CHAPTER ONE “Uri” Means Light

As far as Itzhaak and Margarete Geller were concerned, the birth of their first son, Uri, on December 20, 1946, in Tel Aviv, was a moment of peace in an unending struggle for survival. Itzhaak had fled from Hungary in 1940 before the holocaust consumed Europe. Upon landing in Palestine he had worked on a kibbutz, happy to be alive and free. When the British finally decided in 1942 to allow Jews to fight in the Allied cause to help defeat Nazi Germany, Itzhaak was one of the first to volunteer. He was trained as a tanker and fought with great courage and ingenuity against Rommel’s forces in Africa.
Itzhaak Geller, like so many others, believed that he had a covenant with God by living in the Promised Land until God, in his perfect wisdom, revealed to his chosen ones why they had been chosen. If a man settled on a piece of land in Palestine, and if by sunrise he had established a water supply and a dwelling, Turkish common law gave him the rights of a settler. Itzhaak and his friends purchased a piece of scrub desert from a sheikh near Beersheba. The sheikh felt sure that the land could not be settled because the nearest waterline was a mile away. The planning for this new Jewish settlement went on for months. In pitch-darkness the young men and women practiced assembling their prefabricated huts and laying down a waterline that would not leak. They loaded their new community on six trucks and under cover of darkness arrived at “their” land. When the sun arose the next morning, it saw a brand-new kibbutz complete with huts, fences, watchtowers, and a precious waterline. The weary kibbutzniks proudly patrolled their settlement in the searing heat of that long first day. The Arabs came up with their flocks and tents and just stared at this miracle in the desert. There was no hostility in the air. The ancient law had been honorably fulfilled.
But Itzhaak and his friends learned that if they did not patrol their land twenty-four hours a day, they would be killed by anti-Jewish fanatics. They became a part of the home defense effort called the Haganah. This was a primitive home-guard militia defending land, home and family, and especially children.
Some of Itzhaak’s friends who were political-minded joined a secret military group called the Palmach. The Haganah was solely concerned with defence; the Palmach was concerned with pre-emptive attacks, reprisals, and sabotage. Itzhaak was neither bloodthirsty nor war-minded and served only in the Haganah.
By 1949 the local outbreaks of violence had become more dangerous each day, and the little world of Israel had no peace for the baby Uri. Itzhaak found himself spending more and more of his time in soldiering and training others to be soldiers. The stress and strain was beginning to take its toll. Unlike many Jews, he could find no solace and peace in reading the Bible, nor in prayers. He was a man of action, and when he was troubled, he found some release by going to another woman. One day he found a young woman who gave him more peace than did his wife, Margarete. And Margarete was so heartbroken that she took young Uri and left home. Itzhaak, too, was heartbroken, but now it was a matter of personal survival.
Margarete moved to the budding town of Tel Aviv near the old Arab city of Jaffa (biblical Joppa). She found a job as a seamstress, and Uri spent the day in the company of a neighbor and her children. He loved this kindly lady, but she shouted too often and too loudly at her unruly brood. Uri eventually found a place where he could be happy in the midst of all of the bustling humanity around him. Across the street from his apartment was a stately Arab estate. It was fully a square block in size with a gray shuttered villa in one corner. It was surrounded by a high wooden fence that screened it off completely from eyes on the street. One day, Uri, in trying to peek through the fence, found that a vertical board gave way as though it were hinged at the top, and he stepped into what seemed to him a magic world. He saw near him a pool with fish in it. Through the ancient olive trees he saw the shuttered, gray stone house. No one appeared to be near, so he cautiously moved into the garden. The heavy foliage was sweet-smelling, the air was fresh, and the sounds of the street seemed far away and unreal. He dipped his bare feet into the pool and found that the fish were friendly and began to nibble on his toes. For the first time in his life he had a vision of beauty and peace. As this feeling settled down into the heart of a three-year-old boy, he lay down on the grass and fell asleep. At least for one soul in Israel there was peace in December 1949.
Uri awoke from what seemed like a long, long sleep, and he knew by his stomach clock, and by the shadows, that he had missed his noonday meal. He decided to take a trip around this vast scented forest before going home. As he reached the south side of the pool, with the sun at his back, he looked up at the clear sky over the pool. Slowly settling down from the sky was a huge, silent, bowl-shaped object. He stared in fascination: What kind of an airplane was this? All the planes his father had shown him were wonderfully noisy things with bird-like wings. This one was as quiet as his garden. It looked like the bottom of his mother’s huge aluminum bowl, which she used to wash vegetables. It gave him a feeling of peace and beauty and of strength like when he was with his father.
