Monday, December 20, 2010

Kosher Conversations: Among Friends & Family & a Falafel Chef

   
  Kosher stamps indicate rabbinical approval. These are printed on every food item in Israel. Only a small percentage of the food consumed in Israel is sold without Kosher approval.  

Kosher food conversations hover in the background here in Israel. Hover because the definition of what is kosher means different things to different people. Hover lightly not heated debates, not bitter complaints, just a faded blurt "that's how it is". In it's core, Israeli food is kosher, for secular Israelis as much as for Orthodox Israelis. The conversations hover because of what kosher has become in a modern Jewish state (it is strange and bristly issue.) To secular Jews kosher means not eating pork and keeping milk and meat separate. How separate one keeps the two is one topic of conversation. Kosher also means rabbis inspecting restaurants and shops assuring milk products are not stored together or mixed in cooking with meat. Kosher inspection is a big business for the rabbinical inspection authorities. Tamir, a small falafel stand owner started out paying 300 shekels a year for his Kosher certification. That was eight years ago. Then he sold Falafel and coffee. Basically nothing that needed inspection. He added schnitzels (fried chicken breast) to his stand, which increased his income three fold. (previously he did not have meat or milk, just vegetables which are called "parve".) The kosher inspector raised his inspection fees by 50% every year, now reaching over 8,000 shekels a year. Tamir, pays the fees without any official complaints, what else can he do? He estimates that 15% of his clients come because he has a kosher certificate. The inspector has not shown up at his stand for five years. Even if he did show up in a surprise inspection, nothing would cause the old Falafel stand to lose it's kosher certification.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jewish Leadership Balance Shift: Israelis Looking at American Jews

The late Prime Minister Rabin may have been the last Israeli leader taking the lead from an American president (Clinton) / © 2009

The balance of power in the world Jewish community is shifting. To some slowly, but here in Israel it seems like a volcanic eruption. From the 1880s Jewish immigration: community, religious, political, financial and spiritual leadership was not in Israel, it came from Europe. After the Holocaust it shifted from Europe to the United States. Israelis built a state, but still listened to outsiders for advice and guidance. As Israel grew and prospered it started developing it's own vision and leadership style. But until recently, Israel was still looking for outsider leadership advice. As Israel has gone through wars and peace periods, differences in policy with foreign Jewish community leaders started Israel in a more independent stance. Taking advice from the outside faded over the years. Today, events like negotiating with the Palestinians and immigration of Jews from the US caused a bigger and faster shift in leadership power. In Israel, this is new. As leaders, Israelis are still not sure of how to lead the world Jewish community. In education and Jewish culture, programs like Taglit-Birthright (a program started in the US) shows how Israelis can contribute and lead Jews in the diaspora. Today, Birthright is as important to Israeli leaders as it was to American leaders in the past. Experiencing Israel first hand is something that Israelis finally undersatnd. Israeli NGOS and government departments are now thinking of doing a birthright program with Israeli resources. Specially for Jews not in North American communities. Some say: that's about time.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Modern Living in an Ancient Land: Echoes from the Past


Colonia Aelia Capitolina map, a Roman city built by Caesar Adrea nos in 130 CE on Jerusalem's ruins. A reminder of the ancient in modern Israeli life. (image from WikiPedia (http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/היסטוריה_של_ירושלים)

Modern Israel is a new creation in an ancient land. In Israeli's daily life, there is a mix of the modern and the ancient at the same time. Entering Tel Aviv University's Frankel gate reveals a row of Roman statues lined up as they were guarding a procession of students entering campus. The Eretz Israel Tel Aviv Museum* gardens are dotted with ancient Hebrew and Roman mosaics. Family law is based on Rabbinical legal practices going back 1,000 year with basic values taken from the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah. Israelis regularly quote biblical and Talmudic verses in daily conversation. The speaker's richness in planting a fitting quote shows their religious knowledge and even where they grew up. Jerusalemites and Tel Avivians often compare their biblical and Talmudic knowledge. Jerusalem speakers, living in a more orthodox city use more biblical phrases. Tel Avivians using fewer but with more meaning sometimes. Less you use something, higher it's importance.

Living a modern life in an ancient land brings tensions between the two. On one side Israelis want to live in today's world with all the benefits and pleasures of a modern world. On another, Israelis from the earliest immigrants to today, want to discover and preserve ancient culture, values and practices. The land is filled with archeological digs, stringing a continuous path in time like breadcrumbs in a barren land. Culture and knowledge of ancient writings is continuously studied and interpreted to our modern language.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Israel's Most Enduring Green Policy: The Green Line, Agriculture, Drip Irrigation

Fish ponds in lower Gililly. Northern Israel was first cultivated in the 1880s and started a 130 year tradition of turning Israel into a green space. From the air the effort has become Israel's ''green line'' / from Israel's PickiWiki Site

