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!