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Once She...

The Israeli Reality
Woman & Writer

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"Sit down and write prose, instead of letters to the...Minister of Education."
A.B. Yehoshua


I am surrounded here by many fine translators. This made me realize that in a sense I am a translator myself. I translate life, my life, into literature. If anybody tells you that's not what they are doing, don't believe them...

I live in Tel-Aviv, but I've served in the army in a kibutz and went on to live there as a member, for six years. That was during the early sixties. In the kibutzim then, each family had one room, and no one ever locked their doors. Never.

Now I live in Tel Aviv. I have safe windows, shutters, strong main doors, and an alarm system.

I don't own much, but I lock my door when I leave home and when I'm home, and so do people in the kibutz now.

It strikes me that slowly and simultaneously we've come to lock out the world.

We say, "We cannot change the world," and in the same breath we have allowed it to change us.

Then we come to Ledig and the first shock is that there are no keys, and no locks. Not to your room, not to the cars, not to the kitchen.

You think it's shocking? Wait till you read the police blotter in this Wonderland:

ALBANY 3 :30 p.m. PETIT LARCENY. A man, 50. from the 100 block of South Pearl Street, allegedly took two packs of cigarettes from a supermarket on Delaware Avenue without paying.

EAST GREENBUSH Tuesday 12:41 LARCENY. A supermarket employee reported an unknown female took an amount of batteries and quickly left the store.

LARCENY. Several CDs to a Sega system were reportedly removed without the owner's permission by someone who had been invited into the complainant's home on Connecticut Avenue. The subject reportedly claimed to no longer have the items but promised to get them back. Officer: E. M. Parker.

Three years ago, in Israel, on the Memorial Day, which comes before Independence Day, a suicide bomber exploded in a bus. I was made to witness. If you do not want to lock this story out, you are welcome to take a copy home. Memorial Day was published in the fall 1998 Partisan Review issue and is a chapter of the forthcoming Sodot (A Minyan of Lovers) book.

I live in Israel. For me writing is the only place where I can still hold my doors unlocked. But since writing is a translation of life, I've become a laboratory for the Witness inside me.
I'll tell you how it works.
Back in 1970, I was standing at a bus stop with my then three years old son. Two lads were playing near us and then one of them called the other: "You Arab!"
It scared me. I was born in Romania where I've been called "Zidan!" I wanted my children to know that the word "Arab" is not a curse but the name of a people.
So here I present to you, translated from my reality, the story of a long lasting relationship between a Jewish Israeli family and a Palestinian one. Pink Pages. The story closes with a memory from 1974, one year after the Yom Kippur War. The two families go with their six year old sons to see the Israeli Army live exhibition in a site that usually is an Amusement Park:

"...Apart from the noise of the crowd, there was deafening music over the loudspeakers. Raoul lifted Ronen and Mahmoud into an army half truck. I heard him say: 'It's beyond me how we got seventeen wounded and four crew members into a thing like this.'

The children ran in and out of the cabin and tried on the helmets and the earphones. We watched them talk to each other in a sign language. A gray cloud drifted our way from a nearby exhibit of smoke grenades. It was just a harmless war game. A swelling moon was impaled on the tip of a radar antenna, as if hung there to sponge up the vapors in the air or those rising from the artificial lake, next to which a live simulation of battle was going on in some trenches, complete with slides, films, and tapes of small arms and artillery. A voice on a loudspeaker was calling, hello-Roger-over-the enemy on the left fire fire.

We sought refuge in the garden. The sky was illuminated by flaring fireworks. In the distance the Luna Park crier called, Come to the Wall of Death. Facing us came a group of children licking at pink fairy floss.
At home we dived onto the couches. I rose to prepare coffee. Some crazy uncle brought Ronen a toy, a plastic submachine gun, and Ronen, who then demonstrated to Mahmoud how to play with the killing tool, a few weeks ago received his first call-up notice for recruitment. They sat on the kitchen floor, infants, with red cheeks, playing and talking, each one in his own language and I heard Ronen say to Mahmoud: "We have to get ready, in another twelve years we'll be in the army." Siwar came to offer help in preparing the coffee and smiled: "How beautifully they manage. Children will always find a common language." They were humming the song from the exhibition, "Haa-mi-ni yom yavoh" - "believe the day of peace will come". Like in an Independence Day film. With a toy gun.

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Women & Writer

What's in a Name?

