Thursday, August 30, 2007

Page Eleven

Israel's best selling daily, Yedioth Aharonot, dedicates its front page today, as well as its following four pages, to racism in Israel. What we refer to as "racism" is usually distrust and disgust across ethnic lines. The country reeks with it. It's an issue that well deserves discussing.

Yedioth picked six men, one an Arab, one Hassidic, one Jewish of Moroccan origin, one of a Russian origin, one of Ethiopian origin and one of Ashkenazy origin. They were sent to seek jobs, apartments and kindergartens for their children in several cities around the country. The absence of a woman is a bit puzzling, as well as that of a "work immigrant", but what's done is done. The big question is: how did they fare?

Of the different queries performed by the Arab (their number is not given) he was rejected 66 times. The Ashkenazi was not rejected once. Prejudice towards Moroccans and the Haredim is on the drop, it seems, but the Ethiopian was met with much hostility too, which is straight, honest to God racism.

Yesterday the IDF killed three children of the same family by bombing their neighborhood in the northern Gaza strip. In today's Yedioth Aharonot These deaths are mentioned in a small "box", on the bottom corner of page eleven, far past the five full pages dedicated to racism. They are defined in the headline as a "tragic mistake".

Why "tragic"? Aren't those Palestinian kids? They are, for God's sake, Arabs! We don't want them in our kindergartens, we don't want them on our streets. Please just let them die and don't tell us about it at all, so we can sit snugly and read in our newspaper about how everybody is so surprisingly racist.

Monday, August 27, 2007


A NY blogger named Rahul asked my permission to use my photo of an eerie Estonian beach, the one that appears on the right.

Searching for the original brought back good memories of my journey, nearly a year ago, to Estonia and to its truly eerie island of Saaremaa, where the picture was taken.

Saaremaa had been a closed military zone for half a century, and thus remained secluded and untouched. It's a real one of a kind place. Here are a few more pictures I took there, for your silent enjoyment.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What Just Happened?

When somebody picks you up at four thirty on a Friday in Jaffa and drives you four hours onto a clifftop overlooking the majestic Syrian-African rift valley and massive mountains in Jordan and the lights of Aqaba along the distant shore of the Red Sea, and when you find yourself in a tent filled with 350 revelers dancing to three women, one wearing a large Afro hairdo, who sing Jewish bluegrass, and when late at night, under a Milky Way as dense as a Chinese city, a pretty young woman asks you whether the galaxy is larger than the solar system, while shooting stars fall frantically and futilely around you, and when you get to spend the entire following day in a pool of icy water overlooking a stark wasteland in which a lone man - a diver and expert in removing shipwrecks from the sea floor - walks barefoot, you may conclude that life is kinda hip.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ok, I Want to Talk About Ireland

Ok, I want to talk about Ireland, specifically I want to talk about Armenia, and in particular I'd like to talk about Watertown, Massachusetts.

The best way to learn about the current drama going on around the issue of the Armenian genocide is to log on to Mimi Asnes's excellent blog "A Stranger in a Strange Land". Mimi is a native of Watertown as well as a professional peace activist, so she's been following the issue closely and intelligently.

While living in Boston I used to visit Watertown for Middle Eastern goods. That little suburb is home to large Lebanese and Greek populations, which translates into excellent delis with olives and knafe and what not. It is also Boston's Armenian quarter, which is a lovley thing, but inevitably a "memento mori". While walking down its streets I would often catch myself thinking about the historical wrong than nation has known, and I don't even mean the genocide, I mean the denial.

This week something happened. So far the Jewish Anti Defamation League's refused to call the murder of close to 1,500,000 Armenian's during WWI a "genocide". This caused its new educational initiative to be banned in Watertown. The bad publicity over the event forced The ADL to announce this week that there indeed was a genocide. Bravo, I'm proud of them, proud of Abe Foxman, proud even of Alan Dershowitz, who usually just makes me cringe, and this week came to the support of pro-acknowledgmentists in a Boston Globe op-ed .

But that's hardly the end of the story. Now Israel is being pressured by Turkey to reprimand the ADL. So far Israel, a nation itself traumatized by a genocide, has helped Turkey deny the Armenian Genocide, under threat that if it failed to do so, it would lose its only ally in the middle east. I love Turkey, Turkey is my beloved friend, but sometimes a friend needs an arm around the shoulder and a fearless advice. I advise the Turks to grow up, face history and start apologizing.

