What the New Administration Means to Israel

Trump Netanyahu4.53

While the budding bromance between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu is infinitely more promising than Obama’s explicit cold shoulder there are still lots of unanswered questions as to what exactly this new administration means for Israel’s future.

In this Matzav.com article, Ilan Goldberg addresses some interesting questions such as:

What will be America’s posture and level of engagement in the Middle East?

Will the United States continue to support the two-state solution?

Will the United States walk away from the Iran Nuclear Agreement?

How will the United States treat allies around the globe – and will it remain committed to the Western-led international order?

Certainly a thought provoking read.

City of Dimona (& Arad) on Strike: It’s NOT ALL IN Tel Aviv

Protesters over layoffs at Israel Chemicals, sign: Idan Ofer destroys Israel’s Industry: Calcalist, Arad Israel, 17-Apr-2015

In their enthusiasm for life, growth and certainly search for a better economic opportunity, Tel Avivians sometimes ignore the rest of Israel. We call this phenomena “the Tel Aviv bubble” – as if we are living in our own independent bubble. This essentially sarcastic (and humiliating) barb is not new. For years, the “periphery” of the state has been complaining of neglect. But this time it’s directed at mostly non-government employers.

Although not exactly related to Tel Aviv’s residents, Israelis are still concerned over economic imbalance. The gap between different regions is a problem. All along Israel’s history, the attraction to the big cities was a concern. When Ben-Gurion served as the prime minister in the 1950s, the government started investment in the south (from Beer Sheva to Eilat). Along the coastal areas in the south (Ashdod & Ashkelon) development has picked up recently. But this is not the case in the rest of the south where development is slowly going forward. High home prices in central Israel helped the coastal cities. Also some immigration from France and the UK due to unrest and fears of Jews from Muslim communities there (this is somewhat a controversial issue which most traditional Israeli media does not highlight) helped Ashdod & Ashkelon. The unrest is not just a one time event. Keep an eye on these issues and let’s see how it develops.

Tel Aviv is Open for Dining 24/7

by Sam-d-Man (Tel Aviv enthusiast from the US) – Tel Aiv, Israel

The night creeps up. Long meetings, a late date, fell asleep early. It’s 2:00 AM and where can I get some good food? In most places this is a problem. But not in the hottest 24/7 city: Tel Aviv (Israel). You may dine on breakfast as you like it, with eggs, bacon, salad, cheese and coffee. [there are a few places like The Benedict which offer a “standard Israeli” breakfast all day]. If a burger is your late night favorite there are many all night restaurants that serve burgers as you like them 24/7. These restaurants are all full service, with a wide variety of dishes on the menu. 
There are also plenty of late night bars/pubs, cafes and convenience stores open all night. They offer a more limited menu. Some all night eateries offer a specialty like baked goods (Abulafia on Ibn-Gvirol) or burgers. You will see people late at night there as well. 

    24/7 Restaurants / Burger Joints / & more…

Braserie (French bistro) – Across Rabin Square (city hall) on Ibn Gvirol
Dixie Grill (American) – 125 Yigal Alon east of the Ayalon highway
The Street (standard Israeli rest-cafe) – four locations: across Dizengoff Center on King George; Ibn Gvirol @ Arlozorov; old north: Dizengoff @ Yermiyahu
Benedict (24/7 breakfast) – ### Ben Yehuda

Big and Small Heroes in Israel: Arik Einstein & Rav Ovadia Yosef

Arik Einstein (not related to the famous German physicist Albert) and Ovadia Yosef were honored with large funerals. Einstein fans also held a memorial concert in Tel Aviv’s Yehoshua park (also referred to as park Ha’yarkon). Both recent local heroes are very much honored and respected but not in a classical or historical sense that David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin or even Theodor Herzl were honored. Yet Israelis are still creating new heroes with real admiration. In an age where most other societies seem to be looking for direction from leaders, Israelis simply keep on admiring. But is this leadership and admiration real? Do leaders today still inspire and guide in a way leaders in the past? Ones who lead to freedom, justice, change and most of all national self confidence? Well, it turns out, even in Israel, after achieving great deal of self identity and freedom, with people who were unable to feel and practice in freedom for centuries, there are still desires for more equality. There are desires to develop culture and independent thinking, especially now since Israelis have founded a state and government and embryonic culture.

