Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tel Aviv Hot Spot: DJ Eliezer Rocks The Radio Bar

Went out last night to celebrate with friends at the relatively new bar, Radio E.P.G.B. Tel Aviv's equivalent to Time Out or the Village Voice, Achbar HaIr, has highlighted it as being one of the best bars in Tel Aviv. It's definitely got that Tel Aviv feel - the decor isn't exactly right, but its trying, and there is that residue of "pick-up-bar" in the layout.  It's one of those bars with two older Russian bouncers at the discreet entrance which isn't much more than the walkway to an apartment.

Radio is a basement bar with more space than you might expect when you first walk through the felt curtains into the dark, cellar-like room.  There's even a pool table in the back room. The walls are made-to-look-cruddy washed stone, which is meant to give it some sort of grungy New York feel, and the large bar sits low in the center with elevated platforms filled with couches, chairs and coffee tables lining the walls.  These are the corners you reserve for your party so you can have a corner all to yourself.  They are by far the best seats in the house.  You can easily see and be seen. But, if you're not on a platform, you're stuck swimming in the throngs of people below that crowd the bar and attempt at dancing despite the floor traffic.

Apparently their cocktails are also something special.  They have one called "Flaming Boey" which looks amazing -it comes in this sexy glass that looks like a large champagne coupe.  It's appropriately pink and the ladies love it.  I of course was just happy that they served half liters of beer.  Most new sexy bars in Tel Aviv only serve 1/3 liters.

What really makes the place special is the music.  Radio has live shows of all kinds each week that range from indie rock to punk to hip hop. Last night's DJ seriously rocked the turntables with some fantastic mixes - unique and classic, and some tunes of his own . I especially liked this original cover of Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug".

DJ Eliezer - Love Is The Drug

Courtesy of עכבר העיר

Courtesy of עכבר העיר

Courtesy of עכבר העיר

Me and my friend Arbel- DJ Eliezer right behind us

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Palestinian Shot at Turkish Embassy: What is really going on here?

I gotta write about it because it is so hot write now that newspapers and blogs just can't seem to stop spewing out news about it. But what "it" is, exactly, wasn't clear for hours.  

Some reports say that a Palestinian man was running around the streets naked before he entered the Turkish Embassy demanding asylum.  Others say he took his wife hostage along with the consul of the embassy, while others deny those claims completely. Some reports say that shots were fired at the Turkish Embassy, others claim they were fired outside of the embassy and still others claim two separate incidents: one outside and one inside.

Photo credit: Associated Press.  Police Outside The Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv

What everyone does seem to agree on a this point, at least, is that the man who has been causing all the trouble, Nadim Injaz from Ramallah, was shot in his leg during the commotion and has since been apprehended by authorities. He is in good condition, according to Turkish embassy reports, and is waiting to be transferred to Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital under police guard.

So what exactly happened?

Mr. Injaz, armed with a knife, a can of gasoline and what appeared to be a gun (but later turned out to be a toy) burst into the Turkish Embassy Tuesday, August 17th 2010, demanding political asylum.  According to a statement released by the Turkish Embassy, he entered shouting for asylum and immediately tried to take the consul hostage as guards attempted to detain him.

Apparently, Injaz made a call to the Channel 2 news media while he was inside and threatened to "kill any Jews" who entered the scene. According to Haaretz.com news report, Injaz continued in his rant to Channel 2 saying,

"If they don't let me leave this country now I will burn down the whole building. I will burn everything. I will burn the cars, the doors I will break down the doors. I will break everything."
He said he was demanding asylum and protection from "these murderers the
Zionists, the murdering Jews." At the same time, he said that Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, "should die."
Injaz remained for six hours within the Embassy walls after shots had been fired and the Magen David Adom, ( Israeli Red Cross), police force and ambulances had arrived at the scene.  None of the Israeli authorities were permitted to enter the Embassy boundaries, being that it is technically Turkish soil. During this time, helcopters circled overhead and Israeli authorities blocked off Hayarkon street, a main street that runs north-south along the Tel Aviv boardwalk.  Everyone waited anxiously for an update from embassy officials.

Photo Credit: Yaron Brener, ynet.com.  Police waiting for update from embassy officials.

Despite many attempts to call the embassy in an effort to help treat any individuals wounded during the exchange, the police, red cross and emergency personnel had no luck reaching the Turkish Embassy officials who refused to answer any calls and kept their doors tightly shut. It seems that the embassy staff is waiting for specific instructions from Ankara before escorting Mr. Injaz to a hospital or taking any further actions.

Israeli media has painted the picture of a man with a a history of erratic behavior and a serious criminal record.  To begin with, he's pulled a stunt like this before.  Only four years ago, Mr. Injaz scaled a wall of the Britsh Embassy in his first attempt to be awarded political asylum.   He also allegedly worked as an informant with Palestinian as well as Israeli security services in the past.  According to the Jerusalem Post,

"Injaz has a troubled past, allegedly working for Palestinian security forces in mid-1990s after his brother was discovered to be an Israeli collaborator, and later as an Israeli informant himself.

Injaz reportedly told a human rights researcher that he was promised Israeli identity papers by Israeli intelligence for his work as an informant, but they never came through on their side of the bargain. Since then he has been in and out of Israeli prisons on petty criminal charges or for lacking identity papers and repeatedly expelled to the West Bank, only to keep coming back to Israel." 

Ynet goes even further in it's detailed coverage with reports from Injaz's attorney, Avital Horef.  Mr. Horef told Ynet that barricaded himself at the British embassy in a desperate attempt to save himself when it became clear to Injaz that he was wanted by Palestinian Authorities in the West Bank.  After his barricade, he was  awarded permission from Israeli authorities to reside in Israel, but was not granted a working permit. With no source of income, Injaz began to steal, and was arrested and jailed by the Israeli police.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Eli Dassa/Maariv.
Nadim Injaz looks out of Turkish Embassy window in Tel Aviv during barracade.

