Tel Aviv Diary Oct 2, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Oct 2, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

i have been asked frequently about the relationship between Israeli society and American Jewry. Here is the secret: Apparently Michael Richards denies that Shimon Peres is his father, but the facts speak for themselves:

Couldn't get out of the grocery store this morning. all we could talk about was 'genius' - Elhanan Tennenbaum - who actually used to frequent this neighborhood center for gossip. Our handsome neighbor has had all his teeth pulled out by his captors and is a bad way. i assume they 'treated' him so that we will get more pressured by his situation and agree to the pretty bad bargain of exchange. we're giving them a couple of happy murderers in exchange for poor Elhanan.

but there is no doubt - teeth removal works - i ask for gas when i get FILLINGS for crissake! and he had such a brilliant smile!

Three years - can it be that long? - the details of his capture are not clear. Was he gambling? was he in lebanon trying to get information on Ron Arad? I have a feeling the information is not available not because it would embarass Tennenbaum but because it would embarass this government.

ditto for ron arad.

finally the courts have decided to try our honored parliament member naomi blumenthal for interfering with the judicial procedure. you remember how she frantically tried to cover her election bribing tracks a few months ago by silencing her driver... but then she fucking fired him so he would not have a reason to keep silent. now this is the intelligence that makes israeli policy.

what was the story ezi was telling me - he's asleep now so i can't ask - about the king who had shoes made out of gold, but they got dirty so he had them covered. but then no one could see the shoes so he had holes made in the covering. but then the dirt got in, so he had straw stuffed in the holes so that the dirt wouldnt...

ah me.

I wouldn't have picked on poor Naomi Blumenthal, who is really not smart (remember the movie she appeared in the nude, guys - back in the seventies?) but her mentality is very much like the mentality of the entire government. we need to get a new pair of sensible shoes. Amnon?

I mean think of the fact that Limor Livnat - our wonderful education minister...


As Lear says - that way madness lies. And here we are going into the weekend of the day of atonement, when we should have been using every day for the past week to make peace between man and man so we can face God with only our sins against Him.

And we've got an extra hour tonight because of the end of daylight savings (I'm not going to complain about why we are turning back the clock to make it dark even earlier in the winter... I'm not going to complain...)

But I will go out and celebrate the extra hour - the whole city will probably be out.

October 3, 2003

All right I didn't go out and celebrate - but i spent the morning in tel aviv, which is a celebration in itself. Take Beit Levick, for example, where i had a 'rehearsal' for an hour this morning. Yes, it took forever to get there - Dizengoff was jammed - and the home of the Yiddish Writers' looks so much like the Yiddish offices all around the world - but when you start to talk to the people there, every conversation is an experience. Zwi Kanar, who is both a writer and a pantomime, showed us his striptease act to the imagined music of "bei mir bistu shein," the poet Rivkah Bassman (whose late husband the painter Mula Ben Haim lived in Lida across the street from my parents) introduced me to guests from France, and there was a playright, a journalist, a translator, and a few other people whose names I have forgotten but whose talent overwhelmed me. "Before you dip your pen in ink," said one, "dip it in wisdom, conscience." This is a group of people who have maintained a high level of talent even though recognition for their work is limited to the yiddish speaking population of israel. Thank goodness there is a revival of Yiddish, because i would hate to have these people lost.

I wonder if there are english translations of these writers - i think Katherine Hellerstein translated Rivka Bassman, but i'm not sure the poems were published.

On the street, a completely different experience. Having taken my first taxi in years, i was surprised to find that my opinions on politics, the economy, the pilots' letter, were all shared completely. Last time i took a taxi - no, last time i had a conversation in a taxi - the question was who to vote for, Bibi was running, and i almost got thrown out of the cab for voicing opposition to his character.

Speaking of Bibi, I would have loved to be in on his talks today with the head of the workers' union. i mean it's nice they are talking, but they couldn't possibly understand each other. Bibi talks with anger about the women who pretend to be living without their partners so they can get a government grant for being single mothers, people who don't want to work because they're lazy, people who employ foreign workers because they are cheaper, about all kinds of 'freeloaders' (ochlei chinam) - because we, the people, are supporting them. (Let's see - this woman came to work for me and didn't want to give me her identity number because, she says, she gets a government grant to round out her income and if she works she won't get it. After a few minutes it became clear to me that she's a pretty smart lady and i didn't quite understand why she was cleaning houses. Turns out she's only here because the sochnut convinced her to come from south america, promised her a job in tel aviv, and then when she came - job, no housing, no life, no money to go back. She was willing to travel 5 hours round trip to come and clean my house... On the other hand, the dock workers who are striking over privatization and have absolutely ruined the businesses of a number of manufacturers here with their strike - make as they say a base salary of about $1500 a month, but their base salary includes about 5 hours work a day - for 8 hours work a day they make twice that in overtime. no private company would give them that. no wonder they're striking and no wonder Bibi doesn't like them. )

There is that point - that there are a lot of people in this country who are on welfare. let's begin with people injured beyond repair from terrorist attacks - tens of thousands of them. then there are people who just can't take the stress here - not actually victims of attacks, but people who cannot bear so much reality, fear, uncertainty. And we have immigrants whose arrival was with full knowledge of their limitations - physical, mental, linguistic, educational, etc. it was our job to take them in. the list goes on. in a purely capitalistic country we wouldn't be responsible for them, but seeing as this country invited and creates the 'freeloaders,' the situation is more complex. no?

of course Bibi doesn't mention all those people who got incredibly cheap housing for living in the territories, and continue to get all kinds of dividends. But if we're in a capitalistic society....

