Barbara was often good at breaking through to people. She turned to him at a certain moment and asked, "How is Rita?"
Irwin colored and hesitated. "I don't know," he finally answered. "I haven't seen her for fourteen months." He colored more deeply and was silent again. Rita and Irwin had dated for about six months in Brooklyn before they emigrated to Israel and were married there after a year and a half of living on a Kibbutz. They had apparently split up after about a year of married life.
Irwin didn't seem to want to say anymore. Anxious to get him going I blurted to no one in particular: "What do you think of what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians?"
"To the terrorists, you mean," Harold replied.
"Are you equating Palestinians with terrorists?" I asked, starting to get into combat mode.
"Will you stop with the Palestinians, already!" Jim interjected. That's all you ever talk about. Palestinian people, my hemorrhoids."
Everyone laughed except me. Suddenly Irwin piped up. "Did you hear what happened to Danny?"
I could hardly believe that he brought it up himself. Danny was a Brooklyn boy who became an Israeli hero. He was known for his hatred of Arabs. He had served in Vietnam where he won at least two medals for his proficiency in combat. We had heard that in Israel he was known as "the Angel of Death." In the end he was one of the few American Jewish settlers killed in the West Bank before the intifada began in December 1987. He had joined a band of zealots who set up a tiny Jewish community in the midst of the Arab town of Hebron. One Friday evening, as the story goes, the Arabs ambushed several men on their way home from prayers. Three died and two were injured. They killed Danny.
"Yes, we heard the news about Danny," I said. I wanted to say "sad news" for Irwin's benefit but I couldn't. I paused and then I said, "You probably have plenty of Danny stories?"
"Yes, yes," he said. "`The Arabushim,' that's what we called them," Irwin answered. "Danny hated the Arabushim. He used to boast how many he killed."
"Wait a minute." It was Barbara. "What's `Arabushim'"?
No one answered. She looked at Irwin.
"You mean it's like `niggers,' `kikes' `wops'?" she asked.
"You got it," Irwin replied with a trace of a smile.
I didn't say anything. Irwin didn't look at me but I felt that he was monitoring my reactions. I wanted him to go on. I wanted to hear as much as he would tell us about his experiences. Finally he decided to continue.
"Did you ever see boys forced to masturbate?" he asked, turning to me suddenly and staring me down.
No one answered. Irwin continued.
"Danny told me that there were times when he joined the Border Guards for raids on the Arabushim. They'd go into a village and raise a ruckus. They'd break windows, smash cars, shoot their weapons, rough up a few people. In the end, to top it off, they'd grab some teen-age boys and take them outside of the village ..."
He trailed off. After a pause, I tried a question.
"Did they ever capture the men who killed Danny and the others?" I asked.
He ignored me. He had something else on his mind. He began in a steady, quiet voice.
"There's a special memory that I have of Danny. One morning we were out driving together in Judea. We came to a bend in the road not far from a little rise. Danny stopped the jeep. We got out and we began walking. In the distance there was an Arab boy tending some sheep. As we approached the elevation, Danny motioned me away. He wanted some space. He walked about thirty yards to the top of the little hill overlooking the rocky, yet beautiful expanse. Danny stood for several minutes gazing at the valley below. I could see his face. He seemed transported. When he finally came down - - it seemed like hours waiting for him -- all he said was: `This is our land. This is our land.' That's all he said."
Irwin stopped. After a pause Jim asked him: "Are you going to go back?"
"I don't know," Irwin answered. He looked away. He kept us waiting again for several moments. Maybe he was seeing his own vision. Maybe he was still in Danny's vision. "I don't know," he said.