Tel Aviv Diary May 4, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from May 3-7, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

May 3, 2005

Here I am writing offline because somehow we screwed up our wireless connections and now I have had no email or internet for twenty four hours and am addicted to writing every day – whether it means something or not. Kind of like the way Samuel Johnson describes the poet Shenstone. He says Shenstone loved books. He loved books so much that if his mother didn’t bring him home a book from the market she’d have to wrap up a brick in wool and he’d sleep with that. (I’ll get the exact quote when I get back online). And of course he goes on to show how totally vapid Shenstone was, looking only at the surface of things…

I got my first look at the new open university in Raanana today. I went to meet Roy Yarkoni to get out picture taken for this weekend’s Maariv, but as soon as I pulled into the gate I began to feel that I was visiting someone in prison, and when Roy said he would come down to the entrance to get me, I thought “you mean they let him out?” How could this be called an “open” university? And on the way back I suddenly remembered that I used to drive home this way when I taught at Beit Berl, which is a nearby college which was, when I taught there in the 70’s and 80’s, a socialist based school. The frogs in the pond outside my classroom window would break my train of thought in lectures with their loud croaking, and sometimes a cat would wander into the room, making all the students lean over to call and pet her. I remember many of my classes there.

The disengagement is being handled so very badly – I cannot imagine how we’re going to get out of it.. No one really has any solution, and no concerted attempt is being made to incorporate all of the problems in finding a way out. There is no doubt that the idea of uprooting people - transferring them to somewhere else - with no sufficient compensation, preparation, encouragement, help, etc. etc. (and there are many etc.s) is inhuman. There is also no doubt that the return of the territories is a brave and inevitable act. but these people were brought in to DEFEND the territories in the first place, so how can they conceive of this reversal of their roles without the proper preparation?

May 4, 2005

My computer is really confused. We’re going to have to bring in reinforcements. This may take a few days, but we’ll work it out. In the meantime, I may be too brief. Or not.

In case I get cut off, though, I want you to know about the following events:

Avak (3 people of which are in thin lips) will be appearing on Saturday night at Barbi. I'll be there for sure.

Marjorie Perloff will be at Tel Aviv University on May 21, talking about "The Aura of Modernism" at 2:15 in Gilman 496 and then again talking on Beckett on May 23 at 4 in the law building for the Carmel lecture.

I would just send private invitations to the people I think would care to come but my e-mail is not working. The internet for the moment IS working, however. Hence this notice. And if you emailed me and await a reponse - forget it - at least for now.

Today is the evening of Holocaust Day. Even now, at 5:00 p.m., every channel on tv is broadcasting various programs about the war. The streets are already empty and the restaurants closing. I keep thinking about my mother's cousin Nachum, silenced now by a stroke, who would never want to tell me about his experience as a partisan. Still, still, could I coax some information from him? Would he tell me something about my hungry-eyed aunt, who was in his division? Never. Perhaps for this reason I am drawn into a documentary about Bulgaria, and how they protected the Jews from genocide.

I scan the names on the yad vashem site again and again. why didn't my mother tell about her other sisters, Mira and Bluma? She was not the one who put in the information about Batya - that was witnessed by her sister in law. Did she not know that Batya died in Auschwitz? Only Malcah and Motel and Mosharon were documented by her. And not the others. And not their children. And not cousins and friends and lovers and aunts and uncles and neighbors.

Of course she rarely spoke about any of it, but shuddered with tears on holocaust day while she watched the films of naked skeleton bodies piled high with faces of agony. My father didn't watch.

May 5, 2005

So my mind turns to the survivors - those neighbors of mine who are becoming more and more helpless and impoverished and are ignored by the ignorant government, those members of my family who weren't listed among the dead at Yad Vashem, those in the majority who want to spread a message of love in response to the years of hate they endured...

As the years go by I still feel that Yehuda Poliker's rendition of Yakov Gilad's songs, Efer VeAvak, Dust and Ashes, is the most moving for me. I write about it here

Today, because of the apparently universal alteration of emphasis on the Holocaust from statistics and generalizations to the specificity of individual experience, I altered my translation of Hana Senesh’s poem,


My God, My God
May it never end:
The sand and the sea
Whisper of water
The flash of sky
A single soul's prayer.

