You’re a Good Man, Bibi Brown — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
“Fire! Fire! The Temple’s on fire!” I cry out, waking myself up.

Ilana rolls over and glares at me. “Calm down,” she says. “Your freedoms do not include shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded Temple.”

“Ohmigod,” I say. “I had the weirdest nightmare.”

“It must be something you didn’t eat,” Ilana suggests.

“I was a dog,” I say.

“A dog?”

“In a comic strip. And there was this music …”

“This is the fluff of which dreams are made?” Ilana sighs. “Let’s hear it…”

*

“We’re gonna play Great Rebellion,” says Bibi Brown. “This hill is Jerusalem, I am the hero Simon Bar-Giora, and we are the valiant Jews defending our nation against the evil Roman invaders.”

It’s a super-hot July day and the kids are all thinking that they’d rather just sit around and eat ice cream.

“Bibi,” I say, “can’t we defend Jerusalem some other day?” I don’t actually say this. The words appear in a balloon above my head, under which is a line of bubbles.

“Good grief, Snoopy. We must always be vigilant in our defense of Jerusalem,” Bibi Brown frowns at me. “Or else our enemies will take it from us.”

I look around. “I don’t see any enemies,” I say.

“Here is our enemy!” Bibi shouts, pointing at Franklin. “Franklin is the evil Roman general Titus, who has cut a path of slaughter and destruction through Galilee and Judea!”

“I have not,” Franklin objects.

“Franklin wouldn’t do a thing like that,” agrees Linus, who hugs his blanket close despite the heat.

“He would,” Bibi insists.

“Would not,” says Franklin.

“We all know you are a congenital Jew-hater,” Bibi Brown sneers. “You were born in Kenya and you’re really a Muslim.”

“I don’t get you, Bibi Brown,” Franklin says. “On Tuesday the hill was Afghanistan and I fought there to save you from the Islamic extremists. On Wednesday it was Iraq and I fought there to save you from atom bombs. Thursday you said it was Iran and you wanted me to save you from more atom bombs.”

“And did you?” Bibi Brown shouts.

“I couldn’t. After I came home Tuesday with holes in my knees and Wednesday with my shirt ripped, my Mom said I couldn’t invade any more countries until she bought me some new clothes.”

“I’m on Bibi’s side,” says Sally.”

“Then I’m on Franklin’s side,” says Lucy. “I’ll be the glamorous Bernice, the Jewish princess who falls in love with Titus.”

“Okay, and Linus can be Josephus, the Jewish traitor in Titus’s camp,” Bibi Brown says. “And Snoopy, you are Yohanan of Gush Halav, the Zealot Flying Ace who strafes the Roman camp.”

“The Jews didn’t have an air force then,” I bubble-think.

Bibi Brown ponders. “I only know how to play war with an air force.”

“I’ll be an arsonist,” I think.

“Okay, so be an arsonist. Schroeder, you give us some good war music.”

Schroeder begins playing.

“That’s too quiet,” Bibi Brown says. “Is it Beethoven?”

“It’s Mahler’s Ninth Symphony,” says Schroeder. “I figure you want something Jewish, no?”

“Beethoven wasn’t Jewish?” Bibi Brown is disappointed.

“No, sorry. But Mahler’s just for you. When he was a kid, someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. You know what he said? ‘A martyr.’”

“Then Mahler is better,” Bibi Brown decides. “We’ll go with Mahler.”

He listens a bit.

“I dunno, Schroeder. He sounds pretty desperate. Like he’s having a heart attack.”

“He was,” says Schroeder. “Also, his daughter had just died and he’d found out that his wife was having an affair with a uppity young architect.”

“Are you sure this is the right music?”

“Don’t worry, it gets better,” says Schroeder, swinging into the second movement.

“Okay,” says Bibi Brown. “So the courageous, unbending Jews are besieged in their eternal capital. We will never give in to Roman dictates!”

“But when I told you to halt settlement activity …” Franklin reminds him.

“I said that I would never compromise on the Jewish people’s right to settle everywhere in the Land of Israel!” Bibi Brown shouted.

“But you gave in.”

“Okay, once.”

“And when I said you should lift the siege of Gaza …”

“I said that the blockade was essential to protect Jewish lives and to obtain the return of our captured soldier. When it comes to Jewish lives, we stand firm!”

“But you gave in.”

“But this is Jerusalem,” says Bibi Brown. “This time I really mean it. Schroeder, that music is annoying. It sounds like a bunch of skeletons dancing.”

“Hitler banned it,” Schroeder noted.

“Well, then it must be good,” says Bibi Brown.

“So what do we do?” asks Linus.

Bibi Brown leads me and Sally up to the top of the hill. “God’s chosen people are on top of the hill,” he calls out to Franklin. “And you Romans are besieging us.”

“So what do we do?” Franklin shouts.

“Just sit there,” says Bibi Brown.

“That’s what we were doing before,” Franklin reminds him.

“Yes, but now you’re doing it for a reason,” Bibi Brown explains.