Mr. Horef continued:

"While [Injaz] was still in jail he contacted me and asked me to sort out permission for him to reside in Israel," said Horef. "I petitioned the High Court for this even before his release, and to get a temporary injunction to prevent his deportation to the occupied territories, where a death sentence awaited him."

"About two weeks ago the temporary injunction was cancelled in a High Court deliberation," Horef continued. "When Injaz was released, he was taken to the Judea and Samaria checkpoint, and like anyone who wants to live, he escaped back to Israel. Today he came to the Turkish embassy in order to sort out his troubles and obtain political asylum."

Now the question is, why all the hoopla? Is Injaz crazy, or is he a product of the mad Israeli-Arab-Palestinian politics?  It sounds to me like he's a pretty desperate guy who is very scared of death, believes that many people are out to kill him, and has lots of hate pent up in his heart. It certainly doesn't sounds like he's led anything resembling a normal, stable or easy life. He's so scared that stormed not one, but two embassies in Israel.  In the end of things, all he wants is to live and work in a country where he can feel like he is a free citizen. 

I'm sure that more will soon come to light as this story unfolds, but for now, my first impression is that this poor man has been driven to the edge, and no one really knows what to do with him now. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tel Aviv Hot Spot: Is Ha Tachanah a Tourist Trap or a Nicety?

I have to write about "HaTachanah" (התחנה- the station) not only because I just visited the finished site for the first time this past week, but also because that same week both Haaretz and the NY Times did a piece covering the newly renovated station.

HaTachana is the old Jaffa railroad station which had fallen into disuse and disrepair.  When I first moved to Tel Aviv in 2007, I didn't even know the thing existed. It was all boarded up and hidden from view.  Little did I know that it was undergoing a massive restoration which the Tel Aviv municipality had approved in their effort to connect Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

Photo from nytimes.com- The old Jaffa Station

The original station was built in 1892 for a line that ran from Jaffa to Jerusalem and operated until the founding of the state in 1948 when it was basically abandoned. It was actually the first railway line built in the area between Turkey and Egypt and the first advanced long-distance transportation method, replacing what had for centuries been the camel!

It's really too bad that the Jaffa-Jerusalem line no longer exists.  Would you believe that the state is still in the process of building a straight rail line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv?1  How long is this gonna take, people!

My whining aside, "Hatachanah" first showed its new face in 2009 as the host of "Wet Paint" or "Fresh Paint" (צבע טרי), the annual Tel Aviv contemporary art fair that features dozens of local galleries and emerging Israeli Artists.  The 2009 exhibit was beautiful and really showcased the vast potential of the new space.

One year later and the Tachanah's restored buildings are filled with bookshops, cafes, restaurants, jewelry stores and boutiques.  There's a chic outdoor Tapas bar called "Viky.Christina", a cute pub called "Shushka Shvili" and a number of what they call "Concept" gift shops with cool Israeli chatchkis that range from arty coasters to designer t-shirts.

On Friday mornings there's an organic market, "Orbanic", from 8:00am till 2:00pm, Thursday evenings feature the cool designer fair, "Unique", with art, crafts and sophisticated design products accompanied by live music and DJs, and each month there is a featured art exhibit that costs only 15 shekels (about 4 dollars)  for admission.

Photo by Doron Saar of the NY Times - Friday Morning Organic Market

Anthony Grant writes in his August 6th Wanderlust NYTimes Magazine column that a visit to "Hatachanah" is "... like being on the fast track to Tel Aviv’s new-school cool." 

He argues that with the  "...upscale jumble of refurbished rail cars, freight terminals and train tracks to nowhere (and how’s a bit of defunct British air base for an extra shot of atmosphere?), HaTachana raises Tel Aviv’s style bar."

But Haaretz.com's Esther Zandberg is not as impressed. She titled her piece on the new station, "Tel Aviv's first tourist trap."  According to Zandberg, the renovated station is a theme-park style, albeit successful, tourist trap engineered to "part tourists from their money".  She uses words like "forgery", "preservation overload" to describe the new Station and seems to view with great spite any form of "commercialization" or "development".

I'm just going to have to go ahead and disagree with her.

To begin with, Tel Aviv has had a number of terrible tourist traps. This is certainly not the first.  The northern port is one of the most notorious with a brightly-lit view of the sea luring unknowing visitors to expensive restaurants that serve American, French and pretty much all non-Israeli cuisine, and shops like Puma and Diesel that aren't much different than what you can find in the states.

HaTachanah is something different.  The boutiques are local, the place is small, and the buildings aren't massive hangars with no character.  The evening fairs are fun, warm and family-oriented.  There is no gaudy clubs or over-done decor.  Everything is surprisingly tasteful. There is something nice and quaint about the restoration, even though Ms. Zandberg writes it off when she laments (using completely improper English grammar) the fact that,  "Marketed as a historic site, what remains are prehistoric background props."

Photo By Doron Saar of the NY Times - Entranceway of Hatachanah

I have to say, I'm all for tourism in Tel Aviv, especially if this is what the traps look like. Although, the way I see it, the new Tachanah is really a trap for Tel Avivians who want a to spend a nice warm summer night strolling with friends or family in an old-train station turned cool hang out.

