Tel Aviv Diary Dec 9, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Dec 9, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

December 9, 2003

I keep coming to this page to write and then i can't - i go on to do some real work, or play a comforting game of solitaire where there are some chances that i can win. Then i go back to the news, and i can't win at all. Sharon says we can 'move' settlements if necessary. i like that concept - not destroying but adjusting. But people say it is a concession, this 'jewish transfer' that will reward terrorism. it wil also, they say, betray the zionist ideal. (what part of the zionist ideal haven't we betrayed - the part about living in harmony with the arabs? I thought it was only in Egyptian soap operas that the jews are dreaming of taking over the world.

Remember the story i told you about Gideon Graetz as a Syrian hostage? It's on tv tonight. channel 2. It's another story about the difference between the world then (in 48? 51? i forget) and now. Makes me want to go back there.

December 10, 2003

One night recently I was sitting with these guys at Shesek, and they were talking about women –“ If you show too much attention to an Israeli woman,” one guy said, “they’re think you can’t be worth it and they’ll dump you.” Last night on the late news they were talking that way about Jordan. “We used to be fascinated by Jordan,” the commentator said, “and then we made peace and now we couldn’t care less.” Maybe it’s generally true. We only like people who hate us. The other day I was teaching some poems by an American Israeli poet and some of the students thought she wasn’t genuine because she wrote about Israel, but not from within the society. I tended to agree (I know, I know. Look who’s talking ) that there was an element of distance and perspective on Israeli culture that Israelis can get very defensive about. Kind of like: ‘Who are you to tell Us what we’re like? Did you serve in the army? Did you suffer from the Tzena? Did you live in a shack during the fifties? Do you pay 50% income tax?’

I don’t think it’s a kind of masochism, though, that we only like people who ignore us or hate us (although think of it – the poetry festival this year in Jerusalem would have rather invited Imiri Baraka than say Adrienne Rich! The declared anti-Semite over the leftist-Zionist!) . Although maybe I’m wrong.

I watched the program about Gideon Graetz on television just now and it was edited so badly I feel like I have to tell the story the way I heard it from him, although I may have already told it in these pages last month. In 1951, Gideon and Miriam Rosen, a friend, were walking in the north and lost their way. They saw an Arab and asked him for directions and he offered to show them. But after a few minutes of walking with him they realized they were being led in the wrong direction. Soon they were taken prisoner, their eyes covered. Gideon tried to escape and was shot. He played dead and his captors decided to finish off Miriam as well. So he got up and tried to help her. Their lives were spared but they were separated, Gideon taken to the hospital and Miriam to prison. Later Gideon found himself in prison as well – but although he noted that every new prisoner was greeted with fifty lashes, he downplayed the violence of his treatment, and Miriam concentrated on the children of the commander of the base whom she misses to this day. Six months later, the Israelis captured an onion boat with four syrian sailors, and traded four israeli civilians for four sailors and 50 tons of onions as well as the boat.

But even though Gideon seems on screen an equable person who has taken all this in stride, i think it was a terrifying experience, and this sudden remembering after over 50 years was very traumatic to him.

But i think his cool response is typical of israelis.

Yesterday someone complained to me that Tel Avivians seem to be unaware of the war going on - disinterested in terrorism - naive and indifferent to the solutions to the situation in the middle east. I have to admit that not a single person in this country is unaware or indifferent to the 'situation' but some feel more hopeless than others.

Twenty years ago when one of my kids had to do a nature project he picked the tree in the little park between the habimah and mann auditorium. he was supposed to describe the different kinds of plants and the way in which the tree was an independent ecological situation - the word escapes me at the moment but i'll be back with it in a minute. bio... bio...anyway he found there was a man living under the tree. sleeping. eating. everything.

We said then that his discovery was typical to tel aviv - there is no way to escape the entire picture - no way to escape the poverty, the social inequalities. everything is under your nose.

December 11, 2003

last night i caught Vicky Knaffo being interviewed by Kobe Meidan (If there is anyone in the world I would like to be interviewed by it is him - the natural empathy and restrained intelligence is amazing. And she came out in all her glory - her wisdom, love, and involvement.

She's planning a march of bereaved widows and hungry children to Amman - both sides. She wants to go beyond the politics to the people's problems on both sides. I can't think of a worthier concept and i think i'd like to put a lot of effort behind helping her (now that all my biopsies have come out okay last night). All I have to do is figure out how i can best aid her cause.

There was a pretty scary explosion today - 3 people killed - and what was it about? underworld accounts. The Abergill family apparently trying to get rid of the big king of the underworld here Zeev Rosenstein.