Last week I wrote about passive solar water heating [here]. Saving energy is a crucial and useful policy and affects every Israeli. A more environmental policy going back more than a century is greening the desert: planting forests, cultivating agriculture and cultivating urban green spaces. Israel's green line is one of the most important long term green activity. It is actually Israel's biggest contribution to the world and can affect more people in the surrounding states than any political and military activity. Politically the green line has become synonymous with Israel's 1948 borders. Today, the name is synonymous with the Palestinian struggle and Israel's security border. The name actually comes from aerial photos of Israel contrasted against background of the surrounding states. Essentially Israel looks green from the air. This is an amazing accomplishment considering the climate and history of the region. Since the first immigration of Jews to Israel in the 1880s, there has been an immense effort to plant forests, make living spaces green and cultivate agriculture. The effort has been a crucial economic engine in early years of the state when Israel became an agricultural economy. It is also been a symbol of care and nurturing of the land to millions of Jews around the world.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Let's Go Israel: Half of a Travel Guide for A Short Trip

Let's Go Israel is a great guide if you are coming for business or a short trip. Plenty of background information. See excerpts on the Let's Go site: www.letsgo.com

What tour guide do you use on your travels? This question has as much to do about style as it is about information. Are you an organized planner? Or one who noses around and explores open eyed? Do you like traveling in style? Or are seeking real life local experiences?

I met Tim, an American coin collector on Hilton beach a few weeks ago. He came to Israel for the ancient coins. At first he was not planning on touring anything but Jerusalem, the museums and coin shops around Tel Aviv. But he brought two guides, one for Christian pilgrims and another was Let's Go Israel (official site) see book on Amazon: Let's Go Israel

I was surprised, since he looked rather buttoned down and serious about his coin collecting. More of a small businessman dress and mannerism than a backpacking college grad on a summer adventure. Tim was from Tennessee and has been collecting coins for over twenty years. He actually started collecting coins on a post college trip to Europe.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rachel's Tomb In Bethlehem: A Woman's Night Prayer

Night prayer at Rachel's tomb. On any given night, orthodox Jews fill the small space surrounding the old grave. Rachel's tomb is in Bethlehem close to Jerusalem about 1 1/2 hour from Tel Aviv. / © 2010

On any night, Rachel's tomb is filled with orthodox Jews praying. For women it has a special meaning. Last night I was visiting and a group of women were kneading dough to make challa rolls for their congregation. Making the bread at the tomb meant something special and they said a special prayer for friends. Overhearing some of the women, one said a prayer for a woman looking for a husband and another for a better paying job. Some said prayers for their children and their neighbors. People flowed in until 10 PM, closing time. There was even a tour bus around 9 PM, apparently they came from a Jerusalem hotel and only half of the group wanted to go.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Israeli Economic Shift: Less Start-Ups, Bigger Investments (Globes™ top 10)

New Motorola building in the Airport City industrial complex. The new shopping complex which opened a year ago is bringing new life to this large office and warehouse complex. / © 2010

Israel's economy is going through a tectonic shift. Small start-ups and small venture capital firms are disappearing. Big start-ups (US$ 10 million) and big venture firms are holding on. Darwinian survival of the fittest is hitting hard the Israeli start-up world, the lucky few survive, but many are dead or dying. In a recent article picking the top ten start-ups The Globes™ newspaper picked the year's most promising candidates. This is their sixth year of picking the top 10 start-ups and their past record is pretty good. The shift from many small start-ups to few big ones is driven by outside factors. Mostly the collapse of the American venture capital industry which brought a sharp drop in technology investments. As the old saying goes: "when the American venture capital industry catches a cold, Israeli start-ups catches pneumonia". Most of Israel's smaller venture capital firms have closed in the last four years. Investments in small start-ups has dropped to a trickle.

The Globes™ 2010 ten most promising start-ups*:


Rank Company CEO Funding [US$]
1 Provigent Dan Charash 55
2 Prime Sense Inon Beracha 29.4
3 WIX Avishai Abrahami 20
4 Waze Noam Baradin 12
5 Panaya Yosi Cohen 22
6 Solar Edge Guy Sela 60
7 Broad Light Raanan Gewirtzman 30
8 Work Light Shahar Kaminitz 17
9 Life Bond Ishay Attar 9.5
10 Aero Scout Yuval Bar-Gil 70
* from printed Globes article, 25-25 October, 2010
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Texas Instruments and Red Hat conferences in Tel Aviv

Texas Instruments' technical conference drew 300 embedded engineers. Good news for Israelis and the company. The embedded processor (microcontroller) field is fractured with over twenty suppliers. TI is bringing their expertise in DSP to the Israeli engineering world. / © 2010

