Editor’s Note: This month we are featuring four novel excerpts—debuting one each Tuesday. Our first is Charles Lichtman’s The Sword of David—a brand new novel, which came out today. In this action-packed thriller, an Israeli commando must search the globe for a long-lost biblical treasure. Hope you enjoy!
Jerusalem, Present Day
“Excuse me, Ms. Klein, I hate to impose, but may I please have your autograph?” asked a middle-aged woman who was holding out a piece of paper and a pen.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. People come up to me all the time thinking I’m the woman who saved the president. I know I look like her, but it’s not me,” replied the younger woman.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the tourist said. “Please forgive me.”
“Not a problem,” Debra Klein replied. “It happens a lot.”
The woman turned and walked away. When she was out of earshot, her cousin Chaim Klein turned to Debra and said, “I can’t believe you just did that!”
Debra shrugged. “I know it was rude, but you have no idea what I’ve gone through. After all these years, I still can’t go out anywhere without people recognizing me and wanting to talk about it. Why do you think I wear these big sunglasses?”
“Because it’s a beautiful, sunny day in Jerusalem?” Klein replied. “And that woman recognized you anyway.”
The cousins sat together sharing a meal at an outdoor pizza café in the modern Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Debra observed that despite the heavy summer crowds, the pinkish-beige Jerusalem Stone sidewalks and the walls of all the buildings were spotlessly clean. Positivity radiated from everyone around them, with people laughing, dining together, couples holding hands, and kids everywhere.
“Seriously, I have no privacy,” she said without smiling. “Even worse, on one hand, Congress recognized me as a hero; on the other, I get death threats for ‘befriending’ a terrorist. It’s crazy!”
Fifteen years earlier, Debra had unknowingly made friends in a college class at George Washington University with a young undercover Islamist terrorist who had slipped into Washington, D.C. His mission, set in place by the infamous Carlos the Jackal, was to kill U.S. President Tate and every dignitary present at a presidential inaugural ball at the Kennedy Center. With seconds to spare, Debra and CIA agent Norman Richards saved the day by preventing poisonous gas from filtering through the building’s vents, which would have exterminated all the VIPs. To her dismay, Debra became an instant celebrity, simultaneously praised by most for preventing the catastrophe while being condemned by some for her friendship with the terrorist, even though she didn’t know about his terror connections until it was almost too late.
Klein pulled her in for a hug as his stomach twisted into a knot. “Well, the family here is very proud of what you did on that Inauguration Day. Come, let’s take a walk,” he said as he led Debra away. Twenty-five years ago, when they were both ten, Debra’s family had visited Israel from Chicago, their hometown. Debra and Klein instantly became playmates and stayed in touch from that time on. They had grown close, and over the years they agreed they were more like a brother and sister than just cousins. Here they were now, celebrating twenty-five years of being sort-of siblings.
“That’s nice of you to say, but to me, it’s your grandparents, Uncle Ehud, and the rest of your family who are the heroes. Your stories about them are amazing. Auschwitz, the hospital, the wars, politics. I can’t wait to see everyone tonight! What’s it been, three years since all of us have gotten together?”
Klein thought with pride about his family. After surviving Auschwitz, his grandparents had made their way as teenagers to the Promised Land, then called Palestine, now called Israel. They met while fighting for their nation’s survival in May 1948 and married after knowing each other only a month. Their three children—including Ehud, Klein’s father—were part of the first generation of post-World War II Sabras born in Israel.
Klein’s father, Ehud, met his future wife, Aliza, at Israel’s renowned Hadassah Hospital, where she had nursed Ehud back from near death caused by serious wounds suffered in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Even though they were quickly smitten with each other, Aliza turned down Ehud’s marriage proposal twice before finally accepting—her demurrals intended to show her future husband that despite his dominating personality, they would always be equals. And they were.
As a career soldier, Ehud rose quickly up the ranks of the army, becoming one of the youngest generals in Israel’s history. Aliza forged her own path as Director of Nursing at Hadassah Hospital. The couple somehow found time to have four children, including Chaim.
Klein’s older brother was a lawyer and member of the Knesset. One older sister was a doctor and the other was a respected activist and journalist. Chaim followed his father’s path into the military.
His expression turning serious, Klein said, “My grandfather and every other refugee and Sabra did what they had to after World War II by coming to Israel to make it a nation. We’re not unique. You know that everyone here in Israel serves in the military when they turn eighteen. Israel is filled with heroes from all generations who built this country, fighting for it with their blood. Over and over.”