It's not exactly accurate - but that last line can go in many directions, so this is the one i chose.

May 6, 2005

My computer has been returned - deloused and upgraded - and runs like a '57 impala. All right, lots of stuff disappeared. But SO MUCH has remained on it it is unbelievable.

My Auschwitz neighbor had a hard time yesterday - "I kept seeing trains before my eyes," she said. She couldn't really say any more than that. I thought of her when I looked out my office window while the siren went off for 2 minutes in memorium. Nothing moved in that busy campus for that whole time except the crows, who respect no human rules at all.

I got so upset talking about the education system here tonight I will probably not be able to sleep. I must have written about this before. When I first came to Israel i was so much more impressed by the education system here than abroad. The pupils seemed more motivated, prepared, excited about learning, than those i had encountered in other places. Gradually I've seen the class size grow, the salary of teachers diminish, the level of the educators alter. Because I have so much experience in education - on the classroom level - i have always been pretty good at spotting and forseeing problems and when I first saw Limor Livnat delineating her plan to create colleges all over the country i knew this was the end of higher education. This plan combined with the incredible budget cuts on a weak and corrupted system and the weakening of the general social system, made the disintegration of the system inevitable.

I have written about my bad experiences with the school system as a parent on numerous occasions, such as here , but I have never offered positive solutions. First, I'm not in possession of all the information, like figures and budgets, and second, I'm not in a position to activate these suggestions. Nevertheless I have been living in classrooms for well over 55 years, ever since i entered in first grade and managed to get through almost all the year without getting caught on the fact that i memorized the reader and didn't understand what those funny letters were on the page. What I learned, and what I learned from my mother, who was an amazing tutor of problem children (but terrible in a classroom), is that there is no substitute for personal attention. That means a student-teacher proportion of 15 - 1 at most. At the moment the proportions are 45 - 1. No way to teach kids. So that is what has to change. That means tripling the budget. And that would just be the beginning. But I can't imagine money better spent.

May 7, 2005

Breakfast in Tozeret Haaretz. A corner in Masaryk square. Scrungy people. Home food. Michel, the guy who owns it, must be doing something right all these years, because it is always full, and never pretentious.

I was impressed too with how good the square itself looks - it has been months since i've walked past the fountain, past the slides, past the people sleeping on benches. Today there was an apparently homeless man, with his sweatshirt over his face to block the sun, and a rather elegant looking gentleman who seemed to have fallen into a nap over his newspaper. I liked the way they shared the square.

IA site I had never noticed before:

Lisa in her blog describes a typical encounter with foreign press and then comments: "It never ceases to amaze and worry me that so many foreign journalists assigned to Israel know nothing - really, nothing - about this country. And they are the ones who influence international opinion." When she told me about this I said, that's why i continue to keep a blog, even though the daily terror of Tel Aviv has passed, and she responded, "Yeah, but who reads it." And of course we nodded together in sympathy.

And now after the dishes from a long and extended meal have been cleared away, we're off to see AVAK. Remember, I told you, they're playing at Barbi tonight.

Ahvak - Dust - "Is there an audience?" I asked the owner of Barbi at the entrance. "Yeah yeah," he answered. "What kind?" "Ha'aretz readers," he laughed.

The audience WAS very different from what i've been used to seeing in Barbi. They didn't move - no one left, no one wandered from table to table. They listened. They applauded. They listened. They waited until after the experience to share their reactions with their neighbors.

And the jazzy sometimes atonal music was something like Bela Bartok meets John Coltrane, introduced through John Cage. Smoother than John Zorn, more narrative than Moussorgsky, with melodies that tease you into believing you'll remember them, and then reverse their direction. You give up and become part of the experience,let it take you over.

We had to be somewhere else by midnight, so we took off a few minutes before the end, but I could have stayed on and on.

May 8, 2005

It took us forever to get home last night - traffic jams at 1:00 a.m. like you couldnt believe. Sunday is a work day and we get up at 6, so we were wondrous (as we always are) at how many people were wandering from cafe to club... My mother used to say that her mother would always comment in the morning about the late visits of her daughters' suitors: "I don't mind that they're here so late, but what could they have to talk so much about?" It came to mind last night - people of all ages on Ibn Gvirol - what do they have to do so late?

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