Tel Aviv Diary April 19, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from April 19, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

April 19, 2004

Only in the past few years have I come to realize that since there were no survivors in my mother's family from the executions in Lida except my mother who had long ago escaped to Danzig (and maybe one nephew of hers, Alexander Kaganovich) there was no one to write their names in the lists of victims. And I don't know them all. Here's what I do know:

Shifra Kaganovich died before. Bluma, Batya, Moshe-Aharon, Moti, Malcah Katz (burned to death in the forests outside Warsaw). There were more. So many beautiful girls that my grandfather would proclaim - "they knock on my windows and demand even more daughters." All of these were married and had at least 2 children each. Those children would have had at least two who had at least two.

Three years ago when Ezi's family of Ben Tovims had their reunion there were at least 500 people. Maybe our family would have had the same. But there's only me and my brother and our kids.

An article about the cabaret in Theresienstat in today's Ha'retz. But I've written about this before. As amazing as this is the subject of music today - Sharon Moldavi spoke on the morning show on channel 10 about how contemporary singers in Israel do not as a rule write about the Holocaust. He sang my absolute favorite of his songs, "Mario," whose text in English appears in the article on my site about Holocaust and rock music.

the article is here Of course Moldavi said exactly the opposite of what i say in the article, but he's right and i'm wrong. One of the things he said that he did not relate to music but i think is very relevant is the guilt felt by the second generation - the irrelevance of the suffering of the individual in the face of the parental suffering and loss. Like a colleague of mine once quoted her mother: "I'm sorry you didn't enjoy yourself at the party, darling. Of course when I was your age I was in Auschwitz." Now how can you write real rock when you've grown up like that.

April 20, 2004

Vanunu - poor Vanunu. I don't know if he started out all screwed up or they messed up his mind in prison, but all that twisting of his motives and personality must have had some effect. He's clearly sincere, and to be portrayed as selling-out secrets for money must have been hard on the poor guy. But he's also clearly fardreyt.

But the more attention he is given the more dangerous he is. We constantly pay attention to the wrong things.

To return for a moment to series of national days we have this week and next: Holocaust Day - reminds us of why we needed a country after WWII; Memorial Day - reminds us of how much we are sacrificing to keep this place; both of which lead to Independence Day.

It's one of the more successful mass psychological ploys we have.

Works on me.


When I was a tourist in Israel in the 60's, we took a tour to the desert and passed by the new "textile factory" (wink). If WE were told about the (wink) textile factory, who didn't know? And yet, we didn't know, and very few in Israel know, how many bombs, how big.

Yet, we don't know - do we - how many how big in Engand, France, the U.S., Russia.

And as far as I am concerned I still don't know for sure what's in the textile factory.

And no one is talking.

April 21, 2004

Forget Vanunu. One of the things I did yesterday was much more typical of Tel Aviv. I went to Beit Romano to buy a bathing suit. Beit Romano is a bunch of decrepit shops off of Yaffo Street in South Tel Aviv, with a combination of cheesy clothes and incredible bargains. And the place for bathing suits is the Gottex basement - wall to wall suits controlled by three elderly women each speaking Hebrew and a different foreign language and in possession of all the knowledge of the female body in the city. Most of the customers were also older, most also of foreign background, and most of us with extremely unique physiques.

"zeher shein," says one as Schulamith tries on a lavender cut-out, and the other says the same thing in Ladino.

It wasn't Salon Malcah - another Tel Aviv tradition - where Malcah pushes her way into the booth and kneads your body into the suit, but it was like a trip into history. Remember when all of Tel Aviv was on the beach and in the sun? Remember when you needed at least two bathing suits a season? And if one of them wasn't a bikini - no matter how many fat rolls filled out the space between the bottom and the top - you weren't native?

Ah, nostalgia.

We went for lunch to a little Persian hole-in-the-wall off the Levinsky Market where for 50 shekel we got Aash-e Gandom (Persian Soup), plum meatballs, kebab, rice, and this amazing cucumber-vinegar drink.

Plus a long story of her owner's financial history and losses, and her return to religion. She even told us that Madonna's interest in Judaism is a sign that the Messiah is coming.

It was a very Tel Aviv morning.

Tonight I was re-elected as vice chair of the Federation of Writers Unions in Israel. Because there were a few people who had not been to the meetings before the candidates were asked to introduce themselves. Each one was a major prizewinner in their country of origin. Each one talked at length of the accomplishments of their organization and their publications. Shaul Carmel was awarded the biggest prize in Romania, Tamar Kazashvili in Georgia, and so forth and so on. By the time they got to me I was too flabbergasted to talk - and so all I could say was that communication was necessary - a way of letting the world know about these people. The same thing happened to me (but with different people) a few years ago when we all went to the Prime Minister's office to meet with Shimon Peres, and there were Russian writers who had sold more copies of their books than Mark Twain. These are important writers who are lost in Israel, totally unknown, and not always known as Israelis in the countries in which they publish. Ida Fink, Shirley Kaufman.

April 22, 2004

So I am starting a database of foreign language writers here. I already have one in English. Any contributions will be welcome.

What I already know is that there are about 300 Russian writers, at least 300 Arabic writers, about fifty Georgian, fifty French, fifty Roumanian, fifty or so in Yiddish, a few hundred Spanish and English, a dozen or so from Uzbekistan, and a few dozen from other places - Hungary,Germany, etc.. All who have published more than one book.

The big problem as I see it is that these writers don't know each other. And there's no common tongue. When I asked in the Federation meeting if everyone has e-mail, I heard mumbling in Russian and then the occasional 'kompooter, da.' The Arabic representative, Nazi Khir, hasn't been around for years, and me I don't know either Russian or Arabic.

And no one had email.

April 23, 2004

Two weeks ago I wrote about the UN food to Gaza that had been stopped by Israel and how I found it difficult to sign a petition without knowing all the facts. A number of people wrote me that the problem was that since the attack on the Ashdod Port last month, trucks have been much more suspicious and needed far more careful searching for false bottoms. One wrote that the UN food trucks were more suceptible than others to the sabotage of a hidden terrorist. But today Gila Swirsky writes that the petition she initiated has worked: I asked a senior UNRWA official what he thought made a difference, and he replied, "Everything -- the people who signed the petition, the Israelis and Palestinians who spoke out against it, the internationals who expressed their indignation, the letters to the officials -- everything together made the difference."

No suggestion of security problems overcome. Who's right here?

(How fortunate for me that I am only a poet and citizen and not a reporter. I'd be forced to take a stand and I don't know how right now.)

Disengagement is another issue I can't talk about properly. I know it doesn't work with the road map since the road map begins with a de-escalation of violence, and we've been strutting around swinging our gun butts like nobody's business 'in preparation for' de-escalation. There are children getting killed who 'happened to be in the way.' I don't like this at all. And yet I do like the idea of getting out.

And I do like the idea of not making decisions with insufficient information. Here's a site I may have mentioned before but is worth mentioning again, because they seem to thoroughly research their subject: I.P.C.R.I. The Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Let me know what you think.

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