Tel Aviv Diary - May 6, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary May 6, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from May 6, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

Yom Hazicharon.

I keep remembering a poem by Robert Friend from the 1973 war - i'll dig it up and post it.

And maybe some more. There are so many poems about memorial day, it is hard to believe. But it is hard for me to get into the things i want to do when this site is just so not working. i'm surprised you got in here at all!

Well, more later.

I keep thinking about the songs for memorial day: bab el wad by haim guri about a massacre of soldiers in the independence war, robert friend's unknown gay poem about the massacre in the yom kippur war, so many poems of sadness and loss - none of them are translated or published on the web.

i've noted this before - maybe not here - but one of the most salient elements of israeli music is the lack of anger and the great sadness of loss. There is no sense of hatred, anger, desire for revenge. There are no stereotypes of the enemy, no calls for action and/or destruction, no promises of victory. There ARE songs and poems about wanting to be free of war, to be after the loss, to remember friends who fell, to love peace, etc. I don't mean there is a moral superiority to other nations who write about war and hatred, but there is a definite difference in the approach.

As I was sitting here getting ready to write this, I suddenly heard a police megaphone warning of a suspicious object down the street. The street was closed off and we waited - without stopping our activities - for the explosion. Then came two shots - as the suspicious object was exploded. We said - a dud - and waited for the sound of traffic again. Ezi said - notice how it is a part of our daily lives? Yes, I answered - and how much wasted time and energy and money we have to put into preventing people from killing us.

And then we remembered one of our favorite stories - almost 15 years ago - of the neighbor's kid who was then in third grade and hating every minute of it. He stopped off on the way home from school at the grocery next door to ice for an ice cream, left his heavy school bag outside, then in the joy of the ice cream he ran off to play and left the bag. When he heard, much later, that the sappers came and exploded it, he jumped for joy and shouted: Yey! No Homework!!!

He's in India now, relaxing.

Today is not only Memorial Day for the soldiers who died in the defense of their country, but the victims of terrorism. Even though there was another one last night with at least one person killed, we have been thinking in particular about the explosion last week at "Mike's Place" - because as with every terrorist attack, it takes a while before you find out how you are connected to the people who were killed - that this one is the friend of... You realize this is our local form of Jewish geography - that game you play when you say, "Oh, you're from Cleveland! mY brother-in-law's sister lives in Cleveland. Maybe you know her?" - Sometimes I don't even mention the connection i have to a victim - it seems so trivial and even narcissistic to seem to use their sudden 'fame' in that way. But so often there IS a connection - an acquaintance, a friend... And there is always the knowledge that YOU could be next. You could.

Let's see, where should we go tonight...

we couldn't decide what kind of way to celebrate independence day so we went to everything. first a celebration with friends visiting from the U.S. as part of a VIP mission - hebrew folk songs, russian-like folk dancing, and the whole shtik that was popular in israel 50 years ago but has only vague nostalgic significance today (yet i sang along all evening). then a trip to Rabin square where, after visiting the memorial and remembering that 7 years ago the hopes for peace were dashed in one night, we watched some of the rock concert. we couldn't help but compare the geniuneness of the rock sound to the strained and strange quality of the folklore group. (I mean - think of the difference in world view of a song like "Beltz, my village Beltz" (written in 1911 i think by an immigrant to the U.S.) and Hemi Rudner's "Oh, Melancholy, you are my one love." (the clear eyed self irony, for starters). In between the music we had shots of bourbon at Shesek - and then cake at Nona. Shesek is a pretty sophisticated place but you really fine even there a strong sense of love of country - although it's hard to tell from a single drink... Back home we were greeted by the incredibly loud party the neighbors across the street were having. and that's why i'm writing this down instead of going to sleep.

The most moving event we experienced in the evening was the ceremony at Mike's Place, and that was only in passing. As we drove by, with the beach on our left and the setting sun, on our right we saw parts of the street had been cordoned off and cameras were everywhere. Someone was singing a song by Yanai Weiss, who was killed there last week, to the crowd of sad mourners. Later we heard "Hetikva" sung to a different, even more mournful tune.

We thought of how that event brought us all back to the reality of terror in the streets. Even though we keep hearing every day that terrorist attacks had been stopped, people arrested and even killed in an attempt to commit a terrorist attack, we think it is over for now. And then another one comes and we're back to our old hysteria.

The good news is that Salaam Pax is back! As of today. What he writes is pretty much what I imagined. I am ovewhelmed with reading him.

And i'm sorry to all of you who have not been able to find me - this isn't a proper blog and i do it myself and i screwed up big.

And to all who asked about the fireworks on Independence Day. Yes, there were fireworks. I don't like them anymore. I don't like booms. And although they are appropriate to the U.S. Independence Day, "And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." they have no justification here. They just seem like signs of power to me.

May 8, 2003

Repeated requests to reprint the Robert Friend poem made my overcome my scruples. I'm a little worried that it might not be understood as a humanist approach to the '73 war... and that i don't have the rights to it - but what the hell. Here it is:


When he reads in the papers,

Man killed in Car Crash,

he thinks in sorrow:

one beautiful cock,

two beautiful balls,

forever ruined.

and when he hears on the radio,

Firve Slaughtered in Ambush,

he thinks in anguish:

five beautiful cocks,

ten beautiful balls,

food for worms.

