Thunder from Jerusalem / a novel by Bodie and Brock Thoene.
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- ISBN: 0670892068 (pbk.)
- ISBN: 9780670892068
- Physical Description: 311 pages ; 25cm.
- Publisher: New York : Viking, 2000.
|General Note:|| Second novel in the Zion Legacy series that will chronicle three millennia of Jerusalem's history.
|Summary, etc.:|| In the Zion Legacy series, the Thoenes return to a cast of characters and themes from their bestselling Zion Chronicles series that earned them a sterling reputation and a faithful readership in the Christian fiction arena.
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|Subject:||Israel-Arab War, 1948-1949 > Fiction.
Jews > Palestine > Fiction.
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The DC-4 had been flying in total blackness for hours. American Colonel Michael Stone was in the copilot's seat. Square jaw tense, head aching, the forty-five-year-old Stone did his best not to sound nervous.
He asked, "So how do you know where we are?"
With a grin that could be seen by the orange glow of the instrument panel, pilot David Meyer replied, "Doesn't really matter. We've been over water almost the whole time since picking you up on Corsica. One hunk of the Mediterranean is as wet as another."
Michael Stone was returning to Israel as military advisor to David Ben-Gurion. He had been a U.S. Army officer in the Second World War, in the ground war. He knew flyboys were easygoing in the discipline department, but this was over the top. "Then how do you know when we're there?" he demanded.
"Easy," Meyer said, gesturing toward the side window with a nod of his tousled blond head. "I know how long it should take. When I see the lighthouse in Haifa, we're there."
"And if you miss it?"
"Then we're delivering this plane and its cargo to King Abdullah in Jordan. Relax, Colonel. We've hit every checkpoint over Italy, Crete, and Cyprus ... the last two while you were sleeping." David checked his bulky metal wristwatch. "Eleven hours now. Another half hour or less to go."
The cargo was a disassembled Messerschmitt fighter plane. Nucleus of the Israeli air force, the German aircraft was hitching a ride to its new home ... Israel! Wings, fuselage, and prop nearly filled the back of the transport.
Ammunition and spare parts were crammed into the remaining space, except for the crevices occupied by two Czech mechanics and David's copilot, Bobby Milkin. The three men in the cargo bay were fast asleep. Milkin, an unlit cigar clamped between his teeth, was curled around a Thompson machine gun.
The flight continued for a time in silence; then Colonel Stone noted, "I heard you and Milkin were bringing in Messerschmitts directly. In one piece, I mean. Flying. So how come you're driving the bus?"
"You're right," David agreed. "We tried. The Messer is only good for an hour or two in the air before refueling. We got as far as Athens. Had a little run-in. To make a long story short, sabotage took out the first two 109s when me and Bobby tried to short-hop 'em into the country. We were lucky. You know? Anyway, we hitched a ride back to Czechoslovakia to pick this baby up."
"In pieces. How many days to reassemble?"
"And what happens after we arrive? I mean, what do you do then?"
"Me? I've got a wife and a bath waiting for me in Tel Aviv." Sniffing the air David corrected, "Probably in the other order. Got the Boss's permission to take one day off before we make the hop back to Zebra ... that's Czechoslovakia ... for another plane." David's voice took on a hopeful note when he said, "If they get the first 109 put together while I'm gone I'm gonna trade in this bucket for a fighter." In a harder tone he added, "The Egyptians have got British Spitfires. Ellie ... that's my wife ... wrote the story for The Times. About the Egyptian Spits that beat up our people on the docks in Tel Aviv. Anyway, I'd like to meet those guys one on one."
* * *
At twenty-nine minutes into David Meyer's half hour he blithely announced, "There it is." Swinging the transport plane in a wide turn, he dropped the port wing so Stone could see the beacon of Haifa Harbor. The rest of the port city and the countryside around was blacked out. "Glad to see the Boss doesn't believe in giving the Egyptians an easy target," he said, swinging the craft back toward the south. "Eighty miles to go. Better roust Bobby ... if he isn't too drunk."
Bobby Milkin had not had anything to drink, but he was grumpy at being awakened. "Can't you do this without my help, Tin Man?" he groused. "Just 'cause we're comin' into an unknown field, over hostile territory, in the middle of the night. Sheesh, what a amatoor."
Stone did not stay in the cargo bay but instead took the unoccupied navigator's jumpseat. David hooked his thumb over his shoulder at the colonel. "Just making it look regulation for the brass."
A few minutes later the outline of Tel Aviv and neighboring Jaffa Harbor appeared in the moonlight. "That's it," Milkin crooned. "Come to Papa, baby."
"What say we let 'em know we made it?" David suggested. He dialed up the frequency monitored by the Jewish Agency and keyed the microphone. "Morning, boys. This is Israeli Airways flight number one bringing home the goodies."
