From Drive-In to Sail-In

Tel Aviv-Yafo goes ‘retro’ with  Israel’s first “Sail-In” floating cinema

By David E. Kaplan

Those old enough, would well remember the “Drive-In”? Whether in the USA, South Africa, Australia and yes, Israel’s Tel Aviv, couples used to pile into their cars  to watch movies and snack at the same time, without someone bellowing “keep quiet!” Sound came from speakers clipped to the car window – not that the quality mattered too much in those days.

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Sounds of Silence. Remember when the speaker did not work and you had to move the car.

It was the age of motorcar romance and as one commentator so ‘fondly’ recalls, “Whether they watched the movies or not depended on how friendly they were.” And as I recall, those sixties and seventies horror movies were a ‘sure thing’ to engineer getting extra ‘friendly’.

No doubt, the Drive-In played its role in propagating our species.

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Oh, Those Were The Days.

Unlike today when Tel Aviv is in the vanguard for innovation, the “City that never sleeps” came late to the ‘Drive-In’’ party.

Only opening its first Drive-In in 1973 north of the Yarkon River with Disney’s Jungle Book, it remained open until 2000, finally giving way in 2014 to the Shalom Group Arena, the home ground for the Hapoel Tel-Aviv basketball club. Most important, it retained its huge parking area from the Drive-In era and to mark the annual romantic Jewish holiday – Israel’s Valentine’s Day – of TuB’Av (4th August) – it was back in business. In the City’s press release, it advertised the Drive-In’s opening with the anatomically suggestive “for the romantically inclined”!

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Adjusting to Corona. The parking lot of the Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball arena is repurposed for a drive-in theatre.

On select evenings of the week during the sweltering summer month of August, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, there will be screenings for 200 cars, strictly in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines and “purple badge” public health standards. Movie audio is transmitted in high quality via an FM radio frequency. “Tel Aviv is the ‘non-stop city’ but the coronavirus outbreak understandably halted a large share of cultural and leisure activity,” said Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai. “Nevertheless, we constantly searched for creative ways to grant residents access to culture. The return of the drive-in is another creative way to pass the hot August days, in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines.”

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Tel Aviv’s legendary Drive-In Theater Returns. The screenings are exclusively for DigiTel Resident Card holders and tickets must be purchased ahead of time via the municipality website. (photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)

The director of the culture department in the Tel Aviv municipality, Shavei Mizrahi, said that in light of the high demand for screenings, “a reassessment of the situation will be made, and the intention is to conduct more screening days, including weekends.”

Down By The Riverside

Tel Aviv is characterized by always taking things to the next level and in this case from land to water. Fresh off the successful return of Tel Aviv’s legendary drive-in theatre, Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality was delighted to announce on the 9 August, the launch of Israel’s first “Sail-In” floating cinema at HaYarkon Park’s boating lake.

With the Coronavirus pandemic proving particularly challenging for the entertainment industry worldwide, outdoor initiatives represented almost the sole solution for cultural events.

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Floating Around. An illustrative image of the ‘Sail-In’ floating cinema at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. (courtesy of Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality)

Following Health Ministry approval for open-air drive-in events,  Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality again in partnership with Tel Aviv Cinematheque, will launch a “Sail-In” floating cinema under the clear night sky from August 22-28.

A total of 70 ‘socially distanced’ boats will be available to moviegoers, adults and children alike, seeking to enjoy a night of cinematic entertainment under the stars.

Like people in public, boats will be distanced two meters apart at all times opposite a large screen, ensuring a safe and fun experience, and allowing all ticketholders to float and unwind and escape the daily grind in a serene atmosphere between the water and the stars. If movie-goers are unlikely to hear other patrons crunching their popcorn, they may hear the night owls, crickets and frogs – nature’s divine soundtrack.

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No Dress Code. Feet out the window, relaxing and watching a flick at Tel Aviv’s Drive-In. (Photo: Avshalom Shoshani)

Tickets for eight screenings – four suitable for families and four suitable for adults – will be available exclusively to DigiTel Resident Card holders.

The launch of the “Sail-In” floating cinema joins a long list of municipal initiatives that include fitness classes on the roof of the Tel Aviv municipality building and musical performances on the roof of the Eretz Israel Museum.

Tel Aviv is in the forefront  of coming up with creative ideas during corona as befitting one of my favourite monikers:

 “The city that wakes each morning wondering what it’s going to be.”



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs


Look Who’s Watching

The announcement of Tel Aviv actress Shira Haas being in the running for an Emmy for best actress for her role in “Unorthodox”, reflects Israel’s impressive trajectory in the  global TV entertainment industry

By David E. Kaplan

The series about a Hasidic Jewish woman in Brooklyn, who flees to Berlin from an arranged marriage and is taken in by a group of musicians – until her past comes calling – Unorthodox has garnered eight Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including for Israel the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series.

