Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thrashing Estonia

Normally it takes an event of the magnitude of the World Cup final for me to actually watch sports. But since a kind friend sent me a spare ticket to the Israel vs Estonia Euro 2008 qualifier, I said what the hell. I tried to remember the last time I'd gone to a professional soccer game in a real stadium and came to the conclusion that it was in about 1965! (Aston Villa vs Birmingham City).
Warned of massive traffic jams I arrived by bike. Unnecessary since this wasn't Israel vs. England and the crowd was a mere 24,00 that only half filled the smallish, old fashioned National Stadium in Ramat Gan. As I entered, the stadium was on its feet for Hatikva . It's an uplifting sight: the perfect green pitch in the floodlights, the razzle dazzle of the flag-waving majorettes, the thousands of roaring spectators (some holding a sign welcoming the Estonians to 'Israhell' ).

Shuffling into my seat I checked out my neighbours . To my left, a dubious looking guy in a long black coat smoking roll-ups who immediately offered me some garinim (sunflower seeds) and told his kids to sit somewhere else. To my right three dati teenage guys who looked like they would feel at home at the recent attempt to resettle the Homesh settlement

Most of the other people in stand 4 (the more expensive seats) were just regular people though - a few kippot, a few soldiers and a decent sprinkling of flag-covered, face-painted kids, wives and girlfriends.

Since I know diddly squat, I furtively turned my cell phone into a radio and got a running commentary as we thrashed the lumpen Estonians by 4-0 .

Two of the 4 were scored by 17 year old wunderkind Ben Sahar who plays for Chelsea. It turns out that there's a controversy over Sahar. He's soon due to be called up for the army. That would set his promising career back,wasting 3 years during which he might have serve more effectively as an "ambassador" for Israel. On the other hand, what makes him more important than a potential scientist or a mechanic for that matter? Meanwhile, having slipped out at half- time for a naknikia (hot dog) and steadily spitting my way through my own packet of garinim, I was really getting into it. And each time Sahar scored, 23,999 people and I leaped to our feet in a shared moment of exultation. There is something ritualised about a soccer match. And as in churches and synagogues, there's a lot of joint standing up and sitting down. For more on the match:

The electric sign yells SHA'AR (GOAL) in vivid pink - click to see better.

And the latest generation of Israel supporters smells the oh so sweet and oh so rare whiff of victory. They say that the Israel squad has a promising future. I had fun. I should get out more.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Unparalleled chutzpa

The lower end of Chelouche Street in Neve Tzedek with the Neve Tzedek Tower in the background.

Support for the argument that the construction of the Neve Tsedek Tower is a crime against the neighbourhood it markets itself as being a part of came from an interview in Ha'aretz with the controversial architectand former Tel Aviv engineer Yisrael Goodovich. Goodovich says that the Neve Tzedek Tower is a case of : "Chutzpah that has no parallel anywhere in the world."

In his new book on the tower phenomenon , he warns in a paraphrase of Marcel Proust, that Tel Aviv is turning into "towers that gather a city around them."

Goodovich has always been outspoken, not to mention crude and wild, but at least he is providing another view in a city gone tower mad.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Goat farm wedding

Good friends invited us to the wedding of their daughter who lives on a goat farm near Yodfat in a beautiful corner of the western Galil.

The groom's family comes from Yodfat whose residents worked en masse for days to turn the simple farm into the set for one of the more unconventional Jewish weddings I've been to. We missed the entry of the groom on a camel but arrived in time to catch this line of local Bedouin neighbours doing a wedding debka.

There were lots of musicians down on the farm, many of them wielding instruments picked up in India. Here a tabla player and a local Arab flute player accompany the dancers. Many of the young people were of the shanti shanti type, i.e. 21st century hippies deeply influenced by India.

Here's the girls' debka circle with the beautiful bride in white. About 500 people showed up for this wedding which turned into a celebration for the whole village, like a wedding in an Arab village or on kibbutz for that matter.

As the sun set the crowd gathered around the chuppa (click the photo and you'll see it) where there was a simple ceremony carried out by a cheerful orthodox rabbi. There were several ultra-orthodox haredi families in the crowd together with the shanti shantis , the Bedouin and the city slickers like us.

The traditional seven blessings were recited by family members, the groom sanctified the bride with a ring , broke the glass and India was instantaneously transformed into the shtetl . As a klezmer quartet belted out the Jewish wedding classics, ecstatic, whirling hora circles carried the bride and groom aloft.

The food, by the way, was great. A trestle table about 50 metres long was heaped with excellent breads created by a celebrity baker together with wonderful goats cheese, olives, and almonds from the farm. Old casks could be tapped for excellent wine made by the groom. Soon, trays of kubeh appeared and for the main course (consumed on cushions in huge Moroccan style tents) there were platters of savoury rice with raisins and almonds, tangy salads and excellent meat tajines, all prepared in a nearby field.

