Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hot City Noise, Humping Moaning Neighbors, Greenest Spot on Earth???

Man imitating nature: tree cutouts on Rocach Ave outside Tel Aviv University

As I listen carefully the city is noisier in summer. My windows are open and the quiet morning moments are filled with birds chirping. This sub-tropical city, half way between Europe and Africa is a resting spot for the migratory birds, the ones living here probably also migrated, but decided to stay. While Al Gore is busy preaching the song of green living, Tel Aviv has been greening the desert for 100 years. I wonder why Al Gore has not noticed while he is flying overhead how this little area from Rehovot to Lebanon "suddenly became green in the last 100 years". Oh well, the birds are still happy on the big trees outside my window. When the highway at the end of the building goes quiet the bird chirping is even stronger, this is a great place for singing. One energetic specie is heard through my microphone all the way in Palo Alto California. While on a skype call the high frequency chirps cuts through my voice or any background whoosh of the road. That's one nice thing about Tel Aviv. No big deal, just a nice thing about living in an old apartment with big trees outside.

Moped salesman upstairs humping and moaning on a summer night. Moped mobility in Tel Aviv is a valuable commodity, someone should benefit from it

At night the quiet is broken with one humping young neighbor. A moped salesmen by day, Romeo by night ~ sometimes he gets a noisy girl so moans join the soft booo-booo calls of owl and fluttering bats ~ bats like the summer here, they eat the few fruits left from the palm trees. Tel Aviv likes the summer. The city should be dry on the edge of a desert. From here if you travel west there is not going to be green until you pass the Sahara. Take your pick, Cuba or Ethiopia; Sudan, Kenya or Congo will do if you are looking for green. If you travel east you will end up in Iraq and the fertile crescent, between the biblical Tigris and Euphrates rivers, that's where you get green again. No, wait, add to that Saudi Arabia and the gulf emirates. Go a few hundreds miles more, you will end up in India before finding a cultivated green spot like central Israel. I guess this can explain the happy birds, they are in a green island in a dry spot covering a good part of our earth. Green trees from all over the world, cultivated by dedicated green thumbs, mostly from the socialist experiment in the Kibbutzim (somewhere in the north), they try to fool us. All this green around us is made up, if we forget to water the beautiful behemoths they will dry up. Enough with the dry climate. The people are noisier in the summer. The shook (Ha'Carmel open air market) is so noisy, people actually talk back to the screaming vendors to shut them up. It doesn't work. Fruits and vegetables are rotting and wilting in the heat, get them moving scream "aleph aleph aleph - rak eser shekel" (A, A, A, just 10 shekels - AAA is the highest quality designation for fruits, specially fragile strawberries, nectarines and grapes). Shook regulars will tell you that shouting helps. The laud ones have special deals and are the hustlers here. They are in the business of moving product. The term "stutzi" (a Hebrew variation of "stocking" ~ I am guessing here) comes to mind. Stock them and sell them. Nothing stays as it is in the summer, and changing from one state to another comes with the added benefit of noise.

next: more noise and smells in the city
AmiV @ TLV - summer noise in the white city


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obama in Tel Aviv: US Policy for the Israeli Citizen; Good News???

Obama's message to Tel Avivian's is not simple to accept here. Is this a problem to Netanyahu's government? Should Obama or Netanyahu change their stance? Should Tel Avivian's change? (from White House web site)

Ha'aretz [Hebrew addition] recently published a story about the unfinished state of the security fence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (14/07/2009). A not so hidden message mentions the "America's disapproval of the whole idea of cutting the country into two". Therefore the Israeli government budget and matching US funds simply stopped in 2007. Since then the work has slowed down to a crawl. At the time nobody wanted to aggravate the Bush administration or restart a wave of negative press from international media channels.

Actually, Ha'aretz is focusing on the unresolved settlements issue. The settlements issue is complicating a final border agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Therefore the uncompleted sections of the security fence suddenly make for news. The unresolved settlements issue can be seen in the "three fingers" jutting out of the green line (official Israel 1949 armistice map). The Palestinian Authority will not give up on this land without getting something in return from Israel. Israelis are not blind to the position of the Palestinian Authority and the people they represent. This issue has been slowly resolving itself. Tel Aviv residents clearly view this issue as the most visible item holding up the security fence completion. That makes it the most controversial and a key factor in the security of the central part of Israel.

Security Fence, August 2008, mostly finished, still un-built in controversial sections.

