Monday, December 14, 2009

Retirement In Tel Aviv (Part 3): Getting Artistic at 70: serious crafts & arts

Yes, it's suppose to be "arts and crafts" but in case of retirement in Tel Aviv it's crafts first then arts. One of the pleasures of retiring healthy is freedom to do what you like. Creating with your own hands is one of these pleasures. Mastering your craft then exhibiting your work takes the right environment, appreciation of people close to you and personal commitment. It also takes appreciation of art by the community. It helps to collaborate with other artists. All these are here in Tel Aviv and the surrounding towns. In some towns retirees are leading exhibit and groups activities for everyone in the community, children and adults. They organize trips and gather to paint in local parks.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Do We need Innovation? Moving Forward in Israel, Can We Teach Others?

Two recent books show Israel's economic and technology strength touch on the Israel's development of innovation skills. Israel Test is written from the economic perspective by George Gilder a technology writer and thinker [book page]. Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer two journalists focusing more on Israeli innovation in the form of start-up companies [book page]. Some think of Israeli innovation and technological adventurness in cultural terms. Is innovation such a critical element in Israel's economic success? How is economic success drive cultural and lifestyle success? Is everyone in Israel just concerned with the money and innovation? Or is it the other way around and innovation changed the Israeli culture somehow? I will try to touch on these questions in upcoming posts, this one will introduce innovation in Israel and expand on areas which you will probably have to be here in person to see.

If you spend time in Israel it becomes clear how innovation is not an inbred attribute. Nobody is born with the "innovation gene" or at least the trait comes in so many different shapes and types it is hard to figure out who has the gene. True, there are many start-ups, some even make it big, but most people work in "regular jobs". There are plenty of traditional businesses, these give the country it's stability. Innovation in technology still needs a solid base economically, roads need to be paved and government needs to run and grow at it's own rate. But there is something unique here that many people do not see right away. It's change, here it happens quickly and clearly. If you are following the economy, change came quickly when financial markets crashed in the US and than at the rest of the world. Somehow in Israel we saw it clearly and noticed how our economy slowed down. Tourists use to come to Israel in large numbers, when they stopped coming the economy declined and tourism workers went scrambling for new jobs. Follow politics and state security issues and notice change even faster. When Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt, the Palestinians and than Jordan everyone was happy, but only for a short while. Government was in a high after each agreement but then Israel went back to daily reality and euphoria settled down to regular everyday state. When Israel gets ready for elections there is buzz all over the world, some hope for the big savior (peace maker,) some fear extremist warrior. As soon as the elections are over, it is quiet once again. This cycle of change is a recent memory with the Netanyahu/Liberman government. Replacing Olmert/Livni with such extremist was suppose to bring chaos to the land - I don't think anyone would stick by their predictions today. Change is what makes Israelis innovate. Change makes people look for new ways to do things everywhere in the world, just here people scramble faster. That is what gives Israelis an edge. When engineers come out of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) they are already well equipped to innovate because they dealt with change, sometimes on a massive scale. Imagine what it's like to go from calm to war in one month. The Israeli army goes through this change every few years. A war erupts by surprise or they are asked to go into enemy territory. The last two years both happened in the north and the south. Not only reserve soldiers have to be called, equipment has to be moved to the front and the whole operation of an army has to start, intelligence and communication has to be operational in an instant. The speed of change in Israel is amazing, and one way to deal with it is innovate.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Israeli Entrepreneur's Dilemma: Product or Business

Israel, more precisely the central region around Tel Aviv, is a test tube for entrepreneurs. Something in the mix of size, innovation and cooperation in small groups makes Tel Aviv a good place for start-ups. While the venture capital funding world is taking a nap (see previous article here) hundreds of engineers, marketers and WEB2.0 want-to-be-entrepreneurs are buzzing with new ideas. WEB2.0 (web two point oh) is the new buzz word here, you still hear "enterprise applications" and "big iron" once in a while. The buzz about Internet applications, widgets for blogs and social networking sites and all kind of services tied to Internet businesses is fun to hear. Eventually from all the buzz some work takes place. Programs are written, web sites are designed, buzz on Twitter and FaceBook is generated... eventually people try and tell their friends about it and things get out to the world []. Israeli entrepreneurs have experimented with new technologies and new products for a long time now. I would say at least twenty years maybe even thirty. But there are still new technologies and products to try. If Israeli entrepreneurs continue with technology they are in a safe space. But "what can they do next?" or more aptly: "what more can they do?" Business! Until now Israeli start-ups were sold at early stages of their product cycle. The word "EXIT" was the buzz word for the 1980s and 1990s in Tel Aviv. The Israeli technology start-up business was started by American and they are the ones to buy Israeli companies. When an Israeli company sold, company founders made a few million dollar each, the good workers got jobs with the American company that bought them, and for the most part products survived (some didn't but that's life.) But there was always the suspicion that Israeli entrepreneurs sold out too quickly. That the big money came when the company was already established. Workers also complained of dedicating the best years of their lives early in the company and did not get the senior level jobs, these were reserved to the American company in control. The problem Israeli managers had was little or no business experience. Technologists were able to make good products but they did not know finance, stock markets, government regulation, and mostly the traditional business world. Now comes the dilemma: should Israeli entrepreneurs learn business and aim at keeping their start-ups longer? OR should they keep on selling to the larger companies in order to focus on developing new technologies?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Simple Economic Models: Cars, Water or Real Life

When the economy changes drastically government officials and economists try to tell stories about it. They give us a model like a lesson in high school science class, sometimes they even give draw a diagram. A car is a good model for the economy, it has been used by senators and governors, we have a car but no fuel so we can't go anywhere. This model works great in the US, running out of fuel is a real emotional issue for Americans. There is a model of water, when it stops flowing we need to "prime the pump" (famous quote from depression era economists.) Water model is good, there are pipes and pumps, reservoirs and leaks, all kind of elements in a water system. Do we need simplified models to understand what is going on in the worlds economy? Do we need models for local economies? Why don't we deal with the economy as it is? When a bank collapses we should talk about the risk the bank investment managers took. When the US sub-prime Real Estate fiasco was going on, even Warren Buffet wrote about it in his eloquent yearly report to stock holders.

