Tel Aviv Diary - February 6, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

You know how at some points in your life you don't know who you are until you've looked in the mirror in the morning? I don't know who I am until I hear the news. Am I going to get blown up today? Am I going to be in mourning? Am I going to throw up every thing else I was planning to do and see about getting a phone line into the air raid shelter? And what about my shopping?

So because Ezi is still asleep I don't turn on the media, and haven't opened up the papers, and dont know who the hell i am going to be today.

I will have to get back to you more seriously after my morning session with my editor. Yes, there are still poems coming out and yes they are coming out - perhaps the last in the venerable poetry series at Kibbutz Hameuchad which is in terrible financial straits.

I looked in the paper, finally, but couldn't bring myself to see Powell's face on the front page, so I went to find something more eternal. And there was Vivian Eden's translation of Rachel's wonderful poem that was played to Ilan Ramon in space: I can't seem to find it online - so I'll try to ask her if i can copy it here.

If I can't find her I'll translate it for you again. {Later: I tried to 'improve' on Vivian's translation but can't - the hebrew is light but whatever i try to do in English it comes out heavy.}

I mean Rachel in space! Rachel - who died in 1931 of tuberculosis, wrote poems that are so deeply a part of Israeli culture and society that many of them have become popular songs - not 'folk' songs, or 'classic' songs, but songs you can hear on the radio - I just heard someone walking down singing her "Can you hear my voice,"

Imagine. Two years ago I visited her grave - again - on the banks of the Sea of Gallilee that she loved so much. Next to her grave is a book of her poems, and I have friends who go there just to sit and read her ethereal and lovely love poems. "My Kinneret, oh my kinneret - we you real or only a dream?" She wrote it when she was dying - exiled to Tel Aviv - because of her tb...

At the height of his rock career in the 90s, my dear friend Sharon Moldavi was filmed on the banks of the Kinneret (Gallilee) singing that song. That's how deeply engrained she is.

And to hear her in space...

What about the war? Oh, I forgot -

The IDF statistics for the 5 February 2003, on Palestinian terrorism against Israel 29 September 2000 through 3 February, 2003:

5,063 Israelis injured, 724 killed, 16,347 attacks

Injured: 3,594 Civilians + 1,469 Security Forces = 5,063 Total Israeli Injured

Killed: 506 Civilians + 218 Security Forces = 724 Total Israeli Killed Total Attacks*: 7,230 West Bank + 8,455 Gaza Strip + 662 Home Front =16,347 Total

The number has significantly gone down recently because we're sitting on them like the lid of a pressure cooker. This means that it can blow up as soon as we loosen the pressure or lose our hold. But the Egyptian efforts at a hudna, an interim agreement, may work eventually. Even though the Hamas refuses to accept it.

I cannot even begin to imagine how much the palestinians need a break from this mutual strangulation. Nathalie on the phone yesterday mentioned her pregnant cousin in Bethlehem (just in passing) and I dreamt of her all night. What is it like to be pregnant now in Bethlehem, not knowing what the future holds for the child, or even for the birth?

Enough - I'm off to a poetry reading - dinner - a night on the town.

February 7, 2003. That wasn't an escapist evening.

It seems the poets of israel are coping with the actual truths of existence. Asher Reich's latest book, "Still Future" is oxymoron apocalyptic collection - that sees into a cold, dark, and empty future. I've always noticed these tendencies, even in his earlier 10 books of poetry, some representatives of which are on my site. (Check out, for example, "the book"). But the bleakness takes on new meaning today. And the fact that the book ends with a series of love poems seems to me to point to a way beyond the global sadness. The 'cultivate your garden' direction...

The Kurt Gerron chain in this journal has taken on a new twist. I finally saw the Blue Angel tonight and now know - that Gerron does not take on the hero's role, but that of the humiliator, the seducer of the dignified German. In the light of my knowledge of Gerron's fate, it is painful to watch him fall into the stereotype of the exploiting Jew who drags down the culture.

Ah. poor Gerron!

Look back to last month for the whole story on Gerron.

Two new disks on my shelf - Lou Reed's "The Raven" and Shmulik Kraus's latest. Both rock singers from the '60s - but Lou Reed international and Kraus local and Hebrew. Both about the self-destructive urges in life - The Raven is spectacular - and Kraus is modest. I'm more impressed with Lou Reed, but closer to that old crazy Tel Avivi, Kraus...

Does this mean I've stepped over the line and become totally Israeli?

No - there is something sane and practical in Kraus's craziness -even though it is in not innovative and universal in its concept of 'self destruction' as a modern human phenomenon, and not just the fate of the decadent artist. That is: Kraus just wants to drink his coffee in a sidewalk cafe and be left alone. This is where I'm at.

Even though I'm still more impressed with Lou Reed and Edgar Allen Poe, I'm too war-torn to be able to cope with the danger Reed presents.