The feeling about the security fence in Tel Aviv is one of annoying necessity. Some would say it is a necessary evil. The fence is annoyance in terms of the international press and Israel's image in some countries, but not all. Comparison of the security fence to the Berlin wall and walls between North and South Korea or the US and Mexico border barrier are made all the time. At the same time, the security fence has clearly helped in quieting down complaints from both side of the border. Terrorism inside Israel has virtually stopped. Complaints about Israeli citizens in Palestinian areas has also completely stopped. Palestinian Arabs are not seen in the central part of Israel and Israeli Jews are few and far between anywhere outside the green line. The necessity of the security fence is undeniable, fences work in other places and they work just as well here. The same can be said of the security fences with Lebanon in the north and with Gaza in the south. But they also cut off the daily interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. It feels like we are in one large pen. Even cows and horses feel penned in when you put them into a fenced area. Once in a while you hear Tel Avivian's mention the good old days when you can shop for olive oil in Beit Jalla (the best in the world some say [Cooperative site] [YouTube clip]) or shop at some roadside stand for vegetables. But you also hear about the brisk trade of stolen cars taken from upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood to an anonymous orchard in the 'territories' and chopped up for parts. This has stopped as well. Like most people, Israelis have positive and negative labels to the Palestinian territories. When things were better construction workers, car mechanics, cleaners and restaurant workers made their way daily from Palestinian refugee camps [UNRWA page], towns and villages [pictures] to work in Israel. Sometimes they would even find a place to sleep, a storeroom in a restaurant, the back of a garage, a rented room in an Arab village or even in Jafa (close to Tel Aviv). This would help in the daily travel but also had the consequence of being caught (most Palestinian Arabs did not have permission to live in Israel just to work there). But this is just nostalgia speaking. The sad part is how few people have essentially caused two nations to feel haltered and fear towards each other. NO TEL AVIV RESIDENT would ever think of the majority of Palestinian as terrorist. Not even a fraction of a percent has attacked Israel. But even the thought of another attack in the middle of the city is enough to accept the security fence and call it a necessary evil. Overall, the security fence is good news, being isolated - possible NOT, AmiV @ TLV


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Israel Economy - Independent, American Ties, Worldwide Ambition

Dead Sea cosmetics store in Dizengoff center: Israeli firms learned to depend less on the USA and develop customer demand all over the world, see article.

With the global economic downturn spreading into many smaller economies everyone wonders what will happen in Israel. The Israeli Economy has been dependent much more on the US economy and the strength of the dollar in the past. Economic downturns due to this dependence has sent many Israeli companies looking for customers all over the world, specially during the last ten years. This is not a sign of Israelis retreating from US markets, just more emphasis on expansion in other places. Take the Israeli Dead Sea cosmetics company. A relative newcomer to the retail sector in Israel they were known as strong marketers to the US starting to sell there in 1999. Today their products ship to the whole world and have loyal customers in places like central Asia and Africa. This focus on selling globally is unique and still not seen in most Israeli consumer product companies.

On larger end of the spectrum Teva Pharmaceuticals is one of Israel's largest company. It has expanded in the last ten years to become a truly international company with many more plants and distribution centers in Europe than anywhere else in the world. This trend to serve new markets is also seen in construction and engineering. Israeli architects, building construction and real estate investors have focused their efforts in Europe and Asia for more than fifteen years.

Let's get back to the Israeli economy. Israel has been distancing itself from the US dollar since the drop of the dollar to shekel from around 4 to 3.2 two years ago. Real estate transactions which were all quoted in dollars are now quoted in shekels. The US financial downturn, started with the sub-prime credit crash events and moving to mainstream financial institutions, than the credit markets and finally hitting US automakers did not influence Israeli companies and investors directly. Also, what the American managers were doing in the US was not duplicated in Israel. This isolation in financial and managerial behavior is probably the single most crucial difference between the economies now suffering and Israel's economy. On the positive side, stronger Euro and Asian denominations are strengthening the economy here while there is drop in business from the US. Some would like to think that government or the private sector planned in some way a cushion from the global financial downturn. This is not the case. Israel has been in a slow economic period for the last few years (some say ten years or even longer). The high-tech bubbles of 2001 and 2005 hit the job market hard. This has slowed down foreign investment and the local real estate sectors. So while US, Europe and China were celebrating strong economies and high consumer demand through the 1990s, Israelis were spending less and getting used to living at a lower economic standard.

While the dollar has weaken against other denominations, the Israeli shekel has held well in the 2008/2009

A brief history of what makes the Israeli economy so unique and independent. The Israeli economy is an anomaly among countries. One of the only country to advance steadily over the last 60 years. As a Jewish community emigrating from Europe, private Jewish agencies started organizing economic institutions such as banks, insurance companies and mortgage programs. The Jewish agency backed by individuals and communities realized the need to duplicate economic structure of Europe as far back as the 1880's. The British mandate in Palestine from 1917 to 1948 brought further economic structure in the forms of legal and financial organization and professional structure. Up to the 1980's banking and accounting standards in Israel have been tightly based on British laws and practices. On the ground Isarel's economy has been isolated from the Arab world since the founding of the country in 1948. This with a combination of few resources and small internal markets has forced the economy to develop foreign markets for it's goods and services. The Israeli economy goes through a change in character every twenty to thirty years. From the 1930's to the 1960's the local economy was based on agricultural exports and internal real estate development. In the 1950's to the 1990's the diamond polishing industry was the main engine of growth. Since the 1970's technology companies, both foreign and domestic have been the strongest contributor to the economy.

