Pilgrims Progress

by Neph

More than 950 years ago a man who lived in the Land of Israel wrote a newsy letter to his friend who lived in Cairo, Egypt. That letter happened to be preserved in a junk room in a Cairo synagogue and is now part of a priceless collection housed in Cambridge University, England (catalogue number T-S 8J22.25). One item in this newsy letter concerned a group of Jewish pilgrims who had stopped in the town of Ramleh, there to spend the holy Day of Atonement before continuing on their journey to Jerusalem. This was September 7th 1052. At a certain point in the solemn service in the synagogue two men got up and started kissing each other erotically. A near riot ensued and the Moslem police were called in to restore order. This much is historical fact. The rest of the story told here is pure imagination.



I heard her voice but decided to try my luck and ignore it. How silly of me it was to think I would have luck like that! Eema was a very determined lady.

"Rami!" More urgent this time, with a hint of impatience.

It's not as if I was doing anything really important. Well, you probably wouldn't think that it was important; to me it was. I was sitting on the quayside, dangling my bare feet in the water, watching the birds skimming across the sea, the fish almost jumping out of the water, the clouds race across the clear blue sky through the heat haze and I was thinking, "God, what a wonderful world You have made. There really is nothing more peaceful and more inspiring than just sitting here watching the fishermen tie back their sails and the merchants store their wares, hearing the gulls cry and feeling the heat of the sun."

I did have one secret that was just between me and God, though. While the hot sun baked my skin to a dark brown, I followed the movements of the muscular fishermen - especially my childhood friend, Solomon - as they rolled the thick ropes and loaded their catch, their strong arms and chests heaving with the exertion. At fifteen, I had felt ashamed of my reaction to their bodies, but now I knew I was different; and part of my prayer to God was that he might, one day, give me someone to love; but someone with strong arms and a body like mine.

"Rami!" This time Eema's tone was showing distinct signs of vexation. Dammit. She was canny and realized that I was well within earshot. I was going to have to come out of my rêverie. I felt that I was being rudely interrupted while doing something almost holy. Some people really enjoy worshipping God in synagogues with long and tedious prayers; others worship the Lord by studying holy books from dawn until late in the evening; I get my religious highs by enjoying the world that God made for us; the birds, the fish, the sky and the people. So, in a way, Eema was interrupting me at my prayers!

"Rami! I know you can hear me!" she called, her hands jammed on her ample hips, her apron flecked with flour from the morning's baking.

I turned my head, but didn't get up because my physical reaction to those fishermen was quite evident, and insisted - as usual - on declaring its presence to the world even through my clothes.

"Hello, Eema. I'm here by the quayside. I can hear you."

"Rami, the rabbi wants to see you in his study at noon. You'd better get a move on so that you won't be late."

"Yes, Eema; I'll be there." And then as an afterthought, almost knowing what was going on in her mind, "And I won't be late."

I dragged my feet from the water, slipped them still wet into my sandals, and stood up. As I made my way back from the water's edge into town I thought about Eema's message. It was so typical of her to refer to her husband as "the rabbi" rather than call him by his name in front of me! What an indignity that would be in her lights.

Don't get me wrong. I love Eema very much. She was like a mother to me. In fact she is the only woman whom I have ever known as mother. When I was a babe Eema and the rabbi had taken me into their home and treated me like the son they had never had. So really my parents were 'Rabbi' and Eema. (Her real name was Rebecca, but I always called her Eema, a term of endearment for 'mother'.)

I dragged my feet away from the water's edge unwillingly. But a summons to the rabbi's study was a summons I dare not refuse. I walked really slowly, because it was very hot, stifling hot. Oh, I forgot! We lived in Tiberias. Tiberias, as you probably know, is a town on the western shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. I don't know why it's called a sea because it's not all that wide. Standing at the quayside in Tiberias on a clear day you can easily see the opposite shore, and behind it rising up from the lakeside the sheer cliffs leading up to the Heights of Golan, beyond which lies the great city of Damascus. If you know where to look you can also see at the southern end of the lake the exit where the waters flow into the river Jordan. Our town, our lake and our river are all in a deep rift valley that runs from north to south. Far off to the west is the great Mediterranean sea; but it takes three or fours days fast travelling to get there. I've been to that sea shore once or twice - to Sidon, on urgent errands for the rabbi - and I can tell you that our town, our lake and our river are all much, much lower down into the earth than is the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. I suppose that's why on a blistering summer's day it gets so hot and so sultry in Tiberias. But now I am repeating myself.

On this day it was so hot that you could see what looked like steam rising from the sea. It was noon time and because of the heat there was almost no one about. I mean, who would want to be out and about at noon on a day like that if they really didn't have to? I certainly did not want to be away from my place of work - which, in our town, was probably one of the coolest places to be on a day like that. But the rabbi had summoned me to a meeting with him, so I had little choice.

I reached home and Eema fussed over me. "Just look at you! You can't go in to the rabbi looking like that, you ragamuffin!"

"Yes I can, Eema," I said gently. "It's a hot day for him as much as it is for me." And I knocked on the rabbi's door before she could take the argument any further.


I opened the door, stepped inside the tiny room and closed the door behind me. He was quite literally surrounded by his scrolls on which were written so many precious writings: books of the bible and the Talmuds and more scrolls of many commentaries that had been written on them. There was just one window in this room, so it was quite stifling; but the rabbi seemed oblivious to the heat. He greeted me warmly, thanked me for coming and for being so prompt and indicated a stool on the opposite side of his desk where I could sit.

"Abraham," he began. I winced. I so hated that name; it was so stodgy-sounding. But he would never call me by my nickname, which I much preferred: that would have been too common. When I had once asked him please not to call me Abraham he had lectured me for half an hour on how honoured I should be that my father had named me after the founder of our people and our religion... and so on and so on. It was useless asking, so I never did again.

"Abraham," he began, as I said. (Why do I keep repeating myself? I must try not to.) "Next month you will be eighteen years old, God willing."

"Yes, rabbi," I responded dutifully. But I had a terrible premonition of what he was going to say next. And he did not prove me wrong!

"I have taught you many folios of Talmud, so you must recall what our sages of blessed memory have said in the tractate which deals with marriage laws."

I bit my lip and didn't point out that for me the memory of our sages would be much more blessed if he didn't mention them quite so often. I don't want you to get the wrong idea: I believe and I am dutifully observant; I just sometimes feel that enough is enough and that people who are 'professionally' religious make demands on us that are just too much. Do you know what I mean?

"Yes, Rabbi," I responded - meaning that I did (unfortunately) recall what our sages (of blessed memory) had said about eighteenth birthdays and marriage.

"Then please repeat to me what Rabbi Huna of blessed memory said."

I winced. "Do I have to, Rabbi?" Please say no. Please let me off the hook.

"Yes, please, Abraham. The sages of blessed memory tell us that we must constantly revise our learning, otherwise we shall forget it - God forbid!"

Once again I felt like the child I once was, in this same room, when day after day, month after month and year after year he had taught me all I know.

"Rabbi Huna says that God waits patiently until a man is twenty years old. If he reaches twenty years and has not yet married his whole life is spent in sin."

"Very good, Abraham," he commended me. "And what sin is it that Rabbi Huna refers to?"

I was embarrassed.

"I see by your reddening face that you do know what he was referring to. At your age a man is full of seed. That seed is for the purposes of procreation. If that seed does not regularly find its way into a woman's womb the man will be full of lascivious thoughts about women and will find other ways to fulfill his urgent need to expel seed."

I squirmed in my seat. Please stop! Please stop! This is so embarrassing. I am not an innocent eight year old who will dutifully lap up everything with non comprehension. Such I was when you taught me, but now I am a man, not a child. Next thing he will ask me whether I 'expel seed' in the way he meant. What would I say? I cannot lie to him. But I cannot tell him the truth either.

Actually, he phrased his question in such a way that I had to do neither!

"Abraham," he said sternly, "do you have lascivious thoughts about women?"

"No, Rabbi, I do not."

He looked at me quizzically, not certain whether I was answering him honestly or not. "Are you sure about that?"

"Yes, Rabbi; I can honestly and truthfully say that I do not have lascivious thoughts about women." And I am certainly not going to volunteer the information that I do have lascivious thoughts about men and that I do a lot of 'seed expelling' while thinking those thoughts. The dear man would have died of an apoplexy on the spot.

"Well, I am pleased to hear that you are pure and holy in your thoughts. When your father died I took you into my home and brought you up as my son. I would expect no less from a rabbi's son."

My real mother had died in childbirth - and it was I, the innocent newborn, that killed her. My father was a fisherman, and one day, when I was about four years old, his boat was caught in a violent storm on the lake; it capsized and he was drowned. The rabbi and his wife took me into their home and gave me what love they could. I can honestly say that if it were not for the rabbi I would not be able to read and write and count and so on.

"Now, Abraham, the continuation, please."

"Rabbi Hisda says: I am superior to my colleagues in that I was married at 16 years of age; if I had been married at 14 years of age I would never have sinned in my whole life." And then I added, gratuitously, just as I would have done ten years previously, "by that he means that he would never have sinned by ... er ... by expelling seed and having lascivious thoughts."

"Ah, yes," said the rabbi with great satisfaction, as if I were a witness in court who had been brought to admit an unwelcome fact. He was as delighted now with my display of erudition as he would have been a decade previously. "And now tell me what follows."

"Rabbi Nathan says that while a father still has control over his son he must see that he is married by the age of eighteen."

"Exactly," he said in a tone of great satisfaction, again as if he had brought me to admit what he wanted me to admit. There was a very long pause. "So you see, Abraham, since I am your father, as it were, and since very soon you will be eighteen years old it is my duty to see that you are suitably married."

What? What did he say? Married? Me?! No! I can't be married! I can't do it! Well, it's not that I don't know how to do 'it'; every boy in Tiberias knows how to do 'it'. It's just that I am not capable of doing 'it' with a woman. I can't do it.

My voice quivered as I waffled, searching for a way out of the predicament into which he had led me.

"Rabbi, I don't think that I am ... I am... I don't think that I am yet ready for marriage."

"Why not?"

Why not, indeed. Most of the kids I grew up with are all married. I must have been one of the very few 17 year olds in Tiberias who was not yet married. Why, dear old Sol had been doing 'it' with his Sarah now for eighteen months!

"Because... because..."

God, help me! Help me find the words. Any words.

"Um … because I have not found a woman whom I could love and care for."

Again, that was certainly the truth. Oh, how sometimes we lie most cogently when we are telling the absolute truth.

"Sometimes, my son, love comes after marriage, not before," he said very gently. I was sure he was thinking of himself and Eema. "And there are very many successful marriages that are not founded on love. Mutual respect will also suffice." I made no reply. Now I was certain that he was talking about himself and Eema. "Is there no young woman in Tiberias who would be suitable in your eyes?"

"In very truth, Rabbi, there is not one. I have seen no woman with whom I would care to set up a household." Again, although I was lying to him I was telling the absolute truth. I felt very uncomfortable about it. He did not deserve this of me.

"I see," he said, though I am sure that he did not see. "Do you think that you might find a woman outside Tiberias?"

"I suppose it is possible," I said.

Well, I suppose anything is possible, so again I did not think I was lying to him. Well, not really. But it was a lie because I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no woman in the whole wide world with whom I might ever want to do 'it'.

"There is a group organizing at the moment," he said, more to himself than to me. "They will be setting off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and hope to spend the festival of Tabernacles there in a few weeks' time. If you were to join their caravan and see a lot more of the world you may find someone with whom you could share your life. Will you go on this pilgrimage, Abraham?"

"Yes, Rabbi," I said - hardly believing that the words had come from my mouth.

Of course I had the greatest doubts about all this. When the interview was over I tried to work out how he had done it. But what was the point of trying to work it out? I had given my assent to the idea of going on a pilgrimage and now there was no way that I could back out of it. The more I thought about the idea the less obnoxious it seemed to me. I would get to see other places; I would get to Jerusalem, the holy city; and I might get to see someone I liked... Well, no, it wouldn't be a woman, but... So, yes, I would go on this pilgrimage.

* * * * *

I spent most of the next month tying up ends, as it were, so that I could leave with no strings left untied. The pilgrim caravan was due to leave Tiberias on 9th August, which left me only six days to get everything organized. My most urgent task was to find a replacement for my job.

I was the town's bath-house attendant. Everyone comes to the bath-house several times a week in order to wash. There is a bath-house for women and another for men. I, obviously, was the attendant of the men's bath-house. From an early age I had accompanied my stepfather to the bath-house in order to assist him in his ablutions. The other men used to pay me, then just a little whippersnapper, a few piasters to look after their clothes while they were bathing or to bring them soap or a towel and so forth. So it just seemed natural that when I was about 14 and already considered adult that I would be appointed bath-house attendant in place of the old man who had just retired.