Models are good for certain things. But making an analogy for the world economy using a car and fuel is an over simplification. So is the use of water in a pump for the flow of money in any economy even a small one. Why don't we have accurate explanations from economists and government leaders on the economic situation? Why do we need to wait for a book to be written a year from now telling us how demand for durable goods (cars, refrigerators, diamond rings) goes down forcing less manufacturing of these goods to stop manufacturing, which means factories have less money for worker's salaries. Or demand for old technology like big cars running on gas goes down but there are still not enough new designs and not enough electric engine production capability to make hybrid and electric cars which would be more in demand if we had them. Or that in the last fifteen years American car companies has not produced a single low cost model so Hyundai a Korean car company or Sang Yang a Chinese company are becoming an attractive alternative? Demand, competition, trade advantages, import tariffs, these are not such hard concepts to grasp.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Start-Up Nation: Book on Israel's Entrepreneurship

How does Israel innovate? How does Israel produce more start-ups that make it to the NASDAQ than whole of Europe? How does Israel use the technology (i.e. electronics) start-up model in agriculture, bio-tech and now clean-tech? These are questions people have been asking for as long as there has been Israel. Israelis first built guns, cannons and avionics when no one would sell them arms to defend themselves (in the 1940s.) Than came a period of building the state itself and Israel built housing, factories, roads and public buildings (in the 1950s and 60s.) If you look carefully from the air you see the famous green line, an outline of the state in green where Israelis planted trees and literally changed the landscape (and the environment - that took more than 50 years.) Now Israelis build and design Integrated Circuits for Intel and cell phones for Motorola. But more than that, Israelis build companies. Not just products and inventions. Organizations to create and compete in the world technology, bio-medical and other fields. This phenomenon is discussed in Start-Up Nation. From an Israeli perspective it seems like an old story, start-ups go back 30 plus years. Here we have lived the gradual change and every week see a new product or announcement or a company acquisition. But in reality it is a big deal. Building a company is hard enough, building a whole economy and culture to drive company building is phenomenal.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Israel's Hebrew Legacy: English a Barrier ?

Israeli schools are great at teaching English to an acceptable business level. But only a few Israelis end up with world class English writing and editing skills. Hebrew, a language that was resurrected in Israel in the 1880's by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and others is thriving. Being the main language in Israel for three generations, its been the mission of Israelis to be a language of everything. But this phenomenal success comes at a cost. Israel's economy and business simply needs more English writers, speakers and editors (for that matter many other languages.) The problem seem most acute in the technology and tourism sectors. English is not just a bridging language between Israeli technologists and the world, it is used extensively to document and plan. Essentially working in English is helpful in preparing a company to market internationally. Writing in English all along the product development and marketing process enable Israeli technologists get to international market quicker.

A bit of history of the modern Hebrew language. Hebrew is essentially a modern language with ancient roots. As a language of religious study, it has been used by Jews for two thousand years. But religious study did not mean daily use. Therefore Hebrew was neglected for over 1,000 maybe even 2,000 years (that debate is related to the use of Hebrew in pre-inquisition Spain where Judaism had a golden age from 711 to 1492 CE.) When the Zionists first arrived in Israel (then Palestine ruled by the Ottoman Empire) the use of Hebrew in daily life took on a renewed interest. Clearly there was a need for the language although at times Yiddish was assumed to be the best alternative. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was not the only European Jew who had in mind reviving the language. But he is remembered today as the one to invent new words and clearly passionate enough to make Hebrew a modern usable language. Literature and poetry in Hebrew started coming from Europe at about the same time. But these were based on the knowledge of religious Hebrew used in Torah and Mishna studies in the Yeshivas.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Tel Aviv: Rain, a Packed Bus and Coffee with Internet

Winter is really here with four days of rain. Sometimes it comes down hard and Tel Avivians hide in cafes and offices. At night streets are deserted, left for the teenagers and "acharei tzava" (twenty something after their military duty.) Tel Aviv does not take well to the rain, the sewers were not made for this much water, streets flood and puddles stay for hours. Sometimes we forget how 100 years ago central Israel from Tel Aviv south to Rehovot, east to Kfar Saba and north to Natanya was one dusty sand patch. In the deserts and semi-desert climates rain does not seep into the ground. It seals the sand with top layer of wet sand then flows to make small floods down hills into low points. In south Tel Aviv, where sewers are old and narrow streets fill with water covering car tires and sidewalks. So Tel Avivians, take out their boots. Women who wear open shoes all year around get these few days to make a change. To some it's an opportunity to make a fashion statement. Boots that were made to European snow pop out everywhere. What an amazing transformation in an instant.

Last Thursday the 55 bus from Tel Ha'shomer skipped twice. It usually runs every 20 minutes in the evenings. It did not come from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM. Riders all along the route gave up and took taxis or waited when there was no alternative or did not want to spend the extra money. Once on the bus a minor demonstration started. First people scream at the driver. So he tells them that it's not his fault, actually they should be nice to him. It's the previous two drivers that should be taking the heat. That does not help, it makes things worst. Than a few start talking loud and threaten to "write a petition and have everyone sign it". To me they all seem to be the Russians, they are used to bureaucracy and official government departments which debate people's opinions in local government meetings. A debate started on which government department the petition should be sent and what to say to get them to do something. The department of transportation was the most agreed upon candidate while the bus company seem to be losing out. To Tel Avivians the bus company is just a winner of a government bid to move people economically. But most riders were just glad to get going to where they needed to be. On Thursday evenings, the end of the working week, soldiers from the base in Tel Ha'shomer, one of the bigger recruitment base, go home for the weekend. These are the army's bureaucrats, they will be receiving the complaint petitions from bus riders in ten year when they work for a government department. They are tired and don't care about a bus route missing two appointed rounds, they just want to get home.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tel Aviv at Night (Pictures) (part 3)

New park and residential buildings in Givatayim. Developers are taking advantage of every open area. City planners balance residential need with green spaces / © 2009
Azrieli group, builders of the Azrieli center in Tel Aviv (three buildings on the left) recently bought the Givatayim Mall (long building in the center) from the Africa-Israel group which has been selling off properties to repay bank notes / © 2009
Bomb diffusion robot returning to it's transport van. Security in central Israel is still a serious task with suspicious packages handled safely by bomb diffusion police units / © 2009
A newly renovated building on Ha'yarkon street in Tel Aviv and another Bauhaus building going renovation. Ha'yarkon street right on the sea was neglected for decades. With new investments in rental properties Tel Aviv is getting a much needed face lift / © 2009

Real Estate in Israel: A New Era of Growth, Investment in Rental Properties

Tel Aviv apartments are being bought by Israelis for investment. They are rented at higher prices than in the past. There is also a rise in apartment renovation both by investors and by owners. This trend reflects a shift of money from investment in financial instruments which started two years. Mutual and hedge funds are shrinking while investment Real Estate is growing. I believe this is an opposite trend than the American and European economies, where Real Estate was booming for many years until the bubble burst. Usually a long trend in investment is a good sign for the future strength in the economy. The new investors in apartments are also raising rental prices. While rental price rise in Tel Aviv is mostly seen as a negative economic trend, there is not much said about the huge amount invested by individuals. Israelis have been pushed to own their own apartments ever since the state was founded in 1948. This desire to own your own apartment came at a cost of a rental apartment market specially in Tel Aviv. But like cities all over the world, there is a need for good rental apartments. Since the rental market was not a strong investment destination for Israelis, rental apartments are usually in bad shape and are owned by out of towners.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Israel's Business Moral Weakness: Are We Learning ?

Reading the business papers the last few months in Israel and there are disproportionate number of articles reporting immoral executive behavior. I am worried about two moral issues: greed and fraud. Greed is a new accusation in Israeli business circles. Until this generation the country's businesses had a small fraction of the money we see today. Greed without the ability to "get the money" simply does not work. Fraud is also related to the amount of money involved but goes even deeper into the psyche and moral history of Israel. Let's look at greed in this article and cover fraud later.

