Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Authorized guest post by Larry Adelman: Lewi ’Eshkol Alley, part 2

The Adventure of Levy Eshkol Alley (Part 2)
Larry Adelman

I wasted the next morning at the police station.  After tripping over a rock near the front, I had a hard time convincing the police that I was working with Israel’s greatest detective, even after I showed them a business card.  Even when they talked, the news was depressing.  There weren’t a lot of murders or missing people in Giv‘at Shmu’el, let alone any bodies lying in the morgue, and no one who had been reported recently missing had any resemblance to the mysterious Mr. Pinchas Abramowitz.  For good measure I checked the wanted posters and found no matches either.  My next stop was the library, on the way to which I tripped over another rock and seriously questioned whoever’s responsible for decorating the town.  Once there, I did find mention of a painter of that name who died in 1986, but obviously he was not the man in question.  The Internet provided nothing of use, so I looked up the phone numbers of every Pinchas Abramowitz in Israel and called them, all to no fruition.  For lack of anything better, I confirmed the address for Ms. Bluma Pomares, and then I was off again to trip on another rock.

A rock right outside the police station which only a stupid person would have put there.

Why are there so many rocks like this in Giv‘at Shmu’el?

On a hunch, I returned to the Bar Mitzvah, where I showed around the picture of Mr. Abramowitz to no avail.  Few if any remembered him, and none could tell me more than he had been there a few times, always in the company of Ms. Pomares.  On thinking about it, that did make sense.  Since she was dating the man, staying in a public place such as this, surrounded by so many reputable men and women, that would satisfy any religious requirements against them being alone together.  I tried one last time at the bar, where my waitress, an old grandmother who encouraged me to finish my soup, looked suspiciously at the picture.

“Who is this man?” she asked, and I gave her a quick outline, something which she gave a disgusted snort.  “I have this boy in my apartment building who resembles this man.  Perhaps they are brothers.”

“An Abramowitz?” I asked.

“Who knows his name?  But this boy, he is always is trouble, his parents are always yelling at him.  If his brother disappeared, this is the one you should look at.”

Shortly I was off down the street, and cutting across a back walkway I soon reached the apartment building.  The giant concrete structure might hold dozens of families, all stacked on top of each other.  There were buttons near the entrance, labeled with apartment numbers but (sadly) not names.  I pressed them all, and soon somebody buzzed me in.  The inside felt foreboding, too sparse and sterile, no common areas outside of the dreadful halls and lobby to bring the residents together.  A short elevator ride and I reached the proper floor.

A picture which shows my incompetence as a photographer because the apartment building I was trying to capture is pretty badly centered.

My plan had been simple:  I would go to the apartment the waitress described, and if Mr. Abramowitz was not there himself, perhaps this brother of his might be.  The problems with my plans began to sink in:  what if no one was home, or the resident became violent?  I was not an expert at krav maga‘ as my brother was, and should a gun be brought into play, the situation would become deeply unfortunate for me.

I came to the correct door number and had to check it twice to be sure.  To my surprise I heard yelling behind the door, though who it was or what they were saying were lost to me..  I even tried putting my ear to the door, hoping for a clue, but an old lady came out of a nearby apartment and chased me off with her walker.  So much for a clue.

That afternoon I met up with Aaron again at his favored café and related everything I had experienced.  “Entirely unsurprising,” he said in between sips.  “Everything is exactly as I expected it.”

An extremely bad picture of behind the café which shows absolutely nothing except my dire need to take photography classes.

“What, that there’s no missing person who matches Abramowitz?” I asked.

“When someone expects something to happen to them, which is more likely, a premonition or a plan to disappear?”

“But why should he want to disappear?”

“Perhaps the problem is with her, our client.”

“I can’t imagine such a thing.  Ms. Pomares is quite an agreeable woman.”

“I expected that opinion from you, but not everyone shares it.  Even if Abramowitz is interested in Ms. Pomares, there may be other factors involved.”

