Tel Aviv Diary August 5, 2008 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - August 5, 2008 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

August 5, 2008

A few days ago my cousin Susan sent me a link about the present persecution of Jewish partisans in Lithuania. I meant to put it up immediately but my computer began to show signs of rebellion and wouldn't let me. Now, as it is turning pink and blue and will probably die completely this morning, the computer magically opened the site, and at the very moment Stanley Barkan sent me a letter from the U.S. Congress condemning this behavior of the Lithuanian government. )I seem to be having trouble with the link - if it doesn't work, try cutting and pasting

I have to take my computer in now - if Dell gives me a new one I'll be back shortly.

Sorry, the office disappeared so i couldn't bring my computer in and now I've figured out a temporary modus operendi for the time being but it involves a lot of restarting in the middle of a sentence.

I found myself walking alone down Sderot Yerushalayim in Yaffo last night. I was looking for the youth hostel where my cousin's son, Jeffrey, was staying, and because of all the street construction there was no place to leave the car. So I got out and walked the 10 or so blocks while Ezi drove around the back. The interesting thing was that in the space of 10 blocks I kept crossing borders. Totally different cultures from house to house, from store to store.

Tsipi Livni - I like her more and more each day. The fact that she won't back Mofaz if she loses against him makes me respect her ethics. She places her country higher than her party, and therefore deserves to become leader of the county. (I also see her as a wisiwig - what you see is what you get - and I respect that)

I picked up a disk of Martha Schlamme that had been lost in my office in the mess, and casually slipped into my car audio. The quality of the sound wasn't very good, but I remembered it so well from my youth that I could sing along easily - all those old Yiddish songs about love and sex like Margariten - But then Zog Maran came on, and at first I could barely remember the words and couldn't make out what she was singing. I guess it hadn't been very important to me then, so it didn't stick in my mind - then. Couldn't get it out of my mind now, and risked turning on my pinking computer to see if it's noted anywhere. Here it is - together with the English translation - on Youtube: . A Yiddish song about Marannos in itself is a phenomenon, but this one is particularly moving.

And here's an important treasure of Yiddish culture for you I have finally succeeded in translating - after many years of using the original.


Who has given you the evil eye
May rough bark cover his hide.

Who has given you the evil eye
May rough bark cover his hide.

In the forests there are four clefts
May the curse disappear in their depths.

In the forests there are four clefts
May the curse disappear in their depths.

Let me know if it works. I put it here because my dying computer is not saving anything.

August 7, 2008

Friday at 4 Panic Ensemble is performing at HaOzen HaShilshit -Sderot Ben Zion corner King George Street - FREE. I'm sure it will be crowded so get there early. They are singing mostly my poetry and I haven't been to a performance for a long while. It should be great.

I bought my DELL computer nine months ago at BUG. It has been in the repair shop three times since and really has to go back because it keeps dying. I asked Bug for a new one, but they said it isn't new any more so they won't replace it. The first time when I asked for a new one they said mine had been repaired so it should be okay now. I know you are tired hearing about this,and so am I. Does anyone know anyone who can help me? The quality of customer service in this country is very poor, and usually we somehow work things out, but here I've come across an impossible situation.

The publication of the name of a young Arab-Israeli man arrested on spy charges has elicited a few of my friends to wonder how much we can trust our Arab neighbors. They tell me this in particular because I am constantly talking about the need for coexistence. "Can't you see." says Ruth, "they may be your best friends but the moment they have to choose between you and their people they will betray you." "That's exactly what I would do as a Jew," I respond. Of course the difference is that most people would rather risk themselves than help destroy others. That is, what shocks me is that someone would provide information to others that would kill people. The fact that the information this new spy was providing was concerned with hospitals is even more shocking to me given the fact that a quarter of the people involved in Israeli hospitals are Arab, and that this for me has been a comfort throughout my extended and stressful visits to the hospital in the past few months.

August 8, 2008

Shmuel Shatal has passed away. Last month when we spoke, he told me he was in trouble, but I was more interested in telling him about Ezi, and he, polite as always, allowed me to talk. He was 95. His funeral was today, but I couldn't bring myself to go - having had a massive reaction of exhaustion to my first acupuncture treatment ever. This is my last poem about him

Ars Poetica

for Shmuel Shatal

“Where are you from?” the critic asked.
“I mean your parents, where were they born?”

“Lida,” I said. “Lida!” He jumped up,
with all the energy of a young man.

“I knew it! I always knew it!
from your poems I could tell!

You see, we have a connection.
My wet nurse was from Lida!”

Silence. I wait.
Slowly, patiently, he goes on

“When I was a child
I had a terrible temper.”

“And when I'd explode,
my mother would shake her head

and mutter, ‘It's the milk of Lida,
the milk of Lida.’”

It's from my book "So Far So Good" but I think I have a more recent version of it somewhere. Some of Shatal's own poems are on my website, here

Panic Ensemble performed in HaOzen Hashilshit today. It has been so long since we've seen them that I was really looking forward to it. But it was a small place - albeit very cool - and I like seeing them in large halls - crowded with fans who know all the lyrics. It is pretty thrilling to have hundreds of people singing your words.

August 10, 2008

Having woken up to the fact that I will never see Shatal again, I will have to do something to memorialize him. My dear departed nephew Amos has been in our thoughts because of our search for photographs of him through his life - hundreds of pictures somehow make him alive again. But my memories of Shatal will have to wait for a single picture until my computer is repaired.

In his 11th book, I think, he has a poem describing me as his teacher. Well my hands. Actually my nail polish.

So many Georgian friends of mine are in horror at Russia's attack. It reminds me of Jonathan Swift's third book of Gulliver's Travels, in the Land of Laputa, where the leadership sits on a flying island and they travel around supervising their land.

If any Town should engage in Rebellion or Mutiny, fall into violent Factions, or refuse to pay the usual Tribute; the King hath two Methods of reducing them to Obedience. The first and the mildest Course is by keeping the Island hovering over such a Town, and the Lands about it; whereby he can deprive them of the Benefit of the Sun and the Rain, and consequently afflict the Inhabitants with Dearth and Diseases. And if the Crime deserve it, they are at the same time pelted from above with great Stones, against which they have no Defence, but by creeping into Cellars or Caves, while the Roofs of their Houses are beaten to Pieces. But if they still continue obstinate, or offer to raise Insurrections, he proceeds to the last Remedy, by letting the Island drop directly upon their Heads, which makes a universal Destruction both of Houses and Men. However, this is an Extremity to which the Prince is seldom driven, neither indeed is he willing, to put it in Execution; nor dare his Ministers advise him to an Action, which as it would render them odious to the People, so it would be a great Damage to their own Estates that lie all below; for the Island is the King's Demesne.

Swift has a long etymological explanation of Laputa, but of course we know he's translating from the Spanish, the whore. Nevertheless the similarity to the name La Putin doesn't seem to leave my mind.

I don't know what can be done to stop Russia, how many hundreds of people will die before Russia decides it has intimidated Georgia enough. But I know that whatever happens in the rest of the world affects people here, on my block. Darfur, Erethria, Georgia - there are always immediate connections.

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