September 11

Strange - but this year is much more difficult for me - Last year i was too involved in the immediate action, in what was actually happening, to really feel. Too many events, one after another, seen on CNN, over and over. Even a long and solemn visit to Ground Zero, and a paper on September 11 and poetry, were mediated in my heart with an intellectual distance, a sense of intellectual analysis, a bit of remoteness.

This year I feel my body suddenly capable and able to relate to the individual situation - and the single tragedies multiplied - one by one.

This remains the single greatest tragedy in recent history, made even more tragic by the heroism of the individuals who died, those who survived, those who aided and those who witnessed.

And the response is multiplied by the knowledge that it is not over, that tragedy will strike again, suddenly, illogically. And that all that we value - good will, kindness, civilization, as well as magnificent technology - will be used against us.

Because they are seen as weaknesses by El Kaida.

But I'm not telling anyone anything new. And this isn't about Tel Aviv. Or is it.

I guess its the business of the barbarians threatening to overturn civilization that bother me more than even the terrible pain of all those losses. When I was examining September 11 poetry I discovered a great deal of writing about injustices perpetrated on the -- who were they again -- the millionaire Saudis, the upper middle class Egyptians, the - oh never mind. The idea of social injustice is real, but social injustice isn't the motivation for these kinds of acts. The motivation for this wantoness is power and a total disdain for western civilization - including most of the things i value. so my friends who admired bin laden, or felt at least guilty because they had made him hate them, were not only wrong in the way they reacted to the disaster, but were also simply stupid.

Because their apologetic empathy is another tool Bin Laden laughingly uses of our own civilization against ourselves.

How is it related to Tel Aviv? I have a tendency to feel terror with a little drop of guilt every time there is a terrorist attack. There must be so much anger in this poor man for him to blow himself up - be willing to sacrifice his own life in order to take mine. What have I done to anger him? (like the rape victim against) The fact that he is a tool that can be switched on and off like the bomb itself by cynical leaders is forgotten in the first moments when i see the shahid video.

I'm not saying I should forget the terrorist's humanity. I am saying the terrorist's freedom to make a choice is limited, and the significance of his actions can not be measured by our humanist standards.

Debbie is flying to Israel today, and i visualize her vulnerability in the air. My whole anxiety of the day is focused on her.

But my hero of the day is - strangely - Abraham Lincoln. In grammar school we had to learn the Gettysburg Address by heart, and, like many things you remember and forget and remember again, it aquires new meaning in each different context. This time - it was read - preceeding the list of names of all those lost - each name was given a meaning for me in the history of civilization. Recivilization i should say. What Lincoln was talking about was redirecting and regaining a culture after it had been wrenched apart.

It comforts me to think that there is a way to recreate a civilized world.

September 12

Where are all the poems – Sally asked me today – you're wasting your shot on this diary and not writing poems. It's an old controversy but someone's got to keep it going – like whether poetry can be political or not (It can. See Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukheyser, Carolyn Forché, etc.). There is also that question, How can you write literature when guns are shooting? My take is simpler. I started writing this diary because I couldn't figure this whole thing out— I still can't figure it out, but I'm getting a handle on why. And if you insist on a poetically cost-effective reason for keeping this journal – well maybe in better days I'll mine it for gems. Or you will.

At lunch today with an old friend I hadn't seen in a long time I began confessing the confusion of my every day life – how suddenly I forget where I parked the car because I was thinking of something else as I walked away, how I think I've told somebody something important because I meant to, how I've got to keep remembering the people I meet every day are likely to be shell-shocked in one way or another and have to make some allowances for them (and for me too). So today at the bank I made a major transaction and after I'd signed all the papers I suddenly changed my mind. The clerk's face fell. I decided to stay with my original decision because it was better to take the chance on the wisdom of the transaction than ruin her day, or even 5 minutes of her lunch. I'm actually comfortable with that decision - because I don't trust my judgment anyway, so why not err on the side of humanity if possible.

But to return to my friend. As she listened to my confession her eyes began to widen and she said – me too.

Reports of stress and stress-related complaints in the U.S. have increased incredibly since September 11. Here we don't seem to talk about it – have to get through in silence it so we don't drive each other crazy, I think.

Rachel Ben Yichya said on television a few days ago that fewer people are getting divorced because they can't afford it -- so I assume they stay together and then the guy murders the wife. I know the statistics are way up on that one.

And so every day in every day our souls are being destroyed by what is happening, by what has happened to us – I was going to say since the Occupation – but it was before that.

We've had other things to dehumanize us – including the Holocaust.

The four young men from Silwan were arraigned today - how many people did they kill in terrorist attacks? 36? and they were planning on blowing up Tzavta next - that little left-wing theatre.