Ms. Zandberg does have one thing right: this renewal project doesn't exactly fulfill the cities hopes of connecting Jaffa and Tel Aviv. I mean, I don't think that there is one product sold in any of "Hatachanah"'s stores or boutiques, aside from beer and coffee, that I can actually afford to buy. It is an all out Western feel- total Western-chic, and I can't imagine your average Jaffa-dwelling Arab taking his family for a stroll around the area.  However, tt certainly brings northern Tel Avivians south and entices tourists to wander towards Jaffa.  I can't imagine anyone in Jaffa has a problem taking tourists' money, or anyone's money for that matter.

All in all, I think that Zandberg should take the stick out of her butt and start enjoying life.  Hatachanah isn't an "illusion" nor does it have a "synthetic feel".  It's just new and, well, not in poor taste - nor is it falling apart like so many of the run down buildings around town.  I really don't think it's claiming to be anything but a nice, hip outdoor shopping area for families and young folk.  And it does a good job at being just that.

Photo from http://braids-and-bows.blogspot.com On the tracks of Hatachanah
Another beautiful shot by braidsandbows.  Check out their gorgeous blog


Friday, August 13, 2010

National Geographic Top Ten Beach Cities: Tel Aviv Is #9!

Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv

According to National Geographic, Tel Aviv is the #9 best beach city in the world.  Who knew?! Well basically everyone, at this point: the article came out nearly a month ago. While us Tel Avivians happily accept the compliment, I can't help wondering what it means, exactly.

 A "Top Ten Beach City": is it a true and full assessment of the city+beach combination?  Did they concoct some scientific formula that calculates how the awesomeness of both beach and city are mutually dependant?  Do they evaluate the beach and city separately? Is it just another "Top Ten" title to draw readers and internet surfers?  Or are they just a list of cool cities that happen to have beaches nearby? I'm not quite sure what NG's criteria was, but it certainly couldn't be clean sands and crystal clear water:  The Tel Aviv beaches are laden with cigarettes and plastic crap, paddle ball players and dogs.

And yet, the N.G. team labled Tel Aviv the "Miami Beach on the Mediterranian". While I won't argue with the awesomeness of Tel Aviv, and I can't contend with the fact that the beach definitely adds to the value of the city....I do have some issues with their little blurb:

"Call it Miami Beach on the Med. Tel Aviv is the Dionysian counterpart to religious Jerusalem. In the “bubble,” as it’s known for its inhabitants’ tendency to tune out regional skirmishes, some restaurants, discos, and clubs are open until dawn. By day, the scene shifts to the city’s promenade and eight miles (13 kilometers) of beach literally steps from town. Head to wide and sandy Gordon Beach to sit in a seaside café or take a dip in the saltwater pool."

Whatever you call Tel Aviv, it is definitely not Miami Beach. Miami Beach is known for having some of the cleanest, sandiest, most well patrolled beaches in the United States. Not to mention the availability of public facilities.  Much of Miami Beach is also privately owned, unlike the beach in Tel Aviv which is entirely public. This has most likely led to the general lack of clean restrooms, working   It is much smaller, much dirtier, and much more crowded.

To be honest, Gordon Beach, the beach that National Geographic specifically highlights, is the one beach that I typically avoid.  Due to the width of its sandy coast, beach events are frequently set up there including beach volley ball, concerts and other special activities.  It is cradled by the beginning of the hotel strip which has made it conducive to the settlement of cheesy bars, tourist oriented kiosks (bodegas), and overpriced fast food restaurants.  Of course, all of these events, bars and hotels has made Gordon Beach possibly the most polluted beach in all of Tel Aviv.  I refuse to go in the water. Its usually swimming with plastic bags, bottles and warm with the urine of young European toddlers.

Photo from treehugger.com

All of that said, I love this city and there is something about the dirtiness that in some way implies freedom.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not promoting littering or pollution.  However.  There are no policemen patrolling the Tel Aviv beaches. There are very few signs prohibiting this and warning you of that.  While there are life guards on duty till about 6:00pm, and they do their job well,(despite the fact that they abuse their speaker-phone at times to whistle at good looking women) they aren't angry, reprimanding or cruel. You can set up your blanket on the beach, crack open a beer, lie out in the sun, and do your thing.

In the end of things, dirty or not, the beach is always a promise of freedom: the possibility of escape, the suggestion of new worlds unknown that lay just beyond the horizon.  It's a place where you can strip down and show your skin.  You can feel beautiful and healthy.  You can heat up in the sun and cool down in the water. And in Tel Aviv, everyone is welcome.

In Tel Aviv, the beach saves the city in the summer when the heat becomes unbearable.  The sea makes the heat "worth the while" with calm, pleasant Mediterranean waters and soft sand.  It also contributes to the laid-back attitude, especially regarding dress code.  And, it keeps everyone looking, or trying to look, pretty darn fit.

In the end of things, I don't really care if National Geographic got their facts all right.  They got the gist of it.  Tel Aviv, with its beaches and it's land-life, is a pretty fantastic city.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Secular Vs. Religious: Will it Lead to Civil War?

I got a phone call from my mother the other day and she mentioned my blog post, 'A Jew or Not A Jew: Who Can Say "I Do" In Israel'. She said to me, in frustration, "Ray, I don't understand why your generation isn't up in arms about this issue.  Why aren't you storming the courts and flooding the Knesset with letters?  Don't you want to be able to marry in Israel without having to comply with the demands of the Rabbanut [Rabbinical Court]?"

Well, my mother is right, as mothers usually are...although my mother is especially right being a Reform Jewish Cantor and social activist. What could I say to her in response that would help her to understand the situation between the secular and the religious in Israel? Why don't I storm the Knesset or gather friends to protest for our rights as Secular Jews to marry in Israel as we wish? Why aren't there more secular activists speaking out in the name of the oppressed Israeli atheists?

