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Culture Notes From Tel Aviv: I Didn't Need "The Lonely Planet" To Tell Me That "The White City" Is The Third Most Wonderful City In The World

When I spent almost half a year here a decade ago, I came to my own conclusion that Tel Aviv was one of the world’s most splendid cities.  

Compassable, young, highly cultured, loose (even “hot”), exquisite food at both the high and outdoor cafe end, grand boulevard streets, a beach that really is part of the town and used by virtually the entire population. Its distinctive architecture is Bauhaus, a Bauhaus retrieved from the down grading imposed by the mass housing construction imposed enormous refugee immigration of the fifties, a Bauhaus concentration that is unique both in density and intensity.

Maybe you’ve also noticed that T.A. is an internationally recognized film center and music center and dance center (and, as it happens, that in these categories Jerusalem is not far behind.)  So Elvis Costello and the Pixies may be boycotting Israel (perhaps because “Palestine” is such a decent society, especially to women, gays, political dissidents, non-believers etc.) but I suspect that Elton John, Madonna and Bono compensate for their absence. In any case, the rock and jazz scene is so rich in Israel that these aforementioned fashionable idealists of the nutsy left will not be missed.

The Israeli audience is richly served from inside and outside the country.

The Alvin Ailey Dance Company has come here many times, and just finished a nearly two-week stint at the Tel Aviv Opera House. The night I went the audience was rather young and the house was absolutely full. The program ended, as all Ailey performances seem to, with “Revelations,” the magical signature dance of the company. I myself have seen it probably 20 times in my life. It is old to me in many ways but the intensity of the relationship between dancers and viewers was so deep and rich that I imagined that this was the first time I’d seen it at all. Certainly it was the first time that many of the people in the seats had seen it. And heard it. It is, of course, a religious piece from black history in America: “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” “A Man Went Down to the River” “I Wanna Be Ready”  “Rock of My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” Where the Negro spiritual meets the old Jewish past.

The company also performed a long and fast-syncopated dance to the music of Handel, “Festa Barocca,”  It is only three years old, and I don’t believe I have ever seen it. In any case, it seems to me to be a new rhythm entered into the Ailey repertoire. Bravo!

The other night I heard the Cuban jazz-classical ensemble, “Tiempo Libre.” I very much like this kind of music. Still, I don’t really “know” it. In that sense, it was new to me. It was also very sexy. And here I have a small message for the C.I.A. In one of their numbers, the trumpeter slipped in an emotionally strong “God Bless America.” Was this a message? In any case, it gave me a chill.

Last night I went with friends to a performance by Pilobolus, a modern dance company that I’ve seen many times over forty years, the first time at Brandeis. It, too, has developed. In the beginning, its magic was the geometrical inventiveness of the choreography. Formal, almost gymnastic. Pilobolus is now more sinuous, more sexual, funnier, except for a first piece (name forgotten) that was actually brutal.

The big news in foreign cultural visitors is that the Cape Town Opera Company of South Africa will be performing “Porgy and Bess” in Israel on a two week schedule starting in ten days. Every seat is already sold out. No, you can’t get any from a scalper either.

Porgy’s music is by George Gershwin, its lyrics by his brother Ira, Jews who mandated that the opera only be performed by blacks. When I was a child my mother took me to see Paul Robeson in the starring role. Listen to him sing it now.

This whole venture was almost exploded when that pompous fool, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, demanded of the Cape Town Opera that it not perform in Israel. He, like Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, formerly head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, is a member of The Elders, a self-selection of the politically senescent. Tutu is presumably obsessed by Israel’s misdeeds in the world and by the virtues of the Palestinians and other Arabs. But I actually think that he is possessed by the killing “by the Jews” of Jesus and the rejection by them of him as Christ the Savior. The hatred of Jews has a long memory.

But the Cape Town Opera put an end to Tutu’s intervention when it told him to go fly a kite. And in no uncertain terms.

You can tell a lot about the world’s indifference to anti-Semitism by noting how the academy has treated Tutu. The retired Anglican archbishop of Leshoto has been honored with those hortatory degrees by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge and nearly 130 other universities. Shame on them.