Tel Aviv Diary January 29 - February 2, 2007- - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - January 29, 2007 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

January 29, 2007

This morning I went absolutely crazy thinking I should be on vacation - on the beach - somewhere completely different. So after my morning appointments I took the afternoon off and went to Nona. Although since the last war I've been glued to the radio (like most people in Israel) I kept away from the media and just talked and listened to real live people. We do have enough excitement to keep us busy. So it was only when I came home that I heard about the suicide bomber in Eilat.

Where are the names of the victims?

We know all the time that there are terrorists trying to get to us, and those awful checkposts serve to stop many of them. We know also there are open borders, like the one from Egypt that our most recent terrorist crossed. So we know that under these circumstances terrorism can be minimized but not stopped.

And yet it would take a great deal for ME to be able to identify a terrorist. My tendency is to talk to all strangers as if they belonged. Yesterday afternoon, for example, there was a 'suspicious' stranger sitting on a curbstone in front of my house. In part to neutralize the suspicions of my dog, and in part to because it is my nature, I said good afternoon. His response was effusive, in part because he too has that kind of nature, but primarily to prove to me that he is well-versed in my language and therefore not dangerous. He was not Arab, I don't think, just grungy and therefore suspicious as an 'other' to my dog. And he may well have been a thief. I wouldn't know - we had a nice conversation about the weather.

January 30, 2007

Of course the terrorist who killed three people yesterday managed to get where he got because an Israeli picked him up hitch hiking, and in this we repeatedly get confused. If this was a totally closed society there would be no way terrorists could not be identified immediately, but if this was a totally open society perhaps there would be no terrorism.

January 31, 2007

Because we spent the day doing our regulation 10,000 steps covering Dizengoff, I will now try to overcome the pain in my back and report a little bit about what's new. First - what's old. For years I've been told that as a good Jewish girl I should eat at Batya's. And finally today I had lunch there. The taste was exactly like the inedible food I remember from mass Jewish weddings in the U.S. - watered-down over-peppered soup with a distinct flour taste to the matzo balls, something labelled Moussaka that in high school we called mystery meat, tsimmes made of frozen sliced carrots and raisins barely blended, and chopped liver with that slightly sour taste that makes me hope I will not have to drift far from a bathroom tonight.

And it was there in Natya that we got the news about Haim Ramon. Totally anachronistic. More about this later.

But our purchases were much more successful. Sarah Braun was a treasure trove of flattering styles and classic fabrics. And every place was a pleasure. Even a tiny local shoe shop named Steffan's made us feel at home and even though we couldn't really make up our minds, went out of their way to make us feel good.And of course the prices are incredibly tempting. Only the well-known and attractive shop of Calligula stopped us - both of us agreed even before we entered that something about the last causes us back aches - but both of us were drawn in to the shop by the pretty shoes,and only after walking around a bit remembered that beauty is not everything.

Back to the intoxicating corruption of our leaders: We've got so many charges against so many political and military leaders, how is it that a guy that may or may not have put his tongue down a girl's throat is the first to be convicted? And what does this tell the 'president' about what will happen at HIS trial?

February 1, 2007

Thanks to those of you who noted that my clip "To the Muse" is playing on It's a great site if you want to see a local tv. I can't find the clip there, but appreciate the information. I understand that "cellular phone" also won some prize recently. And the the clip of "Tell Me" gets shown on 24.

February 1, 2007

"Everyone around here has a hard life in a different way," Abdullah Shaadi tells me as we are driving through Jerusalem in his cab. I ask him how old he is, and how many children - 3 he says - and i joke that that explains his white hair even though he is only 36. But i really wanted to weep. On the way back to my car, we got a different driver - this time Jewish - and he too, although jovial, had a similar sentiment. "I tried to move out of this city," he said, "but after a month I couldn't stay away."

As much as my day in Tel Aviv yesterday was about an escape, on my day in Jerusalem today reality kept hitting me in the face. Even though Jerusalem is visibly more spiritual in every way, every aspect of experience seems to me to be about facing the complex political and sociological situation.

And yet perhaps because our tasks were so much more literary (we were making arrangements for our participation in the book fair in Jerusalem) there was a great deal more refinement. We also ate better - i got the bad taste of Batya out of my mouth at Tmol Shilshom where a strange but interesting lunch of tuna patties and chick peas in tomato sauce was punctuated by cries of joy (by our neighbors) to the waiter concerning the wonderful soup. The service may have been slow (but nothing like Batya) and we were strangely tolerant and at peace.

It has been many years since I have visited the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, and I was surprised at how little has changed. We only went to see the Irwin Holtzman Room, a special collection of multilingual literature in Israel. That was a real pleasure. To catch a glimpse of the many languages and cultures that form this country. I know not too many people are interested in this aspect of Israel, but I really believe it is an important element that eventually must be acknowledged.

February 2, 2007

What can motivate a Yiddish writer to continue? Here and there English writers pick up an audience, but Yiddish? Today I had a board meeting at the Yiddish Writers' Association, a very vital organization, but couldn't remember when I had read something by the writers, except Rivka Bassman.

Why haven't I been able to change my mind about Haim Ramon - despite some criticism, and even a few pretty nasty letters? Don't I know about sexual harrassment, one asks? Just today I ran into a man who maybe 30 years ago agressively wanted to 'help' my poetic career, for a simple well-known price. I didn't agree and didn't get helped out. And went home very shook up and told my husband that if it costs me my 'career' it is well worth it. And I wasn't even an officer in the army.

But besides not apologizing and admitting his mistake, humbling himself and acknowledging the fact that he doesn't have the right to do what he wants with whoever he feels like - whether she is interested or not, Haim Ramon has made a lot of mistakes in his career. The one I will not forgive him for was the disempowering of the trade unions. I am sure that many of our economic problems today are cause by him.

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