Tel Aviv Diary - March 29, 2010 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - March 29-April 2, 2010 Karen Alkalay-Gut

March 29, 2010

It's that pesky seder business - it even interferes with my story telling. I got to brush my teeth at 3 in the afternoon and now have to take a shower before it really gets busy. And just as I was beginning to kvetch that the matzos were square and my plate was round, there was a knock on the door and the Chabad came round with a gift of Shmura matzo - just the size of out plate. The perfect birthday present.

March 30, 2010

Did you do the whole seder? We did and it sounded to me lie the same white noise I hear in the politics in Israel today. First off, the attempt to give credit only to the Lord is always problematic to me, because it makes certain that freedom is linked to divine desire. Second, the narrative is always subordinated to the analysis. Nothing you actually do will mean anything, but the Rabbis who review what is actually done are the ones who make a difference in the world. Third, the sense of paranoia is kept strong. Yes, it was a terrible persecution and yes we've always got enemies out there even if we open the door just for a minute for a prophet (So make sure you scream your curses out there and then slam the door shut). Third, there is one place to ask questions and one only. And they don't all get answered.

Nevertheless we read the entire shtik with great gusto, and I throw the plagues at the children (styrofoam balls for hail, sunglasses for darkness, individual servings of ketchup for blood, etc. etc. and interpret the hagadah with pleasure that increases with each cup of wine.

March 31, 2010

A poem surprised me this morning - it wanted to come out whole and hasn't been touched up or even edited yet. It's one of those poems that are entirely true but still - I hope - a poem:


My parents escaped from Nazi Danzig to a pig farm in GloucestershireĖ
One month cowering in bed preparing to be found and beaten to death
And the next month being called by the pigs under the window to breakfast.

They didnít stay there for long Ė my mother preferred the urban life,
Even if it meant living under bombs. But my father always remembered those pigs
Who identified him early on as the carrier of slops, and woke him every morning
Reminding him that he was not only human, but had chores to complete.

Any thoughts?

Maybe it was connected to the fact that we're reading a book by Pierre Van Paasen, whose many documentary books about the Jews from World War I to the fifties are absolutely remarkable, but seem to have disappeared from the world along with the facts he collected then. I'll probably have more to say about Van Paasen but for the moment his information about European nationalism and how it went hand-in-hand with post WWI anti-Semitism made me understand the persecution of my father and the terror in which he'd lived much better.

April 1, 2010

Last year's wisdom, and still good


Donít let April fool you. It isnít only in the buds
That your hope is renewed, but the aromas, the tastes in the air
Entering your flesh in ways it wasnít awake to know.
Close your eyes, feel the sun play into your pores
recalling how cold you were for so long,
how much you depend on the renewal
of the world for your own survival.

Donít let April fool you. Itís not just little truths
That poets turn to for lifting their spirits,
and itís not only the cruelest months
that wake you to your integration with the trees,
the snails, the details all around.
Think of the months before, the worn light
Graying your sight from the thought of revival.

Maybe it was always there, that hope
And when it comes, you call it April.
Donít let it fool you Ė itís here whenever
You have the courage to remember it.

April 2, 2010

As you can tell, April fool is no longer funny. Nobody does practical jokes any more. Thank goodness.

But Hol Hamoed for me has been a renewing experience. First after over a year of suffering, I got my temp crowns and can now eat steak. If I liked steak. And second I got a new phone that I can actually see. And third I opened my birthday presents and discovered that my friends know exactly what pleases me. Earrings, bags, books, disks. All trivial, and all wonderful.

The ambivalence of our neighbors towards the mass influx of extreme religious communities was well-illustrated in a five minute conversation at the grocers. I mentioned the renovations going on in what looks it will be a chabad house down the street. "There's another one up this way," a woman pointed out. "Oh dear," I thought, "that means my gynecologist has moved out." "We're having a big neighborhood meeting about this," a third woman stated. "Right, a meeting," I said, "That'll do it." "But they're not all bad," another woman chimed in. "Of course they're not - but they have changed the nature of the neighborhood under our noses. This isn't the one we bought into, and there are laws." Then I remembered - we had spoken with the municipality about possible changes in our neighborhood two years ago. "No," they had said, "nothing in the plans." So when did we get all these institutions next door?

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