As long as they fail to do so, both Turks and Armenians will remain in flux, as well as certain Israelis, Bostonians and others who posses a sense of justice. Sinead O'connor has a song about the Irish potato famine of the 1840's, a disaster caused largely by British occupation policies and one that is still unacknowledged by Britian. She sings:

"I see the Irish As a race
Like a child That got itself bashed in the face,
And if there ever is gonna be healing
There has to be remembering
And then grieving
So that there then can be forgiving
There has to be knowledge and understanding."

Turkey, I want to be proud of you too. If the Germans can do it, you can do it. Israel, don't yield to the pressure. I will gladly give up the right to visit Istanbul's fair minarets, the beautiful nights by the Bosphorus with Efes Pilsen and music by Ibrahim, the support of a Muslim nation in the face of the Arab world, the good olives and knafe of Anatolia (better than Watertown's!), everything, only to see a small first step forward made towards processing and reconciling.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meet Me in St. Louis

Refugees from Darfur who arrive in Israel have a couple of problems:

1. They are refugees

2. They are black

3. They are Muslim

For these three reasons they will not be received here, in a land populated by many former refugees and victims of racism, with open arms. In fact, this week we gleefully kicked a couple of them out to Egypt, "back where they came from". I hear that Egyptian soldiers beat several of them to a state of unconsciousness before the eyes of the deporting Israeli soldiers.

My view of the world while growing up was marked by the story of the ship "St. Louis". In 1939 that ship took close to a thousend Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba. By the time it arrived, Cuba's government changed its mind and allowed only 22 of the passengers on shore. The ship continued to sail around the world. Its passengers were denied entry to every country they approached, including the United States. This country was at the time under British rule which forbade Jewish immigration on the onset. The refugees were eventually taken back to Europe and put on the trains to the slaughterhouses.

I understand the governments of Cuba, the U.S. et al. Is it their fault that the Jews are hated in Europe? What, is Cuba a dump site for unwanted people? When the African refugees were to be settled in the Israeli town of Hadera, its mayor notified the press that "Hadera is not Israel's trashcan." Amen to that, I certainly hope none of these politically dangerous, money sucking members of an inferior race gets dumped on my lawn. I hear that they carry a revolting and highly infectious disease called P.T.S.D.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Such a Lot of World

In his strange little autobiography "Chronicles", Bob Dylan writes that he liked only one hit song of those that were playing in the early 60's, when he began his career. That song was Moon River.

I find myself playing this song tonight much like Audrey Hepburn in that famous scene, sitting on the couch and looking out at the stars and at dark Jaffa. It's four AM here (the posting times as they appear on the blog are incorrect). I've been officially insomniac since three AM and spent the last hour looking for the ultimate version of Moon River on Youtube.

Why? because of spending the afternoon with Michal Anski, who wants to move to Italy and study at a strange school for culinary history and with Yoram Kaniuk, who's just written a book describing his own death as he experienced it, because of walking south with my feet in the water, along Tel-Aviv's seawall of gleaming skyscrapers and running into a farewell party for a Jaffoite Palestinian girl who's moving to the States to live with her best friend, a Jewish Israeli girl, because Ilham called again today, because Carmelli and Vizan are awake right now, designing Ketem's third issue while my grandmother is asleep in Herzliyah, losing her memory and forgetting to want to live, because my sick cousin Omer is fighting to stay alive while my childhood friend Michal Cohen is deciding to get married and Lin is asking me to remove the link to her blog from my own, because the strings of life are stretched and flexed, because everyone is dreaming and failing and redreaming and we are all completely misunderstood.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sheep on Street

Efros sits with her back to the living room window. "There's a sheep on your street," she says.

"You heard a baa?"

"I did."

I look out the window and there really is a sheep on the street, two kids are riding cute little fillies about it, trying to herd it towards the nearby gravelly lot. I exclaim something or other, but what really amazes me is that she recognized it wasn't a goat.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Right to Sing the Blues

Here's a real classic, not surprisingly best performed by Billie holiday, although I like this chill Maxine Sullivan version too: I've gotta right to sing the blues / Gotta a right to moan and sigh / Gotta right to sit and cry / Down around the river.

I do too, gotta right to sing the blues at Vera Korman's farewell party, sitting on the dark Jaffa beach among burning candles, with salt in my hair and a glass of Methode Champagnoise in my hand. I Gotta right to sing the blues even at Guy Yanay's birthday party, laying on a floating mattress in the middle of a decadent Herzliya Pitu'ach swimming pool, with pretty girls dancing to Khaled on the grass nearby, brochettes of grilled lamb held in their slender fingers.

