just floated in it at his leisure, from a safe distance, step after step, until its strange denouement?

Take your time to make up your mind. I won`t press you. I have plenty of time and I`m prepared to wait. I`ll gladly postpone our next meeting. For a week? Two weeks? As long as you like. But you must remember one thing: Don`t put my family name into your papers where it dosen`t belong. Don`t touch that name!

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