“But what could possibly keep him away?”

“Quite a few possibilities come to mind.  But let’s not worry about that.  All will be clear this evening.”

“So you’ve solved the case?”

“A minor puzzle, but not without its charms.  Come, Larry.  We must prepare.”

I expected Ms. Pomares to join us that evening, but Aaron did not think it wise.  “A case such as this is bound to be trying,” he said.  “I believe certain facts should be brought to light before all is revealed.  Fortunately that should not be long.”

It was only a few minutes before there was knock at the door.  Two young men stood on our doorstep, skinny, college-age, and fidgety.  “Ah, so kind of you to come as invited,” said Aaron.  “Larry, allow me to present Mr. Dror Pomares, Ms. Pomares’ brother, and is his best friend, Mr. Rafael Lifshitz.”

“Where exactly where did you bring us?” asked Dror, the one with more gel in his hair.  “I thought you said they had a keg!”

“That’s what the guy from the radio told me!” insisted Rafael.  “So where’s Nickleback?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me for the ruse,” said Aaron.  “Aaron Adelman, private detective, and this is my brother Larry.  We have been retained to investigate the disappearance of one Pinchas Abramowitz.”

The two of them stiffened up, glancing at each other.  “Dror…” Rafael began.

“Shut up, Rafi!” insisted Dror.  “Look, Mr.… Mountain Man, there’s obviously been some kind of misunderstanding.”

“Hey, he knows!”

“What did I tell you?  He knows nothing!”

“Perhaps you should let me tell you what I’ve surmised, and then you may tell me how much I know,” said Aaron, stepping in front of the door.  “Or perhaps I could be the first to tell all this to Ms. Pomares, and we shall see how well she handles this.”

The two bickered a little more but at last assented.  “Ms. Pomares’ religiosity has been quite a source of friction in your family,” Aaron suggested.  “Some learn to accommodate, while some never manage, even become resentful.  Let us suppose then that you are of the latter, and being such, decide to have a little fun at her expense.  You know she’s attending matchmaking functions, and as you attended the same university, you easily learn the where and when.  Obviously if someone threw himself in the pool, there’d be opportunities to gain some embarrassing information, or perhaps even make a fool of her.  You of course could never be there yourself, Mr. Pomares, but if you had a confederate in the dating pool…  Mr. Lifshitz, I presume, or is it Mr. Abramowitz?”

Rafael spat out a profane Arabic loanword.

“That’s enough,” said Dror.  “You have no proof!”

“On the contrary,” continued Aaron, “the convenient overly long beard, certainly false, and the sunglasses would both serve well to hide one’s identity.  Padding within the clothes could easily serve to give the appearance of greater weight.  Ms. Pomares may not have recognized him; I presume she avoids your friends, Mr. Pomares.  No surprise there.  However, Mr. Lifshitz, someone at the Bar Mitzvah identified you, even so far as to point out your apartment; a simple check of the listings confirms the match.  Of course, instead of a single meeting, you had to keep seeing her.  Perhaps you genuinely liked her.  And that presented the problem of what eventually happens when she wants to move to the next phase.  Impossible, of course, so you arrange to break it off.  I can’t imagine she will be pleased with either of you when learns the truth of the matter.  Have either of you anything to say for yourself?”

“He said it would be funny!” cried Rafael, and soon the two were rolling on the floor, trying to kill each other.

