Sunday, June 15, 2014

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... ".

Thursday, June 12, 2014

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).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Israel's Bell Curve Spread: Between Populism and Elitism

If you follow the economic and lifestyle stories on Israel's main media outlets, you get a mix of split personality opinions. I say "opinions" because some media stories are not really objective reporting as much as opinion of one expert or another. Sometimes the media outlets are simply a propaganda channel to one politician or another. Which seems to be just fine in the eyes of most Israelis. Lately, besides Bibi's harping about the Americans not taking the Iranians seriously enough (with the supposedly "just around the corner nuclear bomb making drill") most politicians, from proper ministers all the way to Ron Huldai (Tel Aviv's mayor), is the wide economic gaps everywhere. It seems like the Israeli economy is one big Swiss cheese of a system. The mix of socially based and merit driven realities clash each other. Then there is the old school cronyism in friction with simple family centered oligarchy. Some going back a century (Teva pharmaceutical) some just a few decades (Tshuva family / oil and gas). Then there is the continuous scratching between organized labor and private management. This goes on in the private sector as well as in public service (physicians, nurses, school teachers).


Monday, September 30, 2013

Middle Class Consumerism: Strong and Steady

Doughnuts sold as the latest fad from the US at a local bakery

If you take a stroll through a mall or visit a new apartment construction sales office, Israel feels more like America in the 1970s or Spain in 2000. For that matter probably Moscow or Beijing or even Rio De Janeiro of the last decade: strong economic growth and growing consumer spending driven by new credit policies. In Israel, large mortgages were unheard of fifteen years ago. Today, a couple with steady income record can get 50% montage without too much trouble. The banks have flooded the market with so much cash, housing prices have been on the rise regardless of supply and lately regardless of geographic location inside Israel. Even apartments if remote towns are rising in prices while supply is plentiful. Builders simply "up-sell" by loading up large apartments with high end finishes. The same goes for consumer products. There are more luxury malls and luxury shops everywhere. Just recently the luxury Italian car companies Maserati and Ferrari hung up their brand symbols on a central Tel Aviv building (just across from the central train station). If you want Rolex, go down to the new luxury building on Ibn Gvirol, a street considered tired and rundown just five years ago. The push by the market is not limited to luxury items. In the middle areas, there are even more signs of strong growth and credit use.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Remembering After the War: The Children of the Winter of 73

"We are the children of the winter of 73 ...

"You promised a dove, an olive branch, 

"You promised peace, at home, you promised spring, blooms  "

This controversial song is raising old memories and complaints about the balance between hope and reality. When the two clash, like during and after the Yom Kippur war, idealism about peace and promises to children, seem like something cruel or at least out of touch with reality. Then there are the voices who claim to never believe the naive view of "peace next year" propaganda songs (especially from IDF musical groups). Regardless of your views or beliefs, the wars in Israel, hard and painful, Israeli military bands perform incredibly nice, to the point of "too nice" (syrupy sweet some would describe them) for a band that suppose to motivate troops to the front. Here in Israel you will not find anything close to a Russian army chorus belting out propaganda songs a-la-World War II. You will also not find the European or American brass bands leading a long march of well heeded marching units. So what is this Israeli style army bands suppose to do?


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

40 Years To Yom Kippur War

Israeli newspapers and TV/radio stations are running stories about the Yom Kippur war (1973). A war that was not popular and to some became a slap in the face and the first real loss for the state. More frightening, the war that saw the IDF losing soldiers and territory. To the Israeli public, in all the years, neither the military nor the government ever explained and analyzed the war. Once the government in charge was voted out, everybody wanted to make the war go away and move forward to better times.