Arik Einshtein’s first album, “Sings for You” came out in 1966

Arik Einshtein, started out in what became a traditional musical career in Israel’s army (IDF) Nahal band. At the time, the army’s bands were considered the training ground for singers, musicians, lyricists and composers. Music, and especially locally created original music, was the high culture of the people. Besides performances by army bands, people spent evenings in kibbutzim and other organized community events. From the early days of the Zionist movement in Israel, public folk singing, dancing and playing in public was the entertainment of choice. Here is where Arik Einstein made his mark. From the early days, his style of singing and song selection typified the energy of a new state. The spirit of pioneering Zionists both in the collective spirit of the kibbutz as well as the secular non-affiliated average Israeli. Love songs and work songs, songs about people simply going on about their lives and songs with meaning or ideals bringing new ideas to the country. He also typified the desire to not only create a new culture but also a spirit of new-Israel and idealism. Here was an opportunity to build something better, with higher morals, with optimism and positive spirit. The proverbial “city on the hill”. Literally taken when building Israeli cities from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva and Petach Tikva. Even more literally in building a Jewish Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bnei Brak with strong religious cultural values. This is where the music typified by Einstein fit into the history. So no wonder, after fifty years of making music, one out of a few memorable singers becomes a hero. Is this something like the American icons, from Elvis to Sinatra? Well, not really. The foreign news obituaries did use the term the “Israeli Frank Sinatra”. Probably to compare Einstein’s identification with a few popular “standard” songs. But it may be a bit early to come up with a short list of what would be called “Israeli standards”. Then again, I don’t think Arik Einstein would be put off by being called the Israeli Frank Sinatra.
The other hero mentioned was the Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. While controversial during his tenure as a spiritual-political leader, he was respected by many followers and even a few who did not agree with his views. He is credited with bringing pride and respect to the Israeli Sephardi community (Jewish community from Arab countries). While there were allegations of racial discrimination of Sephardim by the Ashkenazi minority, Rav Yosef ignored minority leaders who called for the Sephardim to oppose and protest minority discrimination from the Ashkenazi community and state institutions. His approach was “to simply do and say” whatever was appropriate regardless of religious and cultural background. This meant becoming the best and most useful religious leader, even when he was called away from Israel (then Palestine, 1947) as an assistant to the chief rabbi of Egypt. While his tenure there was considered controversial, he came back with renewed resolve. Essentially Rav Ovadia ignored the image and bias relegating Sephardim to second rate status. As a religious scholar his writing was not apologetic or narrowly related to his community. This was new to the Israeli community. The traditional religious eastern European rabbi community developed standards of teaching over four hundred years. Jewish Spharadim scholars with recognized rabbinical writing brilliance were thought to have lost their brilliance and therefore their ability to lead in religious matters. Not so said Rav Ovadia Yosef. Actually he brought up the more observant (although less orthodox) overall state of the Jewish communities from Arab countries. He also pointed out the more united and uniformly lead communities in the Sepharadi world. When a Rabbi would tell the community “we are going to the land of Israel”, they all got up and went. Even taking dangerous treks to the middle of the desert and waiting for a plane from Israel to land there and take them somewhere. This kind of commitment to Zionism goes beyond the efforts seen from Europe. Rav Yosef’s life and accomplishments are fascinating people up to today. They also reflect on the relationship between different Jewish communities in the diaspora coming to Israel in the early days of the state. 

Tel Aviv Named 2nd Sexiest City on Earth

Poster on trendy shop in Dizengof Center (cir. 2009)

 From Space News site: http://www.jspacenews.com/tel-aviv-named-2nd-sexiest-city-earth/ — the article says:

Tel Aviv is the second sexiest city on Earth, at least according to a new ranking released earlier this month.
Gan Hahashmal, an area of the White City, was given the spot on Thrillist’s Top Ten Sexiest Neighborhoods on Earth. Tel Aviv fell behind only Rio De Janiero’s Ipanema neighborhood, which took first in the ranking.

