Keith Raffel calls himself a Silicon Valley Guy. He is and more. Besides working in tech, Keith was a former US Senate aide and political candidate. And Keith, not only my friend and of many, has an insatiable curiosity. A good thing for a writer. He's written four novels - his first Dot.Dead one of my faves and has come out with a very cool thriller A Fine and Dangerous Season dealing with a 'What if' scenario based on JFK's brief sojourn at Stanford. I strong-armed him the other night to blog for us about his experiences in a tunnel in Israel. Thank you Keith and welcome! ——Cara
I grew up reading Cold War thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and A Funeral in Berlin. The tectonic plates of East and West, Communism and Democracy, rubbed against each in Berlin. But the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Thriller writers have been looking for a replacement for Cold War Berlin ever since.
So I wondered where are two civilizations colliding today? Where might the next world war start? What is the most dangerous place on the planet? Jerusalem has to be the answer. And just as in Berlin, a wall divides the two sides. So I took off with my son, the child I affectionately call #4, and started looking for a story.
There had to be a story there, right? I didn’t know whether inspiration would come, but going to Israel was bound to increase the odds. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, had helped out Homer, the first thriller writer. Why not me? (Or is that sacrilege to appeal to a figure from paganism in the land where Judaism and Christianity both got their start?)
Before getting to Jerusalem, #4 and I traipsed up and down the country. We went up to the Golan Heights. Through binoculars, we watched Hezbollah riflemen across the border in Lebanon and saw them looking back at us through their own binoculars.
But that was no story. We went to Tel Aviv and saw where David ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence as approved by the United Nations on May 14, 1948. Six countries greeted the announcement, approved by vote of the United Nations, by invading the brand new nation. Leon Uris’s Exodus, which had made such a huge impression on me in eighth grade, tells that story. I really couldn’t find anything left for a thriller.
Finally we got to Jerusalem.
We started our explorations at King Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Hezekiah of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Judea reputedly had it dug in the 8th century B.C.E. to insure a water supply in case of an Assyrian siege. So anyway, #4 and I piled into the tunnel with hundreds of others. The passageway is dark, most of it was about five feet high and no wider than my shoulders. Water swished around my calves. A couple hundred yards into the tunnel, I walked into the person in front of me -- #4 was up ahead with some kids. In a chain collision, the person behind me ran smack into my back. So I was crouched over, my shoulders scraping the side of the tunnel, cold water swirling around my legs, and unable to move. All I had for illumination was the feeble glow of a light stick. I had not known till that moment that I was claustrophobic. Seconds ticked off. The writer in me floated over my head and whispered, “So this is what panic feels like. Remember and you can use it.”
Eventually, the group of evangelicals who’d stopped ahead to sing hymns got moving again and I made it out the other end. I asked #4 if he had any problems. He had a great time. And I had something to use – being stuck in a tunnel under Jerusalem. But that was only an episode, not a plot.
Two days later, we visited the Western Wall. It’s known as the holiest spot in Judaism, even though not part of either of the ancient temples. It’s just a retaining wall built by King Herod to support the Temple Mount, the raised tabletop hill, where the Second Temple stood in his time two millennia ago.
In recent years Israeli archeologists have dug a tunnel parallel to and underneath the West Wall. Claustrophobia or no, I went down along with #4.
This tunnel was wider than Hezekiah’s, and, thank God, the guards limited the number of people who were in it at any one time. I had room to breathe. We passed a nook in the wall where women were praying with fervor. I asked why. Our guide told us that this might be the point closest to the ancient Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the First Temple built by King Solomon where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. (There’s an irony there. Above, at the Western Wall, there are restrictions on women praying. Here, at a point even closer to the most sacred room of Solomon’s Temple, only women were praying.)
Walking along that tunnel, I noticed a circle of concrete among the huge stones. I discovered authorities had plugged a hole that Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, had secretly been drilling there in 1983. What had he been up to? He believed the Lost Ark was down there in a spot directly under that Holy of Holies where it had been hidden 2700 years ago to keep it away from the conquering Babylonians.
What if the Ark had indeed hidden been away under the Temple Mount? (Not in the Army warehouse where Indiana Jones left it at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.) And what if our hero’s grandfather had been digging down there with Rabbi Goren? What if on his deathbed, he asked our hero to go back and find it?
Thank you, Calliope. I was off and writing.
Keith for Cara—Tuesday
Keith Raffel’s latest thriller, A Fine and Dangerous Season, is published by Thomas and Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. He expects his next book called (unsurprisingly) Temple Mount to be published in 2014 and you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/keithraffelauthor