“And what about you?” Debra asked. “How many terrorists did you capture or kill when you were in the army? Last night at the dinner party with your army unit, your friend Bennie said you saved a lot of lives and were the bravest of them all, and the rest of your friends agreed.”
“Maybe I was just the craziest. But you know I can’t talk about that.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Both. I’ve told you that a million times,” he said emphatically. Pointing ahead, Klein added, “But how about this view of the Temple Mount? Does it get any better than this?”
The cousins now stood between two buildings on a narrow sidewalk, gazing out at a full vista of the Western Wall Plaza and the Temple Mount. “I come here every day for work. I’ve seen this view literally thousands of times and I’m still in awe of it,” Klein said. “The history of the Temple Mount is remarkable. There is no place like it anywhere in the world. The Second Temple sat exactly where the Dome of the Rock is now and the Wall just underneath it is Judaism’s most holy site. According to the Bible, the earth and Adam were created from the Foundation Stone, the big rock that’s inside the Dome. It’s also where the Ark of the Covenant sat. Christians also revere this place—think about how many events in Jesus’s life happened here, especially toward the end of it. And the Dome of the Rock is Islam’s third holiest site because Muhammed rode his winged horse Buraq on his Night Flight to heaven from the Foundation Stone. I actually think the Dome rightfully belongs to all three religions since the Foundation Stone sits within it.”
“Maybe so, but the Temple Mount is also the center of many of the world’s troubles,” Debra said.
Klein stayed silent, knowing she was right.
“Since you work inside, can we go onto the Temple Mount and visit the Dome? It’s so beautiful,” Debra asked. About eighty yards away, the blue-tiled, golden dome shrine glistened, dominating the Jerusalem skyline.
Klein shook his head. “Nope. Impossible. We can only walk around the Temple Mount on Sunday mornings, and since the second intifada, only Muslims are allowed inside the Dome and the Al-Aqsa mosque. But let’s go down to the plaza so you can visit the Wall.”
A couple of minutes later, when they had reached the security entrance to the Western Wall Plaza, Klein said, “I know you want to see other parts of Jerusalem this trip, and not just the Jewish sites, but you can’t go into the West Bank or Gaza. You can go into East Jerusalem and of course the Old City, but I want to make sure you understand its layout so that you can go exploring by yourself and not get lost.”
“I actually want to do it myself so I can go at my own pace. I remember it’s easy to get around the Muslim Quarter, and I understand it’s still really safe, right?”
“Yes. Totally. Same with East Jerusalem, but stay on the commercial streets. The Palestinians who live and work in Jerusalem are nice, good people. Go into their cafés and shops and you’ll see they’re very hospitable. Especially Baidun, the antiquities dealer on Via Dolorosa. I have a lifelong Palestinian friend, Malik, who lives in the Muslim Quarter too. Great guy. Maybe one day you’ll meet him. But remember, if you shop in the market, everything is negotiable. Buying anything there is a game.”
As they entered the security checkpoint, the three soldiers on duty warmly greeted Klein as he and Debra entered the security checkpoint. While walking through the metal detector, pointing behind him with his thumb, he said, “That’s my cousin Debra. Tell everyone she’s trouble and to watch her carefully. You never know what to expect from her.”
Debra made a silly face at the soldiers, who laughed.
After she cleared security, the cousins stopped a few feet away at the top of a long flight of steps leading down into the Western Wall Plaza. A new prayer building had just been completed adjacent to the steps, facing the Wall. Klein draped his left arm around his cousin, as he had done by habit since they had met as children. Pointing straight ahead at the Western Wall with his right arm, Klein said, “Isn’t it crazy? That’s my office!”
“So how come you won’t tell me what you actually do in there?”
“Because I can’t. Just like I’m not telling you what I did in the army.” He laughed and added, “You never quit, do you?”
“Well, your friends did tell me some amazing stories about you at dinner.”
Klein shook his head. “They shouldn’t have. I signed pledges to keep secret what I do here, and what I did in the army.”
Debra grabbed his big bicep, looked into his warm brown eyes and replied, “No, it’s good. Your word should count for something. Your integrity is one of the reasons you’re my favorite cousin. It’s certainly not your good looks or charm. Anyway, I’ll let you redeem yourself, but only if you answer a serious question. In your visits to America and on our phone and FaceTime calls, you’ve never told me how you got interested in archeology to begin with.”
