Saturday, April 28, 2007

Walking with Winnograd

The first damning reports of the interim findings of the Winnograd Commission [the committee of inquiry investigating Lebanon II] appeared on Channel 10 last night TV

To escape the news and stretch a leg, we decided to take a Shabbat morning walk to sadnaot ha-omanim - the Artists Studios gallery on the border between Florentin and Yaffo. On show is an exhibition by a friend, the talented photographer Roi Kuper. The photos here are not from his show (I wish) but from the short walk to the gallery and back.

The exhibition is called White Cliffs of Dover (see at and to accompany the lustrous images he created, Roi had laid on a recording of the Vera Lynn version of the wartime hit (There'll be bluebirds over...). It felt strange to be listening to this classic piece of British nostalgia in Tel Aviv. Roi claims there was second verse of the song, less schmaltzy and more realistic than the first that was edited out of all versions. And, by the way, there are no bluebirds in England.

According to first reports, despite the harsh criticism of the much-anticipated Winnograd report, Olmert does not intend to resign and will try to tough it out and hope the storm will pass. But the political wheels are spinning. Tsipi Livni is forming coalitions in and out of her Kadima party to prepare for a possible leadership grab while Olmert is getting into bed with Agudat Yisrael just in case Labour quits and he needs to prop up his coalition.

These wooden houses are in the American Colony, on the seam between Florentin and Yaffo, a failed attempt by American members of the Messiah's Church to set up shop in the Holy Land. They were later bought by the German Templers. The area includes Emanuel Church and a Christian hostel. As the wave of building and gentrification moves southwards this previously neglected area has suddenly become attractive and a chunk of it has been bought up for conservation and development.These modest houses will no doubt be worth a fortune in a year or two.

They've survived the Turks, the British and , with any luck, will even survive the ravages of the wholesale development that is sweeping through this part of town.

Until that happens there are still a few magical spots to be discovered among the huts and shacks, garages and workshops. This shot carefully avoids the refuse on both sides of the frame. It reminds me of an idealised painting by Nahum Gutman of an Arab house surrounded by palms with a spring from which women are drawing water. Such places were swallowed up as Jewish Tel Aviv developed and were almost completely destroyed after the 1948 war. This site too will be gone too before long.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Flying the flag?

A somewhat limp flag on the adjacent Bank Leumi building, taken from the rooftop.

"An atmosphere of disappointment, despondency and anxiety prevails in Israel in its 59th year," wrote the editorial team today’s Ha’aretz

And it’s true, all true, but still it is Independence Day and so, after oohing and aahing at the fireworks from the rooftop and watching the military ceremony at Mount Herzl (why do our soldiers always look so uncomfortable when marching?) that morphed into a mass choreographed medley of Israel’s Eurovision entries (the North Koreans do it better), we took a swing through the neighbourhood.

In Neve Tsedek the residents of Stein Street had brought in a DJ (playing a hyped up version of the weepy mizrahi hit “Without you I am actually nothing”) and were holding a street party. Kids ran around wielding inflatable plastic hammers while their parents danced. We shook a leg and moved on to Florentin where there was another street party in progress. This time the music was a sort of hip-hop Brazilian and a group of guys who looked like they should be doing capoeira were actually kicking around a deflated football (?!). The locals had opened bastot (stalls) selling arak and lemonade and grilled corn on the cob. Music was pouring out of the bars and the streets were beginning to fill up.

We’d had enough and went home to watch reruns of Eretz Nehederet (It’s A Wonderful Country) satirical show which is more of reference point for many Israelis today than the well worn patriotic rituals.

Gidon Levy explained why he decided not to fly the flag this Independence Day. “…The flag became increasingly distant from me; the national flag became the flag of extreme nationalism” But as he admitted, all his neighbours, despite the despondency, were still flying the flag.

The flag I have was a freebie sponsored by a bank - another sign of the times. I'll tie it to a pole on the rooftop for tomorrow's Independence Day mangal (barbecue) with friends on the rooftop. Maybe it doesn't symbolise much pride anymore and maybe, at only 59, it already feels ragged and tatty, but it's still the only one we've got.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mannequin Pis

Doesn’t matter how often I travel, I’m amazed. In the morning you’re in Tel Aviv, under the rooftop and by lunchtime you’re in another world. In this case Brussels, home of luxury chocolates, Leffe beer, art nouveau, waffles, the European Union, Tin Tin ( and the mannequin pis (

This time, thanks to a friend who has lived there for 12 years, I got to see some parts of the city I’ve not encountered before. The funky African Quarter for instance and the red light district. We also went to a restaurant decorated in art nouveau style called Le Dernier Hallucination. Brussels is filled with wonderful examples of art nouveau and art deco.