Suddenly between himself and the bowl in the sky there was the shadow of a huge figure like the shadow of a man with a long cape, because there were no arms or legs to be seen. As he stared at this figure, a blinding ray of light came from its head and struck Uri so forcibly that he fell over backward and into a deep sleep. Again he slept for several hours to be awakened by the chilling shadows of the setting sun. He leaped up cold and hungry. He looked to the sky for the bowl, but it was gone. He remembered the blinding light of the shadow man, and somehow it made him feel good. He ran to the fence, found his loose board, scuttled through, and ran up the steps to the third-floor apartment. His mother asked him where he had been for so long. He eagerly told the story of the garden, the fish that nibbled, and the bowl in the sky. His mother spanked him for being away and scaring everyone by his absence and then telling such a tall tale. So for many years he did not speak to anyone again about his secret garden or the bowl in the sky. For a while he would return to the garden and await the bowl. But when it did not reappear after a few months, he forgot all about it.
The only recreation that Uri’s mother, Margarete, had was playing cards at the homes of her friends. When she returned, Uri would awaken, tell her how much money she had won or lost, and go back to sleep. Margarete was amazed because he was always accurate down to the last piastre. How did he know this? She didn’t think about it too much, but made it into a “guessing game” that she and Uri would play when she came home.
Itzhaak was scarcely aware of this aspect of his son’s life, because he saw less and less of him and because it never occurred to Margarete to tell him. Ever since the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947, to set up the independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine, he had spent more and more time soldiering. When on May 14, 1948, the leaders of Jewish Palestine declared their independence, and proclaimed the State of Israel, he had given up trying to live as a civilian and had returned to being a professional soldier. When he did see his son Uri, he talked only about his life as a soldier, of raids, guns, and skirmishes. It made Uri proud of his father to know that he was guarding all the people from harm. Uri decided that he wanted to be a soldier when he grew up and guard the people from the ever-lurking dangers. Itzhaak had no idea that his son was developing a reputation as an extraordinary guesser.
Uri continued to play in the garden of his Arab host. In the years that he had this sanctuary he never met anyone else in this garden, and he wondered who his host really was. Although he never met his host or discovered anything about him, he instinctively liked him for letting him play in his garden.
In June 1953 Uri Geller was squirming in his seat in the torrid heat of a Tel Aviv summer day. The teacher droned on about the correct formation of Hebrew letters. He looked at his new wristwatch; it said 10:30 A.M. Would noon ever come so that he could get out of this classroom and dip his toes in the pool of his cool garden? He thought for a moment of the metal bowl in the sky. Why didn’t it come back? He looked at his watch again. It now said 12 noon. He jumped up and started to leave the room. No one else moved. The teacher stared at him and then at the wall clock. The time on the wall clock was still 10:30. He backed into his seat. He furtively stole a look at his wristwatch: it said 12 noon. He stared at the watch. What could be wrong with it?
When he saw his mother at dinner that evening after his visit to the Arab garden, he said, “Mommy, that watch you gave me for my birthday, something is wrong with it. The hands keep jumping around.”
Margarete looked at the watch. It was an hour and a half fast; perhaps it needed to be adjusted. “I’ll take it to the jeweler; he’ll make it run nicely.”
A week later Uri had his watch back. It was another hot, steamy day. He wished school were over. He looked at the wall clock. It was only 10:30 A.M. He looked at his wristwatch. It said 12 noon. He was angry. He thought, “Stupid watch work right!” He looked at the watch again. It was 11:30 A.M. He looked around to see if any of his classmates were watching him. No one paid any attention. Then he closed his eyes wished hard that it would be 12 noon and that class would be over! He peeked at his wristwatch and it said 12 noon. He felt his heart leap! But when he looked at the wall clock, it was 10:31 A.M., and his heart sank. He couldn’t get out of this classroom. He looked back at his wristwatch, which now read the same as the wall clock, 10:31. Now he was getting angry. He whispered to his friend Mordechai, “Here, take my wristwatch, and tell me what time it is.”
Uri concentrated again, hoping that the school day would end. Mordechai whispered excitedly. “It is twelve noon on your watch, but it was ten-thirty one minute ago.”
The two boys played this game until recess time at 12 noon. They went into the playground, and Mordechai excitedly asked Uri, “What kind of a trick watch is that? How can I do the same trick?”
“It’s not a trick watch! I just wished it to move!”
Mordechai screamed with laughter until a crowd gathered around. Tears ran from Mordechai’s eyes as he gasped to the crowding children, “Uri’s got a trick watch, and he can move the hands with the trick! But he is trying to fool me by saying that he can make the hands move by wishing! He can’t fool me – it’s a trick watch.”
The children wanted to see the trick. Uri didn’t know what to do with all this laughing and jeering. It wasn’t a trick watch!
“All right,” he blurted out with unexpected authority. “I’ll show you. Mordechai, show everyone the time, and then put the watch on the ground so that no one touches it.” Mordechai did as he was told, and everyone saw that the time was 12:10 P.M. The watch was placed on the ground face down.
Uri suddenly liked being the center of attention. He dramatically placed his left hand across his forehead and tried to look like he was concentrating. He felt as though he was being watched by everyone. He said to himself, “Watch, please move the way you did in class.” The school bell suddenly began to ring. Mordechai picked up the watch. Everyone crowded around him.
The clock hands were at 2 P.M.
“what a great trick!”
“Where did you get the watch?”
“Let’s do it to the school clock!” exclaimed the children as they straggled into the classroom.