After the Agency acknowledged, Milkin said, "Man, that sounds good. I hated havin' to be Panama Airways to fool the limeys."
They were over the middle of Tel Aviv and making the turn toward the southeast approach to the airstrip when the gunfire started. First one line of tracers floated up toward them, then a second, and a third. "Hey!" Milkin yelled at the ground. "We told you it was us!"
"Somebody forgot to tell our gunners that we have planes too," David said. "They think we're Egyptians." He jinked the craft left. Sideslipping to lose altitude before the lines of fire intersected the path of the plane, he added, "Either that, or the Boss is mad we're late, eh, Milkin?"
An even colder reception awaited them.
With the Arab capture of Lydda Airfield, Israeli operations were shifted to a strip carved out of the Judean hills about twenty miles southeast of Tel Aviv. Code-named Oklahoma, the destination had a control tower and barrels of flaming kerosene for runway lights.
"Fog," David said tersely. "Clear weather for a couple thousand miles and now this. Tell the passengers to buckle up, Colonel, then you do the same."
Raising the airfield tower, Bobby Milkin reported their arrival. "Ceiling zero, visibility zero," the tower responded, then suggested they circle out to sea until a break in the mist presented itself.
Studying the fuel gauges, David nodded grimly and headed the plane back toward the west. There were no longer quips in the cockpit, no horseplay. Colonel Stone needed no explanation as to the change in mood.
They completed two circles without any improvement in the visibility. On the third pass Milkin said, "Got it!" He pointed right of the center line where a break in the fog showed a double row of flaming markers.
"Call out the altitude for me, Bobby," David said tersely. "Keep it coming. Okay. Gear down. Set the flaps."
"One thousand," Milkin said. His cigar hung like an appendage from his lip. "Nine hundred. Eight. Seven-fifty."
At seven hundred feet the fog swirled in around them.
It was so thick David could no longer see the blinking wingtip lights.
At Milkin's call of "Four hundred," David shook his head and said, "We're pulling up." Tugging on the yoke, he urged the transport skyward and once again circled toward the sea. "How much fuel we got?"
Quietly Milkin said, "Enough for one more pass. Want to ditch?"
"How about you, Colonel?" David asked. "Think the Boss'd be sore if I messed up his transport and another of his fighters?"
"I never learned to swim," Stone replied.
"Good enough," David said. "Let's try again."
Moments later they were back in line with the runway, as nearly as David could tell. Once again Milkin reeled off the declining altitude figures. "Six hundred. Five. Four-fifty. I see the runway. Right. Little more right. Three. Two- fifty."
Suddenly out of the eddying vapor loomed a hill, dead in front of them and scarcely fifty feet below.
Despite Milkin's cry of "Pull up!" David resisted the impulse. If they did so now, they would have to ditch in the sea ... if they could even make it back that far. Instead he jerked the plane hard to the right. He was trusting that the slope fell off more sharply on the side nearest the runway.
The ground raced past, looking close enough to touch. The nearness of the hill threw the roar of their engines back at them. Without lift and at reduced airspeed, the transport was sluggish in David's hands. It resisted him when he tried to correct its position. They were slipping sideways toward the ground.
"Gun it!" he shouted.
They came in at a slant above the first two barrels on the left side of the airstrip. A guard flung himself to the ground. David fought to realign the plane with the runway. "Cut 'em!" David bellowed.
The DC-4 bounced, vaulted back toward the sky, then bounced again. David and Bobby Milkin wrestled with the control yokes.
At last the transport settled. It rolled out sweetly and was braked to a stop, dead even with the last pair of marker barrels.
Turning to Stone, David wiped his brow and said, "Don't get the wrong idea, Colonel. We always do it like this."
* * *
At twenty minutes after two o'clock on the morning of May 19, 1948, salvation came to the besieged Jewish Quarter of Old City Jerusalem.
The last blazing green line of a flare split the sky in an arch over the city, then died away. The image of it lingered in Haganah Commander Moshe Sachar's vision. He and his wife, Rachel, held out their hands in welcome to eighty Palmach troops. Carrying medical supplies and ammunition, the Jewish soldiers had broken into the Old City through Zion Gate from Mount Zion.
Behind Moshe, Jewish civilians, trapped for months in the Jewish Quarter, swarmed out of their shelters in the cellars of Nissan Bek, the Hurva, and Porat Yoseph Synagogues.
Fifteen hundred men, women, children, rabbis, Yeshiva students, and exhausted Haganah defenders packed the narrow lanes to cheer the arrival of fresh reinforcements. The shouts of jubilation were heard by the retreating Irregular troops of the Mufti as they withdrew from their positions. Laughing for the first time in weeks, Moshe kissed Rachel. "It sounds like we are cheering a football match!"