My duties involved me attending to three different places. In addition to the bath-house I was also the attendant at the adjoining ritual bath. This was not for physical hygiene but for spiritual purification. The third place was out of town. About one hour's walk south of Tiberias were the hot springs of the Hamat spa. People with aching limbs would go to bathe there in the hot waters to get relief. I would attend them there as well.

You may be thinking that being a bath-house attendant is a very lowly occupation for someone of my standing. Well, it is. So why did I choose it? Well, as I have already explained, it wasn't so much that I chose it as that it chose me. But I don't want you to misunderstand. I loved that job. It gave me great satisfaction. But I don't suppose you could understand that, so I'll try to explain; but it won't be easy.

You must have understood by now that I am different from most men. Most men desire women. I do not. Ever since I have known myself I have been attracted to people of my same sex. Are you shocked? I know you're asking yourself how I can be religious and still be attracted to men. I have no answer for that. I am what I am - both religious and feeling great feelings for men. I am, just as you are. I am me.

I got my erotic satisfaction in two ways. Firstly, I would get to see all the males of Tiberias naked. I admit that the older men were not as attractive, but the young men who came for their baths were! They would undress and leave their clothes with me. They would stand casually, their naked bodies relaxed, giving me time to admire them and then they would slip into the warm water, soap themselves, sliding the soap bar over the tight muscles of their chests and then plunging it under the surface to wash their private parts, then sinking under to rinse off. If they weren't in a hurry, they would laze around the pool for some time, laughing and telling stories of their jobs and families. When they were ready, they would climb out of the pool and I would wrap each of them in a clean white sheet and rub them dry. Sometimes, they would lie down on a marble slab while I massaged away their aches, their pains and their strained muscles. I don't think they ever realised that my gentle fingers would linger just a little longer than needed. I loved massaging away Solomon's aches because he was my friend and lay totally relaxed in my gaze. I would daydream about what it would be like to touch him more intimately and even watched, as occasionally , he grew hard while talking to me about his future bride, Sarah. He would be embarrassed; I would be thrilled. There was hardly any part of the body of any young man in Tiberias that I had not touched intimately and yet, I knew none of these young men were for me.

The other way that I got my erotic satisfaction was when I got home. I would lie down on my bed completely naked and 'expel seed' several times, thinking of all the beautiful young bodies, the taut thighs and the glistening buttocks, that I had attended earlier in the day. Sol would, many times, be the center of this fantasy as I pretended it was me, Rami, and not Sarah, who made him harden in lust.

I managed to find a young man who wanted my job and I gladly appointed him my substitute until I returned.

* * * * *

The great day arrived. There were about fifteen of us from Tiberias. All eight members of the Ben-Israel family were going, including their six children. The eldest was 12 years old and they were going on this pilgrimage so that he could celebrate his Bar-Mitzvah in Jerusalem. The youngest of the Ben-Israel clan was 3 years old. Then there was Isaac and his wife Sarah: they had been married now for three years and still had no children, so they were going on the pilgrimage so that Sarah could pray at Mother Rachel's tomb. Three elderly men were also going: Moshe, Yakov and Daniel. They just wanted to visit Jerusalem before they died. Old mother Rebecca was also travelling with us. She wasn't going all the way to Jerusalem. She was just going with us as far as Ramleh where she was going to live with her married sister. And there was me.

Yakov was driving his cart and all the womenfolk seated themselves sedately in it. Moshe was driving a second cart which had room for the men and all the luggage. Daniel sat up top with him for company. David Ben-Israel and I and some of the Ben-Israel children preferred to walk alongside at least some of the way.

It seemed as if the whole town had assembled to see us off. The rabbi gave us all his blessing, and typically he made every effort not to single me out for special mention. It was a sweltering August day. We started off going up the long ascent out of town, moving westwards. When we had gained sufficient height I looked back to catch a last glimpse of my beloved Sea of Galilee, but the steam haze coming up from the water shrouded the whole lake in an impenetrable mist.

By mid-afternoon and after a rather gruelling climb we had gained the high ground. Suddenly the air was fresh and sweet, the countryside lush and green. I felt free, happy, elated. By evening we reached a small roadside inn. The Ben-Israel family got the main room with the huge bed which held all eight of them; in the smaller room there were two beds: Isaac and his wife bunked in together with old Rebecca in one of them and Moshe, Yakov and Daniel got the other bed. I got to sleep on the table in the dining area.

By the end of the third day we had reached the great valley pass of Megiddo. On one side the massive hills of the Carmel range sloped up westwards towards the sea; and on the other side the mountains of Samaria loomed south-eastwards. In the gap between these two mountain ranges nestled Har Megiddo, Mount Megiddo. This gap was one of the most fought-after spots in the country: whoever controlled the Megiddo gap controlled the flow of people, goods and ideas between Asia and Africa. It was here that the "Royal Road" from Damascus in the north met the Via Maris, the Coastal Highway which led southwards towards Egypt. In the inn that night a Christian pilgrim told me that the Greeks had mis-heard the name Har Megiddo and rendered it Armageddon; the Christians, it seems, believed that the last battle in the history of the world would be fought here. Well, I don't know about that, but I bet that one of the first battles in the history of man was fought for dominance of this strategic spot.

At Megiddo there were, of course, several very large inns. But there were so many travellers coming from different parts that all of them were very crowded. About an hour after we arrived, another group of pilgrims stopped at the inn. They were from Tyre and the surrounding country and they, too, were heading for Jerusalem. We decided that the two groups would travel on together. Their group was larger than ours and by the time that almost everyone had found accommodation there were just two people left: me and a young man from Tyre who was about my age. At last I would have company!


I suppose the first thing that you would want to know about me is my name and where I come from. My name is Saul. I come from the seaport of Tyre. The next thing you will want to know about me, I suppose, is how I came to that inn at the Megiddo pass. I'm afraid that it's a rather long, sorry tale.

My family is very rich and very influential in the Jewish community of Tyre. My father is - or, at least, he was last time I saw him, which was quite some time ago - rather a tycoon. He inherited his wealth from his father and certainly greatly increased the legacy that he intended to leave for me. The family business was anything to do with ships: we built them, we fished in them, we provided passenger transport in them, we rented them out, we transported goods - anything that could be done in a ship our family business provided the service. And the service didn't come cheap, either.

My father made certain that I learned all the ins and outs of the business the hard way. There was to be no molly-coddling for me! By the time I was fourteen I was already involved in the business, learning the ropes as it were. And I certainly got to see a bit of the outside world. I was made part of the crew of a ship that was transporting wood to Alexandria in Egypt; then I was assigned to a passenger transport from Tyre to Athens in Greece; when I was seconded to a fishing boat we called in at Sidon, just down the coast from Tyre, and then at several small ports in the island of Cyprus; and by the time I was fifteen I had already done my 'apprenticeship' in the company's counting house. My father was very proud of me because he could see that I would make a most suitable heir to the family fortune. Things started to go wrong when I was seventeen.

One day, when I had finished balancing the day's accounts in the counting house down by the quayside, my father came into the room and sat down opposite me, his face beaming with delight. It was clear that he was bursting with some special news, so I looked at him expectantly.

"Saul, my boy," he said almost breathless with excitement, "today I have done for you the very best thing that a father can ever do for a son."

"What's that, father?" I asked. There was a slight tremor in my voice because experience had taught me that sometimes my father would 'arrange' things for other members of the family that they would rather not have had arranged for them. But father was a very 'patriarchal' figure in that he insisted that within the family circle and among our employees his word must be unquestioned law.

"Today I signed a marriage contract with old Aaron: he has a most beautiful daughter, Miriam. Saul, my boy, you're going to get married! Isn't that wonderful?"

I was in shock. I tried to get some words out but none would come into my head. Indeed, I tried to get a thought into my head - any thought - but the shock was so great that I couldn't think at all.

"Well say something, Saul. Aren't you going to thank your papa for arranging for you the most desirable catch in Tyre? You will never be able to guess the sum of the marriage contract that I managed to get out of old Aaron. You are going to be rich, my boy, very rich."

Still I could find nothing to say.

" I see that you are overwhelmed with gratitude. Well, I suppose that's to be expected. What with that marriage settlement from Aaron and what I shall be giving you, my boy, you and Miriam will be settled for a life of comfort and ease. You will never have to want for anything. By the way, I told Aaron that you would come round this evening after prayers to meet your bride."

At last I found something to say: "Papa, I can't go round this evening; we have a board meeting." Can you imagine? The most inane thing of all to say.

"That's my boy - always has his mind on the business. Well done, lad. But don't worry: I've cancelled this evening's meeting of the board; or rather, I've postponed it until tomorrow. Tonight you celebrate. Tonight we all celebrate!"

Slowly, my wits were returning after the shock. He would expect me to show him my gratitude. I got up and went over to where he was sitting. I took his hand in mine and bent over it and kissed the bridge of his hand as is customary. "Thank you, father."

He beamed, he positively shone. He was so wrapped up in the wonderful deal that he had struck that he was oblivious to the emotions that were raging inside me.

He rose and started towards the door. "Let's go, Saul, or we'll be late for prayers." He threw out his chest and swept through the door like an emperor newly come into his empire. I followed him, bewildered, a few paces behind.

You probably think that I should have objected, that I should have told my father that I would choose my own wife and that I didn't need someone else to do it for me. If you think that you just don't understand how things are done in families like mine. Father's word is not to be gainsaid. Judge me as you will, but remember that it is not fair to judge someone until you have been in their position.

I will not bother you with the whole story of how Miriam and I eventually met, our spectacular wedding and the accompanying celebrations: none of this is relevant to that part of my story which concerns us here. So, let me go straight to the essentials. This is going to be very embarrassing for me.

After the wedding feast Miriam and I were led through the streets of Tyre to the house that my new father-in-law had bought for us in a very respectable part of town. Our procession, of course, was accompanied by hordes of people dancing around us and singing at the top of their voices. I cringed at this, because I hate being the centre of attention, especially in public. But, of course, I had to smile and clap my hands as if I was really enjoying myself. It was expected of me, and by now you must have realized that I am the kind of person who almost invariably does what is expected of him.

Our procession reached the house and we were led directly to the bedroom. Only when we had been escorted into the bedroom did the celebrating masses leave us, and the door was discreetly closed. We were alone.

What do you want? That I tell you all the salubrious details? Look elsewhere for such things. All I can tell you is that nothing happened. Nothing. Nothing at all.

There was my new wife lying seductively in bed. I knew what I should be feeling, but I was feeling nothing. Naked and embarrassed I climbed into bed next to her, hoping deep down inside that the touch of flesh on flesh would somehow ignite the fire that any Tyrian youngster knew should already be aflame. Nothing. Nothing at all. Limp, utterly limp.

She was very considerate. She put it down to tiredness after such a long and exciting day. That was kind of her, but I knew better. At that moment in my life I suddenly understood myself. For seventeen years I had realized that there was something 'peculiar' about me, but I had always assumed that it was something that would pass with age: I would get married and everything would be all right.

I hoped against hope that somehow or other I would be able to do 'it' - maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Maybe I really was too tired. Maybe I had some passing illness down there. But the following day all my hopes were dashed and I was forced to come face to face with my real self. I went down to the baths and the usual happened. The sight of all those young, naked male bodies did to me what it usually did. As always, I held my towel demurely in front of me so that no one could see - until I was already in the water and creating so many soap suds that nothing could be seen. This is what had been my routine for about five years now. But on this day I had to face the truth. It wasn't tiredness and it wasn't a passing illness - because there it was, as hard as one could imagine. And I was full of a lust which was demanding some kind of relief.

I was determined to fight this 'peculiarity'. I would force myself to be 'normal', just like all the other young husbands. But that night I had to go through the same shameful experience. And the same happened every night thereafter until, thank God, Miriam got her monthly visitation and I was off the hook for almost two weeks - five days of bleeding and seven 'clean' days. Then, on the night of the seventh 'clean' day, she would go to the ritual bath and we would start the shameful game all over again.

During the period of respite I went to a 'wise' old Moslem who gave me some unguent to smear on every night until it got better. But it didn't get better. Well, that's not quite true, because in the bath house it got better and better; but, in bed with Miriam, nothing. Nothing at all.

Soon it was clear that Miriam had been talking to her mother. First of all she tried all sorts of 'tricks' to warm up my desire, but none of those 'woman' tricks worked. This went on for three whole months. And meanwhile I was getting more and more depressed. I hardly ate anything, I couldn't concentrate at my work in the counting house, I wasn't interested in getting together with friends, and my temper was getting very short indeed - and, of course, poor Miriam was getting the worst of my bad moods. And she deserved it the least, since she had been as considerate and as patient as one could imagine.