Uri was very, very quiet. The watch was not a trick watch. Why did it move? He tried once more. He set the watch hands at 12:15 P.M., the same as the wall clock. He closed his eyes and made a wish for the hands to move back to 12 noon. When he looked at the watch, it was 12 noon. It had worked! He was unsuccessful, however, in any attempts to affect other clocks than his own.
Over the next few weeks Uri’s classmates never tired of wanting to see his trick watch. He tried to please them, but they only seemed to want to tease him into revealing the trick. When he insisted that it was not a trick watch, they began to jeer at him. Finally he became so hurt that he refused to do it anymore.
But secretly he continued to move the watch hands. He found that he could move the hands only when he was in school. He could never do it at home alone or in his garden. He wondered why it worked only in the midst of his crowded classroom. But because the watch trick did not make him popular with anyone – even Mordechai – he gradually stopped trying to move the hands by “wishing.”
In Israel, shortly after Uri had passed his ninth birthday, Margarete had met Ladislas Gero, a pianist who had taken a great interest in her. She wanted very much to be with Ladislas but did not want to offend Uri by having him see her with a man. She solved the problem by arranging to have Uri live on a kibbutz not far from Tel Aviv.
When his mother left him at Kibbutz Hatzor Ashdod, Uri ran away and hid for several hours. Not only was he hurt by being parted from his mother, but he feared having to deal with a lot of new people. He came out of hiding as he got hungry and walked into the communal dining hall. A friendly girl escorted him to the cafeteria and then led him to their quarters. It contained sleeping arrangements for eight children – four boys and four girls – and their teacher. This area also contained their classroom. Since Ashdod was subject to sudden raids from Arabs in the nearby Gaza Strip, the children were thoroughly drilled to be constantly alert to danger, and what to do about it.
Although Uri was now a part of a real family for the first time in his life, and everyone was very good to him, he could not get used to this “public” life. He was always being kidded about being stuck-up and a loner. And, in fact try as he could to change his attitude, he really was most comfortable when alone. He tried to make friends on his own terms by showing his watch trick to his classmates, but somehow it did not work to make him popular. Nor did his unusual quickness in class endear him to them.
So Uri spent much time out in the orange groves by himself. He was happy only when his mother came to see him on Sabbath. But he was not too happy when she brought Ladislas. Oh, Ladislas was all right, but his mother didn’t pay enough attention to him when Ladislas was around.
One day Uri was called out of his class to see a visitor. As he came up out of the stairway into the bright sun, he could scarcely see the figure in front of him. It was his father in full battle dress! Uri jumped on him with joy. His father led him out to the road, where there was a company of eight tanks, each looking like a powerful fortress. Itzhaak said to Uri, “This is my group, and the front tank is the lead tank under Captain Avram. I’m his sergeant major. We are going off on maneuvers to the border. Hop in and I’ll give you a ride, and then you can hitch a ride back here.”
The excited child climbed into the Sherman tank and found himself in a blazing hot hellhole where the noise was deafening. His father tried to point out where the gun controls were, but he couldn’t hear a thing. Before he knew it, the tank lurched to a stop, he was handed up the hatch, and his father was standing in the dust with him.
“Uri, don’t say anything to anyone, but war may come any day. This time it looks bad because the Russians have armed the Egyptians to the teeth. Always remember that I love you, and I only go to battle to protect you. Shalom, shalom, son.”
And his father was gone down the road in a whirlwind of dust.
Uri stood there for a long time, trying to remember something in a garden when he was three years old. But he could not recall what it was. He placed his hand on his head and prayed to God for his father. He didn’t want to hitch back to the kibbutz, so he walked in the dust and heat.
Two weeks later, on October 29, 1956, Itzhaak’s tank unit got orders in the early dawn hours that war was on, and to get to the Suez Canal without fail. Itzhaak’s unit battened down the tank hatches and raced toward the Mitla Pass. As they entered the Pass, they could clearly see the massive Russian tanks strategically placed on each curve and hillock. Itzhaak thought, “God, how can we survive this gauntlet? Sooner or later they will get us.”
There was no further time to think. The first Egyptian tank was coming within gun range. Itzhaak’s commander, Captain Avram, then shouted a radio order to all his tanks, “Don’t fire – wait!” Everyone thought, “He is mad! We’ll be blasted to bits at this point-blank ranger” But Captain Avram showed even more madness. He lifted the turret lid and stuck his head out “The fool,” thought Itzhaak. “He wants to be the first to go!”
Strangely enough, all of Captain Avram’s men held their fire. An uneasy calm came over each of them as they came up to the first Egyptian tank and saw that the Egyptian soldiers were staring at them as though hypnotized. As the Israeli tankers passed one Egyptian tank after another, it was the same story. The Egyptians stood with hands frozen on the triggers of their guns. Captain Avram’s men opened the hatches of their tanks to stare at the Egyptians as they raced on in the eerie silence of Mitla Pass. Unit after unit of the Israeli Tank Corps raced by the paralyzed Egyptian soldiers. Finally, when enough Israeli armor had pierced through the pass, the Egyptians began to surrender voluntarily. To this day, no one has ever explained what happened that day to give the Israeli Army complete victory over superior forces.
