Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pride, Endings, Nail biting and Differences of opinion

Last week a strange and maybe very Israeli experience was taking place here. It was part of the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah from the second Lebanon war. The exchange itself was televised and reported in the papers. It seems that the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers were coming back. The public was not sure if they were alive or not. Actually, it seemed a long time ago that they were not alive and the Israel Defense Force has already declared them dead. But among all the news, commentary, and opinion there was something that was very unique. It was Israeli but also Tel Avivi in nature. For a long time, maybe even longer than the second Lebanon war (in 2006), Tel Aviv has not reacted this way. Suddenly the voices from every television set took over the air in Tel Aviv. From open windows and porches, in every corner candy store, in cafes and restaurants, the pictures and voices of reporters and commentators were in the background. The feeling in the air was a mixture of sad reality and hope for a miracle. Most of all it was the feeling that we are all in this together. While the soldiers have families, army friends, and close relatives, they also belong to "us".

TV reporter and commentator while the prisoner exchange was going on.
Most people in everyday life do not care on a personal level about every soldier. You need to keep some distance to cope with death. But the faces of the two kidnapped were on bulletin boards and newspaper ads the last two years. This reporting and advertising and especially the speeches from Hezbollah, some from Nasralla, some from others, have kept the memory alive. This was the day to finish this story, good or bad. Since there has not been a full scale war the last few years, many in Israel assumed that Tel Avivians do not care about kidnapped soldiers. This was the hope of the Palestinians, especially Nasralla and Hezbollah. Many times Nasralla said that Israel is too soft and that soldiers will not fight like in the past. He also said that the population simply does not care to support the soldiers. For some reason, seeing how Israel has become more quiet and more ordinary has equated this to what is seen in most western countries. Where only a small part of the population directly involved in the military is truly worried about soldiers and fighting and the missing and the dead. But that does not seem to be the situation in Tel Aviv. On July 17th, when the exchange with Hezbollah took place, nobody in Tel Aviv seemed to ignore the TVS. As the news progressed it became clear that the two "missing" soldiers are not alive. It was also clear that they were probably not alive much beyond the day they were taken two years ago. In other places there would probably be anger and blame on Hezbollah and Nasralla. In Tel Aviv the feeling was sadness and relief. Now we knew what the situation was. We also knew that there is not going to be any regrets, the soldiers will have to be buried and another chapter of this sad saga was over.
      If you come to Tel Aviv when an event like this happens, take some time to speak with people in cafes and going about town. You will find deep concern and care like no other place. Sometimes there is not much we can do about Hezbollah and Nasralla, but there is a great deal we can do about each other. This is something that CNN, NBC, or BBC will not tell you very clearly. Actually, it seems to me that the media outlets are more concerned with what Nasralla says than what people really feel and do on the streets of Tel Aviv. Which is probably the sign of the times. I guess George Orwell was not that far off when describing the future in "1984". Read More...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pictures from around the city - Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv has a surprising variety of things to look at. Lots of people ask me what you see when you are looking around. So here are a few pictures of all kind of things...
Synagogue sign, Yehosua Ben-Noon street

The streets of the city look different from hour to hour. Busy streets are virtually abandoned - fashionable cafes turn to ghost palaces...

Quiet Bugrashov cafe in mid-day, it will be hard to find a seat come 11:00 PM!

Young artists come in all forms and shapes. Tel Aviv has the blend of street art, classical art, and even religious and antique art. Here is a little of the street art.

Graffiti off Bugrashov Street. Hip stores lend their windows as canvas.

Quiet streets full of shade are abandoned on hot summer days. On Friday evening Chev (Haim Nachman // Bialik) Street will be full of family strollers pushing babies along.

Empty Chen Boulevard on a hot summer morning

Protest, solidarity, political activism is a daily part of Tel Aviv. But with a city which has every type of religion and political view, most gatherings are not that exciting.

