Tel Aviv Diary July 26 - 31>, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - July 26 - 31, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 26, 2004

Twenty four years ago today we got married - at 8:30 in the morning at the city hall in Nicosia - Because my lover was a cohen and i was a divorcee we were not allowed to marry in the rabbinate. Another one of those outdated laws that would be quaint if it had not interfered so much with my life. We wouldn't have gotten married at all but for the rumor that my ex-husband was going to prosecute and demand child custody on the basis that we were living in sin. (There was actually no evidence that he was actually going to do it. i don't remember what put me into that panic.) So caught between two laws - that i wasn't married and that i couldn't GET married - we consulted with a reform rabbi who advised us to take off for Cyprus and call this number when we geet there.

We actually had no money but my future husband's parents paid for the whole thing. And we met up with an Israeli accountant who bribed some people in the municipality to get the paperwork over with fast. By the second day we were sitting in the waiting room with a Lebanese couple (Christian and Muslim)and Ezi played the wedding march on the little electronic adding machine he'd bought in duty free. Our only witness was the accountant's poodle, as far as I remember. But I should look up the certificate.

When I told my parents, they invited us to the U.S. and when we got off the plane, took us to a shotgun wedding in the same synagogue I was first married in. I told the Rabbi that in Israel it was illegal because I was a divorcee and he was a cohen, but the Rabbi said, "I have a hearing problem, I'm sorry." Because, again, according to Jewish law, if these facts are not known, the wedding is legal.

This experience turned me off to organized religion.

But even though it is erev tisha b'av, it's a glorious day!

July 27, 2004

On my way home to a mourners' visit I stopped at the local drug store. To get there from the parking lot, I had to pass by the Habad house, where a group of men had gathered to begin prayers and were almost blocking the sidewalk. Embarrassed,I hesitated for a moment, and they called out, 'come through, come through!' and i smiled and passed them, turned the corner, and found myself in the middle of a grand celebration. Big 30% off sale on everything! 'Aren't you closing down tonight? ' 'At 11.' 'but won't you get a fine?' 'last year they shut down the cosmetics department and fined us.''isit worth it?' 'maybe not.' But I came home with aftershave, face cream, ear plugs, toilet paper, lipstick, as well as all my medicines.

So it was worth them risking the fine. Because I was only one of hundreds of customers who grabbed the sale opportunity to release their hidden aggressions over the encroachment of increasingly anachronistic religious practices upon our daily lives.

Tisha b'Av is a very complex day - the mourning of the loss of the temple, the exile from the holy land. But as i have probably written before, there are a lot of other thoughts about this day. Here are two:

1. We're back. The day has to be reconsidered altogether, even in it's strictest sense.
2. The 'exile' as we all know, was at best partial. The leaders and troublemakers were sent to mourn by the rivers of Babylon. The others remained, became muslimized in the 7th century or so, and should now be reunited with their relatives - the Palestinians and the Jews. So we have another reason for an alternative holiday.
Some people - like Benny Elon, believe we're still in exile, and our bodies as a result have been separated from our souls. Only when all of Israel is ours can it be reunited.

Nona - my favorite cafe - was in the papers - its picture at least in the printed version - as an example of the places of entertainment that defied the law and risked the 650 shekel fine by staying open. As I told you before, I went to visit a house of mourning after the Superpharm and didn't go out to see what was up in the city, but many people did.

July 28, 2004

Rena sent me this site on bumper stickers in Israel. I wish I'd written it - we have been noting this amazing phenomenon for years and have a wall of them in our closet.

they are often very funny, but very agressive. Death to fanatics for example.

David Grossman wrote a song composed of bumper stickers and a prominent rock group recorded it. I love it. I love the way the street is given a voice.

July 29, 2004


July 28, 2004
The New York Times
Arab's Gift to Be Returned by Harvard

Harvard University is returning a controversial $2.5 million gift to its donor, the president of the United Arab Emirates.
Harvard said in a statement Monday that the president, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, recently asked to withdraw the gift, which was to endow a chair in Islamic religious studies, before it was subjected to a formal deliberation this summer by the university.
Abdulla Alsaboosi, a spokesman at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, said negotiations between the university and Sheik Zayed's representatives had been going on for several months. "The negotiations were conducted in an atmosphere of cordiality and mutual respect," Mr. Alsaboosi said, "but in the end, since no decision was taken by the university, we felt regretfully that we had no option but to retract the gift."
Students and Jewish organizations had criticized the Harvard Divinity School for accepting the donation, which was made in 2000, because they objected to the sheik's support for a policy research organization, the Zayed International Center for Coordination and Follow-Up in Abu Dhabi, one of the seven states in the United Arab Emirates.
Speakers at the center had included an Arab scholar who has written that Jews use human blood to make pastries and a French author who claims that Israel masterminded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as well as American officials like former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Vice President Al Gore. It was closed last summer by the government of the United Arab Emirates, which said that the center had engaged in a discourse that "contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance" espoused by Sheik Zayed.
Sheik Zayed, whose personal wealth is estimated at $23 billion, supports a variety of causes, including African refugees and public schools in the United States. The controversy over his gift to the divinity school, which had been sought by the university, caused several institutions to reconsider contributions he had given them.

Now I know people see this as a victory for academic freedom, democracy, the propaganda war and all that, but all I can think about is that there is now two and a half million dollars available for donation and I would like to suggest it help to cover the debts at Tel Aviv University. Every month the remaining staff fear they won't be getting their salaries, there is even no money for PAPER, etc. A little money would straighten out the whole atmosphere. Okay, let's say the Sheik doesn't care about my salary - but he must be interested in developing some of the research and studies about Arab-Israeli relations, or about Palestinian culture. Maybe he'd even like to support our anthology?

It would be good for all of us.

At the same time I weep for the way in which the university is diminishing int its greatness, is losing its potential simply because of lack of funds, i know there are vast sums in this country that are in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

Enough of economics - we all know that it is a question of values, of priorities. Let me tell you instead about my relatives who spent tisha b'av in Ikea. As he pushed the loaded cart to the cashiers, he spotted a woman with 2 carts. "So we're rebuilding the temple, eh?" he says.

There is a series on the history of Israeli comedy - channel 11 - it doesn't have enough original footage so i don't usually watch it. but tonight it had a big section about an old old friend of mine, Dahn Ben Amotz, so I couldn't pull my eyes from the screen.

Now Dahn Ben Amotz died over 20 years ago, and I wasn't in the country when he had his big farewell party before his death, so i never got to say goodbye, but he was an important influence on my life. Why?

more after i figure out why the virus alert is on.

There are a lots of ways that is true, but the one i thought of tonight was the political opinions i didn't understand. He talked about the rights of Arabs, the fact that land was appropriated from them, but at the same time he was living in a classy gentrified apartment in Yaffo. And he was considered so left.

Too bad he made such a poor choice of biographer - because, as i think i wrote once before - as soon as Dankner's book of him came out he sank into oblivion.

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