The Adventure of Levy Eshkol Alley (Part 1)
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.”
TO BE CONTINUED…