The first thing I noticed as I sat with a few of my girlfriends last night, some married, some desperate to be married and others simply frightened of the word, was that most people don't really think about the way they do things.  They just do things the way everyone else does it.  People yearn for tradition, and when it comes to weddings, people need tradition.

From the moment of their child/grandchild's birth Jewish mothers and grandmothers wait in anticipation of the wedding day, which they have already sketched out in their heads. It will be beautiful.  He will be Jewish, she will be Jewish and the whole family will be there.  The ceremony will follow the traditions of our ancestors and our ancestors' ancestors.

Many children of my generation, only two generations removed from their grandparents, follow ceremony and tradition blindly specifically because of the fact that it doesn't mean much to them.  They don't see the significance of the rituals or the Rabbinical law, but if it means something to their parents and grandparents...well, they may as well do it their way: the way it's been done for centuries.

There are those couples who just can't be bothered to go through the whole dance with the Rabbanut that is required before getting married.  They fly off to Cypress to avoid the long process. And there are the few who take a moment to think twice.  They do exist and they do care.

So why don't these few make a big stink?

Hypothetical: Let's say the secular, or non-Orthodox, did storm the Knesset with letters to protest the marriage system; let's say we even set up protests in Jerusalem.  I believe our fate would be the same as the Women of the Wall (נשות הכותל).  The Women of the Wall is "a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right for women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel)  in Jerusalem, Israel".

The Women of the Wall have attempted several times to protest the strict guidelines imposed by Israeli Law via the religious right to deny women the right to conduct Jewish ceremony or prayer services at the Western Wall, the last standing wall of what was once the Second Temple and what is considered the holiest Jewish site in the world.  

Only a month or so ago, the group convened at 7 am in front of the Western Wall with a Torah Scroll and conducted the traditional ceremonial prayer service in honor of the new moon.  The all-female group convened in the women's section- being that the Wall is divided into two sections. 2/3 of the wall is sectioned off for men and 1/3 is left for women. According to Orthodox Judaism, women are a distraction to men, should not be visible or audible when men are praying, and really have no reason to be praying at all. 

Not long after the Women of the Wall began their ceremony, men on the other side of the divide began shouting nasty comments and throwing things over the divide.  As Anat Hoffman, leader of the group began to lead the group in song toward Robinson's Arch with Torah in arms, the women encountered what they described as a "blockade" of police who arrested Anat for "not praying in conjunction with the traditional customs of the Kotel [Western Wall]".

Here we have a group of Jewish women forbidden from practicing Judaism at the holiest Jewish site in the world. Here we have a secular Israeli policeman removing a religious Israeli woman from a religious site because Orthodox Jews do not agree with her way of practicing Judaism. Her Judaism offends them. If there are violent reactions towards progressive female Jews from the Orthodox, imagine how the religious would react to secular demonstrators.

But it is not only fear of violence that deters young secular Israelis from taking a stand.  There is an epidemic of widespread cynicism and apathy among Israelis of my generation who intentionally distance themselves from anything remotely connected with religion.

Take, for example, the fact that this story didn't come up once in conversation with my friends: my friends who are educated politically aware secular Jews; my friends, most of whom finishing up their masters theses in everything from International Relations and Special Needs Education to Chemistry and Archaeology.

How is it that my friends simply don't find this to be a compelling story?

Israeli youth is extremely jaded.  To deal with politicians is to dirty oneself with the politics of Israel.  Nearly every one of my friends believes that there is hardly one clean politician left in Israel.  It's nearly impossible to avoid corruption.

And anyway, who has the time and financial stability to take off from work and protest?  Most of my friends, like me, can barely pay my electricity and water bills and are moving from apartment to apartment year after year as our landlords hike up our rent.

Money, though, is a poor excuse. What is money if one has no freedom, right?

Well, if somehow the secular youth were to organize and stampede the Knesset...if it were to occur...if we could somehow make it happen... what then? What might happen?  All out civil war.

As it is, the religious right is easily persuaded to use violence against any "offensive" behavior.  All too often we hear of religious Jews throwing stones at secular Jews who drive through their neighborhood on Shabbat.  All too often women in Jerusalem are pressured by religious propaganda  to dress modestly and sit in the back of the bus.  Hell, my best friend who has a new born baby has no problem breast-feeding her baby in public anywhere else but in her hometown, Jerusalem, where she fears she will be ostracized and possibly harmed by the throngs of Religious that are fruitfully multiplying if she even made the attempt.

In a state that fears for it's own survival, the secular Jews are willing to give up their freedoms in favor of maintaining stability within the state. That's how it seems to be going right now and I'm not sure if or when things here will change.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Israel Museum Has a Face Lift

I just got back from an outing to the newly improved Israel Museum.  And you know what?  It looks great. 

Here's a map of the musem:

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Israel Museum Map
The museum was well-planned overall, and especially accessible to tourists from all over the world.  Nearly all audio and video was played in English with Hebrew subtitles, and all print that had to be read was available in Arabic, English, Hebrew and sometimes Russian.

My favorite sections were the parts I've circled in pink. These were the special exhibits and contemporary art exhibits that were well laid-out, well organized and offered the most bang for the buck.  It's stuff you haven't seen before, and that's what makes it special.

I don't mean to imply that their Archaeology, Modern Art and Jewish Art and Life sections, etc, are not well done.  Their collections are impressive, well-organized, and beautifully restored.  I just happen to be drawn to  eye-catching modern art that you just don't find at other museums in Israel.

My favorite temporary exhibition was "פעימות" which literally means "strokes" or "heartbeats" and was in my opinion poorly translated as "Still Moving".  Despite the poor translation, the exhibit was conceptually and aesthetically bewitching.  All of the pieces in the exhibit in one way or another played on time whether it be space time, sensory time, frozen time.