Last week Texas Instruments (TI) and Red Hat (earlier this week) held their annual conferences in Tel Aviv. Both companies announced new developments. Texas Instruments (TI) has revamped their controller and microprocessor lines. Red Hat is going to announce their Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 (RHEL6) in a few weeks. The TI conference was a relatively small meeting with about 300 attendees. TI has not been a big microprocessor and microcontroller supplier until now. The Israeli market is small but strong in embedded devices. This makes a day conference with presentation from key corporate executives a crucial market presence. The Red Hat conference was attended by 1,200 people. Matrix, Red Hat's distributor in Israel, announced their 600th enterprise customer, which is over 50% growth the last year. Overall, Red Hat's low price and strong support, has been successful in today's weak IT market. Spending on IT is still low relative to the early 2000 spending rate. Red Hat competes with Microsoft selling enterprise servers to corporate customers, Fortune 1000 companies.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Update on Iben Gvirol and The Coffee Bean Closure

At ''The Gregg Cafe'' in Dizengoff center, the manager's dog has it's own ''personal'' table. Not a common and acceptable practice, it is still telling of the informal feel of Israeli cafes. Not so with ''The Coffee Bean'' and regular laptop workers in 2009 / © 2010

About a year ago bloggers in Israel made some noise about working in cafes. They were grumbling about cafes being hostile toward people who sat and worked using laptops. Some cafes at the time did not offer free WiFi or did not have AC plugs to connect laptops power supplies. Tel Avivians love their cafes and to some it is their living room and office apartment extensions. A virtual (or actually real?) home-office away from home. In central Tel Aviv, where apartment prices are beyond belief, many people live in tiny apartments. Some work from home, that means sometimes working from the local cafe when they meet customers or clients. The American coffee chain " The Coffee Bean (& Tea Leaf)" had a nice big cafe on Iben Gvirol in front of Gan Ha'ir commercial complex. I wrote about The Coffee Bean's up and down policy toward laptop users. Around 2008 the Israeli high-tech sector collapsed. No new investment in start-ups caused companies to lay off thousands of workers. These were software engineers and professional support workers (salesman and marketers, human resource, administrators) as well as related professionals.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Israel's Number One Green Energy: Solar Water Heaters

Tel Aviv skyline from the fifth floor. Notice solar collectors facing south (to the right) and hot water water tanks / © 2010

One of Israel's most popular green energy technology is passive solar water heating. On each apartment building roof you see solar collectors and a water tank. Every apartment owner puts this small contraption and all the hot water for drinking, washing and bathing comes for free. At least eight months a year, there is no need to heat water with anything but the sun. Passive solar water heating has been used in Israel for decades. Solar collectors were popular since the 1950s, but the fuel crisis of 1973 lead to a law passed in 1967 which every new apartment must install a passive solar water heater. The only exceptions are high rise buildings where the roof is too small to accommodate all the residents. Today 95% of Israeli households use solar water heating. It accounts for 4% of the energy use overall. (see Wikipedia entry for solar water heaters: HERE)

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update on New Port of Tel Aviv, Dizengoff and Yermiyahu Streets

Kaf-Gimel Yordei Ha'sira streets is a tiny two block street at the entrance of the new Tel Aviv port. A small detail commented in earlier article. Tel Aviv has so many little details, we sometime forget until reminded.

I have been meaning to write updates on lots of places mentioned before on the blog and cover new ones. After getting a strange comment on the New Port of Tel Aviv article fron 2007 I was nudged to get started. The last few weeks I went to the new Tel Aviv port on Saturday nights. Tel Aviv starts buzzing again after the sabbath as evening comes. This year, fall has been warmer than usual and no real rain yet. Some people want the summer to be over already, with temperatures in the 30°s Celsius (85 to 95 °F) most of us can understand the complaints. It's been a hot summer and as we near November we hoped for cooler weather. This year the heat was so strong it affected vegetable prices. Poor farmers were getting very low yields and the vegetables were small and dry. Last month prices went up three to four times normal, even the government was wondering what was happening and investigated the problem.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Satire (cartoon clip) about the Gilad Shalit popular views

I stumbled across this video (on another blog) about views of different Israelis negotiating with Hamas over Gilad Shalit. As an Israeli I am sure that it is funny, in certain places. Each of us has a way of laughing at certain characters in everyday Israeli life. Overall, the clip is also disturbing, that's what satire is all about. It has the mother character (second to speak), the Israeli negotiator (main character) and various prototypical Israelis (Facebook geeks, techno geek (called "talk back" like comments on blogs), army buddy and dark song writer.) A disturbing thought comes across: how in the press and in private conversations we have all kind of banal excuses for keeping a man in a hole for years. The political view in Israel is continuously debated. The characters in the clip are familiar to most Israelis. It ends with a "calculation" of the amount of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldiers (and one Israeli drug smuggler.) If you have a sense of humor... or are interested in Israeli opinions on the exchange issue... ENJOY!