The dancing, fuelled by shots of ouzo, continued into the night but we had to get back to the big city. Before leaving we paid a visit to the permanent residents (children of the tajines?) as they bedded down for the night.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bye Bye Avraham. hello England

The leadership continues to self destruct, the latest "victim" being finance minister Avraham Hirschson suspected of embezzling the equivalent of about a million euro when he was a Likud activist .Come to think of it Hirschson has always been a shadowy figure, seeming to appear out of nowhere to be quickly entrusted with managing the nation's finances.

In authentic Israeli fashion, Hirschson, after a 7 hour grilling by the police shrugged off questions about his political future , noting that , "I am now running the treasury, and will go on doing so." His political buddy Ehud Olmert said much the same the other day when he noted that, despite his acute unpopularity, the PM's Office is "my place of work". The second they find themselves in deep shit, our politicians ditch all the high-minded verbiage and their public positions are suddenly transformed into simple places of employment apparently unlinked to norms of lawful behaviour.

But enough of that because the whole country's gearing up for the England vs Israel match on Saturday night . The English are coming in their thousands and Tel Aviv is abuzz. We did our best to block this flood of English beer-swilling football hooligans by persuading the Histadrut to organise a general strike that closed down air traffic but the damned government went and solved the problem and now the floodgates have been opened. On Shabbat the beachfront (especially near Mikes Place) will be packed with them, although if they look like the hooligan below....

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dizengoff, Friday

All good things come to an end. Back to the grindstone tomorrow. Since I'll have less time for blogging I thought I'd post some photos taken on Friday. Starting with the rooftop itself, in its winter aspect still but with plants budding madly.

On the way, on the corner of Herzl and Lillienblum, they are restoring a late 1920s building in art-deco style. For years the details had been covered with soot and grime but are finally being revealed.

Since I was on holiday on Friday, A. and I decided to visit a gallery or two. We started with an exhibition at the Kibbutz Gallery on Dov Hoz which promised ("A search for the margins") far more than it delivered (a few fuzzy kodachromes and mangled lumps of plaster). Then we visited the Bauhaus Gallery on Dizengoff itself and saw some excellent photos of Tel Aviv by a new immigrant from Latvia (Marina someone).

The permanent exhibition there is of restored ernational Style buildings such as this one on Menachem Begin (my photo of their photo) which is one of my personal favourites.

Haven't been to Dizengoff on a Friday morning in ages. The southern end of what used to be Tel Aviv's "flagship" street is now quite badly run down in places. On a bench on the concrete square they suspended over the old 'circle' to let the traffic flow beneath, a street dweller held up a sign demanding political asylum and Ya'akov Agam's weird water and fire sculpture failed to produce water or fire.

But we did discover a lively flea market in progress . I sort of knew it was there but have actually never visited it before.

Artistically satiated but otherwise famished we ate lunch at Bar Giora on Dizengoff: young, friendly, noisy, tasty.

Then came across this convention of pampered pekinese, out "seeing and being seen", which is what Dizengoff used to be all about in its heyday.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Face to Face

These posters of slightly distorted photos of faces pasted onto a shop window in Herzl St are part of a peace project called face2face. The woman above is a lawyer from Tel Aviv and the man below is a lawyer from Bethlehem. The idea was to take Israelis and Palestinian doing the same job and portray them in sets of two to show how similar we are. This brainwave came after the (French ?) initiators JR and Marco travelled around Israel/Palestine for a whole week(!) and stumbled across a great secret:

"After a week, we had a conclusion with the same words: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families.A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him.It's obvious, but they don't see that.We must put them face to face. They will realize."

Oh JR and Marco, if only it were that simple. But the images are interesting . See more on

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Turbulence ahead

Storm clouds approaching the rooftop from the west and today a suitably blustery day for catching up on the news after our all too brief trip to a relatively sane country. A sift through the papers over a large cappuccino at a cafe on Rothschild Blvd revealed political storm clouds on the horizon as well.

Domestically, Olmert, suffering from chronically low popularity and haunted by a string of corruption investigations is now anxiously awaiting the results of the interim report of the Winograd Committee he himself appointed to investigate the fiasco of Lebanon II. By all accounts, the results will be damning.

Various scenarios could emerge: Olmert's resignation and replacement as Kadima head and PM by Tsipi Livni; the mass defection of Kadima MKs to Likud thereby instituting Bibi as PM, even new elections. Whatever happens, a weak and rudderless leadership and a Knesset full of people concerned only with covering their own backsides are inadequate to tackle the real challenge: how to deal with the formation of a new Palestinian unity government (announced today) and its support for the Saudi peace plan.

