Tel Aviv Diary April 20-24 , 2007- - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - April 20-24, 2007

April 20, 2007

One festival over and another one begins next week - The Nissan Festival in Maghrar - which threatens to be even more chaotic than the Kissufim festival - begins next week. I will be able to go now only if the student strike goes on. Although I'd prefer it resolved. (Had there now been a strike I would have taken off a class and added it on at the end of the year, but now we absolutely will need order.) It is a real outrage that the Prime Minister has not met with the students, or the faculty, or even made a statement on this subject. Of course our government has immediate life and death situations to deal with - like Iran - but still, there are numerous ways to kill a future.

Speaking of Iran, I wonder if you've noticed that we've got 6 million Jews together again in Israel, so if Iran wants to duplicate the holocaust they can do it all at once.

Because a few people asked me about dog training and my neuroses, I have decided to update the web. Yes, despite her age, she still pees on newspapers in the house occasionally. This continues to be due to the pleasure I take in placing certain items in the news in position to be urinated on.

One of the major items I saved from the papers that piled up at my doorstep all week was the Virginia Tech massacre. Everything about it was tragic but the one preventable horrendous detail that does not leave my mind was the fact the the television stations broadcast the tape - knowing it could well result in copycat crimes. I had been thinking that it is only in Israel that news broadcasting is criminally irresponsible.

I was particularly moved by the local Hillel report about this event.

April 21, 2007

Some customs make total sense, but the Independence Day picnics really bothers me. Tomorrow I was thinking about going to my butcher Avi to get steaks for the annual traditional barbeque and suddenly it seemed totally inappropriate. While a significant percent of the country mourns the day of independence, it seems obvious that what we should be doing is having discussions, plays, as well as interdenominational dinners, in which our independence is weighed together with the change in the life of the local Arabs. Even though I don't believe the situation of the Arabs who remained here after 1948 is bad - I think there is an integration that has been recognizably beneficial to both of us.

April 22, 2007

Joy. At least it is getting warm and I can get rid of this sinus condition. The desert is coming to visit our city.

Because it is the only real business day before Memorial Day and Independence Day take over, I spent all my morning running from bank to bank and from one chore to the next. Tomorrow the banks are open for some of the day, but once the realization of the loss hits me, I won't be any good for business. At 12 there is a memorial at the university, and I fear that because of the strike, few people will be in attendance. The details are here.

I hate ceremonies but find that there is an undeniable cathartic effect in the sharing of the loss.

Sharing the loss with Smadar, however, was not good. "Get ready for war with Syria," she warned - just before the sirens. And of course I too heard the threats of Assad this morning. I actually believe that for peace much of the Golan should be returned, but I don't believe that's what's on their mind. Still, I assume we've been checking that out and have a good reason for not discussing the issue. I assume.

"Yet still we trust that somehow good can be the final goal of ill....So goes my dream yet who am I - an infant crying in the night, an infant crying for the light, and with no voice but a cry..." (Tennyson - from memory...)

April 23, 2007

Yehuda Amichai,


Verses for Memorial Day—A hymn of remembrance.
for those who died in war. Even the remembering generation dwindles and dies, .
half in ripe old age and half in unripe old age, .
and who will remember those who remember?

2. .
How does a tombstone begin? A car burns in red flame.
in Sha’ar Ha’Gai. A car burnt black. The skeleton of a car. .
The frame of another car burnt in an accident somewhere else. .
The frame was painted in anti—rust color, red.
as that flame. Next to the frame a wreathe of dried flowers. .
Dried flowers compose a Wreath of Remembrance, .
Dried bones compose a Vision of the revival of dried bones. .
And somewhere, far from here, hiding between the bushes, .
is a cracked marble slate and on it names. A branch of oleander.
hides most of them like a shock of hair on the face of a beloved. .
But once a year the branch is moved aside and the names are called, .
and in the firmament a flag flying half mast furled gaily.
like a flag flying full mast—easy, easy, happy in its colors and in the wind.