Protest-Solidarity for the Sderot bombings (February 2008)

Monday, July 14, 2008

The quality of isolation: creativity, independence, self reliance

The other day a small film crew was interviewing an Israeli Blogger in Dizengoff Center. There was not real fuss, just two video cameras, lights, a producer and a director and two people with a little too much makeup having coffee. I remember seeing huge film crew in San Francisco and New York. Once in a while in a Boston suburb. But in Tel Aviv you can see little art being made all over the place. Besides the regular artist area south of the Shalom Tower, and the somewhat artificial artsy old Yaffo, there are little studios and workshops in the strangest areas of the city.

A blogger interview in Dizengoff Center: typical of lots of small productions in Tel Aviv
There is also a somewhat vivid post secondary art community with all kind of programs. Lately it seems like the film schools are buzzing with action all over the place. Most of the students use somewhat old professional equipment, I have no idea where they get it, but it's probably whatever still works from the TV channels, leftover foreign crew equipment, and whatever the Israeli army has not munged to death. The army trains lots of photographers and a fair number of videographers. When the intifadas where going full tilt, there were lots of video people all over the place. Every demonstration and odd activity was filmed and the Palestinians knew how to avoid these hidden lenses. This is what eventually got them to adopt the full head cover with the keffiyeh, that famous Arab scarf in the distinctive white and black or red pattern.
Jump Cut school for editors and animators - art in the city?!
But as you may imagine, filming riots of Palestinian and Israeli army "action" does not a film maker makes. Israel and to some extent Tel Aviv are going through a metamorphosis of sort. Small trade schools which were essential technical institutes for all kind of trades are growing quickly. Mostly because the universities are not big enough to take all the students which want to attend. Also, there are many new areas which excite young people which the universities have never taught. So the film, editing, photo, and performing art institutes are growing like a runner on steroids. Which is not a bad thing at all. So enjoy the original Israeli movies, music, and dance.
So back to the title, if you were still wondering what this is all about? If Israel had relationships with Arab countries, for example Egypt, Israelis would probably opt to go an study there. Unbeknown to most westerners, the Egyptian film industry is only second to to the Indian Bollywood and the American Hollywood. Egyptian film industry dwarfs anything in Europe, Africa, and Asia! But total cultural and trade isolation gives Israeli schools an opportunity to thrive. Sometimes and they say, you got to make lemonade from lemons... just leave the sugar out for me ;-)
Film makers and producers - all kind of schools...
Jump Cut - School for editors and animators
Minshar - Open University film program (BA)