The exhibit included a small plastic baby pool filled with slowly swirling water whose swirl was regulated by three motorized pumps hidden in the bottom of the pool.  A scatter of floating ceramic blows and wine glasses sat swirling in the water, slowly moving as if together, but then delightfully chiming against one another at seemingly random moments.

Picture from :http://www.imj.org.il 

After passing the pool, we entered a series of white rooms and corridors constructed like a small house, with the walls and ceilings covered by black paper butterflies seemingly frozen in movement.  The effect was at once frightening, mesmerizing and beautiful.  The piece by the Mexican artist Carlos Amorales, is called "Black Cloud". 

Picture from: http://www.casino-luxembourg.lu/html_en/expositions/expo2008.htm

Paper Butterflies Cover the Walls and Ceiling

Another beautiful piece called "Table" by Junya Ishigami featured a long, tall table upon which trays of herbs, flowers, seeds and spices were laid out romantically, evoking what might be the kitchen of a rich and playful heiress in the south of France. At first glance, one doesn't notice that the table is slowly undulating up and down, in long smooth bounces, but as one nears, it becomes clear that the long, thin wooden plank of the table is silently moving, without disrupting one perfectly placed item.  Nearly everyone, curious as to how the table remains in continuous movement, bends down to check for a motor or spring beneath the table.  But it is the museum guard who keeps it moving: every few seconds pushing down on the thin plank of wood. 

Picture by Chiaki Hayashi

The last piece in this exhibit that really stood out was a slow motion video that played on a small television framed so as to appear as a painting or photograph.  The short, almost 4 minute film begins with about two minutes of frozen video of a pomegranate and head of lettuce hanging from a string at a window sill, just above a sliced pumpkin and zucchini.  I was sure it was some sort of digital still life.

Then, suddenly, with a "whoosh", a speeding bullet flies into the pomegranate from behind spewing juice and seeds, and rupturing its skin. I jumped despite the fact that all of this is filmed in extreme slow motion.  Every drop of juice is shown in immense detail, a violence of destruction deconstructed with the hypnotizing, slow swinging motion of the broken fruit.

So, if you are making your way to Jerusalem, DO NOT miss the new Israel Museum. It's open on Saturdays till 5:00pm (I know, I was shocked too).  If you're a student, bring your ID card- you get a few shekels off.  Oh, and did I mention, the place is HEAVILY air conditioned?!  (Huge plus!!!)

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Arab Convicted of Rape After Posing as a Jew Has Jail Time Postponed

Under pressure from the outraged public, the Israeli Supreme Court has delayed the imposition of Sabbar Kashur 18 month jail sentence who was accused of "rape by deception".

In 2008, Sabbar Kashur met an Israeli woman in East Jerusalem, and introduced himself to her as "Dudi", a typically Israeli name, short for David. He then led her to believe he was a bachelor looking for a serious relationship. After spending only a short time together, the two went to a nearby building where they had sex after which Kashur quickly left, without waiting for the woman to dress.

Although the story is a bit unsettling, neither Kashur or the woman deny that the sex was consentutal. However, after she found out that Kashur was not Jewish she filed a criminal complaint for indecent assault and rape. Since she filed her complaint, Kashur has been under house arrest, required to wear an electronic tag on his ankle at all times.

The woman was certainly misled and mistreated, but as the Israeli Supreme Courts have upheld, this was an "unusual" case that, during the course of a plea bargain, landed Kashur with a conviction of "rape by deception". This plea bargain lessened what might have been a full rape sentence, despite the fact that the two had consentual sexual relations.

In light of Kashur's appeal and under pressure from public outcry, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered a delay on the imposition of Sabbar's sentence and has eased the conditions of his house arrest. 

Yesterday morning, Sabbar was freed from house arrest and allowed a monitored outing with his children in Jerusalem's Malkah Mall where many people stopped to express their support of the court's decision to allow him a short outing.

According to Haaretz.com,

"The petition, submitted by attorney Elkana Laist of the Public Defender's Office, states that the District Court's decision represents a patriarchal attitude in which a man can enjoy sex but a woman can agree to it only if she receives the promise of a sustainable relationship, and only if that relationship is with a person of the same ethnic group.

The petition also states that while Kashur's conduct can be considered immoral, it falls within the type of behavior in which the criminal justice system in an enlightened country does not intervene."

 Kashur's appeal is still pending, but I truly hope to see him released in an act of reason and justice.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Israeli Wine Festival Intoxicates Jerusalem

Yesterday was the third and last night of the Israeli wine festival held at the newly rennovated Israel Museum in Jerusalem. An admissions fee of 60 shekels got me a high quality wine glass and free drinks all night from some of the best wineries in the country. 

The festival, featuring a live jazz band (which was fantastic this year), sushi bars, chocolate stands and French cheese platters served with warm bread, has been a success for years now, and has grown bigger and more popular over the years.  I don't see what's not to like.  An evening of wine tasting, good music and organized public drunkeness for 60 shekels...plus I get to keep the glass? It's a no brainer.

This was my second year at the festival which draws visitors and wineries from all over the country. The vineyeards set up beautiful stands outdoors, the bigger Israeli wineries setting up what look like small, airy wine bars, stocked with young bardudes and barchics outfitted in black collard shirts and ties ready to spew out every detail about the wine you are tasting.

The old cultured folk who actually care about the Israeli wine they are drinking and wander around with pen in hand making notes about each bottle are typically over 50, arrive early, and dress well.  By the time 10:00 rolls around, the mayhem begins welcoming throngs of kids who don't know and don't care what you pour into their cups- they'll drink it and they'll ask for more.  They come for a good deal on an evening of all night open bar and leave shit-faced.

