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...