Religious and Secular thoughts about progress

Rabbis are worried about too many Jews
In a recent talk with Elinor, a TV producer, the topic of how people in Tel Aviv see themselves came up. Her friend wrote a book on how Tel Avivians turned complacent, comfortable, bordering on hedonistic. There is definitely a view that life in Tel Aviv is getting "too soft, too comfortable, too isolated from reality". What does this mean? People still struggle here, from finding a decent apartment to balancing work with life... from finding a little peace and quiet in a noisy city, to just avoiding dog poop on the sidewalk at night. Big issues to small ones, they have not gone away, just changed.
It is true that Tel Aviv has become a comfortable metropolis. It is true that Israel's central region is modern and runs well - maybe TOO WELL? (some say!) But Tel Aviv does have the same problems any large metropolis has. The city has a chronic housing shortage, but buildings are still small and personal and not crowded like European cities: Paris, Amsterdam, or Rome. Tel Aviv has a chronic parking shortage, but the city grew out of small street architecture just at the dawn of the automotive age. For over 80 years city planners were thinking about public transportation while residents prefer cars, bikes, and mopeds. Tel Aviv as a city simply changed "too quickly".
But Elinor's point reminded me of another rather extreme position we hear on the street. There is a renewed fierce verbal battle over the view of "who is a Jew". The more orthodox rabbis want to limit the official religious Jewish conversions (official state approved). This goes for both men and women's conversions. But the issue is also pushed in the other direction by more secular rabbis which want to welcome anyone who wants to live and settle in Israel.
These two issues seem to manifest the difficulty in changing view points and mind sets from the past. Thinking that life is too good for "US" is what our parents and grandparents have been hearing in Europe and in Arab countries - long before the state of Israel gained independence and was a Jewish state. The rabbis of today are still thinking and ACTING as if they were in small isolated villages (shtettles). Where bringing someone from the outside was not just strange, unacceptable, hard, but EVEN DANGEROUS! Stories of reprisals in the form of fines and even communal punishment for enticing Christians to become Jews were not strange to us two generations ago. These stories - or the isolated thinking that we hold seem to be still echoing in our minds. But we are not in rural Poland or Yemen any more. Actually we have not been there for two or three generations already.
These deja-vu thinkers are not just as nostalgic curiosities. They are actually disturbing and border on the dangerous. If we keep to our old ways of thinking we may actually hurt ourselves. If we keep to our old ways of thinking we will act accordingly and hurt ourselves. Our thinking will stop us from moving Tel Aviv and Israel as a Jewish state from forward progress. Our geographic, cultural, and historic advantages will be held back. This is what conservative, dictatorial, and religious countries are doing all around us. You don't have to look hard to find crippled countries. They come in every shape and color, they behave in every imaginable way - but basically they hurt people and the overall society.
The Tel Aviv view of change seem to come from just seeing it on the street, on people's faces, in how we live. Change just comes to us, we do not seem to plan or seek it. Some of our old politicians seem to have tried both: planning -or- stopping / ignoring. But neither one seem to work very well. It seems that people change as they see fit, when they don't, we clash. Read More...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The feeling of Tel Aviv

What is Tel Aviv? How does it feel to be in Tel Aviv? This city is the Queen City of Israel. Tel Aviv is so much more than just 500,000 people, brick and mortar. This is a city with a positive attitude. A city on the move where the city administration take pride in it. You will find improving infrastructure work all over town.

This is a city where people work. We have the lowest unemployment in the country (less than 2%). Tel Avivians work hard and play hard. Some people who don't live here express their jealousy by saying that Tel Aviv doesn't really express the old, let's all suffer together like in good old days of socialism.

Well, we Tel Avivians have a different attitude. We are a bit self centered and enjoy the good things a city has to offer. To those who don't like us, sam-D-man says: too bad!

Tel Aviv is a city of capitalism. Socialism is dead in Tel Aviv. This is a city of dynamic private enterprise. People from all over the world want to come to Tel Aviv to do business. This city is open 24 X 7.

The people have an attitude that they are important to the country and should be an example You get the feeling of life as you sit in a cafe or restaurant in the city.

This is the city that makes the country tick. Our beautiful beaches are packed with Tel Avivians enjoying our city. This is one of the greatest cities in the world to work, play, or vacation in.

We love Tel Aviv, sam-d-man

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cats in Tel Aviv... and a bit around

Cats seem to be everywhere in Tel Aviv. Not the ones which just walk out of the house and explore the neighborhood. The wild ones, that live on the street. Tel Avivians have a love - don't care relationship with cats. On one side they feed them, you see leftover food in aluminum pans tucked away in strange spots. Even bits or cat food left at the same spot every day. Left alone, cats will find their way in the city, the play, fight, breed... Tel Avivians are not exactly sure if the breeding and multiplying aspect of cats is such a good idea. Not that they do much about it. But in the spring and most of the summer you see tiny furry newborn kittens. The majority consensus is that they will mostly die. Some from too little food, some from animal attacks, some simply are too sick or small to survive. The weather here is always fair, so cats don't need to find a place to keep warm. Even on the coldest nights the temperature does not go below freezing.