We eventually sorted it out.  The two miscreants apologized under duress, which was not to Ms. Pomares’ liking.  Aaron, of course, quickly became engaged in the next mystery to come along, typical for him, though not always using what services were available.  For once, I actually had little problem with this, especially as now Ms. Pomares was open to my attentions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Authorized guest post by Larry Adelman: Lewi ’Eshkol Alley, part 1

The Adventure of Levy Eshkol Alley (Part 1)
Larry Adelman

As is well known, the Adelman family is very extensive.  From the same set of parents came first the twins, Aaron Solomon “Nails” Adelman and Barry Eshkol Adelman, then two years later their brother David Eli “Snake Eyes” Adelman, then a year later our brother Fred Mortimer Adelman.  After another few years came our sister Adele Adelheid Adelman, then another brother, Reuben Z. “Ripper” Adelman, and then finally me, the youngest, Larry Adelman.  We, of course, all went our separate ways:  Barry is a psychologist, Davey Snake Eyes a mechanical engineer, Fred runs a sporting-goods store in Bangor, Maine, Adele is a pediatrician, and Ripper (having taken his nickname from a pet rabbit) is serving five to ten for grand theft auto.  Aaron had been a puzzle, and for the years he lived on our parents’ couch, I had the impression that he did absolutely nothing with his degree in epidemiology.  It was not until six months ago, when I came to live on his couch through no fault of my own, that I came to know what his real profession was, and that was being Israel’s greatest private detective.

“Greatest detective in all of Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, probably Lebanon” he told me, showing me a business card which said as much.  I wasn’t in a position to argue, but there was always a stream of clients through his door, a strange assortment from the poorest of new immigrants to the highest officials in the Israeli government.  Much of what I’ve seen I’m not at liberty to reveal at this time, but of the remaining cases there are quite a few which are quite instructive of his methods, and of which I am happy to relate for the education of the reader.

Our story begins after a particularly harrowing case.  We had wandered over half of Israel in just under two days, following clues from Bethlehem to the Negev and all the way back to Ramat-Gan.  Having saved the Israeli government from a scandal, once we returned to our apartment in Giv‘at Shmu’el, we set out again for a little relaxation.  I had wanted to take Aaron to a restaurant in Tel-Aviv called Super Sushi, but Aaron had his strange, squeamish ways that he was loathe to give up.  The compromise was to head for the nearby Levy Eshkol Alley, which held the town’s only Orthodox Jewish bar.

“Levy Eshkol Alley
1895-1969 head of the government of Israel
during the period of the Six-Day War.”

Officially known as the Bar Mitzvah, it is more commonly known as the Two Parrots Bar because of the two fake parrots mounted in a tree outside.  The inside is comfortable and well-lit, with plenty of simple wood panelling and furniture that suggests more of a European shtetl than the modern world.  A large table in the back is reserved for study, and some of the top religious scholars at Bar-Ilan University regularly show to participate in a Talmud study group which has so far completed the entire seven-and-a-half-year cycle three times.  The food is kosher, of course, serving not just a variety of beers, wines, and spirits, but also several appetizers and snacks such as matzo-ball soup and their famous mini-kugels.  The atmosphere is heavily religious; not saying a blessing is considered highly improper, as is swearing and rude behavior.  Everything stops for the daily prayer services, and of course all the major holidays are celebrated, including a costume contest on Purim.

The fake parrots outside the Bar Mitzvah.

Sitting at the bar, I ordered us some beers (Aaron, who rarely drank, had no idea what to order) and we talked for a bit.  After a variety of religious topics (Aaron’s favorite pet peeve), we came to the topic of why such a successful detective was not married yet.

“My work does keep me busy, it is true,” he admitted.  “But I have also yet to find the right woman.”

“That is just an excuse,” I claimed.

“Certainly not,” he countered.  “I assure you, my powers of observation are as keep as ever on the matter.  If I can tell, for example, that the gentleman sitting to the left of us is a left-handed Radziner Hasid who has compulsive tendencies and regularly does his morning prayers near an east-facing window—”

“How could you possibly know that!” I exclaimed.

“The same way I know that you are wearing blue striped underwear, Larry:  mere observation.  Note the faint bands on his right arm which are lighter than the rest of his skin.  Obviously the result of the strap of the tfilin he wears for his morning prayers. However to obtain such a result he would have to be near an east-facing window so the sunshine could reach him.  Morning prayers, however, typically do not last long enough for significant tanning in any one day, so he must also be compulsive as the strap must be put back exactly the same way every morning.”

