Tel Aviv Diary June 18, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from June 18-22, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

June 18, 2004

Let's see - a typical day in Tel Aviv, beginning with a visit to the doctor. As I am walking in the little strip mall where my health clinic, Macabee, is next door to Macdonald, I sway to the violin music of the faded yet elegant woman in the street playing "Padam, Padam, Padam" and think of all the romances that must have incurred as a result of that song. Once inside, I ask the girl waiting before the door not to forget me because I will just stop next door to purchase a suitcase. When I come back she is just coming out of the office and she explains, "I remember you! You didn't have a suitcase then!" and I enter the doctor's office. By the time I leave, with my little booklet of tests and prescriptions, the faded lady has been replaced by a middle-aged acapela singer, who is doing plaintive arias I can't identify, but who deserves a tip in his cup nevertheless.

I'm sure than by lunch time his cup will run over.

But I have to take my suitcase home and fill it up.

Then off to the dental hygienist where I meet Mira Zakai just after some periodontal work. I want to take her home, but when I arrive at the Ayalon it looks like a parking lot and I relunctantly decide to drop her off in the street and let her take her chances with a cab.

Because I have a PhD ceremony to get to.

I wouldn't have thought that the ceremony was anything special to write about, but Arie, who has been living long in America, pointed out the great differences between a regular graduation there and one here. Here, the rector didn't show up and send someone else to read his obviously collated speech with leanings of quotes from smart men around the world, the 'professional' talk, about whether the Trojan War happened, punctuated with coughs that gave the russian lecturer time to find her place in the text - perhaps in cyrillic transliteration.

The ceremony was saved by the young doctoral recipient who took the opportunity to blast the economic changes in academy which will cheapen the value of the university and education in general. His heart-felt criticism of the Maltz commission and the administrative changes about to be instituted in this university was greeted by a standing ovation (at least on my part).

This, said Arie, couldn't take place in America. No one would think of it.

And we didn't think anything of it.

June 19, 2004

Yesterday I was coming close to praising israeli society for self-criticism, and then i got two letters complaining about how blind israelis are to the suffering they inflict on others. The synchronicity is interesting. Just as I was thinking that the suffering of Palestinians is something that is brought to our attention daily. The thing is, I don't think we have any more impact on the policies of the governments than the American citizens have on the the American government. There are thousands of people who like me try in their daily lives to change the situation, and thousands more to have changed their lives in an attempt to bring sanity to this area, but the impact has been minimal. Tell me, as an individual, what to do. And tell me, as an individual, what you are doing.

Voting I hope. And by the way, here's some information that might help make a decision:

GEORGE WASHINGTON was the first President to write to a Synagogue. In
1790 he addressed separate letters to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode
Island, and to Mikve Israel Congregation in Savannah, Georgia, and a joint
letter to Congregation Beth Shalom, Richmond, Virginia, Mikve Israel,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Beth Elohim Synagogue, Charleston, South
Carolina and to Shearith Israel, New York. His letters are an eloquent
expression and hope for religious harmony and endure as indelible
statements of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy.

THOMAS JEFFERSON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a Federal post.
In 1801 he named Reuben Getting of Baltimore as US Marshall for Maryland.

JAMES MADISON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a diplomatic
post. He sent Mordecai M. Noah to Tunis from 1813 to 1816.

MARTIN VAN BUREN was the first President to order an American Consul to
intervene on behalf of Jews abroad. In 1840 he instructed the U.S.
Consul in Alexandria, Egypt to use his good offices to protect the Jews of
Damascus, Syria who were under attack because of a false blood ritual accusation.

JOHN TYLER was the first President to nominate a U.S. Consul toPalestine. Warder Cresson, a Quaker convert to Judaism, who established a pioneer Zionist colony, received the appointment in 1844 .
FRANKLIN PIERCE was the first and probably the only President whose name
appears on the charter of a Synagogue. Pierce signed the Act of Congress in
1857 that amended the laws of the District of Columbia to enable the
incorporation of the city's first Synagogue, the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN was the first President to make it possible for Rabbis
to serve as military chaplains. He did this by signing the 1862 Act of Congress
which changed the law that had previously barred all but Christian clergymen
from the chaplaincy.

Lincoln was also the first, and happily the only President who was called
upon to revoke an official act of Anti-Semitism by the U.S. Government.
It was Lincoln who cancelled General Ulysses S. Grant's "Order No. 11"
expelling all Jews from Tennessee from the District controlled by his armies
during the Civil War. Grant always denied personal responsibility for this
act attributing it to his subordinate.

ULYSSES S. GRANT was the first President to attend a Synagogue service
while in office. When Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. was
dedicated in1876, Grant and all members of his Cabinet were present.

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the first President to designate a Jewish Ambassador
for the stated purpose of fighting Anti-Semitism. In 1870, he named Benjamin
Peyote Consul-General to Rumania.Hays also was the first President to assure a civil service employee her right to work for the Federal Government and yet observe the Sabbath. He
ordered the employment of a Jewish woman who had been denied a position
in the Department of the Interior because of her refusal to work on Saturday.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the first President to appoint a Jew to a
presidential cabinet. In 1906 he named Oscar S. Straus Secretary of
Commerce and Labor.