But when he hears the announcement,

5,000 Slain in Battle,

he can only say

5,000 cocks, 10,000 balls,

5,000 cocks, 10,000 balls,

over and over.

This is from Somewhere Lower Downpublished by the Menard Press in 1980.

The idea that we must remember the individuality, the human core of these individuals in all of our considerations is always with me.

And maybe that's why i continue with this diary that is beginning to bug the other people around here who also want access to this computer sometimes... the idea of getting to know individuals as individuals, in all our failings and strengths, seems to me absolutely imperative to the concept of making peace. Even getting to know someone like me helps.

The guard from Mike's Bar woke up on Saturday and is now even beginning to walk around. He couldn't have been there for the reopening of the place the other night, but he was certainly a positive spirit.

Now what about this other british terrorist who got away - Omar .. Shariff? Is that his name? I imagine him sitting in some internet cafe in tel aviv, blond, clean-shaven, maybe even dressed like a girl, writing to some friend that he's okay, waiting further instructions... But how can he stay in Tel Aviv and not fall in love with it?

Why do I keep talking about Salam Pax? Every time i mention his name the response comes that he's not genuine. But come on, why fake this truth? "Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore."

Robert Rosenberg seems as enthusiastic as i am in his latest Arigapiece. He's more clear about the connection between Salam's blog and the dream of middle east peace than i am.

May 9, 2003

So much bad news first thing in the morning. To discover that Sherard Cowper-Coles is leaving his post as Ambassador of England For Saudia Arabia is terribly depressing. Even though I know he'll make the Saudis feel as good about Britain as he made us feel - i personally NEED his quiet and beautiful cultured manner, his gentle compromise, his love and knowledge of poetry. For the first time I really enjoyed going to the British Ambassador's house, since he's been here, and ... but this is not going to interest anyone but my intimate friends... The point is, there are some people who inspire others with the hope that something can be done, that people can improve, and they can improve the situation here. What will we do without him?

I mean look at what's going on: General Strike declared for Sunday - (I'm sure the film I ordered on Kurt Gerron will never arrive), the 20,000 odd shekel VAT owes us has already been delayed for months because of the strike/slowdown and we need that money to pay debts to banks that aren't on strike... I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get the car through the test this year so i went early only to discover i lost my insurance certificate... and now i'll go back and it will be on slowdown or something. The medical facilities are on strike - i've got stock of 4 months of medication (blood pressure, hormones)- but what happens if i get sick with something else. And these are the tangential details - what is you need to go to the employment office to get a job, what if you need a passport, what about the busses... etc. and what about the future of the economy.

Then there is the situation in the Labor Party - disintegrating before our eyes. It's got 19 mandates - but Likud had only 19 mandates just a few years ago - so that's not the problem. The problem is that it can't get together on anything. Shimon Peres wants to be temporary leader for 2 years and he's one of the few people i like at all - even though he has no human graces (unlike Sherard Cowper-Coles - watch him - he'll be prime minister someday soon). Here's an old love poem to Peres:


Sunday, June 2, 1996

Loved by half this land

with all its heart, you start

today and wonder that

the other half did not come through.

“I just want to take my bags

and get out of here,” Leah

said, and I thought of you

and how when I saw you once

in your office I thought – the perfect man

in his proper place –

Suddenly I fear you will think

it was all a waste, the dreams

spattered on the pavement

like the blood of your mate,

and that – as well as the bullet –

the assassin cast

the deciding vote

But a dream is not worth less –

that it cannot be redeemed

at this very moment – surely

some things that don’t happen

stay in our hearts as much

as those that do – surely

we must plan that dreams

can, as they have before,

come true.

I must admit I sent him the book this poem was in, In My Skin, twice, but i don't think he got it - because he's the type that would respond, even if he hated it.

To return. He has sufficient imagination to create a peace program, and enough experience, and he's honest (unlike Sharon - sorry - no trust there) and he's got nothing to lose.

I've finally gotten round to reading Abba Kovner's Sloan-Kettering - i think i've been avoiding it's pain since it came out. It's beautifully written. He was a pretty amazing guy - and the book reflects his character. I met him only then, when he was going through chemotherapy - only a few times. He told me for the first time about how my aunt died and i think i was rendered speechless. Here's an old poem about that. LESSONS

for Abba Kovner


Since noon was for Sloan-Kettering

and evenings for recovery,

we paid our visit in the morning.

Amid sofas and tea, we spoke of poetry

and other easy solutions to complex problems,

until you rose, grabbed the shawl

that hid your disfigured throat

from the streets of New York, and said,

“Time for my dancing lesson.”


“This is the last time I will speak in public,”

Abba said to the crowd at his presentation

of a Certificate of Recognition

from the City of New York.

They knew he was a partisan,

they’d been told he was ill,

but not until he stood

for his final words

did they know

our loss.


Dare to be simple, be true -

and though the cords are cut in your throat

your voice comes through,

still, small - piercing hearts

born even after the dust has made its peace

with your fighting bones

you are visitor number


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