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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. I called up Lambros to congratulate him on fulfilling his dream — making it to the faculty of Harvard
June 25, 1963
I called up Lambros to congratulate him on fulfilling his dream — making it to the faculty of Harvard. This in addition to getting a book accepted for publication. The guy’s an absolute rocket.
He kind of downplayed it, telling me that an instructorship is not that big a thing, and that the real challenge is whether or not they give you tenure. But the guy’s in such a hurry. I know he’s going to make it all the way. I just wish he wouldn’t be so overanxious.
Then Sara took the phone to congratulate me.
I protested that credit ought to go to Faith. I mean, all I did was get home on time from the office one evening to sort of start things going. She carried little Andy for nine months.
Sara was keen to discuss diapers and breast-feeding and all kinds of maternal stuff. Which leads me to believe that she and Ted have got procreative inclinations. It makes sense. He’s reached the point in his life where he can be proud of what he’s accomplished. And that’s the time to start a family.
When Faith was preg, we splurged and bought a big house outside Stamford. It’s an easy commute for me. Indeed, since I’m now involved in IPO’s — otherwise known as underwriting — at Downs, Winship, I can sometimes use the commuting time to arm-twist an old school or college buddy from another institution on the Street into joining us in financing a new issue.
I’ve learned a good deal about banking in the past few years. There is some technical stuff but a lot depends on getting along with other preppies over lunch at their Wall Street clubs.
There’s nothing difficult for me in that, and so I’ve not been kicked out yet. In fact, just the other day, one of the vice-presidents told me to “keep up the good work.”
I don’t know how I can possibly improve, unless I have two lunches a day.
I like marriage. It’s not only enjoyable, it’s efficient from the point of view of time and motion. All the bachelors in my office are preoccupied with where their next date is coming from. While I know that after a hard day of being likable, when I get off the train and drive eleven minutes, there’ll be a great-looking blonde waiting to greet me with the driest martini in Conneticut. I mean, you can’t get any closer to bliss than that, can you?
Naturally, we go to all the Harvard football games, following the whole ritual from tailgate picnics before to cocktail parties after. Sometimes I even stay in New York after work and watch films of the previous Saturday’s game at the Harvard Club. And then sit around with the guys discussing what we did wrong.
Faith doesn’t mind. She’s a great kid that way.
Actually, I dream of taking my son along to the game someday. He’ll be the Harvard Class of ’84.
I know that the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in my whole life is becoming a father.
Of course, there’s not much for me to do yet. In fact, we’ve got this great English nanny, so there’s not much for Faith to do, either. But I really look forward to talking to Andy, teaching him how to swim and play ball, and having him — for a while at least, I hope — look up to me with respect.
And I’ll try to spare him all the pressures of the “Eliot tradition.”
I talk to him already. Sometimes I sneak into his room when the nanny’s not around and say stupid things like, “Hey, old buddy, why don’t we two slip down to Cronin’s for a few beers?”
I think he smiles at this, so maybe he understands more than I imagine.
All in all, my life seems to be “a fun thing.”
I’m bullish on the future.
On the first Sunday in July, the kibbutz volunteers arrived at Vered Ha-Gaul, and Jason moved into the small barracks that had been set aside for them. They were from Scandinavia, France, and England, as well as the United States and Canada. Almost all were younger than he. And surprisingly, many were Christian.
They rose at 5:00 A.M. and, with few complaints, worked in the orange groves till 8:00. Then after breakfast when the others returned to the fields, they went to the classroom for elementary language instruction. Even though he felt like their grandfather, Jason tagged along.
But in the evenings while the others partied, he would work alone in the kibbutz garage repairing and tuning their vehicles. What had once been a pleasant hobby was now a necessary activity. To keep him from thinking.
Since the kibbutz was not a religious one, on the Sabbath they piled the volunteers into their ramshackle bus and bounced them over the countryside on endless excursions.
As one of the English teachers, Eva was in charge of the descriptive aspects of these expeditions. One was to the mountain fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea. Here, in the first century AD., a small band of Jewish Zealots withstood a two-year siege by the Roman legions. And when they were finally on the verge of defeat, chose to take their own lives rather than become slaves.
Eva gave her little explanatory briefing, while all about them archaeologists — including hundreds of summer volunteers — continued to excavate the site.
