A Jewish Soldier
By Jack Engelhard
My father loved Israel, the ancient and the modern. He also loved America
and there was no question of divided loyalty because America and Israel
were one and the same.
"If you love Israel," he said, "you love America.
If you love America, you love Israel."
America was the embodiment of the Jewish dream.
"And what is the Jewish dream?" said my father. "Listen to the words of
Micah our prophet. 'And each man shall sit under the shade of his vine and
fig tree, and none shall make him afraid.'"
Said my father: "What is that, if not the Jewish dream? And what is that
if not the American dream!"
* * * * *
My father wept the day Israel was declared a state. I was eight years old
then and we had already been three years in Montreal. I was too young to
understand everything about Israel, but on the eve of its rebirth, I knew
something extraordinary was happening.
Daily that spring the Yiddish newspaper from New York documented the
events of the Arab-Jewish conflict. Each morning my father walked along
Fairmount Street to Abe¹s News Store to bring back Der Tag. For a man who
knew pogroms in Poland, where Jews lived from fright to fright, the tales
of daring Jews astonished him -- Jews who hearkened back to the days of
Joshua and David.
One Sunday I went out to meet my father as he returned with the paper.
"Look," he said, pointing to a photo on the front page. "A Jewish
Then I saw him crying and understood how incredible this was.
* * * * *
Now during this time we were menaced regularly by the French gangs that
marched up from below St. Lawrence Street -- the dividing line between
French and English-speaking Montreal.
We were tough ourselves -- meaning Doodie and Benjie and Yehudie and all
the rest -- but we were no match for these French -- Pepsis we called them
-- who had the advantage of genetic indignation. They were passionately
resentful against anything "English" and anything that wasn't French was
Also, they surpassed us in numbers -- there seemed no end to them. Down
below St. Lawrence they were bred for hatred, raised for thuggery. Up from
St. Lawrence, they came in waves and attacked. Their crazed ferocious
violence needed no provocation -- only bodies, and here we were.
Then they'd be waiting for us at the Talmud Torah Hebrew School. In the
province of Quebec, children under 13 were not allowed in regular movies
houses. There had once been a theater fire, kids trampled to death,
causing such a law to be passed. Schools, however, were exempt, so on
Sunday afternoons we flocked to the Talmud Torah for Laurel and Hardy, Roy
Rogers, and Gene Autry.
I do not use the word "flocked" in vain -- because sheep that we were, we
fell to the blows of the Pepsis who were gathered by the entrance of the
Talmud Torah and punished us coming and going.
Fight back? Who ever heard of the words?
But that week, Israel had been declared a state, and that Sunday there had
been that photo of a Jewish soldier -- and everything changed. We let them
have their way when we entered the Talmud Torah, but once inside the
darkened auditorium there was no longer that sense of terror. Something
unspoken passed between us. We were of a single mind.
After the movies, which nobody really watched, the lights came on and we
rushed for the doors. I was somewhere in the middle of this army and by
the time I got out the fighting had already begun.
Doodie was pummeling the leader of the Pepsis, a boy twice his size.
Doodie had him propped against a car, striking him repeatedly in the
midsection. The Pepsi grew weak in the knees and wobbled to the pavement.
This gave us the courage and we went after them one by one. As for the
Pepsis -- first they were stupefied. What was this? Jews fighting back?
Next, they turned and tried to run, but we caught them and gave measure
for measure. We repaid all debts and even made some deposits for the
When I got home, I was covered in blood. My mother made me take a bath.
She kept muttering about this and that and, as for my father, he gave me a
wink and a big secret smile.
Jack Engelhard is the author of the international bestseller "Indecent
Proposal" and a former radio and newspaper editor covering the Mideast. His columns
can be read online at www.comteqcom.com/jackcolumn.php and he can
be reached at JackEngelhard@ComteQcom.com.
from the June 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine