Sunday, January 02, 2011

Negating the Diaspora

We all enjoyed the breakfast at the Art+ Hotel, where we're staying. It was a nice buffet, with lots of fresh veggies, cheeses, yogurt, breads, and fruit. We all skipped the pastries.

Afterwards, dad went to see the lawyer, Rochelle waited for her cousins to pick her up, and mom and I headed to Bet Hatfutsot (the Diaspora Museum) at the University of Tel-Aviv. I asked at the front desk where we could catch a bus, and they said that the bus we needed stopped opposite shuk hakarmel (the Carmel Market). It was a 15-minute walk, past where the Moghrabi Theater used to be. My grandmother used to live just around the corner from it, but it was torn down nearly 20 years ago (my father still can't get over that "crime").

One thing that really stands out when you're in Tel-Aviv is the number of small shops that line the streets. They haven't yet been killed off by Walmart or the big malls. That and the fact that the streets are socially integrated with people of different ages and classes (unlike in most US cities, where we have separate neighborhoods for the young, middle aged, and elderly).

When we got to the Museum, I asked my mother if she wanted to hear my take on it (negative) or just experience it on her own without my editorializing. She said she wanted my point of view. At the start of the museum, there is a quote from Abba Kovner explaining that the Jews are part of one family and one nation who only wanted to return to the Land of Israel. This is my problem with the museum. In the end, it's really about negating the diaspora (shlilat hagalut), not seeing it as something with value in its own right. Hence, the decision to start the museum with a replica of pieces of the Arch of Titus, implying that the diaspora was created when the Romans forced the Jews into exile.

Left unsaid and ignored (unless you know you're Bible) is the fact that the diaspora has been part of Jewish history from the very beginning. When the 12 tribes left Egypt and entered the wilderness, 2 and a half chose to remain on the other side of the Jordan (in exile). During the time of the 1st Temple, Hebrew mercenaries lived in Egypt. Of course, the largest community in the diaspora was formed after 586, with the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. When that exile ended, however, most Jews chose to remain in Babylon and Persia rather than return to Israel. Even before the Romans destroyed the Temple (the start of the Diaspora Museum), most Jews already lived there.

The first floor explores how Jews shared a common culture in Diaspora, even though there were local variations from time to time and place to place. The second floor looks at Jewish synagogues throughout history, and mom really enjoyed the various models. When we were looking at the model for the Altneuschul in Prague, a volunteer docent came over and asked if she could tell us about it. We said yes, and mom was struck by a similar experience she and dad had had in Prague when visiting a synagogue (not the same), where a guide volunteered to help them (in German), because they were Jewish.

The third floor presents the history of the Jewish people chronologically from the Roman conquest to the recreation of the state of Israel. Afterwards, we stopped at the Aroma cafe for something to drink. We ordered hot chocolate and mom asked for no whip cream, so I said bli katsefet, which turned into bli ketsef or no foam. I'm getting better with my Hebrew, but I keep forgetting odd words (like menu), or fumbling over the niceties (saying bitte or proze rather than toda).

We took the bus back to see if dad wanted to join us for lunch. He was napping having spent 3 hours walking from the lawyer's to the bank back to the hotel. Turns out the bank refused to break his antique shekel note, saying he would have to go to the Bank of Israel to do that. He wanted to continue to nap, so mom and I walked up the block to Mersand.

This cafe was highly recommended for its coffee and pastries, neither of which we ordered. We were fortunate to get a table outdoors (the weather is wonderful) and so we had sandwiches. Mom and I people watched the flow of cars and pedestrians. We also chatted with a couple also staying in the hotel. Mom particularly liked her sandwich of goat cheese, grilled eggplant and zucchini. I had specifically ordered her sandwich without nuts or seeds, and so she got a very nice, whole wheat bread. I had the toastim with yellow cheese and tomato on a bagel. Israel is the only country I know of where cheese is regularly sold as "yellow" or "white."

After an hour and a half we walked back to the hotel to find out the name of the restaurant we're going to tonight (Yoezer Wine Bar). It's on my list of the 10 best restaurants in Tel-Aviv and I was hoping to go there. It's in Jaffa and we're meeting the lawyer and dad's friends Ari and Rachel. Rochelle left us a note saying she was having dinner with her cousins so we'll find out about her day when she gets back.

Dad, mom, and I took a walk on the tayelet (the promenade) along the Mediterranean. We walked as far as the formerly empty area by the mosque, while dad talked about what the area was like in the Mandate. As we passed by one building he said that was where the Austrailians had their military police (up until 1943). As we looked at the memorial to aliya bet (the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine in defiance of the British blockade), he talked about the time a ship beached itself and all of Tel-Aviv ran out to protect the immigrants. By swapping clothing, the British couldn't tell who was illegal and who was a resident. He also told us how he and his father had gone to Jaffa the day before the Arab Revolt had broken out in 1936. After that, he was forbidden to go there ever again (he was only 6 at the time). We asked if he ever went back (before statehood). He said he went with a group of buddies in 1947 (they had safety in numbers).

After that we came back to the hotel so they could rest before we go to dinner in an hour or so.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Left untold is the reason your Dad was going to see "the lawyer". Feel free to share offline if you want. I should have asked you to call my relatives in TA while you were there. Oh well...