Tel Aviv Diary September 14-18, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - September 14-8, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut


September 14, 2004

Of course I rarely write about trivia - but today is one of those days. I have an ingrown toenail - it went away for a long time but it's been back for at least 3 years. At first I went to a podiatrist but then discovered that for the same money I can get an incredibly good pedicure AND get my toes and fingernails painted to a whorish shine. The pedicurist is a Georgian woman who never spoke. I used to think she was surly and uninterested in people, but she's become nicer and nicer as time goes by. Still, she is quiet. But today I got her onto Chechnia and she couldn't stop talking.So my pedicure took so long there was a bunch of people waiting with dirty looks when i got out, but i certainly learned a lot about Russians in Israel and the attitude towards terrorists. A lot of Gorbachov-bashing and longing for Stalin's treatment of Chechnians, and a lot of anger at people who do not want to find peaceful solutions. i've had this conversation with russian immigrants before, and each time i mentioned vaguely that it is not 'peoples' but individuals who are problematic and that i have friends from many peoples. the answer is the same one my mother used to give me - friends -shmends - people are friends until the moment of reckoning. My mother would then tell me about intermarriages - everything is fine for years and then something happens and suddenly - 'jhid' - the racial emnity comes out.

So this conversation suddenly took me back 50 years to the refugees i grew up with, the people with mangled fingers and nightmares and no relatives.

Maybe that's why I told her the story of my parents' escape from Danzig on the night Hitler invaded. My mother had been working as a pedicurist, because this was a job that left her free to try to escape the city, and on that night they went to the bus station to see if there was any way out. Here's the poem.


for my parents

On that night in Danzig the trains did not run

You sat in the bus station till almost dawn

knowing that if you could not get out,

the invaders would find you, grind you among the first

under their heels.

Toward morning an announcement came of a bus,

and without knowing where it would go

you raced to the stop.

But the Nazis were there first, and you watched

as they finished their search

checking each traveller for papers,

jewelry, a Jewish nose.

Among the passengers you recognized

a familiar face a German woman sitting

with someone else you'd seen

in the neighborhood.

They winked a greeting,

waited for the soldiers to leave,

and jumped out

pushing you up in their place.

Thus you escaped to Berlin, remaining alive

by keeping silent through the long train ride

from Berlin to Cologne in a car filled with

staring German soldiers

And arrived the next day in Holland,

black with fear and transportation.

It's an old poem, and some of the details i found out much later were inaccurate. (e.g. They landed in Belgium, not Holland) But the point is that the woman who saved my parents was her client, a woman to whom she had been giving pedicures. Her life was saved by her acquaintance with a client. And she was one of those 'others.'

We were coming out of a wedding tonight (wonderful wedding - but the way i would tell about it reminds me of the song "der fetter nussin" where the speaker describes every detail of the wedding as 'shein, fine' so I will just skip that part) and as we were walking up the port away from the beach, a host of skateboarders came whizzing by. There were well over 50 of them, skating up the promenade and along the river, and it was wonderful to see! With all the worries around here, there are so many strangely and amazing things as well!

September 15, 2004

a word of explanation - this is a new years postcard sent to ezi's aunt, around 1916. It shows the British soldiers in gas masks - one of the most horrendous aspects of WWI - and above it the greeting in Hebrew, 'happy new year.' When you think the world is as bad as it can get, remember, it was worse once.

September 16,2004

All that cooking all that eating all that holidaying. i'm already worn out. and there's a long weekend ahead. This is the time we get the chance to see friends and family we've not seen enough of lately. But I always feel my table is not big enough, can't include all those not part of a community or a family. It is a very sad time for the disconnected.

But it's great fun from those who don't want to be part of the community. Today on kibbutz galuyot the streets were filled with foreign workers on vacation.

September 17, 2004

Here's one of those shockers. I got this letter through someone who passed it on from a friend looking for a job in England.