Last year, Yotam and I arrived around 9-ish and stayed till it closed at 11:00pm.  We left with over 4 wine glasses each- glasses that had been abandoned or forgotten by careless tasters- and awoke the next morning with massive hangovers. But it was worth it. With our sneaky glass lifting, we had moved up in the world; we no longer drink our wine out of coffee mugs and plastic cups.

This year, Yotam and I arrived at 7:00pm sharp just as the doors were opening and dusk settled over the city.  We left early too: by 10:00pm the place was packed and wineries were running out of wine.  The hangover hit us just as hard.

Both last year and this year, the wine festival saw a huge number of young, Modern Orthodox American Jews. Huge.  Each winery was well-prepared with at least one native English speaker behind each counter to field the questions from inquisitive Shwartzes, Rosenbergs and Cohens.  I felt like I was at Brandeis University.  It was a sea of heads topped with suede yarmulkas. I hadn't seen so many untucked pastel colored cotton polos in one place since I visited my high school friends in Baltimore in 2003.

Aside from the stampede of American Jews, the evening was fantastic.  Some of the wines were especially tasty, and the Jerusalem weather was refreshingly breezy. 

Here are my favorite wine picks (no, sadly I'm not getting paid for these reccomendations, but maybe if you click on their links and they notice the traffic, they'll find me and send me some free bottles):

Tzuba 2006 Metzuda
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec.
Tzuba Winery is made in Kibbutz Tzuba, located in the Judean hills right outside of Jerusalem. This blend is smooth and aromatic, with a bit of a fruity aftertaste.

Teperberg 2007 Sangiovese Silver
A light, young red that is perfect for the summer, easy to drink and smooth going down.

Pelter 2007 Cabarnet Sauvignon
I really don't like judging wines from the lables, but really, Peter's lable design is classy, pretty and clean.  So is their website. I can't compare this wine to their others since they'd run out of everything but the Cabarnet by the time we got to their stand, but this was a real winner and I'm usually not a Cabarnet girl.  It's rich with fruity and oaky flavors and a nice after-bite.

Rimon Wines

I'm not going to pick one, since they only had three to taste from - one desert wine, one  dry wine and one sweet port wine.  All of their wines are made entirely from pomegranites- no grapes are used at all- which makes them unique and interesting, although very sweet. Theirs are special occasion wines that I imagine go well with a platter of chocolate covered strawberries or bananas and cream.

[fyi: I'm leaving out a fantastic dry Riesling and a wonderful fruity wine blend of four wines which I'll update once I'm home with the details of each in front of me. ]

The Segal wines were especially dissappointing as were the Recanate reds, Yarden and Gamla Chardones from Ramat HaGolan, and the Binyamina Rose which fell very very flat.

Here are some pictures of this year's and last year's festival, courtesy of walla.co.il, mouse.co.il and gojerusalem.com.

View from above, near the jazz and food

Visitors are free to taste as many wines as they like

This picture is from the 2005 festival, but I had to post it. How awesome is that shirt?!

Israeli Wine looking sexy
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making Aliyah in Tel Aviv- A Glance Back at My First Day as an Israeli Citizen

In light of my most recent post about marriage in Israel, I dug out my ruminations that I sent out to friends and family when I first made Aliyah...way back when I had long hair.

My relationship with Israel is a complicated affair.  You could call it a love/hate relationship, but it's more complicated than that. I think it comes down to the fact that we're both still trying to find ourselves.

Some of you have already read this.  Think of it as a nice refresher. Plus, I edited it a bit so that it reads a bit better.

 My love for this country and my fascination with Israel runs deep, despite the fact that I don't agree with everything that happens here.

Me and my brother in Israel 1995 (gotta love the hats)

"Yesterday morning, it was my turn. After waiting in a large gray hallway lined with uncomfortable gray metal chairs, it was finally my turn.  I'd watched for almost an hour as Russians, Koreans, Vietnamese, French,Spaniards, and Ethiopians jumped up at the call of their mispronounced name and entered the room behind the security guard with a thick Russian accent. 

Now it was my turn. I sat down at a big gray desk and handed over my birth certificate,  a letter from my rabbi confirming my maternal Jewish lineage, and my passport to a thin olive-skinned woman. I bit my nails and tried my best not to look to hung over.

Yesterday morning, a thin olive-skinned woman behind a big gray desk typed a few keys into her computer, made a few photocopies, and suddenly I was an Israeli citizen.  She handed me a small plastic folder with an ID card inside.  "Mazal Tov" she said with a half smile, and then she sent me on my way. She pressed a button to signal that her desk was open to serve the next in a long line of anxious people, and then she turned back to face her computer.

Yesterday morning I walked out of The Office of the Interior in Tel Aviv with my new ID card unsure of what to do next. For some reason, I thought I'd suddenly feel different.  Or, maybe not even feel different, but be different. Or if not that, even, I'd imagined that the staff at the office of the interior might hand me a small plastic Israeli flag, or a bag of
Bamba (Israeli snack food), or the words to the Israeli national anthem, 'HaTikvah', to welcome me as a new citizen of their holy country; to make me feel like this day was somehow special.

But there was none of that -- only a small piece of paper with my photograph and my name and birthday written in Hebrew. So, that's all my citizenship really is? A piece of paper? I came home feeling strange.  The day was incredibly anti-climactic.

At home I discussed my new status with my roommate Liron.  It didn't seem any different than any other conversation we have on any other day.  We sat on the balcony, drank coffee, smoked our cigarettes, and
spoke about little things and big things….in Hebrew.  I've already been living in Israel for over a year.  I already conduct my entire day in Hebrew.