After about five months had passed we stopped trying and Miriam would weep herself to sleep every night while I lay there fuming against myself for being such a wretched husband, such a failure as a man. Then one night she turned to me and asked the obvious question: "Saul, don't you love me? Am I not desirable in your eyes?" I tried to comfort her, making all sorts of lame excuses and worthless promises, but we both knew already that nothing would ever come of our marriage.

My father gave me a stern dressing down. Old Aaron had spoken to Papa warning him to make sure that I did my duty by his daughter. I won't recount that conversation because I am too ashamed. I have never felt so small, insignificant and worthless in my life. But, of course, none of this helped, and matters between Miriam and me just went from bad to worse. On the first anniversary of our marriage Miriam - through her father, of course - sued for divorce in the Rabbinical Court of Tyre.

Of course, I agreed to divorce her and the settlement saw to the return of everything that her father had given us. But the Jewish community of Tyre was small and compact, and very soon the whole town knew why Miriam and I had split up: "He wasn't able to do it." My father was furious because 'he' had been shamed publicly as it were. There was only one way in which the family would stand a chance of recouping honour and prestige: I had to be out of sight in order to be out of mind.

One day my father summoned me into his presence and very tersely said, "Tomorrow a group of pilgrims is leaving Tyre. They are aiming to spend the festival of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. You are going to join that pilgrimage. In this purse is enough money to see you through the journey." With that he stood up and left the room. Those were the last words my father has spoken to me since that day. The amount of money that was in the purse was much more than was needed just for the journey; it was clear to me that he did not expect or want me to return to Tyre.

I joined the group of pilgrims and we set off on our southward journey. Since we were all from Tyre hardly anybody spoke to me for four whole days. On the fifth day of travel we reached the pass of Megiddo where we found another group of pilgrims, and it was generally agreed that the two groups would link up and travel together: there is greater safety in numbers.

It was getting dark when we arrived, and the inn was already full. Somehow or other room was found for almost all the travellers. I knew that none of my group would be interested in what happened to me or where I slept. As everyone moved off into their accommodations I suddenly realized that I was not the only one left out: there was a young man, about my age, who was also alone. The innkeeper brought us a blanket. "I'm sorry that there is no more room," he said, "and I have only been able to find one blanket for the two of you, but you are very welcome to bed down together here in the main hall."

Not only was I glad of the company, but I was also so tired that I readily accepted. My companion also accepted the offer gladly. "All right, then," said the innkeeper. "Good night to you both. I hope you will not find the floor too hard a bed." With that he doused the remaining candles and left us to our own devices.


This is Rami picking up the story once again. It was one of those very hot and sultry August nights - the kind when it is more pleasant outside than in. I picked up the blanket and was about to spread it on the floor when an idea came into my mind. "What do you think of spending the night outside on the grass? There's a tree out there we can sleep under. What do you think?"

"It's all right with me if it's all right with you," said my companion, just a little hesitantly. I paid no attention to the hesitation and walked out into the pleasant night air. He followed me. I headed for the tree which was way to the left of the entrance to the inn and spread the blanket down on the ground. I lay myself down, fully clothed, and pointed to the other half of the blanket at my side. "Won't you join me?" I said.

He sat down next to me, but instead of lying down he sat hugging his knees. There was an awkward silence. After about ten seconds of painful silence I decided to speak.

"We're going to spend the night together and we haven't even introduced ourselves," I said jovially - perhaps a little too jovially. "My name is Rami. Well, Abraham, if you really want to know; but please call me Rami."

"Hello, Rami. How do you do? Nice to meet you," he said, without even looking at me.

I waited patiently but he had fallen silent again. "Won't you tell me your name?" I asked encouragingly.

He sighed and then finally looked at me. I could see that there was pain in his eyes. But he smiled a wan smile. "My name is Saul."

"Where are you from, Saul?"

"From Tyre. Where are you from?"

"From Tiberias. How old are you?"

"Eighteen. And you?"

"Almost eighteen."

Suddenly our conversation seemed to have come to an end and there was another painful silence. When it had gone on a little too long for comfort both of us started talking at the same time. I laughed and Saul smiled. "I'm sorry," he said. "What was it you were going to say?"

"I was going to ask what brought you on this pilgrimage." He was silent again and went back to hugging his knees, bent over them so that I could not see his face. When he had again been silent for a little too long I hastily added, "Of course, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"It's not that I don't want to," he said. "It's that I can't find the right words. Maybe you should tell me first why you have come on this pilgrimage."

He had neatly thrown it back on me. "I came on this wretched pilgrimage because my step-father wanted me to marry and I didn't want to marry anybody back home. I am supposed to be looking for a wife as well as looking after my soul," I said, rather a little too jocularly.

At that he sat up and looked at me. "Do you want to get married?"

Now he had me! What was I to say? I was searching for the words, but unlike that conversation with the Rabbi for some reason I could not bring myself to deceive Saul. "No, I don't think I do want to get married."

"Why not?" Of course, that question was the inevitable follow-up. Why hadn't I seen it coming? For the first time that evening I was confused and felt that I had lost control of the conversation. But he was looking at me so earnestly, so expectantly, so hopefully, I had to say something. I decided to be as honest as I dared. "Saul," I said gently, "I would have to know you a lot better before I could tell you that."

Suddenly his eyes lit up as if he had seen some revelation, some inner intuition. He looked at me with moisture forming in his eyes. Clearly, he was making an effort not to weep. He put out his right hand and touched me on my knee, patting it. "It's all right. I understand. You will tell me about it when you feel ready. Also, I'm not ready yet to tell you my story."

I looked at his hand on my knee and then I looked at him; he must have completely misunderstood my intention because he jerked his hand away from my knee, completely abashed. Again he sat hunched up over his knees. Again, a painful silence. Of course, I knew what was going on in his mind. He was cursing himself for having done something that would make me think that he was ... well, like me - but he could not know that. I so much wanted to say something to this person in distress. I could already tell that I liked him very much. But try as hard as I did I just could not find any words to say. Then suddenly his whole body convulsed and his shoulders heaved uncontrollably. I was truly alarmed until I heard the sounds that accompanied the convulsion: he was weeping.

The moment I heard the sounds of his heart's anguish my own heart was filled with a deep compassion that I had never felt before. It was almost like a sense of identity: this young man was hurting - and it hurt me terribly that he was. As if driven by an inner compulsion that I would not have been able to control rationally even if I had tried, I moved closer to him and put an arm around his heaving shoulders. It just seemed the most natural thing to do.

"Shh, Saulie. Don't cry."

How banal! What a silly thing to say! Why shouldn't he cry? What creature on God's earth does not cry when it is suffering?

I hugged him tighter and it felt so good to be doing so, so right. Slowly his sobbing subsided. I think I was on the verge of tears as well. I was afraid that he might misinterpret the way I was hugging him. Well, actually, it would not have been a misinterpretation, of course, but at that stage I could not let him know that. For some mysterious reason I could already understand that I felt for this person something that I had never felt for another man in my life. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted to protect him from harm. I wanted him to be at peace with himself, with the world and with me. Isn't it strange what a multitude of feelings there can be in a simple hug?

Anyway, I forced myself to remove my arm now that he had regained control of himself. Then he said something that filled my heart with joy and hope. Without looking at me he said, "That felt good - the feel of your arm." I returned my arm to where it had been before, around his shoulders. I felt him relax and fall back into my arm. I supported his weight, realizing that clearly he felt as good about this as I did. He sat up and looked at me, again that earnest, imploring look in his eyes.

"I so badly need a friend. Will you be my friend?"

"Saulie, Saulie, we are already friends!"

"You don't know how much that means to me."

"Maybe not," I said gently. "And then again, maybe I can guess some of it."

He looked at me again, searching in my eyes, looking for some clue. "I think," he said, "that if I had not found you I would have gone mad."

"Whatever it was, whatever it is, we can put it all behind us now."

He looked at me again. "We?" he queried. Then suddenly, just as I was about to say something - probably banal, as usual - he placed a finger on my lips. "No! Don't say anything. Let's leave it at that."

He hugged his knees again, obviously fearful once again that he had gone too far. But my arm was still around his shoulders. "I have been to hell and back again," he said. "I have been so lonely, so utterly wretched and alone. You cannot even begin to imagine what I have been through this past year."

"You need never feel lonely again. You have a friend now. And I have a friend now, too. Let the past go, whatever it was. Let's sleep. We can try to understand each other better in the morning."

I lay down on the blanket, pulling him after me. Without hesitation, he cuddled up to me like a baby. He was facing away from me, but I had one arm underneath him and the other lying over his body. Gently and with a sigh he pushed his body next to mine. Quite soon he fell into a deep sleep. For a while I listened to his regular breathing. Then I, too, tired and fell asleep.

* * * * *

He was the first to wake up the following morning. He tried gently to move my arm from off of him and the movement woke me. I now remember feeling cozily drowsy, not really awake. I mumbled, "Don't. Let me stay. It feels so good."

"Rami! Wake up!. It's broad daylight already!" But I didn't want to wake up. I didn't want this feeling of cozy togetherness ever to end. "Go back to sleep," I mumbled.

"Rami, come on! People are moving inside. We can't let people see us like this!"

Reluctantly, I woke up. "Why not?" I asked. "What's wrong?" Then suddenly I realized what he meant. If people found two young men lying on a blanket together one in the arms of the other they might jump to conclusions. Never mind that they might have come to the right conclusions: neither of us was ready to admit the rightness of those conclusions.

Blushing, I jumped up. Saulie took one side of the blanket and I took the other and we shook it clean. As we drew near to each other to fold the blanket I let my hands touch his. His eyes lit up. But nevertheless he said, "Don't, Rami. Please." I let it go. It had seemed so right to me, but obviously it was something that he had some difficulty with. Inwardly, my heart sank with disappointment, but for his sake I made light of it.

We took the blanket into the inn only to find that the only person yet up was the innkeeper. "Did you sleep well?" he asked courteously.

"Yes, thank you," Saul said - just a little too quickly, I thought. "It was so stuffy in here last night that we preferred to sleep outside," he said.

"That's all right," said the innkeeper. "Lots of people do that."

We gave him the blanket.

"I have here the key to the bath house," he said, pulling the key out of his apron. "Since you are up so early, would you like to go and bathe before all the others get a chance to dirty the water?" he asked, giving us a sly wink.

I stretched out my hand and took the key from him. "Thank you so much," I said; "we are both very grateful to you."

"But," started Saulie.

What?" I asked, thinking that perhaps I had been too forward in accepting the offer without consultation.

"But we shall not have an attendant," he said.

I laughed. "That's easy," I said. "I shall be your attendant. I ought to know how: I've been doing it for years!"

Saulie gave me a quizzical look but made no further protest.

We made our way round the back to where the bath house was. I turned the key in the lock and we let ourselves in. Actually, it was quite modern and looked as if the bath house attendant kept it very clean. These places are all much the same and I immediately espied the closet where the towels must be kept. In a shelf underneath the towels were blocks of soap. I took out two towels and one block of soap.

I was excited, knowing I was about to be seeing Saul's naked body. He was so shy. I decided to make him feel relaxed, so I said, "I think that the best idea would be if I bathe first," I said, "because I don't really need an attendant. Then when I'm done I can be your attendant. Is that all right with you?"

Saulie nodded without saying anything.

That's all right, then, " I said. "I'll leave my clothes in a pile here next to you. Here's a towel for you to hold out for me when I'm through." With that I put a towel in his hand, slipped off my clothes and jumped into the water.

It was cold, even though it was the height of summer. The pool was just about big enough for four or five men to stand in comfortably, so I had plenty of room. It wasn't as big as the pool we had in Tiberias, but then Megiddo is not Tiberias. I splashed a great deal to get myself warm and then soaped myself, all the while peeking out from under my eyelashes to see if Saul was watching. When I had lathered myself all over I dived under the water to wash it all off. Shivering slightly I climbed out of the pool.

I stood there on the side of the pool, dripping wet, waiting for Saulie to wrap the towel round me. But he was just standing there, staring at my naked body. Now I think that my naked body is good to look at. I was always pleased when the other lads in Tiberias looked at me approvingly when we bathed. But now that Saulie was looking at me it felt different. His gaze was somehow erotic. And it certainly started having an erotic effect on me! I felt heat rise through my body and even the effect of the cold water couldn't keep my member from tingling.

"Saulie. Hello. Can I have the towel, please? It's rather cold and wet just standing here like this."

Saulie jumped as if coming out of a rêverie, blushed crimson and hurriedly wrapped the towel round me. I started rubbing myself dry. While I was doing so I said, "You can take your clothes off, Saulie. I'll be ready in no time."

I had my back to him but I heard his clothes rustle to the floor, so when I turned round with my towel wrapped around my waist I saw him standing there naked with his own towel held in front of him. "In you go," I said. "Give me your towel and jump in."

