Tel Aviv Diary January 22-26, 2018 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - January 22-26, 2018 Karen Alkalay-Gut

January 22-26, 2018

January 22, 2018

So i brought a draft of the yiddish poems to a neighbor - and he loved them - read them and couldn't stop chuckling.

now what do i do to celebrate this book?

January 23, 2018

Because I can't sleep after I watch Fauda, I'm watching it in the daytime. I will probably not sleep at night anyway.

To a stranger's eyes the similarity between the two peoples is remarkable, except for the fact that the Arabs are warmer to each other. Of course there are thousands of differences - for example that Jews try to keep other people out of their religion - unless they really really show knowledge and devotion, and Moslems believe everyone should follow Islam. that is a huge difference.

January 24, 2018

Two days ago I was leading a book club about "The Invention of Wings" about Sarah Grimke and the condition of slavery before the Civil War. That day I was tortured by the brutalities of slavery, unable to conceive of how a society allows such dehumanization. Despite my opposition to the government's position on the refugee crisis, despite my opposition to our behavior in the occupied territories, i can't imagine that anything like that could exist today.

But today was worse. I was asked to speak at the opening of an exhibit at Yad Vashem - an amazing exhibit of photographs of the holocaust - from German, Russian, American and Jewish sources. Of course every group had different motivations and took very different photographs. Nazi propaganda versus Jewish documentation was the most gut-wrenching - the hunger to prove the humanity of a people whose humanity had been denied.

i read the poem i had written about a photograph I found in Claudia Roden's Jewish Cook Book.


No matter how much we enlarge it,
that photograph snapped by a German soldier
of my grandmother in Lida, 1916,
remains perfectly clear. Her eyes
register her cold measure
of the soldier who could decide
to shoot her instead of her
picture if that
was his hobby
instead of photography.

This is what war
is like – I taste her fear
even though I’m seeing her
now from the eyes
of the oppressor.

And I know the shame of both.

(From Layers, 2012.)

Among other things I spoke of my own fear of dehumanizing the individual in the documentation of information.

January 25, 2018

This poem is not really about my grandmother.

I chose this picture because it was taken in Lida where my family lived. And I adopted this lady as my grandmother.

I adopted her in a poem because I have no picture of my grandmother who ended her life as a bar of soap in Stutthof. Sometimes what is not photographed is more important than what you see in the pictures.

But I also chose a woman in this picture because of her look. In the picture I describe she looks directly, not at the camera, into the photographer's eyes.

"I know you," she says with a look, "and you think you have captured me, but it was I who captured you.

"And from my gaze you have been shamed.

"You do documentation, orders, or art, instead of keeping a stranger's honor in the street.

"This camera, your "Hassenblat", separates we two people and functions to isolate rather than to communicate.

"So either art is more important to you, or the documentation, or your orders from the commander - but in any case the humanity of one person is not at the center of your thoughts, or at least not your goal.

"And because of this disgrace you should be ashamed."

The pictures of the Germans at birth in World War I are not like those of the Second War. The Kaiser's soldiers take pictures together with the Jews, shake hands, smile together, and most of the time emphasize their humanity and that of the residents.

The difference between the photographs in the two wars helps to emphasize the point, because even though there is friendship between the soldiers and the residents - the camera distances the photographer from the coldness of the photograph. A life becomes with the frame an object, and the person is enslaved.

The occupier and the occupied. The enlightened conqueror - who photographs and hopes that the people will not be hurt, but feels a kind of entitlement as well as responsibility.

And the occupied who suffers from the critical, evaluating, and supercilious eyes of the other.

Of course, the political situation in Israel as well resonates with my statement at the end of the poem, but there is another aspect of this ‘shame’ I - who wrote this poem and makes art out of this woman's situation and her shame - am also ashamed of myself from the exploitation.

As it is important to educate, document, teach, and not let us forget, it is also important not to exploit, to remember that everyone was a person who must be respected beyond anything else.

I am beginning to wonder about Trump. Maybe he really does have a plan. Maybe after he has humiliated and punished the Palestinians it will be our turn, and them we will both be in no position to refuse his deal. January 26, 2018

I don't know how we managed to get together this morning for breakfast. One of us feared flooding and stayed home, one was late because her house was indeed flooded, one came on her way from one coffee date to another... Altogether there were nine of us, and the whole time we were at the cafe the weather was clear.

But of course as soon as I left, the rain began again. What with the thunder and lightning I decided to stop by the mall to wait it out on my way back. But that was an incredible mess. Not only was the underground parking lot full but it was full of the beautiful young people of our nouveau riche, who with their monster jeeps have been brought up to believe they own the country. Ownership is a very dangerous concept. First of all it creates those little power struggles that always complicate a social situation. Secondly these little power struggles can take place over nothing - right of way for example. So many of our problems could be settled if only we drop that concept.

Yes, yes, I found a place to park in the end, but it was because the reserved area opened up when the mall administrators went home.

Here's the video of my talk: