Tel Aviv Diary June 12, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - June 13-24 , 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

June 24, 2005

You can take the Israeli out of Israel, but it turns out you can't take Israel....

So I thought my adventures wouldn't be relevant to these pages, but some of them were crucial. I jotted some down on my outdated psion (laptop computer once again failed me totally) and will try to download them in the next few hours. Together with Ezi's photos (and some of mine) they can tell some good stories.

Oh wait, the photos are on the laptop!

Here's Part I:

The mind of the French is often confusing. Sometimes it is truly my fault. My inability to speak, despite the fact that I can read fluently albeit slowly, keeps me from intimacy that could explain so many of the paradoxes. When a citizen condescends to speak with me in english or speaks french slowly, I follow. But the frills in philosophy and clothes often make me impatient. Too much terminology can sometimes explain away a phenomenon although often seems to illuminates initially. Everywhere the equivocal position of the Jews, Israel, and France is apparent. The paradox of the plaque above a school in the Jewish quarter in memory of all its pupils and teachers arrested by the Vichy police and the Gestapo between 43-4 and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and a block cracked window of Jewish restaurant can be ignored The fact that the beautiful and well-organized Jewish museum in Paris almost entirely ignores Israel, though it integrates Jewish life from Europe and Africa. In the bookstore, there are books are from round the world, including those from Israel, Amos Oz, Edward Said, Franz Kafka. The feeling is that it is threatening to be associated with it, as if Israel is not any kind of center of Jewish life and actually threatens the existence of the Jewish citizens. Meetings with brilliant author Marc Weitzmann helped to crystallize my confusion. As if in response to my questions about the sense of identity among the Jews, the apparent paradoxes in the morality of the French, and perhaps myself as well, I flip the limited channels of the hotel's frugal tv service at 2 in the morning and discover to my enormous joy the silent film "Diary of a Lost Girl." It is particularly important because Ezi is up vomiting the remains of a particularly bad sausage he had for dinner, and though exhausted, I'm too worried about him to give up consciousness. And there he is, my old friend and advisor ,Kurt Gerron, this time playing the role of Dr. Vitalis, the champion and seducer of Thymian, the girl brought to sin by society, played by Louise Brooks. The significance of this small but pivotal role, that demonstrates to the innocent girl that there can be no protection for her from society, that her fall is not only inevitable but inherent in a hypocritical society, came to me as a reflection of Paris and the Jews. As Marc seemed to point out, there is no way out for European society now. France is over. Much later, on the plane home I found myself reading the Hebrew papers to catch up with that I'd missed in Israel while gone, and finding more about French Jews. Michael Saban, who returned to France in 2000 after trying to find a place for himself in Israel for 5 years, has written about his return. His descriptions of anti-Semitic experiences, of being spat on and cursed, are not unlike my own impressions in Paris., ill look in ynet for the english, buut here's an example: "I was deep in thought and didn't hear the typical shouts from those sitting on the bench. They repeated, Filthy jew and then added in Arabic, 'your whore-mother and jewish dog'[ 'calb yahud'.] I turned and moved toward them. There were three, wearing gym sweats and sneakers. I felt immobilized, a feeling I've never known overcame me. I looked at the one shouting and saw the hatred in his eyes. An animalian hatred of one willing to kill on the spot. I don't know why the only thing that came to my mind at that moment was to say, 'Aren't you ashamed?' in Arabic. I think that when he heard those words he hated me even more." Here's an isolated experience:

Paris is another world

But sometimes I get
the logic and know
just what to expect

Last night in the Metro
for instance
as soon as she entered the train
I knew she was trouble
somehow –
Her white scarf so askew
it became a cowl
pulled down over her sullen face,
and the bandaged hand
that seemed to declare
she was taking care
of unjust wounds.

"Don't be silly,"
I said to my fears,
could she possibly
be carrying in her
countless bags
that makes you tremble?"

And I watched her
leaning on the door
on the train door, as if
she planned to
throw in a bomb
then run away

her face like
Pirate Jenny.

Then she came and sat by me
and my friend seated herself before us both
and said to me in Hebrew that her foot
was swelling then shut up.

Slowly, over the din
of endless French whisperings
the woman's voice began to speak clear,
to drown out every other sound
in the droning train.

I know who you are, she said,
and you may leave in peace
if you do not take our lands
the lands of my people – your
Sharon and your Bush and your
Chirac do not let us live… we

My friend sat opposite her
in stunned silence
understanding nothing
but the attack,
her fear.

The strong clear voice
like the Muezzin's call
went on about her devotion
to her faith and her trust in God,
Praise him.

And at that point I spoke.

I do not understand French,
I said in French,
But I do know, "Hamdilillah"

And where are you from?
She turned to me with great politeness
while the rest of the train waited
for a knife. At least that's
what someone told me after.
Russia? Germany?
I knew that all responses would elicit
further inquiry, so I chose the truth.
Poland. Ah! We continued in French,
feigning a politeness even Moliere
would have understood.
A lovely country. I remember eating
such wonderful
cookies from there, chocolate
sprinkled. Your city must be fine, and
isn't Paris beautiful?

And we left the train
wishing each other pleasant journeys

perhaps to heaven
perhaps to hell.


Because we knew there was footage of Ezi's grandfather. Arpad Gut building the bridge over the Euphrates River at Raqqua, we went to the Imperial War Museum. It took moments - they found the records, we ordered the film, and the rest of the museum was an incredible serendipitous surprise.

As usual we began in the cafeteria where we met a few veterans from WWII who informed us that the museum was a whole lot of crap. They were very enthusiastic about this condemnation of the propaganda, and I thought it would influence my own visit. But then we walked into the main hall and I spotted the VI, or what they used to call the Doodlebug, that bomb that terrified London from the month I was conceived until the day I was born. The buzz bomb. 10.491 of them were dropped on London, and only a quarter of them went through, but caused over 21 thousand casualties. It was one of those tortuous where you hear the motor, the pulsating buzzing, and then, as the motor released the bomb until it fell to the city, there would be an eerie silence. a minute my mother said. you would wait and count. This poem from my latest book, has the buzz bomb as a major character.


Deep deep under London: Here
is where I was first conceived
while my brother slept in the open valise,
my parents huddling to the air raid sound -
space number ODAQ 26 3
from 11 p.m. to six in the morning -

willing life
when above and behind them was
that mechanical old buzzing
someone would die

I visit this station every time I am in town
as if it is an old aunt who must be paid obeisance
even if she doesn’t remember our connection
and likes strangers just as much as relations

I see the resemblance too, the way we are both
way stations, bearing signs
of our traumatic past,
but except for measured stops, concerned only
with the hubbub of the moment.

While I was recovering from imagining life with the V 1, I spotted on of those veterans standing by a tank and explaining enthusiastically to an enthralled group of young men how this tank operated in battle. Crap. Right.

Our entire visited went like that. Everything was a reliving. And then we found ourselves in the midst of the most stark and most powerful Holocaust exhibit we have ever experienced. Fact, figures, photographs. There were films I could only watch from the corner of my eye and at a museum pace because they were so terrifying and true. There were clips from which i could not tear my eyes because they were so heart-rending. And there were photographs like hooks, pulling me back from the quick exit i wanted to take.

and the exhibit was almost empty. Here they are, the British, explaining the existence of the state of Israel as a function not only of their promises in 1917 but also as a result of what had happened to the Jews during and after WWII, and the inability of the British to cope, to prevent, to stop. This is a subject the French Jews could not even begin to broach in their museum, but the British Imperial War Museum had the power and authority to do it. To Karen Alkalay-Gut Diary

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