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why They Come to Tel Aviv? Boutique Hotels & Designer Shops

Tel Aviv beaches, nice weather year around, boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants... the hidden secrets of the city get lost among overwhelming media coverage of the Palestinian security stories. / © 2010

A cousin of mine in Boston once said that Tel Aviv does not have any upscale boutique hotels. It is not a cosmopolitan destination like New York, Paris, London, Berlin or even Prague. She wants Tel Aviv to attract world class designers, investors and tourists. That is what makes a city a boutique tourist destination, both image and reality. She was riding that boutique life "wave" of the 1990s and 2000s. When the Internet was fresh and the housing boom was driving construction of small hotels in the US and Europe. Boutiques were the next thing in America. Everybody wanted more than the just polished big brands. Hilton and Sheraton were for conventions and for the "old school" traveler. The cool young executives were creating a new style, boutique was in. Half of the driving force for the trend came from these new designers and retail entrepreneurs. The other half came from travel spending. This is a very American, even a New Yorker way of looking at things. But the good times in boutique hotels in New York, Boston and London did not last long. In Europe and Asia it has slowed down. In Tel Aviv it is still going, slowly, but still going.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Racing in Tel Aviv: Road Cyclists Go for Speed

Main event. pack is tight chasing the leaders. Tel Aviv road cycling competition, September 2010 / © 2010


On a Friday morning during the Succot holiday, while Tel Aviv was still half asleep, hundreds of slick dressed road cyclists converged on Kikar Ha'medina. Tel Aviv's annual road cycling competition was about to start. Some arrived as early as 7:00 AM to practice and stretch. Some arrived from as far north as the Gallil at the Lebanon border and as far south as Arab Bedouin village. Everyone had speed in mind. Most of the contestants belong to cycling clubs with cities like Haifa represented by about 20 cyclists. Some clubs are sponsored by the big bike stores on Ha'cheshmonain street or Igal Alon Boulevard in south Tel Aviv. Some are local clubs associated with the large sports groups Maccabi and Ha'poel. The main event was a long race around the circle. Kikar Ha'medina (The State Circle in Hebrew) is Tel Aviv's largest traffic circle. It houses some of the city's most exclusive shops. But on this Friday morning Gucci and Lacoste shoppers were nowhere in sight. The main event ended peacefully with a few scrapes and bruises. Overall, very few accidents for such a tight and fast race.



Time trial finish! This year's record of 1:03 was a course record. Five time trial heats were held at the end of the event. Tel Aviv road cycling competition, September 2010 / © 2010
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bike Tel Aviv: Moutain Bikes Without The Dirt, Slick Road Bikes Too

Tel Aviv racing clubs annual race around Kikar Ha'medina. This annual event brings fans from all over the country. While the city was virtually sleeping on a Friday morning, enthusiasts were having a time of their life. World class cyclists did not attract much crowd. / © 2010

Tel Aviv has more dirt bikes on the streets than road bikes. They are simply more popular. The roads are actually fine, smooth and clean. The biggest problems in biking Tel Aviv are traffic during rush hours and theft in big tie-in areas (like the Arlozorov train station.) The weather is great for bicycling all year around. The city is flat and there are plenty of shops to buy and fix bikes. So why is Tel Aviv not like Amsterdam? Why can't Tel Avivians simply hop on bikes and get around the city easily? (instead of driving cars and searching for parking) Some think it is an emotional state of affair. Bicycling is not cool or is stigmatized as a lower class form of transport. But city hall is out to change these notions and they are taking a practical approach. The last few years the city put in nice bike paths, encouraged bike rental schemes and sponsored biking events. To the bikers all of this is really nice. I am not sure if it even nudges 100 drivers to abandon their cars for a nice bike.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teva Naot Sandals Shopping in Tel Aviv (and the world)

Early shoe production in Naot Mordechai. Picture from 1964 - 1966 - PikiWiki Israel (www.pikiwiki.org.il)

Editor: here is a bit of history about Teva-Naot shoes... Naot shoes have been making shoes for Israelis in Kibbutz Naot Mordechai for over 50 years. The first 25 years or so, Naot shoes were a staple of Israeli life. They made simple leather sandals and shoes. The kibbutz factory made a name for itself as practical good value shoes. I remember going to visit my aunt and uncle Miriam and Avram in the kibbutz and buying shoes at the factory store. It was a fun experience as a young kid. Israel did not have many factory stores and certainly I do not remember any for shoes. There were shoes that you did not see in stores and the people there knew about fit more than any shoe salesman in a Tel Aviv store.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Israel Start-Ups Need Change Again

If we can't make chips and iPod accessories, let's go to the beach! Tel Aviv beach with lots of skin and looks. End of summer 2010 / © 2010

