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100 Mils.

By Joshua Salik (Commentary)

My sixth birthday was on May 14, 1948. I was waiting impatiently for that day since my father had hinted (this was as far as he was willing to go) that I may get a big birthday gift. Finally, the day came. I woke up that morning, remaining in bed waiting for him to come in with the gift, but nothing happened.

After lying there for a while I decided to get up. I went into the living room and found my father sitting next to our new radio, which he had bought six months earlier, playing with the knobs. This was one of the few radios in the neighborhood and many of our neighbors who could not afford a radio used to come and listen to it. As if apologizing for his extravagance my father told them that he bought the radio especially for the vote in the United Nations. I did not know what that meant. Only later, when I became more familiar with the history of Israel I understood that he was talking about the Nov. 29, 1947 vote in the United Nations for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

At the moment, though, he was playing with the knobs, evidently looking for something. I sat next to him and just watched him while he seemed too occupied to pay any attention to me. After I sat there for a few minutes he finally turned to me and asked "What?" I hesitated and did not know what to say. Asking for gifts was considered disrespectable in our family. Only when he asked me again "Are you going to tell me or what?" did I tell him "You know."

"Oh," he said, "I'm sorry. I forgot. Today is your birthday. Congratulations." "Thanks," I said. I hoped that now he was going to remember his promise, and he did.

"I promised you a gift," he said. I just nodded. "Okay," he said, "tomorrow you are going to get the gift of your life. All of us are. But until then..." he reached for his pocket and pulled two coins of 100 mils each "Take these," he handed me the two coins "and go buy yourself whatever you want."

I was almost shocked. Two hundred mils were quite a fortune then. I put on my clothes, ate breakfast, and went out with the two coins in my pocket. It was a Friday and, since on Fridays the stores in British-mandated Palestine close early, I had to rush to the toy store on our street before they closed it. I already knew what I wanted. It was something I craved for a long time - a set of marbles. These were not regular marbles, but a special kind, which we used to call "butterfly marbles". Every kid on our street was dreaming about such marbles, but only the rich kids had them.

Excited, I stepped into the store. "What d'you want?" the storeowner asked me suspiciously. He already had some merchandise stolen from his store several times, and he did not trust any child. "I want the butterfly marbles," I said. "And how are you going to pay for them?" he asked. "I have 100 mils," I said. I was afraid to tell him about the other 100 mils because it was well known in the neighborhood that he was a price gouger.

"Where are they?" he asked, apparently not believing me. I pulled one of the coins from my pocket and showed him. He was surprised but did not say a word. Instead, he reached to the shelve behind him, where he kept all the toys, pulled three bags of marbles, and laid them on the counter. "Make your choice," he said.

I examined the three bags for a while and finally made a decision. "I'll take these," I told him "how much are they?" "Usually they cost a hundred and fifty mils" he said "but today is a special day, so I'll give them to you for 100 mils." I gave him the coin and rushed back home, happy. I did not even bother to ask him how he knew it was a special day. After all, he had no way of knowing it was my birthday. I went home as fast as I could. All I wanted was to show the marbles to my friends, just in order to show off. We played with the marbles till dusk and then I went back home.

The house was full of guests, some of whom I knew, but the rest were strangers to me, and all of them were very excited and happy. I first thought they were there to celebrate my birthday, but almost none of them seemed to pay any attention to me. My mother served me dinner, and then sent me to bed. I almost forgot about the other coin that was still in my pocket. Only when I woke up the next day and put on my clothes I found it there.

My father, who was already dressed up, waited for me in the kitchen "Let's go out" he said. "I still have one coin of a hundred mils," I told him "Shall I take it with me?"

""No," he said, "the stores are closed today anyhow. Let me find you a box. You can put it there." He looked at his toolbox, found a metal box, and handed it to me. I put the coin there, and we went out to the main street. The street was full with people dancing and singing. I did not understand why and I asked my father "Are they dancing for my birthday?" He had a wide smile on his face when he replied, "No, they're dancing because we finally have a country of our own. This is the big gift I promised you."

On the next day, the former British mandate began to function like a normal country, changed its name to the State of Israel, and later on issued her own currency. The mil, which was a British currency, became obsolete, but I decided to keep the coin. It is still with me as a memory of my father and the birth of Israel.
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Publication:Israel Faxx
Date:Aug 3, 2005
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