Monday, December 5, 2016

Crane Migration Through Israel

Crane migration through Israel is somewhat of a hidden secret. A few tourists or business travelers make it to this biannual bird ritual. Yet Israelis flock to see the migration in spring and fall. To some this is an annual family event. This is as close as you are going to come to seeing animal migration in nature. If you ever wanted to see a massive migration, from rain deer in the arctic circle to elephants and buffalo in Africa, this is a sure way to get a taste of nature's fierce power. Seeing thousands of birds at one place taking off all at once is simply amazing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Winter Cranes in Hula Bird Sanctuary

Israel is a stopping station for migrating birds. Large cranes and pelicans from Europe migrate to Africa in the spring and fall. The Hula bird sanctuary is Israel's largest park to see this amazing natural phenomena. This time a year there are thousands of cranes at the sanctuary. In a field next to the ponds, we say thousands of cranes eating and quacking. The noise seems like a crazy conversation between a pair of birds, only multiplied by a thousand. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hula Bird Sanctuary: in for the winter

Pelicans migrate through Israel in the early fall and spring. By September and October they are usually settled here or gone to the Nile delta in Egypt or further south in Ethiopia and eastern Africa. Israeli wildlife authorities and the state's agriculture department manage the Hula bird sanctuary. Actually the direct management is done by the Keran Kayement Le'Israel (KKL - JNF) who owns the land proper.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sarona Park: Summer Music Memories

Fall came late this year. Up to mid-November Tel Aviv weather was unseasonably warm. Sarona park, the newly built shopping and eating commercial park on Kaplan street is attracting people with live events. Up to October local bands put on early evening (7 - 9 PM) concerts. I can't say these were Tel Aviv's finest performers. Yet the combination of a warm night, nice park setting and food all around in this part of town did the trick. The last days of September and early November a German style Oktoberfest turned out to be the last outdoor entertainment event.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sarona Market: Boutique Eateries and Shopping

Sarona market is a collection of tiny boutique shops and food stalls. Located at the rear of a newly built Sarona shopping center. The market itself is situated in the back of a park like development. This is another experiment in new Tel Aviv shopping and leisure development. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Autism Fund Raiser in Barby Tel Aviv

Israel's independent social services foundations take up the slack when the state can not support special needs. There are hundreds of foundations, especially for children with special needs. Luckily Israeli artists, especially performers, help in raising money and awareness for these kids. Last week a small foundation for parents with Autistic children put on a benefit concert. The concert at Barby Tel Aviv, one of the city's premier rock clubs was packed. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Haifa, an alternative to Tel Aviv?

Standup Surfing in Bat Galim beach Haifa. Slower lifestyle, quieter residential neighborhoods and affordable housing is luring Tel Avivians to north Israel. Haifa is one of the preferred destination © 2016 D-A Vider

Lifestyle and cost of living in Tel Aviv are compared to many European cities. Israel's central district (Gush Dan) has been on a growth spurt the last fifteen years. Most visitors who were here just a decade ago are amazed by the developments. But many Israelis are not happy. Housing prices are climbing steadily much faster than salaries. City centers (both Tel Aviv and surrounding suburbs) are crowded and noisy. The quaint Mediterranean beach cities, small communities hidden in sandy dunes, towns built in historical biblical locations and small agricultural settlements are gone. Simply put the last thirty years has turned central Israel from a quiet semi-rural land to a developed suburban sprawl. This is the lifestyle cost Israelis are paying for world leading economic success. When Israelis tell people about one of the most successful economies in the whole last century. Essentially creating a country from ideas and sand dunes. From colonial rule and antiquated laws to a modern fully functioning democratic republic - the personal cost is rarely mentioned. Yet this is the life in Israel.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Night Time Construction

Night time construction in Givatay'im. Old water & sewer pipes layed out 50 and 60 years ago were not designed for the population density and modern lifestyle. Some say a good problem to have © 2016 - D-A Vider
Israel's central region seems to be always under construction. When you look at the Tel Aviv, Petach Tiqva and Natanya skyline there are cranes somewhere all the time. A few months ago my street was cut with small ditches for new sewer and water pipes. Israel's strong economy and growing population is pushing construction everywhere, even in densely built suburbs.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Trip to Haifa

Bahai gardens surrounding the domed temple are an amazing example what can be done with gardening and attention to beauty, © 2016, D-A Vider
Haifa, Israel's third largest city is less than an hour by car. Haifa is probably Israel's least known tourists destination. The city has an image of an industrial center. Israel's largest sea port gives the shore and beaches a sense of not really ready for prime time sun bathing. But the city has upgraded it's beaches and even the locals are starting to make the place their destination.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On The Way to Jerusalem