When the war started on October 29, 1956, Uri and his friends were kept in their bomb shelter for four days. They listened to the radio and prayed many times each day for their parents and that God would spare Israel as he had in the times of Moses. Uri kept wishing especially for the safety of his father. Two weeks later he received a message that his father was alive and was going to visit Uri on the following day. Uri stood in the road all day where the bus stopped, waiting for his father.
This was the longest day of his life. When he was about to give up, a bearded, dusty soldier leaped from the back of a truck with two rifles. It was his father!
Uri rushed up and got scratched by his father’s new beard. He was bear-hugged till it hurt, but he didn’t mind. His father stayed at the kibbutz that night and told the marvelous tale of how God had led them through the Mitla Pass, going almost invisibly past the huge Russian-built tanks. Uri slept very soundly that night, knowing that God watched over Israel and that his father was safe.
In the fall of 1957 Uri left the kibbutz and came to live with his mother again. His mother confided that Ladislas had asked her to marry him. What did Uri think? Bravely he replied, “Mother you do need a friend. You are always alone. Does this mean that you would not have to go to work every day?”
“Thank you, Uri. Yes, I would not go to work. You see, Ladislas owns a small hotel in Cyprus, and we would all work together there.”
“Where is Cyprus? Is it like the kibbutz? I didn’t like it there at all!”
“No, Uri, it is not like the kibbutz at all. Cyprus is an island.”
“An island! That sounds great. What’s on the island?”
“It is a very civilized place with resorts, mountains’ and different people live there, Greeks and Turks.”
“Mother, what are Greeks and Turks?”
“Well, you see, we are Jews.”
“But, Mother, what are Jews? I thought we were people like everyone else. My father talks about Jews and the covenant with God and the Promised Land and how God helps the Jews when they are in bad trouble. But why should God do this only for the Jews? How do you become a Jew?”
“Stop, Uri. I can’t answer all those questions at once! First, you are a Jew because your mother is a Jew. And I am a Jew because my mother was a Jew, and so on all the way back to the beginning of our history, which starts with a man called Abraham. He was not Jewish, but God came to him here in Israel and said, ‘Walk in my ways and be blameless. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.’ And God and Abraham entered into an agreement. And all of Abraham’s descendants became the Jewish people.”
“But, Mother, I don’t feel like a Jew. Why is that?”
“Well, you see, your father and I agreed when you were a baby that it was enough for you to be brought up in freedom here in Israel. We didn’t want you to have to go to Shule and be told a lot of things about Judaism while you were too young to understand. Because you have not gone to Shule and do not know the synagogue, no one has pounded it into your head that you are a Jew. You are a citizen of Israel. That is enough. When you grow up, you can decide for yourself if you want to be a Jew.”
“I understand, Mother,” Uri said very gravely, and left the room. From now on he began to notice who was a Jew and who was not. He found that those who were religious Jews spent a lot of time praying and eating special foods and obeying many rules. Those who were not religious spent more time playing and at the beach and were not fussy about food and rules. Both Jewish groups got along well in Israel.
As 1957 came to an end, and his eleventh birthday approached, Uri got more and more unhappy about leaving his cozy apartment and the garden across the street and about the prospect of going to a place where no one spoke Hebrew. Somehow, he could not like Ladislas, although Ladislas was very nice to him. When they finally moved to Cyprus in early 1958, Ladislas bought a beautiful fox terrier for Uri, which the boy named Joker.
The name of the small hotel on number 5 Pantheon Street, in Nicosia, was the Ritz. It was a marvelous place. It had many rooms, and Uri would explore them after each guest left, hoping to find some treasure. He shared his own small attic room with Joker.
Living in Cyprus made him aware for the first time that he was a Jew. He attended the Terra Santa College presided over by Father Massamino, the Catholic priest. Most of the boys in the school were American or English, whose parents were stationed on Cyprus with some military job or other. Uri learned to speak fluent English in two months, much to everyone’s surprise. Neither Margarete nor Ladislas ever learned English. Since they spoke Hebrew very poorly, Uri spoke to them in Hungarian, which he had spoken since childhood. In the streets of Nicosia, which were as noisy and dusty as the old quarter of Tel Aviv, his fine ear soon mastered the Greek language. As these four languages flowed easily through his mind, so did the customs and peculiarities of each of these peoples.
In class his teacher, Brother Bernard, told his young students of the life of a Jew who had lived in Nazareth in Israel. Uri’s father had once taken him to Nazareth while they were en route from Tel Aviv to Safad near the Sea of Galilee. This man from Nazareth was called Jesus, and considering what a tiny hillside town Nazareth was above the Valley of Jezreel, it was hard for Uri to understand why he should be so revered here in far-off Cyprus. Uri’s strongest memory of Nazareth was that as you entered the hot dusty town and went up and down the narrow stone streets, you were flooded with the smell of fish. It was puzzling why Jesus, a Jew, was popular only with these Catholic people, and not with Jews.
