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Authors: Naomi Ragen

The Devil in Jerusalem

BOOK: The Devil in Jerusalem
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For Yehudit Rotem, one of Israel's finest novelists, and a precious, generous, giving friend

 

Until when, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I seek counsel within myself and find only sorrow in my heart…?

—P
SALM
XIII

If there appears before you a prophet or a dream-diviner … do not heed his words.

—D
EUTERONOMY
13:1

 

P
ROLOGUE

There is an ancient rabbinic saying that you may enter hell either through the wilderness or the sea, or through Jerusalem.

Few of those who have actually walked the cobblestone streets behind the ancient, discolored stone walls of the Holy City, their souls stirred and their eyes focused on a higher plane of existence, have ever felt that other, darker current that has always been part of Jerusalem's legacy as well. But there, just to the south of the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the earth dips down into the Valley of Kidron, forming a deep ravine of dark, green shadows.

Named after its owner, Gei-Hinnom, the ravine became “Gehenna,” a place known for depravities so horrifying their potency has not been diluted by the centuries and which continue to terrify even in our unshockable age.

The prophet Jeremiah railed against it, saying, “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I commanded not, neither came it into my mind. Therefore, behold, the day will come when it will no longer be called … the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter, for they shall bury [there] for lack of room. And the carcasses of this people shall be food for the fowls of the air and the beasts of the earth; and none shall frighten them away.”

There once the idol Moloch stood, his face like a calf and his body human, his hands outstretched to receive his offerings, while inside his vast and empty belly his priests lit a roaring fire. Seven fences with seven gates were erected around him. Those bringing sacrificial birds were allowed to pass only through the first gate; those with goats, the second; with sheep, the third; with calves, the fourth; with cows, the fifth; and with oxen, the sixth. Only those who brought their babies were allowed through the seventh gate, close enough to feel the heat.

And the parents would kiss their child and lay it in the red-hot arms of Moloch, while the people beat their drums, the noise drowning out the screaming of the child, to keep the parents from feeling pity. Hinnom, the sages said, was not the name of a person, but rather from the Hebrew word
nohem
—“to groan in agony.” Some said it was the child or its parents who groaned. But others, perhaps wiser, said it was those who watched and could do nothing.

Unlike the barren white hills of the Dead Sea just beyond, destroyed for eternity by fire and brimstone for the wickedness of its inhabitants, Gehenna is still verdant, quiet, lovely, a picnic ground for the ignorant and obtuse of soul, or those willing and able to bury and forget the past, drinking their Cokes and eating their cheese sandwiches where once innocent children were sacrificed to their parents' perverse conception of holiness.

 

Part One

 

1

The siren pierced the early morning serenity of Jerusalem's silent streets, deserted except for an occasional man returning from morning prayers. The ambulance sped down the almost empty road, bordered on both sides by old trees leaning against the aging white stone buildings of 1949 immigrant housing, which gradually gave way to expensive, modern villas with red-tiled roofs. On the right side loomed the Monster, a hill-sized black-and-white head with three bloodred slides spilling from its mouth that delighted Jerusalem's children.

Seeing it, the driver thought of his own small children, shaking his head sadly as he glanced into the rearview mirror at the little boy stretched out and motionless, surrounded by paramedics.

“Hurry!” one of the paramedics called out.

The driver turned quickly into the long, winding road to Hadassah Hospital, barely allowing himself a glance at the spectacular gold spires of the Gorney Convent rising up from the valley of Ein Karem as he concentrated on the road, speeding forward through barren hillsides peppered with dark bushes that flourished between the ancient white stones, barely slowing down even when he reached the hospital's security gates. Instead, he motioned urgently to the guards, who quickly raised the barriers, waving him through.

He pulled to a stop in front of the emergency room, jumping down and scrambling to fling open the back doors. As one paramedic pumped air into the child's lungs and the other held an intravenous drip high above his head, the driver navigated the gurney urgently through the beige and apricot corridors crowded with donor plaques straight into the Pediatric Trauma Center.

“Unconscious child. Heartbeat barely stabilized,” the paramedics shouted. A flurry of nurses, almost all of them mothers, pulled around the gurney like metal shavings to a magnet. Slowly, and with a heavy heart, the driver backed away.

