Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reading Dylan

Succot coincides with the first days of autumn and is, in theory, a wonderful time for taking trips: still warm but not burning. And indeed, it seems that much of the country (those who are not abroad) are racing from the Haifa film festival to the Acco alternative theatre festival to the hot air balloon fest in the Negev or the Susiada horse show near Beit Shean (partial list). We too took a short trip - to a buffalo dairy and to Idi's, Ashdod's famous fish restaurant, but with am yisrael tearing up the roads, the best place to be is of course close to our succah-like rooftop.

The free time I gained by not traipsing all over the country allowed me to finally polish off the 29th and last interview in 'Dylan on Dylan' (collected by Jonathan Cott). One of the inspiring things about the unpredictable and mercurial Mr. Zimmerman (65ish) is not only the length of his career but his resolute (not always successful) search for songs that resonate in that particularly Dylanesque way. If there are other Dylan fans out there, take a look at this list of links from what looks like his official website.

As we devote Succot to indulging our tastes, all around us the different players in our little Middle Eastern puzzle are jostling for better positions ahead of the November peace conference: the settlers are trying to set up 5 more illegal outposts (how many do they need?); the Hamas wants a truce and the large gaps between Olmert's and Abu Mazen's positions are beginning to show.

Meanwhile, let the escapism continue and what better way to escape the reality of the Middle East than by painting sensitive fantasy out of it as in the award-winning Israeli film The Band's Visit (bikur ha-tizmoret) we saw this afternoon. It was human and touching but to my mind, laid on a bit too thick. Worth seeing though. For a taste go to

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Disaster thwarted

To see the film click the link below.

While we were enjoying the sacred peace and quiet of Yom Kippur, devoting the day to reading, contemplation and wandering the empty streets, unbeknown to us, a drama was playing itself out just a few hundred metres away from the rooftop. It turns out that the security forces closed in on an apartment in Rehov Piagotto , just up the road, where they discovered a suicide bomb belt that was supposed to be used over the chagim. The apartment was occupied by illegal Palestinian workers who put up a fight and were arrested. The Shin Bet got the intelligence from Hamas militants captured in an operation in a refugee camp near Nablus which too its own toll in lives, including one Israeli soldier and several innocent Palestinians alongside the terrorists.

As is often the case, foiled the terrorist attack was a consequence of Palestinian in-fighting. Apparently the Gaza branch is seeking a cease-fire with Israel while the Damascus leadership is opposed and wanted to upset the November "Peace conference" with a spectacular terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv.

And so it goes. Innocent people get killed in an operation designed to save the lives of other innocent people. For the innocent civilians who lose their lives in this conflict and in conflicts everywhere, nothing is ever right or fair. And in the rush and spin of events, your chances of survival depend only on your timing and precise geography.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tel Aviv , Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur. Pedestrians and other non-pollutants control the street for one blessed day.

Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.

So, if I've been unkind, unthoughtful or downright nasty to anyone out there during the past year, I'm sorry. OK?

This time last year I broke my arm (after falling off my bike) and was stuck at home with my arm in a sling. To pass the time I wrote a sort of diary. Here's an excerpt on Yom Kippur.

“The streets are noiseless except for the occasional yelping of ecstatic children on wheels who suddenly have full control of the main road (and it’s completely safe!). The quiet is so quiet that it creates a new audio-landscape: the click-clicking of heels on the tarmac, the scuffing of dogs’ paws, a murmured conversation from a living room, the wind in the leaves. No intsi-intsi trance music blasts from a home cinema system, no faltering Chopin emanates from an untuned piano, no synthi-driven oriental tearjerker ululates from a cheap transistor. Just silence is heard and the movement of human beings without motorized assistance.

The visual landscape is altered as well: vistas are rediscovered, forgotten horizons materialize, alternative perspectives present themselves.

Is it possible that our wise sages (of Blessed Memory) anticipated the need for a traffic-free day in Tel Aviv? And not just traffic-free either: food free of course (what’s wrong with an annual fast to detoxify the system) and shopping free, and a smoking free too (at least in public spaces). Almost definitely not. However the goal-oriented western mindset of the progressive secular Israeli (that diminishing 27 % to which we belong) appreciates that Yom Kippur's many benefits can allow us to accept it, collaborate with it (by not driving for example) and, heaven forefend, even enjoy it. And if the day on which a man is supposed to make his peace with the Creator has been turned into No Shopping Day, then so be it. If you have problems recognizing the Creator in the first place but still want to belong to your tribe, secular replacements have to be found to fill the religious bill.”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hanging out on the New Year

Hanging out. This cat , photographed by Y and a resident of his building, spends most of his time hanging out on the handlebars in the front drive. There's no accounting for taste.

The rooftop has really proved its worth over the long Rosh Hashana - Shabbat break, proving yet again that the best place to be on a major Israeli holiday is at home. While much of am yisrael (the part that doesn't go to beit knesset) has been 'relaxing' in theme hotels in Turkey, clogging the nature reserves in the Galil or fighting for a piece of herring in the breakfast line in a hotel in Eilat, the rooftop has been our sanctuary. Here we have celebrated rosh hashana and a birthday with family and friends (the pomegranate in the picture was sacrificed for the the festive table) , read copiously, played sheshbesh, dozed, birdwatched, talked on the phone to our sons in two different continents, listened to the '67 Summer of Love marathon on 88FM (what a year!) and so on and so forth. And it was to the privacy of the rooftop we returned after a brief trip to the beach or a restaurant. On the rooftop all was quiet, the roads were almost completely empty and an air of peace and tranquility (however illusory or transient) accompanied the start of the new year. Tomorrow the race begins again but never fear, Yom Kippur is on its way.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Neighbourhood Foray 7?

A Chinese, or maybe Thai, worker putting the final touches to the old building on the corner of Lilienblum and Herzl, now transformed into a jewel.

It's still erev erev erev erev Rosh Hashana but business along Allenby seemed brisker than usual. Time to slip out of the hot, bustling street and peek into the cool courtyard that contains Stefan Braun's.

Stefan Braun was once a furrier's and the original sign has been lovingly maintained with the discreet addition of symbols denoting its new vocation as an upscale restaurant. A big photo of what are presumably the prosperous looking Braun Bros in the 1940s adorns the old display window.

Most of Allenby is much less upscale. Over the road the "Little Russia" deli is one the many shops catering for Russian speakers. Juices, syrups, jams, cakes, meats, canned goods and lots of alcohol are imported from Russia and barely a word of Hebrew is visible in the whole place.

No use looking for Rosh Hashana atmosphere here. But on the corner of Allenby and Yehuda Halevy, between the Superpharm and the AM/PM 24/7 supermarket, someone, in time honoured tradition, has set up a basta selling cheap shana tova greeting cards.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful New Year (click on pic below for more details).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Doing justice to Neve Tsedek

Street in Neve Tsedek (the fount of justice?) , near the Susanne Dallal Centre

Jackie sent me this interesting link to an article in Ha'aretz on planning and building issues in Neve Tsedek.

Meanwhile, the renovated old train station that is at the centre of the controversy has already been opened, but not to the public. The occasion (how appropriate) was an event sponsored by The Marker (Ha'aretz's financial supplement) marking the "50 most prominent businessmen in Israel 2007" or whatever. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was glowing as he mingled with all that money.