Israel's incredible economic growth has brought a whole new class of problems. The first noticeable trend is a concentration of the money in a small group of people. Like the proverbial south America banana republic, Israel is made up of a few individuals and families who own a majority stake in companies and Real Estate. This is the first nouveau riche group in our long history as people. This new group now wants to live like the rich in the US and Europe. With life of luxury comes desire for more. As few succeed, many want to follow them. A race for more and to beat the "guy next door" results. Greed is the driving emotion to other forms of financial corruption.


Ajami (Movie) Dark Life in Jaffa

Ajami the movie is playing in Israeli theaters. [imdb] [] [FaceBook page] It is a collection of stories from the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa. Jaffa being part of Tel Aviv officially (managed by the city) is an Arab city with a life all it's own just minutes away from central Tel Aviv. The stories depict a few young men and how their lives intertwines with each other and the outside world. The characters sneak into Israel from the Palestinian territories, get involved in drugs, find disapproval of parents in a Muslim and Christian love affair and overall struggle for a better life. While the plot was dark, and the acting iffy, the look into a life of Arab Israeli life was fascinating.

The movie is getting mixed reviews in Israel. The topic and presentation of an Arab language movie in the mainstream Israeli society is as oddity by itself. Arab and Jewish life, even here in Tel Aviv is separate in most respects. The interaction of the young heroes is just with Israeli police and a mention of a worker from the Palestinian territories losing a job with no place to stay at night (he worked for an Israeli boss.) For most Israelis the topic is hard to digest. We seem to be tired of stories about how difficult life is for Muslims in Israel. Ajami focused just on the dark side of life, which may have been intentional. Nobodies can deny the difficulty in a life we rarely see, while fictional, it probably does represent the life for some young Arabs in Jaffa. The scenes of an unofficial Arab court and the conversations among the young men looking for help from the big family head, Italian mafia style and even the get together of friends criticizing one for leaving Jaffa to live with a Jewish girlfriend, are a peek at a life seldom seen. There is pride mixed with the fear. There is love and passion hidden from family and the public. There is friendship and acceptance of life, yet fighting for respect and the right to stand up for justice.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Israeli Tech On Hold: VCS, Exits & Eggs

It is not a secret that the Israeli technology sector is taking a nap. A big component of Israel's success in the technology sector was start-ups. Israel's entrepreneurs and engineers got into the business of starting up companies and selling them to American companies. This business has been going for over 10 years until about 2005. American venture funds bring investment capital from Wall Street and American retirement funds. Israelis start companies and usually sell them to American companies. The return in this sector is usually higher than the stock market. Everyone is happy. Until something changed!

In 2006, 2007 and 2008 there have been very few "exits". 2009 is not much better. These are sales of companies or initial public offerings in the stock market. Exit(s) is a buzz word in the Israeli start-up sector. It is what Israeli entrepreneurs seek more than anything else: cash for a 5 to 10 year hard work. Selling a company brings good returns to the investors and does not involve the process of taking a company public. But the shift in technology from software and networking to Internet and software services has slowed down the investment-development-exit train. Established venture capital funds were dealt a blow, many small ones are completely gone. Entrepreneurs in many tech sub-sectors needed to reformulate their ideas and start working on new prototypes. What Israel can teach the world is how quickly change happens. In US and other large markets change does not have to happen as quickly. The market's momentum can hold up companies and financial pipelines. But then they eventually crash. In Israel small scale reveals quickly what changed and where the new developments are going.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Breslev Spirituality: Young Jewish Orthodox in Tel Aiv

Once in a while, in the evenings mostly, on a busy street in Tel Aviv you will suddenly see a white van with speakers on top. When the van is moving they play a peculiar hip-hop music with a Klezmer flavor (old eastern European Jewish style music.) When traffic lights turn red or when there is a convenient place to stop two young men dressed in loose white pants and shirt hop out and dance on the street. The scene is a bit like what the hippies looked like in the 60's in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco without the flowers and the Indian patterns. This is one form of communication from the breslev community in Tel Aviv (see also Breslev.) The Breslev community, followers of the Rabbi Nachman of Brezlov, have organized into loose groups and attract mostly young men from non-religious background. Their message is based on the writing of Rabbi Nachman from Breslev who preached lightness and happiness in being Jewish (late 1700's to early 1800's). At the time Jews in eastern Europe aspired to become great Torah masters. Rabbi Nachman believed in living Jewish life with a purpose based on spirituality not ability as a proficient Torah student or in practicing Judaism. This message appeals to many young Jews who do not have the background or knowledge to join traditional Jewish communities.


Shift Your Image of Tel Aviv (Part 3): Technology Business, Seminars

Israel has a great technology reputation. Intel Israel and the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) give us a reputation of solid and innovative technologists. There are about 20 internationally known Israeli companies, some connected with bigger American companies. Less known is the rest of the Israeli technology world from top ranked education in the Technion to government driven start-up funds. Meetings among Israeli technologists is an interesting local phenomena. Most people who come from other countries wonder how we can have productive meetings that satisfy everyone. In 2008 the hi-tech sector in Israel went through a very low period, many meetings were canceled or required an entrance fee. As the market recovers, there is somewhat of a recovery and the meetings are back "on". Meetings and conferences are usually free to attendees, they are paid for by exhibitors (suppliers to the specific field.) I went to the IT-SMF yearly show where this year they awarded a prize to the company most successful in implementing ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) - a set of procedures and practices to improve IT quality. This is the first time the group honored a company with a prize. There were three contenders: Pelphone, the city of Petach Tikva and the international support group at Comverse. Pelephone won the award this year with the other two getting second place (I guess they scored close.)


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shift Your Image of Tel Aviv (Part 2): Virtual Peace, Like London or Paris or Rio

The words peace and Tel Aviv do not fit in the same sentence too well. You will not find them in the daily BBC report on Israel. Israeli political corruption has taken the place of negotiation with Arabs, so politicians do not speak of peace much. Hate speech from Nasralla or Ahmadinejad will certainly not have Tel Aviv and peach in the same sentence. But if you think a little more creatively than a global news media, London, Madrid, New York and Paris have experienced more violent events the last five years than Tel Aviv. From a personal perspective, Tel Aviv is safer than many western cities. There is more security here than just about anywhere (OK Baghdad excluded.) Private security guards are everywhere. You can not enter a mall, bank, train station or school without opening your bag or purse and passing a metal detector. Palestinians or for that matter any Arab looking male under the age of 50 no longer work or shop anywhere in central Israel. Cars with Palestinian license plates are as rare as a Ferrari anywhere in Israel. I call it virtual peace. This is like virtual security in war torn countries where sections of cities are walled off and private security forces protect anyone that values his life. If you look at Tel Aviv and all of central Israel, essentially we have the same situation. Just that our "wall" is a fence around the country. Here we are safe, we don't worry and we play and enjoy life.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Retirement In Tel Aviv (Part 2): Keeping Fit at 70 (or 37)

You see people of all ages in Tel Aviv. In contrast to retirement communities in many places, people stay in the city and actually some people come to retire here. On the streets, in restaurants, in symphony halls, there are young and old. Unlike many cold climate cities, Tel Aviv is a great place to grow old and keep fit. To some keeping fit is a walk by the sea or a swim in the morning surf. To some it is getting out into a bustling city and seeing people going about their daily activity. Older people are not just kept in special homes or in a certain part of town, they are part of everything here. This is a second in a series of articles about retiring in Tel Aviv (see first article.)

