A Cold Case
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is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
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Jaffa, Israel, 1949
Ashkenazi stepped out from his apartment and breathed in the mixture of the fragrances
that are Jaffa. As he scanned the
ancient city’s labyrinth of sun-drenched, cobblestoned streets, he smiled
thinking how in just two months of living here, the once-alien smells of this ancient
Mediterranean port had become so familiar, anticipated, and welcomed, as had
its diverse sights and sounds.
had walked down many of its lanes and through its alleyways, but had yet to see
everything that the biblical city offered.
A surprise seemed to greet him at every turn and corner: the ancient, stone
houses that huddled together along the narrow, meandering lanes; the alluring
smell of flowers with exotic names, Tziporen, Rafakot; the lulling sound of the
nearby sea as it rolled in to shore and pulled back; the admixture of Eastern
European and Middle Eastern cooking that wafted from the houses’ windows and
flowed down the circuitous streets.
chants of the monks from Jaffa’s innumerable churches converged with the call
to prayers of the muezzin from the minarets of the mosques. Christian and Muslim houses of worship
interspersed between countless synagogues.
had been a light rain the evening before, and the streets’ cobblestones still
had fallen in love with the old city. It
was a place where he could begin anew.
life before Jaffa was a secret; one he had in common with so many others here. Yosef was a sturdily built man whose physique
hid many facts about him. He always wore
long sleeves – even on hot, summer days – to hide the tattooed numbers on his
wrist. There was no shame; he just did
not want to be reminded.
Ashkenazi had arrived by ship in the new State of Israel only six months
earlier, after spending more than a year in a detention camp on the island of
Cyprus. There had been a blockade by the
British who ruled the land. Those
captured on the high seas trying to enter were taken to the Cypriot camps.
few years prior to his arrival in Israel, this strapping man had been an
emaciated, living skeleton with deep-set, lifeless eyes, who had survived the
war in a concentration camp in Poland.
Since his arrival, he had languished for a couple of months in a transit
center at Atlit near Haifa.
his home county, Romania, Yosef had been a primary school teacher. His hope was to teach again.
now, we have teachers,” the man from the Jewish Agency told him when he
arrived. “What we really need are people
to be firemen, postmen, construction workers.
Our country has grown by more than a million people in one year since
the state was declared. We were only
600,000 here a year ago. When you learn
the language, you can apply again to be a teacher.”
Nothing today,” Yosef shouted in the door at Federman’s clothing shop, as he
delivered the mail down winding Bar-Kochba Street. He made it a habit to tell everyone, one way
or the other, if they had mail or not.
know what it’s like to not get mail for years,” he told a colleague. “It’s important to people. If they don’t get anything, I try to spend
some time talking to them.”
though there were no uniforms yet for postal workers in the new country, Yosef
made sure that his pants and shirt were properly pressed. He did have a hat supplied by the post
office, but that was all.
morning, he went to the city’s main post office, where he helped sort mail,
placing letters for those on his route in order of address. As he left one residence or business, he
would check to see what he had for the next person. Today, there was a postcard for Jean Sachar
from France. Amos Abramson, the house
after that, received nothing. Nevertheless,
he would go in and chat with Abramson for a few moments.
that, the next stop on the route, Holy Land Numismatics, was one of his
favorites. He would stop and talk for a
few minutes with the owner, Daniel Sobelowicz, who had come to Jaffa 30 years
earlier, also from Romania. Yosef had
collected stamps as a boy and thought that maybe he could start collecting
coins once he had some money.
checked his bag one more time to see if there was any mail for Daniel. Nothing.
opened the shop door. “Nothing today¼”
gasped. He saw a sight that only a few
years before, when he was still in the concentration camp, wouldn’t have shocked
contorted, unmoving body of Daniel Sobelowicz lay sprawled on the shop’s
cracked, gray tile floor next to a broken glass store counter. Blood covered the dead man’s suit and
tie. More crimson encircled the corpse
on the floor like a halo. Blood also ran
along the grout lines between the tiles.
little shop was in shambles. The store’s
merchandise – rare ancient coins – was strewn throughout. Shelves, as well as several chairs and a
heavy wooden table, had been overturned.