In a recent article [here] Ha'aretz reports on failure of Israeli and American venture capital funds to keep the Israeli innovation engine going. To many this is shocking news. To the ones here "on the streets of Tel Aviv" or more accurately in and out of start-ups, this is not news. For a few years now, Israeli venture funds have stopped making investment in new start-ups. To some this is not such a bad turn of events. The attitude towards traditional venture capital has changed dramatically the last few years. From the 1980s to about 2005 American and Israel VC funds have been the most respected and adored organizations in business. But something happened from 2002 to 2007. From the investment perspective, VC funds suddenly "lost their magic dust". Suddenly, instead of making a great deal of money, they lost money. And LOTS OF IT! In a few meetings with small start-ups, most seem to think that Israeli venture funds are looking for safer, which means more mature start-ups. Today, it is harder to get funding for a company with a rough prototype and a good fresh team. Also, it seems like venture funds are avoiding the really new technologies until they are proven. So they miss the front edge of the technology cycle. This accounts for the very few WEB2.0, cloud computing, mobile devices (iPod/iPhone accessories) and display (LED, OLED) start-ups in Israel. The Israeli government, through innovation incubators and the office of the chief scientist have tried to get early stage start-ups going. They have programs for seed investment with almost no strings attached. As long as you have a good idea that you can get into a prototype form they will get you started.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time Magazine: Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace

Time Magazine cover story about Israelis not caring about peace got TV mention.

The Time Magazine article: Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace [HERE] got a mention on the TV news yesterday. The picture of the man on the beach with the star of David tattoo got air time. Morning talk show hosts on channel 2 had fun commenting on what American reporters focus on. The idea is that for Americans the ultimate of not caring is sitting on the beach, with a tattoo, smoking a hookah. The Time magazine article came at the same time Israeli news was covering two other stories: Benyamin Netanyahu's visit with president Obama to start negotiations with Mahmud Abbas the Palestinian president and changing of the Israeli commander in chief Ashkenazi. Both stories were much more interesting to Israelis.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to Describe Fizzy Life: Israel Expands Like Bread

Happy family (mother, baby, grandparents and aunt) at a brit-mila (circumcision) ceremony. Life's fizzy nature buzzes all over the place / © 2010 AV

Recently I notice more books about Isreal's amazing growth and accomplishment. As if suddenly the world has noticed how the country leaped from the dusty backward land to a green modern state. What is missing in these stories is the real people element. After reading a part of The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel and comparing it to Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle which focuses on the high-tech aspect of Israel's development, I realized how books are great with dry statistics. Books are good with stories about companies and people of the past, but still dry. Pictures help me in seeing the people element, videos help most people, YouTube is the new addictive pastime.

I get a glimpse of everyday family life through my family. The extended one is big, so there are events and gatherings all the time. The family grows and blends into other families with births and weddings. When the families of newlyweds are different, like with my cousin's daughter, I get another view into a whole new culture. My impressions of the last three weeks with the family:

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Tipex vs. Free Brazilian Music: Crying Over Spilled Digital Milk

YouTube embedding did not work: got to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maI14tEIaiE [HERE]

The funky Israeli pop band Tipex has a song about music piracy. The words describe a woman in her car playing supposedly pirated music. She doesn't care where the music comes from, she doesn't even care what goes on outside her Jeep. The Jeep, a metaphor in Israel for financial success and individuality, what Israelis have been seeking forever. No mention of the music industry in the song, it is a bit sarcastic and uses dark humor, Tipex's trade style. Tipex, a successful band that has seen the traditional CD industry collapse from pirated music, are trying to show how the music industry loses from piracy. In Israel, the music industry, specially CD manufacturing, studios and sales outlets was a nice industry. CD pirating killed that industry, in some sectors it came so quickly and completely as the saying goes: "they didn't see it comin'" . This is going back ten to fifteen years, so what is new here? Why cry over spilled "digital" milk? (i.e. why complain over a lost cause from so long ago?) See the CD on Amazon:Sitting at the Cafe

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

English Books in Israeli Book Stores: A Pleasant Surprise

A typical English book section at Steimatzky. Independent shops and chain store shops normally carry about 1,000 titles / © 2010

If you like to read fiction in the original English, in Tel Aviv you are in luck. But also in Hertzelia, Jerusalem, Givatay'im and Ra'anana. Israelis like to read, and the ones that know English well like to read the original in English. That makes for a great selection of fiction in many stores. Most big stores in malls have at least one stack and usually two devoted to English books. Most of the books are fiction with sections devoted to science fiction and usually another category. There is usually one shelf of business books with current best sellers like Malcolm Gladwell [Outliers , The Tipping Point , and Blink].