One retired American with family in a Florida retirement community says that he would be dead by now if not for Tel Aviv. On visits to the US he sees friends and family sitting around pools half the day. They need help getting into town just to shop or see a doctor. Most can not drive and are too far away from anything, without convenient public transportation they are essentially prisoners in a very nice building complex. In contrast at 72 he is getting round on foot and with public transportation. He goes to Jerusalem by bus or train, about an hour ride. Living in north Tel Aviv he has access to anything he can imagine. Even heading to Ikea to shop for furniture a van service called sherut (service) gets him within 10 minute walk in Natanya. His suspicion of "being dead by now" when looking at Florida retirees is a bit of exaggeration, but it does reveal an important factor in the quality of life. For the average retiree the quality of life in Tel Aviv is better specially when it come to health. Another American couple spends the summers in Tel Aviv and winters in Arizona. Tel Aviv summers are actually cooler than Arizona. They loves getting around by car and seeing the country. Most days they just walks around Tel Aviv and enjoy the variety of activities the city has to offer. From movies to museums, if you have time during the day, attendance is light and range of activities is endless. This couple clearly sees health as a combination of physical and mental activity. Israel's culture and lifestyle is an eye opening experience to many, this can help keep you fit mentally and spiritually.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tel Aviv Wants To Be Amsterdam: In Bicycling

Tel Aviv is a great place to bicycle. It is flat, the weather is great most of the year and most roads are bicycle friendly. But people here do not get around by bicycle. They prefer cars, mopeds, taxis or buses, anything motorized. There is even a trend for electric scooters as a commuter vehicle. City hall decided to promote bicycling. There are good reasons for people to get around by bicycles, after all in Amsterdam and Beijing you see more bicycles than taxis. A recent article in the Globes, a business paper, reported of city government push for more bicycle commuting. As you can imagine, what government decides is not exactly what people will do. So is turning Tel Aviv into Amsterdam in bicycle transportation just a matter of some PR? What makes the Chinese and Dutch take to the road by bike while Israelis take taxis or buses?

While Tel Aviv is a great place to bicycle, Tel Avivian's love their cars and mopeds (called Tus-Tus.) Cars are somewhat of a new phenomena for most people in Israel. Until the 1990's car prices were too high for most Israelis due to 100% import duty. When taxes were reduced to 50% and then 30%, cars became affordable. Tus-tusim (plural for mopeds) are a perfect vehicle for city commuting and are preferred to bicycles, it's a bike except there is that engine. Moped riders ride just like bicyclists, pass between cars in intersections and ride and park on side walks. So what makes these Dutch and Chinese pedal instead of moped? It's hard to say. Tel Avivians are probably just as practical as Chinese. Tel Aviv is just as flat as Amsterdam and probably has as much free parking. For the most part biking on the streets is safe. When streets are too crowded there are sidewalks, which most walkers do not mind sharing with bikes. The only real problem with bicycles in Tel Aviv is theft. Which leads one to believe that someone out there wants the bikes. Which means that they should want to bicycle around town. Actually, the theft seem to come from the teenage market (and teenagers themselves.) Teenagers seem to want expensive bikes and do not mind a slightly used one, so they buy or steal them. Police does not seem care and bicycle registration programs are not promoted enough or encouraged. A good lock and some common sense where to lock your bike is usually enough to prevent theft.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hotel Location in Tel Aviv: What to Do and Where to Do It

Looking for a hotel in Tel Aviv is easy, a google search of "hotels tel aviv" returns 3,580,000 results and 11 advertisements. All this action is driven by Google's search and advertising system. People search for hotels and therefore bloggers and web site developers write about hotels. In comparison "restaurants tel aviv" gives only 1,880,000 results and 3 advertisers, most pages are written by locals for locals, "rock climbing tel aviv" gives 18,200 results and "judo tel aviv" give 55,900 results. But google and most of the hotel sites usually don't tell you much about where you are and where to find that fun and interesting "stuff". Stuff you can do, places to see, experience like the native Tel Avivians. To hard core bikers and surfers, niche sport sites can be a better place to get information on hotels near where you are going to be doing your activities. Other information such as experience with a rental business or where to find a diving partner may direct you to the part of town where to stay. I spoke with a SCUBA instructor and he explained how the one rental shop on the water may not be the best choice for experienced divers. Although most divers come to Israel for Eilat on the Red Sea, there is still good diving around Tel Aviv, so ask a local diver. There are also groups that will give you information and even let you tag along when they dive together. There are other places to dive just north and south of the city, in 45 minutes you can be in Caesarea and dive among Roman columns from a 2000 year old pier.

If you are looking for a hotel in Tel Aviv, you may want to find other things first. On a business trip and want to Kayak? Make sure you can get to the Tel Aviv marina just off Gordon street. You can also ask someone in a nearby hotel for a boat reservation. If you stay far away from the beach it may take more time and trouble than it's worth during morning traffic. The same goes with Judo and rock climbing. There is a rock climbing wall in the Ha'yarkon park, if you are staying in the very north section of the beach area it's a walk away. Would you like to start your day biking or running in the park? Ha'yarkon park runs along the whole city from the Mediterranean eastward through Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak. It has long paths, is well maintained and even serious runners on most mornings would appreciate the scenery.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Gilad Shalit's Plea for Freedom: Nervous, Quiet, Worried in Tel Aviv

Unless you have been living under a rock in Tel Aviv you definitely hear, see and FEEL the quiet nervous tension here. This quiet two minutes and forty second plea for freedom was streamed on TV and computer screens like a thunder bolt in mid-summer. The first few seconds after he finished was the most silent Tel Aviv has been in a long time. Than came the whispers and interpretations. What can you say to a prisoner held for four years? What can you tell the family? What should the government do? Tzipi Livni more than two years ago blurted out in anger something like "we are not going to bow down to the Palestinians on the count of one..." Immediately Olmert, Ashkenazi, Barak and everyone you can think of wanted to hit Livni on the head with a baseball bat (OK we don't have baseball here, we can find a bat somewhere.) But there was something to that blurb that is finally sinking in for Israelis and Palestinians: nobody wants to back down and look like a loser. The Israelis are not willing to let murderers out just to be treated like heroes in Gaza. The Palestinians are not willing to settle for not getting everyone out of prison, specially their big heroes. Shalit sits in a hole just beyond our reach. To most at first impression he "looked good". But the way he looked did not calm the nervousness. Just seeing this face reading quietly a simple speech [video/transcript] made everyone's hair stand in the back of his neck.