Klein tilted his head and smiled. “On my eighth birthday, my father put me in the car and drove me to this big field out in the middle of nowhere, a place called the Elah Valley. We walked into the middle of the field and he said, ‘Chaim, do you know what happened here?’ When I said no, he pointed at me and said in the most serious tone you can imagine, ‘Three thousand years ago, this is where David slew Goliath.’ When he told that story, he said my eyes opened up to the size of plums. We walked around for a while, then he leaned over and picked up a rock. He handed it to me and said, ‘This is the rock David used in his slingshot. It’s yours now.’” Klein paused and looked away wistfully. “I was hooked on archeology and history from that moment on. You know what? I still have that rock. And to me, it will always be the rock that killed Goliath.”
Debra said, “I love that story.”
“Okay, so let’s go now to the Wall.”
More than a thousand people were milling about the plaza, the spiritual and religious focal point for Jews in Jerusalem and worldwide. Debra and Klein took a few minutes to take in everything going on around the Wall.
A family from America who had come to celebrate their son’s bar mitzvah at the Wall was posing for family pictures. Theirs was one of about a dozen bar mitzvahs taking place at the Wall this morning. Numerous Christian tourist groups huddled around their tour guides, listening to lectures about the Temple Mount, where Jesus had driven out the moneychangers only days before his arrest and crucifixion by the Romans.
Klein and Debra laughed as a Hasidic rabbi rushed by them with his prayer book under his arm while screaming into his cell phone. Nearby on the steps, a family of six shared a picnic meal. In another direction, a number of Hasidic boys played some kind of handball game against a building adjacent to the Wall. Not far from them were two men sitting on a ledge, playing chess. A steady flow of young Israeli soldiers with assault rifles slung around their shoulders patrolled the plaza in groups, scouring the crowd for unusual activity.
After about ten minutes, Klein asked, “Did you bring a note for the Wall, or do you want to write one now?”
“Oh no, I put a lot of thought into it.” Debra retrieved a postcard-sized paper from her purse and flashed it to Klein, showing that it was covered front and back with tiny print. Debra said, “See. God and I have a lot to talk about today.”
“You think God has all day to read that? Do you think He even can read those tiny scribbles?”
“Yes, as long as She wears her glasses, She’ll be able to read the note.”
They laughed, then Klein asked, “So, do you want to go say hello to your friend God?”
“Aren’t you coming with me?”
He shook his head. “I’m here every day, and besides, I’m not allowed in the women’s prayer section. If I really want to speak with Him…or Her, I have a private spot inside the Temple Mount where we have conversations. Now, you He’ll be happy to hear from because it’s been a while since you were here last. Take as much time as you want. I’ll be over by the entrance to the tunnel tours,” he said, pointing to double glass doors.
The Western Wall Tunnel was one of the most significant archeological expeditions in Israel, comprising an excavated walkway running under the Western Wall and Temple Mount, just as it had existed 2,000 years earlier. The digging caused widespread Palestinian riots that had led to the first intifada, which began in late 1987 and continued for nearly six years. After that, it was rumored but denied by the Israeli government that further excavations continued underneath where the Second Temple sat. Klein was now part of a small team whose job was to explore every inch of that space with a rubber hammer, chisel, and bucket—and to keep his mouth shut about it.
Debra entered the women’s prayer section at the Wall, double-checking that she was dressed respectfully. Wearing an ankle-length white skirt, a long-sleeved white top, and a straw hat, with her brown ponytail dangling down her back, she realized that she was not only dressed appropriately but that she also looked very American.
Debra slowly approached the Wall, focusing on its casket-sized beige stones. Moving with small steps, as she drew nearer, the Wall seemed to magnetically pull her in close. When she was finally face to face with it, she rested her palm lightly on its surface.
Debra folded her note as small as possible, then examined the cracks in the Wall, amazed at the innumerable personal messages to God. She then found a perfect spot to place her note, put it in, and closed her eyes. She rested her forehead against the Wall, took a deep breath, and slowly recited her prayer.
A few minutes later when she finished, her eyes still closed, she took a few measured breaths and started over, this time emphasizing every special request with a “please.” Tears streaming out of her eyes, she looked to the heavens and whispered, “Please God, please listen. Please help this world find peace where all people and all races and religions simply accept each other.” She closed her eyes again, took a few breaths, and began her prayers a third time. She drifted into a meditative trance as if she were floating away, not opening her eyes until minutes later. What had just happened to her was mystical and wonderful—beyond anything she’d ever experienced or even thought possible. She had just achieved true inner peace while communicating with God.