“Splendid!  But how about him being a Radziner Hasid?”

“Note the blue thread of his tsitsit.  The majority opinion is that the dye to be used comes from the banded dye-murex snail, Hexaplex trunculus, this being chemically identical to indigo.  That man’s tsitsit, however, are dyed with Prussian blue, which comes from the common cuttlefish.  That is from a minority opinion by the Radziner Rebbe Gershon Henoch Leiner, which is thus followed by the Radziner Hasidim.  And since he wears his tfilin on his right arm, he must be left-handed.”

“And what about the underwear?”

“Your fly is unzipped.”

Aaron took a swig as I remedied the situation.  “The same methodology can be applied to selecting women as potential matches,” he continued.  “For example, that woman over there.”  He indicated one sitting at a small table by herself.  “She has obviously been waiting for her fiancé, of whom she has been having doubts and today is much later than expected.  But still, attached, so don’t get your hopes up.”

“Now you’re just making stuff up!” I insisted, but Aaron shook his head.

“The hair is uncovered,” he noted, “and that is clearly not a wig, suggesting an unmarried woman.  No recent haircut obviously, no makeup, no particularly attempts to look especially attractive, so she is definitely considers herself off the market.  That and the ring, which has a diamond, appropriate for an engagement ring but not a wedding ring.  All those point to a fiancé.  Note what is in front of her, just a glass of water the waitress has brought, nothing more substantial, as if she were waiting on someone to order.  Also note the lack of a book or other activities, and the way she glances around the room and at the clock over the door.  Clearly she expected someone to be here who is now unusually late.”

“But how do you know she is having doubts?”

“How else would you explain her taking off her ring and repeatedly looking at it?”
In a moment I was up and out of my seat.  After spending time with Aaron, I had developed a better sense of justice, and the thought of leaving her there alone seemed callous.  Perhaps the thought of taking her out if her current engagement didn’t work out crossed my mind, but I sure wasn’t about to admit that.  “Hello,” I began, and her eyes fell upon me, brilliant hazel of all colors.  “My name is Larry Adelman, and this is my brother, the famous detective Aaron Adelman.  Tell me, how late is your fiancé?”

The woman’s jaw dropped.  “How could you possibly know I had a fiancé?” she gasped.

And then Aaron, in his typical style, went over every picky detail of his reasoning.  “As you can see, it is all quite obvious,” he concluded.

“Well, it is true,” she admitted.  “He was supposed to meet me over an hour ago, and now he is dreadfully late.  Oh, he said that something like this could happen!”

“Fortunately you have the services here of Israel’s greatest detective,” I said, and Aaron took me by the ear and dragged me halfway across the room.  “We’ll only be a moment!” I assured her.  “Detective business!”

“Pardon,” said Aaron, “but I am running a business.  If you’ll notice, the shoes are a few years out of date and the coat is worn.  I doubt she is terribly well off.”

“After the handsome reward you got for returning the Immovable Ladder?  We can afford a few pro bono cases.”

“That is not the point.  You are not at liberty to bestow my services willy-nilly.”

“Please, I’m asking you.”

“And who’s paying for it?”

“Um, I will.”

“You sleep on my couch.”

“I’ll make it up to you somehow, I promise.”

Aaron sighed and we returned to the young lady, who told us her story.  Bluma Pomares (our client) had come from an secularist family, her Ashkenazi mother and Sefardi father recently both settled in Tel-Aviv.  Out of the set of four children, she was the only one to turn religious, and over the past year or so, whenever her complicated schedule as a graduate student at Bar-Ilan allowed it, she began attending one of the synagogues in Giv‘at Shmu’el.  Her family had decidedly mixed feelings about her religiosity, though they tried to accommodate her as best they could.  Her younger brother, Dror, still in college at Bar-Ilan, had been especially unhappy about it.

