Saturday, March 29, 2008

Purim in Tel Aviv 2

Purim in Tel Aviv 2008

I came across an article in Ha'aretz on Purim in Tel Aviv written by the Hungarian Jewish journalist and author Arthur Koestler (who later became a British subject). Koestler lived in British Mandated Palestine, from 1926-29, first on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley ("Heftzibah"), and later in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where he almost starved.

Describing the Purim carnival for one of the Berlin liberal dailies of the time, he contrasted the chaotic and hedonistic atmosphere in Tel Aviv to that of the grim sanctity of Jerusalem. Here are a few excerpts (translated from the Hebrew, itself a translation from the original German)

"My Tel Aviv, 'Spring City', on the coast, the kitschiest city in the world, you, who stand facing Venice, how my desecrating heart loves you. When young men, faces blackened like the chocolate boys in the 'Talmi' margarine advert and dressed in Hollywood loinskins pull the Purim Queen on a cart through the cheering streets and she tries her best to smile like Bebe Daniels the movie star, and hard on their heels in the carnival parade comes a funny massive toothbrush which is none other than an advertisement for Ozonol mouthwash, followed by several dark skinned Jews from the Yemen with dancing bears and so forth... Where is it written that style and good taste have anything to do with happiness? Tel Aviv is lack of style set in stone, the despair of the architects, a living and breathing lack of tradition that sprang out of the sand dunes in days of crazy economic propserity when, as is well known, hairdressers served as achitects..."

"There is only one word to describe this state of affairs: the good old Berlin word meschugge. The whole of Tel Aviv enters this state. In the grip of craziness she stands on her head and wiggles her legs in the air. Arabs from Yaffo who have come to take a closer look at the madhouse, stand open mouthed and think :" Allah be praised, Satan has finally entered the bodies of the Tel Avivis." And an English tourist wearing a squashed cork hat, his tie flying over his shoulder sighs: "And I always believed that the People of the Book suffered from stomach upsets and melancholy - oh dear." For three whole days the streets sing and dance, all men are brothers, the world is a paradise and life is a kindergarten. For three whole nights cannibal chiefs lead dragonflies to feasts and the fat king of Afghanistan sits under a table covered with paper confetti in a drinking competition with Yehuda Hamaccabi...."

Got the idea? Not that much seems to have changed since Koestler wrote those lines.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


While soldiers, policemen and Israeli missions overseas entered a state of super-high alert for a reprisal to the assassination 40 days ago of Hizbullah 'defense minister' Imad Mughniya, the rest of us prepared for Purim.

Frazzled mums stayed up all night putting the final touches to the costumes of the little ones to show off at school or at the bigger Purim carnival adaloyada parades like the one in Holon that is happening today. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv's older balyanim (clubbers?) were preparing their own costumes. The tradition of Tel Aviv adloyada carnival craziness goes back to the 1910s and 20s. The tradition of a massive street party in cool Florentin is much younger but this year caught on big time.

On Thursday night, attempting to disguise our age with outdated Purim costumes, we mingled with the twenty-somethings as they danced the night away to the sounds of outdoor DJs and live bands. The alcohol flowed like water until the revellers, in the Purim tradition, failed to distinguish between (good) Mordechai the Jew and (bad) Haman, or in today's context- between one whiskey chaser and another, or until they simply couldn't stand up any more (click pics for details).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Salt Lake City

Three days at a spa hotel at the Dead Sea - even for a teambuilding exercise - can do wonders for your state of mind. Horizons , like the mirror-still water, flatten. The hazy weather meant that the Jordanian side was invisible, giving the impression of a real sea. The hot soporific weather, an aromatherapy massage and 15 minutes in the mineral baths help to slow down the pace and the absence of constant news updates keeps you stress free.

At 6.30 a.m. two buses disgorge groups of fit-looking Russians (tourists?) who delight in the novelty of the bouyant waters.

and find a double twist on the classic reading the paper photo.

The road north between Ein Boqeq and Ein Gedi reminded me sometimes of the Sinai coast.

The Dead Sea Works at night. In fact the main Dead Sea hotel area is situated not on the sea itself but opposite huge industrial pools that serve this plant that gathers minerals like potash

Now that the flow of fresh water from the Jordan River to its north has completely stopped (Sorry folks but the lower Jordan river is now actually a sewage canal), the Dead Sea is now retreating at the rate of a metre per year. A major international effort is need to save it. Friends of the Earth Middle East a regional environmental NGO wants the governments and global bodies concerned to discuss options other than the 'peace conduit' plan proposed by Shimon Peres and adopted by the World Bank.

