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

Tel Aviv Diary - from May 8 - 12, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

May 12, 2005

May 8, 2005

We're watching the game on tv, and as soon as it looks like Maccabi Tel Aviv is going to win the European cup for the second year straight, Ezi opens the window. Sure enough, within minutes the empty streets fill up with cars, horns start blowing - it's a national holiday! The noise is deafening, the excitement contagious. What a present for Independence Day. And when they interview the players on tv, there are actually a few who speak Hebrew. Amazing! And 6000 Israelis went to Moscow for this! Oren can't be heard when he calls from Nona, with all the sirens and horns honking coming to or going from Rabin Square.

May 9, 2005

We just get over Passover and we get hit with Holocaust Day, get ourselves breathing again and get hit with Memorial Day, a tragic day that suddenly becomes joyous...I suddenly looked around today and noticed that everyone was flying flags from their balcony but me. I can't seem to catch up. We're probably not even going to have a barbeque. But we will go to a party after Memorial Day, and on a trip up north the day after... I need to plan ahead because it's a long weekend - and everyone is standing in line to buy coal, steaks, salads...

I need a favor - from all you people who tune into this site from all around the world. My friend, Stanley Barkan is working on a project for Stanley Kunitz's 100th birthday, to translate a poem of his to 100 languages. I think it's a great project and he has lots of tranlsations, but still needs the following: Afghani, Amharic, Afrikaans, Basque, Byelorussian, Chinese, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Farsi, Georgian, Greek, Gujurati, Haitain Creole, Hindi, Hungarian, Ibo, Kannada, Ladino, Laotian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mongolian, Norwegian, Pashto, Provencal, Romanian, Slovenian, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Vietnamese. Let me know if you can translate from any of these language to English. Email me and put "Kunitz" in the subject.

May 10, 2005

The day before Memorial Day. From the early morning everyone was nervous - Even the lady from the television was all up tight and it took me a while to realize that the program she was arranging with me for next Friday had to be finalized this morning because no one would be working again until Sunday. But for others the memories of lost sons and lost friends had been coming into consciousness for days, and by mid-morning it began to kick in for me too. Students who fell in wars in the 35 years I've been teaching in this country, friends who blew up for no reason, neighbors who died of grief when they lost a dear one in a shooting attack...But the day went on and I was meeting people in cafes all day to 'get things done' before the holiday. At five I was sitting in Beta Cafe with a friend, sure we had lots of time before night fall, before the ceremonies would begin. But within a half an hour, the chef came out to announce that the kitchen was closing, and by 6 they were beginning to lock the cash register, and we left, thinking the streets would be as deserted as the cafe. But the way home was a solid traffic jam, everyone at once. And everyone was calling me to tell me that they were bored, stuck in traffic all over. "We're all the children of life," the radio was moaning, and all i wanted to do was cry. And then I came home and saw the flag I had hung that morning from my balcony - a flag invoking so many questions in recent years - and it comforted. Somehow it comforted.

May 11, 2005

Oppose the Blacklist of Academics from Haifa University and Bar Ilan. Sign here. I just did.

I was at the grocers when the siren went off this morning. I'd forgotten it would be at 11, and there were five of us in the store, not including Shusha. One person was choosing vegetables, one person was in line, one person was bent over searching through the lower shelves in the freezer for her kind of ice cream and I was just about to get my change. The cash register was open, and stayed open while the siren went off. We all stood at attention, even Shusha, for two minutes. Then the grocer asked, "You going to charge me interest for the money I've owed you during time lapse when the siren went off?"

Truthfully there are two kinds of Israelis - those who have been touched directly and those who haven't. If you haven't lost a brother or a son or a mother or a lover, you can still make jokes like we do. Maybe we HAVE to make jokes because the pain is so great.

May 12, 2005

Independence Day eve was spent appropriately at a party with two accordians and texts of Hebrew songs on powerpoint. The evening was dedicated to the three poets/song writers who died this year: Natan Yonatan, Naomi Shemer, and Ehud Manor, and was full of emotion and nostalgia - not just for me. I realized that there were many many texts I had translated - wholly or in part - if only to try to transmit to my non-hebrew speaking friends something of their power.

And they are powerful.

In fact a number of my translations of Natan Yonatan - that had been published before in journals - came out a few months ago in a collection published by Geffen. I didn't get a copy so I don't know about how good the translations are or how well they were presented, but I hope to see it soon.

So as I was singing "On the honey and the sting" by Naomi Shemer with great gusto, I was thinking of the old saying from the Spanish Civil War ("They may have won the war but we had the good songs"). And I was applying it to the right and left in Israeli politics, and thinking - actually, the right have the powerful songs. And as if he had been reading my mind, the guy in the back with the accordian and the powerpoint, Ephraim, stopped the music to note that the famous phrase in this song, "Do not uproot what has been sown" is actually a reversal of the phrase from Ecclesiastes - 3:1-8: " To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war; and a time of peace. "

Now Naomi Shemer's use of these lines to forward the case for those who do not want to return the West Bank or Gaza and the reiteration of this song in every 'patriotic' occasion is well known. I also knew what Ephraim had mentioned before. But suddenly the recent confession story of Shemer's having taken the melody of her most famous patriotic song, "Jerusalem of Gold," melded together here in a big question. Taking whatever is necessary for a 'higher goal'? Is this what it's about?

I continued to enjoy singing her songs, anyway.

And Ehud's, as always, broke my heart.

As for Natan Yonatan, despite great anticipation, I gave up around 1:30 in the morning, before they ever got to his songs. Elisha Porat has a great review of him that might give you an idea of him

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And take a look at the variety of people who have signed - that's because the boycott is bad for everyone.

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