A remainder to the 1948 siege on Jerusalem: steel plate armored truck on the road to Jerusalem @ D-A Vider 2016
The road to Jerusalem evokes different emotions in each of us. Christian pilgrims coming from thousands of miles away are excited to end a life long journey. Anticipating a life changing event as they enter the city. they will remember every detail vividly. Zionists, who heard stories told by and old man on the Burma road can hardly believe the small rusted trucks used to break the 1948 siege. On the 480 Egged bus from Tel Aviv, most of the riders are in their own little worlds. Tourists even on their own, are not seen on buses these days. Organized groups travel in their own buses. Individuals rent cars. If you want to see how Israelis travel take a public bus.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Secrets in Plain Sight: Israel's Security Secrets in Books

"Mossad the Greatest Missions..." is on sale, NIS 50 (about $12.50) in this year's Israeli book fair week, D-A Vider 2016

Israeli veterans are secretive about their military experience. They say a little about where they served (unit and position). Sometimes they blurt out a few small details about an extraordinary experience in "the war" (one of many they participated). But real details about missions (real battles) are best read in books or seen on TV. In general, Israel does not publish specific operational details. This is true for other countries, but in Israel, there seem to be more curiosity about the neighbor next door. There is always a strange feeling when a former army officer "suddenly shows up" as a CEO of an obscure company. Usually companies related to security products or services. But this curiosity does not lead to any real information. There is a term in Israel about hiring executives with military background: "friend brings a friend". Literally, bring a friend from your army unit, get a hiring bonus and the company will be happy. You two have a bond beyond work friendship. Nothing said out in the open, but certainly a feeling of "something is going on here, but I don't understand". If you are curious about secret Israeli military and espionage operations, turn to books. In Israel there are few good fiction espionage writers, but the real stories with fictionalized names and places are told in wonderful detail. See these books:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Zionism in Israel: Herzl's Idealism with Fresh Thinking

Graffiti mural on an old building, Carmel market, south Tel Aviv / D-A Vider 2016
This post is not written to arouse controversy. It simply describe a shift in opinion. Millennial Israelis do not think or feel like their grandparents. They also do not know the life Jews experienced in Europe or the Arab world a mere seventy years ago. Before shooting off a nasty comment, take a moment to reflect and imagine change. <editor>

Many Israeli millennials seem jaded and negative when it comes to traditional Zionism. Not the Zionism which drives passion toward the state, evoked in daily conversations about terrorist attacks and economic success rivaling any country the last century (the worst and best of Israel). The 120 year old idea popularized by Theodor Herzl [Wikipedia] in Europe long before Jewish communities in Eastern Europe organized immigration to this land.
  • What do Israeli millennials "Sabras" (the Hebrew term for a new generation of Jews born in Israel) know or believe that Herzl did not? Why do they not believe what their grandparents believed?
  • Why is traditional Zionism, with a rich history and decades of success making young Israeli think "old, out of date, not relevant today". Why a century changed our thinking so much?
What really changed for Israelis the last century is the establishment of a modern, developed and in many ways a well running state. Not simply a symbolic declaration of independence. Not even a well run former colony. But a truly good place for Jews to live. This essentially "completes" or fulfills Herzl's dream. Some say, Israelis outdid the "prophecy". Young Israelis are not disrespectful of traditional Zionism, yet they see quite different landscape today. Most discount the Jewish diaspora of today as simply distant relatives. With no understanding and appreciation of Jewish life around the world, millennials here only know what they see here. This is due to little contact with Jews around the world. American and European volunteers who came to help in kibbutzim in the 1970s were a small glimpse at foreigners. Since then, Jews have not come to Israel on great numbers, even to visit (the Birthright-Taglit program is one exception). Jewish tourists coming here have hardly any contact with Israelis. They seem to come to see the sights and post pictures on Facebook. Israelis are generally isolated from Jewish communities even when visiting places with strong Jewish identity (US, France, UK, Argentina, Canada, South Africa). This isolation of the two groups is changing how we interpret our Zionist past. Israelis see the movement as the driving force in establishing and growing the state. Yet where is Zionism today when challenges from inside and out need a new vision? Jews in the diaspora see Zionism as a vital idea and movement still alive today. The call for a "new Jewish state" means different things to different people. Even today.

More on this somewhat hidden aspect of Israeli millennials and Zionism in future posts.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Wedding in Ha'Sharon Kibbutz

Traditional secular wedding ceremony performed by a rabbi under a chuppa. Modern style ktuva displayed to the gathered family and friends. 2016 D-A Vider

