Tel Aviv Diary February 15-19, 2006 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - February 15, 2006 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

February 15, 2006

February 15 has always been an eventful romantic day for me - a day when things come together. So I thought today would be a good day to send off a poem to the Tel Aviv Competition for "Poetry Along the Way," a poem written in Hebrew of 12 lines max to be placed in public places. Of course my Hebrew has always been primitive when it comes to writing poetry, and since i think in english anything i wrote in hebrew has been at some point a translation from english. But the idea of a poem coming as it were from within the city of Tel Aviv was such an engaging challenge, that I wound up writing a new poem about cats. It wasn't written in proper and complex Hebrew but the idea charmed me, and Ezi found it interesting. And Sharon Moldavi changed a word or two, and then Sasson Somekh added diacritical marks, and then I fixed it some more, and Ezi added some more diacritics, and then, I finally decided it looked like a poem in Hebrew and sent it off. The chances of it winning are tiny, because there are an awful lot of real Hebrew poets in Tel Aviv, but it was such an amazing experience to me, revealing to me gradually the bond I have to this city, I cannot explain it. I suppose you want the poem now, but i've got to translate it to english.

No, you want the website to enter the contest! Right! Municipality of Tel Aviv or call 03 5218499 for more info. But you have to be a Tel Aviv resident. Good luck.

By the way, an old book that seems to be out of print in Hebrew:Paranormal

February 16, 2006

I got all farblundget today - made too many different plans in too many different parts of the city and wound up running around like crazy to get to meetings before they broke up. One of the problems is that it is very hard to run past things and people and places in Tel Aviv. You just run into too many meaningful people and too much meaning in general. At the end of a long morning and afternoon I was walking with Dalit down Borochov Street and commenting on this idea and she said, "Look, here at this house - this is where Talia Shapira lived and died." And even though she has been long gone, we reminisced over what a great actress and comedienne she was, and got way off the subject of how to raise money for our very expensive project with the Israel Festival.

I know that all over the world our loved ones remain in our hearts, but Tel Aviv always seems to me to have such a concentration of living and dead. Later today we were listening to Schubert's lieder and Ezi suddenly started talking about how his father Bandi used to play them while Rosie sang. And I remembered that Yehudith Katzir had written about this scene in a book of hers, about Bandi playing piano. I got to know Bandi almost thirty years ago after his hands had warped too badly for him to play, and the grand piano sat idle in the living room, but i suddenly envisioned him - happily entertaining Hadassah and Shuki's friends, or maybe his own friends like Lushik Sharon or Dov Carmi. How strange.

Bandi died of emphezema, after years of heavy smoking. And so none of his children smoke. Me, I try not to smoke either, and have kept to my maximum one-cigarette-a-month practice for at least 30 years, and lately have cut that out too. But of course I know there are other dangers than smoking. My aunt Chasha, in Lakewood, New Jersey (who I most resemble of my entire family), never smoked, but she died of lung cancer.When she died, it seemed like such a waste - such a strong and fine woman in the prime of her life with so much to give. And I think too little is known about this subject. But now there is an organization to help. People who have been directly or indirectly affected by lung cancer - in the NJ area - are invited to contact This is their purpose: "The Lung Cancer Circle of Hope has committed itself to eradicating the myths surrounding lung cancer. We create knowledge and awareness of this disease by providing educational programs to the community at large. Working closely with public policy makers, we seek to increase research funding and help to shape policy decisions that impact lung cancer." I know that living in Tel Aviv I have no authority or right to speak of government policies in New Jersey, but in the name of a family who lost a loved one needlessly, I urge you to help.

And no sooner had I posted this last paragraph when I get an email from a nameless but very much loved friend. "You think you have no authority to speak about New Jersey? What gives you the right to speak about Tel Aviv? Why don't you tell them about one of the details of your getting farblondget today?" (Farblondget is yiddish for all messed up in a labyrinth, losing orientation) Okay. I'll tell. I got an SMS that a little meeting got moved from someone's house to Cafe Meir. "Where is Cafe Meir?" I SMSed back frantically. No answer. Another SMS. A call. No answer. Eventually I find out - but later, I mention my dilemma to Ezi. "Cafe Meir." he says. "Opposite Meir Park." "How the hell do you know that?" i ask. "Its obvious." One of those moments that separates the natives from the wannabees.