While turning away from the Wall, Debra noticed an elderly, frail woman in a wheelchair about ten feet away. Tears were pouring down the old woman’s face. Debra could feel the woman’s pain as if it were her own. She walked up to the woman and knelt before her on one knee, gently taking the woman’s hands in hers and looking deep into the old woman’s eyes. Debra gave her a gentle, reassuring smile and a compassionate nod.
Neither said a word for over a minute. The old woman then reached over, pulled Debra in close, and hugged her tight while she resumed her crying, her head resting on Debra’s shoulder. Debra held on, patting her head and neck, comforting the woman with kind words. When they let go, Debra slowly rose to her feet, bent over, and kissed the woman lightly on the forehead. The woman grabbed and squeezed Debra’s hands and through a weak smile said, “God bless you, my child. Shalom.”
Debra walked back into the center of the plaza, heading toward the entrance to the tunnels where Klein was leaning against a wall, one hand in his pants pocket, the other pressing a cell phone against his ear. From about fifty feet away they saw each other at the same time. Klein saluted her with a sweeping gesture.
Just then, an Israeli soldier hurried by, smashing into Debra. Their eyes locked. She thought it odd that he didn’t apologize for almost running her over, especially since he was an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier. He backed away from her as Debra frowned and said in Hebrew, “You could say Excuse me!”
He responded with a contemptuous stare. An instant later, he yelled, “Allahu Akbar! God is great!” Before anyone could react, the man reached inside his shirt, pulled out a hand grenade, removed the pin, and threw it into the men’s prayer section of the Wall. He again yelled out “Allahu Akbar,” sneered at Debra, placed his hand over his heart, pushed down on his shirt pocket and blew himself up.
The two explosions happened within seconds of each other, reverberating off the Wall with such magnitude that the noise echoed throughout the Old City. The disguised terrorist had so much explosive material packed into his vest that his limbs and head were severed, his midsection was ripped open, and body parts were blown everywhere. Hundreds of nails and metal pellets that had been wrapped around his vest became deadly projectiles flying in every direction.
Pandemonium broke out on the Western Wall Plaza. Some people stood still in shock, but most fled the scene, wildly screaming—some in fear, some in pain. Many frantically called out in search of their children, who’d had free rein to play about the plaza.
A number of Hasidim protectively hugged Torahs, carrying them to safety. An older rabbi held a Torah in one arm while bleeding profusely from the chest. He fell to one knee, gasping for air, trying to prevent the sacred scrolls from touching the ground. A teenage boy there to celebrate his bar mitzvah ran up and took the Torah from the rabbi’s arms. As he did, the rabbi fell dead to the ground.
Israel was accustomed to terrorist attacks, but it seemed inconceivable that even the most radical of terrorists would go so far as to attack the Wall. Air raid sirens wailed, and within only a couple of minutes, fully armed Israeli soldiers poured into the plaza. Ambulance sirens approaching the Jewish Quarter became louder and louder.
Klein had witnessed the attack from across the plaza. He remained unscathed from the shrapnel that left over eighty wounded or dead, including three people who had been standing near him. Klein sprinted through the chaos to find Debra lying flat on her back. Blood oozed from her neck and chest, in which two nails were deeply lodged.
Debra’s bright blue eyes had turned gray, and she stared blankly ahead. Her breathing was erratic and labored. Klein yanked out the two nails and pressed a hand on each wound, trying to stop the bleeding, but to no avail. Her blood seeped through his fingers and he watched helplessly as her white top turned red.
“Debra, hold on! Debra, breathe! Look at me! Stay with me!” Tears welled up in Klein’s eyes, and over and over he yelled, “Breathe!” He looked up to the skies and cried out, “Please God, save her!”
Debra lightly squeezed Chaim’s hand and whispered, “Don’t worry, cousin. Everything will be okay.” As the color drained from her face, she let go of his hand and closed her eyes, leaving behind a peaceful smile.
Chuck Lichtman is an attorney who has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America two-times as its “Lawyer of the Year” and for thirteen straight years for his excellence in his practice areas. Additionally, Chuck spends a significant amount of time working on civic endeavors. For the past twenty years he has served in a senior level role in presidential elections chairing voter protection programs, and founded a program to assure that every voter gets the right to vote and that the vote is counted. Chuck serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Secure Community Network, the arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is responsible for providing security assistance and training for Jewish people, organizations and buildings throughout the United States. He is an avid photographer and pianist who lives in South Florida with his wife and two dogs.
You can find him on Goodreads, Facebook and Instagram. You can buy the book on Amazon.