Rosenstein? you say - but aren't YOU a Rosenstein? Not only am I a Rosenstein, but this guy Zeev looks very much like my father's family. (Ezi pooh-poohs this, and so does my Rosenstein cousin). Still, I am rarely wrong. There was an uncle who disappeared before the War, Fishl, into the Russian Army and ... Well... we'll probably never know.

Anyway - whether Zeev Rosenstein is a relative or not, he's a good symbolic relative for me. I know we Jews don't like to be reminded that there are all kinds of people in the race. I know the shock I got when as a teenager I learned there were actually poor Jews in the world. And criminals? Who would have guessed? Bob Rockaway has written a few books about Jewish gangsters and although I know the books well, I like to consign them to a compartment in my memory that is for fiction, or exceptional situations. And yet the centuries of being outsiders, unable to own property or participate in a community must have influenced many jews to become criminals of sorts. So how can we be surprised we have criminals?

I understand that the idea was that once the Jews had a state they could be like normal people - but criminality is part of normality as well. And in this country where everything is mixed up who can be surprised that crime would flourish. What seems to be bothering the citizenry here in fact is not that there is an underworld, but that they are beginning to kill non-criminals inadvertently in their wars.

Want to know what that world feels like? Try a bar called the Barracuda in Tel Aviv.

December 12, 2003

It takes a lot to get me out of Tel Aviv, especially after a very difficult work week, but today we went to see Margit Zilberfeld who lives in a Home in Jerusalem so that she could show us her copy of "Prisoner of Paradise," the documentary film about the German/Jewish actor/director, Kurt Gerron, that almost won an Oscar this year for the best documentary film. Margit has a copy because she's in it, and we got the see the film with her minimal but intense commentary. Margit was in Theresienstat with Gerron, but didn't get to be in his documentary film, "Hitler Builds a City for the Jews" because she was blond, and Jews weren't supposed to be blond.

First - the film, and then Margit, and then Jerusalem.

"Prisoner of Paradise": In taking us through the rise and fall of Kurt Gerron the film provides an amazing picture of the unique personality of an individual in a changing and overwhelming world. The psychology of this great but human person who loved life, acting and directing - and probably felt most alive on the stage or in the film than anywhere else, is told in such a concise and intense way that I couldn't help but admire the way facts were packed in meaningly in this film. One instance - Gerron's early life before he made the theatre his career is narrated in half a sentence about how the decorated war hero of world war I gave up his dream of studying medicine for the stage he was fascinated with. This is accurate, about as much as I've been able to unearth about Gerron's youth in the year I've been searching, and gives a focussed picture of his values and priorities. In other words, the film utilizes all the information available to create a sense of a complete individual without manufacturing or distorting.

And the effect is a powerful, dramatic, relevant and moving film, one of the best i've ever seen.

I'm not sure why it's release was delayed - such a strong and accurate movie should get to as many people as soon as possible.

Margit - who was an actress and singer in Theresienstat, gave us additional information - information that was probably not important for the effect of the film, but for me was invaluable in understanding her, Gerron, and life in Therisenstat. For instance, she mentioned that Gerron's wife, Olga, wore make up. As one addicted to cosmetics i thought that was an amazing item - who would think of make-up in a concentration camp? but it was part of the artificial life of Gerron himself - the creation of a more bearable reality through artifice.

Because the big question was why didn't Gerron leave when his friends did - Reinhardt, Dietrich, Lorre? Was he stupid, silly, or, more likely, did he deceive himself into imagining that he could impose a better world upon reality through his films (the way i deceive myself into imagining that with cosmetics I can make myself beautiful)?

There is much more to be said on this

And more to be said on Margit, one of many childless holocaust survivors I've met in Israel. But it is friday night and much has to be done before Ezi leaves for his trip tomorrow.

But I didn't say anything about Jerusalem yet, and that too was worth noting. We are always tourists in Jerusalem - as i have noted many times in these pages - feeling like we are at the Safari zoo in Ramat Gan,where you stay in your car and watch the natives live their normal lives. And every one is looking chosen and getting ready for the Sabbath while we are enjoying the amazing sunlight, trying to forget the horrors we have just seen on the screen, the horrors that remain part of our lives

December 13, 2003

So I started thinking about the chosen people and how it has come to indicate a sense of superiority and ownership instead of responsibility and humility.

But i am the epicourus who has no idea of what is really going on inside the minds of others - and like the most banal and superficial of us- judge from the clothes.

anyway here's a thought:


the Sabbath is only

as holy as the acts

that make us wholly

human beings,

laboring to improve

the lot of all mortals

And now if you can, please sign the petition protesting the 45% budget cuts for culture in Israel: Here

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