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Unorthodox’s stars, Amit Rahav and Shira Haas.

Beyond the series success, the general meaning of the word  “Unorthodox” – “unconventional” or “out of the ordinary” –  may well explain Israel’s success in the entertainment industry.

The world seems to have an insatiable appetite for news on Israel. With more foreign correspondents per capita than any other country, Israel captures more media attention than China, India and all of Africa combined, yet few people know much about ordinary Israelis and their daily lives.

However, this is changing not by international news networks; but by popular Israeli TV shows that are emerging as one of the country’s hottest exports. An October 2019 Vanity Fair article headline ran:

Why Israeli TV Is Irresistible to American Producers

Already way back in 2015, Israel’s daily, Haaretz ran an article recording that “In Hollywood today, Israeli television formats are more popular than any other country’s TV show concepts.” Since then, Israel’s trajectory has soared even more. The country has exported more successful television formats  – the concept and branding of a show – than the vast majority of other foreign language countries.

Behind this success is the fascination of the complex and entertaining lives of Israelis that provides excellent material for first-rate shows.

Donna Rosenthal, an Israeli TV producer, Israel Radio reporter and Hebrew University lecturer writes that Israel offers “an intriguing mix of fervently modern and devoutly traditional Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze. All live in colliding worlds. Some order Big Macs in the language of the Ten Commandments; others pray regularly; some only if their soccer team is losing.”

She described her street in Jerusalem, where “Israeli women wear army helmets, wigs and veils and iPhone headphones. Their heroes? Gal Gadot and digital entrepreneurs transforming the ancient land of prophets into the modern land of profits.”

This societal mix is the stuffing of Israel’s new wave of entertainment exports.

The Rise Of Raff

In the vanguard of this renaissance is acclaimed Israeli film and television director, screenwriter and writer Gideon Raff.  In 2009, the production of the Israeli television drama series Prisoners of War which he created, wrote and directed, became the country’s highest-rated drama of all time, and went on to win several Israeli television awards.

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Even before filming of Prisoners of War began, the rights to develop the American version of the series had been sold to 20th Century Fox Television based on the strength of the script alone. This resulted in the acclaimed American spy thriller series Homeland that is now onto its eighth season.

What overseas purchasers find most attractive about Israeli TV shows is not its relatively low acquisition costs but “the kind of stories they tell and the way they choose to tell them.” Raff notes that the whole first season of his Israeli show Prisoners of War cost less than a single episode of Homeland.  What followed has been a string of Raff successes that capture the mood, complexities and nuances of a Middle East embroiled in war, terrorism and religious schisms.  Raff’s deft directional touch, results in the shows being appreciated by audiences across the political and religious divide.

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Homeland’ Takes it Home. The cast and crew of Homeland, winner of the Outstanding Drama Series award at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles with Gideon Raff (left).

Preceding his 2019 The Red Sea Resort and limited miniseries of The Spy, both exciting espionage sagas imbedded in Israel’s history of existential threat and salvation, there were the two earlier mini-series successes, namely Tyrant, loosely based on the directorial Assad regime in Syria and Dig, an archaeological thriller set in Jerusalem.

While Raff’s Dig, which premiered in March 2015 with top stars Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche, the real stars were the sights of Jerusalem from the chases through the cobbled streets of the Old City to iconic restaurants in the city center. Uncovering the murder beneath the layers of religious subterfuge, it was also the beauty and eternal mysteries of Jerusalem that was unveiled to global audiences.

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Saga of Salvation. Inspired by true events, undercover agents open up a fake hotel to real tourists as a cover to help smuggle thousands of Ethiopian refugees to safety in Israel.

While Dig is fictional,  not so The Red Sea Resort and The Spy that reveal to global audiences the lengths Israelis have to go to in order to survive in a hard and unforgiving environment.

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The Spy. Sacha Baron Cohen in the Netflix drama about Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who infiltrated the Syrian government in the 1960s and was later executed.

Fauda Phenomenon

Thanks to the popularity of Netflix, original Israeli television shows  – with subtitles – are now gaining a global audience. One spectacular example in the espionage genre is the hugely successful Fauda, a show about Israeli special agents hunting West Bank terrorists in seasons 1 and 2 and in Gaza in Season 3.

The Israeli television series developed by Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff,  draws on their experiences in the Israel Defense Forces and tells the story of Doron, a commander in a counter terrorism unit (Mista’arvim) as they pursue an  arch-terrorist known as “The Panther.”