February 17, 2006

Another thing that separates is where your family is buried. As they buried Shoshana Damari today the camera panned Trumpeldor Cemetery, the graves of the creators of the modern Israeli culture - Ephraim Kishon, Chaim Nachman Bialik, and so many others. This is a place so many people here feel about deeply. And yet, for me the feelings are complex. All of Ezi's grandparents are there, and his aunt, and many others. For me there is only one person: I had always wondered how my parents were not accepted in Palestine. In late August of 1939 they left Danzig for Haifa. In Danzig my stateless father had been persecuted for his Jewish faith and his communist past, and the knowledge of the inevitable invasion of the Germans made escape imperative. They had been refused santuary in Sweden twice when they were allowed to visit for Esperanto conventions, and they were quite desperate. But when they arrived in Haifa, their possessions were put ashore and they were sent back to Danzig. Fortunately, when they returned to Danzig, my mother's sister was waiting for them with clothing and another possible escape route. But how did the British know about my parents? Why did they turn them away? My parents knew but would not say. But long after their death my aunt told me the name of the man who betrayed them, and was given their possessions in payment. She knew him well, both in Lida and in Israel. The name echoed in my head all year - it was such an usual name. How did he live with himself, I wondered. And then one day wandering in Trumpeldor I saw the name. His daughter had died in 1948 and was buried among the suicides. I was angry and confused about this for a long time, but now I feel it is part of my identity here, and she is my relative in the old cemetery.

February 18, 2006

Some major points about performances: On Tuesday, the 21,my group will be appearing at Hed Club on Peretz Street with Ronen Shapira. I won't be performing, except maybe for a little song with Ronen. That's because I thought I'd be incapacitated and then accepted a speaking engagement at the library.

The next performance, that I was supposed to be participating in, on March 3 at the Gada, was cancelled. The one at Tmuna too on the 25th has also been changed. The Israel Festival and the Festival Neto in Tel Aviv has totally changed our perspectives.

Or maybe just their perspectives. It's hard for a poet who has worked alone all along to be part of a group.

Saturday - a perfect warm and lovely winter day - and we were on our way up north Caesarea - But the enormous temptations for shopping were too great. Somewhere south of Natanya we got drawn in to the consumer culture. Hard to believe that there is anything wrong in Israel, that there is a security threat, or cultural disparities, or economic problems or anything, when an Arab clerk not only explains to us what kind of anti fungus paint to use, but also complains to me that I'm not paying enough attention and I'll wind up doing it wrong.

I know that I should have been planting Olive trees in one of the villages which has suffered recent vandalism, and that there I would have seen a totally different picture of what this society is like.

February 19, 2006

I'm supposed to be filming an interview on Allen Ginsberg tomorrow, and since I have a memory like a computer in which the file names are all mixed up (the information is there but the access is complicated)I had to work hard to remind myself of what I know about him. Especially when they asked me about Ginsberg in Israel. I remembered what I'd read, that he'd been here in 1961 and I remembered him in 88 (but couldn't remember the date or the circumstances) but didn't the remember the PEN story until I looked it up in his biography. In '88 I had just come back from an extended stay in the US where some people had asked me about PEN in Israel and censorship of Palestinians. So I went to the PEN chair then in Israel, Aharon Megged, and asked him what he knew. He was very interested in obtaining information - because he said he's been trying to find out what the situation was, but the Israel government claimed ignorance and the Palestinians refused to talk to Israeli PEN. Almost a year after our conversation (and some more trivial efforts on my part to find out what was going on) Ginsberg arrived here, appeared in a Peace Now rally and a reading at the university, and went back to the US to get the PEN "Freedom-to-write" committee to send "a letter to the Israeli government, urging it ‘ti cease its practice of censorship” of Palestinian writers and journalist in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The letter, the result of months of heated discussion that divided some of the leading writers in the U.s. called on Israel “to end its policy of arrests of Palestinian and Israeli journalists, to reopen censored Palestinian newspapers, to reopen the Palestinian Press Service, and to cease its practive of censorship of books, school reading materials, newspapers and literary texts circulated in the Wast Bank and the Gaza Territories.” (Barry Miles, Allen Ginsberg, 528). Now - 18 years later - I'm trying to figure out where he got his information from and whether it was accurate. I don't know. How can aynone verify this information? Was there a real report?

But I know that there seems to be a melding of censorship of the kind Ginsberg himself experienced and censorship against incitement, that there is a difference between not letting people speak their minds about politics and not letting them teach their children mathematics by murder (remember those famous arithmatic books - you have six jews and kill three - how many are left). Now I've got to find out what information he had.

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