Tel Aviv Diary July 31, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from July 31, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 31, 2003

All the arts organizations are in danger of falling apart. We, at the Israel Association of Writers in English, have been putting off publishing our journal for a year because the Federation, which usually supports it, has had its funds cut. So no journal, and therefore no celebratory evening for the journal. No celebratory evening, no open reading for new writers, and no way to discover new people. No activities means no reason or motivation for a newsletter, or a meeting.

And this is a super-low-budget organization. The Federation itself, which has had its budget cut over 50% in the past year after a series of annual budget cuts, no longer has annual conferences, has cut its multicultural hebrew journal - Rav Kol, and its funding to most of the foreign language journals. it has stopped its support of readings (particpation in payment for halls) and has slowed down the frequency of board meetings (that costs money too.) Tonight there is a memorial service for Sandu David, a founder, who died last month, and it will take place only in the small hall of the writers' house, because there is no money to publicize the event. I heard about it because the widow called me.

My publishers, Kibbutz Hameuchad, has been delaying publication of poetry books this year, and my book, which should have been out long ago, hasn't gone into printing yet. They are talking about stopping the poetry series entirely because it is not cost-effective. The book store monopoloy, Steimatzy, doesn't carry many poetry books, so there is no distribution.

And this is only in literature.

It's possible to blame to corruption of the Hebrew Writers's Organization for some of this - the government has no interest in supporting writing when the writers' organization appears incapable to taking care of itself. And of course if some normal person with any business sense takes over the seedy little building it could easily be transformed into a money making project. True, it is a tiny building that hasn't been even painted in a decade, but surely there are ways of making combination deals with builders and putting up a high rise that will allow an income for the organization and a home for the arts in tel aviv.

But even that kind of project demands a stable organization backing it, investing in it. For that there is a need for something much more general and basic, an independent national Arts organization with a fixed budget, staff, ideology and freedom from political intervention.

This is necessary for the music schools, drama schools, art schools, the opera, the libraries, as well as the writers.

I think this is possible even in these times because there are many people, like me, who feel very comfortable donating to the establishment of something so absolutely positive. I can think of a number of appropriate people - architects, professors, lawyers, composers, artists, etc - who would be willing to volunteer their time -

Let's just get Mifkad off the ground first - and then, let me know how you'd help. Put together an ideology, a board, a proposed budget, a website, a program - and we'll begin to discuss procedure - where to begin.

More immediate and direct problems face us. The single mothers picketing the devastating economic politices are in terrible need of food, drink, cleaning supplies, linens, etc. A woman named Noa is coordinating the contributions. Her phone is -(972) 054-767195.

Yesterday I had a long conversation with Yoav about Israeli manners. He was complaining about how Israeis are pushy and impatient and illmannered. And today I spent part of the morning at the Ministry of Interior to get a passport. This is at best an irritating chore, and i was expecting a migraine out of it. But even though it WAS incredibly crowded, understaffed, and the computers were old and slow, the people were patient, quiet, and well mannered. Imagine a room the size of my living room, with 100 people - a few sets of parents getting identity cards for their new babies, a few fawning newly-weds getting their name changed, old people applying for new passports, a young religious woman praying to herself, a middle-aged, well-preserved russian woman in a flowered dress that flew up to show her underpants when she bent over to help a cripple in his walker, a guy on crutches who'd lost his papers in an automobile accident. I saw blue and orange identity books, but the sheer variety of people were what most hit me. I arrived at 11 thinking that if they closed at 12 there wouldn't be too many people left, especially since there were crowds before the door at 8 when it opened, so I have no idea what it was like all morning. Still, I couldn't expect the overheated clerk to have a sense of humor by the time I got to her. She didn't. But she was polite, helpful, and as efficient as the computer could allow her to be.

And while I was waiting for the last stage of my errand, someone handed me a newspaper to pass the time with the headline "they're preparing for terror much worse than we've known."

August 1, 2003

I just printed up the finished version of the trilingual student anthology - i can't seem to get the arabic, hebrew and english lined up so that each page has the poem and its two translations on it - but maybe a normal typesetter will be able to work it out. In any case, the text is pretty amazing and shows many of the cultural differences as well as the attempts to bridge these differences. but what do i know - i'm just as culturally biased as everyone else.

I went to Sandu David's memorial service last night - a Roumanist modernist, imagist, promoter of literature in Israel in thousands of ways, and a farmer as well. In some ways this was an ideal literary life: The combination of world-wide sophistication - and devotion to the basics of life. I will miss his whole generation -

August 2, 2003

Some of Sandu's poems are here. There are some I've translated - from his latest collection of poems about the holocaust - and i think they are better because more direct but it will take me a while to type them up.

