Tel Aviv Diary - April 27, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut
Tel Aviv Diary - from April 27, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut
Tomorrow evening Holocaust Day begins. Restaurants closed, entertainment places all closed. I just made a little page for Kurt Gerron on my site as a tiny memorial and will probably go to a ceremony in Yiddish.
But the atmosphere is already felt all over here - the immersion in tragedy, the inability to see the world without this tragedy.
What about Abu Mazen, Phil writes me. Hey Buddy, I know less than you do. We don't get reporters into the Mukata any more. With our great need for communication we have long broken off all mutual dialogue.
Communication. Sometimes i talk to my Arab friends and i realize that i absolutely avoid the subject of politics. why - because i am more interested in staying friends than i am in determining the future of the state. it seems to me that i cannot in any way expect an Arab to suffer with me on Holocaust Day or to agree that there is a justification and a right to a Jewish State. Any way all I want from the Palestinian government is to acknowledge that it is better all around for us to allow the other to exist. It is totally unfair to expect anything else.
April 28, 2003
This is the eve of Holocaust Day - and the birthday of Saddam Hussein, who is, as we now know, still alive. It is also the afternoon on which a general strike has been declared for Wednesday and the Labor party seems to be working with Sharon on the peace program. The complexities of this society, the simultaneous ups and downs, are overwhelming. Holocaust Day tomorrow, Student Day on Thursday. And if one of those days is too specific to the university, next week we have Memorial Day and Independence Day back to back .
One of the interesting truisms about Holocaust narratives is that they have to be about victims or heroes. But I suspect that many people are more like Kurt Gerron - a little of both - and maybe with more than a little evil emerging from the need to survive.
I once wrote about a song by Sharon Moldavi about a girl in the Holocaust who is forced to have sex for food - it's here: "The Experience of the Holocaust in Israeli Rock Music"
Holocaust Day - The sirens at 10 - for 2 whole minutes. All day long I think - not of the Holocaust, but of the individuals whose stories I'd heard. Willy Neisner, for example. When my parents moved to the States their first goal was to get out of my domineering aunt's control and get a place of their own. After many arguments in which my father feared we were overreaching, they bought a big house - and the second floor was used to house survivors, new immigrants to the US haunted by their losses. There were many families, but the one i remember first was WillyNeisner. Did he live with us? I have to ask my brother. But I remember my brother and me, on either side of him, teasing him, trying to bring up his mood. He was little - my 10 year old brother was not much smaller than him - and had big ears, and white white skin under his freckles. And he was haunted by all those who had been lost in the holocaust. long after he moved to the men's dorms at the Y we met at a wedding and we teased him about his getting married. I remember we wrote on the wedding match book covers - whose getting married? Willy Neisner. Very soon after he hung himself.
Much later the Winters came to live with us. Now I realize this was our way of paying the mortgage. Then i thought it was the responsiblity of the survivors to help rehabilitate each other. The Winters were German, father mother and son. Ignatz had mutilated fingers, but he helped me learn how to ride my bicycle. I was almost 10 and a very slow learner, but he had great patience and ran behind the bicycle for an amazing long time until i learned. (For my birthday this year Ezi bought me a bicycle, and I cannot ride it with remember the uncertainty, the need for those mutilated fingers holding on to the baggage rack as the blond man ran behind me.) I was always amazed that he still had patience after all he had been through - so many of the others were totally broken - but with him, it was only his fingers.
There were so many refugees who went through our house. So many refugees. But no matter how many people my parents helped it would never have made up for the 30 odd siblings and in-laws my mother had lost, and my father's murdered mother, his starving brothers and sisters, and all his other relatives.
All of them stand before me now: those murdered and those whose lives were irrevocably ruined, who could not see a future after the holocaust. And i feel a responsibility for all of them somehow to redeem life. So on a day like today I want to make a contribution to the New Israel Fund which does so much on an individual scale to redeem life.
The poems of Hanna Senesh, such as this one that is constantly reproduced on Holocaust Day, often reinforce this:
WALKING TO CAESAREA
My God, My God
May it never end:
The sea and the sand
Whisper of water
The flash of sky
The prayers of man.
The Holocaust mood wouldn't leave me today so I went to visit my cousins Sima and Nachum Kaganovich who were partisans with Abba Kovner. It isn't easy to carry on a conversation with them about their time in the forests now, but sometimes the stories are clear and illuminating. This time Nachum suddenly told me that my aunt, Malcah, was living in a farmhouse near the village of Iviya, and was burned alive in that farmhouse only a day or two before the war was over. That must have been about the time I was born. He added that the Nazis were not really functioning by then but that antisemitism was rampant among the villagers - so I gather that it was the villagers who set fire to her hiding place, and not the Nazis. But I guess I'll never know the whole story.
April 29, 2003
Mike's Pub - next to the U.S. Embassy - is totally cut off from politics - the blues and jazz just comes from another world.
And last night at one in the morning it got blown up. By chance I know where my kids were heading yesterday, so i am not at the hospital checking the records. By chance the list of the dead - a french woman, an american man... Oh how we comfort ourselves by distancing the event immediately so it can be encompassed.
I do not mean that I don't care about each and every one of the 60 odd wounded and the 3 dead so far - but i am so stressed by this that i have to manipulate a distance. I mean i actually feel the wounds on my body. Richard, when you suggested that maybe i give the impression i don't care as long as it is not my kids, i ran right back to the diary to clarify this. i am seeing faces - whether i know them or now. When the owner of the bar Gal Ganzman said that one of his waitresses lost an arm but she's all right, he's not registering callousness, but he is showing that the only way one can cope with such a disaster is to find a way to make it okay.
I do want to remind you that this particular terrorist attack did not take place in disputed territories or in some army base, but in a night club on the shore in tel aviv. Can Abu Mazen stop these acts? Well... yesterday there was a press release (that didn't seem to go anywhere) that Abu Mazen was actually the money man for the Munich israeli olympic athelete massacre. the conclusion we were supposed to draw was that we shouldn't be dealing with him. but - remembering menachem begin's past - i continued the parallel ezi had made a few days ago between the establishment of an israeli and a palestinian state. the leaders did not have spotless pasts, and maybe because of that they knew how to deal with these splinter groups. I do hope abu mazen knows how to handle the tanzim and the fatach and the others. but i am sure it isn't going to be easy. and we will all suffer in the process.
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