“This remnant of old Israel,” she began, “has become a rallying symbol for us. It shows our determination never again to surrender to an oppressor.”
Jason looked over the stone walls at the plain below and imagined what it must have been like for the outnumbered Zealots to see the heavily armed enemy swarming below them. God, they had courage, he thought.
But then, they had nowhere to go.
If Masada had been uplifting, their next tour was devastating.
They visited Yad Va-Shem, the memorial in Jerusalem dedicated to the six million victims of the Holocaust.
On the floor of the darkened building were plaques naming the many concentration camps in which the victims had perished. The magnitude of the catastrophe was almost too monstrous to contemplate.
The flame burning in eternal commemoration of those wretched martyrs seemed pitifully small. Yet indestructibly bright.
Eva dwelt on this theme during the solemn bus ride home.
“Compared to the many who died, there are few of us here to keep that flame alive,” she said. “I don’t think anyone can understand what this country means until they have seen what we saw today.”
The Sea of Galilee glowed with the rays of the setting sun as the bus journey neared its conclusion. For nearly an hour all had ridden in total silence. Then Jonathan, an American volunteer, spoke out.
“Eva, something’s always bothered me. Whenever I try to discuss the Holocaust with my gentile friends back home, they always ask the same question— Why did they go so passively to the gas chambers? Why didn’t they fight back?”
There was a slight stirring among the passengers in the bus as they strained forward to hear how Eva would reply.
“There were some who fought, Jonathan. Like the brave resisters in the Warsaw ghetto who gave the Nazis a battle to the very end. But it is true that not enough were like that. And there is an explanation.
“When the world found out — and believe me, everyone, including your own President Roosevelt, knew — that Hitler meant to destroy all the Jews of Europe, countries did not throw open their gates and offer them sanctuary. On the contrary, I could tell you terrible stories about shiploads of escapees being turned away and sent back to Germany.
“And when the Jews realized that there was nowhere in the world they could go, a great many despaired. They had no will to fight because they had nothing to fight for.”
There was silence for a moment. Then a young Danish girl raised her hand and asked, “Do you think it is possible such a thing could happen again?”
“No,” Eva replied. “Never. And what makes me so sure is what you see outside the window. The Jews at last have a country of their own.”
“That was quite a speech you gave,” Jason remarked to Eva as they were strolling after dinner. It was a late-summer evening, the air heavy with the scent of flowers.
“Did it make sense to you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “In fact, it was very upsetting.”
“Which part?” she asked.
“Well, your intimation that a Jew will never be fully accepted anywhere but here. That’s not what I’ve been brought up to believe.”
“Forgive me,” she replied, “but my family was as Dutch as yours is American. Still when the war came, it was amazing how quickly we became Jews and aliens.”
“My father thinks otherwise.”
She looked up at him and said with quiet fervor, “Then your father has learned nothing from the history of his people.” And she quickly added, “I’m sorry if that sounded impolite.”
“That’s okay,” he answered sincerely. “But I grew up believing that America is special. A place where everyone really is equal-like it says in our Constitution.”
“Do you still believe that?”
“Sort of,” he said, temporarily forgetting some of the minor setbacks he’d experienced because of his heritage.
“May I ask you something?”
“Could you ever be elected President of the United States?”
He hesitated and then replied, “No.”
She smiled. “The difference is — you could be elected President of Israel.”
By the middle of August, Jason had a rudimentary knowledge of the Hebrew language. He also had a collection of increasingly urgent letters from his parents inquiring when exactly he intended to return. He could not reply because he was still unable to decipher his own emotions.
Did he, in fact, want to go back to law school at all? Did he want to leave Israel?
Finally, he came to a decision. He waited up past midnight, when there was a better chance of getting a clear connection to the States, and phoned his parents.
“Look,” he explained, trying to sound both cheerful and rational, “I think I’d like to hold off going back to school for a while.”
“Son,” his father pleaded, “you’ve never let me down before. Can’t you pull yourself together and get over this? You’ve got a brilliant life ahead of you.”
“Look, Dad,” he answered patiently, “I’m a grown-up now. I’m making decisions for myself.”
“Jason, this isn’t fair. I gave you the best of everything.”
“Dad, you did give me the best. But I’m not sure you gave me everything.”
When he hung up and walked out of the secretary’s office, he saw Eva seated at one of the long tables in the empty dining hall. He went over and sat down next to her.