My typical day is already quite "Israeli".  I sit on my mirpeset and drink my instant coffee before walking to work.  I walk the entire length of Tel Aviv at least twice a day, each day changing up the route depending on the weather. When it's too hot, I choose Ben Yehuda Street, which always has shade.  When it's too windy, I choose Dizengoff Street  which shelters from the sea breeze.  When the weather is just right, I walk along the boardwalk and sometimes allow myself a few meters of strolling along the shore. Every so often, I run the 4-kilometer length and shower at the public bathrooms near the Tel Aviv port where I work. 

Walking along the beach is by far my favorite route. I put on my ipod and stroll briskly down King George Street past its discount clothing stores.  I take a right on Allenby at the intersection where the Tel Aviv open-air market makes it's home.  I then pull a left on Ge'ulah, pass a few hotels and finally reach the boardwalk.

Me on the Tel Aviv beach with my friend Nomes
The Tel Aviv beach could never be mistaken for anything but a public beach.  The sand is laden with trash and cigarette butts, there are old men with dark shriveled skin playing Matcot (Paddle ball), and men and women of
all ages walking their dogs along the shoreline.  There are bike riders and runners, and kids playing volleyball.  There are homeless people sleeping on the hot sidewalks, and restaurants with tables in the sand where tourists watch the soft blue waves of the Mediterranean ebb and flow as they eat their Israeli breakfast of eggs, sour
cheese, and cucumber and tomato salad with lemon and olive oil. There are stands of jewelry sellers, portrait artists, and "born again" Orthodox Jews hoping to convert the secular.

One of the reasons that I love Tel Aviv is that it's a bit tacky. Maybe tacky isn't the right word.  Maybe the aesthetics just aren't 'polite'. While the city itself is beautiful and the sea is gorgeous, while most buildings betray their distinctive Bauhaus design and produce stands fill the streets with sweet smells and bright colors,
there is an air of disrepair hanging over Tel Aviv that can't be overlooked.  

Most buildings, even the most beautiful, have paint peeling at each corner of their balconies, and they aren't shy about their water stains or ashamed of their dirt-caked faces.  Most fruit vendors sit in the doorway of their healthy-looking stores, smoking cigarette after cigarette between deep phlegmy coughs.  And even the most important businessmen walk to work in shorts and a button-down linen shirt. Only recently have they implemented the "no jeans policy" in the Knesset. It's as if aesthetics are understood and important, but not important enough. And I take this all in as I walk my hour-long walk to Gilly's restaurant where I work as a hostess.

By the time I get to work, I'm almost always sweaty, and I'm ready for another shot of caffeine. I say 'boker tov' (good morning) to the barman, ask him to make me a cup of black coffee, log myself into the computer, and begin
answering phone calls.  At 9:30am all the waiters and waitresses working the first morning shift sit down to eat breakfast and chat about this and that before the restaurant opens at 10:00. I sit at the table, spooning salad, labane, and shakshuka (Israeli breakfast dish of eggs cooked in a tomato-base) onto my plate, and listen
to their stories.

Breakfast at Gilly's (that's me at the head of the table)

The first word out of my mouth every day is in Hebrew, and the last thing I say before I got to bed is "layla tov" (good night). I've begun to resent Americans who speak English here.  They don't understand the raw
beauty of the Hebrew language.

Last night, while out celebrating my new civil status with a couple pints of beer, my friend noted how different one's voice sounds when speaking Hebrew as opposed to English.  He then pointed to his heart and he said, "Hebrew comes from here".  "English", he said, pointing to his head, "English comes from here".  

And he's right. In Hebrew, there's no other option but to speak the truth.  Hebrew doesn't allow for anything but brutal honesty.  In English, everything is softer, more polite, and takes longer to say; everything is somehow
twisted, and a bit less exact.

Compared to Hebrew, the English-speaking world is a play, a farce, or a choreographed dance of sorts.  If Spanish is a strange magical dream, and French is the language of romance; if Chinese is complex and somewhat mathematical, and Russian is the slurred speech of alcoholism; Hebrew is the language of raw, direct, honest truth.

So maybe that's it. Maybe that's why there are cigarettes scattered along every sidewalk, and why the paint is peeling on almost every building.  Maybe that's why there was grayness and uncomfortable metal chairs and half-smiles yesterday morning.  Maybe that's why I didn't feel any different at all. 

This piece of paper, this small photo-ID, this morning free of ceremony- it all said more than I had realized. It's honest. It's not very polite. It's not sugar coated. There's no celebration, no gifts or kitschy fake smiles. The ID is as plain as plain can be.  It says what needs to be said, and no more. Without a hologram or a laminated seal, it says that I am now a person whose name and birthday and residence are printed … in Hebrew."

My Israeli ID Card

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Jew or Not a Jew....Who can say " I Do" in Israel!?

Finally this makes the news!  It's about time. Respect to Haaretz.com who profiled 29 year old Hillary Rubin in a feature article about marriage in Israel.

The issue of marriage in Israel is wrapped up in serious arguments over Jewish identity, Jewish ceremony and Israeli citizenship because of the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. There is no such thing as civil marriage in Israel.  The only state recognized marriage is through specifically approved religious courts.

Of course, there are massive problems with this to begin with, especially for inter-faith couples who are left on their own.

But the less obvious problem is how the state defines a "Jewish marriage" and how this is complicated by the need,then, to define "Jew".  As is usually the case in Israel, a "Jewish marriage" and the "Jew"  is defined by the Rabbinical court, an authority composed of members who follow only the strictest interpretations of Jewish law.