When Jesus was born, there appeared a star in the sky that had never been seen before. Brother Bernard chuckled when he told the boys that the star then was a lot like the lit-up spacecraft that people were now seeing all over the world.
“And this star slowly moved in the heavens by day and by night, leading three wise men who were seeking the Messiah. Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth. As he grew up, he began to show a wisdom and knowledge unlike that of anyone else around him.”
Uri impulsively blurted out, “Brother Bernard, could Jesus move the hands of a watch without touching it?”
Everyone burst out in laughter at this crazy question. Brother Bernard rapped for order and said to Uri gently, “You see, they did not have watches in Jesus’ time, so the answer to your question is no. But he could do other things like that. For example, changing water into wine or making many loaves of bread out of one.”
Uri was embarrassed by the laughter and didn’t really know why he had asked the question. Of course, no one on Cyprus knew that he had once been able to move the hands of a watch. But somehow he liked this man Jesus, especially the boy Jesus. It seemed that he could do things that nobody else could do, and people laughed at him. What’s the use of telling people your secrets if they laugh? Besides, all these people in Cyprus who believed in Jesus, and went to church every day, were also out in the streets fighting every day. The great riots between the Greeks and the Turks were heavy in the air and ready to explode at any moment. Why did not the Greeks heed the peaceful words of Jesus and the Turks heed the tolerant wisdom of their prophet, Mohammed?
In the intense emotional heat of Cyprus there was also cool sanctuary. Uri and his dog Joker had found some deep, seemingly endless, cool caves in the hills above Nicosia. Here with his flashlight, the security of Joker, and his tingling sense of excitement, Uri found peace and happiness. People were all right, but to be alone in these cool caves was joy. For Uri, these caves were magical. Somehow, when he was in them, he felt complete security, as when his father’s arm was around him. He felt a peace and serenity that he could not understand. It was like the garden of the Arab villa in Tel Aviv.
As Uri reached his twelfth birthday, no one in his family told him that it was time for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony when a boy becomes a man and is formally accepted into the ancient religion of Judaism. But this did not interest him very much. Religion in Cyprus seemed to him very unattractive. The Orthodox Catholic Greeks were forever in riots with the Muslim Turks.
On the street where he lived there was a charming old Muslim scholar, Mustafa Sa’abud. He was called an ‘Uluma by his fellow Turks, which meant that he was learned in the Koran and taught the young people from it. He seemed to take an interest in Uri for reasons unknown to Uri. When ‘Uluma stopped Uri with a nice Turkish sweet, the two would chat in Greek.
The ‘Uluma once asked Uri why he did not wear the Jewish skull cap, the yarmulke, like the other Jewish boys. Uri replied, “Wearing a cap will not make me a better Jew. Being a Jew is like being anyone else. All you have to do is believe in God. I believe in God.”
‘Uluma gently replied. “You are wise. To be a Muslim means the same thing. ‘Muslim’ means to ‘submit to the will of Allah,’ and ‘Allah’ is our word for God. This is the same as to believe in God. You know we Muslims and you Jews believe in the same God.”
Uri hastily interrupted, “Then why are the Jews and the Arabs, who are Muslims, always fighting? My father has to fight with the Arabs all the time because they want to take our land and homes away from us!”
“My son,” said ‘Uluma with a tear welling in his eye, “your El and our Allah are one and the same. He always spoke to his people through his prophets. Our common ancestor and prophet is Abraham, and so is Moses. Jesus, whom the Greeks here in Cyprus worship, was a Jew who was rejected as a prophet by his own people. We Muslims accept Jesus, but not all the doctrine that Christians have added to his name. The next prophet that God spoke to was our Mohammed, who is not accepted by either the Christians or the Jews. You see, over the centuries these three faiths have at times fought each other, and at times have known peace. Did you know that the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims all consider Jerusalem to be a holy place?”
“No, I didn’t. Tell me why this is so.” Uri replied with an intensity that surprised the old man.
The ‘Uluma slowly leaned back and lit his pipe as he got ready to tell a story.
“It all started with Abraham (whose name was Abram then), who was brought up in the very ancient city of Ur in what is now Iraq. Did you know that Ur is the most ancient word that we have for ‘light’ and that your name, ‘Uri,’ also means ‘light’ in Hebrew? Well, God came to Abraham and told him to leave his home in Haran, to carry out a job for God in the land that is now Palestine.”
“What kind of a job could an ordinary man do for God?” interrupted Uri. “After all, God can do everything!”
“We don’t know for sure what kind of a job, but our books, the Bible and the Koran, tell us that it was something very difficult and not easy to explain. God asked Abraham to enter into a covenant in which he would believe in Him and worship Him. If Abraham did all this and passed this covenant on to his descendants, there would eventually come the perfected man. Abraham entered into this covenant at Hebron, which is in Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea.
“My son, I believe that it is the will and the compassion of Allah that all men love him, and love one another. I believe that another prophet shall arise whose task will be to lead all men back to the true love, the only God, for there is but one God. It is man who has made so many gods. My son, I am a Muslim, and you were born a Jew. Let us agree that there is one God who made man and that it is wrong for us to hate or to fight.”