“Want a lemonade?” she asked.
“I’d prefer a beer.”
She got him a bottle from the kitchen and sat down again. “So who won?”
“It was a split decision,” Jason replied. “Let’s just say we both lost.”
“Are you staying?”
“For the next year, anyway. I mean, I might as well finish learning the language, right? Maybe I’ll become the George Keller of Israel.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What is a George Keller?”
“A crazy Hungarian and my Harvard classmate.”
“From what you’ve told me so far, all your Harvard classmates are crazy.”
“That’s true,” he smiled back, “and the proof of it is that here I am, First Marshal of my class, potential U. S. senator, picking oranges in the north of a little Middle Eastern country.”
“On the contrary,” said Eva lightheartedly, “that proves you’re the only sane one.”
For the first time in his life Jason Gilbert became an academic grind.
With Eva’s help he found the most intensive Hebrew-teaching Ulpan in the country. It was at Tel Aviv University, intended for high-powered professionals who needed to master the language quickly.
There were four hours of instruction in the morning, a lunch break, and then another four in the afternoon. After which he would run on the university track, then go back to his room in Beit Brodetsky and study until he could keep awake no longer. The only rest he took was from nine to nine-thirty to watch Mabat , the news broadcast on television.
After a month and a half of this self-inflicted torture, he was heartened to find that he could actually understand what was happening in the outside world.
Sarà Lambros was awakened by muffled sounds from the other room. She squinted sleepily at the bedside clock. It was just after 6:00 A.M.
“Ted, what the hell are you doing?”
“Getting dressed, honey. Sorry I disturbed you.”
“Do you know what the time is?”
“Yeah, I’d better hurry.”
“But where are you going at this hour?”
“The Square. Gotta get to the newsstand before any of the students are up.”
“What on earth for?”
Ted came back into the bedroom. He was unshaven, dressed sloppily in a grungy army-surplus jacket with a woolen cap.
“Are you going out like that? You look like a bum.”
“Great, Sara. That’s the whole point. It’s absolutely crucial that nobody recognizes me buying the Confy Guide .”
Sara sat up laughing.
“Is that it? Come on, Ted. You know everybody on the faculty reads it.”
“I know, I know. But have you ever actually seen one in a professor’s hands?”
“No. And I’ll be damned if I can figure out how they get a hold of it. I’ve a strong suspicion they might send their wives, And I’ll gladly shill for you during my lunch hour.”
“God, no, I can’t wait that long. I’ve gotta know the verdict. I’m going now.”
He kissed her quickly on the cheek and headed out. As he strode rapidly toward Harvard Square he began to sweat, After all, this was September, the first day of the new term. And he was dressed for the middle of winter.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see the huge pile of shiny black-covered magazines. They had probably just been delivered. First he glanced left and right to make sure the coast was clear. Then he casually picked up a New York Times and swiftly snatched a copy of The Harvard Crimson Confidential Guide to Student Courses , immediately burying it in the paper. Having carried the exact change in his hand, he quickly paid and was off.
Unable to bear the tension of the journey home, he hastened around the kiosk into one of the telephone booths. He pulled out the magazine, his fingers nervously groping for the classics evaluations.
First he looked at Greek A. It was an auspicious start: “Dr. Lambros is a marvelous guide through the intricacies of this difficult language. He makes what could be a boring task an absolute delight.”
Then Latin 2A: “Students taking this course will be well advised to opt for Dr. Lambros’s section. He is arguably the liveliest teacher in the department.”
He closed the book, shoved it back into the Times , and let out an inner whoop of joy. By that afternoon everybody at Harvard would have — just as clandestinely — read those student critiques.
He was made in the shade. If there had been any doubt of his being promoted to assistant professor that spring, this would dispel it. All those hours he’d spent in preparation had not been in vain.
Wait till Sara sees this.
He left the phone booth and began a homeward sprint. Suddenly a familiar voice hailed him.
He skidded to a stop and whirled to see that it was John Finley, who — what rotten luck — was probably taking his early-morning constitutional.
“Uh-hello, Professor Finley. I-uh-was just jogging on the river to get fit for the new term.”
“Splendid, splendid,” the great man replied. “Don’t let me interrupt you.”
“Thanks, sir,” Ted blurted and whirled again to escape.
“Oh, and, Ted,” Finley called after him, “congratulations on your marvelous reviews.”
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