Charles Tan is going to take over running the blog again for a little while, so as a temporary goodbye, and in honour of the World Cup, here is an original short story to while away the weekend.
The Elders of Safed
By Lavie Tidhar
In Israel, when a winter is particularly savage, when something hadn’t happened in many years, such as freak snow or a tornado, they say that even the Elders of Safed don’t remember such a winter. There is a caveat. The cynics add that the Elders of Safed can’t even remember what they had for breakfast that morning. That is not true.
Safed lies in the mountains above the Sea of Galilee. It is the home of kaballah, the secret, mystical wisdom of the Jews. It is (with the exception of Jerusalem) the closest place to heaven, on Earth. Its residents paint the walls of their houses blue. Old men float down the street, deep in concentration, hovering several feet above the ground. Rare flowers blossom on street corners and grow upside-down and send bright petals blowing across windows and fill the air with the scents of Africa and Asia and Atlantis. There are alligators in the water supply. At certain times of the morning one can spot a herd of elephants, half-translucent, crossing the main street. An old English lady takes tea with God every afternoon in her backyard.
The Elders of Safed know when the sun will set and when it will rise, and have calculated down to several decimal points when the last ever sunset would be, and the time of the messiah’s arrival, which they keep secret but say, when pushed – ‘Don’t you worry, it won’t be any time soon.’ The Elders of Safed read the book of the Zohar every day and grow their beards long and some of them never cut their toenails. The children of Safed play soccer in the streets and they never stop to think that the Elders of Safed must have been children once, too, and were made to wash and go to bed early and weren’t allowed to get their shorts muddied. Every morning the Elders of Safed communicate telepathically with the monks of a hidden monastery that lies in a secret valley in Nepal, and they discuss the Overall Plan, and argue theology. Every four years the Elders of Safed watch the soccer world cup and lay bets and they use all their secret wisdom, but despite everything Israel had never made it past the preliminary stage.