Theodore Roosevelt was also the first President to contribute his own funds
to a Jewish cause. In 1919, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his
efforts while President to settle the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt
contributed part of his prize to the National Jewish Welfare Board.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT was the first President to attend a Seder while in
office. In 1912, when he visited Providence, Rhode Island, he participated
in the family Seder of Colonel Harry Cutler, first president of the National
Jewish Welfare Board, in the Cutler home on Glenham Street.

WOODROW WILSON was the first President to nominate a Jew, Louis Dembitz
Brandeis, to the United States Supreme Court. Standing firm against great
pressure to withdraw the nomination, Wilson insisted that he knew no one
better qualified by judicial temperament as well as legal and social
understanding. Confirmation was finally voted by the Senate on June 1,1916.

Wilson was also the first President to publicly endorse a national Jewish
philanthropic campaign. In a letter to Jacob Schiff, on November 22, 1917,
Wilson called for wide support of the United Jewish Relief Campaign which
was raising funds for European War relief.

WARREN HARDING was the first President to sign a Joint Congressional
Resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate
supporting the establish-ment in Palestine of a national Jewish home for
the Jewish people. The resolution was signed on September 22, 1921.

CALVIN COOLIDGE was the first President to participate in the dedication of
a Jewish community institution that was not a house of worship. On May 3,
1925, he helped dedicate the cornerstone of the Washington, D.C. Jewish
Community Center.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT was the first President to be given a Torah as a
gift. He received a miniature Torah from Young Israel and another that had
been rescued from a burning Synagogue in Czechoslovakia. Both are now in the
Roosevelt Memorial Library in Hyde Park. The Roosevelt administration's
failure to expand the existing refugee quota system ensured that large
numbers of Jews would ultimately become some of the Holocaust's six million
victims. Fifty-six years after Roosevelt's death, the arguments continue
over Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust.

HARRY S. TRUMAN, on May 14, 1948, just eleven minutes after Israel's
proclamation of independence, was the first Head of a Government to announce
to the press that "the United Stated recognizes the provisional Government
as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel." Truman was also the
first U.S. President to receive a President of Israel at the Whit House,
Chaim Weisman, in 1948 and an Ambassador from Israel - Eliahu Elath in1948.
With Israel staggering under the burdens of mass immigration in1951-1952,
President Truman obtained from Congress close to $140 million in loans and grants.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER was the first President to participate in a
coast-to-coast TV program sponsored by a Jewish organization. It was a
network show in 1954 celebrating the 300th anniversary of the American
Jewish community. On this occasion he said that it was one of the enduring
satisfactions of his life that he was privileged to lead the forces of the
free world which finally crushed the brutal regime in Germany, freeing the
remnant of Jews for a new life and hope in Israel.

JOHN F. KENNEDY named two Jews to his cabinet - Abraham Ribicoff as
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Arthur Goldberg as Secretary
of Labor. Kennedy was the only President for whom a national Jewish Award
was named. The annual peace award of the Synagogue Council of America was
re-named the John F. Kennedy Peace Award after his assassination in 1963.

JIMMY CARTER, in a number of impassioned speeches, stated his concern for
human rights and stressed the right of Russian Jews to emigrate. He is
credited with being the person responsible for the Camp David Accords.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH in 1985, as Vice President, had played a personal role in
"Operation Joshua," the airlift which brought 10,000 Jews out of Ethiopia
directly to resettlement in Israel. Then, again in 1991, when Bush was
President, American help played a critical role in "Operation Solomon,"the
escape of 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews. Most dramatically, Bush got the U.N.
to revoke its 1975 "Zionism is Racism" resolution.

Consider the last two officeholders:

BILL CLINTON appointed more Jews to his cabinet than all of the previous
presidents put together.

GEORGE W. BUSH is the first President since Herbert Hoover who has no
Jews in his cabinet at all.

I'm going away on Monday for 12 days - don't know whether I'll be on line at all, but I promise to fill you in when i get back.

The site for THIN LIPS is now up.

June 21,2004

I was listening to the daily radio program on missing relatives. It's on at 3:30 every day and people call in to see what information can be gleaned about cousins, brothers, parents, and friends whose absences are present. It is a refugee program, people still looking for each other from the camps in 1945, and if you wonder how it is that seekers can still exist, think of this. Every time I hear it I think I will call in for my first cousin, Alexander Kaganovich. I know I've said it before - but everytime the idea comes to me i am filled with the sense of dread. What if he did not come to Israel after the war, with his 4 sons, or what if he did but has no interest in finding a cousin, or worse yet, blames his aunt for not saving him. So I remain silent, making minor attempts on the internet, writing to people with the same name (and never getting answers). But when I get back to Israel on July 4 I will definitely call them up. After all - it's my only cousin on my mother's side - the other few dozen were shot.

How do I feel about being an Israeli going abroad? As you have gathered from these pages, I am a chicken. I do what I have to do but I am scared. Not that I think my life is in any worse danger than it usually is, or than any other citizen of the world, but I remember the old days when i was a hero.

See you on July 4 if i can't get on.

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