The New York Times voted Fauda the best international show of 2017 and in 2018, the show took 11 Israeli TV Academy Awards, including best TV drama and best actor for Lior Raz. It has also been well received by the Palestinians for its brutal honesty. As William Delingpole explains in The Spectator, “Unlike most American drama series, Fauda isn’t there to make friends.”

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A Series For All Seasons. The cast in season 3 of the internationally successful “Fauda”.

He argues that the show’s popularity with Palestinians is because “it does them the service of taking them seriously…. treating them with grudging respect. Fauda takes the more respectful path of simply showing things as they are: two peoples, often so similar in appearance you cannot tell them apart, often fluent in each other’s languages, yet utterly and impossibly driven by a set of inimical values derived from a wholly different religious and cultural mind set. Sadly, this one is going to run and run.”

With no attempts to “sanitize”, “prettify” or “westernize” any of the cultures, this edge-of-the-seat entertainment with scenes of nail-biting tension, compelling character acting and location shots so atmospheric, “gives you a far clearer understanding of what’s really going on in the Middle East than anything you’ll ever see on the BBC,” concludes Delingpole.

Also in the Israeli military genre is the 2018 drama series When Heroes Fly ((Hebrew: Bishvila Giborim Afim) directed by Omri Givon. It is a 9-part dramatic thriller that centers on four friends – Israeli military veterans – who reunite for a rescue mission eleven years after having a bitter falling out. They travel to the Colombian jungle in search of Yaeli – the former lover of one man and sister of another.

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Flying High. Produced by Keshet International, the runaway hit won critical acclaim in Israel and went on to win the Best Series Award at the first Cannes Series Festival in April 2018.


A thriller, the series is also revealing social commentary on Israel’s ethnic tapestry. It shows how Israel’s mandatory army service is a melting pot that throws diverse groups together. This is how an Ashkenazi elite or Orthodox Jew can end up taking orders from a scrappy Mizrachi kid in a combat unit – and how these formative experiences bond them, remaining ‘brothers for life’.

In October 2018, Netflix acquired international broadcasting rights to the series which will also be adapted into an English version for the United States market.

Apart from the series shifting back and forwards in time, more significant is the new trend of venturing further afield geographically to tell a story.

This observation, writes British film critic Adrian Hennigan in Haaretz,   “is a sign of Israel’s burgeoning confidence as a producer of quality television.” While When Heroes Fly ventures to Columbia, another 2018 Israeli drama series, Miguel, also looks to South America as a location.

Created by Tom Salama and Daphna Levine, the series stars Ran Danker as a gay man that adopts a 5-year-old child, Miguel, from Guatemala. While the child finds it challenging adjusting to Israeli culture, the situation becomes far more complex when sixteen years later, father and son, return to Guatemala in search of Miguel’s biological mother.

The series has received many accolades. Recipient of a prize at the Canneseries,  The Financial Times praised the performance of Miguelito Sojuel playing the younger titular character:

Sojuel is outstanding as an orphan who stubbornly refuses to embrace the new life his adoptive father has planned out for him. Clutching a football as if his life depended on it, he dominates the screen with his defiant eyes: proud of who he is and steadfastly unmoved by gift-wrapped blandishments.”

Ordinary Israel Revealed

Shifting away from the popular genre of war and terror to more introspective facets of life in Israel; are a slew of popular satirical shows that finds resonance abroad.

Strange as it might sound, one of these hottest series is not about sex, drugs or violence but about Israel’s Haredim community.

Set in Jerusalem, Shtisel is a window into the world of ultra-Orthodoxy, examining the feelings, thoughts and everyday realities of those who have been born into a world of intense spirituality, that imposes rules and roles they are meant to dutifully abide by.

Most the drama plays out in Jerusalem’s religious, Internet-free neighbourhood of Mea Shearim, following the lives of rabbi Shulem Shtisel, the family patriarch; as well as those of the other members of his family.

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Widening the Lens. Revealing the lifestyle of Israel’s Haredi community, “Shtisel,” has won millions of binge-watching Netflix viewers.

The series has been considered innovative for its treatment of the Orthodox Jews by stripping them of their political associations and depicting them as “ordinary” people as they genuinely seek love within the parameters of their ultra-religious lifestyle.

Dr Maurice Yacowar,  a retired film studies professor and author of “The Sopranos on the Couch”, has described the scripting of Shtisel as  “A TV Masterpiece from Israel”.

It is little wonder that in May 2019, it was announced that Shtisel has been renewed for a third season. One of its stars is Unorthodox Emmy nominee, Shira Haas.

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Class Collision. The romantic comedy “The Beauty and the Baker” with Rotem Sela and Aviv Alush ranks as one of the highest-rated scripted series ever in Israel.

Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, The Baker and the Beauty ( In Hebrew Lehiyot Ita or “Being with Her”)  is an Israeli romantic-comedy series that follows the improbable love story between an international supermodel and a simple 28-year-old man working in his family’s pita bakery and who still lives with his parents. Their chance meeting and subsequent relationship faces many challenges, including the many people who’d like to see them separated. Lighthearted with impressive cinematography and talented acting, The Baker and the Beauty is an amusing watch.

Starring Rotem Sela and Avi Alush, the show comically exposes Jewish ethnic divisions in Israeli society through the attempted relationship of its two central characters  – the privileged Ashkenazi woman and her working-class Yemenite love interest.

In the United Kingdom where the series was broadcasted on Channel 4, The Daily Telegraph praised the series, writing that “aside from being a hugely entertaining, frivolous romantic comedy on the surface, the show has a grittier side which will appeal to a British audience.”

Israel has even made an indelible mark on the global teen market. Euphoria, which follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love and trauma is an American teen drama television series based on the Israeli miniseries of the same name originally created by Ron Leshem, Daphna Levin, and Tmira Yardeni.  The series premiered on HBO on June 16, 2019 and in July 2019 it was renewed for a second season.

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Tel Aviv in Turmoil. In the world of asylum seekers in southern Tel Aviv, a young police investigator (Hani Furstenberg) tries to solve a complicated murder case.

What might further partly explain Israel’s successes in the global market are that many of its plots could so easily be taken directly from the headlines news. Two such entertaining examples are False Flag (or in Hebrew Kfulim)  believed to be loosely based on the 2010 assassination in Dubai of a senior Hamas militant Mahmoud al-Mabhough, and Asylum City  (in Hebrew “Ir Miklat”) which tackles African refugees, crime and murder in south Tel Aviv. Both expose how ordinary people get caught up in issues and principles that television audiences across the world can easily relate to.

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Twists & Turns. What first looks like a case of mistaken identity develops into a nerve-racking spy thriller ordinary Israelis are accused of kidnapping the Iranian Minister of Defence.

Compelling Characters

All the signs indicate that Israel’s impressive trajectory of its TV formats selling “like hotcakes” in major foreign markets will continue.

Suggesting explanations, Abigail Klein Leichman, writing in Israel 21c  notes fist and foremost that Israel’s TV shows are “character driven”. She sites Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles and president of the international TV Formats Conference, who praises the quality of Israel’s TV shows:

It’s the compelling characters that draw you.”

There is also a uniqueness about Israel television that reflects the entrepreneurial character of its citizens.

Just as Israelis in general comfortably embrace risk-taking and uncertainty,” writes Leichman, “the Israeli TV formats industry doesn’t hesitate to take a chance on innovative and unusual ideas. Once it has been proven in Israel, an out-of-the-box show format is an easier sell abroad.”

Further supporting Israel’s vanguard position are the “compelling storylines” of Israeli shows.

Walter Iuzzolino, head of British streaming service Walter Presents, told Bloomberg Business Week that Israeli TV formats are “emotionally poignant, three-dimensional, and never boring.”

How could they be boring as they reflect the daily drama of Israeli life?

The underlying themes of war, terror, religious and political conflicts – and the everyday challenge of getting along with neighbours of different cultures – provide endless enriching material for Israeli producers.

As Leichman poignantly points out, “The sometimes chaotic reality of Israeli life is reflected in the title of one of the biggest hits overseas, Fauda, which means “chaos” in Arabic. Action, humour, suspense, melodrama – our TV shows have it all.”

So while a small country, is it any wonder why Israel today is a powerhouse in global television?



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs



Tea with Topol

By David E. Kaplan

If the 1999 movie ‘Tea with Mussolini’ with its all-star cast that included Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Cher was a treat, it was not half the treat for this writer as having  – in the flesh – tea with Topol, Israel’s iconic award-winning movie star. I enjoyed this experience in 2010 when interviewing him as the editor for the Hilton Israel Magazine and thought back to this encounter after reading recently that there are plans for a remake of the Norman Jewison 1971 music classic “Fiddler on the Roof”. The lead role of Tevye was played by the inimitable Chaim Topol.

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Tea With Topol. The writer (right) with Chaim Topol enjoying tea during the interview at the Hilton Tel Aviv in 2010

One could understand the mixed responses reflected in today’s media – from jubilation to questioning “Why?” and even the accusation of “sacrilege”. While most would welcome the perpetuation of the musical message of  Sholem Aleichem’s shtetl tales of ‘Tevye the Dairyman’ trying to marry off his daughters to the best catch – but a remake?