Thank you for your CV, but in you're not we're looking for. The ideal person for us will be first an foremost an illustrator, as our advertisement specified - working with a pen and brush - with an interest in modelmaking, whereas your own forte is interior design and CAD.. .
Speaking personally however may I suggest that for European consumption you would be wise to omit details of your national service, which you describe with such evident and ingenuous pride? The natural reaction of most educated Europeans to the information you provide is likely to be "so it was she who guided those guinships to targetted assasinations and the murder of women and children with indiscriminate bombing and strafing of refugee camps (refugee camps!!!! 50 years after your compatriots drove them from their homes - and you have done nothing for them ever since.)!". Most educated Europeans - and as a matter of fact a large proprtion of educated Americans too - now view 'Israel' as a brutal undemocratic (where are the votes for the indigenous inhabitants whom you have helotised?) colonial state, run by criminal who defy all international law and natural justice. And a sizeable proportion doubts the 'right' of Israel to exist . This has nothing to do with anti-semitism. nor is it racism - that is the kind of disgusting attitude which one might say is inherent in the idea of the state of Israel, and one might say among a large section of believing Jews elsewhere, who regard the rest of us as inferior and unclean - and not chosen by God. What could be more racist than that? And what happens to those of your race who dare to speak out against the wickedness that your fanatacsim inevitably leads to? they are murdered or have acid thrown in their faces like Yael Dayan

just to put you in the picture
Piers Croke

Gisela Graham Limited.
12 Colworth Grove
Browning Street
London, SE17 1LR
Phone: +44 (0)20 7708 4956
Fax: +44 (0)20 7703 9859

I doubt whether the person who signed this letter thought his letter would be going around the world, but apparently there's something on this coming out in the Jewish Chronicle, so his privacy has already been invaded.

I don't want to speak in defence of his opinions, but i do want to caution those who wish to harass this man: he is very careful to note that he has not accepted the person for employment because of her qualifications, and adds his objections to Israel as 'personal.' And although there are many inaccuracies and untruths in it, it is also careful to note that anti=israelism is not anti-semitism. All this makes it all the more dangerous - the combination of conviction, wrong information, and self-righteousness is a winner.

or loser, depending on whether you want to stir up hatred or solve problems.

Food. The whole issue of Israeli food has been bothering me all week - because I knew there was a simple answer but i couldn't think of it. So I keep asking people, who are usually very confused and apologetic! But when I presented the problem to Nurit, who knows everything about food, she was not at all surprised. It is true, she noted, that because of the ingathering of exiles that characterizes Israel, that there are no Israeli dishes, but what there is is amazingly unique. It is the combination. The idea, she noted, of taking a Vienese schitzel, putting it in a pita, and serving it with tehina or amba (pickled mango sauce)is only known of in Israel.

Once she got me started, i thought of a thousand other examples. You may have some too.

September 18, 2004

What makes it interesting is that this idea of the combination is not only true for food. All of life here is a collage, a new set of re-conceived traditions and new connections. This entire long weekend of the new year, for example, with the sound of the ancient prayers echoing from every synagogue in every neighborhood and against thousands of other new-old habits. There is an air of quiet everywhere, but most of the people were recovering from feasts, or snoring away their days off. Today is Shabbat Teshuva, the sabbath that falls between the new year and the day of atonement. I've been working on this in my own way... reconciling with old enemies and reconnecting with old friends, but as i was trying to concentrate on the subject, i found myself totally distracted by the back window of orit's place. the front balcony is always distracting: people walking up and down the avenue - whole dramas unfolding as they meet. Here a young poet strolls by with different clothes than he wore an hour ago, and a different woman too. There a couple begins their walk in fast embrace but end at the bottom of the avenue with a powerful argument. Here an old woman walk with her soldier granddaughter who can't get off her cellular phone, and the old woman gradually loses her patience. There a young man pushes a supermarket cart with plastic bottles.

But the back yard was even better: two cats on the roof of the low building opposite are stalking a crow, who pretends not to notice them until he is at the edge. Then he turns and begins discussing the situation with the cats. I can see them staring at each other, the crow caws, the cats squeal that short hunters noise they make at the pounce, the crow caws again, gives up and flies to the adjacent wire. But he doesn't stop talking to them. It looks like a lecture, but I know I must be projecting: "Who do you think you are? Here we've been living together in this yard since before Bandi built this house in '48, and now you remember I'm edible?"

An aside. I got 2 letters today asking why my latest book in Hebrew (Taavot Shuliot) is not available in Steimatsky. Answer: I have no idea - I have no idea why but Kibbutz Hameuchad never promoted, never publicized and never distributed the book. It's been over six months now, and although the reviews were tremendous, i have received no report of any sales at all.


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