THE SOLDIER AND ‘CINDERELLA’
By Menucha (Marni) Levin
They arrived in Akko early that spring morning, an elite IDF paratrooper unit, exploring the narrow stone streets of this ancient seaside city. As part of their rigorous training, they had already learned how to navigate out in the field; now they had to run and navigate in an urban environment. So they found themselves in Akko, a city in which Arabs, Jews and Christians all managed to reside. The old city walls that surround the port are remnants from the Crusader period. Centuries ago, Akko was the capital of the Latinate Kingdom of Palestine as it was then called. Ships from far-away Genoa, Pisa and Venice sailed into its harbor. Today the port is home only to small simple fishing boats.
Divided up into groups, the paratroopers started glancing around to get their bearings. Though alike in their olive-green uniforms, with their M16's casually dangling down their backs, one soldier stood out from the rest of his comrades. His name was Dov, which means 'bear' in Hebrew and for him it was a most appropriate name. A huge bear of a young man, six foot four without his army boots, his wide shoulders and bulging muscles strained against the fabric of his extra-large uniform. Yet Dov was always cheerful, kind-hearted and popular with his fellow soldiers.
Just then a group of young Arab schoolchildren hurried past, chattering rapidly to each other.
"I wonder what they're saying?" Yair, one of the soldiers, commented.
"They said if they're late for school, they will be in trouble," Dov replied.
"Since when do you know Arabic?" Tali laughed.
"I learned it in school, just like you did," Dov replied.
"Okay, if you know Arabic so well, go talk to one of those school kids," Yair challenged, "and we'll listen into your conversation."
"Sure," Dov agreed amiably.
He noticed one tiny girl trailing slightly behind the rest of the schoolchildren. She must have been about five but small for her age, with olive skin and short black hair. A fragile little sparrow of a girl, yet she was spunky too. When this enormous Israeli soldier, whose M16 was almost the same size as she, suddenly squatted down in the street in front of her, she seemed unperturbed. Her dark-bright eyes looked directly into his hazel ones.
"Hello, cutie, how are you today? My name is Dov. What's your name?" he asked in fluent Arabic, using a soft, friendly tone.
The child smiled but did not reply.
"Let me guess your name then. Is it…Fatima?"
The little girl shook her head.