While today the role of Tevye is considered synonymous with Topol, back in 1966, preceding the movie, the young Israeli had to audition for the role in the West End production of Fiddler and what is more, he knew very little English!

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A Star Is Born. Poster of Fiddler on the Roof with Chaim Topol as Teyve.

“My English vocabulary at the time consisted of a few words such as “hungry”, “tired”, “where”, “when” and “how much?”

What did he do?

“I quickly found myself an English teacher in Tel Aviv and for four days underwent a crash course; learnt all the Fiddler songs in English and then presented myself in London.”

How did it “play” out, I asked?

“Well, the agent came forward and took me in to meet the producers and the director and announced: “Mr Topol is here.”  It was quite bizarre – I had all these people not only looking at me but through me. I was thirty years old, clean shaven with a short haircut and they were gaping at me – mouths open.  “Where is the ‘old man’?” they were clearly thinking. They felt cheated.

“Anyway they told me to hop onto the stage – they could surprisingly see I was young enough to hop –  and sing. And sing I did. I started with “If I were a rich man”, followed by “Sabbath Prayer,” “Tradition”, “Anatevka”, and finally with “Sunrise, Sunset” and it was clear where this was going. Well versed in auditions, they usually stop you halfway through the first song as they quickly make up their minds one way or another.

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Quintessential Tevye. Topol as Tevye the Milkman.

“They like you,” whispered the agent between the third and the fourth song and it was evident I was no longer auditioning but entertaining. They had made up their minds and they were loving it!

“Where it got even more bizarre was when I finished, and they asked me how I had perfected these songs. Where do you know Fiddler from?”

Now it was my turn to be astonished.

“Don’t you know that I have been performing Tevye in Tel Aviv?”

“No, first we are hearing of it.”

“So how come you invited me from the stage in Tel Aviv to audition here in London?”

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If I Were A Rich Man.Topol as Teyve appealing to the Almighty: “Dear God, you made many, many poor people.…what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune.”

And then one of the producers said, “Well, my secretary had seen your performance in Sallah Shabati, for which you won a Golden Globe and suggested we try “the old man from Tel Aviv.”

And this explained their gaping mouths during the initial introduction. They were expecting an 80-year-old man not the image before them of abounding energy with a Mediterranean suntan!

Topol’s performance in Fiddler on the Roof, earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor and a nomination for the Oscar and the film went on to be seen by over a billion worldwide. “It was quite ironic,” notes Topol with his broad smile,  “that my portrayal of a Mizrachi Jewish immigrant in Sallach Shabati would lead to the most iconic Ashkenazi role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.”

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Movie Magic. The 1964 satire about new immigrants Sallah Shabati with Topol in the lead became the most successful film in Israeli history until that time.

As a young teenager in Cape Town, South Africa, I recall the impression Topol as Tevye made on my parents who had seen the West End production in London in 1967, days before the outbreak of the Six Day War. They raved about it but no less memorable was their recollection when Topol announced from the stage that this:

 “Will be my last performance as I am leaving for Israel – my country  is about to be engulfed in war.”

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Israel Calling! A young Chaim Topol at the time of the West End production shortly before the Six Day War in 1967.

Only a little over two decades after the Holocaust, the future of the Jewish people was again threatened and uncertain and the eyes of global Jewry was on the Middle East as Israel stood alone against the mighty armies of the Arab world about to invade from all fronts.

Topol’s rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” took on a more poignant meaning as did the theme of the production.  For while Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wished to marry for love with each one’s choice of a husband moving further away from the customs of their Jewish faith and heritage, there lurked a far greater concern. Near the end of the musical, the Tzar’s constable arrives in the Shtetl of “Anatevka” telling everyone that they have three days to pack up and leave.

From Tevye in 1906 to Topol in 1967 the nature of Jewish destiny – from pogrom to war –  remained a crying constant!

Did Topol at the time realise that Fiddler would turn out to be such a success and the turning point in his career?

“No, not at all. Let me tell you a story. A well-known local TV producer in England, who was not Jewish, met me at a party just before the opening and said “Topol, if I had enough money I would buy the show and close it down. I would rather it closed before it opened. It’s not going to be good to present this image of Jews.” He was genuinely concerned.

“Then, after the rousing response of the opening night, he came backstage and said, “Yes, okay, you had a mostly Jewish audience tonight, so they laughed and cried, but wait until you are left with the normal theater-going crowd. I give you two months – tops, no more?”

“Well, after three months he brought his parents and they too cried and laughed and he came backstage with them after the performance and said, “Damn good, bloody damn good. Would you like to appear on my TV show and sing some of the songs?”

Not only his viewers but the people the world over enjoyed its universal appeal.