I think you know things are bad when nobody talks about it. The old white elephant in the middle of the room, the king walking naked in the middle of the street, Shalit still "there" four years later. The situation indicates two big shifts in attitude in Tel Aviv:

1) Israelis are no longer willing to trade Palestinians at any price. If we "JUST" get Shalit without a complete stop to terrorism "they" are not going to get the "very bad ones". (Israelis are not willing to release mass murderers which for the Palestinians are heros)

2) Israelis can be silent and tolerant for a long long time. We can take stress, we can take Iranian presidents on TV, we can take Nasrala and Haniya on TV. We can take silence from Ashkenazi and Bibi... few remember 8 years of shelling from Gaza, Israelis remember.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Linked-In and Facebook in Israel: A Buzzing Business Network

Social networks are buzzing in Israel. Linked-In and FaceBook are two of the most popular destinations for Israelis. Linked-In is a strong entrepreneur and recruiting site with groups focused on technology in Israel. FaceBook is a used more for social causes and leisure activities (parties, social causes, group announcements.) The other sites gaining popularity is Meetup, a service to announce and reserve places in local events. Israeli techies are not new to digital social communication. Up to this wave of WEB20 services blogs and chat boards were the main form of group communication. Blogli.CO.IL is a free blogging service in Hebrew similar to Blogger.COM and WordPress.COM. Message boards like Ynet communities, The Marker Cafe (business and work related), Walla.CO.IL, tapuz.CO.IL (opinions and personal blogging) were the hot destination until today. Google also added a complete Hebrew support to Blogger.COM but that did not seem to attract participation from the other services or create a new set of followers. At this point in time most blogging services are similar enough and to move from one to another does not happen en mass. Israelis are great in following new trends and trying new products. But they are also finicky and tend to latch onto things in a completely unpredictable nature. Remember that these are trends, some come and stay, some go down in flames (quickly.)

If you have an Internet service, a new product or even an idea, think about testing it in Israel. Most Internet users read and write in English well enough to understand new ideas. There is a big Russian and smaller Arab speaking population. They tend to follow the mainstream Israeli (i.e. Hebrew) trends. Other European languages are also spoken here but not in as large number as the other mentioned (Spanish and German are probably the next languages in popularity here.) For the most part the Israeli digital market covers a great deal of professions and interest. Israelis have a good standard of living so many products like electronic gadgets, software and media (movies, music) are consumed in good amount. Finally, Israel has a large population of digital professionals, from designers, to software developers, business entrepreneurs to marketers, writers and editors. This makes the market which is small and manageable a good place to start and deploy ideas quickly.


Night Time Pictures of Tel Aviv: Azrieli Area


Friday, October 2, 2009

Polished Slick Political Speech in Tel Aviv

Tel Avivians recently upgraded their image of slick politically correct speakers. Not by international standards, but certainly by Israeli standards. Israelis for a long time had an image of rough and undiplomatic. Today in fact, Tel Aviv behaves much more like a modern European city than an Israeli Kibbutz from the 1950's. The change from brash, brutally honest, "I don't care what you think of me" to civility is something foreigners notice right away. Specially visitors who have not been here in a decade or two and remember the days when Israelis were on top of the world. In general, Israelis are not particularly interested in politics. In everyday life, you do not hear much political talk, there are just too many other issues to worry about. If you are interested in politics try a few people and see who bites. Tel Avivians are not worried about what they say, so they will tell you what they think. If you need to decode what they say here are a few things I heard recently. Here is a short decode table:

  • I do not understand politics: I am tired of the empty promises before elections and the excuses after.
  • Politics is in my blood: My great uncle was a low level beurocrat in the histadrut (national labor union, at one time representing most workers in Israel.)
  • I follow politics religiously: 1) I watch the news every evening. 2) I hear all kind of things but believe very little until I see real action.
  • Politics is my religion: I vote in most elections and I do not practice any religion regularly.
  • I don't want to hear about politics: 1) I really don't care what politicians say and do. 2) Bring it on, I love talking (arguing) politics.
  • I am not that interested in politics: Politics are a waste of time but if you got an opinion I am sure we can argue about something.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shift Your Image of Tel Aviv: Buzzing & Financial ?

The last few posts' feedback bring up again the gap between image and reality of Tel Aviv. The main reason I write about this has nothing to do with "righting the wrong" in our world. There is no reason to prove CNN or NBC wrong about their reporting emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Mainstream media highlight of military skirmishes, storm casualties and political meetings among world leaders is their version of the news. Blogging specifically and the Internet in general has validated a whole different view of the news. One that is much more relevant to most people most of the time. There are so many other important issues to deal with on a daily basis. To most people the traditional news content has almost become irrelevant. I say almost because the older population and the consumers of TV news are not going to replace their cable TV with a laptop connected to the Internet. Commuters on the way to work are not going to turn off the radio and listen to podcasts on their iPods (MP3 players.) As radio survived all these years in the shadow of TV, so will TV continue in the shadow of the blogging, Internet sites, podcasts, video clips on YouTube, networking with FaceBook, Twitter and Linked-In... add your own favorite Internet format here.

Tel Aviv and Israel in general has never been treated fairly in the mainstream press. That is the average Israeli's opinion at least. In my opinion this issue has more to do with the openness of Israel to foreign media plus the ongoing skirmishes between Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians are simply stuck in limbo and have had bad luck with their leadership. It does not seem like this will change. The Israelis are simply strong militarily and have absolutely no place to go. So CNN TV reporters and London Times photographers are having a field day here. Israelis only see this part of the equation and are as mad as hell. OK, enough with the bad news... here comes the good news. (PLEASE do not write comments on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, there are plenty of other blogs to do that.)


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jerusalem Mamila Street Statues - Part 2

This is the second installment of the Mamila Street statue exhibit (see the first part here.) Also notice of great deal of compression and loss in contrast in the editing process. If you would like to have the original JPG image with more detail for your site, please contact me directly. When posting on the blog in low resolution (a few hundred K size JPG) the color and texture are reduced. Especially the marble looses texture in low resolution. But than again there is no substitute to seeing it live in person!       E N J O Y


Lonely Planet's Israel Guide Book (an Palestinian Authority)

Today's Ha'aretz English edition (29-Sept-09) has an article titled: "Why Israelis shouldn't read travel guides to their country" By Yotam Feldman, Haaretz Correspondent [link]. The article cautions against Israelis reading the lonely planet travel guide on Israel. Although it does not condemn outright the writing. The quote about Tel Aviv is a hint of Feldman's overall view of the Lonely Planet's style:

The Lonely Planet guide depicts residents of Tel Aviv as idle and relaxed: "After a few days in Tel Aviv (or TA as it's affectionately known by expats) you may start to wonder if there is such a thing as a weekend. The city seems to be on permanent holiday, and at any time of day or night you can saunter down a main street and find crowded cafes, joggers, beach bums and dog walkers."

If you are a regular reader of this blog I hope this is not the impression you got. But truthfully, this article does remind me of the continuous impression of Tel Aviv tourist and expats pushed on me. It does seem that people come here to relax and forget that Tel Aviv is also a center of a vibrant country. I have a few stories that would make the point, they will be left for a bar or a drink on the beach (any takers?) From an outsider's view this impression of Tel Aviv as a laid-back coffee sipping and idle / lazy den is certainly understood. I mentioned the cafes and bars in Tel Aviv on more than one occasion.