“And what do you do?” Linus asks.

“Yohanan of Gush Halav and I fight each other.”

“Wait, I’ll start the third movement,” says Schroeder.

“I thought we were supposed to be fighting them,” I bubble-think.

“How can we fight them,” Bibi Brown says, “until we know which of us is the most patriotic, Zionist, loyal, bestest Jew around?”

Bibi Brown punches me in the face as Schroeder’s right hand goes manically violent. I bite Bibi Brown’s left ear off. Bibi Brown kicks me in the groin. I knock him down and rub his face in the dirt.

“Great fighting music!” Bibi calls out. “This Mahler guy wasn’t so bad after all.”

“It’d be even better if I had trombones,” Schroeder says.

“What do I do now?” I bubble-think as Schroeder glissandos into a section where the winds take over the theme and slow it down as if they are gasping for breath.

“Go and burn the food stores,” Bibi Brown says.

“Burn the food stores? But we’re under siege. If we burn the food we’ll starve,” the balloon above my head objects. The music goes into a desperate coda.

“If they know we have food to spare, our soldiers won’t fight as if their lives depend on it,” Bibi Brown reasons.

“What about me?” mopes Sally. “You’re not giving me anything to do.”

“Your job,” says Bibi Brown, “Is to cook your children and eat them.”

“Ugh,” says Sally.

“You have to,” says Bibi Brown. “It’s part of the story.”

“Can’t we play different this time?” Sally suggests.

“No,” Bibi insists. “It has to be the same every time. Every time our enemies want to slaughter us, we fight each other, and we eat our children. Those are the rules.”

“I don’t like this game,” says Sally. “I’m leaving.”

“That’s right, run away. Go live the good life in Rome,” Bibi Brown mocks her.

A yellow bird in a fedora and a long black frock coat flutters down on my head.

“|///|\\\|||,” says the bird.

“Woodstock offers his services as a negotiator,” I bubble-inform Bibi Brown.

“Too bad we have no partner,” Bibi Brown says.

“Hey,” Franklin shouts. “Can we go home?”

“//////||||||\\\,” says Woodstock.

“Franklin wants to talk,” I point out.

“If we talk, we’ll have to compromise,” Bibi Brown says uncomfortably. “And I never compromise on principle.”

“||||||||,” Woodstock objects.

“Let me put it this way,” Bibi Brown corrects himself. “I only compromise on principle with ultra-Orthodox political parties.”

Woodstock jumps up in the air and lands on his back.

“What’s with him,” Bibi Brown asks.

“He’s dead.”

“It must be the music, Schroeder,” Bibi Brown calls out, “this music is depressing. It sounds like our whole world is coming apart.”

“Great!” says Schroeder. “Who says you don’t understand great music?”

“I’d better take Woodstock out and bury him,” I bubble-suggest.

“No one leaves,” says Bibi. “We’re all in this together.”

“But he’s dead.”

Bibi glares at Woodstock. Woodstock emits a death rattle. I carry him down to Franklin.

“////||||,” says Woodstock.

“He says you’re going to be emperor,” I tell Franklin

“I don’t want to be emperor. I just want to sit in the shade and have ice cream,” Franklin pouts.

“Abandoned by my erstwhile allies, I alone stand boldly in the face of the Roman onslaught!” Bibi Brown shouts. “Schroeder, we need something more martial and bombastic here. This Mahler guy makes it sound like it’s hopeless and we’re all going to die.”

“Shhh!” says Schroeder, his foot on the soft pedal and his fingers brushing off soft, slow D-flat major chords as he brings the fourth movement to a wistful, mournful conclusion.

“Wow,” says Franklin after a long pause. “Wow.”

Schroeder looks up. “We all die. That’s how the story ends.”

“Yes!” Bibi Brown shouts. “We die boldly, courageously, having defended our national honor!”

“We die,” Schroeder shrugs. “That’s all.”

“It makes you feel like we’ll never play again,” says Lucy.

“But we will play again tomorrow,” says Sally. “Just a different game.”

“Maybe some fun with a little more funny in it,” Linus suggests.

“We could go back to Beethoven,” Schroeder suggests. “Maybe the Second Symphony. It’s hilarious.”

“See you tomorrow,” says Franklin.

“Come on,” I bubble-think to Woodstock. “It’s time for a nice afternoon snooze.”

“You know,” says Lucy, “I kinda miss the days when his name was Charlie and he was wishy-washy.”

“Hey, where’s everyone going?” Bibi Brown shouts. “We’ve still got Masada to do! What kind of Jews are you?”

“A different kind,” Linus mutters. “A very different kind.”

*

Silence.

“So?” says Ilana.

“That’s it,” I reply.

“Where’s the burning Temple?”

I ponder. “Well, it was in there somewhere. What do you think the dream means?”

“I think,” Ilana says gravely, “that it was sent to us by a benevolent God.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because,” she says, “it’s made me lose my appetite. Which is a great blessing on the Ninth of Av.”

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