“It touched people. Think of it, we took the show to Japan, a totally different culture with a tiny Jewish community and the people there loved it. It is interesting the impact that entertainment can have on people.

“When I left on the El Al plane on the first day of the Six Day War with doctors and other returning Israelis, who do you think came up begging me with tears in his eyes to take him along?  None other than the same British TV producer who had initially dismissed Fiddler as too parochial and then inviting me onto his show! Something about Fiddler had changed his perceptions and perspective. Of course, I could not get him on that flight but that didn’t stop him. He found his own way and on the third day of the War, he arrived in Israel and stayed for six months.”

 Regarding an earlier war, Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Topol spoke about his part in another blockbuster, Cast a Giant Shadow, filmed in Israel and starring Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Senta Berger and John Wayne. “Even Kirk’s young son Michael Douglas appeared in this film, as a jeep driver. “

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Touch Of Topol. Class cameo role for Topol as Sheik Abou Ibn Kader (right) with Kirk Douglas (centre) in Israel’s War of Independence movie, ‘Cast a Giant Shadow’.

This film was also very personal for Topol.

“I was raised on kibbutz Mishmar David, named after the hero of this movie Col. David (Mickey) Marcus, an American officer who came to fight and command our forces in our War of Independence. His portrait stared at us every day in the cheder ochel (dining room). Most of the action and the tragic end of Mickey took place in the area where I lived.”

Topol took the part of an Arab, Sheik Abou Ibn Kader and “we had a scene where we were standing around a map that Mickey Marcus – played by Kirk – had drawn in the sand relating to an impending battle. Kirk was holding forth, “You will attack from here, and you will come in from there and so on,” when I interrupted by mucking up the map and saying something to the effect that you are talking nonsense. Someone then asked: “Why are you listening to him?”

My line in response as the Sheik was:

“If one of my men spoke to me that way I would take out my knife and make him a eunuch.”

Well, Yul did not approve of this line and made a noise by scraping something so that the sound engineer asked me to repeat the line. Again Yul made a noise, and this went on and on.

The director argued with Yul but you try stopping the man that led The Magnificent Seven! Everyone was laughing and in the end the director gave up as we could not waste any more time.

Time on a set is money.

Weeks later, after we finished filming, I received a call to come to London for one reason only – to dub over the one line: “If one of my men spoke to me that way I would take out my knife and make him a eunuch.” There is no shortage of reasons to visit London, but this was a first and I have no doubt will remain so!”

To the question of dealing with the trappings of stardom, Topol replied:

“Easy. Look at me. I am as you see me – a casual Israeli. I was not born into a tux (tuxedo). When I attended Hollywood parties, I felt I was on stage – another role to play. They probably thought me a bit of a bore as I never drank or smoked. Mia Farrow, who I co-starred with on The Public Eye, tried to get me to join her downing beers with chasers. I had to disappoint her. I preferred my mint tea just like I am drinking now.”

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Delightful Duo. A romantic comedy with Mia Farrow and Topol.

So while Topol has never throughout his illustrious career been short of good roles, the role that tops it all was without doubt, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

A billion people could not all be wrong!

On concluding the interview, how fitting on the walk from the lounge to the elevator, Topol broke into the Fiddler melody, “Sunrise, Sunset”.

“Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?
Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly flow the days,
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,
Blossoming even as they gaze…
Sunrise sunset,…”





While the mission of Lay Of The Land (LOTL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LOTL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

A Walk In The Park

While man is frequently at war with the environment, not so for Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan whose work is harmoniously in sync with its surroundings

By David E. Kaplan

Back on welcome “grandparent” duty following our release on parole from lockdown,  meant a return to one of my favourite parks – the Edith Wolfson Park on the eastern edge of the city of Tel Aviv. If its Tuesday, “we, the grandparents”, are usually there with our grandson. Perched high, the park offers a magnificent view of the city from its most iconic vantage – a massive sculpture by famed Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Called “The White Square”, the monumental work overlooks “The White City” as Tel Aviv is famously known because of its white Bauhaus architecture and is a complex geometric work that is an ode to the city itself.

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An Ode To Tel Aviv. Dani Karavan’s ‘The White Square’ at Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

If Tel Aviv is a city not so much to see but to experience then so to is Karavan’s sculpture where it is less viewed than it is walked, climbed, roller-skated and rollerbladed upon. I invariably join the “kids” in sliding down the sculpture’s colossal “sundial” on carboard as well as scampering up the large “pyramid”. The sculpture exudes physicality  – it is a metaphor for Tel Aviv of open-ended action befitting its reputation as “the city that never sleeps.” If you are generally “into art”, then visiting The White Square you literally, “get into” this art as you climb in, over, upon and through it!