Couples who want to marry must prove their true Jewishness through their maternal lineage since, according to the Orthodox tradition, Judaism is believed to be "passed down" through the mother's blood. But that's not all. Each partner must bring their parents' marriage certificate to the Rabbinical court  to officially document this Jewish blood. And, each partner must also bring either a letter from an Orthodox Rabbi confirming that he knows the marriage candidate personally and that he/she is Jewish and single, OR instead, they must bring two Jewish witnesses each- witnesses who are not related, who have known the candidate for at least 5 years and who are willing to come to the court to testify that you are single.

In the case of Hillary Rubin who is an Israeli citizen, a Jew, and the granddaughter of a well known Zionist activist, Nahum Sokolow, the Rabbinical court shockingly turned down her marriage request demanding that she show official documentation of her maternal Jewish till four generations back.  According to the Haaretz article,

"The Chief Rabbinate recently enacted new guidelines automatically sending marriage candidates whose parents did not wed in Israel to a local rabbinical court to determine whether they are really Jewish."

This is pure tyranny. No one has these kinds of documents...especially Jews! Jews- who came to Israel after their everything was destroyed in the holocaust. Jews who have for centuries been denied equal rights as citizens of their nation.  Jews who, in what is supposed to be their state, in what is supposed to be their safe haven, their homeland, are being told that they are not Jewish and that they cannot marry in the manner they choose.

It is no wonder that most young couples fly to Cypress or Greece to marry, and return to have a "fake" ceremony with a Conservative or Reform Rabbi who don't require them to prove their Jewishness or partake in rituals they don't believe in.

This story in Haaretz comes appropriately at a time when the "Rotem Bill", the bill regarding the particular requirements for Jewish conversion in the state of Israel, is about to be voted on in the Knesset.  If this bill passes, it may surrender all control over conversions to the extremist Rabbinical court and help usher in an age of fanatic, tyrannical and almost fascist government ruled by the religious right. What was once a homeland for all Jews is slowly turning into a monstrously racist and , I'll say it, anti-semitic state.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv

Some shots I dug up of the Carmel Market in the springtime. I always loved the juxtaposition of fresh produce, with the trash on the floor and the cigarette smoke fuming from the mouths of the fruit and vegetable vendors. It seems to me the perfect embodiment of Tel Aviv- a mess of beauty and freshness with ugly disrepair and bad habits.

Lettuce Stand
The marketplace culture in Israel is one of the things I really cherish.  The food is fresh and cheap, there is marketplace banter with locals, you find yourself connecting with vendors and returning to them each week, and the smell is a mix of spices, fresh juice, body odor, smoke and sunshine.

Picking Peppers 
 You're on your own in the market.  You push your way through throngs of people pulling carts behind them, ask for prices, and you can bargain, although not all do.
Sometimes you can find beauty in decomposition
 Watch your step especially at the end of the day.  The floor of the marketplace is bound to be covered in mounds of rotting produce, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and cigarette stubs.  In the Tikvah Market, a massive bulldozer comes through the long pathway at the end of the street to clean out the trash every evening at 8pm.
Vegetable Vendor

Written across the box: "Choice Tomatoes" 
Rays of light brighten every item, but they don't need to be sold.  The produce in Israel is among the tastiest I've ever tasted.  I will never forget when I came to visit Israel with my family when I was 12.  The tomatoes! Oh they were so sweet and juicy. Perfectly firm, and just the right size. When we returned home, I couldn't bring myself to take one bite of those giant colorless tomatoes that find their way into nearly every "house salad".

Sweet Potatoes
 I never likes sweet potatoes till I moved here.  Now I love them. Maybe its maturity.  Maybe its just that they taste better here.  Oh- and no one cooks them with marshmallows. Yeah- whoever thought that that would be a good idea should be shot.

An oil painting of mine inspired by Israel

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Israeli Way: favors that aren't quite favors

This weekend I went with my boyfriend, Yotam, and a number of friends to spend a night on a beach south of Tel Aviv.  These weekends aren't all that infrequent.  They usually consist of a BBQ (Israelis love their BBQing and have a habit of setting up a fire with a metal grill wherever whenever) and drinking with some intermittent swimming.
Typical Israeli BBQ, aka על האש

What is always unique about these events is the way that everyone pitches in.  Someone volunteers to drive (most people don't have cars) someone volunteers to buy meat, another beer, another chips and so on.  If someone doesn't have a car, the group makes calls to friends that don't mind lending them one.  If someone doesn't have a grill- the same.  The notion that it's impolite to ask, doesn't exist.

Let me clarify.

Our beach weekend began at Kibbutz Palmachin, a kibbutz right on the beach. An old friend of one of our buddies named Noam happens to live there in a beautiful house with a lawn and a view of the ocean (both of these are very rare).
Kibbutz Palmachim

It was not question: Of course the eight of us could come and use his house and his yard and his kitchen for our BBQ.  We were welcome to whatever.

We showed up with all our shit at dusk (never mind the constant phone calls back and forth as we got lost and needed clearer directions to his place) and threw 30 beers in Noam's freezer and fridge.  We threw the rest of our food in his kitchen while he and his girlfriend got ready to leave for a family dinner.  Before we went for a short walk on the beach, he left us his key and told us to have fun. And that was that.

The eight of us took a stroll, came back and set up Noam's grill.

We used his coals, some of his spices, paper cups, plates and knives. Three hours were spent in his front yard drinking, cooking, eating while he was away.  Neighbors of his walked by.  "You want to eat?" we asked. "Come, have something to eat. Come."  When we needed a candle, we just knocked on the door of the nearest house.  They brought us one with a smile.

When Noam and his girlfriend returned they happily sat with us, despite the fact that they knew only about 2/8ths of us and we returned the key. We sat together, drank together, and then cleaned up.  We said our goodbyes, invited them to come meet us at the beach for some fun and games before bed, and that was that.

Would this EVER happen in the states?!

Palmachim Beach, where we slept