He hesitated for a moment, then he almost ran to the edge of the pool. With one swift co-ordinated movement he flung his towel behind him into my waiting hands and jumped into the water. I was amazed. What a strange thing to do. I assumed that for some reason he was shy about his naked body. But then it got even stranger: he started lathering the soap so much that in almost no time the whole of the surface of the water around him was covered in suds. Wondering why he should behave in such a manner I started to get dressed. It seemed to me that only when I was once again fully dressed did Saulie seem to relax enough to be able to get on with the business in hand.

And he took long enough about it! All the years that I had been in attendance in the bath house had taught me that the men would jump in and wash as quickly as possible, because the pool could take only so many men at one time, and there were always more men waiting their turn. So it was strange that Saulie took his time washing. I found myself wanting to jump in the water and help him. But time was getting on.

Shaking my head to break the spell under which he held me, I said, "Saulie, we had better get a move on. People will be up and about by now. We don't want to miss morning prayers."

He moved towards the edge of the pool where there were steps to climb out. He mounted the steps and I wrapped his towel round him. "Turn round," I told him. He did so and I rubbed his back dry. Then I let my hands wander further down and got the old familiar feeling of sensuous pleasure as my hands felt, underneath the cloth, the firm, rounded mounds of the youthful body that were now the object of my ministrations. I had dried many a fine rump in my time, but the two rounded mounds of Saulie's backside were the best that I had ever seen - or felt, rather. As I rubbed I pondered his behaviour: all that charade could not have been because he was shy of his naked body as I had first thought; he had a most beautiful body - sleek and firm and compact. I continued rubbing him dry. But all good things must come to an end and, sadly, bodies get dried. "Turn round," I said again. Saulie turned round to face me and I rubbed his chest dry. Then, in conformity with age-old custom I handed him the towel saying, "You can do the rest."

Quickly, Saulie was dressed. I made sure that we had left everything neat and tidy and carefully locked the door of the bath house after us. We made our way back to the inn where we found the menfolk already assembled for morning prayers. Most of them were already wearing their prayer-shawls and phylacteries. Only the children wore neither. I did not put on a prayer-shawl because, according to custom, unmarried men do not do so. But Saulie did put on his prayer-shawl, which told me that he either was or had been married. A momentary pang of true regret surged into my heart, but then he smiled at me - a smile that for me could have soothed away every sorrow in the world. This bitter-sweet moment was interrupted when the prayer-leader started the prayers.

* * * * *

Later that morning we moved off on the next leg of our journey. As we came out of the pass of Megiddo we turned south. Now that the two groups had merged we were a much larger company. The group from Tyre was obviously much more prosperous than our group was because they had more carts and even one covered wagon. That meant that there was room for almost everybody to ride and that no one had to walk. Nevertheless, Saulie and I preferred to walk together behind the last cart. We enjoyed each other's company and walking alone also gave us privacy.

By now it was late August and the roads were dusty. There hadn't been any rain for at least five months, and the first rains of the new season could not be expected for at least another two months. We walked a little way behind the hindmost cart with a cloth wound round our necks and over our mouths and noses: in this way we were doubly blessed; we were not choked by the dust churned up by the carts and we could talk freely to each other, because no one could see our lips.

After some small talk about the scenery and the weather I decided to broach something that had been on my mind.

"Saulie, are you married? And if you are, where is your wife?"

He looked at me, and his eyes, visible above the cloth, clearly showed his consternation. He hadn't been expecting such a question and he had no answer ready. He was silent.

"Saulie, I can't make you tell me about yourself, but if we're going to be friends there shouldn't be any secrets between us."

"That's not fair. Why, only last night you told me that you would have to know me a lot better before you could tell me why you didn't want to get married."

"That's true," I said. A lot of thoughts were going around in mind suddenly, and I began to piece things together. If I was right about Saulie then we were kindred spirits and there would be no reason why I could not tell him my own story. I very much wanted to. There was something about Saulie that was tugging at my heart. I was feeling a strange yearning that I had never experienced before. I decided to try a kind of test, to see whether there was any basis to my assumptions. I did so hope that there was.

"Saulie, I promise to tell you my whole story this evening if you will explain to me just one thing now: please explain to me that peculiar 'ceremony' that you had when getting washed this morning."

"What do you mean? Ceremony?". This was just prevarication.

"You know: first of all you were holding your towel in front of you, then you whipped it off suddenly and jumped into the water, and then you made enough soap suds to wash an army in. What's it all about?"

He looked desperate. "Please don't make me explain. I would be far too embarrassed. You really don't need to know. Believe me."

I was not going to let that go. I could be very nosey when I wanted to. And I wanted to.

"Well, let me guess. Is it because your ... umm ... member is very small?"

He laughed, relieved. "No, silly, it's not too small!"

"Well then, is it because it's very large?"

"No! It's quite normal, believe me. When erect it's about the same size as yours is!"

Suddenly he stopped, horrified at what he had just said, afraid that he had let the cat out of the bag, as it were. "So, you were looking at me when I was naked." He hung his head and slowly nodded. I was sure that beneath the cloth he was blushing.

"I suppose now that I've admitted that we shan't be friends after all," he said. He sounded so disconsolate that I wanted to hug him there on the road. I don't know how I stopped myself.

"Nonsense, Saulie! Now I am certain that we shall be friends. We shall be very good friends!"

He looked at me in bewilderment. "Are you mocking me, Abraham?"

"No, Saul - dear Saulie - I am not mocking you. I would never do such a thing," I added hurriedly. "I'll tell you what: I am going to make a wild guess and all you have to do is to nod or shake your head in response. You don't have to say a word or explain anything. Is that all right with you?" He nodded, his eyes still wide with uncertainty. "I think that you did everything you did this morning in the bath house because your ... umm ... member was sticking out in front like a flag pole, and you didn't want me to see. Am I right?" Slowly, he nodded, once again hanging his head. "And the reason it was doing that was because of me, right?" He hung his head even lower and nodded once again. "Saulie, Saulie! Stop worrying! Now I know that we shall be very good friends! Very good friends, indeed."

He raised his head in even greater bewilderment and looked me straight in the eyes, searching to see if there was any mockery there. I hope that what he saw in them was joy and love.

I took his hand in mine, swinging it strongly as we marched along together. "We'll talk about it more tonight, Saulie," I said, "but please, whatever happens in the future never mistrust me again. I will never hurt you, I promise. I couldn't hurt you. You and I are going to be friends as close as David and Jonathan."

He looked at me and I think that at that moment the beginnings of understanding entered his mind. All he could say was "Oh, Rami," but the relief in his voice was almost tangible.

"Let's sing!" I shouted. I started singing a well known marching song at the top of my voice. Soon Saulie joined in, and we marched along, hand in hand, swinging our arms in an exaggerated fashion for all we were worth, and shouting the song at the tops of our voices. People in the carts looked back at us. They must have thought we were mad. And they would have been right!


When Rami made all those guesses about me I was completely blown over. I just did not know what to do. My deepest secret - which had also led to my greatest shame - was now known to someone else. I suppose I could have denied it all, but Rami was too sharp for that. And, in any case, I could not bring myself to lie to him or to deceive him. In the comparatively few hours since we had met I had begun to realize that Rami meant something very special for me - though at that early stage I would not have been able to articulate the feeling even to myself. As I said, when he guessed at my secret I was at first astounded; but as we continued walking along, singing at the tops of our voices as if we were 8 year olds and not 18, I gradually began to feel an enormous sense of relief. The fact that someone else now knew my darkest secret and had not rejected me filled me with a new euphoria. However, as you may have realized by now, I am not the most perspicacious of people; and it was only a few hours later that I suddenly realized the other side of the coin, as it were: Rami had guessed about me because he was like that too!

After we had left Megiddo we had headed south and then west towards the sea. When we finally hit the Via Maris, the Coast Road as the old Romans had called it, we stopped to catch our first glimpse of the sea. I told Rami that since he had not seen the Great Sea for thirty days he must recite a special blessing, thanking God for having created the sea. Rami looked at me quizzically; then he told me that it was a lot more than thirty days since he had last seen the Great Sea! Imagine! But then, I had lived all my life beside that sea: beside the sea, on the sea and in the sea. I had noticed that Rami observed all the rituals of our faith, but he always seemed (to me, at least) to have some kind of reserve in the back of his mind. The idea of reciting a blessing on seeing the sea seemed to him quaint, but there could be no harm in doing so. However, Rami insisted that before we recite the blessing we must sit down and look at the sea! How quaint! "Look at the sea, Saulie!" he said, excitedly. "I have never seen so large a stretch of water in years. Look how blue it is, look how calm it is. You can stand on the quayside in Tiberias and see the opposite shore; but here the sea just goes on and on until it meets the horizon. It's beautiful, it's inspiring!" After a few more moments gazing intently at the sea he turned to me and said, "Now let's recite the blessing." We held hands and did so.

Towards evening on that day we arrived at an inn. Clearly the hour was now too late to go any further that day. Once again room was found for everyone except us two. We didn't mind that: we preferred our own company alone to being in bed with a few more people! That night there was a breeze coming off the sea, so Rami and I decided to sleep inside the covered wagon. We shifted around a few pieces of luggage until we had made just enough room for ourselves to lie down.

I lay down facing Rami and he smiled at me. No, he grinned at me. "What?" I asked. "Well," he said, "I have a promise to keep." "What's that?" I asked. "I have to tell you why I don't want to get married," he replied.

I had forgotten that! Now I would find out whether I was right about Rami. But after that I would have to tell him my own story - and I was so ashamed of it. In the privacy of the covered wagon Rami told me all about his old job at the bath house and then he recounted his conversation with his rabbi. "So you see," he concluded, "that while I am supposed to be on this pilgrimage in order to seek out a wife, I shall do no such thing. I do not want a wife! And even if I had one I don't think I'd be able to ... to love her - you know - as I should." He looked at me earnestly: "Saulie, I am sure that I just couldn't do it with a woman. It doesn't interest me. In fact, the very idea fills me with a vague feeling of disgust. Now, the idea of hugging a man, kissing a man, touching a man - you know what I mean? - now that would feel very good. I know it. In fact..." Suddenly he stopped himself.

"In fact - what, Rami?" I urged, with almost bated breath. For the first time since I had met him Rami blushed a deep crimson. With great difficulty he pulled himself together. When he was composed again he laughed a forced laugh and said, "In fact, it's now time for you to tell me your story."

I told him the whole sorry business. I've told you about Miriam and me already, so there's no need for me to go over the shameful episode again. By the time I had finished both of us were near to tears. "But, Rami, even though I could not bring myself to do the simple duty of a husband that doesn't mean that I don't yearn for intimacy. I just couldn't do it with Miriam. And now I realize that I don't think I could do it with any woman. But I need love, I need companionship and an intimate relationship like anyone else." Then, in utmost dejection, I whispered, " I'm not a man: I'm just a failure!"

"You're not a failure, Saulie," whispered Rami. "You are a wonderful man in my eyes. Everything you feel I feel too. Everything you want I want too. It's here, waiting to be taken, ready to be found."

He moved closer towards me, put his arm around me and pulled me nearer to him. Then very gently he put his lips on mine and kissed me. Oh, that kiss! That moment of revelation! I was drawn into that kiss as if I was being sucked into a whirlpool. Our lips tingled as they touched. I pulled him towards me until our bodies were touching completely. As we kissed I could feel his hardness next to mine, and it was a wonderful feeling. That kiss should have lasted for ever. For the first time in my life I felt completely relaxed, a whole man. At last I knew what love is. Love is Rami. No, that's not quite right. Love is Rami and Saulie - together, as one soul.

Slowly and unwillingly we parted. My hand caressed Rami's cheek. All I could say was "Rami" and all he could say was "Saulie".

For a good few moments we lay there, basking in that most wonderful feeling of new-found love. Then Rami turned to me. "Thank you, Saulie, for that moment. You have made me whole. I have found what my soul has been searching for. I think you have too. I don't want a woman. I don't need a woman. I just want to lie here with you for ever."

Suddenly my mind began to associate words that Rami had used: 'woman' and 'lie'. In a flash I sprang apart from him, terrified.

"What's the matter? What has happened? Have you been bitten by a scorpion, or something like that?"

"Oh, Rami! What have we done? We are wicked. We have sinned!" I almost screamed. He put his hand over my mouth to stifle my cry.

"Shh! What on earth are you talking about? How are we sinning? We haven't done anything!"

I sat up, trembling all over. "Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman: it is an abomination," I intoned. "That's what we have done, Rami."

"Nonsense! That's not what it means."

"But what else can 'not to lie with a man as with a woman' mean?" I insisted.

"It means," he began, and then his voice trailed off.


"Well, you know. When a man beds a woman in order to create a child in her womb - that's what it means."