Everybody's out on the streets. unbelievable - cafes are crowded - Nona is packed. Nobody seems to be at home.

We keep getting invitations by friends to meet - somewhere outside. But I'm not on vacation yet.

Pictures of Mishmish?



The point of this is that outside it is a dump and inside it is elegant. And there is a bouncer. That way you are perfectly private.

This hunger for privacy owes its origins to the terrorism of the past 2 1/2 years as well as the economic situation which has created such a disparity among people. If you've got it and still want to flaunt it, you still dont want to flaunt it in front of people who don't got it.

Photographs: Ezra Gut

August 4, 2003

The other night i was taking the dog out and thinking of Dana Bennet, the 18 year old girl who disappeared in Tiberias on thursday. I was thinking of the fact that this place has been a comparative haven for women - in that it is just as dangerous for men as it is for women at night on the streets. i know that's not a great point. but the one i made before about not 'flaunting' your wealth is just as tinged with irony and has just as many ramifications.

Anyway I was enjoying being alone on the streets with the dog (who is absolutely no deterrent to a thief or a rapist or a terrorist), when i thought of Dana. The soldier who was kidnapped and killed last week, whose life is just as dear as Dana's, still didn't affect me as much. Maybe it's also because we're still not sure what happened.

Maybe I just see women as more vulnerable.

But in praying that she's all right I'm also praying that women get to keep their relative freedom here.

This is nto to say that there is no rape here, or murder. I think we've discussed the high rate of partner-murders in this country, and the problems of multicultural messages that get misunderstood - so that the idea of rape is very blurry to some people -

August 5, 2003

The Hudna seems to be deteriorating almost beyond repair. We free prisoners who tried to kill us but didn't succeed and feel strange about that - they say it is a joke. People are disappearing here daily, shot at, etc. and we too break the truce. We uproot olive trees for the fence - there is an outcry about the value and history of the trees - and we plant them somewhere else. (Were we going to do it anyway? Was this another photo-op we planned and screwed up?)

The daily call-in question here on channel 2 news this morning was - should we leave the settlements outside the fence? - and the answer seems to be yes.

I thought to escape it all yesterday when I went for my annual multistation checkup at Ichilov. It's one of those systems where you sit in a waiting space in the middle of a whole bunch of doctors' and technicians' offices and get called in for one test after another. It's a great system except sometimes it gets a little boring in the few minutes between visits. So yesterday I had for company some very important government person.

And here's the big scoop on government: he was more interested in getting his certificate of health so that he can lift weights than he was in solving the political and economic problems of the country with me.

Now I know this must be a shock to you. But even when we were nearly finished with our tests, and the challenges of cardiograms and hearing acuity had been met, he just wanted to talk about how to stay up to date with colloquial English... was still traumatized by the first time someone in washinton said to him, "take care" and he stood frozen in the hallway for a very long moment trying to figure out what it could possibly mean.

He may not be too smart, but he's a cool guy.

And he's in great shape.

I hope they give his something to do in the government soon.

I mention all this because it is still true in Israel that the actual physical distance between leaders and citizens is not that great. It means that there can be an impact. That politicians can be influenced by the people, even if our represnetation system sucks.

As long as the politician is not Bibi.

It has been a while since I've discussed our old friend, Kurt Gerron. Not because I have lost interest in him (we still discuss issues together and he still irritates me in his yeke-ness - but since he's only a portrait I can just leave the room when it gets to be too much). But because all the material I ordered about him from all over has not arrived. The film that was up for an oscar this year, "Prisoner of Paradise," about his filming "Hitler Builds a Town for the Jews" seems to have disappeared - it wasn't shown on PTV as far as I know, and is unavailable for purchase. The film about his organization of artists in Theresienstat, "Kurt Gerron's Cabaret," was sent to me months ago, but never arrived.

But perhaps I will move for a time to a spin-off of the story of Kurt Gerron's portrait. The story of the painter.

All I know of Shalom Sebba, or Siegfried Sebba, was that he came to Israel from Germany before WWII, painted like crazy, and, becoming disillusioned by the materialism here, returned to Germany in the 70's.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the greatest painters in Israel, and deserves a place up there with the greater modernist painters like Beckmann, but his politics (like with Gerron) were not politically correct at the time. That is, he, like Gerron, has been ignored by the Israeli and the German culture - in part because both are something of a PC embarassment.

Which is why i despise PC in art.

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