Wednesday, October 31, 2007


In a pleasent room filled with family and overlooking orange groves, lies a woman who wants to die. She's been lonely for too long, ill for too long, alive for too long. Yesterday a psychiatrist came to see her in her hospital bed. "I want to die," my grandmother told him, out of her constant slight daze and from across a complex web of plastic tubes that are stuck in various parts of her body.

"How will you die?" he asked.

"I'll jump out the window. No wait, if I jump from here I'll just wound myself. I'll climb up to the roof and jump from there."

The psychiatrist hurried and instructed the nurses to move her bed away from the window, which my family found hilarious. My grandmother suffers from fractures in several major bones and cancer in almost every internal organ. She can't get out of bed, never mind "jump" in any sense of the word. It doesn't take intimate knowledge of her wry sense of humor to figure out that what she really needed was a stroke of her hair and the words: "I understand".

Today, however, she was not in a humorous mood. "I feel that the end is near," she told my father, out of a deeper daze than usual.

"How do you know?" he asked, "What do you feel that makes you say that?"

"A sense of khidalon," she replied.

Neither my Hebrew-English nor my Hebrew-French dictionaries even bother to translate "khidalon". It is a derivative of the root "khadal" - to cease, most neatly translatad as nothingness. In this context it conveys a powerful nihilistic void, a feeling that the force of life doesn't drive you anywhere anymore and that you ceased to have a future.

My grandmother Shulamit was born in Romania and brought up speaking Romanian and French. While a genius at crossword puzzles, she's not ever been a poet. I'm awed by how she used a single rare Hebrew word to answer such a difficult question, and how perfectly it worked. Too bad she later used similarly high vocabulary (the word "Mish'i") to express her hope that I trim my beard more neatly. I love her so much and I wish for her whatever she truly needs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

1918, 2004, 2007

It can happen twice in a decade or twice in a day for all I care. When the Red Sox win the world series - that's history.

Last time it happened was right after Israeli hip-hop suit Hadag Nahash performed in Boston's theater district. The only way I could convey to the band the magnitude of what just happened was to say: "The world has just come to an end." I invited them to go out with me and hug random strangers in what might be the most impersonal city in America.

In honor of that city, the one that taught me dedication and perseverance, that introduced me to the ninth inning stretch and to the true meaning of obsession, here's an on-point piece from "The Onion", published a couple of days before the current win.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I made a mistake, rather then rest and recover after the surgery, I decided to write an article for Time Out Tel-Aviv, and uncover a mystery.

The project was to tell the story of a lie and if possible find out the truth behind it. A mysterious female poet named Tze'ela Katz was responsible for several biting poems published in the cult magazine "Ma'ayan", for an active website and for hundreds of Internet comments and emails, many of them subversive and insulting.

New's of Katz's death were first given two weeks ago on the blog of Ma'ayan's editor, Roy "Chicky" Arad. The rumor soon spread that she was fiction - a nom de plume of a man, perhaps several men. could this be so?

Trying to dig into the story involved getting in touch with a lot of interesting figures in the Tel-Avivian literary and artistic underground. It also cost me my health. Someone started stalking me under a false name, threatening me via email, mocking my temporary inability to speak, discrediting me before my editors and sending cryptic phone messages.

When the article got published, with a fair bit of praise to the artistic endeavor and only a hint to the mystery's solution, he called to apologize.

I figure that this man, a talented and sharp high tech professional, is responsible for at least the majority of Tze'ela Katz's texts. He was afraid of being uncovered, worried that all journalists are there to trash people, and spun into what appeared to me as some sort of a paranoid episode.

I respect his needs and won't publish his name here. I will say, however, that whimsical musician A.B. Dan, who was named as Katz on her website one day after publication, wasn't the primary figure in the project.

The full story features a nocturnal journey into a basement in Tel-Aviv's dead suburb of Nes Tziona, where a memorial service to Katz was held. It includes several emotional late night exchanges and a climax involving Time Out's editor in chief and publisher. Rather than go into all that, I'd like to present you with a translation of a Tze'ela Katz poem. It is the art, after all, that matters.

