From Tel Aviv Israel? Brain Darin is NOT ALWAYS BAD!

David Blatt, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv’s winning head coach, is heading for the NBA…
David Blatt just announced his departure as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, AFTER winning the European basketball championship! This comes at a day when Stanley Fischer, Israel’s former bank of Israel governor has been approved to the number two position in the US FED. It may not seem like big news anywhere else but here in Tel Aviv. For decades, Israel has seen a steady brain drain to the US. At first in low level science and business circles. But recently it has also been in the very top ranks. Israelis do not speak easily when it comes to “yordim” (literally in Hebrew: going down, like to Egypt, or as opposite from “olim” going up TO ISRAEL). In the last Nobel prize (2013) announcement, Arieh Washel and Michael Levitt, two former Israelis were trumpeted as big ISRAELI success stories, both originally from here, yet making their homes, and somewhat embarrassingly, their successful contribution, away from here. Prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, was featured on news channels proudly congratulating one of the winners. But the other, chose not to be associated with his former state, saying simply that early in his career, after graduating from the Weizmann Institute of Science, he was not seen as a possible (i.e. good enough) candidate to stay and research in his field, and therefore not awarded a tenure track position. Both scientists clearly told the sad story of leaving Israel in order to research in a top rank university. Both were reluctant to leave Israel but essentially told the same old story: “we did not see the opportunity in Israel, so we went off to another place… “.

Israelis are not exactly proud of people who leave and then “make good” away from here. Israelis are also not very forgiving to the ones who leave and then come back, or ones which simply go away and live a quiet life without achieving great success. Leaving Israel, for any reason, is not an experience befitting of traditional Zionist values. If one leaves and comes back somewhat successful, most people take it as somewhat acceptable. But all this talk about where it’s “good” to be a Jew or a Zionist, or a “good Jewish Zionist scientist” (or is it a basketball coach or a federal bank governor?) seems pointless in our time. In the past, you could make an argument for Israeli professionals held back by a few years. Israeli scientific and business organizations are smaller than most American and European ones. Israel is also isolated from Europe and Asia, with some better access to Africa. Some middle east states such as Jordan and Egypt attempt collaboration with Israeli professionals, but at best these are small effort mostly pushed by government agencies (i.e. agriculture, tourism, resources/water).  But today, many organizations, both governmental (i.e. universities and research labs), and private (i.e. private donors) attempt to find suitable positions to top rank professionals. But as Blatt and Fischer have done, this is not always possible.
Back to the David Blatt and Stanley Fischer story. There is good news. Israelis who achieved a tangible milestone on a professional or regional scale are no longer just local heroes. They are noticed in other places and can (and do) go to better or more rewarding positions. The ones with fresh ideas and potential are also able to go out and obtain better conditions “over there”. For David Blatt, the NBA can offer a coaching position with better pay, and potential to eventually become a head coach or a manager at a top team. His potential depends more on his ability to perform and win, or as they say in sports: good luck. In Israel Blatt simply went as far as he can go. Stanley Fischer is another story. After navigating Israel through some of the toughest economic times in decades, he certainly seems like a capable monetary policy manager. Israel has a small economy, but certainly one which competes on a global scale. Fischer could have chosen to retire quietly, take a top position at a university, or even take a position at one of Israel’s financial companies. But he chose his own way. The ability of Israelis to fit into many situations around the world is not new, this is what Nobel prize laureates Washel and Levitt have proven. A few, well trained, and motivated individuals, who do not feel appreciated here, simply pick-up and go. This situation also brings some fame and fortune to Israel in the long run. David Blatt came to play in minor teams. For him it was comfortable way to get started, somewhat equivalent to playing and then coaching second tier college in the US. For Stanley Fischer, it was a way to be the top man in a smaller game. Oh, and stop making fun of their heavy American accented Hebrew, lots of great people spoke Hebrew with an accent until their last day. And did ti proudly. We didn’t make fun of them (at least not all the time).