Friday, September 13

who's superstitious. i mean we're just talking about Jesus getting crucified. it could have been any day the romans picked out of a hat. but since we went crazy on september 11 i've become a little weird about signs and omens and days.

Here's a draft of something i wrote about Daniel Barenboim's concert two days ago. It doesn't reflect all of my ambivalence, but it has some of it. Last year he introduced Wagner in to his concert here - Wagner is forbidden because of the sensitivity of Holocaust victims to it, Wagner's antisemitism and the use to which the music was put in the Camps specifically and the Nazi propaganda specifically. Barenboim had asked for permission to play it, was refused, and then at the end of the concert he was conducting, announced he was going to play it. The people who were offended could leave if they chose. But it caused great pain here. And that pain was not addressed - and the situation was never clarified, never really talked out, never resolved.

Well i'm copying and pasting the poem so we'll see how it looks:




In Tel Aviv he played Wagner for us:

One night he announced that despite

objections to the pain survivors might be feeling

a little extra culture was good for us.


And Wagner is one of my favorites.


But some people still remember getting Wagner

crammed down their cultural throats

while their real throats were filling up

with another German invention.


For the youth in Ramallah he played Mozart,

and it is true what he said that in the long run

his was a comforting and courageous act


For the good people of Ramallah deserve beauty

as much as we.




I think it came out okay - electronically i mean.

This should be the space where we discuss the inordinate vulnerability of Israelis in the area of the Holocaust, but I've got to go hoard some food (another characteristic I picked up from the war...)for Shabbat.

But now that I think about it, this draft makes it look like i'm being ironic about the people of Ramallah. That's not it. I dont even want to be ironic about Bairnbaum - it was a little comment on selective sensitivity, how we're willing to be rougher on our relatives than our friends. I was actually very moved by his gesture.

So I'm workshopping and rejecting my own poem - as insufficiently complex

September 14

Worried that I might have misunderstood and misrepresented Daniel Barinboim I went his site - and discovered he keeps a journal too. As a conductor, his site is controlled, professional, condensed. When he writes about the middle east, he perceives himself as a conductor in a dream where he has 24 hours to make peace in the middle-east. he and his friend Edward Said get the treaty signed in his dream. It is a dream of peace, of equality, of control, of shape.

It is a beautiful dream, but it is a dream of someone who lives in a world of art, not reality. Because even as it creates a new world, it ignores the individuals. To some extent this is what you need to do when you work in politics - create a fait accompli that will change the way people think and live.

But me, I'm suspicious of Jews who live in Berlin and who dream of peace in the Middle-East.

I retract my retraction of the poem about Barinboim.

Today is Shabbat Tshuvah - when the books are settled. i didn't apologize to a few people i wanted to explain things to (hard for me to apologize), my friend who's troubles i couldn't cope with this year, the editor i worked with who disappeared because he decided i was working with his enemy,the sanitation man i insulted by laughing at when my ridiculous dog barked at him... but i feel like i know my sins and am really trying to do things about them. so i'm ready to go into the alphabet soup lists of random sins that we repeat on yom kippur while beating our breast. A few years ago I thought myself in a samsara-sin cycle - intellectualization cancelling out the possibility of proper insight. The poem:

To Snow They shall be Whitened

It gets worse and worse

The painting over of old sins

With new rationalizations, hopes

To contradict truth - Now

I sit once again, in the

Women’s section - and instead

Of prayers my mind

Seeks and find

Big words to clear the slate

Greater sinners

To make me pure

Though our sins be as scarlet

September 15 - Erev Yom Kippur

Ezi always reminds me of the Israeli kid in New York with our group when we were working there in the 80's. The kid was sent to Solomon Schechter School and the first assignment was to describe what we do on Yom Kippur - He wrote about the silence, the peace, the freedom of bicycles... The teacher was outraged, but that's the Yom Kippur that reigns in this country. Many people fast, but while reading novels in bed. Others have parties - like the one at Shesek tomorrow at Neilah.

For me Yom Kippur has associations of rumbling earth, of the roar of unseen planes overhead, of organizing the kids in the shelter, of the men leaving one by one heavy-hearted and fearful, the rumors of atrocities, the massive hoarding panic at the grocery, the absolute lack of humor. Once, when i was feeding Orit on her grandmother's balcony in Haifa, using her grandmother's traditional methods of distracting the child while stuffing in the food, I told her to look up at the birds, and saw a plane shot down over the sea.

Could it be?

I was speechless for minutes, couldn't find verification of what I saw for a few hours, and even now cannot remember what it was about.

Yom Kippur.

I keep thinking about Chazal today - how the definition of the greatest hero is the one who turns enemies into friends. It is important to every one who can to commit themselves to this goal.

And before i go offline for this day, i'd like to leave you curious people with some amusing photos which go with my next disk. Pookh Records

Karen Alkalay-Gut Home