Lonely Planet's web site, to some the authority on travel on a budget for independent individuals (no tour groups and air-conditioned buses here) says this about Israel introduction of Israel and the Palestinian Territories latest edition:

Like the patchwork of new arrivals at Ben-Gurion airport, Israel is an amalgamation of peoples who arrived over centuries of time, each one staking their claim to the land. Territorial disputes led to violence, which in turn made for some epic accounts in the Bible – not terribly dissimilar to what is playing out on nightly newscasts where you are today. But contrary to popular belief, Israel is not a war zone to be avoided, and it has such rigid security that travel is surprisingly safe. Somewhere along the line, politics and the bitter facts of life in this uncertain land will nudge their way into your trip. And while Israelis and Palestinians love nothing more than to argue, muse and prognosticate over the latest political currents, it’s best to leave your own opinions at the door. Enter the Holy Land on a clean slate and you’ll never watch the nightly news the same way again.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Retirement in Tel Aviv: Better Than Florida or Ibiza? Judge for Yourself...

I do not mean to undermine Florida's and Arizona's retirement residents. Or ask English and Germans pensioners to give up Spanish and French beaches. Now that the baby boomers in western countries are in their retirement age, options where to live are everywhere. When it is harder to move from rust belts to sunny resorts all over the world, you don't need a Tel Avivian bashing at you. BUT Tel Aviv IS better for some (and for good reasons.) Thanks to its geographic location Tel Aviv offers great weather year around. If there is a complaint about the weather it comes in the hot summer days of August, when the temperature touches 100°F (47+°C) and the humidity is at 90%. If you can't take the heat, hop to Switzerland or Scotland for a month. Geography has another pleasant surprise: location. At first impression you may not think of location as a crucial factor in a retirement decision, think again. From Tel Aviv you are only a short flight away from Europe, Africa and even India and central Asia. Here you are much closer to China or Japan than San Francisco or even Stockholm. If you like exotic locations in Asia, Tel Aviv is served by over 50 Asian airlines (125 international airlines in total.) If you like adventurous locations a visit to Africa can be a bus ride to Egypt or a short flight to eastern and central Africa.

If city life is your cup of tea, you do not need to travel. Tel Aviv offers more than most medium US and European cities. All night restaurants and bars, world class shopping and entertainment. More museums and concerts in Tel Aviv and the surrounding cities than many regions in the US. Why is Tel Aviv such a cultured metropolis? Because of the people and the mission set upon European Jews 150 years ago. Israel's population came from all over the world. With large percentage from Europe and the middle east (Muslim countries.) The mission of the people is even more intriguing, Theodore Herzl said: "If you will it, it is no dream." Actually translated literally from the Hebrew "If you desire it, it is not a fairy tale". Herzl meant that a NEW JEWISH STATE can be vibrant, proud, strong and a wonderful place to live. Not because it was hard in Europe, because if you want to build a great place, you work hard and aim high... it will happen. So people came to Tel Aviv starting in the 1880's and set out to build a dynamic and vibrant new city. Literally a place that a children's fairy tale would pale in comparison. That was the aim of building Tel Aviv, from it's official declaration in 1909 up to today. How did it turn out? Well, not exactly a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale but pretty amazing by most accounts.

Back to the retirement story... Tel Aviv is not the cheapest place in the world to live in, but it is certainly competitive with US and European cities. You can rent a nice apartment in the north of the city or blocks from the beach for about US$1,000 a month. If you go out about 25 miles the price drops by half. You can have a great meal for two in a nice restaurant for about $50 to $80. If you are a good cook there is fresh produce to rival most agricultural regions and imported goods from most places in the world. A trip to the market will cost anywhere from 200 to 500 shekel's for a week's supply for two ($50 to $125.) You can shop at fashionable boutiques or bargain basements as if you were in Milan or Moscow. Prices and selections vary. A woman's shirt at Zara goes from 200 to 300 shekels ($50 to $75) the same shirt is half at a non-brand name shop. Health care is on leading edge level, both in availability and standards. Tel Aviv now attracts cosmetic surgery tourists all the way to complex heart surgery patients from less developed countries. One clinic offers a tour of Israel and cosmetic surgery all in one week. You can subscribe to a private or national medical plan and get coverage at a basic or comprehensive levels. On both the lower to the highest economic scales your lifestyle in Tel Aviv is still a bargain.

The people and cultures in Tel Aviv are accommodating beyond your expectations. Tel Aviv is truly a melting pot. In the 1990's a million Russians came to Israel, there were predictions of economic collapse, families raising children in tent cities, hunger to rival a drought in Africa. As the Russians started to arrive people took in boarders, it was cozy but soon enough apartments were built and a small economic boom was created. Fears of doom and gloom did not materialize. The exact opposite happened, Russian engineers and scientists strengthen the Israeli economy. No engineer in Israel would even think of what the technology sector would have been with 1/2 or 1/3 of the engineers if the Russians didn't come. Russian musicians, dancers and actors flooded Israeli orchestras, ballet companies and theaters. Today there is more music, art and culture thanks to the Russians than in many European and American cities. When the Ethiopian Jews were brought from a culture reminiscent of 16th century Europe. There was talk of no resistance to "modern diseases", fear of complete demise of this old, fragile tribal community. Today you will be hard pressed to find a lively Israeli wedding without a troupe of "drumming Africans" getting everyone dancing. The tribal life is gone and the transition to modern life started for Ethiopians. Second generation Ethiopians are contributing to Israeli society. You can see them in military uniform, running businesses and in governmental positions everywhere. There is still some prejudice, but we can certainly hold our head up in comparison to many places around the globe.

Israel has a modern feel, yet it respects tradition and culture. The world here is not perfect, but we certainly aim to be a shiny example to others. Add to the infusion of Jews from around the globe cultural diversity of business travelers from Africa, Asia and Europe. Foreign workers from caretakers to the old from the Philippines to accountants and diamond sorters from India. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem you see Christian and Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, not just on holidays and religious occasions. And finally, the "stuff of culture everywhere". Tel Aviv has fashion, flavors, aromas, house goods, sounds and movements from near and far. In Dizengoff center you can find a Moroccan household goods store next to a custom T-Shirt stand with Disney characters. April perfume store with aromas from Paris' most exclusive names next to a music store blaring hip-hop. On the streets of Jaffa every Friday you can find antiques from renaissance Europe next to old Russian World War II medals. On Dizengoff street, where wedding dresses sell for € 10,000 you can still enjoy humus lunch for 22 shekels (€ 4.5) There is variety for sure, but also consistency. Neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and the surrounding cities are small islands of cultural uniformity. The Iraqi Jews are found in Ramat Gan. In Ra'anana you will find the Anglos. Bnei Brak is religious. Tel Aviv center is business and commerce. Givatay'im and Holon are bedroom communities. While some communities are 2 or 3 generations removed from their origins, you can choose from a wide range of lifestyles and values not seen in most retirement communities.