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

NOT TOO HOT for the Beach: Tel Aviv Beach at 35 ° C

Hardcore Matkot players take advantage of a hot afternoon when Gordon beach clears out. To some, it is never too hot for the beach / © 2010

Tel Aviv beaches are a magnet to tourists and locals all year long. Except when the temperature rises above 35° C (95° F) and the sun is at it's peak. This July and early August we had a few hot days. They come in two and three at a time. Even the busy beaches empty by 2 PM. On a Saturday afternoons this feels strange. Empty spots on the beach is not something bathers are used to. The hard core sun bathers get quiet and enjoy the quiet in the air. The hard core matkot players, that are used to kids dodging balls and mothers screaming "watch out" or "go play somewhere else" are still hitting balls back and forth. I always wondered how this game became so popular. In Israel there are not that many unique games. On the beach there are volleyball nets and a few people passing a soccer ball back and forth. So inventing a game just for the beach, that is easy to get started, is a good idea. Interesting how this really simple game can become an advanced competitive sport. The competition is not the main object here. The object here is to keep the ball going back and forth. Advanced players can stand 10 meters or even 20 meters apart and hit the ball so hard, it is a challenge to hit it back. That is how two players measure their skill level. Harder and farther away you stand from each other, more advanced your skill level.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Benyamin Netanyahu's Brother: Jonathan's Letters (Book)

Israel's prime minister's brother's letters: to these who believe Netanyahu needs reminding of the horrors of terrorism. To everyone else, a peek at a life of a soldier.

Is Benyamin Netanyahu out of touch with the new reality of the Palestinians? What many do not remember is bibi's brother Jonathan. Yoni (Jonathan's nick name) lead the Israeli raid on terrorists holding Israelis in Entebbe (Uganda.) The raid by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is one of the most daring operation in the army's history. Yoni died in the Raid. This must have been Netanyahu's strongest personal impression of Israel's fight with terrorism. I can imagine how Benjamin Netanyahu's personal view of terrorism was shaped at an early age. Jonathan's Netayahu's letters are collected in a book: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu: The Commander of the Entebbe Rescue Force (Amazon link)

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Should Israel Spend More on Public Relations (P/R) and Advertising?

There is a split in opinion weather to promote Israel internationally using advertising or not. Some people see countries like Spain and Turkey advertising their beaches and ancient ruins as tourist spots. Should Israel do the same? Israeli reporters and PR professionals who see misleading international media reports from Palestinians are fuming. Palestinians are calling to ban Israeli goods and put pressure to release Palestinians imprisoned are getting more attention than Israel. Here people are calling for Israel to spend a little money and time to "correct the lies". On the other side stand government and private organizations which call for a more direct use of promotion funds. There are plenty of opportunities to show Israel's culture, people and government to people around the world. Israel has deployed a policy of sending people on missions to Jewish communities (much like religious missionaries.) Israel has also been supporting cultural and artistic outreach programs which to the government are just as crucial as political interests. With limited budget, the average Israeli citizen if not willing to spend money on both cultural mission and mainstream international media advertising.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Technology Development Is Heating Up Again

Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point tells the story of how messages travel in networks. His is the modern day observation of the power in people networks. His observation is more on how social messages affect our way of making decisions in life.

Business in Israel is both isolated and connected with the outside world. It is isolated because there is no real connection with any of the border states. Arab states are different culturally and the political divide continues to make any business relationship difficult. On the connected side, Israel has strong ties with European, American, African and Asian counties. Culturally, Israel is most similar to European countries. So are business practices. Business wise, Israel is closest to the US. This is especially true in the technology sector. There is more synergy between Israeli technology companies and Americans than any other area here.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Retirement in Tel Aviv: A Revolutionary Idea? or Just Common Sense?

An 80th birthday celebration with Israeli retirees and others from around the globe. Israel is a great place to be if you are coming from Argentina, Italy and even New York / © 2010

An Israeli, and American and a Cuban are sitting at an Azrieli coffee shop talking about retirement. They talk about grandchildren, social security payments and health services. The Israeli feels at home, he looks at the Cuban and thinks:

"what a sad man, what is he going to do with his retirement? how is he going to learn and see the world? It must feel terrible to come to Israel and see how the people advance economically every few years, while at Cuba the "revolutionaries" are stuck in an economic and political tar pit."

Then the Israeli turns to the American and asks:

How it is going with the health care reform? We hear all kind of horrible stories on Fox news. Half of America is cheering Obama and his reforms. Half are calling him a communist and want him out of office. This sounds like a terrible situation. What are you going to do when healthcare for the middle class becomes expensive and hard to pay for?

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Biking Around the Dead Sea & LOT spa hotel

Eyal Skuza on a bike ride in the desert (courtesy of Menachem Zibziner Blog.) The spring is a great time to go out to the desert, perfect biking weather awaits the ones who like wide open spaces / © 2010

Spring is here and the weather in Israel is cool. In the desert and dead sea area the weather now is optimal for biking. All around the dead sea and the Masada area, there are paved and dirt roads for biking. The terrain is both smooth and rough, depending on where you bike. If you like open spaces, there are many areas where you can have the land to yourself. If you want to see more of the dead sea, stick to the paths around the resorts. The dead sea area, with it's lunar like landscape, is one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. On clear days, you can see for miles. To the east of the main road (route 90) from the Dead Sea hotels areas towards Eilat, is the Jordanian mountain range. The view is typical of the Arabian deserts. To the west of the main road is the Israeli desert. On this side are hundreds of dry river beds carved from winter flash floods. Further west are craters and messas, Masada, the famous Israelite rebel fort from the Roman rebellion is a few miles away. If you are a history buff, biking around Masada is a cool experience.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Israel's Future: Trust and Doubt Among Israelis