Israel WordCamp 2014

WordCamp Israel 2014 (5/27/2014) a view from the back, small room (c) Ami Vider 2014
For the first time in a few years WordCamp Israel came back to Tel Aviv. The excitement of “Hebrew WordPress” and “Israelis are blogging” has faded. What blogging was ten years ago in the US, was hot here seven to five years ago. The new development is fresh energy of individuals  keeping Israel on the WordPress map. From all the talks, the one by Woo Themes representative Joel Bronkowski telling the story of success with WooCommerce (a free plug-in) was the best one. Other talks on large sites, examples of work, and security issues and solutions also kept the crowd excited. The one new development in the open source and technology community in Israel is: GOOGLE! Not the company products in Hebrew or the work done by start-ups both in support and as part of the big American company, but the actual Google “Campus” a location which hosts local technology events (sometimes for free).
WordPress and blogging seems to be taking a little longer to become as standard (staple) publishing platform in Hebrew. At least this is the perception one gets from hearing the growth of the platform in other markets (mostly in English, but also in Europe and Africa). There are a few differences between the global English publication market and the local Hebrew one. One of the most prominent difference is how Hebrew is written and read. It is not a language which is shared by many cultures around the globe. While modern Hebrew is fairly simple to learn, very few have interest in the writing beyond the local readers. In addition, most literature and current event writing in English and many prominent languages (Spanish, French, Russian, German, and even Japanese) is translated quickly to Hebrew. Israelis are also well read in English. Many also speak or at least read an additional language: Russian, Arabic, and French, being the most popular. All these, simply make Hebrew useful in certain areas, and these seem to be well supported by competing internet applications: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google (applications and GMail), and just about every other popular publication like newspapers and government portals. Finally, WordPress is turning out to be highly dependent on plugins and themes. This is where the action really seem to be these days. But the right-to-left writing and limited (i.e. specially designed and not always free) fonts, are not always supported across the board. This makes Hebrew only sites a bit more difficult to get started quickly. In the multilingual cases, themes and fonts are even more difficult to manage. A small Israeli managed company, On The Go Systems, is making this job a little easier with WPML pluginEyal Kaufman, the company’s CEO also presented their product. The only catch here, is the price. This plugin is not free.
My experience with the Israeli WordPress community has been wonderful. Although I generally work in English, my experience has been mixed with multilingual sites. In general, Israelis are quick to understand and use WordPress. While hosting locally is useful for businesses which mostly write for Israeli audience, many choose to use a hosting service with locations in other places (i.e. US or Europe).

Cheap Breakfast in Tel Aviv

For about 10 to 25 shekels (US$ 3.50 – 7.00) you get a good cup of cappuccino and a croissant, Naaman Bakery, Givatay’im Mall, 16 shekels, © May 2014, Ami Vider
Tel Avivians are known for their big wonderful (with many small side dishes) breakfasts. In most cafes and restaurants, for anywhere between 40 and 120 shekels (US$ 11.40 – 34.30) you can get a nice large breakfast. The alternative is a coffee with a “baked good” (i.e. Cafe-U’-Ma’afe). Essentially a coffee with “something”. In regular cafes, especially in chains like Arcafe (N/A)*, Aroma (N/A), and Cafe Neto (13+17=30), you will get a medium or small cappuccino with a croissant. The prices vary across location and specific coffee chain. Expect to pay about 15 to 25 on an average. If you want additional items like another shot of coffee or a bigger pastry, it will usually add 5 shekels to the deal. In the streets of Tel Aviv you will find a decent cafe with a good Italian steam coffee maker and good coffees in most public areas. In the center of the city, almost every block will have a place to buy and sit for a few minutes. Independent cafes are making an attempt to compete with the large chains. There are smaller chains with 10 ~ 20 branches. There are also a number of independent cafes usually with something to offer either local shoppers or another kind of specialty. Bakeries usually will have a machine on the side so they can sell you a good cup of coffee. In the outer lying areas, even in towns like Givatay’im, Ramat Gan, Hertzeliya, and Yafo (Jaffa), you will find local cafes open early. There, the take-out business is brisk between 7:00 and 8:00 AM. Any self respecting commuter will find himself without his jolt of caffeine before getting into the car ti sit in traffic.

* cost of small/regular cappuccino and a croissant as published on the company’s web site. N/A: not available (not published), probably varies with location.