(Notes for the foreign reader: "Superpharm" is an Israeli chain of drug stores, where perfumes and make-up products are available along with pharmaceutical goods. "Burger-Ranch" is a chain of fast food restaurants. the word "overdraft" is used in Hebrew as is, to imply a checking account minus.)

Superpharm / Tze'ela Katz

Don't drip sun on me
Take me to the Superpharm

The word Superpharm has a young sound,
Like Burger-Ranch or Overdraft

I'd like for you to shave your chest hairs
Before we go into the Superpharm
I'm mad at all the women of the world
How is it possible to enter the Superpharm in peace?

You remind me of the days
When I can hardly fall asleep
Afterwards my sense of smell sharpens
And entering the superpharm becomes a nightmare

All girls go to the souk and to the Superpharm
The superpharm's design says beautification
The souk's design says discrimination

The souk's design says: "There's fish sold here
Here you won't pay for sex"

The orange vendor at the souk says:
"Half to eat and half for juice."
He knows how to talk to a woman.

Picturing myself at the Superpharm
buying orange-chocolate
flavoured condoms.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Still a few days before I am allowed to break the silence, in the meantime I received a thousand words to share - my father finally managed to send a photo of me at the hospital taken by his cellphone.

So he's dealing with high tech communication technology, while I present my simple "talkboard". Somehow, both of us manage to get through in the end.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A söchtener Reuter möcht i wern, wie mein Voater gwen is

One morning in the year 1828, as the sun came over the town square of Nurnberg, a teenaged boy was seen standing motionless in its midst, holding out a letter.

In the letter was a request that the good people of Nurnberg take care of the chap, Since he's been held in complete isolation since infancy and has not even the ability to speak. His name was Kaspar Hauser, as is known to all who've watched the beautiful Werner Herzog film: "Every Man for Himself, and God Against All", which is based on this true story.

Hauser was the victim of atrocious and bizzare abuse. The hand that wrote the letter was possibly also the hand that held him prisoner, and the one that murdered him, a few years later, with an ax. It isn't true, however, that he could not speak at all. He could say this one sentence, in a heavy South German dialect: "I want to be a gallant rider like my father was before."

No one is quite sure to this day what this sentence means. To me, tonight, it means a lot. See, I can't even say that. I am completely mute following my surgery, running a one man vipasana workshop in the midst of a very talkative town. I walk around with a little notebook trying to convey my needs. I confuse my friends, not all of whom know how to handle my situation. Strangers are convinced I'm hearing impaired, and the many pretty women of Tel-Aviv are generally unapporachable to me until I heal, in a week or so.

In such a situation, one just wants to yell something out, to make a statement in bold red type. This is why I put Kaspar Hauser's inimitable phrase as a title over this text. Let this be my message to the world, I want to be one too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Tomorrow morning I am to be operated on my vocal cords. Consequently I will lose the ability to speak for a week.

In honor of this experience I am presenting you with a clip of 4'33" by John Cage, a piece of music compesed entirely of silence.

While the work was initially composed for the piano, this is its full orchestral rendition.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Season's Greetings

This Eid Al-Fitr is a time of good tidings, beginning with a surprise email from Gloeta Massie, one of the world's great travelers. My poetry is being reviewed for a cool anthology of new Hebrew verse. Lin is finally getting money she was owed from Israel, while her stepfather Jay is retiring and heading for the life at sea he's always dreamt of. Al Gore and Doris Lessing got the Nobel. Only bad news is that Ramadan lights will now be taken down and the neighborhood will be a little less colorful.

Oh, big deal, it's pretty colorful anyway.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Show Me Pain, Johnny

Girl meets boy. Boy reaches only up to girl's shoulders. Girl fancies boy nonetheless. She invites him into her room and says: "Come on, my wolf!"

"Show me pain, Johnny Johnny Johnny,
Send me to the sky, Zouuum!
Show me pain, Johnny Johnny Johnny,
I like loving that goes 'boom'."

The little ballad that opens thus was written in 1956 by French novelist, jazzcat and general rascal Boris Vian, and sung by prolific actress and chanteuse Magali Noël. It goes from the erotic to the goofy to the just plain disastrous. poor johnny sits on the bed, stripped down to his colorful, striped socks. He doesn't know what to make of the advances. "I've never hurt a fly," he explains.

