‘Yankinton’ by Rachel Shihor: An Excerpt

Set in the early days of the Jewish state, Yankinton tells the stories of refugees from the Holocaust and antisemitism who struggled to build new lives in Israel. Through the eyes of a young Orthodox Jewish girl growing up in Tel Aviv, we watch a colourful mosaic of characters from Soviet revolutionaries to weapons runners during the War of Independence. Faced with the difficulties of the traumatized adults around her, from panic attacks to suicide attempts, the girl seeks moments of wonder among the struggle and tragedy.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Tropper and Esther Frumkin

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An Excerpt

Yehuda Halevi Street was the unmarked boundary of the safe Tel Aviv, partially bourgeois and almost entirely Ashkenazi. Beyond Yehuda Halevi Street and up to Petach Tikvah Way and farther east, if that is even possible, lived a different type of people: working people, small-business owners, garage owners and tax col- lectors, minor clerks in the municipality who were free in the afternoon hours to work at a second job to augment their small salaries and would hang new curtains in the houses of the nouveau riche and fill their mouths with curtain hooks which forced them to keep their mouths closed until they finished the work of hanging the curtains, and more than one was injured, despite this precaution, by the sharp end of a pin which wounded his throat.

It was unthinkable for us to go alone to the Ten Dates field, but in a group it became possible—in a group and accompanied by a Scout leader not more than a year or two older than us, but this arrangement nevertheless reassured our parents, and thus Yehuda Halevi Street became the border, beyond which dwelt the murky reality hard for us even to imagine, and certainly not see, since the presence of any teenager or adult caused it to withdraw immediately, but just because of that, its existence became more tangible to us than all those other things which declared the existence of a self-con dent routine, like anything which slips away from us without our noticing. and during that period, the most precise bullets with the brightest trail were aimed and red across this border, since the area from Yehuda Halevi Street eastwards was easily exposed to the gaze of an expert sniper who always stood at the top of the Hassan Bek tower in Jaffa, and his eyes followed us greedily. on such days, we were even more strictly forbidden to cross to the eastern side of the road unchaperoned. on other, quieter days, the prohibition eased up of its own accord, and we were allowed to go there, on the condition that we wore Scout uniforms, which we wore during Scout meetings anyway, and since the Scout meetings always took place under a counsellor’s supervision, in the end we never crossed Yehuda Halevi Street to the east without being accompanied by someone thought to be more mature than us, supervision whose very futility blinded us from seeing the murky reality.

More than once, during the long summer days, Mrs Yankinton came to us for one of her visits. it was easy to predict this lady’s visits to other people’s houses, particularly our house, because her daughter was my close friend, but presumably it was not easy for Mrs Yankinton to go from house to house, between the homes of her daughter’s friends, to ask if perhaps my Karni is here, so involved in playing that she forgot to come home? certainly not easy during the burning hot summer days which lasted almost six months straight, but neither on stormy days when the blustery wind burnt the faces of the few passers-by and brought tears to their eyes. But climactic obstacles could not deter Mrs Yankinton while her beloved daughter’s well-being, if not her very life, was at stake, even if the woman did not inhabit a particularly powerful body—she was not thin but her legs remained as slim as they had been in her youth, and she was proud of this. More than once she showed me her legs and asked with obvious satisfaction: My legs are beautiful, aren’t they? her concern for her daughter could never be assuaged, for this is a kind of thirst which gives a person strength. and like her, Mr Yankinton never ceased worrying about his daughter. it was enough for Karni to go on an innocent after-school visit to one of her many friends, since the two had agreed, while still at school, to meet on that day at five in the afternoon, and for her to neglect to inform her parents out of forgetfulness or weariness, to destroy Mr and Mrs Yankinton’s peace of mind for all time, for if serenity is lost for even a moment, it will be found wanting for ever and nothing can restore it to its former state.