February 8, 2003

Spent part of the morning (of my brother's birthday - happy birthday joe!) figuring out what batteries this radio takes and what flashlight we can use in the shelter and how many chairs and blankets we still need. Ezi discovered the shelter is still not sealed properly so chemical and biological weapons can still wipe us all out easily. Back to the drawing board.

Phillip from Manchester wrote to ask me who Amir Gilboa is. I wrote about him a week ago - about how great a poet he is and how he seems to be forgotten. Here's a poem of his, entitled "Isaac" about how we are forced to sacrifice our sons here:

In the morning the sun strolled in the woods

with me and father,

my right hand in his left.


A knife flashed from between the trees like lightning.

and I shrink from my eyes' terror before the blooded leaves.


Father, father, come rush to save Isaac

so no one will be missing from the meal at noon.


It is I who am slaughtered, my son.

Already my blood is on the leaves.

And father's voice was stilled,

his face pale


I wanted to scream, writhing against belief

and tearing open my eyes

I awoke.


And my right hand was drained of blood.

Gilboa's idea that the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is part of the culture of Israel - burns through many many poems and story. This particular poem I translated it many years ago as part of an article on poetry and war that i will put on my site tonight if my kids leave me alone for an hour.

They did. I did. It's here: Poetry by Women and the War in Lebanon.

February 9, 2003

And here he is at last - What you must have been waiting for for weeks. But what might take a moment or two to download. Ladies and Gentlemen: Kurt Gerron!

Notice the smug, self-satisfied air - the successful actor at the peak of his career. No - he peaked the year after with "The Blue Angel" and a movie with Louise Brooks whose name has momentarily escaped me. But he had probably just done his big role as Mac the Knife in "The Threepenny Opera" and thought nothing could touch him. Notice the handkerchief - was it intentionally reminiscent of a star of David or is it just an accident of the painter? Five years later Gerron was in Paris, then Holland, then Thereisenstat then Auschwitz.

What do you think? Don't you think he deserves his own website?

What did he look like really? Here he is with Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel"

Notice the Satanic position of the Tempter.

I got this picture off the site about the movie I haven't yet seen, Kurt Gerron's Karrousel I am now dying to see the movie -

Why are you so obsessed by Kurt Gerron, you may ask? Not just because I have been staring at that painting for years. It is the way he tried to cope with being Jewish and later the Holocaust that fascinates me. He thought he could survive and even succeed by happily playing the role the Germans created for him - the role of the Jew. Once in Tereizenstat he tried to work with the German authorities, to produce theatre, the photographs of a happy community, the film "Hitler builds a city for the Jewish," and he got screwed by Mengele in Auschwitz. It is the process of finding tactics of survival that fascinates me.

And thinking about Kurt Gerron in the Holocaust gives me a perspective on what is happening in Israel today. Everyone here is frozen in a deep depression. We keep saying it's never been this bad. I say it has, and not that long ago. And if it has been worse, it can be made better.

And we have to do it. To devise new tactics for survival.

One way is an old tried and true way - to plant trees. ESRA is the organization of English speakers in Israel and they would like to plant a “grove” of 1000 trees in Ilan Ramon's memory. Each tree will cost ESRA members and friends NIS12. If you're interested mail your check, made out to ESRA, to:

Attention: Ita


P.O.Box 175, Raanana 43101

tel. 09-748 2957

February 10, 2003

Last night we watched "The Blue Angel" - I must have seen it many years ago but it is now a different story for me. Kurt Gerron indeed appears - exactly as he is in the portrait we have - the villainous magician who humiliates and degrades the noble Herr Professor. It is Gerron and Dietrich, the Jew and the new Woman, who have usurped positions of power in a civilized order, and in doing so upset the position in society of all good folk. No wonder this film of the Weimar Republic precedes an era of the return of the woman to the kitchen and the Jew to oblivion.

And what do art movies have to do with current events?

Ilan Ramon - the son of Holocaust survivors - carried with him souvenirs of Thereisenstat... They are bound irrevocably.

And now, to relieve ourselves of shmaltz, back to some day to day activities. I am fascinated by the way we are alternately planning to be nuked around here and feeling blase and bored with the whole thing to the point of not even renewing our gas masks... I mean if you've been following these pages you know I was one of the first to hit the building of the "House of Life" (which is what the cemetery is called around here)which is the gas mask center for Tel Aviv. But my kids are finally getting around to it as well!

Yet we all plan to open the semester next week, even though the war is supposed to start on the first day of classes. The ironies are wonderful.

Here's another, more positive, irony - about a space project with a Palestinian and an Israeli on Mideast Web.

Scroll down. As Ramon said:There's no better place to emphasize the unity of people in the world than flying to space. It goes the same for any country, Arab country, whatever -- we are all the same people, we are all human beings and I believe that most of us, almost all of us, are good people.

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