I was very unconvinced. "All my life I have been taught that 'the bible means what it says'," I retorted.

"And all the learning that my father, the rabbi, gave me taught me always to look for the inner meaning, the deeper meaning. Why are there so many commentaries, and commentaries on the commentaries if not to show us the deeper meaning?" he asked. "The bible does not always mean what it appears to mean at a first reading. It's not a simple book for beginners: it has to be studied in depth - preferably with a good teacher." Rami sounded very determined now. For a moment I lost my sense of certainty. I had been brought up to a simple, unquestioning faith. We did not have any great rabbis in Tyre; not any of great learning, at any rate. And Rami was the step-son of a very learned rabbi, and he knew what he was talking about.

"But what else could it mean?" I asked, hoping that he would have a ready answer that would allay all my fears.

"I don't know, Saulie. But I will promise you one thing: I am going to make every effort to find out."

"How will you do that?" I asked. I had never known that such a thing was possible.

"When we get to a town I shall go to the synagogue and start searching through all the books of commentaries until I find something. God bless my step-father for teaching me so thoroughly," he added with a rueful smile.

"All right," I said - not without a great deal of hesitation.

"Good," said Rami. "Now, can we go to sleep?" He put his hand out to touch me. I recoiled away.

"Good night, Rami," I said with as much warmth as I could muster.

"Good night, Saulie," he said, and I could hear the tones of an infinite sadness in his voice. "Sleep well. Golden dreams."

* * * * *

But neither of us slept well that night. I could hear Rami tossing and turning in his sleep. He was so near, yet so far. I hardly slept at all, because each time I began to drop off the thought returned of what I had done to Rami and myself. I was torn between what I felt for Rami and what I had been taught religiously. 'What the bible says is true, so I must keep as far from Rami as possible; but if I do so, I shall be tearing myself away from the greatest chance of happiness and fulfillment that I am ever likely to know.'

We woke up bleary-eyed and disconsolate. Carefully, we went to the bath house separately and stood apart from each other during the morning prayers. Clearly, both of us felt wretched. Later that morning the caravan of pilgrims set off again. How different was the scene we presented that day from the one we had presented the previous day! Then we had marched joyfully, hand in hand, swinging our linked arms and singing at the tops of our voices. But now I carefully set a cart between us: I walked on one side of the last cart in the line while Rami walked on the other side of the cart.

It is strange, but people had begun to notice! David, who sold fish back in Tyre, was the one driving the cart which now separated me from Rami. He leaned over the side of the cart - which after all these days still had the smell of fish about it - and called down to me: "Saul, what's the matter with you two?" "Nothing," I answered sullenly - meaning 'nothing that's your business!'. "But yesterday you were such good friends. You really are a strange one..." and so on. By the time we stopped for an early lunch other people had begun to notice as well. There was a woman, Sarah, from Tiberias (Isaac's wife); she had no children but fussed over us as if we were her very own: "It's such a shame that you two have fallen out. You both needed a friend on this journey, and we all thought that you had both found one. If you have quarreled you must make up by this evening. My father, God rest his soul, always used to teach us never to go to bed on a quarrel." But that last sentence just made me squirm all the more: 'Never to go to bed'.

Mid-afternoon we pulled in to the town of Bné-Brak. It was Friday afternoon and we just had enough time to bathe and put on our best clothes in anticipation of the Sabbath. That Sabbath, 29th August, was not just an ordinary Sabbath day: it was also the first day of the New Year's festival, which lasts two days. Now I have noticed in Tyre and other places that I have visited that for gentiles their New Year celebrations are happy, in fact hilarious occasions. But for us Jews, the New Year festival, which always occurs as summer is drawing towards its close, is a very solemn occasion. It is the first of the penitential days which will culminate in the awesome Day of Atonement, ten days later.

As darkness descended on our inn all the womenfolk gathered round their dining tables and lit candles. We menfolk were all dressed in penitential white, and we all crowded into the town's synagogue for the evening service. When it ended each of us turned to others and wished them 'a peaceful Sabbath and may you be written in the book of life'. This last benediction is a reference to the idea that during these penitential days God sits in judgement on each and every human being. Rami placed himself squarely in front of me after the service and said, "Saulie, from the bottom of my heart I wish you a peaceful sabbath; and may both of us be written in the book of life." There were tears welling in his eyes, I could see, and I burst into tears as well. "Oh, Rami, may God bless us both with a peaceful Sabbath and keep us safe and well during the next year. God bless you, my dearest Rami." I was getting quite sentimental in my emotional distress.

"Saulie, please can we still be friends? I can't bear being separated from you as we were today. Please don't reject me."

"I have not rejected you! I love you! Of course we are still friends!" I cried, weeping unashamedly.

"You love me? You really do? Oh, you have no idea how much I love you!" Then he added, coyly, "Tonight, may I kiss you again?"

"No. We mustn't. It's forbidden. We must be just loving friends."

His face dropped and the light went out in his eyes. Then he looked at me very earnestly and said, "But what if I can convince you that what we feel for each other is not forbidden? What then?"

"Oh, Rami, nothing would make me happier," I said - then I hastily added, very wistfully, "But it can't be done." Deep down inside I had already formed this conviction that for some reason that I could not fathom God had decreed that my entire life would be full of emotional frustration. First Miriam, and now Rami.

The throng of people trying to leave the synagogue was beginning to separate us. As we were pushed apart, Rami called out to me: "I have to go and see someone. Save me a place at dinner." And with that he pushed his way back into the synagogue, past all the people who were trying to get out of it.

I saved him a place next to me at the festive dinner. When she saw us sitting together again, happy and smiling, Sarah waved at us from her table and shouted, "It's so good to see you two friends again! Happy New Year to you both!" A general murmur of approval came from the whole company, so I suppose that everyone was pleased that Rami and I were friends. Then quiet was called while old Solomon, the beadle, or warden of our synagogue in Tyre, recited the blessing over wine; then we all had a bit of apple dipped in honey - to symbolize the sweet New Year that we hoped was now just starting. I looked at Rami as we ate our wedge of apple: he pursed his lips as if he were kissing, put the wedge of apple into his mouth and sucked the honey off of it. All the while he was looking at me, his eyes dancing. I blushed.

During the meal I asked Rami where he had gone after the synagogue service. "I went to the town's rabbi," he said.

"Whatever for?" I asked.

"Can't you guess?" he asked. I shook my head, my mouth crammed too much with good food to be able to respond.

"I asked him where the synagogue's library was and whether I could study in it over the festival. He showed me where it is and gave me permission to study there as much as I like. I think," he added with a sheepish grin, "that I gave him the wrong impression and he thinks that I want to study throughout the festival in order to purify my soul - or something like that. Anyway, he beamed with delight at my request - just as my step-father would have done! Oh dear, I always seem to tell untruths best when I am telling the absolute truth."

Later that night we climbed into the wagon again, but slept as far apart from each other as possible. I think that both of us silently wept ourselves to sleep. What a way to start the New Year!


This is Rami picking up the story once again. The following morning was the first day of the New Year festival. Everybody went to the synagogue for a solemn service. One element in the service was the blowing of the ram's horn, the shofar, and the rabbi explained that this was a kind of alarm call, summoning us for judgement before the divine throne - so we had better repent of all our sins. I was rather amused at this. Don't misunderstand me: I firmly believe that all those ten days should be spent as a period of deep and honest introspection. It's a good thing that a man makes himself give an account to himself of the way he has led his life over the past year: if you do it properly you get an uneasy feeling that, once again, you didn't quite make the grade, and that you must try harder next year to be a good and decent human being. But, having said that, I think that it's a bit ridiculous to imagine that God sits in judgment on us, like some earthly king, with the books of life and death open before Him, just so that He can make His judgment. So when the rabbi trotted out the familiar story of all humankind standing before God's throne, trembling, and so forth, I just smiled to myself. I don't think that we are so much punished for our sins as that we are usually punished by our sins, if you understand what I mean.

But Saulie was lapping it up. Each moment, as the rabbi recounted more and more sins that should be repented, he blushed, started breathing harder, and his face took on a pained look. He was convincing himself that he had really committed each and every one of those sins that the rabbi was enumerating. Well, if the rabbi's intention was to make everyone feel guilty he was certainly succeeding - at least as far as Saulie was concerned. And I knew which sins were uppermost in Saulie's mind during that sermon: he was telling himself for the umpteenth time that he had sinned against Miriam, against his father - against the whole city of Tyre; and he was also telling himself that he was still sinning because of me. I knew all this: I could see it in his distraught face as clearly as could be. I felt so sad for him: not because he was guilty of anything, but because he was so clearly suffering. In my view, if anyone had sinned in Saulie's story it was his father: if he had not interfered Saulie would still be a happy young man. But, then again, if his father had not interfered Saulie would never have joined the pilgrimage and he and I would never have met. At that thought my face must have become distraught too, because Saulie looked at me and asked in a whisper, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I whispered back. "I know what you're thinking. I can read your face like a book. You have not sinned at all - not with your wife and not with me. Far more than you have sinned, people have sinned against you."

"That's not true. My treatment of Miriam was a disgrace! And may God forgive me for what I feel for you, dear Rami."

"Is love a sin?" I asked, but it was not possible for us to hold a philosophic debate in whispers. He dismissed my question with a wave of his hand and went back to concentrating on the interminable sermon.

I, of course, was now all the more determined to find some way of convincing Saulie that what we felt for each other was no sin.

The rabbi's sermon came to its fiery conclusion. Actually, it wasn't so much a sermon as a diatribe. I don't want to be told how wicked I am in a sermon: I already know how wicked I am much better than the rabbi delivering the sermon - and I am much, much less wicked than he would make out! I often ask myself how these presumably saintly rabbis can know so much about so many sins in such great detail! But everyone else seemed to think that fire, brimstone and the fear of God were a concoction that made a satisfying sermon because there were approving noises all round. I couldn't wait for the service to be over, but the service on these two days is very long indeed. We finally got out and everybody rushed to enjoy another festive meal.

As the meal drew to its close I turned to Saulie. "What are you going to do with yourself all afternoon?" I asked. He looked startled. "I thought I would spend the afternoon with you," he said. "Not this time," I said. "I am going to spend the afternoon in the synagogue's library! I am going to study," I said, winking at him. "And I am going to study like I have never studied before."

Saulie understood my intention. "I wish I was as learned as you so that I could share your learning," he said, wistfully. "Instead," he said, "I think I'll go for a walk in the countryside outside town. Being a sea person I don't get to roam the countryside as much as I should. Besides," he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "I have much to think about."

So that afternoon we split up. I immersed myself in study in the library. I took down scroll after scroll, pored over each one, seeking commentaries on the one verse in the bible that concerned me: With a male you shall not lie a woman's lyings: it is an abomination. I found lots of comments, but the fun part was when the comment made by one scholar led to other comments by a different scholar in a different scroll. Within a couple of hours I must have had at least fifty different scrolls on the table!

I was really into this. I was excited, engrossed. Never, in all the years that I had studied with the rabbi, had I felt bible study to be so interesting. My step-father would have been so proud of me had he known. He always wanted me to be a great scholar. On second thoughts, perhaps he would not have been so proud of the subject that I was researching! Never mind, he would have been delighted with the enthusiasm with which I approached the task. I was so engrossed in my task that I did not realize how time was passing. Gradually, the noise that people make when assembling began to intrude itself. With a start I realized that it must by now be getting towards evening because people were arriving at the adjoining synagogue for evening prayers. I would have had to stop soon, anyway, because the light from the west-facing window was fast fading.

I sidled into the synagogue and scanned the hall, looking for Saulie. I soon espied him and pushed my way towards where he was sitting. "Hello, Rami," he said warmly. "See, I've kept you a seat."

I sat down on the seat next to him. "How was your afternoon?" I asked. He told me about the walk that he had taken in the fields outside town and that he had spent his time thinking 'about us'. "And what did you think 'about us'?" I asked, anxiously.

"I'll tell you tonight," he said, "at bedtime." I was relieved to learn from that reply that at least we would still be sleeping near enough to each other to hold a conversation! "How did you get on with your research?" he now asked.

"It went very well, indeed, Saulie," I said with my enthusiasm marked by the excitement in my voice. "I have so much to tell you," I said. At that point our conversation was interrupted by the start of the service.

* * * * *

That night we huddled together in the covered wagon once again.

"So, tell me what you have discovered," said Saulie, eagerly.

"Well," I said, "I think I have discovered two main lines of understanding of the verse in which we are interested." I could hear myself speaking: I sounded just like my step-father when we were discussing some obscure point of law or lore. It wasn't until that moment that I realized how much of an influence he had been on me.

"The first line of understanding is concerned with the question to whom is the commandment addressed."

"I don't understand," said Saulie. "It's addressed to us - all of us."

