Tel Aviv Diary - July 25-9,2011 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 30, 2011

Where did I disappear yesterday? I went looking for the Emek train, part of the Hejaz railway to Mecca, where the stations and some of the rails are now being reconstructed.

The train is an enormous part of the history of this entire area in the 20th century, and although it has been maintained in Syria and Jordan , it was blown up in 1948 and the few parts that remained fell into disuse in the very early 50’s.

But it was never forgotten. In 1995 Nachum Levy stopped the bulldozer that was about to destroy the beloved station of his youth in Alroy. A village built in the 30’s by Kurdish immigrants, Alroy watched the train pass by until the flooded road made jumping aboard necessary. Nachum Levy explained that the Kurdish women complained that with their traditional clothes they couldn’t catch the train, and the leaders asked for and were given a station.

The inhabitants celebrated with a post-sabbath celebration at the train station and continued the tradition for many years.

Nachum Levy tells the story of the rebuilding of the forlorn station with tears in his eyes. All the work in rebuilding, he says, is volunteer – and there is not even a website.

The train station at Kfar Yehoshua, on the other hand, was built by the Turks as part of the as yet unfinished holy pilgrimage plan to allow all Moslems to Mecca. It is now being renovated by the National Sites Preservation Organization. For those who are Hebrew-challenged, there are signs in English and even a tour in English can be arranged. Call Rachel at 97249534226. I thought even the photography exhibit in itself worth the trip – Some guy whose name I didn’t get to ask for took his own picture at train stations all over the country in the 30’s. In one picture he’s on a motorbike at the station, at another he’s carrying a suitcase as he boards the train…

But there’s no website in English, so this reportage is all there is at the moment

(These are my pictures – not very good but the best I can do. )

The emek train has always been a fascination for me – not because of the way it actually brought progress to the valleys of the Galilee, but because the first I heard of it was a story about Ezi’s grandmother, Baba (Elka Fourer-Bentovim) and how she travelled to Hamat for treatments for her back:


It would begin with a diligence at dawn
a carriage and horses clopping the streets
of Tel Aviv through the sand
to the busy port of Jaffa.

From there someone must have carried her trunk –
Perhaps it was even the same man
who’d trail behind her in the market
with a basket on his back
to carry the components of the heavy meal
she’d soon stand and cook over the burner.

There, just south of Andromeda’s Rock,
docked the boat to Haifa – sailing north
along the coast—perhaps hugging the shore
and stopping at Atlit or Caesarea…

but perhaps only at the port of Haifa,
where she’d descend, find her land legs
and the train station on Faisal Street,

and continue on the Hijaz railway where the train – slow enough
that she might get off the first car,
stretch out and pick flowers
and back get on the end,

rattling with each gap between the tracks
slower than the donkeys passing by
carrying their heavy loads–
took her to Tsemach.

There, on the Galilee shore,
she could catch the ferry
to the hot springs at Hamat

Where at last
the treatment
for her tired back
could begin


But even people who aren’t into the romance of trains should know something about this whole project. I wrote a while back about the renovation of the train station in Tel Aviv, but the Emek train visit was much more interesting.

How does a dunce like me find out about these things? We have these friends who are history buffs and take us on these unforgettable and exhausting journeys. One of the three organizers, Ephraim, had a birthday, and this was his surprise. The final surprise came at the end of the day at a place called Ram-on, a moshav bordering Jenin, where we were hosted, dined and fed royally by Ofer Reinhorn, whose reconstruction of Jewish life in Europe before the holocaust was astounding. At the end Ephraim was regaled with Ofer’s magnificent violin playing. Someone found a book of notes – Jewish music from the nineteenth century on the shelf, put it before Ofer, and he brought it to life for us.

There were few dry eyes around the table.

July 30, 2011

"What has taken us this long?" Many more than the 150,000 people demonstrating - calling out "the people demand social justice" - it is a demonstration against keynsian capitalism, for a socialist government. "We don't want to lower real estate prices - we want to change the whole game plan," they are saying. We weren't there. Too fragile at the moment. But we were ignited by the energies, and a spark of hope has returned to the very square where that hope was extinguished in the assassination.

It's true - the demands aren't realistic - but as goals they are achievable.

July 31, 2011

Where were we? Me, I've been here all along. Kvetching and wondering whether i was the only one. And here they are - all sorts of people - complaining about the same things.

I have to admit that any connection I've had with the government has involved a clerk or a higher official complaining that he can't get anything though because of the bureaucracy. Last year I wanted to apply for money from the ministry of culture for the Israel Association of Writers in English. Applications only go through the internet on a smart card, which cost about $100. i paid it, got the application going - after about 2 months of gathering together documents. But after everything was in, we were told by VAT that there was something wrong with our account and we had to go to income tax. There we were told that all the papers were okayed. but the answer from VAT was that something was wrong. No one could explain what it was. After three months of work, including getting the list of the original founders, changing the constitution, running around and filling out endless ridiculous forms, I never got to apply for funding. And now - since there's no money - we can't afford any programs which would raise money.

August 2, 2011

Not only were PET scans being given today, but we got the bad news in the early afternoon. Unfortunately our doctor won't have time to see us until next week, so treatment will be postponed for a while. After all there is an escalating strike going on. This strike, like the others, has a manifestation in salary, but it is based on the general conditions of the system. It's pretty clear there is so much duplication - both of charges and services. Like today, when I got the form from the health clinic to do a bone density scan. i had the choice to do it in Ichilov or Assuta. Ichilov is the government hospital, and Assuta is the private, insurance determined, health service.

Ph, by the way, my bone scan is pretty routine, Ezi's treatment could well be matter of life and death. Too bad the hemotologist was too busy to talk to us.

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