Uri looked at him thoughtfully. “Yes, I agree to try not to hate, or to fight, and I believe in God.” Uri turned away and walked up the cobbled street to get Joker and to go to the caves.
One day about a year later Uri was in his attic room doing his homework when he heard a noise in the attic part that no one used.
He thought that maybe a bird had gotten trapped. He took a flashlight and gingerly stepped over the open rafters of the rooms below, seeking to find the bird. When he got to the far end, the sound had ceased, and he stood still for several minutes to listen for a bird. Suddenly, a door slammed in the room below. He heard voices. Light was coming up through the attic floor from the room below, right at his feet Slowly he lay down on the rafters, put his eyes to the crack, and listened.
The man doing most of the talking was a Jewish grain buyer, Joav Shacham, who stayed at the Ritz when he was in Cyprus. The other men were strangers to Uri. They were speaking in Hebrew. Joav was telling a man he called Amnon, “You will leave for the Sudan in two days. All of your credentials are prepared as Klaus Sachs. You will set up your agricultural equipment business in Khartoum. Send all of your orders to Joel in Essen, Germany. He will ship out whatever you request. Max here will listen for all of your radio messages in Ethiopia. Remember, you have about six months in which to infiltrate the Egyptian Army through the Sudanese.”
At these last words, Uri’s heart began to pound. Were they talking about a spy operation, just like in the movies? The meeting lasted for another hour, and Uri heard more and more details of the spies’ plans.
He figured out that these men were Israeli agents and they were using his stepfather’s hotel as a base. He waited until the men had left Joav’s room, and then he tiptoed back to his room.
He told no one of his discovery. But every time Joav came to Nicosia, which was quite often, Uri hung around him in the dining room. They got to be friends. Uri was puzzled because Joav didn’t look like a spy. He was husky, about six feet two inches tall, and very powerful in build. He wore scholarly-looking glasses and had thick unruly hair. His clothes always looked rumpled. He looked like a grain buyer, but definitely not a spy. Uri got very clever about spying on the spy from the attic peephole. He did this for about six months. One day just he and Joav were playing basketball. Seeing that no one was around, Uri decided to broach the subject of spying to Joav.
“By the way, Joav,” Uri started out casually, “how is Amnon doing in the agricultural equipment business in Khartoum?”
Joav stopped dribbling the ball he was getting ready to shoot. He looked around to see if anybody was within earshot. “Where did you learn about Amnon?” he asked grimly.
Uri laughed, “You would be surprised what I know, and how I know it!”
“Listen, Uri, let’s take a walk to the hills. I want to talk to you.”
They walked to the hills, not saying much.
Finally, when they sat on a hilltop looking down at Nicosia, Joav said, “All right, tell me how you know about Amnon.”
Uri proudly told him how he had first accidentally overheard Joav’s meeting and then how he had regularly spied on the spies. Joav listened thoughtfully and then addressed Uri. “Yes, I am a spy for Israel. But it is not what you think it is. It is a plain dirty hard job and no pay. Let me tell you why I do it, and hundreds of others risk their lives every day. You see, Uri, Israel is surrounded by enemies who boast every day that they will turn the sea red with Jewish blood. They mean what they say. We Jews will no longer wait, as we did in Europe, to be slaughtered like sheep. Our only hope of survival is to know every move that our enemy makes against us. If we find out that our enemy is going to strike, we must strike first in order to survive. That is why we were able to win the war in 1956. We knew the Egyptians were going to strike, and we caught them off balance by striking first. You, too, are a young Jew, and in a couple of years you will be in the Israeli Army. Your survival will depend on what our agents are doing in remote places scattered all over the world.
“Uri, I beg you, please keep what you know about my activities a secret. In fact, you have been so clever that I would like to have you work for me!”
Uri was really taken aback by Joav’s offer. How could he be a spy? He was only sixteen years old. “But,” he thought, “maybe if I find out something really big, I can help my father who is stuck in the Army in Israel. Father doesn’t really know what the enemy is planning.”
“Okay, Joav, I’ll join you. What can I do? Should I have a code name?”
Joav smiled in relief at Uri’s questions. “Well, I will have to work out a careful plan. But there is one job that is very important. You see, I get my mail from a postal box at the post office. The more I go there, the more likely it is that I will be spotted by enemy agents. So if you will go to the post office for me, you will save me from possible detection. I will see how well you do before I give you more dangerous jobs.”
“Gee, that’s exciting,” said Uri. “How can I tell who are the enemy agents who are watching at the post office?”
“Well, I’ll teach you how to do all that, and what to do if somebody tries to steal my mail, and how to steam open letters, and things like that.”