And who will remember those who remember?

3. .
And how does one stand in a Memorial Ceremony? Erect or bent, .
rigid like a tent or limp as in mourning, .
head humbled like the guilty or raised in defiance against death, .
eyes wild or frozen like the eyes of the dead, .
or shut, to view the stars within? .
And what is the best time to remember? Noon.
when the shadows are hidden beneath our feet, or dusk.
when the shadows grow long like longings.
with no beginning and no end, like God?

4. .
And what shall we sing in the service? Once we sang the song of the valley, .
“Who opened fire and who there fell,/ between Beit Alfa and Nahalal.” .
Now I know who it was that opened fire.
and I know the name of the one who fell. .
He was my friend.

5. .
And how shall we mourn? In the dirge of David for Jonathan and Saul, .
“Lighter than eagles, braver than lions,” shall we lament. .
Had they really been lighter than eagles, .
they would have flown up, above the war.
and not been injured. We would have seen them from below.
and said, “Here are the eagles, here is my son, here my man, here my brother.”

And had they really been braver than lions.
they would have stayed lions and not died like humans. .
We would have fed them from our hands.
and stroked their golden manes. .
We would have tamed them in our homes, with love: .
my son, my man, my brother, my brother, my man, my son.

6. .
I went to the funeral of Ehud who was torn apart in a bombing, .
far from here, newly dead in a new war. .
And they told me to go to the new funeral home: .
“It’s over there right next to the big dairy. .
If you follow the scent of milk.
you can’t go wrong.”

7. .
Once I was walking together with my small daughter, .
and we met a man who asked how I was and I asked.
how he was—as in the Bible. And she asked, how.
do you know him? And I said, “He was with me in the war.” .
And she answered and asked, “If he was with you.
in the war, how is it that he is not dead but still lives?”

8. .
No one has heard of the fruit of the jasmine. .
No poet has sung a hymn in its praise. .
All sang drunken to the jasmine flower, .
its strong aroma, the whiteness of its pale leaves, .
the power of its flowers and the strength of their lives, .
short like the life of a butterfly and the life of the stars. .
No one has heard of the jasmine fruit. .
And who will remember those who remember?

I used to translate Amichai a lot, and even have enough for a book, but since we never had a written agreement, only a warm oral one, I don't want to fool around with his rights. This poem appeared both in the Mass Review and Harpers in 1990, and I'd appreciate it if you note it if you copy it...

We have decided that we really don't like the idea of eating barbeque on Independence Day. "Why do we eat meat?" I asked Oren, "Because we have become bloodthirsty," he answered. Orit said, "Because we are celebrating the fact that we didn't have all these luxuries before." Ezi said that he remembers they used to have an Independence Day menu related to the rationing of the early days of the State - nettle soup, vegetable/meat substitutes, etc. So we're making up a 'genuine' Israeli lunch - like zucchini hamburgers, stuffed eggplants, etc. I'll let you know what we came up with.

Panic, the group that performs my poems, among other things, is doing an evening at Tmuna on May 1,

Come if you can - they are really intense - and even i haven't seen the new musicians, the new songs.

Someone asked me about how I felt five years ago at this time, and I dragged out this poem that opens my last book:

So Far So Good
Tel Aviv, April 2002

What did I learn
On Ibn Gvirol Street?

That day I walked fast
to beat the odds

at each column

to peer out
at people,


and whispered
so far so good.

One time I hung on
like Samson

and the column
whispered back,

“There are indeed
many of us here
to hide behind.
But you never know
where the front is."

April 24, 2007

I hope you had as nice a holiday as I have. All my patriotic warmth enveloped me and I thought about how much this country has accomplished in 59 years, and what this place looked like when i first visited in 1965, and i thought about where a few million refugees would have been had this country not existed, and despite the serious flaws and all the dangers, i fell in love again.

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