A strong government with some public support might find a formulation (especially on the return of refugees) to accept the Saudi/Arab peace plan as a basis for negotiations (it does, after all, offer Israel peace and normalisation.) But the government is weak and divided and until new forces appear (Netanyahu excluded) is incapable of taking a bold strategic decision. Much easier therefore to fight a rearguard battle, continue to boycott the new government, turn a deaf ear to the Arab moderates and fly in the face of the wind ...

like these birds on the seafront this morning

The fault lines on this issue of whether or not to work with the new Palestinian government may also split the International Quartet with the US on one side and the UN, Russia and most of Europe on the other. Expect some turbulence ahead.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Springtime in London

On the banks of the Serpentine, Hyde Park

Landed at wet and windy Ben Gurion airport from Heathrow at unearthly hour this morning. Tel Aviv looking a bit grim compared to London in its first flush of early spring. There the magnolias are about to pop and there are daffodils and crocuses on every green patch. But while everyone was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, the pleasure was tinged with the nagging question, "Is this part of global warming?" Unlike Israel, where the post of environment minister is considered a sort of booby prize for ambitious politicians, the environment seems to be dominating the political agenda in the UK. While we were in London the two men who will apparently be competing for the premiership - Labour's Gordon Brown and the Conservatives' David Cameron - released radical plans for drastically reducing carbon emissions and in a draft Bill published yesterday, ministers promised to legally enforce their commitment to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

As we passed containers allotted for every imaginable category of recyclable waste, my London source (and proud dad of barmitzva boy) told me that there is heavy public pressure to make it more expensive to fly and have people take fewer holidays abroad. He predicted that one victim of the new minimum flights mindset would be imported fruits and vegetables. The British would go back to consuming locally grown produce in season. For us Middleasterners, too embroiled in our futile conflict to concentrate on the environment and still praying to the god of unrestrained consumerism, and all this was bit of an eye-opener.

The other big issue we encountered was of course how to relate to the burgeoning Moslem minority. We went to see the funny and provocative political farce 'King of Hearts' at the Hampstead Theatre which raises the possibility of a Moslem queen! There were few Moslems in the audience but there are about two million spread throughout the country and the Jewish community is wondering whether it is sitting on the edge of a volcano, or just paranoid.
Thanks to our generous and genial hosts in London for a great family 'simcha' and a stimulating break.
One of London's charms is the way it manages to integrate the new and the old. Here's the pub sign for the Three Kings (Henry VIII, Presley and Kong) near Smithfields Market.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

From White City to Big City

Off to London for a family celebration the day after tomorrow which means that for a week or so I'll be in a completely different environment. The plants on the rooftop will be watered but you'll have to survive without me.

Already experiencing the feeling of being ineluctably sucked towards the airport terminal and being spat out at the other end. Will the cell phone work abroad? How come El Al closed down the pre-flight check-in on Arlozorov! How many pairs of socks...

After reading that Israel was again rated by people in 27 countries as having the most negative influence in the world (together, ah the irony, with Iran) ttp:// I wonder if we'll be attacked by an angry mob when the plane touches down at Heathrow.

In case we are I'll leave you with a (touched up) image of 'Bauhaus' architecture one of the buildings that made up what was later called the 'White City'. I just finished reading 'When I Lived in Modern Times' by Linda Grant, set mostly in Tel Aviv as the Irgun and the Lehi were using increasingly violent methods against the British and the Mandate forces cracked down on the local population. Despite all this Tel Aviv was already a cake-scoffing party town. In 1947, the thousands of International Style buildings in Tel Aviv were still white (although already showing signs of wear and tear) and Grant writes affectingly about them and the people who lived in them - Holocaust survivors, underemployed yekke intellectuals, radical socialists. Then, these buildings represented the ideal of a thrusting new egalitarian modernism, a practical utopia that would shine its light on the region. Today, they're a romantic piece of real estate in the Tel Aviv bubble. The rooftop sits above one of them (built in 1939) and it will still be there when I get back.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ad lo yada

Starting tomorrow night it's Purim -the festival that everyone can relate to because it's so much fun. The dressing up, the parties, the craziness. It's even a mitzva to get so blasted you can't tell wrong from right - ad lo yada . This concept of crossing moral lines in the service of God was literally on the Purim of 1994 when Baruch Goldstein fired on Moslems praying in the Cave of the Patriarchs killing 29 people. Adloyada is also Hebrew for 'Purim carnival parade', Tel Aviv held the best and biggest adloyadas back in the 20s and 30's but the Queen Esther crown is now worn by it's upstart neighbour Holon. It always rains on Purim (but it won't this year they say).

I wanted to snap kids on their way to their school Purim parties clad as pirates, policemen and superheroes but my camera is in Amsterdam and the next time I see it (hopefully), I'll be in London. So I searched my collection for something wacky but all I could come up with was a building in Florentine that seemed to have put on fancy dress and this below.

No doubt, in batei knesset (shuls) around the country, during the reading of megilat Esther people will be booing evil Haman and thinking Ahmadinejad but when it comes to dangerous bufoons.....