Israelis act as if they are here forever, but sometimes speak as if just temporary visitors. Israeli survey point marker at the end of Tel Aviv's marina pier / © 2010

I don't understand how Israelis think about the future. It's not because I don't understand the words or ideas, it's just that there are so many different views, most conflicting. Some Israelis really believe that the state is not going to survive. If saddam hussein with chemical rockets from Iraq, the Palestinian suicide attack or Ahmadinejad's nuclear bombs don't succeed, eventually someone is going to bring down the state. These views are based on personal fears and media reports. On the hopeful side, Israelis simply point out where Israel is today and how people struggled for a long time to keep us safe. Attacks on Jews (essentially pre-Israel) started before the state was declared, wars with bigger armies and more determined leaders did not bring down the state, why would someone succeed now? Then there are the middle thinkers, Israelis who think that a really strong force came at us, an Iranian nuclear bomb for example, the Israeli army would retaliate. Something would remain after the smoked cleared. To outsiders this all seems grim, but what else can we do with daily news reports of someone making a speech to squash us?

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Israel 62nd Independence Day: Pictures from the Beach


"Matkot" literally means paddles, is a fast game played on the beach. Using a hard rubber ball, each player hits as hard as he can toward the other side. The idea is to keep the ball going as long as you can. Good players can volley back an forth for 10 to 20 minutes easily. /© 2010


Brezlev religious movement is founded on Rabbi Nachman from Brezlev, they dance and blare music on the promenade next to the Tel Aviv Beach. These are interesting believers bringing back happiness and lightness in practice. / © 2010

Tel Aviv "tayelet" literally means "a path for a trip", is a promenade along the Mediterranean coast. Running along all of Tel Aviv's western edge, there are a few hundred meters of beach all the way to the water. The promenade is lined with hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. On a warm day the area is full of beach goers, trourists and locals out to relax and people watch.  / © 2010

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

More Pictures of Tel Aviv (March 2010): Port, Lights, Olive Flowers, Storm

Two previous picture posts [First] and [Second] on this blog

On a warm spring evening, as the sun dipped behind the horizon, Hilton hotel guests, mothers with strollers and small children and a few couples ended up at Independence park. Just north of the Hilton hotel, the park is a tiny piece of land on a cliff between the Hilton and the renovated Tel Aviv port. It overlooks Tel Aviv's beaches and the city from the highest point on the coast.

Azrieli tower complex (a round, triangle and square buildings) is one of Tel Aviv's most visible landscape. It stands by itself at the eastern border of the city just at the Ayalon highway. The Kaplan-Begin intersection outside Azrieli is one of Tel Aviv's busiest. The light flag faces the south and can be seen by drivers on the highway going north.
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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Israelis Worried About International Image

Israel is viewed in a harsh light recently with the media accusing the country or actually it's leaders, in not cooperating to come to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. President Obama is being betrayed as the proverbial "bad guy", at least here in Israel. After receiving a Nobel Peace Prize (some say prematurely), Obama is said to be pushing hard for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This situation does not bother Israelis. Plenty of leaders from the time the state was founder in 1948 and even before have tried to make Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting. The ones who succeeded, Carter and Clinton, were not necessarily great international statesmen, but they somehow got the leaders of the two sides to stop for a moment, shake hands and sign an agreement.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Building, Inventing and Innovating: Positive Attitude Under Stress, Israel's Culture

How do you describe a country's personality? How do you explain to someone how things are done in a different culture? or business environment? Israelis have been doing things their own way for such a long time, it is hard to most people to understand a unique and very different culture. Israelis are not at all like their American Jewish cousins, also they are not like their European Ashkenazi ancestors and certainly not like the Arabs surrounding cultures (and the Arab countries from where the Israeli Sephradi population came from.)

Israeli culture of creating is unique and can help others in becoming more creative, productive and constructive. Israelis have an 120 year record of building, inventing and innovating intensely. That attitude of doing the "hard-fun work" or what here is considered the "important work" gives Israelis pride and confidence. Some say over-confidence (or false bravado) at extreme cases. Israelis are known to be overly optimistic about their abilities. For most Israelis culture and history also gives a sense of reality and a "can do" attitude. I think this is the most crucial difference between Israeli and people in other countries. In some countries, like the US after World War II this was the case. American won the biggest world war so now Americans felt like they could do anything. For a generation, this attitude propelled the American economy and society which became the envy of the world. Attitudes are developed in Israelis as a cultural element from early age. It makes sense when you are here and you see and experience how Israelis think and work. It is very strange for foreigners with different cultural attributes to understand (or even believe) Israelis describe this attitude. A combination of historical success and strong personality gives the country a truly unique behavior.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Frustration of Israeli Writers: Is Life HERE Really That Way?

