Saturday, August 23, 2014

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.      
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Friday, August 22, 2014

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. 
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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. 

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Digital Media, Economics & Tradition Pitted Against Another

Israel's Calcalist daily (also The Marker) is a take off on The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times
Israel's digital adoption is spotty at times. Amazon and e-Bay did not become the big shopping sites in Hebrew. But Google and WordPress are as strong here as anywhere else. So is Facebook, Twitter and WhatsUp and other mainstream global digital names. Adoption of smart phones and mobile apps is strong and moving faster every day. While Apple's iPhone was a big seller, the Android push from a few companies, not just Samsung, is relentless. Prices of handsets is going down as well as mobile service plans. Golan Telecom, a company founded by a French immigrant wanting to bring European prices to the Israeli market is leading the charge. Add to the consumer digital world the strong technology and start-up activity, which gave Israel the moniker "start-up nation" (after the book), and you got a seemingly digital life here. Hold on skippy (as they say in Texas), not so fast...  digital life is useful in many places, but tradition and lifestyle habits are still holding back certain market sectors. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Baptism in the Jordan River: A few pictures

Area of Christian Baptism on the Jordan River, Israel
 One of the unique experiences in Israel is the visit to religious sites. Besides prayer and experience of the original place where a religious event took place, Christians and Jews hold life cycle events when visiting. Pilhgrimage to holly sites and holding meaningful events are highly valued by Israel's citizens and the government. In the Jordan river, many come to be baptized in a location where Jesus was called and experienced his baptism (Mark 1, 9-11: "At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” ) [picture below, scriptures in Hebrew and Greek at the site]

Once in a lifetime experience: a prayer during baptism
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Northern Israel: Now its quiet and peaceful

Landscape in Northern Israel: Brown in summer and green in winter | (c) Ami Vider 2011
Life in politics and technology changes fast here in Israel. When attacks were coming from Lebanon up north, nobody wanted to go there. This was just before Iron Dome defense system protected the large rockets. This was even before a multitude of drones and cameras were used to detect launching of rockets and disable them after the first launch. Since them the northern border has been quiet. It is mostly due to the changes in politics in Lebanon, some of it the influence of the war in Syria. Strange how political winds change and so does everyday life. It is still quiet in northern Israel. The politicians were hoping for economic growth and tourism. That is not the way it looks today (mid 2014) while the war in Gaza is going on. But like anything else, time will change politics, and war memories will fade into the history books. Still, even a beautiful place does not feel happy when worries of security is in the back of our minds. Enjoy the pictures. 
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