Cat nap on an artificial tree, North Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv
Cats have a special status in Tel Aviv. They are left alone and city animal control officials essentially ignore them. Dogs on the other hand must be muzzled, leashes, and most of all owned, registered, AND TAGGED! But not so for cats. They just strut around, nap as they please, and curl up to a willing leg for some attention. If you ask most Tel Avivians about this strange situation you will get a range of answers. The most interesting is the absolute FACT that cats eat mice. Well, for the most part, this is not entirely true. Cats do chase the little critters and once in a while play and kill them. If you ask most pest experts they would probably not advise on getting a cat to get rid of mice. The other interesting answer is that cats are clean. There is an urban legend that cats do not carry communicable diseases and therefore we should not have any cause for concern. I think that most physicians and public health officials would tend not to push that point too much. But overall, cats are nice to look at. Tel Aviv has a good amount of birds, nice dogs, and once in a while you will see a bunny or a ferret in a child's room. But cats, are what this is city is all about. Oh, one more thing, this love affair with street cats is not just in Tel Aviv. Actually, when you look around in Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Hertzelia, and Holon, you are bound to find a great deal of cats. I worked for a while in the Hertzelia Pituach industrial area and early in the morning I would see cats everywhere. They were still on their morning walk before the buzz of the day started. In Givatayim you can see group of cats hanging out in parks and between buildings, specially in areas where they are fed regularly. Read More...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sicilian love songs in opera style - White Night @ Tel Aviv

Last night was the "White Night" - Tel Aviv's all night celebration. So we went out to sample the events mostly looking for music. A few restaurants offered the special 78 shekel dinner but being all over town, we decided to stay close to the tayelet area. We ended up having a great meal at the Goocha on Ben Gurion and Dizengoff. Then we set off to explore the music. The exciting thing of going out in search of something without a plan, is finding something that you wouldn't be looking for. We certainly found this in a fantastic performance of Italian popular songs by an Israeli Opera singer. He was backed up by non-less a Russian quartet: an accordion, two balalaikas, and a base guitar. The sound could not have been better. The stage was set up next to the Sheraton hotel just above Gordon beach. This area used to be a big Israeli folk dancing stage years ago before the intifadas, when the tourists use to come to the beach and dance all night, but the area has been neglected until now. Luckily Tel Aviv city hall is cleaning and renovating the area once again. There are certainly less tourists to dance, but that does not mean that Tel Avivians can't enjoy this wonderful spot.

Israel Opera soloist singing Sicilian pop songs in opera style: bravo! fantastico!
OK, back to the music. This opera singer and four musicians gave a two hour performance of non-stop Italian hits and the crowd was mesmerized. Talking about a pleasant surprise. First of all the sound was amazing. The setup was a little tricky since there are two bars in the area, but it worked fine. The opera singing together with popular Italian tunes is a wonderful combination. I think that most of the people were not only surprised but also didn't imagine how nice it is to sit by the water on a warm night and be literally serenaded. Now I can understand why Italians really don't have competition in the romance category. They simply put their heart into this and it comes out in music. You can say whatever you want about Opera and Italian music, but you can't beat their love songs. Once again Tel Aviv surprises and delights, if you missed the "White Night" - put it on your calender, because next year will certainly be another delightful surprise! Read More...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Life in the White City - White Night

In July 2008, UNESCO declared the White City (Tel Aviv) a world cultural heritage city. Tonight, July 3rd, 2008 - Tel Aviv will be celebrating the declaration with a city wide event that starts at 7:00PM and continues until dawn tomorrow. This is one night but over 100 separate events of all kinds and for every taste imaginable!
Tel Aviv knows how to throw a party, maybe better than any city out there. Not just for a few, not just for a special occasion, not just for the young! FOR EVERYONE! This is the forth year of the White Night festival in the city that never sleeps. Where bars and pubs close "when the last customer leaves".