"Not all the commandments of the bible are addressed to everybody," I said patiently. "Some are addressed only to men, some are addressed only to women, some are addressed only to priests, some are addressed only to kings, some are addressed only to the rich, and so on."

Saulie nodded his understanding. "So," I continued, "according to this line of thought, when the bible says with a male you shall not lie a woman's lyings we must ask ourselves who the "you" is. I found several distinguished commentators who think that this commandment is addressed to men married to women. The idea is that married men should not forsake their wives and families in order to go a-whoring after other men."

"There were rabbis who really said that?" asked Saul, rather incredulously.

"Yes. I found three really great rabbis who took that line of approach." I warmed to my theme: "While none of them actually say so, we can say that as long as you were married to Miriam any intimate connection between you and me would have been forbidden; but now that you are a free man once again the commandment should not separate us because neither of us is married."

Saulie pursed his lips, looking rather dubious. "Can we be sure that that is what the verse means?" he asked with a great deal of uncertainty in his voice.

"Well," I responded, realizing for the first time how high the wall of Saulie's religious defences were, "there are at least three distinguished commentators who suggest that," I said. Now I was less certain. I had thought that he would lap it up eagerly; I now could see that I was going to have to fight all the way to break down Saulie's deep religiosity - a religiosity born of a simple, unquestioning faith combined with a lack of learning.

"Would your step-father have agreed with that explanation?" Saulie asked. That was a really difficult question! He was using my step-father as a kind of litmus test for the credentials of the sages whose views I had just quoted. With Saulie I had to be completely honest. "I'm not sure, Saulie. I think he would say that that is a legitimate explanation of the verse, but not necessarily the only one possible.

"I don't think our rabbi in Tyre would have accepted that explanation," he said with finality. "What else did you find out?"

"Well," I continued, trying to shore up my enthusiasm which had taken a blow from Saulie's sceptism, "another group of sages tackle the very difficult phrase a woman's lyings. They ask why the very strange word "lyings" is in the plural. The answer is that men can have sexual intercourse with a woman in more than one way."

"What do you mean?"

"When a man penetrates a women there is more than one orifice that he can use."


"There is 'normal' sex, as the sages call it, and there is 'not normal' sex."

"What is 'normal sex' and what is 'not normal sex'?"

"Oh, Saulie, don't be dumb! Normal sex is when he sticks what the kids call his staff, his wand, his tool where it usually goes, so that the seed can reach the womb."

"Oh, yes, I see," said Saulie, his face lighting up with a smile of understanding at the same time as he blushed a deep red. "But what's the other kind, then, Rami?"

"That's when the man sticks it in the other hole - the one from which we get rid of our waste," I said, putting it as delicately as possible, so as not to shock him too much.

I failed. Saulie was shocked. "There are husbands that do that?" he asked, incredulously. "How disgusting!" And he made a face that emphasized his feelings.

"It may seem like that to you, but obviously there must be couples who would do that because otherwise why would the sages even mention it?"

"All right," Saulie said, grudgingly, "let's let that go for the moment. But what has this to do with us - the two of us? We aren't women: we don't have two orificicices," he said, his tongue stumbling over the strange word.

"Exactly!" I came back, triumphantly. "So what these sages are saying is that the verse means that a man can't have sex with another man by sticking it ... " - again I searched for a delicate way of expressing myself - "by sticking it ... where it would disgust someone like you."

"Well," he said, with righteous indignation, "I could never bring myself to do that anyway!"

I decided not to argue the point.

"Saulie," I said, as patiently as I could, "a husband and wife can do 'it' any way they like: there is no religious law against him sticking it in any hole he finds - even her mouth if she'll let him. What these sages are saying is that when the bible says a man may not lie with another male it is outlawing only what we called 'not normal sex' - sticking it 'you know where'. That, incidentally," I added very forcefully, "is stated quite clearly in the Talmud, so it's clear law, not just the idea of a commentator." It was the truth, though I emphasized it so that he would feel that it was proper for him to accept the argument.

"So, what you are saying is that two men can do anything with each other as long as one of them doesn't stick it in ... in ... in that hole?"

"Exactly," I said, greatly relieved.

Saulie was silent for a few moments, thinking. At last he said, "So, we have two possibilities: the verse might be warning married men not to chase after other men; or it might be telling us that ... we mustn't do it that way. Hmmm. " I realized that he was still very hesitant. My heart sank, because he was not taken by my two best arguments.

"Don't you have any other suggestions?" asked Saulie, a wistful note creeping into his voice.

"Well," I said, sounding as enthusiastic as I could. "I did find a third approach, and this one is in the Talmud itself. There we find a great sage who plays around with the word 'abomination'."

Saulie looked at me quizzically. "You know," I said, citing the verse again: "With a male you shall not lie a woman's lyings: it is an abomination."

"Oh, yes. I remember. What does this sage say?"

"He plays with it. He makes out that the original Hebrew means 'You're doing her wrong'."

"That's ridiculous!" exclaimed Saulie. "The Hebrew doesn't mean that at all! An abomination is an abomination."

"Yes, I know. But this happened at a wedding celebration. It seems he thought that his friend, the father of the bride, was marrying off his daughter to a rich man-lover for money. So while everyone was dancing he hinted very heavily to his friend that he was ruining his daughter's life and happiness." I stopped myself from adding that if someone had performed this kindness for old Aaron neither Saulie nor Miriam would have suffered as they did.

"Well," said Saulie, "even if we accept that he was only using his interpretation of the word in order to convince his friend that he was doing something wrong, it still doesn't amount to anything more than your first argument - married men should not go a-whoring after other men." I could see that if he had had an education such as I had Saulie would have been a formidable opponent in Talmudic discussion.

"Well," I asked. "What do you think?"

"Well," said Saulie, "let's see." He was beginning to sound like a scholar already! "We have three interpretations of that verse. One is about the 'you' who is being commanded; another is about the 'lyings' which are forbidden; and a third is about the word 'abomination', which is how scripture describes whatever it is that is forbidden." He paused for a moment, thinking, considering. "Any of them could be the intended meaning of the verse, but none of them have to be."

I felt my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach, as it were. All my hard work had gone for nothing. Saulie was rejecting arguments that I had been so certain would convince him.

"So, where does that leave us?" I asked, my voice shaking with emotion.

Saulie brushed me off with a laugh. "It leaves us about to go to sleep," he said. "I promise to think about what you have said, Rami, but not tonight. I need time to think."

Can't we think about this together?" I asked, hopefully, because I couldn't bear to think of him making decisions without me being involved.

"No, I have to sort this out by myself. It's so easy for you and so difficult for me. But if you have any other arguments over the next few days I really want to hear them."

With that he turned his back on me, saying, "Good night, Rami. Golden dreams."

"Good night, Saulie," I replied with a sigh that came from the bottom of my heart.

After a few minutes his breathing became the regular, shallow breathing of someone asleep. He was so close to me and yet so apart! Gently, so as not to wake him, I huddled close to him, spooning, and threw an arm across his gently heaving chest. In his sleep his hand folded over mine. At that moment I knew what his heart wanted. . His heart wanted me, but how to get his heart to rule his head? And with that I too fell asleep.


On the day after the festival we set out from Bné Brak, now heading inland once again, towards Jerusalem. We planned to reach Ramleh by the end of the week so that we could spend a couple of days there, including the most holy and solemn fast of the Day of Atonement. I was very worried about the effect that the approaching Day of Atonement would have on Saulie. Since his was a simple and unquestioning faith he would be full of awe and dread on the annual day of judgement. But, I knew in my bones, that during that 24-hour fast the tension inside Saulie would gradually grow and grow until it would overtake him during the long afternoon.

Why was I so sure that Saulie would reach some kind of crisis during the afternoon of the Day of Atonement? Well, first I must explain a little about the psychology of the day.

The Day of Atonement is the most solemn day in the year. The process of self-examination which begins at the New Year's festival and continues throughout the intervening days of penitence culminates on that most holy day. For more than 24 hours we Jews eat nothing, drink nothing, and pray, pray, pray - and do nothing else! The day starts just before sunset and ends after dark the following day, which means that it usually lasts about 25 hours. We start off with a very solemn and moving service which takes place as the sun is setting and lasts into the evening. When we go home, as I said, we go straight to bed, fasting. The following morning services start early and continue throughout the day non-stop: individually and collectively we ask God to forgive us all our sins. As the day wears on things become more intense, and culminate in the 'last-chance' service which takes place as the sun is setting and darkness setting in once again.

There are, of course, highlights during the day: in the morning we read from the Torah and fondly recall dead relatives. That is always an emotional moment for me, because I mention my father and mother: even though I never knew my mother and hardly knew my father they come alive for me when I pray that they may have eternal rest. I have seen many people weep tears during this part of the service. For Saulie it would not be an emotional moment because all his relatives were still living. During the service which takes place during the afternoon there is another highlight: we read from the Torah again - a passage from the book of Leviticus outlining sexual sins. Our rabbis (of blessed memory) obviously thought that sexual sins should be uppermost in our minds on this most solemn and sacred day! Each time that we read from the Torah the rabbi delivers a sermon whose theme is connected with what we have just read from the Bible.

During the week that we were on the road, travelling from Bné-Brak to Ramleh. Saulie and I walked, as usual, behind the last cart of the caravan, chatting away about anything and everything. Anything, that is, except what was uppermost in the minds of both of us. Don't get me wrong: we did talk about it. Or rather, I talked about it and Saulie listened. We did our talking on this subject each evening in the dark and closed seclusion of the baggage wagon.

As the afternoon wore on, on the Friday of that week it was decided that we should stop at a small inn where we would spend the Sabbath. Even though Ramleh was just a short while away we didn't think that we would be able to make it before sunset, when the Sabbath begins. This Sabbath was special: the Sabbath of Penitence that falls between the New Year's festival and the Day of Atonement. That evening, in our wagon, Saulie was really tense.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Nothing," he answered rather sullenly.

"Oh, come on, Saulie. I know you better than that! You have been getting more and more tense all the week. Tell me what the matter is."

"There are two things, I think," he said as he began to open up to me. Then he paused.

"Tell me the first thing," I said gently. "You know you can tell me anything."

"It's all this penitence thing," he said at last. "I am such a sinner, Rami; what am I going to say to God on the Day of Atonement? What can I possibly say?" And he burst into tears.

I put my arm around him, to comfort him, but he pushed it away. That hurt. Deep inside me something began to weep as well. Saulie had rejected me!

"Rami, it's you who are my problem! I love you so, but that's a sin. I can't get you out of my mind. All day long and all night long my heart yearns for you. And, yes," he confessed, blushing a deep red, "my body yearns for you as well. If only you knew how much I yearn for you. But it's a sin.

"I know how much you want me, Saulie. You want me as much as I want you. The difference is that I don't think it's a sin. I think we were made for each other. I think that it was God who caused us to meet by chance, so that we could live out the rest of our lives in happiness and contented fulfillment together. Every human being needs a soul-mate, and you are my soul-mate and I am yours. What sin is there?"

"What sin? What sin?! You have forgotten "With a male you shall not lie a woman's lyings: it is an abomination." An abomination, Rami! Hateful to God and detested by Him. We are sinners. But, unlike other sins, I can't ask God to forgive me because I can't make the resolution to do my best never to commit this sin again. I shall love you, Rami, until my dying day. So I am trapped in a sin from which I can never attain forgiveness." By this time he was really distraught. And, in my frustration, I realized that I was getting more and more angry.

"Yes, Saul," I said, harshly. "You are a wretched sinner!" He cringed, his eyes wide with horror and anguish. Now I was in full spate. "I'll tell you what your sin is, Saul, even though you know full well what it is. One day, the day we met, you woke up in the morning and you said to yourself - most wickedly and deliberately - 'today I am going to fall in love with another man! I know it's wrong but I would really like to try it, just for fun!' That was your sin, Saul," I almost screamed. "And what's more: every time your member sticks out like a flagpole it isn't because you have seen a beautiful man: it's because you have willed it to happen against human nature. You know full well that you can control your feelings. You have these nasty, wicked, feelings because you are deliberately and knowingly forcing yourself to contravene God's commandments!"

"Stop!" he wailed. "Stop! It isn't like that at all!" He wept uncontrollably.

"Then how is it, Saulie?" I asked, gently.

"I can't help those feelings I have. I don't summon them up. They just come unbidden. If I could control them I would. Do you think I like being as I am? I would give anything in the world to be different. But I am what I am and I can't be different. That's why I am miserable, so miserable. I am what I don't want to be, but I cannot be any different. You are so wrong, Rami, when you say that I am like this because I am deliberately flouting God's command. I am as I am because that is how God made me, and I can't be any different." And tears were streaming from his eyes. But I had him where I wanted him.

"Exactly!" I said, triumphantly. "You are what you are because that is how God made you. You can't be any different. And I am what I am because that is how God made me, and I can't be any different either."

