Tel Aviv Diary February 13 , 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from February 13, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

February 13, 2005

The beautiful Helmsley Hotel in downtown Manhattan does not have wireless. Their 'business' room is prohibitively expensive. So that's it then. I'm doomed to grabbing my mail at the local starbucks while downing coffee and cannot keep this diary up. Fortunately we're visiting Ron and Karen for the weekend in Boston and they have brought me into the umbrella of their router.

Now the absence of easy access is unfortunate because the story of a Tel Avivi in NY is equally as interesting as the story of a Tel Avivi in Tel Aviv. But as you know I don't write if i don't write online so.. it's all memory and recollection now.

And it really is a shame. For example, think of the cab ride we took from Newark to Manhattan at 4 in the morning. An Egyptian cabdriver was waiting at the airport for the Israeli flight, and we decided he was worth taking a chance on. He was immediately identifiable as Egyptian, and it made me feel at home. And the whole way we talked politics and society. He could well have been a neighbor we meet every week, and shared information with about shopping, driving, marital relations. But I forgot to take his name and now - unlike in israel - he's become anonymous, faded into the crowd and all that.

But the last thing i remember him saying is that if the people at home knew how people get along around here, it would change their lives.

It IS refreshing that we are a bit out of the news. But it is disheartening that we are out of everything. There are no guide books of Israel in the book stores, no books at all about Israel. It is as if we have disappeared. This gives Ezi and me a well-needed vacation from the middle-east, I suppose, and I'd be happy if i thought it was a benevolent silence. But it is very ominous. The holy land, a place perfect for tourists, and full of tourists, and there isn't a word about tourism?

I guess we're just used to be in the center of conflict.

When we went to see the Auschwitz exhibit at the U.N., my first reaction was "Why is it in the corner of the hall, the least traveled area?" Once I went through it I was glad for the dignity of privacy. IT IS AN AMAZING EXHIBIT. Part of it is a blown up photo album left behind in Auschwitz of some German soldier - You know the type - women before they are shaved, after they are shaved, etc.

The girl that found it had been put in the officers barracks by the russians which had been converted into sick bay for typhus victims. She identified the people and the categories. Men not fit for work. Women no longer fit for work. Etc.

Why didn't you write about our visit together, my friend in NY asks? If you can't write about Tel Aviv in your diary, why don't you write about your kids, your grandchildren, your cousins, your friends? With what I hope is uncharacteristic rudeness, I answered, "I may be Jewish but I also have a private life."

So even though I had dinner here, and friends there, and there are some great stories, believe me, about all of them, it's not what you came to this diary for. Wait for the poems...

But all of it is personal, you know. If I say that visiting the Harvard Book Store this time reminded me of the first time I was there as a student, and thinking that the only way I would have an academic career is if I shed the 'yiddishkeit,' the ethnic element of my personality, I am not being objective. I am sure that other ethnic elements, unlike in the fifties, are welcome, and it is apparent in the titles and the texts available...

Authors I am reading now that Israeli television is not available to me: Adrienne Rich - magnificent. Gish Jen - a good read.

More about that soon.

Where is Shusha? Here - at Hagit's

February 14, 2005

What can I tell you - you can take the Israeli out of Israel but you can't take Israel out of the Israeli. Everything I see has a touch of the Israeli perspective. The other night at a Richard Strauss concert (Don Quixote - a very watered-down form of Strauss - with leftover droppings of Zarathrustra but that's it) I was surrounded by a German-speaking audience. Right. I thought. At least someone will appreciate this.

But the entire audience was enthusiastic - only I was wrinkling my nose - deriding the extreme decadent romanticism of it. Only I was questioning the plotlessness of it, the celebration of sentimentality, and hummed "kinder, kuchen, kirche" to the melody.

And despite an incredible desire to see Al Pacino I'm going to wait to see the Marchant of Venice until I'm back in Tel Aviv. I need to know that Israel exists before I can handle that much hatred.

February 15, 2005

I'm going back to NY and face Pacino. No better place than the Diaspora to experience antisemitism. Didn't face Mel Gibson at all, I am ashamed to say.

But now I will probably be gone until Saturday - unless I find a better Starbucks.

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