"I'm not a fly," the temptress laughs, already a bit annoyed, "Bzzzz."

She then tries to get him to join in her game by slapping and verbally abusing him. Johnny gets offended. He kicks her with his colorful-striped-sock-clad foot (not precisely what she meant by "pain"), then runs away. "Good grief, I'm getting sick of this," sighs the bruised belle at the end.

"Fais moi mal, Johnny" was a favourite song of my long lost Turkish friend Emine. I remember her using my hat for cabaret pizazz as she sang it while we walked on the street late one night. We were in Rome, it was her birthday, and the alleyways around Campo Di Fiori were her stage. a memorable moment? perhaps, I still managed to forget the song, until Theo brought it up before leaving town. We searched for it on Youtube and discovered a small loot.

It turns out that two groups of young people made amateur "Johnny" clips. They have a lot in common. Both groups applied a simple narrative approach, both shot in black and white. In both cases the participants seemed to have a great time. S&M misunderstandings make for a fun shoot.

There are differences though. this clip emphasizes the comical and treats details mentioned in the lyrics with great care. This other one emphasizes the erotic. The ambiance ends up being quite different in each.


I took a pause before adding the political perspective to this post. when sex is the issue, politics should be left seperate so as not to spoil the fun.

Vian's work was seen as very "American" in France while it was made. In reality, 1956 McCarthyist America could never tolerate "Johnny" (see under Lenny Bruce). Even in 2007 there's little chance such a song could get radio play there. Another famous song of his, "The Deserter" is so daring an anti-war ballad not even Bob Dylan would dare write anything similar.

Vian's was a peddler of an American fantasy. His successor in this is Serge Gainsbourg. Both loved American Pop Culture yet knew full well that they owe their success to the gutsyness of French culture. There may be a hint of this in "Johnny". There, the consevative male protagonist, with his English name, confuses and frustrates his sexy French partener.

Vian's last words were uttered in a cinema where the filmed version of his book "I Spit on Your Graves" was shown. He didn't like how the filmmakers treated the work, an unyildingly tawdry novel of the American South. "These guys think they're American? My Ass!" he yelled, then suffered a fatal heart attack.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Make it Canada!

Iranian president Mahmud Ahmedinijad suggested yesterday that Israel be relocated to Canada or Alaska, where it would benefit from the vast expanses and absence of sensative Jerusalem. Every Israeli to whom I spoke of this said it sounds like a wonderful idea. "I'm ready to pack" said my friend Ravid, and honestly, I'm a little sick of Jerusalem too. It really is too goddamned sensative. Ahmedinijad can have it, along with all the fanatical loonies who cling to it with hopes of witnessing a violent catharsis.

In all seriousness, though, Here are the facts. I was born in Jerusalem, a city which Ahmidinijad had never visited. I respect all three religions that admire this city, which I think justifies me as a good Jerusalemite. I am an Israeli born to parents who were both born in Israel. I have no other country to call home and no one is offering me any other passport.

Moreover, I don't want to immigrate. I just want a home. It took me a very long time to come to terms with this insane country. I made great efforts to replace it and failed. The same thing would happen to Ahmidinijad were he to move anywhere. It takes one comment on Homosexuality he made in New York to prove that.

OK, I admit we Jews are relatively used to being exiled. We are the latest to hit the neighborhood and haven't behaved so well, so maybe it is us who must take the burden. I just have one thing to ask of Ahmidinijad: make it Canada. No offense to Alaska, but I really have a thing for Canada. I miss Erika Richmond who lives there, and Megan too, and Greg Nickel of course, though he lives in Seattle. I love the accent of the Newfies and the rocks near Port aux Basques, The belugas in the Segaunay, the northern lights over Sheshatshiu in Labrador, magnifiscent Lake Louise, Sesquechuan silos, Vancouver's glass towers and BC wine, I like Glenn Gould and Leonard Cohen, Moxy Fruvous and Barenaked Ladies, Neil young and Joni Mitchell. I like David Rakoff's short stories, "Jesus of Montreal" is one of my top movies, and Maya Pasternak, who rears from Toronto, is my conceptual artist of choice. I love Maudite beer, Trois Pistoles and Fin du Monde, grade B maple syrup and Caribou game. I've been a habs fan ever since reading "the Hockey sweater", by Roch Carrier. you've got to love a nation that puts its favourite sport, as well as such a sweet text, on its money. You've got to love a country that has a falling leaf on its flag.