Thus it was that Uri became a courier for an Israeli spy ring on Cyprus when he was sixteen years old. About a year later, after he had seen Joav come and go from the island many times, he was complimented by Joav for doing a good job. One of the things that Uri had to do was to deliver the letters he picked up to the Israeli consulate when Joav was not on the island. Joav said, “In about a year you will be old enough to serve in the Army. Men of your abilities are hard to find. I would like you to apply to the paratroopers when you enter the Army. I am sure that you will be accepted. When you finish your basic training, apply for the Officer’s Candidate Training School. If you have any problems, look me up. You can always locate me through the Army.”
This was an exciting prospect for Uri, and in his mind it became a commitment. He knew that if he did what Joav had suggested, he would be helping Joav as well as his country.
During his sixteenth year another event occurred that left a deep impression on Uri. It was true that he did not like his stepfather, although Ladislas was good to him. Sometimes in his boyish way, Uri would pout when Ladislas disciplined him. Then Ladislas unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The burden on Margarete was suddenly increased. Uri had mixed feelings. Partly guilt and partly relief. But he had to work harder and harder to help his mother run the small hotel. As his eighteenth birthday approached, there was heavy pressure on Jews to leave the island as the new government moved toward independence for Cyprus. Under these various pressures Margarete sold the small hotel at a sacrifice price, and she and Uri moved back to Tel Aviv.
By the fall of 1965 Uri was a soldier in the Israeli Army. He was now six feet two inches tall and weighed 180 pounds. He was quick, alert, and powerful. He volunteered for the paratroopers, passed all the qualifying tests, and began his rigorous training. After the eleventh month of his training and his acceptance into the class for Officer’s Training, personal tragedy struck him. He picked up a newspaper and read that Major Joav Shacham had been killed in action during a border raid on the Jordanian frontier near a town called Es-Samu’, just south of Hebron. He was deeply depressed. He had lost one of his best friends. Suddenly there was no meaning in his going on to Officer’s Training School. He lost all interest in being proficient. And then another blow fell upon him. His dog Joker, who was living with his mother, was getting old and very ill. Uri took him to several veterinarians. They all told him that nothing could be done, that it would be best to put him away. Uri sadly left Joker with a veterinarian, and as he left the premises, he leaned against a fence and cried for both Joker and Joav.
Uri deliberately failed his final tests for officer’s candidacy. He returned to paratrooper training in the desert. He pushed himself without mercy, sleeping on the ground in the sun, in the rain, in the freezing nights. He jumped out of planes, gathered up his chute, and went into mock battle. His bones ached, his muscles were sore, his skin was parched, his feet pained him, and his ears rang with gunfire. And always the paratroopers were told that next to the fighter pilots, they were the elite on whom the safety of Israel depended. They would be the first to be dropped into the hottest point of battle.
Two years later, by May 1967, Uri was as tough as Damascus steel. He was a sergeant, and he was so proud when he met with his father, who was a sergeant major, in different army camps, and they would swagger around together. But in May the paralyzing grip of a war threat settled over all of Israel. The tension for the Israeli civilians – mothers, wives, oldsters, and youngsters – became unbearable. A song, “Jerusalem of Gold,” appeared on the radio and became the morale builder of the nation. War and war clouds hung over the Middle East once again.
Uri and his fellow soldiers got fidgety. Guns were cleaned and recleaned. Ammunition was counted, checked, packed, and unpacked. Parachutes were always being packed and then checked and rechecked. To relieve the tension all leaves to soldiers were continued as though an emergency did not exist.
Finally, at the predawn hour on June 1 the Israeli military machine acted on intelligence that the Egyptians were going to attack. The handful of Israeli fighter planes struck at every known Egyptian air base and in three hours destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force. In the Sinai Desert there exploded one of the largest tank battles in human history. The Israelis attacked like a swarm of hornets sweeping enemy tanks out of the way.
When the war started, Uri was on leave in Tel Aviv visiting his mother. At 6 A.M. June 5 he hitchhiked to join his unit, which was held up for hours while a decision was being made as to where they should be thrown into battle. Finally, in the afternoon at 2 P.M. the order came that they were to join in the battle for Jerusalem led by Colonel Mordechai Gur.
Uri was relieved to know where they were going. As his truck roared toward Jerusalem, Uri thought of his father. Where was his unit? Did it go to the Sinai? Was his father going to the attack on Syria? What if he were sent to Jerusalem? It would be a miracle if he and his father could fight side by side, helping each other. If his father was hit, he would save his life! He prayed to God to save his father. He didn’t need a yarmulke – he had a steel helmet on. Somehow it never occurred to him that anything would happen to him. His only concern was that his mother at home must be kept safe. He knew that his friend Joav had risked and lost his life so that Israel would know when to strike to protect itself.
The truck slowed down as the traffic got dense to the north of Jerusalem. Finally they were there. Heavy mortar fire was just ahead. The staccato machine-gun fire echoed all over the Jerusalem hills. The sun was going down, and Jerusalem lit up with a golden glow. It was the magical blush of the bride of God. The word was tersely whispered from soldier to soldier, “This year – Jerusalem!” It had been nineteen centuries since Israel had been dispossessed of its Holy of Holies.
