Tel Aviv Diary April 23, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from April 23, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

April 23, 2005

May you find freedom from bondage and help to lead your people to a promised land. Happy Holidays

and now that we've got the formalities out of the way, here are a few pointers about passover you may not have realized. The emergency room at ichilov gets a rush of patients on the 3rd day of passover - when people are stopped up from overeating matzos.

My overspending and overstocking the kitchen on this holiday is directly related to the holocaust, and to my mother's guilt of survival, her desire to feed any hungry person with an open mouth. There has to be food for them.

April 24, 2005

I don't know what all this fuss is about seder food. My neighbors always have their seder together - parents, two children, and a grandmother. They don't make extra special food, but follow the order of the Hagaddah religiously from beginning to end. I think they've got their priorities right.

Mine are all screwed up. The gefilte fish for example - I made it - it isn't very good because I have far too many issues with gefilte fish to even give it the attention it needs. But I have to make it because its expected.

At every holiday my mother made gefilte fish. At every meal I refused to touch it, and my she wheedled and pleaded... She had been on the run for so many years, rented rooms, trains, forests, farms. She must have longed for just this dish during the war, for setting up a home somewhere and being able to make it. And I was subverting the dream.

Chopped liver is another story. It was so wonderful to me that as a child I would substitute the words of "that's amore" with "that's chopped liver." So we have both for first courses.

April 24, 2005

Oy, did I get distracted by food. And only now, that the seder is over, I find out that the British are boycotting Haifa University and Bar Ilan. I actually didn't believe it was for real last week when it the issue was coming up for a vote, because i thought academic institutions believed in complete research, getting all the facts, and leaving lines of communications open. (And boy, do they have the facts wrong about Haifa University! Not for nothing do we call it Birzeit). With the way they seem to have everything turned around and partial, I'll never completely trust British scholarship again!.

The beginnings of this strange boycott are Birzeit but I've lost patience with it - the more I read the more it just doesn't make sense. You would think that even if political pressure like this is not against the principles of academic freedom, the Brits would check out their facts, then invite the professors of Haifa and Bar Ilan to a conference and then discuss things with them before they decide to cut them off from the world... And then to say that individual professors would be exempted from the boycott if they present leftist views - if that isn't the most extreme example of political pressure I don't know what is. Think they'll boycott me because I came out against them?

My father was very afraid of Senator McCarthy. He caught my brother reading a journal called USSR in 1955 I think and got all upset. "They WATCH the NEWSTANDS!" I remember him saying. He wasn't too thrilled about my studying Marx years later, but that was because he didn't want my heart to be broken like his had been.

We are in a post-seder, post-leftover stupor. Lamb and matzohs are not good for the mind or the belly, but from tomorrow we've got very full schedules and have to get household stuff ready. Like putting away the 500 dishes, sweeping away matzo crumbs, etc.

How did we do the seder? We pretty much followed this hagaddah which i highly recommend. Eran sent it to me, and I wish I'd known it before.

I think one of the reasons we kind of abandoned the Hagadah last night after dinner was the amazing discussion of selected Israeli night clubs among the younger guests. Lisa mentioned in passing that if someone goes to the bathroom alone after 1 a.m. in some clubs, he must be the plumber. At which point my sister-in-law, who like the rest of us old people, had been silent the whole time, inquired "But what if you really have to pee? What do you do?" Perhaps someone else might have been shocked by the new knowledge of Sodom and Gemorrah in Tel Aviv, but we had practical concerns.

Time to get a more rational attitude to Tali Fahima. I've been expecting the government to wake up and realize they're hitting an ant with a sledge hammer, but it hasn't happened. She's got an abrasive attitude, that has nothing to do with what she's done.

April 25, 2005

As the news suddenly came on last night, we knew something was wrong. Then it emerged that it was the death of Ezer Weitzman, and there was something of a relief in the great sadness - Ezer was an important figure in our history, and much loved - but he had been very ill and it was pretty clear his death was expected sooner or later.

We're off to Mrar this afternoon, the Nissan poetry festival. I can't wait.

In the mean time the reason for eating matzoes has become clear to me. They didn't want people stopping in the desert going to the bathroom.

Edgar Keret has written wisely about the boycott.... well maybe not too wisely. i've seen him wiser.

The Nissan Poetry Festival at Maghar opened tonight with a minute of silence in memory of Ezer Weitzman, speeches by the mayor of Maghar, the Chair of the Nissan Association, Matan Vilnai, Yossi Sarid, and more. You can see the welcoming panel in the first picture. Then Yossi Sarid reading poetry. Then Raquel Chalfi. For now:

Ezi took many more pictures, but I've got to go back to Maghar today and have to get myself together.

April 27, 2005

Some might say that it was impossible to get a festival together after all the violence in Maghar last month. Money promised to the festival probably disappeared, sponsoring organizations must have been busy with more immediate restorations, and leaders as well as inhabitants must have been involved in healing wounds of all kinds. But references to this violence were only perfunctory, and not visible, except in the little snafus. For example, there were few translations. Poets read in their original languages - Arabic, Hebrew, Maltese, French, Turkish, English - and only if they themselves had a translation was the poem available to others. An anthology had been prepared, but only in Hebrew/ Arabic, and did not include everyone (like me). Surprisingly, this lack of translations was a significant contribution to the atmosphere of the festival. The necessity of transcending the barriers of language increased the efforts of the participants to communicate, to make direct contact. I found myself straining to understand a language that lives always next to me, a language i hear all the time but grasp only partially. And often, I understood as much as I usually understand of poetry when I hear it for the first time - words, music, performance. Often, however, I was dismayed to discover significance of knowning the words I know in Arabic. It reflects the nearness and distance of our two cultures. I've written a few poems about this and when they'll a bit more formed I'll post them.

To conclude, the poetry festival in Maghar is a very brave, strong and powerful one, and I wish I could have stayed for the next two days. If you're in that neighborhood, don't miss it.

I'm having a hard time getting Ehud Manor out of my head. Here's clip of him and his wife Ofra singing together.

Marjorie Perloff wrote me this morning: Is this boycott obscene, or what? What are your friends saying? i just wrote to a guy who had invited me to some kind of "neo avant-garde" conference in Edinburgh that if they didn't revoke the boycott, I don't care to come. I do feel it's really outrageous. But most Americans are unaware of it all--I keep telling people.

THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT SHOULD BE DONE - BOYCOTT THE BOYCOTTERS. You might want to write Sally Hunt herself about why you're doing what you're doing.

By the way, I agree that many intellectuals have been sadly silent . But, as the Druze poet Nazzi Khir said the other day in Maghar, the Arab intellectuals have been silent about Lebanon. Nazzi blamed the intellectuals but pointed out that it is the people and not the intelekchuls who make political changes.

More important than that, I stand on the issue of academic freedom - it has brought me to places I would never have arrived if someone (ANYONE) had been telling me what to think. And I can't imagine considering 'boycotting' any Arab university even when they were talking about pushing me into the sea. In fact, the more dialogue we can establish, the better.

Imshin has summarized the local reactions well. Check her out.


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