Despite its reputation as a grey nonentity, most Brussels residents seem to like living there. It’s a small big city, easy to navigate, with great restaurants, a rich cultural life and a cosmopolitan population. Sure it’s not as magnificent as Paris, but so what. The weather was springlike but not always warm thereby confusing the locals whose wardrobes ranged from shorts and T shirts to coats and scarves. Brussels is like the mannequin pis, modest yet surprising.

My friend also reminded me that there are three Parliaments in Brussels: the Federal Parliament ( I saw on my early morning walk through the Parc de Bruxelles) the Brussels Parliament and the European Parliament. So Brussels also serves as an example that a) if your country is divided along ethnic lines, these can be turned into a federal structure and b) that in today’s world you’ve got to think beyond nationhood alone if you want to survive and even prosper.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mid Life Crisis joins Myspace

The band, Mid Life Crisis, Danny, Danny, Zev and me, have been playing together for 3 years now, or is it 4? Once every 2-3 weeks we manage to escape our respective routines and transform ourselves (bald pates, paunches and all) into lithe ass-kicking rockers about to take the world by storm.
After overcoming a few technical problems that would have been solved in a jiffy by a 12 year old we've opened a page on Myspace where you can hear a few of our recordings, read our bio and see some images: . We'll try to keep it evolving.
Over the weekend MLC spent 9 straight hours in the studio recording a new song - War Zone - that I wrote under the influence of Lebanon II. Hopefully it will be on the site soon too.
Here are the lyrics
War Zone
The lights are going out all over town
And half the population’s underground
We’re under fire and so are they
And all that’s left to do is pray

Can’t stand living in a war zone
Can’t stand living in a war zone

Their story and our story is the same
A deadly dance of death, we’re both to blame
We want what’s theirs
They want what’s ours
We have to show them who’s got the power

Can’t stand living in a war zone
Can’t stand living in a war one

A massive boom a blinding flash of light
The children scream, their faces white with fright
By Him we live by Him we die
Why doesn’t he hear us when we cry?

Can’t stand living in a war zone
Can’t stand living in a war zone

I cannot leave I cannot stay
What use is running anyway?
The die is cast what will be will be
But what about my hopes
And what about my dreams?

Can’t stand living in a war zone
Can’t stand living in a war zone

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A new storm?

I have an uneasy feeling that we are approaching a dangerous new period in our relations with our Arab neighbours.

Olmert's response to the Arab League peace initiative has been arrogant and short-sighted - predicting peace with all the Arab states within 5 years while simultaneously not accepting the initiative as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians. Henry Siegman wrote an interesting article on the initiative and Israel's response to it in the International Herald Tribune

A more positive Israeli response might serve to swing Arab public opinion against the powerful militant Islamic groups in its midst. A perceived rejection will do the opposite. It could provide the justification for a new round of violence whether it be a third intifada or a clash with Syria or a heightened wave of Islamic terror attacks against Israel.

This is therefore a critical time. When hopes are raised and then dashed, there is bound to be an effect, just as the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000 led to tghe outbreak of the second intifada.

I don't know whether Olmert's position stems from his political weakness or from an ideological position but the result is the same. Israel, shamefully, is rejecting an Arab peace offer based on the same principles adopted by the entire international community as the formula for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Public discussion of the Arab peace initiative in Israel has not been that intense. There are so many other issues for the media to focus on : corruption at the top, what's up with Azmi Bishara, an aborted terror attack in Tel Aviv, the prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit and the teachers' strike. But turning our backs to this offer might mean that we are turning our backs on the last chance for a two state solution.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Galil getaway

Throwing good sense to the wind and spurning my own advice to stay close to the rooftop during the Pessah holiday, we set out on Friday with the rest of am yisrael to the Galil. The roads were full but what can you do? You go hiking when you have a holiday - right? At the height of spring and on the cusp of summer the Galil is ablaze with life and colour. The flowering clil ha-choresh tree stands out everywhere.