"So, we are both trapped in a sin."

"No, Saulie. Something is a sin when you can act rightly but you deliberately and knowingly decide to act wrongly. You yourself have just admitted that your feelings for me are not a deliberate rebellion against God."

He looked at me. Hope was in his eyes mingled with disbelief. "Maybe you're right," he conceded, "but it would still be a sin. The Torah says so."

"Maybe what the Torah means is that it is a sin if you do these things deliberately and you have a choice not to do them. But if you have no moral choice then they are not sinful."

I could see that he wanted to believe me.

"Saulie," I asked, "do you believe that God is kind and good?"

"Yes, of course," he responded - and then he hastily added, "but He is also just."

"Just so," I said. "God is just and God is kind. Is it just or kind for God to make you as you are and to expect you to act differently?"

He was silent for a moment, thinking about that I had said. When he finally spoke he was unsure but hopeful.

"I can't argue with you. I don't have the breadth of knowledge that you have. I believe that God is kind and just. Now that you say it, I can't believe that God would have made me the way I am and thereby condemn me to a life of miserable celibacy. That would be neither kind not just. Every human being needs intimate love. How could a just and kind God say, in fact, 'You may never, ever, under any circumstances, find legitimate sexual expression and enjoy physical love'? I just don't know what the answer is."

"Like me, you will find the answer in your heart," I said, very gently. By now it was late. "Let's sleep on it. Maybe wisdom will come in the morning." (Another cliché stolen from my step-father's repertoire!)

"All right. I suppose you are right. You usually are. Good night, Rami."

"Good night, Saulie," I said.

As usual he turned his back on me to go to sleep. Suddenly he spoke from the fogginess of impending sleep. "Rami?"


"Put your arms around me and hug me."

I put my arms around him and hugged him to sleep, like a puppy grateful for whatever he would throw to me. When I was sure that he was asleep I kissed him gently on his shoulder and finally I went to sleep myself.

* * * * *

On the Sunday morning we were up very early so that we could be on the road as soon as possible. We had to reach Ramleh in good time, because that evening the holy day would begin. In fact, our caravan reached Ramleh with plenty of time to spare. Our inn was right next to the town's synagogue, which, in its turn, was right next to the police station. Ramleh was a mixed town: it had been built by the Moslems when they conquered this country as their administrative centre. And like any administrative centre it had attracted Jews and Christians as well as Moslems. The Moslems, of course, jealously kept for themselves the government of the town.

Late in the afternoon the innkeeper provided us all with a sumptuous pre-fast meal and then, towards evening, we all made our way into the synagogue, which was packed tight with people even standing at the windows because there was no more room inside. I think that every single Jew who lived in Ramleh was present in the synagogue that evening. The service was very solemn and very moving and the rabbi's sermon was very interesting. Three hours later we were finished for the evening: everyone went home - and straight to bed. Saulie and I went straight to our wagon, but even I agreed that on that night we would sleep as far apart from each other as possible. This was because on the Day of Atonement five things are forbidden us: eating, drinking, washing, wearing leather shoes and sex! Of course, Saulie and I had never been anywhere near having sex, but on this night, as a gesture to Saulie's great fear of sin, we slept apart from each other instead of huddled together for physical comfort.

Early the following morning - with no breakfast! - we were back in the synagogue and we all spent the whole of the day in prayer. When it came to the bit where we collectively confess our sins I could see Saulie beating his breast with a fervour that made me smile. In his simple way it seemed that the harder he showed his remorse the greater the likelihood of forgiveness. I smiled each time because if there was ever anyone who was incapable of serious sin it was my Saulie!

By early afternoon everyone was exhausted and the rabbi announced an hour's break. Saulie and I took the opportunity to amble round the flower garden that surrounded the synagogue building. After the break we all went back into the synagogue for the last leg of this 25-hour day of praying and fasting. The afternoon service began with the reading from the Torah, the bible. As I mentioned earlier the reading is from the book of Leviticus and it lists a whole slue of sexual offences. Almost at the end of the list is the one Saulie and I had been discussing for the past few days: With a male you shall not lie a woman's lyings: it is an abomination. They laid the Torah scroll on the reading desk, preparing to read, but the rabbi signaled that first he was going to deliver yet another sermon. We all sat down. It didn't really matter to us because we all knew that the service would not end until it was dark any way, and that it would end the moment it was dark: so what the difference?

I began to feel nervous the moment it became clear to me that the rabbi was going to make 'our' verse the subject of his sermon. He started off quietly, quoting sages right, left and centre. But gradually two things happened at the same time: he left behind all the scholarly arguments that he had started with and began to speak his own thoughts; at the same time his delivery became more raucous and his voice took on a haranguing tone. The longer he spoke the more his words degenerated into something that was no less than a rant.

"We must always maintain God's high standards as taught us in the holy bible," he said. "In the portion from the bible which we are about to read God gives us a list of sins which are connected with carnal desire, the deep inner urgings of those of us who are not pure in heart, soul and body to surrender ourselves to lust and abomination." His gaze swept across the whole hall, encompassing all present as if insinuating that they were all steeped in 'lust and abomination'.

"But, my friends, terrible as all the sins in that list are, there is only one that God calls an abomination, and that is the vilest sin of all. God teaches that men may not lie with men. That it is detestable to God. That is an abomination." Here he paused for dramatic effect. During that pause I could feel Saulie, next to me, fidgeting; I could guess what was going through his mind. He was telling himself that he was one of those wretched sinners.

"Some of you may be saying to yourselves that you don't have any of those bad qualities, and I pray that you don't, but I have to tell you, my friends, we all have some of the conditions of hell in us. Yes, my friends, hell! There are over one hundred and fifty passages in the bible that speak of abominations. Those of us who sin against the Torah and do not observe its commandments, sin against God. And God tells us that men may not lie with men. That it is detestable to God. So, my friends, you either believe in God or you live a life of abomination. There is no either or."

He was now warming to his theme. He was already captured by his own rhetoric. Without thinking, I was calm, applying the critical apparatus that my step-father had taught me. But Saulie... Oh my poor Saulie. He was writhing in his seat, his face gaunt with pain. I felt so sorry for him - and so unable to help him. Having paused just long enough to catch his breath and get a new burst of wind the rabbi continued his harangue.

"You ask yourselves why am I speaking of this matter on this day? My friends, it is because on this most holy day of the year we must remember that we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, striving to be pure in heart, soul and body; we must also support those poor sinners who are steeped in this god-hated vice of man lying with man! Yes, my friends, I do not shrink from using that most terrible and awesome description on this most solemn occasion. If we crave God's forgiveness we must also try our most holy best to seek out those who do not yet know they are travelling the road to hell." That last word he almost spat out, with dramatic venom.

"I know you don't understand what possesses a person to look upon another of their same sex with carnal eyes, but we must know and understand that these poor miserable people are misguided and deep in sin. And they are among us!" Suddenly Saulie looked up. He looked at me as if asking whether we had been found out. He was truly distraught. The rabbi ranted on, truly oblivious of anything and every else. He was enchanted by the power of his own rhetoric.

"This vice is natural," he boomed, "only in the mind of one corrupted by sin; it has never been natural in God's created order. Seeing that it is unnatural and a sin does not lessen our responsibility to strike it from the poor sinner's heart." Suddenly, with expert smoothness, his ranting turned to gentle pathos. "We must minister to these soul-torn creatures." But, unable to make the impression that he wanted to make without ranting, he immediately left his pathos and returned to his harangue. "Until such a person realizes that he or she is an unnatural being, there will be no way to break their bondage. It is against God's law and, unless they repent, they will suffer the fires of damnation. Their only salvation is to cast off their uncleanness. For, my friends, we are not our own. We are not given permission to make sexual choices based on our own desires. We must honour God by using our bodies in godly ways.

What did this man know? What did he understand? How different was his manner from the gentle and loving reprimand that my step-father used to give in his sermons. He would try to urge us to goodness by quoting from the sages of old; he would assure us that there is good in everybody - we just have to try harder to make the good in us manifest. He would tell us that every human being has within him two natural tendencies: the tendency to do wrong and the tendency to do right. It is our duty to do our best to see that right conquers wrong. I tried to drown the raucous voice of this rabbi by thinking of my step-father, but his delivery was too loud and too obtrusive to let anything else intrude.

"When a man loves another man this is not natural! This has not come from godliness. Such people are deliberately disobeying God's will. They know that what they do and feel is wrong, but they are so intent on disobeying God that they blind themselves to their own disobedience. When a man loves another man both of them are consciously, willfully and deliberately turning their backs on God and His holy word. They are the scum of the earth! They have made a decision to steep themselves in lewdness, debauchery, lust, carnal desire...

Suddenly he stopped, searching for yet another synonym to perfect the effect of his oratory. But he could not continue. He was stopped in mid-sentence by a voice coming from next to me! Saulie, red-faced with a burning anger, had stood up. Every single eye in the congregation was set on him. He trembled, but he forced himself to speak. My Saulie!

"Scum?! Scum of the earth!? How dare you?"

Until that moment I had not realized that Saulie still looked upon himself as coming from a rich and influential family. The slur on his family had been the the key that opened the floodgates of his anger. There was such a silence in the synagogue that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. But Saulie was by far too enraged to notice.

"What rubbish you are saying!" shouted Saulie. Every singer worshipper - myself included - was holding his breath. The rabbi, who probably had never been interrupted before in his life, was struck as dumb as everyone else.

"You speak of abomination. Love can never be an abomination! True love is pure. True love is innocent. True love is a gift from God." I was astounded. Was this my Saulie speaking? Indeed it was!

"To the mind of someone who truly loves another there can never come thoughts of lewdness and debauchery. Only a person who has never experienced true love can think such a thing. What do you know of the heartache and soul-searching of a man who cannot love a woman? You dare to presume that a man's love for another man cannot come from God; that it is dirty, impure, sinful! It is your thoughts that are dirty, impure and sinful!" A collective gasp came from the startled congregation. Then there were whisperings, but I could not tell whether they were for or against what Saulie was saying.

Saulie himself was oblivious of everything and everyone. Impelled onwards by his righteous anger, he continued with hardly a pause. "There are men whom God created without the ability to love a woman. It is sad, but true. I know, because I am one of them! I tried to love my wife. I tried to be a proper husband to her. But I just could not. God did not create me that way. And now that I have found love for the first time in my life you have the colossal effrontery to tell me that my love is sinful lewdness, wicked lust!? Evil man! You know very well that all that the Torah prohibits is mishkav zachar - penetration of one man by another in one part of the body alone! The Torah does not prohibit love. The Torah does not prohibit physical expression of love on other parts of the body. How can you imagine that God could disapprove of the holy love that one person feels towards another? It is only in the darkness and perversion of your own soul that you imagine such things! When you condemn my love for another man it is prompted by your own filthy sinfulness!"

In a passionate rage Saulie sat down, trembling. I reached for his hand. "Beautiful, Saulie, beautiful. You were magnificent," I said, with true pride. I had not believed him capable of such an outburst.

The rabbi was absolutely stunned and the worshippers were all agog. Most were gesticulating madly and calling out 'Shame!' A few were smiling in our direction and mouthing 'Bravo!' Gradually, the rabbi regained his composure. "When you say such things in this holy place it is a desecration of God's sanctity. You are lost! Repent!"

Again Saulie stood up. "I am not lost, wicked man. I have just found myself! This day you have taught me to know who I am and to recognize the person whom God has willed me to be. And you must recognize this as well - you and this entire congregation! Your cruel words have been a blessing for me: gone is self-doubt, gone is the agony of questioning. You have taught me who and what I am! Far from desecrating the holiness of this place, it is the holiness of this place that will now bless my love!"

He turned to me, absolutely sure of himself. "Abraham, stand up!" I stood up, wondering what was going to happen. "If you love me, kiss me!" he ordered - but the love in his eyes was pleading, not ordering. In a softer voice he said, "Kiss me like that first time in the baggage wagon."

Unhesitatingly, I drew his face towards mine. There, in the synagogue full of stunned worshippers, our lips met. Oh, that kiss! That moment of revelation! I was drawn into that kiss as if I was being sucked into a whirlpool. Our lips tingled as they touched. I pulled him towards me until our bodies were touching completely. As we kissed I could feel his hardness next to mine, and it was a wonderful feeling. It was just like that first time among the baggage in the covered wagon, but infinitely better. At last I knew what true love is. At last I had experience of love, real love. Now we were together as one soul, never to be parted.

Complete pandemonium had broken out around us, but we were just not aware of it. Nothing else existed in the world at that moment. Moment? Hardly. Our kiss lasted for quite some time. We just could not bring ourselves to part. There was uproar all around us, but I could hear nothing except the roaring in my ears which sounded like the roar of a cataclysmic flood.

