In the middle of another century, when we were both teenagers in a Zionist youth group, his name was Jerrold. Now it's Ya'akov and he's the patriarch of a large family in Israel.
Ya'akov and I went our separate ways long ago. He's now retired as the director of a university library, where he still helps out on occasion, and I'm still scribbling away for a newspaper.
Now and then I hear from Ya'akov, né Jerrold, when the missiles are flying in those parts, and I've sent him an e-mail inquiring after his health, safety and nerves. His replies are models of brevity - and assurance:
"We're in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv and far enough north of Gaza to not be a target. Our life goes on as usual. Tomorrow I go into Tel Aviv to work at the university, but they seem to think that rockets able to reach there aren't a problem yet. I well remember the first Gulf War when I was library director and in charge of preparing our building for a possible rocket attack. Life is never dull here."
Life is never dull here. Jerrold always was a model of good cheer and understatement.
The e-mails I get from Israeli friends display the same mix of homey detail and historical crisis. They always get me thinking of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in "Mrs. Miniver" dealing simultaneously with a world war and a used sports car, the Blitz and a flower show, air raid shelters and the servant problem - all with the same British reserve.
Another friend, whom I haven't known nearly as long, is a professorial type who writes from the University of Haifa, where my daughter spent a spring as a resident assistant helping new immigrants get settled in as students.
A picturesque port city, "the Naples of the Mediterranean," Haifa is in the middle of it these Katyusha-rocked days, but the professor, who lives there with his wife and daughter, remains his charming, curmudgeonly self. It seems the Katyushas keep interrupting him while he's trying to read a student's Ph.D. thesis on Maimonides, the great Jewish thinker of medieval times:
"Since I wrote last, Haifa has been hit by 3 or 4 (can't keep track) rocket attacks, each one consisting of 4-6 rockets. Each time the sirens go off we meet our neighbors in the hallway of the apartment building and listen together for the booms of the explosions. This experience is rapidly losing its appeal, to put it mildly.