Spring is wedding season in Israel. Families gather in glitzy halls, parks or back yards, and in most typically rural settings. The most desirable rural locations are old kibbutzim (communal settlements) and moshavim (communal agricultural villages). Israelis still feel nostalgia in life cycle ceramonies. Bar mitzvahs, a man's right of passage into the community is celebrated with great difficulty by reading a Torah portion in a synagogue prayer. This in an era where up to 70% of Israelis could not find their way in a sidur (prayer book) to save their lives. Well, most Israeli brides look for a rural green and preferably agricultural setting for their weeding ceramony. Luckily many defunct agricultural settlements have gotten into the ceremonial business. Most weddings are considered small affairs. They host from 200 to 400 guests. The traditional wedding ceramony starts out the affair. This element is most representative of traditional Jewish ceremonies practiced the the last millennia in communities around the world. The modern elements are a meal and dancing to Israeli "middle eastern" style music. A fusion of Arab sounds and rhythms with Hebrew poetry. Dancing and music, always an unique part of community celebration has stayed and evolved, much like other celebrations in Israel today. In the last hundred and thirty years Jews have brought tradition and fused it with new inventions, a blend as vibrant as any from modern countries around the world.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tel Aviv's Attraction for Millennials

Only the brave & adventurous para-sail Tel Aviv's coast on windy afternoons, yet plenty of foreign millennials are on the beach watching, May 2016

When you live and work in Tel Aviv, especially if you are a millennial, you notice the number of young foreigners here. The most surprising observation is the wide range of people from different countries (I go by languages) these millennials represent. Not only European and American, also Asians (especially Japanese, Korean and Chinese) and South Americans (especially Argentinians and Mexicans). With a few Africans and eastern Europeans thrown into the mix (Russian tourists still come in some numbers). Granted most come to visit or on business. Some come from curiosity, bucking the trend of staying away because of negative image. What will get all these millennials, energetic, optimistic, curious and a bit adventurous to come live and work in Tel Aviv? Besides the image of an active entrepreneurial center, there was a sense of adventure and maybe risk taking when coming to Israel. This is especially the image Israelis try to portray. Israelis also portray an image of a modern economically developed country. Almost on par with western European countries. Yet most western European and Americans see a different picture. Israel is still a small country somewhat isolated from Europe and completely apart from the surrounding middle east. This makes for a bit of an island mentality. Economically Israelis are still struggling to catch up with western Europe. Israeli standard of living is also below US middle class. Yet in culture, technology, architecture (especially residential construction), personal freedom, modern legal and government standards and many business sectors (particularly retail, banking and corporate structure) Israel has come close to many western countries. To most Asians and south Americans this is good news. Although adopting to Israeli culture takes effort and to some it's a steep learning curve, the benefits of living and working here are worth the effort. The same goes for most eastern Europeans, where economies and technology slowed to a crawl for decades, Israel is a breath of fresh air. The story of millennials in Israel is rich and interesting. More to come...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Daniella Lehavi and Luxury Shopping in Tel Aviv

Daniella Lehavi is a well established luxury leather accessory brand in Israel, bags after shopping, Givatay'im May 2016

Tel Aviv is trying desperately to lure local luxury item shoppers. But with cheap travel to Europe and plenty of imported global branded items, the job is a tough one. Israeli designers have tried to establish a local luxury market for years, yet many fail. One success story is Daniella Lehavi [site here]. Still a relatively small retail chain with ten shops in central Israel. The shops are small boutiques with a few selected items from each category. The site and catalog show many more items available. The luxury accessory shoppers don't mind small boutiques, they happily support them. With the growth of mall shopping, essentially making them the primary shopping destination in Israel, Lehavi is taking advantage of the exposure. Israelis are not living the luxury lifestyle yet, but when they get there, Lehavi is happy to offer them local leather accessories.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Spending Less on Israel's Independence Day Cellebrations

Fireworks may be the last holdout of government spending in independence day celebration, Israelis prefer government spending on more practical and realistic social programs

Israelis want local and state government to spend less on independence day celebrations. The days of soviet style military parades and folk dancing in public squares are long lost memories. Most Israelis today remember the patriotic showmanship as children or stories from old relatives. Israel is no longer the state of patriotic struggles and socialist idealism. The issue of independence day celebration is even rearing it's head in the political discussions. Just two days ago, Ha'Aretz, Israel's mainstream daily, reported on a comment made by Benyamin Netanyahu, the somewhat misunderstood prime minister. According to a short article, Netanyahu commented on this year's celebrations and reminisced on the military parades of his youth. Apparently the newspaper decided to spin the story as his desire to "bring back" military parades. Realistically, most Israelis take this kind of reporting as political jabs. The days of parading tanks and marching soldiers are faded memories. Yet these stories, truthful, honest or fictional, still make the headlines. It is a sign of changes in the Israeli press, a sign of not only ridicule in the face of out of touch government. While Netanyahu's perspective of Israel as a regional military and economic powerhouse fits well with optimism, his comments on showing power as a sign of strength seems to be taken as a joke. That is a change in attitude, maybe for the better. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cracking Down on Electric Bicycles