An old American friend writes to me about Israeli writers.

"What is it with them? Are they all frustrated, angry, recluse that write just about frustration?"

This conversation started over 25 years ago with Amos Oz's Black Box. How can anyone even write with such moody perspective. Can't Israelis write happy novels and escape the reality or at least give American the feeling that something is good over there? Is it the case that life is such a frustrating experience, filled with tension, fear, anger... that it seeps quietly into literature (without us even knowing it?) Next comes: you (that's me) tell me that Israel is nothing like what portrayed in the press, but the literature is dark and gloomy. The mainstream press you can dismiss but the literature does not come from nothing! Is this a case of American and European publishers giving their readers what they want? not what is real? After all, publishers and book sellers need to sell books, if people around the world see Israel as a dangerous and frustrating place from the media perspective, sell them books written by frustrating gloomy writers, wallah!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Israeli Reading Habits: Foreign Books in Translation

The Hebrew language is both a mystery and a wonder. The ancient Hebrew with roots in Aramaic goes back about 5,000 years. It is the last surviving language from an fertile crescent where culture seem to have started 10,000 or more years ago. Today Hebrew is a renewed version of the biblical version. Still, every school child can read the bible and understand the language fairly well. It is the daily language used for everything in life from professional publications to negotiating prices in the market.

Hebrew literature and poetry is read by a very small number of people, in Israel itself six million people speak Hebrew on a daily basis. In the rest of the world it is less than a million. The market for books in Hebrew is small. Most Israelis prefer to read in Hebrew, even foreign language books. English is the most popular second language in Israel and a minority of Israelis read in English, especially fiction for enjoyment. There are over a million Russian speakers in Israel and they read mostly in Russian. Russians do not have a large enough market to translate into the language from other languages. Add to this the long isolation of Russians from world literature, it turns out that Hebrew is the preferred language for English, French and German top selling books. Israelis, Russian, Ethiopian and even English readers end up with Hebrew translations of books from around the world.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Secular Bar Mitzvah: a 13th Year Rite of Passege

In the Jewish tradition a boy becomes a man at age 13. In a big religious ceremony a boy "comes out" to the community by reading from the Torah (bible scroll) in front of his community. But the old Jewish traditions are not as important to secular Jews in Israel. Here, 13 year olds are not yet as mature as Jews needed to be in biblical times, this rite of passage is more of an echo to tradition than reality of giving a just inducted "man" the rights and responsibilities of an adult (permission to marry, leave the home and start an independent life.) It seems that at this age boys are more worried about scoring goals in soccer or getting a kiss from a girl.

Tradition is still followed and 13 year-olds learn to chant the "parasha" (weekly Torah portion) and read it at an appointed sabbath in front of the local synagogue congregation. This is usually in the local neighborhood synagogue where the family lives. Family and close friends are invited to this event. But the real deal is the party. A bar-mitzvah is the biggest party a family gives a man sometimes just a bit smaller in size than a wedding ceremony. This is a chance for the family to invite friends and neighbors. An old family friend, my father's medical school buddy who lives close had a grandson's bar mitzvah party. The party was last Friday afternoon in a Jaffa restaurant. The boy's father is a musician and a music school owner. The family invited the kids from the boy's school and they were entrained by a bunch of video games and computer music games (Nintendo Wii, guitar hero) and fast food (McDonald's, Hummus, and Coke)

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Israeli (Tel Aviv's) Malls Turn to Bazzars: Shopers Happy :)

Israel has been building malls at a fast clip the last twenty years. Malls as they come in replaced the small shops along small town main streets and big city neighborhood shopping street. In Tel Aviv and surrounding cities there are many malls (more than 10.) From small ones like Givatay'im to large ones like Ramat Aviv and Hertzeliya's seven stars. Malls are clean and shiny with chain stores from women clothes to gifts to cafes to book stores. Israel's chain retailers have grown in size and sophistication as malls spread across the country. Chain retailers and mall builders have a symbiotic relationship. Malls need shops, retailers need space and shoppers. But small specialty shops with interesting collection of goods do not fit into this mall expansion scenario. This makes for a shift of shopping habits, to some young shoppers malls are what they want but not everyone is happy with the change. There are no dry goods shops with great smells from nuts to herbs and spices. There are no small "school" supplies shops from notebooks and pens to school accessories you would not believe (polar and exponential graph paper, finger puppets and test prep books) where kids can touch and wonder in small dark corners. Vegetable and fruit stands, fish and meat shops, cloth boutiques and bakeries run by mom and pop on a small street simply can not afford the rents and will probably not have enough foot traffic to make a profit in a mall. Small take home food shops and falaffel, hummus, sadwich and shawarma stands are certainly not part of the mall scene. But these little small outlets are still useful in daily life, so mall managers went out to try and get them into their spaces.

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