Talia in Heaven

Balkoff was standing in front of you and you took the opportunity to sketch out to him your theory about Jews and the diaspora: "You are a blind Jew, Igal," you said. "In Paranagua they denounce you and they will always denounce you as a foreigner. They will say you dedicated yourself to mixing into things that don't belong to you, that you rob flour from a sack that is not yours."

"I was born in this city. I am hers and she is mine," he replied.

"It doesn't matter. A Jew is always a citizen from another land — from the Other Land. We are a minority, we are a rara avis. We belong nowhere and everywhere, and we don't know who we are."

"Trotsky was a Jew," he said, and talked about his project of redemption. You were calm; your patience had returned. His longings sounded beautiful to you, even though unrealistic, perishable, and condemned to failure.

"Don't talk to me about Trotsky! Look how he ended up, Igal, like a sorry dog. He was an expatriate, like you and me. Your desires are laudable, but acting on them will condemn you to eternal infamy. In fact, you've already taken the steps that have been written, with blood and violent ink, toward your own death sentence."

You waited to see Balkoff's reaction and then you continued: "We are cysts. Jews are so attached to intellectual endeavors because concrete beings inspire in us a profound horror. We have created beautiful ideas, but ideas, remember, are abstractions, absences. What do we idolize? We idolize books, not icons. They will say you kill gentile babies to make matzoh for Passover, they will accuse you of villainy, of betrayal. Monotheism is an abstraction; it is an invention of man to justify himself and justify his ethical conduct. We are great codifiers of ethics, not promoters of policy. Think about the embarrassment of the Palestine situation? Look at the incapability we have to put ideas into practice, to concretize them. Think of Disraeli, of Kissinger, or Bar Kokhba. We argued for a promised and controversial land (Palestine), that in reality is the property of all the East, of no one, of the Vatican, of amnesty, of dissension. The idiosyncrasy that fits us best is absence, Igal. Zionism wounds us, nationality wounds us, it wounds us to be citizens, to belong, to form part of something. You love this land (because it's yours, you were born here), but you are, within its vineyards and under the shadow of its mountains, one member more of the Jewish minority, and minorities don't count, they should keep their mouths shut; this game we have to play, this is the price of expatriate existence. Instead of idols, we worship a book, The Book, with capitals `T' and `B.' We glorify it. We think it's eternal, that its author is not just anybody, but a Magnanimous Novelist, The Author, the One who knows past, present, and future. We are the characters of a novel that is being written every minute, we're successors of ancestors who began the role, who appeared in the first chapters, and we read those chapters in the synagogue every Saturday. This is our legacy, our responsibility: to continue reading, to continue writing. The Novel that contains us is a pilgrimage, a crossing, like the Divine Comedy or Pilgrim's Progress. And just like in mystery stories, we don't know the outcome. Your ancestors came to Paranagua by accident. You could just as easily see yourself as a Pole, Argentine, Mexican, Greek, or Canadian. You're a victim of destiny's coincidences, a product of the migratory human waves that work like a lottery, at random. You trust that this is your land but I doubt, frankly, that that's true. You occupy a singular place, privileged, like a citizen of the world, but nobody wants to hear anything more specific. We should continue worshipping our Book. That is our only flag."

"Nice speech, Talia. Too bad you're so mistaken. We cannot continue being pariahs, we have to enter the game, to participate. Looking in from afar is comfortable but not comforting, and it's not my fault that we live in bubbles far off the ground."

He stayed quiet and then added: "I like you, Talia. We kidnapped you because I wanted to have you near me."

"Liar. It's Stabans who likes me."

"That's possible, but those are just trifles. Me or Stabans, it's all the same to me. Anyway, I'm telling you now that the uprising will be in September. Dalton wants us to make a deal for you, but we don't really even need that ransom. We've raised the sum we need. So I think you should stay at our side, act along with us. You'll become part of history."

Igal left the cell door open behind him when he went out. You saw him go and followed his figure until it had dissipated in the darkness. You thought that you loved him. He represented, for you, praxis, action, courage. When was the last time you had collaborated in a collective project? As a child, you had sneered at youth organizations and camps and had unhesitatingly preferred reading. Life, you know it now, belongs to the believers. Religion signified for you something from the past. Balkoff, on the other hand, was a being of profound faith.