A 250 shekel fine imposed on bicycle riding on Tel Aviv sidewalks - Ibn Gvirol at Arlozorov, April 2016
Police in Tel Aviv now stop and fine electric bicycle riders on city sidewalks. On a few main streets, I have seen police officers stop riders. This seems to be happening on large streets with narrow sidewalks (Derech Ha'shalom into Tel Aviv, Ibn Gvirol Street). On streets in Givatay'im in early afternoon when high school children ride in packs through commercial streets (Katzenelson and Waitzman Streets). Besides terrorizing pedestrians on busy commercial streets, an accident can cause real trauma. Up to now accidents caused a few bruzed muscles and broken bones. But as more bikers ride on sidewalks, the inevitable serious accident it just a matter of when not if.
The electric bicycle trend has taken Tel Aviv by storm. At first electric bicycles were a curiosity, maybe another alternative transportation mode in a city with chronic parking shortage and commute time grid lock are an annoyance for years. But the electrified models came at a time where government efforts to introduce more bicycling seemed like a good idea. Tel Aviv introduced a bicycling rental by the hour program. Copying London's program, a resident can sign up for a yearly pass and pay 280 shekels (see city bicycling rental page, HE). The Tel-O-Fun program is adding a few biking enthusiasts to Tel Aviv streets, but seems more of a publicity effort than a real transportation solution. There is talk about adding bicycle lanes, but besides bicycle traffic lights along the beach path, to me this seems like a long term political babble. So if you come to Tel Aviv, and see "everyone" biking on sidewalks. Look for the marked bike paths. Or give the police a story how in London and Amsterdam bikes and pedestrians have equal rights. It could get you off a 250 shekel fine (about US$ 62.50). Otherwise just ride the streets and as they say "be careful out there!"

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Weekend Life in Startup City (Tel Aviv and Surroundings)

Israelis are constantly looking to balance intense work schedule with family life

Israel's intense startup life takes a break on the Sabbath. Family life takes back seat during the week, but on weekends (Friday and Saturday) the pendulum swings a bit to the side of leisure. Some see this weekly break as a way to compensate for the intense focus on work. There is a bit on nostalgia in Israel for days where family and especially children where the focus of attention. These nostalgic feelings seem to come from parents who grew up in simpler times here. Israel's meteoric technological and economic progress, going on for decades now, has changed many basic family lifestyle habits. With higher expenses and much larger economy, demands on personal time have gone up. To some older Israelis this change is alarming. But younger Israelis make the choice to focus on work rather than family willingly. Israelis have a perspective on a shift in focus from one generation to the next. While some younger Israelis are nostalgic, others put up with change. This means putting more into children's events. The "birthday party in the park" with "activities" - is one sign of the changing times.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Investing in "Lifestyle": Showing Up Everywhere

Flowers, trees, public bicycles and cleaner streets are a big part of local government spending today

Israel's focus on domestic lifestyle growth is slowly showing signs of life. In the past few years, Israel's perspective of urban lifestyle became a focus point. While government and private organizations were not as keen on investing in local lifestyle in the past, attitudes toward living standards have changed. The average Israeli's street view is changing for the better. Streets are cleaner, renovated where needed and even policed more frequently. To me it seems as if local government is taking outdoor life more seriously. Following the example of cities around the world, streets, parks and public spaces are cleaner, better maintained and more comfortable. There is a hidden story here. I think it relates to the change of attitude toward the hard criticism of government policies the last few years. This type of writing is best done by political writers, especially in mainstream media outlets (newspapers, TV). Yet here is my take on things:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring in Israel (2016 season)

Anat in front of flowering tree in Givatayim.
Spring this year arrived early. After a few rainy days, higher temperatures and clear sunny days quickly reminded us of where we live. In New England after hard winters the say "if you can stand the winter, you deserve the summer". Here they should say the opposite: "if you can stand the summer, you deserve the spring". Spring brings clear days and cool evenings. Flowers burst out after the last winter rains. Somehow this year it seems like the flowers are blooming all at once. The last two weeks it's been a feast for the eyes and the nose. If you come to visit Tel Aviv in the spring, go to where the flowers are blooming. In Tel Aviv there are a few "green" streets where the blooms are glorious. Enjoy the spring, the summer will surely push a few of us hot and bothered.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Shopping Still Strong in Israel

Givatay'im mall at a quiet weekday morning. Shopping at a street level has actually increased recently.

Israel somehow averted the global downturn of 2008. This makes for over two decades of steady growth (see Bank of Israel statistic). Some attribute this to the cautious Israeli bank lending policies. The average Israeli who wants to qualify for a mortgage needs to show ability to pay off a loan more convincingly than in other countries. Certainly more than in the US (see the recent movie "The Big Short") even after the sub-prime Wall Street fiasco. Some attribute the strong economy to fast move into new technology start-up sectors and security (i.e. military, internet cyber) sectors. Either way, the Israeli economy is growing steadily. This puts pressure on consumer sectors. The building industry has been suffering for years from slow growth and new home prices continue to see inflation year after year (2015 home prices in Tel Aviv increased by 8%). The state (in making land available), builders (due to labor shortage) and even banks are not "building" enough new housing. Demand is simply growing much faster than supply.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tel Aviv Beach end of February 2016