Today the Israeli economy is certainly feeling the American and global financial downturn. But unlike other economies there are no rioting workers and no food lines (Israel does have a strong socialist support system, this also helps in bad economic times). Why? Simply because the sectors making up the economy, agriculture, technology, services are not on the brink of collapse. The financial sector is also not suffering from dept or bad credit problems. Israelis like to live a little beyond their means but the average Israeli has not taken credit in the amounts seen in the US. Finally, Israeli companies have gone through the ups and downs of dependence on a single market and a single financial partner. In the mid 1980s Israel suffered from hyper-inflation and everyone remembers what happened. This has given them the insight not to put all their eggs in one basket. It also gives people the drive to succeed especially in hard times.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Tel Aviv Travel - Saturday Afternoon in a Quiet Cafe

Levi's Dockers are the unofficial Tel Avivian's work dress. Israeli dress code is less formal than Europeans

One of the biggest misconceptions about Saturday's in Tel Aviv is how secular Jews keep the shabbat* (the sabbath for Christians). To some, Jews keep the sabbath by congregating and praying in a synagogue or a traditional Friday night meal with blessings and candle lighting. Another misconception, also an extreme view of secular Judaism is the belief that secular Jewish shabat means a day spent on the beach or driving around the country, completely ignoring traditional Jewish tradition. This view also associates the non-traditional shabat observation with being opposed to Judaism altogether (throwing the baby out with the bath water). Tel Avivians actually do not take sides in a religious tug of war between secular and religious followers. Shabat is spent here probably like secular Jews have been doing for centuries, in Tel Aviv there are a few nice modern amenities to make life better one day a week.

In the early afternoon hours on Friday, as if an invisible conductor lifting a baton, Tel Aviv's residents' urgency slows down. Tel Aviv's shabbat is quiet. Streets go silent as a few cars move slowly, a cafe here a kiosk there stay open the rest close down turning busy sidewalks into empty spaces. People who normally rush and shove slowly take a layed back posture, the rudeness turns into courtesy. Stores, boutiques and malls slowly empty and are closed for a day and a half. Buses and trains stop running. Weekday casual dress is toned down more: T-shirts and rumpled polos instead of ironed and starched shirts, Levi's 501's instead of crisp creased Dockers. Women in sun dresses and halter tops instead of matching outfits from Fox, Castro or Honigman's (latest fashion is a must in Tel Aviv, a halmark of a woman in this city). On weekdays Tel Avivians are always in a hurry, buzzing everywhere nonstop, there is definitely a New York hurriedness here. Secular Israel really does come to a rest, this makes Israel a unique place, American's the first time here, used to seven days of shopping wonder what happened. Nothing really happens, it's shabbat.

A walk with friends on a shaded boulevard just off King George street in central Tel Aviv

On a warm July afternoon north Dizengoff street is quiet. There are a few cafes and restaurants open between Dizengoff circle and Arlozorov. A mix of groups finds it's way to Etnachta, a small bar-restaurant at 190 Dizengoff. Two Dutch businessmen spending a weekend away from home ordered a complete meal one item at a time (a la carte), one could not decide on roasted eggplant with yogurt or tahini so the waitress bought him a sample of tahini. A few couples on dates, maybe even the awkward blind date, trying to look cool and composed (nice wicker chairs and shade make this a comfortable place to meet). A young couple with a stroller situated just outside the delineated tables area, Etnachta has tables under beach umbrellas on the side street, a regular arrangement for most busy street cafes in this part of town. Groups of friends come and go, coffee and a croissant on a warm shabbat afternoon is a great way to catch up and feel connected. Some seem to be comfortable enough so this is a weekly ritual, with the slow economy restaurant business is slow, but the pleasure of sitting an hour with a cup of coffee is not such a luxury item (25 to 45 shekels for coffee and a baked item per person - about $6 to $11). Etnachta serves a light menu, this is true of most places open on Saturdays, Tel Avivians are not eating the main meal just snacking about with friends. Strangely enough there are not many tourists in this part of town. They tend to be on the beach or in nearby beach restaurants. There, the nonstop international time schedule infiltrated Tel Aviv giving the beach a resort feel. The beaches are noisy and busy, summer is the high season and tourists like to lie on the beach. This is another part of the city... next time... the beach life in Tel Aviv, a tourist attraction!

*shabat in Hebrew literally translates to rest or to strike (work stoppage) or to stop working (not necessarily as a work stoppage in an organized or unionized context). Read More...