Tel Aviv Diary June 23 2006 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - June 23-7, 2006 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

June 23, 2006

On the 27th there is an evening dedicated to the painter Mula Ben-Haim in Leyvik House (Tuesday June 27, 2006 at 8 pm). Rivka Basman Ben-Haim will tell about the painter and show pictures of his works.

Why do I note this? Not only because Rivka Bassman is a Yiddish poet I've written about in the past, but because Mula Ben Haim has a special significance to me.

I should have known about him love ago - my parents went to see him when they were in Israel in the sixties, and my cousin took me there once and he told me he knew them. But it was only after they were long gone that I was told that he had lived across the street from them in Lida, and that my mother used to baby sit for him. That was around the time I discovered that there was a special feeling in his paintings that spoke directly to me. For example, once I found in my mother's book a letter that had been written by her in Russian to Lida after the war, looking for surviving relatives. It was never sent. There is a painting like that by Mula, a blood-stained envelope addressed to Lida.

I'm going to ask Rivka for permission to scan that painting and post it.

June 24, 2006

What great summer days! Shabbat is amazing here. The silence, the heat - by eight thirty in the morning it was too hot for me but every one else is on the beach. Or shopping. It was always possible to shop on Saturday - but long ago you had to go to Jaffa where only selected things were available - like auto repair, and pitot. Then the kibbutzim started shopping centers, and didn't have to abide by Sabbath laws. Then the city of Hertzlia started making it all possible. And now the port of Tel Aviv itself is wide open on Saturday. Even my hairdresser is open there. All that's left that's sacred is Friday evening!

How is that I - as unobservant as i am - dare speak of sacred? Most people I know who are not observent would agree - the special spirit of sabbath spills over to us. We kind of cherish it. Not the part about the enforcement of religion or the mixing of religion and government - that scares me silly. I become emotionally immobilized when the two are combined, cannot react in any way but to put my hands in front of my face for protection. Like when it was suggested that the Rabbi Lowe should be president...

June 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Orit!

I had a friend who was in an Egyptian prison for many years. He used to tell me with pride that he made it through the day-long beatings by relaxing the muscles of the place being beaten at the moment. This worked - not to relieve the pain but to keep his soul together. So he said. But after all those years he was incapable of forgetting that technique, couldn't keep himself from tuning out when something hurt. I really loved him, but he was like a shell of a person.

So this kidnapping is even worse than the death of the soldiers to me.

"There are some people," a very knowledgable man told me tonight, "who have forgotten what it is they are fighting for, they just got used to want killing." "Will this situation work out?" I asked him. He looked down. Now everything this man has ever told me turned out two months later to be 'news.'

June 27, 2006

Yes - there are days when waking up is a mistake. So was yesterday. I'm driving down Shenkin and thinking of a kidnapped boy, terrified not only that he will die but that he will be the cause of an even further escalation in hostilities and the cause of many more deaths. The hemotologist tells me to relax my arm and i have to think carefully about how to do something I've known how to do all my life. Care and carelessness. Focus and scattered attention. Not looking at the ultimate question of where i'm going Maybe that's how I picked up a black grease stain all along the back of my new green vest when i parked my car on Baale Hamelacha Street yesterday. Maybe that's how i got into this strange performance at the opera on thursday. Maybe that's how we all got into the mess we're in with Gilad Shalit - attention to the wrong details. On all different levels. Not just the big picture. Our rush to publicize seems to me a mistake, even though I know this is a small country and there is almost nothing that is private, and this would be an impossible task. I may be wrong but I would not have made this into a universal public pressure event.

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