Invoices and other papers littered the floor.
looks like he was killed even before the murderer ransacked the place.” Police
Inspector Gilad Bar-Sela appraised the situation when he arrived on the scene only
half an hour after the body was discovered by Yosef Ashkenazi. He picked up a few of the coins that were on
the floor and carefully examined them.
Ron Kleiner shook his head as he looked down at the old man. “It never makes sense.”
nodded in agreement. He squatted next to
the body and looked at the massive head wound.
“Something blunt,” he said, his eyes searching the shop’s disarray for
the murder weapon.
sergeant also looked around.
two men continued to peruse the small shop.
idea what the killer might have taken?” the sergeant asked. “Since all this other stuff is still here. All these coins have to add up to quite a bit
of money.” He looked down at the strewn
items on the floor. “It looks like the
killer may have been searching for something in particular.”
a strong possibility. We’ll have to see
if,” Bar-Sela paused to look at his notes, “if Mr. Daniel Sobelowicz had a
complete listing of his inventory.
That’s probably the only way we’d ever figure out what’s missing from
his place, if anything is gone.” He
continued to look around the small, dingy shop and sighed. He knew better. The
old-timers rarely keep records, he thought.
They commit everything to memory. And when they die, the memory dies with them.
called it in?” Bar-Sela asked.
postman. He found the body.” The sergeant nodded toward Yosef, who was
standing just outside the shop’s door.
Ashkenazi looked distraught; a look that he had worn all too often in his
told the police officers what little he knew.
we need anything else, we’ll contact you,” Bar-Sela said after taking the
we take the body yet?” the burly technician from the morgue interrupted. He was standing next to a stretcher by the
shop’s front door. He had been there for
more than half an hour watching the police.
number of cigarette butts covered the ground around him.
technician took another drag, blew out a last puff of smoke, dropped his lit
cigarette on the sidewalk, and stomped it out.
He and an associate gingerly lifted Sobelowicz’s body onto the stretcher,
and covered it with a sheet.
men grunted under the weight as they carried Daniel Sobelowicz out of the shop.
watched them take the body to the waiting ambulance. He sighed deeply. He was tired of death.
at night, if I’m lucky, I don’t dream,” he had told another policeman. “Other
times, I'm not so lucky. I see bodies, tens
had witnessed so much death in the recent war for Israel’s independence. More than 6,000 dead on the Israeli side
alone. Now an armistice negotiated by
the United Nations had just been signed on the Greek island of Rhodes with the
new country’s Arab neighbors, and he was hopeful that his children would never
have to fight in another war.
Next year, 1950, will be a better year, he
thought. A peace treaty will soon follow the armistices that were recently
signed and the stench of death will end.
course, he knew it wouldn’t end for him.
Never. He had chosen to be a
policeman and the bottom line was that people do awful things to one another.
Death in war is cleaner, he
thought. People are fighting for or against something. A cause.
Outside the shop, the hustle and
bustle continued. People walked down the
cobblestone lane. They moved past the
shop unaware of the tragedy that had taken place there.
had been a part of the ancient seaport for eons, but Jaffa carried on. The fact that the town still thrived was
proof of that. It was the oldest city on
the entire Mediterranean, more than seven thousand years old. In those seven millennia, it had seen a great
deal of history, much of it violent. Its
legacy extended from the biblical story of the whale swallowing Jonah off its
coast to visits during time of war and conquest by the likes of Sebastian the
Great, the Crusaders, and Napoleon.
had been many battles and many had died up to the recent past. Only the year before as the country struggled
for its very existence, the nascent and ill-equipped Israeli army successfully
fought to keep the historic city as part of the new country.
more murder, no matter how brutal, no matter how inexplicable, would not cause
much of a stir in Jaffa, at least not for more than 60 years.
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About Me: I am a former journalist, having worked in Texas and Washington, DC. In Washington, I covered the U.S. Supreme Court and the Department of Justice for a national radio network.
I also worked at the Justice Department as the spokesman for the Civil Division.
I was born in Ohio, but grew up in Texas. I currently live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
If you want to get in touch, my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org