October 4, 2003

no matter what the arrangement we make eventually with the palestinians, we have to get to keep a beach. there is nothing better. especially on shabbat. especially in october. israelis (like me) have been staying away because of the skin cancer care, but i figure what can i lose.

so we drive the 2 minutes from our house, walk out onto the beach and into the water - where the water is warm and clean now and the waves gentle and the beach is empty except for some russians and tourists.

If we had been in Haifa this afternoon, we may well have gome to Maxims - 40 years a symbol of coexistence in haifa - a restuaurant owned by Arab and Jewish people. As I recall the Arab made the partnership soon after his father was killed in the war of attrition.

There are 18 dead so far not including the woman suicide bomber (who didn't get checked at the entrance because women still aren't checked like men) - but like last time the number will probably go up another 15%.

I don't know the names - don't know who was killed - there were 4 Arabs killed and 3 children at least. and a baby.

tonight we were at beit levik and when we went to get our car out of the lot on frishman the police had blocked it all up, examining a suspicious object. we went for pizza, met some friends, as if it wasn't part of the enormous tragedy we're living with.

and then we got our car and went home. and that's that.

erev yom kippur.

the names come out in the morning and our mourning multiplies - each one a human being lost - whole families lost, people about to marry lost, babies lost...

Even the bomber makes me cry - the waste of lives

last night someone in the audience at beit levick said to me - 'you realize suddenly how life can disappear in a second - hopes plans everything.' it's one of the reasons i try not to postpone love any more - try not to keep a grudge, to suspect what i can't prove, etc.

But perhaps a bit on a different topic John asked me yesterday - 'aren't you afraid of saying all those bad thing about Bibi?' John, half the people in this country are saying it. Most of the journalists are saying things about Sharon. words like 'stupid'and 'pigheaded' are common around here. And critical cartoons are rampant. it's isn't whispered. it's shouted in despair.

This poem is just for here - please don't reproduce it - i myself have not asked for permission from the amichai estate to publish it and it would just get me into trouble - but i can't resist putting it here for my own comfort: ON THE DAY OF ATONEMENT



On the Day of Atonement in 1967

I put on my festive dark suit and went to the Old City in Jerusalem.

I stood for a long time before the alcove shop of an Arab

not far from the Damascus Gate, a store

of buttons and zippers and spools

of multicolor threads and snaps and buckles.

A splendid multi-colored light, like an open Holy Ark.


I told him in my heart that my father too

had just such a shop of threads and buttons.

I explained to him in my heart of all the decades

and the events and the reasons I am now here,

and my father's shop is burned up there and he is buried here.


When I finished it was the hour of Ne'ila.

He too pulled down the shutter and locked the gate

And I returned home with all the worshippers  






*Ne'ila is the final prayer of the Day of Atonement, when the gates to heaven are locked as the fates of all have been sealed.



Yehuda Amichai.

October 6, 2003

Maybe if i lived in jerusalem i'd be more contemplative on yom kippur. but last night - as with every yom kippur - the scene is antithetical to contemplation. As my neighbor explained, you have to be in the AREA when they say Kol Nidre. You don't actually have to go into the synagogue, because the real point is to be a congregations. and the sidewalks around the synagogue were full. the street too. hundreds and hundreds. even at 11 p.m. when he crowd lowered its average age to 20, the street was full.

the area around the video machines too. people step up furtively, take a few videos and disappear into the night. And of course the roads - bicycles totally untrammeled by automobile traffic.

This year there were police vans on patrol too - first time I've ever seen it although they may well have been there before.

Of course the bombing in Maxims and the subsequent attack on the training camp north of Damascus are the immediate reason. But none of this intrudes on the special atmosphere of quiet of Yom Kippur.

As soon as it is over, however, we begin to count the losses, lick our wounds, and try to figure out what has been happening.

The blood of Jews and Arabs mingle on the floor of the restaurant and I wonder what the hevra kadisha does with it. They always collect all the body parts and sop up the blood for burial. How do they know in which cemetery to bury it? In Kibbutz Yagur with the Zer-Aviv family (grandmother, parents, 2 children)? In Haifa with the Almog family (grandparents, son, grandchild)? Or Mark and Naomi Biano? Or Zvi Bahat or Assaf Shteir or Osama Najar or Matan Askarkabi ? In Fassouta with Sherbel Matar or Hana Francis, 39? In Naharia with Nir Regev? or Kiryat Bialik with Irena Sofrin?

And the lessons the people learn after this kind of attack are always antithetical and ego-cognitive for the group. If they were for peace before, they say "Enough killing! Peace now!" If they were for retribution before they scream: "Strike while the iron is hot! Let them feel what we suffer!" or "Kill them before they kill us all!"

Me, I go for the peace side of course, but I also think no one will disagree when I urge people to contribute to Magen David Adom. Their work is terrible and essential. And some of the 50 people who were hospitalized on Saturday may well owe their lives to those people.

There is at least one who is still fighting for his life - a little boy.


check out my THIN LIPS my new CD with Roi Yarkoni and Ishai Sommer. It should be out in 2 weeks, but you can preorder at Pookh.

Apparently not. it's still not out. two weeks have passed. Have patience.

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