The plan was to start with a hike down our beloved Nahal Amud (the wadi) which we had explored so often when we lived in Tzfat the 80s. But, pushed for time, instead of taking the route below Tzfat we chose the official entrance at Kfar Shamai where we encountered a ticket office, a very full car park and hordes of tired looking families. The wadi, once our symbol of natural freedom, had been bureacratised! Gritting our teeth, we turned down repeated offers to join the Park Authority's membership club and sullenly promised to be back within two hours (so that they could close the gates to the car park!). Then began the descent down the twisting, rocky path, evading as best we could the procession of wailing tots, grumpy teens and frazzled parents schlepping up to the top.

It was worth it though. At the bottom, along the stream bed, the crowds thinned out considerably. Soon the calming effect of the rich and varied foliage and the soothing pichpuch of water trickling over the little rapids began to kick in and we were transported again into the wadi's magical kingdom.

This is one of the old water channels that served the wool mills for which this area was once famous.

We clambered down a steep and muddy path to reach the stream itself, washed our weary feet in its sparkling cool water and communed with nature amidst the forest canopy.

On closer inspection there was a lot going on in the shallow pools. These water striders were.... water striding for example. Click the pic below and you'll see them.

The next day we explored the lovely Nahal Dishon with M & J and a lot of other people. These Arab girls in an oak tree were also out for a Pessah picnic with their family.

To end a perfect getaway (thanks M, J and Shraga) we enjoyed a delicious and completely unkosher lunch at a restaurant at the lovely Circassian village of Reihaniya ( before joining the traffic back to the big city.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spring rituals

A sandy lane in Park Hayarkon.

Hol hamo'ed Pessah , the intermediate days (middle bit) of Pessah. Spring is sprung and the weather is warm and windy. The countryside is blooming and the roads are jammed (someone decided to close half the beaches around the Kinneret leaving thousands of angry families stranded). With chaos on the roads and the countryside invaded by am yisrael , better not to stray too far from the rooftop.

This exodus to the country (or out of the country) plus the fact that nearly all the restaurants are closed, means that the centre of town is much quieter than usual.

At Doron's , a 'photo' that now sells small electrical goods, the salesgirl was talking over the counter to a guy who was apparently one of their suppliers. This man, it turned out, had the misfortune to have married an ashkenazi, a mistake, as every good mizrachi knows, which carries a heavy price:
Salesgirl: "And what, you mean you had to eat gefilte fish?
Supplier : " Yes"
Sales: And what did it taste like?
Supp: "Like nothing, it has no taste"
Salesgirl 2: "I'd never eat it, even if you payed me."
Supp: " It's not just that, it's also the children. Every birth they get so stressed and then every kid has to be a professor. Why does every kid have to be a professor ? Believe me, if you told me that I'd be a shoe salesmen, I'd be a shoe salesman. I'd be happy to be shoe salesman! "

Even though pessah has officially begun, the spring weather is still triggering a cleaning frenzy. If you've got a way to transport old furniture from the street this is a good time to refurnish your student apartment. This morning the tenants on the first floor decided to throw their old sofa from the balcony making a thump that is not good for your heart.

Waiting in line at the makolet (neighbourhood grocery). The non kasher le-pessah shelves are covered with plastic sheeting. A customer asks, "Nissim, is the stuff under the plastic for sale too?" Nissim raised his eyebrows as if to say , "as long as it remains our little secret" and the deal is done. Suddenly, other hands grope furtively under the plastic .

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Shuk Levinsky erev erev Pessah

Business was brisk at Shuk Levinsky a market in Florentin specialising in spices, herbs, dried fruits, olives and fish products. Those in the know will cross town pick up olive oil, sauces, salami, cheeses, pickles or spreads at renowned delicatessens like Haim Rafael or Lupo .

But today is erev, erev Pessah and people in south Tel Aviv need a cheap but respectable present for the hostess on seder night. This creates a sudden surge in demand for something that looks wildly expensive but actually costs as little as possible. This demand is filled by the cellophane gift packages that suddenly appear in markets and other cheap outlets all over the city. The cellophane gift package (seen here being flogged off the back of a car) consists of a wickerwork basket mainly filled with vivid purple straw that also contains a half a bottle of cheap wine, a small jar of honey, two chocolate bars (all of previously unknown origin) and a card wishing you a happy Pessah. The whole sorry collection is then party-wrapped in swathes of bright cellophane further enhanced by squirly ribbons.