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White Square Overlooking White City. The hill in the park with Karavan’s The White City is topographically the highest vantage view of Tel Aviv.

My first encounter with this monumental sculpture was of complete surprise. I came upon it with my first visit to the park in 2018 when my grandson, Yali, was only a few months old. I stared at the structure and thought, “Déjà vu – I have never been here before! Why is this massive sculpture so familiar?” And then I remembered that nearly a decade earlier, I co-wrote an interview with this sculpture’s creator – Dani Karavan, where he described this renowned work and I wrote about it including providing captions for photographs of what I now weekly ‘experience’.

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Structuring Dreams. Symbolizing fertility and peace, the olive tree in Karavan’s White Square at the Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

Dominating the sculpture is a 65-foot cement tower that can be see from afar as well as providing from the top, a majestic vista of the city. The tower symbolizes both the steel siren that once stood there and its function – security – watching over the city. The “migdal” or watchtower, is an enduring image that so characterized early settlement life in Israel as a state-in-the-making, providing security to its people working in the fields.

Beside the tower, is a large geometric piece composed of east-west facing shapes representing the surrounding urban neighborhood, much of it built in the Bauhaus style of architecture that has recognised Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Next to this is the pyramid-like structure symbolizing the tents lived in by those who built the city well over a century earlier, and then there is a dome-like structure with an olive tree at its center, depicting the orchards that surround Tel Aviv.

Lastly, there is the sun dial, possibly the most popular attraction as I can every Tuesday attest to, noting that it is used as much for skateboarding as it is for any other intended purpose.

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‘Time’ for Fun. Karavan’s Sun Dial (above) enjoyed most by skateboarders (below)

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Portrait Of An Artist

So who is this internationally acclaimed sculptor and Israel Prize recipient who lives in the same house in Tel Aviv, that “I  grew up in” and whose work can be seen across Israel, Europe, and Asia?

Karavan credits  being most influenced by his father when “I turned from painting to sculpture.” His father, Avraham Karavan, was the chief landscape designer for Tel Aviv from the 1940s through the 1960s.My father grew up in Manchester and I think he was very inspired by the English gardens. He always wanted to recreate nature – gardens as nature. I understand now that I am following in his footsteps: When I approach a site, I often develop the project in a similar way to his way of creating gardens.”

It is hard to escape his distinct style, which blends sculpture, architecture, and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces. Putting the question to Karavan that his work appears “as if you are sculpting the landscape”, he replied:

“That’s correct. This is what characterizes my work, which is rooted to a physical environment and not to an atelier [an artist’s workshop]. I was once privileged to meet the distinguished sculptor Henry Moore and observe him work in his environment – how he molded a model the size of a suitcase handle and enlarged it ninety-nine times its size. For me it is the opposite, because the large environment where I work emerges as part of my composition.”

One example the artist cites is the large sculptured wall of the Plenum Hall at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Called Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, the wall depicts an abstract Jerusalem landscape, the surrounding hills, and the Judean desert. It is one of the most recognised works of art in Israel as it appears almost daily on TV screens as a backdrop as the people’s elected representatives take to the podium to address the Knesset.

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Art To Inspire. Considered Israel’s most recognised sculpture, Dani Karavan’s Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem in the Knesset Plenum Hall. (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Another example Karavan cites “was my first big piece as a sculptor,” the Negev Brigade Memorial. Although a  monument to commemorate those who fought in the Palmach Negev Brigade in 1948, the artist is quick to add:

 “I am not an artist who creates memorials. I create homages.”

The late Uzi Narkiss, a commander of the Negev Brigade’s Seventh Battalion, had suggested to Karavan to build a lookout so that visitors could climb up and physically experience the landscape. Observing the surrounding hills leading down to the valley, the views of the rolling landscape, the folds of the ground, the rocks and the bushes, all emerged as the material of the final work.

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Movement Ahead. A precursor to the land art movement, Karavan’s Negev Brigade Memorial that pays homage to members of the brigade who fell fighting during Israel’s War of Independence.

Explains Karavan:

“I had to integrate the landscape of the desert, its particularities, in order to tell the story of this brigade. My father helped me to plant acacia trees, indigenous to the Negev desert. As water was scarce, he knew which trees should be used. He always kept in mind the water. The line of water I created as part of the monument is not only a symbol of life, but also a tribute to the Palmach Brigade who had the mission of insuring the water supply to the kibbutzim in the desert.”

It was a groundbreaking project. “Up until then,” continued Karavan, “site-specific environmental sculpture did not exist. To some degree, it is similar to architecture, where the architect designs specifically for a particular environment.”