What if we removed the star of David from our flag and put an olive leaf instead? Would I then not have to leave? I'd do it, Mahmoud, and happily, too. Unlike you, I don't believe my country should be a theocracy. You do, you're opressing millions of Iranians. why shouldn't it be you who starts packing? Maybe it's the Iranian regime that should be sent to Canada for some serious schooling, along with members of the Israeli cabinet (Lieberman et al.) and Hammas officials.

It may have been a bad idea to place israel where it is. It may have been a bad idea to form it in the first place, but these "may have beens" have expired over a half a century ago. At the moment, I'm here, and despite all my love for Canada, I'm not Canadian. Israel needn't be moved. It needs to be changed, as does Iran. Let's send all the horrible Middle Eastern politicians and their extremist chummies off to freeze in forests of black spruce. The rest of us would stay here to make the region at least as good as the country described above.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hugging Hebron

When he's not praying with me in Bnei Brak (see this post from a week ago), Michael is a full time peace and human rights activist. Much of his job is done around Hebron, where 600 hateful zealots are holding tens of thousands of Palestinians hostage with the aid of a well armed military presence, thus encouraging zealotry and hatred on the other end. Michael is fighting to allow Palestinians the right to walk on the streets on which they live (many of them are only allowed to leave their houses via the rooftops), to prevent settlers from taking over their stores and houses, and to keep people aware of the violence and abuse that take place in that city daily.

He called me today to apologize for not returning my phone call from yesterday. "I took a day off with Yaelle and we went to the old city of Jerusalem," he explained, then told a bit of their fine adventures.

"I was actually in your turf." I told him. "I went to Hebron to give free hugs."

A short pause of bafflement ensued.

"Yeah, you see, I met this German girl at a party in Jaffa, I talked about volunteering with you in Hebron, she talked about the free hugs phenomenon, you know what it is."

"Yeah, sure I do. Keep going."

"So we decided to combine the two and give the free hugs where they are most needed. A friend of hers came along to document it. we created posters in Hebrew, English and Arabic and hit town. Now, of course if you walk with a sign in Arabic down Shuhada street, that's considered a leftist provocation. so the police gave us plenty of trouble, but that was only after we got to do quite a bit of hugging. We hugged settlers, soldiers, Palestinians, everybody."

"I can't believe you went. There are lots of people there now for the holiday."

"All the more free hugs."

Michael was overjoyed, which meant a lot to me. Hebron needs serious activism and I wasn't sure hugging there fell into that category. it was more of an experiment and an act of goodwill. If somebody who cares so much for the Hebronites likes our idea, it was probably appropriate. "Can I tell the guys about this?" he asked, meaning members of his organization "Children of Abraham"

"Of course, and tell them that I learned a lot. I was surprised that the settlers were not hostile towards us, but that the police was. It demonstrated to me once again that the problem is not necessarily the settlers, that they are just a symptom. The problem is official Israeli policy. I mean, the cops were civil with us, since we are not Arab, and I understand they're extra nervous around the holiday, but it was sad all the same. They kept asking us if we are related to any peace organization, saying 'peace' like someone might say 'terrorism'. I said that we weren't but that I guess hugging was a sharing of peace, whereupon they let us know that if we hug once more they will arrest us."

A note on the images: The first shows a rare instance of man-woman hug. In general all societies living in Hebron are quite traditional, Pamela could only hug women and I could only hug men. The Israeli soldiers come from a bit of a different universe.

The second image was taken on a street where only Jews and non-Arab visitors are allowed to walk. This is the very heart of Hebron's bubble of hatred. I was pleased and surprised to see the settler lady hugging Pamela while she was holding the sign in Arabic.

In the third image we are being interrogated by plainclothesmen. At the same time, one of the policemen says a benediction on the "four species", a collection of plants that is revered during this holiday. The source and meaning of this custom is lost. It's interesting that someone who engages in it would consider our behaviour strange.