As for the fiancé, the story of their meeting was an interesting one.  It happened at a religious speed-dating event, only the second she had ever attended.  At the first one, sponsored by her favored synagogue, she had been strongly discouraged by what she saw as a poor selection.  Whether her expectations were off or it was simply a bad night, she couldn’t be sure, but it was almost bad enough that she felt like giving up.  Oddly enough, it was her brother’s friend Rafi who encouraged her to go to another event.

“Pray tell,” said Aaron, tenting his fingers together, “who exactly is this Rafi?”

Ms. Pomares went on to explain that Mr. Rafael Lifshitz, one of Dror’s childhood friends, was also a student at Bar-Ilan.  Back when they were younger, Ms. Pomares had babysat for him once or twice, but that ended badly when he developed a crush on her. However, things had settled between them since, and in fact he had been the one to encourage her to try again.  So, showing up at the local Melon Hotel just down the street, she first met some of the same disappointing men she’d met before, and then the one who became her fiancé, the amazing Pinchas Abramowitz.  Pinchas was a graduate student like her, attending the Jewish Studies program.  Unlike the other men attending, she found him funny and engaging, maybe not the most knowledgeable about his program (he claimed to have gone religious rather recently), but certainly never boring.

The Melon Hotel in Giv‘at Shmu’el.

“And what exactly does Mr. Abramowitz look like?” Aaron asked.

“Well, he is a bit scraggly,” she admitted.  “Quite a large beard.  Maybe a little portly. Would seeing a picture help?”

She produced a small photograph, and he was indeed as she described, in the typical understated dress of the observant, though with the strange addition of wraparound sunglasses, so large that they seemed to half-swallow his face.  Ms. Pomares explained that her dear Pinchas had a medical condition, making him unusually sensitive to light.”

“That’s a very unusual condition,” I noted.

“And one with quite a few causes,” said Aaron.  “Has he ever discussed what his medical condition was?”

He hadn’t.  Whatever it was, Mr. Abramowitz was so engaging that she soon began to see him regularly, even agreeing to marry him after a few dates.  But then the last time he’d seen her, there’d been a change, with him talking about a fear that he might not be seen again, that something would happen to him, and if that happened, he wanted her to wait for him.

“And now,” she continued, “he’s so very late, hours late.  Please, Mr. Adelman, you must help me!  I’m ever so worried his premonition came true!”

Aaron agreed to help, collecting some basic information from her, and then we had to stop for the afternoon prayer service.  Ms. Pomares, of course, agreed to contact us if she heard anything from Mr. Abramowitz.  Afterwards Aaron and I departed, dividing up the investigating chores for the day.

“Your tasks,” said Aaron, “begin with checking with the police.  See if there are any unclaimed bodies matching Mr. Abramowitz’s description or if anyone else has reported him missing.  Probably not, but one should always be thorough.”

Pylons outside police headquarters to prevent car bombings.

“Where will you be?” I asked as we crossed the street, moving around the thickly parked cars.

A critical parking crisis on Levy Eshkol Avenue near the Bar Mitzvah.

“I will be going to Bar-Ilan University,” he answered.  “So far I have my own suspicions about Mr. Abramowitz.  Have a look at the picture again, Larry.  What else do you notice?”

I took from him the same picture that Ms. Pomares had given us, but so far nothing especially odd struck me.  “He has incredibly poor fashion sense?” I suggested.  “That and his beard could use a trimming.  Not that the same doesn’t apply to you as well.”

“You don’t know how close you are,” pronounced my brother.  “Cheer up, Larry.  I expect the whole mystery cleared up by this time tomorrow.”


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Boring 2012 conference

Jewish date:  19 Kislew 5772 (evening) (Parashath Wayyeshev).

Today’s events:  National Fritters Day, Special Education Day.


Taking a break from the series on Giv‘ath Shemu’el, today’s weird thing is the Boring 2012 conference, a conference dedicated only to boring things, documented in “Boring Conference: A dispatch from James Ward’s annual celebration of banality” and “Boring festival brings unexpected intrigue”.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.