Sunny warm weather brought out Tel Avivians to the beach, end of February 2016
A few weeks ago the buzz on the street seesawed between anti-Zionist rumblings from Europe (mostly the UK) and political noise over domestic issues (security, economy, democratic policy). But weather and everyday life tends to send politics and economics to yesterday's newspaper pile (out of sight, out of mind?) Last Saturday, the end of a rainy February here, was one such day. Unseasonably warm and sunny, brought the huddled masses out to the sunshine. The beach was one place to find families and bikers, even a few sun worshipers who are an unexpected bunch this time of year. Foreigners criticize Tel Avivian's for ignoring all kind of political, security and economic issues. We hear from Americans to Swedish critics how Israelis should care more about injustice and pain felt by the people who are not as fortunate as the upper class. My answer is: go to the beach. The sand and sun are free. A soft drink or ice cream costs 8 to 16 shekels (US$ 2.5 to 4). And the talk ranges from work to cost of living to public transpiration. This is the real Israeli middle class, taking a day off from work and annoying foreign criticism. Which seems like a real misunderstanding once you are here and living the life of the average working stiff. Just for comparison, temps around the world: St. Petersburg: -4; Tokyo: +6; Toronto: -1; Seattle, WA: 10; London: 5; TEL AVIV:  18 @ 3PM to 10 deg C.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alcohol Drink Mix in Montifiore Cafe

Small alcoholic drink selection in Montifiore, a cafe during the day and bar at night (Ibn Gvirol @ Arlozorov)

Tel Avivians are different in their entertainment and drinking habits than Americans or Europeans. Alcohol drinking is not as popular as in most western countries. There is also less abuse, especially in the younger (millennial) population. Israelis consume less hard liquor than most westerners this makes for a lower alcoholic statistics (driving accidents and poisoning related incidents). But you can still get a good drink in many restaurants and cafes. With higher living standard constantly pushing up, Israelis started going out more and entertain in bars is way up (mostly with friends and work related events). This trend is driving many to Tel Aviv's more popular entertainment centers. Even small cafes (Montifiore on Ibn Gvirol in the picture above) are getting in the game. There are hundreds of small bars, cafes and restaurants serving drinks. Most will have beer (Goldstar and Maccabee are local Israeli beers) and a few choices of wine. The ones with small bars have a few selections of Whiskey, Vodka, Arak and Rum. In most small bars the selection is small so don't expect an exotic top shelf Irish Whiskey. But a good Johnnie Walker Red Label or a nice bottle of Absolut is definitely available. Beer 15 to 25 shekels, wine 25 to 50 shekels (cup), mixed drinks 25 to 80 shekels. There are variations in everything alcoholic in Tel Aviv, even taxes on alcohol in shops are a hotly debated topic.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tel Aviv Sunset

Tel Aviv sunset from Givatay'im star observatory hill
Tel Aviv is sometimes called "the city with it's back to the sea". Essentially meaning a city on the sea who seems to ignore the beach and sea. While Tel Aviv beaches are not the attraction they used to be, people still go to a high point or the beach at sunset. Some days the sunset puts on a show that is so magnificent, it is hard to beat. While Tel Aviv and most of Israel are drawing people's attention away from the sea, great sunsets on the beach are still amazing. Besides the beach, any hill with a clear view to the west is great. This picture is from one of the Givatay'im hills (the town's name literally means "two hills"). I took this picture with the high rise construction in the east of Tel Aviv's central area. The lower buildings in the front are residential neighborhoods of Givatay'im and Tel Aviv.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Live on a Green Street

One of Givatay'im's "green blocks" is Shenkin Street. Nice gardening example in this side entrance.
Some new visitors to Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas are surprised by "all the green". Which is a bit strange these days. Maybe twenty years ago, when drip irrigation was unknown around the globe and when the "Green Line" did not have political connotation, that was excusable. But today this is not the case. A big part of Israel's quality of life effort goes to giving everyone the means to beautify their surroundings. While real estate agents do not promote this one factor heavily, apartment seekers favor green streets. In Tel Aviv and surrounding towns, municipalities are investing into "greening" public places and residential streets. When looking for an apartment to rent or buy in Tel Aviv, make the green factor into account. Once you start looking for these hidden gems, you will have a new perspective on Israel.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Look for the Shnitzel & Fries

Tamir's Shnitzel on Givatay'im's main street (53 Katzenelson St.) is a rare find, busy from 1:00 to 3:30 PM)

The attraction of a hot shnitzel in a baguette as an alternative to a burger is hard to miss. Just about any good shnitzel eatery is a rare find. I am not sure why, but for the most part, very few independent eateries specialize in this classic Israeli dish. The Shnitzel (wikipedia) is a favorite with kids and soldiers. Here is a bit of popular Israeli food background. Maybe because prepared frozen food or chicken's popularity, this dish is one of the mainstay of schools and homes. Frozen sections are filled with large packages of shnitzels ready to heat in an oven or fry in a pan. In schools, kids from kindergarten to high school seem to have shnitzel on a weekly basis. As far as soldier visiting home on weekends or parents visiting military base, shnitzel and humus seems to be the most "well packed" popular dish. It usually goes with bread (or inside a pita) and canned pickled salads (olives, pickles, hot peppers, carrots). If you have a great place for shnitzel, not just in Tel Aviv, please add a comment.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Live Where the Burgers are Served

Burgers and fries are a popular fast food in Israel, which is the best place? That you have to figure for yourself.

