Sunday, January 11, 2009

The 4th Estate - I like it!

Meet My Neighbors.

This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.


The son changed too. When she hugged him, he hung his hands dryly at his sides, unlike once, "when you were three years old you said that I was the most beautiful one in the world."

"I can't be responsible for everything I blurted out at the age of three," he bent over to rummage in his mother's suitcases and pulled out the record of Tristan and Isolde. "And by the way, just so you won't make any mistake, the poster's mine. I'll take it out of here tomorrow."

Went off to close himself in his room with the music.

While she was away, he slept in her bed and hung on the wall a big poster of the statue of David. At the sight of the silky skin and the tender line of the knee, she wanted to touch it, but reined herself in. The testicles were levels with her lips, and the organ seemed sound asleep, restrained. A slight whimper, like the warning signal of an approaching train, suddenly burst out of her, followed immediately by many freight cars of thoughts: Why did I go there. Why not to Greece, for a rest. I could have lain in the sun with some warm Nikos. She stood between the closet and the suitcase and put the clothes away in slow motion as if each garment were a memory that had to be shaken out and arranged so as not to cause damage.

Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshav

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Visiting Nina Cassian

Getting to Nina Cassian isn't that simple.
I took the ferry.
It was evening. Men and women in suits and sneakers got off the boat and walked home.
One street, a promenade. Gulliver would have just lifted a leg and crossed over from this bank to the Manhattan bank on the other side.

The photograph on the back-cover of the poetry book was very bad. And here I was approached by a tall and upright woman. The more she talked, the more beautiful she seemed to me.

She said the place is very safe, "It's an island here, there's nowhere to run."
But at the entrance to the building there was a doorman, and a closed-circuit television system.

Right away she offered me some cigarettes, whiskey. I said, "No, thanks," and her face dropped when she heard that the cigarette smoke bothers me. She'll have to take smoking breaks.

What language did we speak? Ostensibly English, but that was only a cover for the real language -- Romanian.

As if I had lifted a leg and crossed over to Romania which is an island inside me, the real island on which Nina lives as well.

When we parted I said what I sincerely felt, that she was a beautiful woman.
She hugged me.

A few weeks ago I read that she got married. Love is the magician of beauty. It's great that it has come back to watch over Nina.

Nina recommended that I take the cable tram back to Manhattan. The cable tram moves very slowly, tottering high above the dark water as if it's about to fall any minute between the dwindling lights of the island and the splendor of Manhattan. Apart from me there were only two boys in the car, and they didn't seem bothered at all by the fact that no one had equipped us with parachutes and lifebelts.

All my life I've been like that, hovering between the Romania slumbering inside me and the present. It was a miracle we survived. If we had stayed there after Ceausescu came to power, who knows were I would have been now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

If only politicians could thus be tamed...

Thanks to Mark Forrester for the inspiration.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Introduction To Niam el Baz, part One

It turns out that the British knew about the death camps already in 1941. They knew from the German army transmissions that they were able to decipher. From these transmissions it was clear also that the German army cooperated with the SS and not as has been claimed all those years, that they had no part in the murder of the Jews.

Churchill knew.

Before and after 1941, the British Empire knew, and did not let my parents immigrate to Eretz Israel. With the knowledge that by doing so they were abandoning us to the hands of the murderers.

So I was born in Romania, Niam.
A small house, that my maternal grandfather and grandmother collected penny to penny to build. That we left behind, in December 1947, since the exit from Romania had to be done in secret.

Tile-roofs, spotted hens in the courtyard. A pleasure to discover an egg among the flowers, to punch a tiny hole and drink it on the spot, warm and fresh, and the egg-yolk soft.
A neighbor who had returned from a visit to see relatives in Eretz Israel said that there in the kibbutzim they had this piece of furniture, a play-pen, for infants, and they should build one just like it for the twins.

A year ago my aunt told me, "Even when you were babies, we used to take you out of the play-pen first. You were like that, quite a number."
They say it was a large piece of furniture, of heavy wood.

One evening, when I was four, four and a half, I collected the letters from a piece of newspaper and read a whole word, out loud. The room filled with silence like during the revelation of the Messiah.

Our uncles, twenty, twenty-five years old, would come in the evenings and dance ballroom dances with us, when we were three, four, five. Then they took them, and our father, all the Jewish men, to forced hard labor.

They put them to work by the railway tracks. The German soldiers would pass by on the trains and shoot for fun, at them and at the Romanian guards. My uncle says that one of the prisoners would always lie with his ear on the tracks to hear if a
train was approaching, so they could hide from the Germans in time, they and their guards.

One in the afternoon.
A call from Idit, who works at Yad va-Shem. She is sending me a list of the books they have in Arabic about the Holocaust.
There is only the one problem, how to send them to Niam.