So is Tel Aviv better than Miami or Sedona for retirement? Can we give Ibiza or Sri Lanka a run for the money? If you have a spirit, want a great place to be and to enjoy life, give us a try. For most of the people who came, long ago or just last year, there is no going back ~ this place is just too good to give up for a condo in Boca Raton. After a burger at "the magic burger" you can still enjoy a French desert in as close as you can imagine Parisian bistro, just up Ibn Gvirol street*.


* stay tuned to more on the street Tel Aviv stories for retirees. Read More...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tel Aviv Cafes Fed Up With Bloggers

OK not JUST Bloggers. Basically anyone with a laptop buying a cup of coffee and sitting for two hours and just taking space (electricity and internet bandwidth too.) Some cafes are definitely shooing away customers loitering with laptops. Now that the economy has turned down and every table and seat is a potential cash cow. First cafes shut down the power outlets. Without power, laptops last at the most two hours but in reality from 30 minutes to an hour. This supposedly would limit the digital loiterers to laptop battery life. This did not bother enough digital loiterers, at least not in the popular spots like the Coffee Bean & Tea on Ibn Gvirol, a long time watering hole for the digital set. Then some cafes allowed laptop seating in less comfortable areas. Again in the Coffee Bean the high tables with a tiny space were designated "laptop tables" instead of the comfortable leather seats by the windows. In another cafe not far from Dizengoff center the couches and coffee tables set up like a living room only short time newspaper reading customers were "allowed" to sit there.

The "problem" with the loitering bloggers is an interesting phenomena. Just as the Israeli economy was recovering in 2007-2008, wireless networks were spreading in restaurants, cafes and hotels here in Tel Aviv. While the economy was strong, digital cafe creatures* were spending money and bringing life to the cafes. As soon as the economy slowed down so did the cafe spending. After all if you can go to the same cafe and spend 13 shekels (US$3) on a Cappuccino instead of the 50 to 100 shekels for breakfast... why not take advantage of the situation? The shift from spenders to loiterers - contributors to parasites is obvious in hindsight. But sometimes when such shifts in the economy and people's behavior are taking place, it's hard to pinpoint who is right and who's toes are being stepped on.

There is an important lesson to learn here. How do we handle fast shifts in the economy and in people's behavior? When Henry Miller was writing in Paris cafes nobody was too worried about seats being taken by artists, writers and "wan'-na-be" loiterers. Why? Because nobody took them seriously and in reality cafes did not lose anything. Tel Aviv cafe seats are not that valuable today either. There are plenty of empty cafes and some are very nice in good locations (with beach views or in good residential and commercial locations.) We also learned that technology does not always compensate for basic economic conditions. When a writer or SEO specialist does not have cash to buy breakfast he will go with a cup of coffee and a croissant. Finally, there are people who see trends and some that don't. Laptop computers are becoming smaller with a new name 'Net-Books'. The Internet is becoming more useful and eventually will become a source of income to more people. Businesses will adapt to people's desire to sit for a few hours in a nice cafe - somewhere. If it is not in the Coffee Bean it will be at Hillel's, or Cafeneto, or Arcafe or Greg's or a no-name cafe. The name does not matter, how you are being treated matters. If the cafe needs a few shekels to compensate for the bit of electricity and wireless networking, put out a cup or sell an hour's worth of service for a shekel (US 25 cents.) Maybe cafes will take on a style ~ the digital ones and the analog ones (or is it dead tree reader ones?) There is room for more than one type of cafe in Tel Aviv. I am sure that is true for London, Paris and even San Francisco. Thanks for reading ~~ AmiV@TLV

* I do not know what to call these wondering digital workers. Every city has them, they come in many level of sophistication: sandal wearing designers to suite and tie salesmen. The reality is simple, people need their laptop while on the move, sitting on a park bench or a car is not a place to do work in today's digital world.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jerusalem Mamila Street Statues

MAMILA STREET in Jerusalem is a new outdoor boutique mall. Mamila street is short passage with a nice collection of upscale boutiques and stores (from Gap to original jewelry). The biblical architectural design is a nice change from glass and steel malls copied like mushrooms all over Israel. Two Saturday's ago (September 11, 2009) I took a few pictures of the statue display. Israeli sculptures are a mixture of modern and traditional style. The exhibit is outside which limits the sculptures to stone and metal. Mamila street is also small, so the statues are small (20cm to 2meters). But these two limitations did not limit the artists imagination and skill. I will post more pictures in later posts as they are processed. Enjoy...


Sunday, September 13, 2009

George Gilder on Israel and World Economy

I usually write and photograph what I see and hear personally. It seems useful for readers to read and see from first hand accounts. This article and book came from a friend in Sunnyvale CA (DG). DG follows the technology investment world and has been involved in investing for over 20 years. He is also deeply aware of the image Israel has in the media and I suppose wonders who is behind the hard to explain gap between Israeli contribution to the technology business world and the negative portrayal of Israel in the media. This is an excerpt from an interview with George Gilder about his recent book and conference "The Israel Test". [Amazon].

This is an excerpt from the Gilder interview on the site/blog [original here].

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is George Gilder, an active venture capitalist, [Gilder/Forbes Telecosm Conference host], co-founder of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, and the author of 15 books. His new book is The Israel Test.

FP: George Gilder, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Tell us what the Israel Test is.

Gilder: The world faces it. It tests one’s response to excellence and achievement. Do you envy and resent people who excel you? Or do you admire and emulate them?

In the 20th Century, this test chiefly applied to Jews around the world. But today Israel epitomizes the excellence and accomplishment of Jewish culture. It is hated by anti-Semites not because of any moral flaws or legal infractions but because of its manifest virtues which show up and shame the forces of mediocrity everywhere.

FP: Illuminate for us the successes of Israel.

Gilder: Of all the nations in the world, Israel ranks first in per capita achievement and excellence. By any per capita measure it is preeminent, whether in technological innovation and invention, venture capital investment and creativity, share of GDP produced by technology companies, or number and quality of scientific papers. But even more impressive, Israel ranks second only to the U.S. in companies on the NASDAQ stock exchange and in achievements in such fields as telecom, microchips, software, biotech, medical instruments, and clean-tech. Israel today
represents and symbolizes capitalist excellence and freedom.

FP: Israel has a powerful and progressive government. Why does the left hate Israel so much?

Gilder: The left loved Israel as long as it was socialist and utopian, pacifist and beleaguered. The left loved the Kibbutzim with their fatuous and always unfulfilled dreams of transcending family and property. The left loves Jews as victims. When Israel emerged as a leading capitalist state, capable of defending itself from deadly enemies, and pragmatic in its policies, the Left turned against it.

But whether in Russia, Hungary, Germany, or Israel itself, socialism has always brought catastrophe for Jews. Socialism focuses on gaps between groups rather than on achievements of superior individuals. Socialism concentrates on equalizing excellence rather than promoting it. Historically, equalizing excellence has always meant suppression of Jews. This rule applies everywhere, whether by quotas as in the United States, or by pogroms in Stalin’s nationalities policy designed to equalize ethnic groups in the USSR.