It's a funny question, but we get it all the time: do you have good burgers and fries in Israel? Or from Israelis coming to Tel Aviv: is there a good burger joint in town? Or is all the food here just falafel and humus? I have a few friends who love burgers and fries. Some are American expats who remember their days when McDonald's and Wendy's duked it out on TV commercials (where is the beef crowed the old lady in the drive-in). Recently someone asked me if there is a "White Castle in Tel Aviv" - especially at 3:00AM, in a dark street where you can only drive through. Sadly I do not know of a place anywhere close to these amazing late night delights (I have to admit of downing a few of these "six packs" at a dark street somewhere in S. New Jersey in the 1970s). If you are out for a good burger, ask friends or even strangers. Seems like everyone has an opinion on what is the best burger in town.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Comfortable Safe Haven: Cafes, Shops, Malls, Parks, Beaches

Last post was about the daily stress in Israel. But most Israelis probably are not more stressed than any modern (i.e. western) people. There is stress related to the security situation, especially when there is an incident close to home. The shooting in Tel Aviv earlier this month (January 1st, 2016) reminded everyone of this situation. But Israelis see this situation similar to crime in some cities, difficult weather in many places or even stress related to economic difficulties. Every place (or person) around the world has it's problems and difficulties. This is what people say here. Yet in reality, many people avoid this stress and find comfort in traditional and creative ways. Israelis in cities head for cafes and restaurants. Tel Aviv is well known for it's cafes and restaurants as places to escape the daily stress. Around most of Israel parks and beaches attract people looking for quiet places to meet. Even the large malls, almost everywhere, have places to sit and get away from everyday stress. Outsiders usually need to look at a few places and meet a few people to get a true picture of how people handle stress.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pressure Cooker in Everyday Life: Stress on the Job

Security guards in public buildings feel more stress than most Israelis

A recent incident with a mall security guard brought out the stress some Israelis feel: daily ongoing tension. Simply put, some jobs and situations are stressful here. Security guards in public places: shopping malls, government buildings, business parks, outdoor markets (shuks) and fenced public areas (beaches, parks) are at the top of daily stress list. Security guards in public spaces are about a notch above cleaning personal in respect and pay. Which is somewhat out of place (and unfortunate). They are paid at a low salary scale, they usually work under freelance contract in security contract companies (i.e. they are not permanent employees with full social benefits). While their working conditions are below average, they are expected to deliver vigilant accurate service at all times. Most guards are calm and present a professional image. They check bags for suspicious objects. Sometimes they ask a few questions to see if someone is nervous or seems suspicious. While Israeli security services pride themselves on superior training and highly qualified guards, Israel's economy and culture create a different reality. Here is a salute and a tip of a hat to these unsung heroes. More in future posts...


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Israel's Individuality Dilemma: Unique or Global?

Used books stall on Dizengoff reflects Tel Avivian's thirst for English literature: pulp to art, cheap to boutique... an identity crisis? Some say no, some are still at the horn of the dilemma.
One of the discussions among Tel Aviv residents heating up lately is the city's identity. Israel's open acceptance of individual voices is straining some people's patience. Giving people "space" or "a stage" to voice their beliefs in public is an age old idea. Israel's early founders, built Tel Aviv with this idea in mind. But over the years, this has turned the city into many separate communities (sometimes called "bubbles"). To outsiders it is confusing sometimes. From some people's perspective Tel Aviv looks like a modern European city. That's the business, lifestyle or even retail shopping side. To some it looks like a Mediterranean city from old days on a Spanish, French, Italian or even Greek coast. That's the tourist, culture or even leisure side. To others it looks like a busy metropolitan hub of Israel's central region. A mix of business, government, culture and residential parts. This makes Tel Avivian's at a loss for one identity "image". More on this identity dilemma in future posts.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tel Aviv Up and Moving

Cafes along Tel Aviv's commercial strips are up and running, but residents are still cautious. Echos of last week's attack.