He could not hear Rachel's reply over the tumult. She squeezed his hand and mouthed the words "I love you" and "hospital." No further explanation was needed. She took a supply-laden soldier by the arm and led the way to Misgav Ladakh, the dilapidated hospital the Rothschilds built in 1854 and named "Refuge of the Downtrodden." Moshe had taken to calling the place simply "Downtrodden." These days of war had crowded the musty, vaulted rooms with wounded, all of whom urgently needed the medicine in the packs of the Palmach soldiers. One could find the place in the dark, Moshe thought, by following the stench. A stack of shrouded dead lay awaiting burial in a shed behind the building. The facility had one doctor and two trained nurses. It was staffed and run almost entirely by volunteers.
Moshe spotted Rachel's brother, ten-year-old Yacov, perched on the shoulders of one very large Palmachnik. Yacov was singing "Hatikva," The Hope, and waving a homemade Israeli flag as his bony dog barked at the soldier's heels.
"We are saved!"
"Blessed be the Eternal!"
It was plain that the Jewish inhabitants of the Old City believed their war was over. Their joy made Moshe uneasy.
"It is a miracle! A miracle!"
"Praise be to Him who has been merciful and allowed us to live to see ..."
"... to see this day of our salvation!"
Kisses mingled with tears of rejoicing. The Palmach reinforcements were swallowed up by the crowd of well-wishers.
Moshe knew the battle was far from won.
Jacob Kalner, the stocky, sunburned corporal who had first breached the wall and opened Zion Gate, stood at the edge of the crowd beside his wife, Lori. She was crying, her head against his chest. He patted her awkwardly, kissed her forehead, caressed her face in his hands, and then they parted. With one longing look back at him, she ran after Rachel and the Palmachnik. The trio vanished into the blackness of the street.
Jacob glanced up and caught Moshe's eye. He worked his way through a gaggle of schoolchildren to Moshe's side.
He shouted to be heard over the din. "There are a handful of my men holding Zion Gate and the corridor through the Armenian Quarter."
Moshe guided him away from the noise. "The Irregulars may regroup and attack again. Get back to Zion Gate. We hold the tower of St. Jacques, which overlooks the route through the Armenian Quarter to your position. If you hear gunfire from there, you will know the Irregulars are advancing again."
* * *
The voices of celebration surrounded Rachel Sachar and Lori Kalner as they pushed through the human tide that clogged the twisted lanes of the Old City.
Nathan Cohen, teenage grandson of the woman who ran the soup kitchen at the Hurva Synagogue, called to Rachel, "Your grandfather, Reb Lebowitz, is looking for you, Rachel! He said if I saw you...." His voice was drowned by cheering as a newly arrived Palmachnik was hoisted to the shoulders of the young men.
"Where is he?" Rachel shouted.
"Home," Nathan replied, sweeping by in a current of fifteen young Hasidim. "He said ..." The rest of the communication was lost.
Lori took Rachel's hand. "Go to him," she instructed. "He'll be worried."
Rachel nodded. "I won't be long."
The two women parted. Lori headed up the sloping road toward Misgav Ladakh Hospital. Rachel turned toward the bulk of the Hurva. Grandfather lived across the lane from the synagogue in a cramped basement room with Yacov and his shaggy mongrel dog named Shaul.
The old man had hardly slept since Rachel arrived in the Jewish Quarter. He spent his days helping Hannah Cohen supervise the feeding of five hundred women and children in the soup kitchen. His nights were passed in study and prayer.
Rachel clambered down the steps to his quarters. The door was ajar. Soft light from a single candle illuminated the sparsely furnished room. The rabbi sat at a table where two rows of photographs were fanned out before him like playing cards.
He did not look up as she entered but said her name. "Rachel. Praise be to the Eternal."
She closed the door behind her. "The Palmach has opened the corridor. We are free."
At this he studied her briefly and then returned his gaze to the photographs. "You found Moshe?"
"He is at Zion Gate. The people have packed the streets of the quarter. They hinder the movement of supplies."
Grandfather nodded. "Yacov and the dog have gone. I kept the boy with me all night. But who can hold him back with such good news, nu?"
The aged man's voice was burdened with weariness. Or was it sadness? There was something here Rachel could not understand. Why, when the whole Jewish Quarter had turned out to celebrate, did he appear so subdued?
"Are you well, Grandfather?" She sat down in the chair opposite him. He was gazing at photographs of Rachel's mother and father. Of her brothers.
He raised his eyes to search her face. "You look so very much like her."
"I am glad for it." Rachel touched his arm. "She would have loved to see this. Wouldn't she?"