Now, after having completed the deciphering of the conversation with her, again and again I see Niam's bold face as she says authoritatively what she'd been fed by Neo-Nazis in Germany,
"It's not true!".

The Jews weren't allowed to ride the trains, (except for those in which they were taken to the death camps) and father did, in order to send, each time from a different town, anonymous letters to the editor of the newspaper PORUNCA VREMEI -- The Order of the Day: "If you do not want us, why don't you let us go to Palestine, where Jesus bade almost two thousand years ago Love thy neighbor like yourself."

The Order of the Day answered:
'The leprous jidani, awaiting their Talmudic rule, are sending their leprous fingers across all the nations and taking dominance over them. This is the reason that rivers of blood have been shed, and not only Romanian blood.'

The neighbors to our right were Christians. Father, mother, daughter and a son a few years older than us. We would go over to them through a hole in the fence.
I saw them also on the sidewalk among the children, when they were throwing stones at us and shouting,
"Jidani, go away to Palestine!"

Afterwards, but after what? What should have come later, maturity, came too early. In my life, like in the life of that whole generation, times got mixed up. One day they confiscated our house, and we lived in the servants' room in the yard. And another day we came out of a shelter, and on the street we found a parade
of Russian tanks, people were applauding, and the town was full of loudspeakers, Red Army songs, announcements of daily victories, while children, skin and bones from hell, were arriving to town, forbidden for us to touch lest we catch what they had been struck with. They put them up in the Jewish school until they were adopted or driven to orphanages.

But it was impossible to disinfect the entire world in order to protect us because right after that, or before that, someone brought a bar of soap from the death camps and the whole town marched at the funeral.

Yesterday, over the phone, I said to a Israeli friend, "My childhood stories were the Nuremberg trials" and she said,
"What a terrible thing to say."

I would sit on my uncles' knees and give them the daily reports from the trials of the Nazis in Nuremberg after the war. I read from the newspaper and they were so pleased and proud of me, that yes, there was nothing to worry about, the memory-safe was in good hands.

So the world, which during the first years had behaved like a womb, was cut apart and healed again, cut apart and healed.
Outwardly there was still the appearance of paradise. In the spring, in the summer, and in the autumn, ornamental flowers blossomed. Large and warm raindrops fertilized the leaves of the trees and the bushes. In the winter the snow piled up as high as
the fence, and the frost painted Christmas tree decorations on the windowpanes.

There, amidst all this, for twelve winters and summers I was Corinna.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Woman and Her Seven Sons


While reading Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales, I noticed all of a sudden the heaps of good measures those folktales bestow upon women.

Truth is, we have our own Hebrew folktales. Our tradition notes and appreciates deeply the passive heroism of the Israeli woman.


Is it because of Hanukkah that the first example which comes to my mind is the story I'm going to tell you now?

You know, Hanukkah is the celebration of the victory upon the Greeks.

Not at the Olympics.

Some two thousand years ago.

They demanded of the monotheistic Israeli people to bow to idols.


She's "The Woman and the Seven Sons".

Or, "The Mother and the Seven Sons".

Later versions name her, "Miriam Bat Tanhum and the Seven Sons".

Or as of late: "Hannah and The Seven Sons".


Kill me, but I do not believe this is a true story.

Who cares about such horrible stories today?

Maybe in a small provincial place...

Like at an educational site of the third largest city - Haifa...

With professional suggestions: Discuss the Nature of Heroism.


The Woman/Mother/Miriam/Hannah advises her sons not to bow and witnesses their cruel executions, one after the other.

To the youngest, a mere toddler still suckling, who comes for her advise, she says:

"My Son, go to Abraham our father and tell him: 'Don't be too proud. You've only set one altar for one son - I've set seven. Yours was just a test - mine was The Act itself.'" (Talmud Bavli, the book of the Maccabees)


What is Heroism?
Abraham Our Father? Are you kidding?

With Abraham it was the abolishment of the pagan rite.

The Woman is reviving Tradition, speaking to the pagans in their own language.

They know only the language of Violence.


At "Noffey Haneffesh" Dacia Maraini tells how she cringed whenever she was told the story of her namesake Dacia The Martyr, whose breasts were cut because she refused to bow to idols, or give up Christianity.

United We Stand!


The mother sends her seventh to the bosom of Abraham.

For sure we are not as primitive as those who delude themselves with virgins' bosoms awaiting them in Paradise.


One version relays that The Mother lost her mind a few days later and threw herself from the rooftop of her house.

This I believe.

One rooftop is the farthest The Woman/Mother is allowed to take her disobedience to, and Jump.


read it in Hungarian;