Last week's events still feel fresh here. But Tel Avivians are not ready to hide from the left over suspensions. As more details about the attacker stream through the media, residents are slowly getting back to normal routines. Tel Aviv's cafes stand out as one of the city's ever present "vibrancy indicator" are starting to show life. Residents have stayed away from sitting in the open for a few days. I have not seen the cafes this quiet for years. Even during the last war in Gaza the city was still buzzing at a normal beat. The term "bubble" is an old one, given to the city as a moniker for essentially living in a "different place" than the rest of the country. Tel Aviv's residents are well aware of the situation in Israel. They are also sensitive to the issues all around, especially the difficulty in securing the country. While Israel may seem like an isolated island among the surrounding Arab states, the reality is different. Israel's borders are not hermetically sealed. Also the isolation between Jews and Palestinians is mostly cultural. There are still enough interactions between Jews (even in Tel Aviv) and Palestinians and Arab Israelis. Actually, that last incident is a good example. The killer was a resident of a small Arab village and in the past worked in one of Tel Aviv's small outdoor mall / commercial center. Interviews with people who knew him in the past filled the news programs in the days after the attack.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fragile Israeli Confidence or Real Secure Feeling?

Almost empty King George (Ha'melech George) street on a weekday morning. Tel Avivians see the fear in empty streets, shops, cafes and public events. Is this a peek of "things to come"?
The last week revealed a hidden side of life in Tel Aviv. Israelis are teetering between smug secure confidence and (almost) complete fear. Something we have not talked about in many months. A seemingly tectonic change after a one man attack in the heart the city's commercial section. Some see this as a change in the security forces' ability to keep Tel Aviv's "bubble" calm and confident. A day after the capture and killing of the terrorist, media channels started buzzing with opinions (on what should be done next). While outsiders (especially Palestinian supporters) tend to see Israelis as secure and fearless, this one incident tells a different story. Israelis are secure and fearless as long as their immediate surrounding feels secure. This fragile reality is somewhere in the back of many Tel Avivians' minds. The tensions many feel, but mostly keep to themselves, is real. Some are quiet not to alarm people around them. Some assume revealing their true fears is playing into the attacker's aims. Terror is thought to pray on our inner most fears. Killing three in a city of 600,000 is not a true act of war. What's next? It's hard to say. Opinions are firmly split between more visible security (patrols, show of force) and less visible or more "normal" (i.e. hidden) security efforts. Will Tel Aviv turn into an always "watched" metropolis (i.e. taking a page from the London example of massively equipping every street with a hidden security camera)? Or will the city turn into a cold-war like "secret agent" Berlin? This small revelation of hidden life in the city is just getting started. Let's see where it goes.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Melancholy Beautiful Tel Aviv Sunset

Vivid moody colors cover Tel Aviv's evening skyline - Are we seeing what the mood wants?

Sometimes we feel melancholy yet not sure why. But most times, melancholy comes clearly with real life experience. The last week in Tel Aviv, this is how we felt. A violent terrorism attack opened out week. Then a terrifying three day fruitless manhunt. Parent too fearful to send kids to school (some N. Tel Aviv neighborhood with 50% attendance). Security officials, searching aimlessly close to the incident, are as lost for words as long time residents. Tel Aviv, a city with pride in it's tolerance and modern ways, has turned into a hiding terrorist haven. Israel, a state with fluid transportation arteries, built to move millions easily, has turned into a security manhunt nightmare. So we take comfort in the beautiful colors of a sunset. And at least for this week, hope for quiet, peace and maybe a little understanding. Even if it comes from a place we have not expected (France & India, more on this at later posts).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Je Suis Paris ~ Je Suis Tel Aviv

Je Suis Paris / Je Suis Tel Aviv - a cardboard sign hung by French tourists at the site of two deaths, Dizengoff, Tel Aviv
A simple cardboard sign, written hastily and hung with tape says: Je Suis Paris, Je Suis Tel Aviv (I am Paris, I am Tel Aviv). A sign of solidarity for the two deaths earlier this week. Candles and flowers in sympathy of Israeli dead are common. This type of notices are not seen much. The Parisian tourists actually feel like they understand. The Paris terrorist attacks, from Chalie Hebdo to the recent Bataclan theater, are sadly bringing Parisians and Tel Avivians together. Strangely, I have not heard much from American friends and relatives. Some think the international media is playing down this incident. To some this may be "good news". Israelis are touchy about foreign criticism. They are even touchy about slight mistakes in reporting (the word spin is used often here) of terrorist attacks. Yet most Tel Avivians are just fine with international reporting of terrorist attacks. As terror spreads around the world, I am afraid there is not much to guide citizens in target cities. Here it comes to going back to normal life and remembering the places and people.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gawkers, Ignorers & Mourners

Memorial candles and photo of terror victim on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, January 5th, 2016

I don't like writing or even discussing the painful events in Israel. There are Israelis which literally flaunt deaths and terrorism. As if it's a justification for something we are doing. But if you have gone through a painful event, or even been close enough to one, you change somehow. Israelis who lost children, parents, brothers or even cousins, tend not to flaunt the death of their dear ones. Deaths are public events just when they first happen. Yet quickly they become private affairs. No mother, brother or husband can share or bring into their life an outsider. No matter how close or how relevant their situation. Few endure the pain and make new relationships based on their loss. For the most part, once you lost a loved one, you want quiet after the first shock has faded. Three days after the deaths, the street slowly starts coming to life. A French couple, looks like tourists, hanged a small sign in solidarity to Tel Aviv residents. Seems appropriate in light of the events in Paris a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