Meanwhile the damage done by the shrinking of the lake is becoming ever more evident. This 'sink hole' , one of at least another thousand, was created when underground fresh water dissolved dried out salt deposits causing the ground above to cave in. It's only a few yards from the main road.

Moonrise near Ein Gedi and back to the grind.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Almond tree in full blossom near Amuka

Spring has definitely sprung and the evidence is everywhere, starting with the rooftop itself which is coming to life after its winter hibernation and is sprouting buds where once there were dead stalks and pushing out flowers through formerly brown wilted leaves.

The swallows are also back and while it's true that one swallow does not mean spring, scores of the nimble daredevils certainly do. Following their aerobatic displays, as they swoop around the rooftop, adds a touch of excitement to your morning fruit salad and yoghurt.

Last weekend we were in the Galil where the almond blossom overpowered the senses and fell to the ground like snow (see pic above).

On the downside, after a week of blessed lull (more or less), there's also a springlike resumption of hostilities in Gaza, following an Israeli assault on an Islamic Jihad cell in Bethlehem, in which senior Jihad military commander Mohammed Shehadeh was killed. As the Israeli pop song goes, "they don't make wars in the winter any more" and so we can expect much more of the same as both Israel and the Hamas engage in grandstanding and brinksmanship. It appears that both sides are going to have to suffer more bloodshed before the conditions are "ripe" for a diplomatic deal that might stabilise Gaza's borders.

I'm off to the Dead Sea for a workshop that should also give me enough time to take a few photos of the the great disappearing lake that Pres Shimon Peres wants to refill with water from the Red Sea. The environmentalists are warning that this will could to untold damage but Shimon will not be moved and is mobilizing funds in all his diploamatic meetings. Germany, whose chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting this week, will also no doubt be asked to cough up some euros.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of resurgent youth accompanying spring, check out the (Israeli) Middle Eastern street art webmagazine in English aziza which has just launched its first issue.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Quiet at last?

On Thursday night there was an horrific terror attack at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem but today, after the Hamas got in the "last shot" we seem to be on the verge of a new cease-fire

halevei, Insh'alla

To prematurely celebrate the outbreak of this illusory peace and quiet I opened a web album to share some of the over 4,000 photos (and counting) I've taken over the past 3 years or so.

You can see it at.

I'll be gradually updating and expanding it. Technology is wonderful but it sets you free while simultaneously tying you down.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Wall painting in Yaffo

For the past few days the IDF and Hamas have been battling it out in a round of mutual deterrence at the end of which neither side seems deterred and both sides vow to continue. The result has been about 100 Palestinians, two Israeli soldiers and one Israeli civilian killed. According to the army about 90% of the Palestinians killed were militants; according to the Palestinians the number is 50%. The truth is no doubt somewhere in the middle.

In Israel, Ashkelon was hit several times with longer range katyushas, including a direct hit on a house. This is a strategic achievement for Hamas. In Gaza the destruction was far greater, the Hamas leadership was forced underground and PM Hania's headquarters were reduced to rubble.

Behind the battle scenes, by all accounts, some sort of negotiations are going on with the mediation of the Egyptians, and the involvement of Israel, the US, the PA and others, to reach an overall cease-fire, a prisoner exchange ( i.e. thousands of Palestinians for Gilad Schalit) and the re-opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The fighting seems to be at least partly about the terms that will (hopefully) be settled. For example, the extent of Israeli remote control at the Rafah crossing. Meanwhile there could well be much more violence.

Here's an Ha'aretz analysis of what's going on

While Sderot and Ashkelon were "burning" an hours drive to the south, S (on a short family visit) and I enjoyed the pleasant weather and took a few hours to bike around Yaffo and Florentin. Here life continued undisturbed by the war down south (or by the rioting in East Jerusalem I've just seen on TV).

Local house-owners found colourful ways to decorate their entrances.

Clients at Abu Hassan's getting their daily fix of houmous and ful.

And the Yaffo sea scouts taking to the waves in their 'optimist' class sailing boats. You have to be an optimist to survive. Two such optimists are Hope Man (an Israeli from Sderot) and Peace Man (a Palestinian from Gaza) who have been corresponding via a joint blog that you can read at