FP: But isn’t hatred of Israel chiefly an effect of anti-Semitism?

Gilder: Anti-Semitism is chiefly a virulent form of anti-capitalism. In my book I closely scrutinize Hitler’s Mein Kampf . His fundamental objection to Jews is their superiority to Aryans as capitalists, as financiers, as entrepreneurs, as “middlemen.” Thomas Sowell has shown in several books that during bad times such hostility to “middleman minorities” flares up wherever an identifiable ethnic group outperforms the rest of the population in the economy. In Asia the overseas Chinese have so dominated Moslem economies and incurred such brutal massacres that they are called “the Jews of Asia.” But the overseas Chinese are so numerous that Jews might well be termed the “overseas Chinese” of Europe.

FP: Is Israel a battlefield? What is the battle over?

Gilder: It is over the survival of democratic capitalism and freedom. The Israelis just face the battle more directly and undeniably. But ultimately the battle is over the survival of the United States as a free nation and global influence.

The golden rule of capitalism is that the good fortune of others is also one’s own. Wealth does not cause poverty or environmental degradation or ethnic oppression. It opens horizons of opportunity for all. Without recognition of this rule capitalism cannot prosper, whether in Europe, Israel or the United States.

FP: The left claims that this is like saying that the United States produced a golden age for the native American Indians or even that bringing slaves to the U.S created a golden age for African blacks in America. They even offer an analogy between the American Revolution and the Palestinian Intifadas? How do you answer these arguments?

Gilder: Unlike the African blacks, the two million Arab Palestinians settled freely and prosperously on the West Bank and in Gaza, attracted by the economic opportunities created by the Israeli settlers before Bill Clinton and the UN surrendered the hapless Palestinians to the control of Yasir Arafat by making the PLO the world’s leading foreign aid recipient. Unlike the Indian tribes on the American continent who for awhile underwent violent displacement and deadly diseases, the Palestinian Arabs drastically improved their health and wealth under Israeli administration. Unlike the U.S. colonies, moreover, if the Arab Palestinians had desired a state, they could have created one peacefully at any time. From 1948 to
1967, the territories were under the control of Jordan and Egypt, without any gesture toward statehood.

If the Arabs wish to live in peace with Israel, they can work out any number of different forms of constitution and self rule. The eventual solution should include some kind of federation of the Arab Palestinians with Jordan, which was formed essentially as a state for the Palestinians. It is only Arab hatred toward the Israeli state that makes an Arab Palestinian state currently impossible and undesirable.

FP: We see, on many fronts, the West crumbling in the face of the Islamic jihad. Could the rescuer be Israel? If so, then, in the long run, the U.S. might need Israel just as much as Israel needs the U.S., no?

Gilder: In World War II, just a comparatively few Jewish scientists saved the West by leading and executing the Manhattan project that created the atomic bomb. Jewish scientists also played a key role in the prosperity of the United States which has been heavily fueled by the rise of the computer industry. All computers are based on the essential architecture invented by John von Neumann and most microchips use the field effect transistor invented by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld in the 1920s. Over the last several decades, U.S. technological leadership has been heavily dependent on Jewish inventions and Israeli designs. Intel has so benefited from its Israeli talent that its chips could be labeled “Israel Inside.”

Today, while the U.S. suffers from economic and financial turbulence and recession, Israel is developing into what is perhaps the world’s most creative and promising economy. Benjamin Netanyahu is the world’s most knowledgeable and experienced warrior against terrorism and most learned economic leader from his early days at the Boston Consulting Group. Israel is vital both to the future of American capitalism and to its defense.

FP: What are your thoughts on Obama’s treatment of Israel?

Gilder: Obama is becoming nearly irrelevant to Israel. He knows little or nothing true about Israel or its history and he is incredibly na├»ve about Israel’s enemies. As long as he does not deprive Israel of indispensable military support, he probably will not do irreparable harm. At present, I think he is furtively ducking his Israel test and trying to farm it out to Rahm Emmanuel.

At some point, Obama is going to have to recognize that an Iran that is willing to bomb Israel can also destroy American cities. There is no chance for peace unless the U.S. moves massively and conspicuously toward war with Iran or the Israelis succeed in destroying or frustrating Iran’s nuclear goals.

As I explain in my book, pacifists in power nearly always blunder into war.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Torah Scroll Initiation in Spharadi Synagogue

Yesterday in a small ceremony the neighborhood Sephardi synagogue initiated a new Tanach scroll (old testament) (see wikipedia Sefer Torah). This event happens only once in a few years. In a small neighborhood synagogue it may happen once every decade or so. Tanach scroll are read as part of the daily and Shabbat (Saturday) ritual prayer. Jews real the Torah in weekly portions covering the first five books in one year. The scroll itself is copied by hand by a trained scribe. This is a tradition of disseminating the books with complete accuracy going back two thousand years (or more). Torah scrolls cost a great deal (in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars). They take months to years to write and apparently there are more prominent scribes than others. Overhearing one of the conversations apparently this Torah scroll was commissioned two years ago (or has been written in the last two years) and is a work of the third most capable scribe in this area. The silver box to the scroll is also a highly prized ritual item with dedicated craftsman showing their skills to the world. The box for this scroll is more ornate than the older scrolls currently used. Some scrolls do not have ornate boxes at all, they are simply covered with a cloth wrap (embroidered felt or silk).

The procession ended at the synagogue and evening prayer took place. Afterwords a big meal to celebrate the event was held. It is customary to hold a meal sponsored by a community member in every big event. Sometimes the congregation women cook and share, in this event a catered meal was served. The commissioning of a Torah scroll is a big event for a community. In Israel today it may seem trivial since the state sponsors synagogue costs and pays Rabbis. But this tradition of a community keeping a religious tradition and having the community resources to do it with style is crucial to the continuation of local synagogues. Like many neighborhoods in the central region of Israel, people here came from different countries. The Sephardi community is made up of families that chose to live in this neighborhood. The communities gathered around a synagogue in Israel do not carry the traditions of hundreds of years in the same village. Sephardis (Sepharadim - plural in Hebrew) came from different countries from as far east as India to the western north African countries with a small minority from Turkey and Greece. They adjusted to the new structure of the state while keeping as much as their communities together as possible. Three generations since they immigrated there are not many communities as a whole that can trace their ancestry to the same village or even region. But their religious practices are similar enough. An Iraqi Jew may have a slightly different melody to a song than a Moroccan but the prayer book and the ritual services are similar enough to feel comfortable.

Judaism is Israel's official religion. Americans feel a little strange, since the US does not have an official state religion. Britons and French do not have a problem at all here. As most countries, Israel is officially Jewish with most of the population secular. Small communities of more religious people gather around a rabbi or a synagogue. They make up less than 10% of the population. For the most part the state covers basic costs of buildings and related costs (prayer books, furniture, etc.) Rabbis serving a congregation receive a salary, which they usually supplement with other work. Like other state sponsored services, there is always someone that wants it better. This community certainly has done "better".