I gotta right to sing the blues standing inert at night by the railing of the stage at Barzilai, looking down at hundreds of bodies as they shift dreamily to dub music. I gotta right to moan and sigh waking up in the morning, logging on to Lin's blog and finding out that I'm dead. she killed me or whatever was her old concept of me as part of her process of moving on. On the same morning I get a beautiful letter from the coast of British Columbia, it contains the word "sodade".

Dess nha terra Sao Nicolau

Sodade - a Cape-Verdean slave's longing, the purest known form of the blues. So I'm not really close to death this morning, but nor am I at all very close to British Columbia, Jaffa's Khooni coffee gives me heartburn and crumbles of Halva in the fridge go too well with it and the day outside is just too goddamned sunny and overly friendly. What to make of all the good stuff not seeming so good? what to make for lunch? Drop it, go get some hummous. It suits this day, say what you choose / I've gotta right to sing the blues.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Three Galilean Nights

Night the first -Death to the Arabs

"Where are you trying to get to?" asks the waiter at the small roadside diner.

"Dugit Beach."

"Ah, all right. You do know it's full of 'our cousins', though?"

We didn't and don't care, Arab company does not repel us. Despite the darkness, we get a quick lift directly to the beach, walk down to the shore and find a place to pitch our tent. Tiberius glistens across the sea of Galilee, the big dipper is suspended directly above us and a shower of meteorites is due to obscure it at any moment. I grab a flashlight and suddenly choke with repulsion. The gravelly soil is completely covered with dog feces, cigarette butts, bottle caps et al. The shores of my only country's only lake have become a pile of garbage. We comb the beach for a square yard of actual soil. There is none.

Behind us happy chatter is heard from a tent decorated with the inscription: "Death to the Arabs".

We return to the road and hitch back across the lake to the city.

Night the Second - Fuck Her Gently

On the way out of the ritual pool of the great 16th century mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria, a Hassidic man exclaims: "Mazal tov! did you know that Rabbi Luria said whoever dips in his mikve will not leave this world without returning to God and living a religious life"?

We didn't and don't care. I, for one, am very happy going through the narrow streets of Safed with an exposed, wet head and a free spirit. When another man at a cheesemaker's shop confronts us with a similar prophecy of rebirth, I ask to be left alone. He won't drop it and I leave the dairy. He follows me into the street and starts pushing me around.

Later that night we sit outside the shop of friends, playing guitar for a the masses attending this year's Klezmer festival. Adam dares me to treat them and their Yarmulkas with Tenacious D's "Fuck her Gently". I do so wholeheartedly.

Night the Third - Not Good

A hyrax climbs over the stone ramparts of Qala'at Namroud castle, staring at us as we take in an ultradramatic view of mountains covered with thick brush, steep canyon walls and a psychadelic sky at dusk.

We return to Tiberious and finish a good day of traveling with a pint of beer on its promenade. A man joins us, trying to sell us his self-published book of short stories. Once I purchase it he asks me whether I am religious.

"No" I say.

"Not good." he shakes his head.

"I'm very happy being secular", I add.

"Not good."

"Do you know that your behavior makes me feel unaccepted?"

He didn't and doesn't care. I get up and lean against the railing, looking across the dark water towards the eastern shore, towards a tent marked "Death to the Arabs" and a terrestrial sea of pollution. Can I call this glass of beer home? It's worth a shot. I'll down what's left and try squeezing my way in.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Joanna Newsom

Woke up at noon with a little poem in my head, went to the desk and wrote it down.

לְהִתְעוֹרֵר מֵאוּחַר

יְלַדַי שְמוּרִים בְּמֵקַרֵר קַטָן
מֵקַרֵר קַטָן וְטוֹב
אַבָל אֱלוהִים הוּא מֵאַוורֵר עַנָק
שְמֶבִיא אֲוִיר מְהַרְחוֹב

וְרַעָש שֵל זְכוּכִית נִשְבֶרֵת

Waking up late

My children are kept in a little fridge
A good little fridge
But God is a huge fan
that brings air in from the street

And the sound of breaking glass
Is nearby.

I put on "Pas de Problem" by Kana to give my day a reggae groove, but the cosmic blues had already set in, so I spent most of the day working, drinking tea and listening to Joanna Newsom.

Of the several female vocalists I have "plugged" on this blog: Imogen Heap, Rona Kenan, even (at this point in history) Gal Costa, Newsom seems to need least introduction. Freak Folk is successful globally. Her name is dropped often and immediately evokes a peculiar pluck of the vocal cords and another of a harp string.

Still, it takes a quiet Saturday of listening to Newsom's "The Milk-Eyed Mender" to understand how peculiar it all is. In this interview she speaks of not being able to articulate her feelings except in the form of a song.