He inhaled deeply. "I have been thinking what possessions I have which must be saved."
"Everything ... everyone ... is safe now."
He inclined his head in a posture of doubt, then gathered the photographs and placed them in an envelope. He slid it across the rough tabletop to Rachel. "They are just memories. But one day you will want to show them to your children, nu? Show them that your mama and papa were real people. More than names. More than numbers among six million."
"You keep them," she urged. "You can show our children, yes?"
"It is better you take them. I have nothing else of value to leave you."
"Leave me? Don't talk like this...."
Raising his hand to halt her objection, the old man rose with difficulty. He opened the door, letting the night into the room. The flame of the candle flickered. The cheering of Jewish voices echoed from Zion Gate. He whispered hoarsely, "A Lamedvovnik has come among us tonight."
What was he rambling about? Trying to hide her concern, Rachel turned back his bed. "You should sleep. You have not slept in days. Hannah Cohen says you are wearing yourself out."
He faced her, his eyes burning beneath heavy gray brows. "The Lamedvov. The thirty-six righteous ones. Do you understand what I am saying, Rachel?"
"Papa used to speak of it. A famous legend," she said cheerfully. "Now sleep."
"No legend. Lamedvov. Thirty-six righteous souls who live upon the earth in each generation. It is the Lamedvov who hold back God's judgment on the world." He cast a long look out into the night. "Tonight one of them has come among us. I felt his presence."
"Then the Jews of Jerusalem are safe. True?"
The elderly man did not reply. He sighed. Clearly she did not understand. She had missed his point altogether. Wearily he replied, "I am glad you are well. And Moshe. Moshe will send the people back to the shelters?"
"Good. Morning will come too soon for all of us. The children ... morning."
"You must sleep, Grandfather."
He assented, hobbling to the bed. He lay down with his shoes still on. "I will rest an hour. Morning will come," he said, closing his eyes and falling into a deep slumber.
* * *
The seventy-four-year-old Mother Superior of Soeurs Réparatrices Convent sat alone in the lightless bedchamber at the Latin Patriarchate.
With Dr. Baruch, Lori Kalner, Rachel Sachar, and the sisters of her order, Mère Supérieure had entered the Old City and taken refuge here in the Christian Quarter.
Replete with dignity, imperious and stern in her demeanor, it was rare for her to show emotion.
Tonight she wept with joy as the sound of singing drifted from the Jewish Quarter. The Arab boy Daoud had returned with news that Rachel and Lori were alive and well. Dr. Baruch was a ministering angel in the Jewish Hospital. The prayers of the sisters on their behalf had been answered.
Mother Superior's doors were open to a pinched balcony overlooking the ancient street.
From her chair she had prayed and listened, unmoving, as the battle raged. She had heard the roar of explosions and the rattle of machine-gun fire. The flares had illuminated her room so much that she could read the text of her Bible. Her finger held the page of the prophecy she found in Jeremiah 30.
This is what the Lord, says:
"I will restore the fortunes of
and have compassion on his
the city will be rebuilt on her ruins,
and the palace will stand in its
From them will come songs of thanksgiving
and the sound of rejoicing."
* * *
Something holy and magnificent had happened, and she was witness to it. Wiping her tears she whispered, "You have let me live to see this promise fulfilled, O Lord. Two thousand years have passed while Jews and Christians waited for this hour. Israel reborn and Jerusalem her capital! Christ has died. Christ is risen. Now Christ will come again." She held the sacred text to her as she began to bargain with the Lord. "And now, a simple request. I want to be back home in the convent when You return. I have lived and served a lifetime at Soeurs Réparatrices. This You know, Lord. In the place where we prayed daily for the peace of Jerusalem, men have made war. Where we prayed for healing, men have killed one another in our garden. We were driven from our sanctuary so this promise might come true. But enough is enough. Sweet Jesus, Savior, I wish only to go home. Back to Soeurs Réparatrices."
Mother Superior knew the facts. The convent was a tactical prize in the game of Jerusalem tug-of-war. It had traded hands a half-dozen times in the last few days. The most recent communiqué indicated it was occupied by Jewish forces. It flanked the Hospice of Notre Dame, which had become the bulwark of Jewish resistance. The granite mountain of Notre Dame and the smaller hill of Soeurs Réparatrices were the prizes each side wanted.
To go home? To return to the convent? It was a bleak and unpromising scenario. And yet ... Mother Superior reasoned that she had a direct line to the same God who parted the Red Sea for Moses and who tonight opened Zion Gate to resupply the Jewish Quarter. With those examples fresh in her thoughts, she spoke aloud, "There are more who are with us than those who are against us."
Copyright © 2000 Bodie and Brock Thoene.
All rights reserved.