Events taking place across the city include beach parties, dance parties in clubs and on open stages, theater, and music performances. Clubs, restaurants, and other sites also have specials for the day - all the way to the wee hours of the 4th of July. Some of the other treats are dance shows, Jazz and modern music, opera, and rock and roll shows.
Our city is going to party, like only Tel Avivians know how. Don't believe that crap on CNN, Israel is neither dangerous nor violent. Stop taking the word of ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, and CBC! You are not going to see any gun toting masked Palestinians or right wing extreamist "settlers" tonight here. Come to see our "White City" for the full night -- that's the W H I T E   N I G H T ! !
see yah' in Tel Aviv -- sam-D-man

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Travel to Tel Aviv - it's not just fun and games

From the stories here you may think that Tel Aviv is just fun and games. Shopping, dining out, lying on the beach, hanging out in cafes... well, that's just the leisure and lifestyle part of this city. Just as important, Tel Aviv is the true center of commerce, business, technology, investment... and basically the place people come to meet and make the "deals". Not that there are no other places to meet in Israel, there are lots of wonderful places, both quiet and comfortable. Green areas like old kibbutzim, quiet areas like hotels on the Dead Sea and the Red Sea (at Eilat). Green areas like small bed and breakfasts (called Tzimmerim - in the German tradition) up in Gallil, from the sea (Mediterranean) to the sea (of Gallily). But to see people, go to conferences, get business services, people come to Tel Aviv. Like all business centers the one thing people complain about most is the travel. Roads are clogged beyond belief on rush hours, buses run late and are filled with sweaty riders and cell phone screaming teeny-boppers, taxis are too expensive if you come from anywhere but a close suburb, trains don't run often enough and can also be full. Oh, the thought of getting on the highway or a train one more time. Once you get to Tel Aviv there is never enough parking, there is a ticket writer on every corner, and the bus stop is never where you want it.

Nicely flowing traffic into Tel Aviv on the coast road (Hertzel facing McDonald's)
OK, you get the point. But it's really not that bad, compare to LA traffic, NY bus and subway, Rome or Paris drivers, and London parking. In some of these cities you actually pay just for the privilege of driving your own car into the city. Not here! Actually if you know where you are going and have a little time, there are parking lots in most big buildings and public areas (Dizengoff Center, Azrielli, T"A University and fairgrounds, large hotels, etc.) Traffic is only really bad if you come the absolute peak hours. From 7:00AM to 9:00AM anywhere coming into Tel Aviv you are going to find a traffic jam. In the evening from 4:00PM to 6:00PM it's just as bad as the morning. But if you avoid these hours, you are going to be OK. But for a big city, Tel Aviv is not that bad. Traffic is bad but not everywhere and not every day, but you will have to sit in the car and listen to that radio talk or your favorite iPod collection. Once you figure out where you are going, there are plenty of ways to avoid the big intersections with the most amount of traffic.
Buses are comfortable, run all the time, and go everywhere, but you are still stuck in traffic!
Buses and trains are a whole other story. Trains are great if you are coming and going to where the stations are. The trains from Modiin and from Petach Tiqva are a new addition and you will not be traveling alone during rush hours. They will also save you a great deal of time if you don't have to trek from the stations too much. Buses have the same issues as cars on the highway, there are no high speed lanes in and out of Tel Aviv. So if traffic is at a stand still, so is your bus. But once you get used to a certain bus line you may get to like it. If you catch the bus early in the route you will get a seat. Than, put on these fancy headphones and ride with your favorite tunes. If the ride is longer than 20 or 30 minutes that means the line is not going to run very often, so make sure you don't miss the 7:30 bus because the next one could be 20 to 25 minutes away. Anyway, if you need to get into and out of Tel Aviv, no big deal -- but you better get used to it and figure out what you need.
Tel Aviv is working very hard to make travel easy. Roads are in good shape and there are construction projects to bypass heavy intersections, it's just that construction always take years longer than needed. The train system is moving along, but it is very expensive to construct rail lines and stations are very slowly being built. Actually the train system is already suffering from under capacity, but you don't have this rush of trains like in Calcutta (we are going to eventually learn how the Indians do it). Travel is one aspect of Tel Aviv that is actually working, the city is a usable business center - YOU CAN GET   H E R E !   Which is one thing that we learned from the bigger cities, which you can't get in and out of as easily!

      Next time - alternative transport-ation: bikes, tus-tus, and a board or tiny-wheels. Read More...