A senior nurse split the crowd in half, making her way to the patient.

He couldn't have been more than two or three, she thought. His wide eyes were closed and his round, cherubic face was bloated with scars in various stages of healing, the most prominent a black-and-blue mark on his right temple. The nurse placed a stethoscope under his little pajama top: “Get Dr. Freund!” she shouted.

An intern pushed his way through. “What's the history? Where's the mother?”

No one responded.

When the senior doctor arrived, the nurses drifted reluctantly back to their stations, shaking their heads slowly as they glanced briefly over their shoulders, their troubled eyes catching each other's glances.

The child was wearing soft, fuzzy Carter pajamas—an American brand not found in Israel—in a pale shade of blue with tiny yellow bunnies, Dr. Freund noted with the practiced eye of an experienced grandfather sent on numerous solo shopping trips before and after medical conferences in San Diego and New York. Gently, he lifted the top over the child's chest, then drew down the bottoms. What he saw made him catch his breath. After so many years of intimacy with the human body in every condition, he had assumed himself to be impervious to shock.

But this …

He cleared his throat, taking off his glasses and pinching both sides of his nose to discreetly remove the moisture that had gathered there.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” he said, gathering himself together. He held out one hand for the paperwork and scans, while with the other he pinched the child's finger and felt his chest, testing him for some response. There was none.

“How old is he? How much does he weigh?”

“Almost three. Weight approximated … there was no time…,” a paramedic answered.

Dr. Freund looked up. “Where is the mother?” he asked, repeating the intern's unanswered question. Again, there was silence.

“Well, then, who brought him in here?”

The paramedic holding the intravenous bag leaned forward. “We got a call about four in the morning. Took us ten minutes to get there. He was on the floor. His heart had stopped and he wasn't breathing. There was no mother or father, just some older siblings and a Hassid, no relation, who said he was a friend of the family. He told us he was baby-sitting when the child started crying and suddenly collapsed. We got him stabilized, then took him to Shaare Zedek for a CT scan.”

“So why is he here?” Dr. Freund asked. But he already knew. Shaare Zedek wasn't equipped to handle extensive brain injury. His eyes narrowed and his breath quickened as he studied the CT scan. “Call the pediatric anesthesiologist. Tell him it's urgent. The child must be intubated immediately.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Someone will need to sign.… Isn't anybody here from the family?”

The paramedics shrugged.

“Well, do you at least have a name?”

“An older brother said the baby's name was Menachem—Menchie—Goodman.”

A passing nurse stopped. “Goodman? Are you sure?”

Dr. Freund looked up at her.

“It's just that … There's a Daniella Goodman who came in a few hours ago with another child. A four-year-old. He had extensive third-degree burns on his legs. We sent him to the burn unit. I think they said he's going to need skin grafts.”

“Get on the phone,” he told her, “and call the police.”

 

2

Dr. Freund found her sitting silently by the bedside, a slim, petite young woman with blond brows and gentle hands, wordlessly mouthing psalms from a small book she held in one hand, while with the other she clutched the space over her heart. For some reason, he felt surprised by her youth, guessing her to be in her early twenties. He would have been startled to learn he was off by more than a decade.

She didn't seem altogether present, swaying slightly, her eyes barely open, her head swathed in a white headscarf. The rest of her clothing—a skirt that touched the tops of her shoes, a clavicle-covering, wrist-length blouse—was also white, the kind of outfit devout women wore to the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve as a plea to a compassionate God to bleach their sins “though they be as scarlet.” What dark sins did she hope to whiten? he wondered.

She seemed oblivious to his entrance, neither lifting her head to turn in his direction nor allowing her moving lips to rest. In general, she presented a picture of a pious mother pouring out her heart to God to heal her injured child. He would not have guessed that the only thought going through Daniella Goodman's head at that moment was,
Don't tell, don't tell, don't tell.

“Mrs. Goodman?” Dr. Freund ventured, peering at her warily.

“Rebbetzin,” she corrected him, still not looking up.

“Rebbetzin,” he repeated, holding back his contempt at this vain and wildly inappropriate demand for respect as he reached for the chart on the bedside of yet another horrendously injured child.

BOOK: The Devil in Jerusalem
8.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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