A telephone call from a morning show on the radio. Asking me to prepare 150 words for the item 'The Male-Chauvinist of the Week': "The male-chauvinist of the week is the Writers' Association." I started writing the introduction she had dictated to me. 'Hello, this is Corinna. I am a writer --'
And then the same assistant called back:
"You forgot to tell us your family name!"
I said, "I don't use one."
"No, you can't do it without a family name. How are people going to recognize you."
"If I give you a family name, I'll be totally anonymous."
"We have to introduce you. How can I introduce you without a family name?"
"You can say, 'Hasofferett. The writer Corinna'."
"Listen, it's a very important program, very prestigious."
Now I'm listening to this program and the editor-interviewer says, introducing her guest: "The wife of Minister such-and-such." The guest says, "You can introduce me as the chairperson of The N. Institute."
When the assistant called me in the morning, she asked how much time I needed to prepare the item and I said, "Ten minutes," and she said, "Fine," and that someone named Edna will call to record me. And after about two minutes I get a call from a young woman who introduces herself as Edna and I say, "Hold on, can I get a little more time? It's only been two minutes," and she says, "No, first I have to tell you that you must introduce yourself with your full name, first name and family name, that's the rule, the instruction. From the editor."
They have a quiz on the show and someone guesses that the answer is a certain female writer, and that editor-presenter-interviewer says, "Yes. By the way, she's the wife of so-and-so who was just in the news." And she says, "Why did I have to say that, such an insignificant detail."
But twice during the broadcast she introduces a woman as the-wife-of and if that's why she needs my name, to map ownership like you mark sheep in the flock, who the proprietor is... Esther Eilam, the woman who founded the first hostel for battered women and a personal friend, phoned them upon my request, and heard the same 'spiel' from the assistant.
I ring Ariel Shemer and talk to a lawyer in his office without telling her which program I'm talking about, until I tell her the whole story and when I say, "for the item Male-Chauvinist of the Week," she bursts out laughing, "Male-Chauvinist of the Week, huh? It's The Others who are wrong..."
That week there was no male-chauvinist to be found in our midst. The Writers' Association held its biannual conference like in all the seventy-five years of its existence, in which the association's monthly literary magazine has been edited only by men, and on the stage, like it said in the invitation, stood only male writers and lectured words of wisdom to an audience of mostly female writers. An actor read from a poem by Mr. Tchernichovsky, after whom the Writer's House is named: "A queen awaits her bridegroom -- "
and the well known poem by our one and only national poet Mr. Hayim Nachman Bialik:
"Take me under your wing and be a mother and sister to me..." Two weeks after the radio incident, I approached one enlightened newspaper with an article on the professional discrimination of women writers. The editor called to say that she would like to print it, but,
"You forgot to write your family name."

Oh. "I don't use one."
"There's no such thing. How are we going to introduce you."
"You can write, the writer Corinna."
"No, you must write a family name, we won't print it without it."
And they didn't print.
In December 1995 I rang up the Registry of Residents and asked them to send me a name-change form.
The form has a clause that asks you to give reasons.
The clerk looked at the form, read from it out loud, "'I am a writer, and this is the name I have made for myself,'" and gave me back the sheet: "You have to explain, to specify, that's not enough!"
I said, "Fine, if you don't accept it, I'll go to the High Court of Justice ."
Two weeks later I told E. "I've solved the problem. I have a family name now, it's registered in the Registry of Residents."
"No way! What name?"
"Hasofferett. The Woman Writer."
She laughed and we both laughed.
Now when they ask me for a name I say, "The Writer Corinna".
And then they look at me, and say,
"O.K., but what's your family name?"

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Once Upon a Time

In the summer of 1984,Israel was still staggering under heavy inflation, was still bogged down in Lebanon, and the tension between various communities within Israel was not disappearing any too quickly. According to Corinna, HILAI's founder and director, 1984 was the right time to begin such a project.
Commenting on the fledgling project, well known Israeli author A.B.Yehoshua remarked, 'What a wonderful contrast to the feelings of despair which now fill the country.'
Others seemed to agree with him: Hilai was soon granted the use of an aging house in Ma'alot Tarshiha, the only joint Arab-Jewish municipality in Israel.
Following a determined, Herculian effort to overcome scepticism, bureaucracy and the challenge of turning a dilapidated building into a pleasant home (which housed four modest studios) Hilai continued to expand its activities. In June 1986, Hila's Ma'alot Tarshiha center fully opened its doors. Then in January 1987 the doors opened to a second Hilai facility in the town of Mitzpe Ramon, located in the Negev Desert.
In the decade of its existence the innovative project sponsored more than five hundred ongoing activities and hosted some four hundred artists, writers, composers, from Israel and from abroad, for periods of two weeks and up to three months. During their stay, the artists were welcome to participate in cultural activities in which art was the medium for bringing together various members of the diverse ethnic and social groups in Israeli society. Participants included Jews, Moslem, Druze and Christian Israelis hailing from villages, kibbutzim, cities and development towns. Through Hilai's workshops and classes in writing, painting and music, as well as through exhibitions, readings and large cultural events, visiting artists ventured to help create opportunities for benign social interaction.

In 1993-1994 Hilai closed its doors due to lack of funding and to Corinna's ensuing illness.

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