I believe her. This is one human being who needs art in order to express herself. I, in turn, need her expressive deficiency. I need art in order to be myself. Joanna Newsom enhances my worldview beautifully. it would be incomplete and dull without her unexpected word combinations, her twisted string, her own late mornings.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Florentine by Night

Last night's Ketem ("stain") poetry night was the most bizzare to date. It featured fire juggling, harmonica playing, a story about the murder of a transssexual in Bat-Yam and a dance performed with a transperent acrylic orb.

Carmelli arrived directly from the hospital after a back condition paralized him earlier that day. He read his work still dazed by pain killers. Efrat Mishory gave a fantastic reading of her poetry. I never knew she was that good. Sammi Bardugo sat on the stage and read a story of his that was only ever published in Korean.

To understand the spirit, take a look at the venue, the "Slow Moshe" club on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv's Florentine district.

And here's yours truly, the evening's MC, standing by as Vaan Nguyen reads her stuff.

When it was over we went to a strange place among Florentine's carpentries where scores of people were sitting outside drinking beer. Two guys with guitars sang a song about Mizrahi women looking for Ashkenazi lovers. Kebab, fries and hummous arrived out of a hidden kitchen. What the hell is going on with this summer?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Three Two AM Snapshots

Suddenly the girls get up and start juggling fire. Some Japanese guy with dreadlocks and a huge beard is drumming. A neighbor from across Aboulafia Street, whose apartment overlooks this rooftop, stands bare chested at his window and looks on.

Vizan: "I think we wound up in some pagan ritual. soon they will sacrifice the whitest person around."

Shira: "That would be you."

Vizan: "What? I am 100% Mizrahi!"

Walking home alone down Jerusalem Avenue with a cheap pizza heartburn. Amazing music is being played from a boom box at the only open business - a corner kiosk. I pass it but then decide to return and ask who the singer is.

"Oum Kolsoum."

"Ah, alright."

Never will I call myself a Jaffoite again.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It would be unjust and silly, in this blog dedicated largly to the experience of travel, to ignore the experience of exile. Fortunately, my teacher on Exile is now in town. She is from Finland, she's a doctor of history and her name is Susanna

There are no two people more different in their political opinions than Susanna and I, and no better friends. While I host pro-Palestinian volunteers at my home, she works in Brussels for a lobby promoting Israeli interests. While I squat outside houses in Hebron to prevent their takeover by settlers, she fondly remembers days in which she helped those settlers as a liaison to the foreign press.

Susanna's political activity is driven by her Christian religious faith and an intense love for Israel, in which she lived for eight years. Interestingly, this is what helps me feel comfortable with it. Nietzche wrote that "things that are done out of love are beyond good and evil". Susanna is not in any way racist or bigoted, she's in love, and is protective of her beloved's interests as she comprehends them.

How hard is it to be away from a beloved, even when all you do is work for that beloved? Migrant workers who build houses in San Diego suburbs and send the money to spouses and children in Oaxaca - they know. Susanna knows. She arrives in Israel both delighted and frustrated, throws a birthday party for herself at Cafe London, on the Tel-Aviv promenade, sits surrounded by friends she made during the years she had spent here, by the sea that she came to know so well, in the warm breeze... the warm breeze of irony.

Had Israeli immigration laws been more accomedating towards the non-Jewish, Susanna might not have had to go abroad. She was wronged by the very establishment for which she is fighting. I would liken her to a rejected lover who does not cease to love, but Susanna was only rejected by the cold laws, not by Israeli people. She is loved here. Everybody knows it, the birthday bunch came to show it and the cheesy singer doing Frank Sinatra tunes amidst the tables gives her special birthday attention.

As a few of us step away from the table to dance, the singer's playback carries a reggae rhythm. It's the start of a familiar song by Boney M.

"Oh my," I tell her, "This really is the song to which to dance with you."

And so we dance:

When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Requiering of us a song
Now how shall we sing the lord's song
in a strange land?

Let the words of our mouth
And the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight
Here tonight.

By the river of Babylon (dark tears of Babylon)
Where we sat down (you gotta sing a song)
Yay we wept (sing a song of love)
When we remembered Zion (Yeah yeah yeah yeah).

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Lin is a true genius at making shakshouka: a spicy North African ratatouille crowned with eggs. It was a staple of our kitchen and in a way a symbol of our togetherness. A good shakshouka takes over an hour to cook and making one alone would be silly, you need four chopping hands at least. A shashouka is not only a dish, it is an evening in a fragrant home.