Suddenly, we were pulled apart. Strong hands had separated us. For a moment I did not understand what was going on. Gradually my wits returned to me. Someone had called in the Moslem police. Some of the policemen were trying to control the crowd of worshippers who were fighting among themselves - a few for us, most against us. The policeman who had separated us said quietly but firmly, "Come on, you two. Let's get you out of here while we can. That rabbi has murder in his eyes." With authority he escorted Saulie and me out of the synagogue. What was he going to do with us now? I could feel Saulie next to me trembling; but I could not tell whether it was from the heat of our passion or from fear of the police officer.

"I think that the two of you had better lie low for a while," said the policeman. "Don't go back into the synagogue. Wait till tempers die down." And with that he left us, with a wink, and strode back to the police station.

Saulie and I went back to the baggage wagon. We climbed in and fell on each other, as two men who have been starved of food for a long while will attack a table of goodies. On that most holy day, in that baggage wagon, we lay together, unable to separate from each other. Our kisses lasted until darkness set in. They were our closing prayers on that Day of Atonement. What a wonderful end to the holy day! God had relented. We were forgiven all our sins. We were together, and we were happy.


From the distance we heard the sound of the shofar, the ram's horn, being blown in the synagogue. That was the signal that the fast was over. Still we could not separate: we hungered for something more urgent than food. But suddenly the flap over the end of the wagon was pulled aside. We sprung apart. It was the innkeeper!

"Come on, you two! I know everything that happened in the synagogue!"

I prepared myself to fight this man if I had to.

"You were sensational!" he said. "No one has ever spoken like that to our rabbi! He will never be the same again!"

We stood up, grinning from ear to ear.

"Come with me," said the innkeeper; "you must be starving. I don't think it would be wise for you to eat with the others right now. So please, both of you, come to my private apartment and break your fast with my family and me."

Suddenly we realized that we were very hungry! We jumped down off the tail of the wagon and ran towards the innkeeper's private door holding each other's hands, like little children. We could hear the innkeeper laughing behind us, good-naturedly.

We found his family already sitting around the laid table. We were greeted most graciously by the inkeeper's wife and daughter. The daughter was a demure young lady of about 16 years. Her younger brother, around 13 or 14 years of age, was seated opposite us. The innkeeper's wife served everybody. The food was not only delicious, but tasted all the more delicious for being the first thing we had all eaten in 25 hours!

While we were all busy eating I noticed something. Every time I looked up, the innkeeper's son was looking at us with a look of wonder on his face. Finally I nudged Saulie and whispered, "Look at that boy. Look at the way that he is looking at us." Hiding his mouth with his mug of water Saulie said, "Yes. It looks like admiration." At the first opportunity I gave the lad a broad smile: he blushed from ear to ear, but smiled back with a broad grin.

Following the grace after the meal, while the two of us were helping clear the table and stack the dishes in the kitchen, I grinned at Saulie and I said, "I think you have done your first good deed of the new year. Well done, my hero."

Saulie looked at me quizzically. "Don't be daft," I said, gently punching his arm; "in the synagogue this afternoon you showed that boy the way."

"I don't understand."

"Oh, Saulie, I love you so - even though sometimes you can be so innocent that it's incredible. Maybe that's what I love about you most."

"What have I missed that makes me so adorably innocent?" he asked, mischief dancing in his eyes.

"That boy, the innkeeper's son, is just like us. For him today you became a rôle model. Congratulations! Now you are somebody else's hero as well as mine!"

When all the washing up was done and the table cleared the innkeeper's wife asked us to sit down in their living room.

"Listen to the noise coming from the dining area of the inn," she said. We listened. There was quite a rumpus going on, people shouting and shouting back: it sounded almost as if a battle was in progress. "I'm sorry that we don't have a spare room in our apartment, but as you can see, it's not very spacious: usually for our guests we have all the space that we need in the inn and don't need our apartment. But I don't think it would be pleasant for you to sleep in the inn tonight," she said with a twinkle in her eye.

"They could have my room," piped up the youngster.

"No, lad, thank you very much," said Saulie, "but we could not possibly take your room. We'll sleep in the covered wagon as usual."

Before the lad could protest the innkeeper said, "Nevertheless, I think that you should pull the wagon into our enclosed yard. I don't like the idea of you sleeping out there in the main yard. Tempers are still very raw. You never know what hot-headed hooligans are likely to do.

Thus it was agreed. All four of us - me, Saulie, the innkeeper and his son - dragged the covered wagon into the private yard. By the time this was done it was already very late into the evening, so we offered our profuse thanks for their great hospitality in our hour of need and climbed into the baggage wagon. We just fell into each other's arms at last. It had been a very long and very exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. But now we were together: really together, with no reservations.

We lay down, fell into each other's arms, and held each other in a warm embrace. I kissed Saulie on the lips and said, very gently, "Good night, Saulie. Golden Dreams." "Good night, Rami. I love you." The words were hardly past our lips before we were deep into a blessed sleep of exhaustion.

* * * * *

The following morning we awoke early. I took the key to the bath house that the inkeeper had given us the previous evening and on tiptoe we made our way to take our morning wash - on tiptoe so that we didn't wake anybody, friend or foe.

Once in the bath house I said to Saulie, "We had better not dally here, because soon enough others will want to use the bath." I began throwing off my clothes; Saulie began to do likewise, but very slowly. I stood before him naked and urged him on: "Come on, Saulie, hurry up!" As he removed the last article of clothing he turned away from me. I realised what was happening. I stepped right up to him and grasped him by the shoulder and forced him to turn round. He faced me, but his hands immediately went down to cover his genitals. Gently, I pulled his hands away. I stood back and looked at him.

"You are so beautiful," I said, my voice choking with emotion.

"I'm scared," he mumbled. His whole body was trembling.

"Of me?" I asked incredulously.

"No. Of me," he said in a whisper. "I really don't know whether I am truly a ... a ... a man."

"What nonsense," I said giving him a friendly punch on the shoulder. "I shall prove to you that you are a man. You are the man I have been waiting for all this time. I have seen many men's bodies: none of them affected me as your's does. Just look at what the sight of my naked body is doing to you. You are a man, Saulie. You are my man."

"I don't know whether I can ... can do it."

"Well," I said, "we know what we may not do, so let's find out from what we may do."

I knelt down in front of him, my face right in front of his turgid tumescence. I ran my hands down the sides of his thighs and then down the backs of his thighs. His whole body trembled. I leaned forward and kissed the tip of his member. Then I took all of him into my mouth. His body began to react, that familiar gyration of the pelvis, and he pulled and pushed himself from and towards me as his passion increased. Suddenly he tried to pull away from me, but I held him fast in my mouth by clutching him around the buttocks. He gave himself to me, panting and gyrating. I swallowed and waited gently for him to calm down.

"There," I said. "You see. You are a man. And now you are my man for ever, because I have part of you inside me.

His faced broke into the most beautiful smile of sheer joy. He kissed me full on the mouth with passionate abandon, at the same time gently holding my aching member in his hand. Somewhere, through the pounding in my temples I could hear people outside beginning to stir. Reluctantly I pulled away from him. "Last one out of the pool does all the chores for the day!" I said, jumping straight into the water. Saulie was right behind me.

Saulie soaped me up most thoroughly and then I performed for him the same service. Then we both dived under the water to rinse off and then stepped out of the pool together, holding hands. Swiftly we dried each other off, got dressed and left the bath house as tidy as we had found it.

That morning Saulie and I prayed alone rather than with the rest of the group: we decided that prudence was the best part of valour! The inkeeper's wife gave us a superb breakfast and a "packed lunch" for the road.

"I think it would be a good idea if you two leave before the rest of the group. You can make your way towards Jerusalem by yourselves. There being just the two of you the others, who will be setting out later, will never catch you up. Believe me, in a day or so they will have forgotten all about you."

"How can we thank you for all your kindness?" I asked, sincerely.

"There is no need for thanks," said the inkeeper's wife.

"I've got an old cart in the shed which is still roadworthy - just. But you would need an animal to hitch up to it," said the inkeeper doubtfully.

"Do you have an animal that you could sell us?" asked Saulie. I gasped.

"Father, what about old Hezekiah?" asked the son.

"Yes," said his father, "we do have an old donkey that is too old for work. That donkey has served us well and deserves an honourable retirement."

"How much will it cost us to buy it?" asked Saulie.

With no haggling at all we agreed on a price for the old donkey and Saulie paid for it from the travel money that his father had given him. When we hitched the animal up to the cart it seemed pleased to be "back at work" and willing to go.

The inkeeper's wife gave us each a kiss on the cheek: there were tears in her eyes. Her husband gave us his blessing: "God be with you wherever you go and may he keep you safe and happy," he said, his voice choking slightly.

We loaded our meagre luggage into the back of the cart and climbed up onto the seat. Hezekiah moved off almost instantly, as if eager to bear us on our way. With a last wave to that wonderful family we were off again and on the road.

* * * * *

From Ramleh the road winds eastwards across land that is mostly flat, so even old Hezekiah had little trouble pulling us along. As we drove along the road we were singing at the tops of our voices.

Jerusalem is a city that is very high up, resting on top of a mountain. At a certain point the flat lands of Judah stop abruptly. The road enters into a narrow opening and from there onwards starts to climb up and up for many miles. At the point where the road narrows there is an inn on the right hand side of the road. For people coming from Jerusalem this point is the end of the long descent. The Arabs call it Bab el-Wad, Valley Gate, because it gives access to the Judean plains.

We pulled into the courtyard of the inn towards the end of the day. We had made very good timing and must have left the others at least two days behind us. Hezekiah was tired and badly needed his rest. So did we.

The inkeeper, and old man, gave us a splendid room all to ourselves! This was the very first time we had been able to make love in a proper bed, just the two of us. I think that night must be unforgettable for Saulie as much as it is for me. It was the nearest thing to ecstatic bliss we are ever likely to know.

The following morning we were up early. We made for the main dining area in hope of getting a good breakfast: we were starving hungry from our exertions of the previous day and all night! Just as we were about to enter the room we heard the sounds of two people quarrelling. Apparently the old inkeeper wanted to sell the inn but the buyer was not prepared to meet his price. Soon the would-be buyer went off angrily and the old inkeeper came in to serve us breakfast.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I guess you heard that."

We had to admit that we had indeed heard the altercation. With a sigh he explained: "I am getting old and I don't have the strength any more to run this inn properly. I want to sell it so that I can retire on the profits of my hard work all these years. But he keeps trying to bate me down, and I can't afford to let him do that. This is could be a goldmine: it is in a uniquely profitable site. Everyone travelling to Jerusalem from the coast has got to pass by here; there is no other way."

Saulie looked at me with a kind of urgent expression on his face. His hands fidgeted with his money bag as if to draw my attention to it and he raised his eyebrows as if questioning me. I said, "Let's have breakfast!"

Over breakfast we discussed Saulie's idea. He wanted us to buy the inn with the remainder of the generous allowance that his father had given him. The idea was logical. The inn would give us the opportunity to live together and at the same time would provide us with a steady income for as long as we could keep the place running. It really looked as if this opportunity was a blessing from heaven. After breakfast we told the inkeeper that we would like to buy his inn if the price was right. It transpired that Saulie had left in his money bag even more than the inkeeper was asking. And that was how we became the proud owners of the inn at Bab el-Wad.

* * * * *

Soon after we became inkeepers we began to notice that several of the travellers who came our way were partners: somehow we could tell that they were just like us. We always made sure that such travellers had a room and a bed to themselves however full the inn might be. We knew the meaning of the need for privacy. The local people began to call me Abraham from Tiberias and Saulie was, of course, Saul from Tyre. Over the years it became a byword among people such as us that when they needed to get away for a while and be together they would say "Let's go to Tiberias and Tyre".

This is how our pilgrimage ended. We never reached Jerusalem, but we did reach our desired destination. Strange and wonderful are the ways of God.


The ruins of that inn at Bab el-Wad still stand. However, they date from the much later Ottoman period; but why let a mere fact spoil the story?

Inn at Bab el-Wad

The picture above shows the inn as it was almost a century ago. Note the state of the "main road" to Jerusalem! For comparison below, on the left, is a picture of today's 6 lane highway at the same place. Next to it, on the right is a picture of the inn (on the left hand side of the road) as it is today. Sorry for the intrusion of the gas station on the other side of the road!

Route 1 at Shaar ha-Gai      Inn at Shaar ha-Gai

Lastly, below is a woodcut of the bath house in Tiberias as it was in 1880.

Tiberias Bath House

This story is dedicated with love and great fondness to someone whose own creativity far exeeds my own humble efforts. Across thousands of kilometers I hug him to me and pray that God will spare me to see what life makes of him and what he makes of life. He knows who he is. That is enough.

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