Young and Immortal
It was August of 1982, and a bunch of us were hiking in the Golan Heights in the heat of summer. It was a long day with many adventures, this was the last.
The Golan is covered in minefields left by the Syrians before the Israelis captured it in the Six Day War in 1967. We had been warned, under no circumstances to leave the track marked with barbed wire. Every year a couple of people lost their lives to the mines.
We had just turned the last leg of the return trip down the Golan, when suddenly we hear loud wuh-wuh-whoom sounds above us. I knew immediately what it was, from a poem I studied in seventh grade. “Bullets smacking the belly out of the air.” We were being fired on. Ted Hughes and Mr. Davis saved my life.
Did I mention there was a war on?
I paused to try to decipher what was happening, jerked into action as one of the girls (when I look back, we were all children at nineteen and twenty) shouted at me “are you OK?” We sheltered behind rocks, fearful to stay where we were, fearful to move. We were trapped.
There were two different sounds of gunfire. One a faint crackle as if of fireworks. Very difficult to tell what direction it came from. The other a full throated clacking sound. They seemed to alternate.
Eventually I realized that the sounds were not of combat, but of target practice. Long bursts of fire, punctuated by longer bursts of silence. Only two guns. My fear that the war had come to us, that we were caught in a crossfire between the IDF and their enemies, whether Syrian or PLO, was unjustified.
My fear was now that we would lose our lives to an accident of war. A footnote, less than a footnote, a never to be remembered tragedy of errors.
I had seen as I paused that the firing was from an old Syrian emplacement that we had passed through hours before, on our way up. The trail led steeply down, until it was below it. I waited my moment, and when the riflemen paused to smoke a cigarette, charged down the hill screaming for them to hold their fire. Twenty seconds of running that encompassed my life.
After I reached the emplacement, the Israelis (kids our age waiting their turn at the War in Lebanon) sheepishly asked if we would like to take some shots with their M-16 and AK-47. We all declined. Any time before or after I would have jumped at the chance, but this was not that day. As it turned out, I was never to fire an assault rifle. My plans to emigrate permanently to Israel and serve my time in the IDF were up-ended when I fell in love with an American, and decamped to New York.
In later years I would dream of that time. The dream was always the same: that I had made a mistake in believing that there was no battle going on, and as the bullets hit me I knew I had killed not only myself but also my companions by revealing their position. My wife would wake me from these dreams, but I could not tell her their content until many years after they passed.
And after that, it fueled my passion against the NRA, when they tried to hold a fundraiser in my neighborhood in Brooklyn: Park Slope, the bastion of liberalism.