3 days, 2 dead, 1 killer

Memorial candles and funeral notices at 130 Dizengoff, site of the two killings, January 2nd, 2016
I do not write about politics and security in Israel. This comes by choice, made over eight years ago. There are so many stories about politics, Palestinians, terrorism and fear to occupy anyone full time. In the social media (I follow Twitter & Facebook) there are more stories than anyone can follow. This is more so on days, like earlier this week, when there is a big terrorist event. But at the cost of telling the great story of Tel Aviv and modern Israel, I do realize how some of my "mundane" everyday writing get's lost in the noise. Terrorism and the fear for dear life is a real aspect in our lives here. The last three days, many parents in N. Tel Aviv (some in the most luxurious neighborhoods) have kept their kids at home, away from school. The fear of an attack by the terrorist hiding somewhere in the city has gripped us. The search for the killer is reported constantly, to the point where some don't want to hear any more. If anyone ever wonders how fragile the feeling of security here, this event is a sure way to explain our deep dark fears. Simply read the news stories from the last three days. Dizengoff street, one of Tel Aviv's busiest commercial strips, is practically deserted. I have seen more people on the street on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath) than this morning. This fear and avoidance of an area after a terror event is common. Where a memorable terror event took place, we usually say "near such and such place, where the 199# event took place". Seems like a crazy way to live. But somehow people get used to it and eventually ignore the craziness of it all.

A Few Boulders & A Shallow Rainwater Pool

A few big boulder and a tiny rainwater pool, remnants from hard rain a few days ago, they didn't stop most hikers...

Everyone has a preference when hiking outdoors. Some like it when the weather is perfect. Some like it when the crowds are somewhere else (not when the weather is beautiful). Some like it when the terrain is rough and the going is tough (they like a challenge). Some like to "smell the flowers" (usually take the kids, pick-nick, take a few iPhone pictures and head home). Before heading out on an outside adventure, check the route, the difficulty level and the weather. In this picture, there are a few large boulders, but getting around them was not difficult. Right after the rains, outdoor hikes are amazing. Ask any Israeli that prays for a bit of shade on a hot August afternoon. As Nike says: "Just Do It !"

Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 New Year's Celebration - Faded Quickly

Looking happy & hopeful, Jerry & Frankie @ 2016 New Year celebration, Goocha, Tel Aviv
The last two days Tel Aviv has been under virtual closure. Not exactly under military rule, but scary enough to keep kids in North Tel Aviv (Ramat Aviv Gimel - "C") out of school. It is probably decades since Israelis in central Israel felt fear about coming and going (some say since the gulf war and Iraqi rockets). Certainly not in the last ten years. But besides the security fears, the 2016 New Year celebrations went on without a hitch. This year, since New Year fell on a Friday, even the rainy weather did not slow most revelers. Despite the tension, the small group of friends enjoyed a great end of the year at Goocha (Ben Gurion @ Dizangoff) in Tel Aviv. If you were wondering, the roman New Year is called "Sylvester" in Israel. According to a few people, it's hard to pinpoint where this name designation came from or when it started. Just another quirky Hebrew language fact.


Winter Weather: If You Can Stand the Summer, You Deserve...

Israel's relatively dry climate, even in winter, is great for desert outings, Enjoy!
Israel's dry climate is notorious in the summer. Especially in the southern parts of the country. In the winter, after a few days of rain, outdoor activity is a real treat. I heard this swaying in Maine (USA): "if you can stand the winter, you deserve the summer" ~ in Israel we should say: "if you can stand the summer, you deserve the winter". This canyon (pictured above) with steep walls was one of the most amazing places to hike in the Arava region (the desert section on the south-eastern side of Israel mostly bordering Jordan). Just north of Masada there are many trails in open terrain and canyons. Cool winter weather is a great time to go to the south. There are organized groups with trips for hikers, bikers or bus trips. If you are not able to hike a whole day, pick a trip with more sight seeing by bus. Families and individuals are also out in numbers. If you are a tourist and are not familiar with trips to the Israeli outdoors, ask at your hotel or look for organized trips (flyers and internet pages). Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, the Israeli weekend you can find trips to the outdoors.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rainbow over Israel

Incredible full rainbow after the rain, 1-Jan-2016
Israel is not exactly known for rainbows. There are simply not enough rainy days here. But once in a while we see this kind of rainbow and it's amazing. This is a picture nanny-Frankie got from her daughter. When I get a great picture it's always worth posting. Keep on shooting, once in a while we get one that everyone loves. Thanks Frankie!