“Israel’s renowned for its gorgeous citizenry, having produced the wonders that are Bar Refaeli and Gal Gadot, but Tel Aviv in particular serves as a crossroads of international and domestic hotties,” writes Thrillist.
“Add in the fact that the city’s population is overwhelmingly single, and you’ll start to see how a hip neighborhood like Gan Hahashmal — with its public garden, late-Ottoman-era houses, and cutting-edge boutiques — can be a hotbed of sexy people doing sexy things.”
Tel Aviv also beat out New York’s SoHo, Milan’s Quadrilatero della Moda, and Montreal’s Le Plateau-Mont Royal, which ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Other areas to make the top ten list include neighborhoods in Sydney, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Paris and Tokyo.
It’s been a good month for Tel Aviv. On October 9, a local bar, Tel Aviv’s Imperial Craft, was likewise named the best bar in the Middle East and Africa.

Christian Pilgrims: Israel’s "secret" tourists

Detail of Tiberius church painting
When the rockets fall and the buses blow up with tourists (S. Korean tourists, Sinai, February 2014, Al-Jazeera), there are still people who come to Israel. Called by a higher voice, believing in a purpose, something as fundamental as the terrorists believe in freedom or nationality. Christian pilgrims still come to Israel regardless of state security warnings and daily media buzz. From their perspective, especially the inside sources of the church and tourism, Israel is no more dangerous than any other place. Are church voices mistaken in their assessment of the dangers? Why would priests put their followers at harm’s way? Do Christians still possess that fundamental spirit, which called for each believer to be a “soldier” and a believer? Or is there something beyond the media hype and political sniping (from the media, states, international organizations, political and military personalities)? Actually, with a little bi of reading, you notice a difference in opinion and belief in Christians’ view of Israel and the conflict. Many Christians, both lay independents and organized organizations, believe in total support of Israel. Some support Israel due to the Jewish state religion. Some due to the liberal and overall support of the state of Christians living in Israel. Beyond this, there is a different view of political and military issues in religious organizations and religious leaders. Unlike secular views, there is a long term perspective and a sense of belief in slow change. There is also belief in the right resolution long term. Whatever was meant to have happened will happen. More on the impact of religious tourism on Israel, not simply economically, in future blog posts.      

Non-Existant Parking, Construction & Crowded: Tel Aviv Annoyances

Construction cranes are ever present in the Tel Aviv skyline | © Ami Vider 2014 
You have probably have seen magazine articles and blog posts rating the best places to live. There is always one about where people want to go (usually most expensive). Then there is one about the hidden gems where nobody goes but it’s the best place for some reason. Usually the hidden gems are quiet and cheap and very remote. They are sometimes beautiful and relaxing. Tel Aviv does not make that list. In Israel Tel Aviv is the most expensive area and property growing at a steady pace. You can say it has been the place to go for 120 years now. It is not really a hidden gem, except for the people who have not been or simply don’t believe how good a place it is. But, with all that demand and popularity, there are problems. Parking at Tel Aviv’s streets is horrible and getting worst. City hall tried to encourage biking with a bike for rent program. The effort is wonderful, but still lots to be done. Construction is ever present in almost every part of town. It is also a bit of an annoyance when walking the streets. And finally, it’s the crowds which suddenly materialize. Not to be compared with New York or Tokyo, which Tel Avivians compare. Yet at rush hours, streets, sidewalks, shops and cafes are brimming with people. Add to this a bit of aggressiveness (Israelis are not known for their manners) and you got an annoying situation. 

If you find a quiet suburb or a neighborhood in the outskirts of the city, you may be able to escape these problems. But all the fun and excitement of the city is at the center. Yet for every problem in the city there is a solution or a bright entrepreneur waiting to sell you one. If you can’t find parking, don’t drive, get a taxi. The Get Taxi mobile app and its use by taxi drivers has spread quickly here. Now getting a taxi almost any time of day means no longer calling a taxi stand or standing by a noisy intersection. If you need a bus at the wee hours of the morning, there are a few “owl lines” running until early morning hours. Construction annoyances are unavoidable, so that one will force you to cross the street and pass by a construction site. Crowding is not an issue if you know where and when to avoid certain parts of the city. But than again, isn’t the city buzz what people are looking for?