Uri had a squad of eight men under him. The Arab Legion was fortressed in concrete pillboxes in this area north of Jerusalem. Every pillbox had to be assaulted by hand grenade, machine gun, and human bodies. Signals were worked out for spotting mortar and artillery fire.
During his first long night of battle, Uri never saw the enemy; it was a kind of impersonal fighting, with these holes in concrete staring out of walls. But as the day and the battle heated up, it was no longer impersonal. When they hit a pillbox, blood would splatter out of it. A voice would scream in anguish and keep screaming out of the bunker.
As the fever got stronger, the men became more reckless, and everyone was doing heroic deeds without notice or attention. By the next morning Uri had lost five of the eight men in his platoon. The replacements were slow in coming in. Uri pushed himself and his men. Ahead lay three bunkers, with the center one deeply protected by the two flankers. A combined assault was made on the three. Uri’s group was to take the heavily protected center bunker. The bunker to Uri’s right was being assaulted so heavily that the fire came out of it sporadically, and Uri was emboldened to move ahead more rapidly, firing his machine gun in bursts at those slits ahead. Suddenly there was a searing flame in both his arms. He looked down and saw the blood spurting. He got angry and rushed ahead, blazing at the bunker slits, while his men surged after him and crept under the bunker and silenced it with their grenades. As the realization of victory was certain to Uri, he slowly fell and pitched against the cold concrete wall.
Uri awoke the next day in a hospital. The doctor told him that machine-gun bullets had gone through both forearms, but no vital nerves or blood vessels had been seriously damaged. He would be back on duty within a few months. Uri went back to sleep. He awoke to find his father standing by his bed.
As Uri recovered from his arm wounds, he was sent to a rehabilitation center. Here the young people of Israel came each day to entertain and help the wounded. A young girl of sixteen, Hannah, came twice a week to the center; Uri was shyly attracted to her. She was a slender, medium-sized girl with flashing blue eyes and honey-blond hair. Joy seemed to bubble out of her, and she was always laughing. Uri began to date her.
Part of Uri’s rehabilitation program was serving as a counselor at a summer camp for teen-age boys. One of his charges was a twelve-year-old boy whose name was Shimshon, but everyone called him Shipi. Shipi was tall and thin with an intense stork like head. His mother called him Gandhi with affection. He always seemed to be sniffing and sensing the air around him. He was powerfully attracted to the tall lean paratrooper with the bandaged arms. He hung around Uri so much that Uri could not ignore him. One evening after dinner Uri discovered that Hannah was Shipi’s sister!
What these three had in common was an endless round of practical jokes. The laughter never ceased when they were together. When they were apart, each one noticed how quiet it was, because no one else stimulated them to laughter. Uri looked upon Shipi and Hannah as the brother and sister he had never had. One day Uri was moved to tell Shipi about the watch hands. He showed Shipi how he could move a watch’s hands without touching the watch. Shipi did not laugh; he believed Uri implicitly. Uri had not done the watch “trick” for years. He noticed that he didn’t need a lot of kids around now. He wondered why it was so easy to do when Shipi was around.
The summer ended, Shipi and Hannah had to return to school. Uri was assigned to duty tracing army deserters all over Israel. By the end of 1968 he was honorably discharged from active duty and now faced civilian life, but all he knew were some languages and soldiering.
Uri found a job as an export manager for a textile firm in Tel Aviv. This fancy title meant that he got the purchase orders from abroad written in English, Greek, or Hungarian, and filled the orders. Life was dull. He saw Hannah and Shipi when their school time permitted. He was restless. To make some more money, he found he could take assignments as a photographer’s model.
In October 1969 Shipi begged Uri to come to his school and do his “tricks” for his class. Uri reluctantly agreed when the teacher also invited him and promised to pay him fifteen pounds. Uri appeared in the small school auditorium for his first public appearance. He had watched entertainers in the Army, and he had a feeling for what to say. Once on the stage, he pretended that he was addressing Shipi, and everything then proceeded smoothly. He had children draw pictures and numbers on the blackboard, and while blindfolded he would guess what they had written. Once he got started, it just seemed to go on and on without effort. He went on doing his “tricks” for three hours. Everyone was enchanted, including the teacher. Uri had no idea of how he did his “tricks.” They just came forth spontaneously and naturally without his ever having done them or practiced them before.
But Shipi was the one who was the most proud. He kept telling Uri how great he was and that he should go on the stage. In the next few months Shipi went around the neighborhood telling everyone what a “genius” Uri was. So now in addition to his job as export manager, Uri was doing modeling work and demonstrating in homes and at private parties. During the shows he enjoyed being in front of people, but as soon as his show was over, he had to retreat. He couldn’t enjoy being close to people, except for Hannah and Shipi. By January 1970 he was getting small notices in the newspapers for his telepathic and mind-over-matter feats.
In March 1970 he was approached by a theatrical manager who advised him to quit his job and become a full-time entertainer. The manager was persuasive, and Uri did his first professional stage show in a movie theater, Kolno’ah, in Bat Yam. In two months he had become a sensation in Israel. In June 1970 he did his first college show for some of the graduating class of the Technion Institute in Haifa.

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