I haven't had homemade shakshouka since we separated, but in a way I've been having shakshouka constantly. You see, this summer is a shakshouka. It's hot, garlicky, made up of so many different elements they can hardly be distinguished. At times it burns the tongue, at others it delights the senses. It is salted by seafoam and Jaffa, with its Lybian restaurants and muezzin calls, assures that it's richly flavored. Shakshouka is food full of longing, full of pepper, it is dark food, motherly and street-wise. It really is something.

In trying to comprehend this summer, I decided to cook a big shakshouka and see who would come to eat it. Ravid came first, sitting on the balcony, being Ravid (one of the greatest compliments anyone can get). Yanki joined her and they made peace for the first time in months. Susanna Kokkonen, who's Finnish and lives in Brussels but her heart is right here, came with her Italian friend Marina. Both went out to help me shop and drew no little attention from Yeffet street vendors. then came the French crowd: Theo, Olivier and Joy, with beers and fish to grill.

The Ketem poets Carmelli and Vizan arrived, Vizan's phone rang, it was his ex-girlfriend Tzipi, the one who threw a stereo system he bought her as gift right over the ledge of her balcony. No luck, Tzipi, the man's here with his new amourette, Shelly. Shira from Australia came with a crystal ball. I've never met her before. Anat Balint arrived with her fantastic smile. Adam Rubin, who came without his famous hat, made comment of that smile. Tamar came by bus all the way from Ramat Aviv, Amit came with a jar of honey he bought me in Jerusalem, Ori came with a hug.

Of course there was only barely enough food for everyone, of course it wasn't made by the real shakshouka genius, who is very far away. Of course this flat is an incredible mess now. There are squished grapes on the kitchen counter and an overflowing pile of caseless CDs by the television. The floor is full of sand, borne back here after a communal dip in the sea. Still, a night on which one runs out of both whiskey and olive oil is a good night. I saw my different layers of friends, The old ones like a terrific base of tomatoes and peppers, the new ones like eggs getting poached slowly on top, all of them having a wonderful time. What's Berber for "blessed"?

Friday, August 3, 2007


Carmelli lights a cigarette and inserts Rona Kenan's "Through Foreign Eyes" into the car stereo. we set off.

Hand-painted signs are posted near the occasionally bombed town of Sderot. They cry fury.

Juicy kofte kebab patties in Be'er Sheva ooze goodness.

Carmelli: "I once went to Epcot Center, you know what it is - like Disneyworld for an older crowd. so I meet this girl there, this blond, chubby American, pretty cute actually, and she asks me where I'm from, so I say 'Israel', and she goes: 'what, you mean it's real?'"

Nitzan, Carmelli's goat-herding friend, instructs me to grab the udder with two fingers and squeeze with the other hand.

Carmelli (with the milking Nitzan within earshot): "In the olden day for two of these I could get one like Nitzan."

Carmelli: "Rona Kenan is a Genius."

Sitting in a cave in a rock face that forms an 800 meters sheer drop into the Ramon crater, talking about Berlin.

Returning to that cave at night, very gingerly, the crater beneath us is a dark vacuum. An Englishwoman sings "Danny Boy".

Tent's on crooked ground - sleeping slanted.

Carmelli: "So, how do we convince Rona Kenan to change her sexual tendencies so they feature us?"

A Bedouin shepherd and his donkeys among the ruins of Nabatian Ovdat. sunburn kicking in.

Crepe at "Le Chocolat" in Mitzpe ramon, a picture of Rudolph Valentino on the wall, a decaying military installment across the silent street.

Buying fragrant, all natural soap from a soap artisan at Mitzpe Ramon's "Spice Roads District". That's what happens when two macho guys go on a road trip.

Walking among plank-shaped crystals of oxidizing iron. The rim of the crater high above us.

Back to the car. It is hell.

"The thing about Rona Kenan is - see, this is the ultimate concept album. she takes one theme, which is the jilted lover not getting over it, and attacks it from ten different angles. It's the exact same emotion in each song."

A massive dune towers by the road, we get out, climb and roll down.

Strange, beautiful spherical flowers grow at the foot of the dune.

Now the car is full of sand.

An Egyptian flag is flying over a lonesome border crossing, the Israeli side is abandoned. A trailer is open, with the air conditioning on. Inside is a desk completely covered with stickers reading: "I love Burger Bar".

A quail crosses the road.

Two barn owls look up from within an ancient well.

Carmelli: "This is the world's end."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Charles Clore Park Embankment Haiku

Looking over dark,
Warm waves at two in the morn -
One sad pious Jew.