Tel Aviv for Tourists? Not Just for Business

Renovated Ibn Gvirol street in Tel Aviv, landscaping and new sidewalks give a new life to street
It seems like Jerusalem is the tourist destination for Jews. Nazareth, Tiberius and Jerusalem for Christians. The rest of Israel is a playground for project Birthright tourists. But Tel Aviv is for the business travelers and “not exactly sure why I came to Israel for vacation” tourists. If you are not sure what Tel Aviv has to offer tourists, take a second look. Israel is a modern, democratic and somewhat fashionable state. With Tel Aviv as the economic and cultural center. The city itself is surrounded with towns and suburbs comprising the main population center in the state. This makes staying in Tel Aviv a fun and smart way to come see Israel for yourself. Overhearing two students in a Boston book store, looking at travel books, one says to the other about Israel: “people don’t go there any more”. Reflecting the popularity of Israel with college and first time American travelers in the 1960s to 1980s. Then, Israel was a place for young adventure seekers to volunteer in a kibutz or lay on the beach in Eilat. Fast forward 30 years and today Israel is a destination for Christian pilgrims and Jewish tourists. About half of the travelers to Israel come for religious reasons. Some tourists still come for the warm weather, especially to Eilat in the winter. But there is still a small percentage of tourists who come to Tel Aviv. Besides seeing a modern and open city, there are more cultural events here than in most small American cities. Tel Aviv has it’s own style, reflecting the warm climate and liberal open lifestyle. For shoppers, this is not Paris or New York, yet there are many world class shops and boutiques of every kind. Malls and small shopping clusters are dotted through the metropolitan area. Night life is also an attraction with vibrant club scene and restaurants / bars open to the wee hours. Last but not least are the beaches. Tel Aviv has been the city who’s back is to the sea. But for tourists, organized, clean and close to everything beaches are a nice surprise. So come to Tel Aviv, stay for the lifestyle and enjoy everything else this city has to offer. 

Tiberius is a destination for Christian pilgrims situated on the sea of Galilee

Torah Introductin Ceramony, Givatay’im Israel

Introduction of a new Torah ceremony, an important community event | (c) Ami Vider 2010
The Torah, first five book of the bible, also called the Five Books of Moses, is traditionally scribed in ink on a long roll or parchment. In ritual prayer, when reading the weekly portion of the bible, the scroll is used to read in a stylized sing-song, precise manner. Essentially, the Torah scroll in each synagogue is the direct connection of practicing the cyclical reading of the bible with a long tradition of keeping to the original writings. The writing of a scroll is a ritual by itself. Scribes, going back thousands of years, follow methods set by rabbis and adhered to religiously. The process of writing a Kosher (according to prescribed tradition) scroll is precise and require strict attention to detail. Through the years, going back at least a thousand years, Torah scrolls are written by hand yet are all exactly the same. Not a single letter is different making the Torah a true copy of one original book. This historical view of the Torah writing reflects the secular Israeli’s general knowledge (mine). While secular Israelis possess Jewish cultural understanding, they do not practice the rituals from daily prayer to Torah readings on a regular basis. Yet, it is interesting to see our tradition vibrant today.

Psalms scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection (11Q5) | Israel Antiquities Authority | Public Domain
Besides the historical perspective, the Torah scroll, and it’s introduction to the community, is something special. Reading from a Torah scroll during a traditional service is considered an honor. In traditional Jewish community reading from the Torah is reserved to people who are honored or have a special life cycle event (child birth, wedding, bar-mitzvah, memorial for a friend or relative) or want to say a special prayer. Not every Jew knows how to read properly from the Torah during prayer services. These who do not know, say the prayer before and after the reading. A designated reader will read the Torah portion. Introduction of a new Torah to a community is a rare event. Since Torah scrolls are well preserved and they are expensive to produce, communities buy then only on special occasions. In some congregations a Torah will be introduced once in a few decades. Donors to the congregation, sometimes not from the community itself, pride themselves in contributing a Torah scroll.