Further explaining, he adds:

 “I am not a sculptor that seeks a place, but rather the place seeks me. Michelangelo said that the statue already exists within the stone; I say that the sculpture already exists within the environment. I just unearth it. This is essentially my contribution to the evolution of sculpture. I wanted that sculpture be something people can climb and children play on – that it will be full of life and not pieces where people visit once a year to lay flowers.”

Looking at the children playing all over The White  Square, he has succeeded.

“My works could not exist without people. I want them to experience the work and feel like it is embracing them. At the same time, I never try to impose the way people should interact with my work. The work itself inspires people and leads them to explore the different forms and spaces. The fact that children engage with my works is not because I designed it for that purpose, but because my works give them a sense of freedom to use them in any way they would like to, without aggression, without violence—in a peaceful way.”

While Karavan can mold material to articulate his dreams and visions, he laments “an inability to influence better relations with our Arab neighbors. My father arrived in Israel in the 1920s. He came as an idealist and I inherited that idealism. What better vision to work for than the pursuit of regional peace and happiness? If you ask what I still want to do, yes, I need to finish my autobiography, but also to collaborate with a Palestinian artist on a project toward peace.”

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Man And His Work. Dani Karavan

From time immemorial, the olive tree is a symbol of peace and I thought of this quote of the artist again when I saw last Tuesday perched in the middle of The White Square the olive tree – the sole vertical living organism amongst the concrete.  It was the right milieu to reflect on the artist’s 2019 response to the question “What is his hope for humanity?” from famed landscape designer Lily S. Kwong:

Karavan replied: “I hope people will be more tolerant of others and to each other. I hope for more education all around the world. I hope that in most countries, art will have a key role in people’s daily lives.”

I felt assuredly of the artist’s hope of art playing “a key role in people’s daily lives,” when watching my grandchild with all the other children ‘explore, engage and encounter’ at the Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.


Some of Karavan’s most important works:

A Walk In The Park1Negev Brigade Memorial, Beersheva, Israel




A Walk In The Park7Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem – Knesset wall relief, Jerusalem, Israel



A Walk In The Park3Kikar Levana, Tel Aviv, Israel



A Walk In The Park4Culture Square, Tel Aviv, Israel



A walk in the park7The “Path of Peace” sculpture by artist Dani Caravan. An environmental sculpture which is one of the attractions of Nitzana



A Walk In The Park5UNESCO Square of Tolerance – Homage to Yitzhak Rabin, Paris, France



A Walk In The Park6The Axe Majeur, Cergy-Pontoise, France

Clash Of Cultures To Cultural Understandings

Ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak Meets Unorthodox Aviv Geffen

By David E. Kaplan

Addressing the plight to the entertainment industry caused by Corona, Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher (“The Other Story,” “Past Life”) asserts:

Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset.”

How true it has been revealed during these months of Covid-19.  People may have been physically ‘confined’ but not their minds – nor their senses. And this is partly thanks to our entertaining artists who have been finding ways to entertain us in our living rooms; as if we were sitting amongst a live audience in an auditorium, open air park or amphitheatre.

Aviv Geffen in an acoustic performance – Shuni Amphitheater – 07 April 2020

For some, it has also brought new understanding on issues of what is important in life and understanding the “other”!

In a touching and at times emotional interview with Dana Weiss on Israel’s Channel 12, Israeli rock musician, singer, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, guitarist and proudly secular, Aviv Geffen, laid himself bare before the Israeli public.

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Face The Music. Seen here at the EMI, the Israel Artists Association, lifetime achievement awards ceremony in 2016, Israeli singer Aviv Geffen has never shied away from taking on the establishment. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

To the question as what lessons Corona taught him, the artist responded with new-found humility that “I was a pig! I always went for the label or brand, whether to buy the tomato from Spain or the Louis Vuitton bag; it was disgusting, and then came the Corona and said, “Friends here I am, good night and goodbye”.”

“So that’s it;  you are ready to discard all that was so important to you?”  asks a surprised Dana.

Yes,” answers Aviv. “I have outside a luxury car that I stupidly bought; I’ll also sell it because it completely embarrasses me now”.

“What,  suddenly everything was foolish, and your life is all about vanity?”

The brands yes; I think the world has positively opened its eyes.”

For Geffen, yesterdays prized possessions are today irrelevant. This has been the first lesson of Corona. More were to be revealed.

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Rebel With A Cause. Geffen hit the Israeli scene in 1990 and became known for Goth-like makeup, a Mick Jagger-like snarl and being an outspoken peace activist.

Geffen then relates about performing ALONE at the old amphitheatre in Shuni near Binyamina. Yes, it was a LIVE performance but there was no audience, at least not in front of him. His audience were all at home watching on TV. They could see him; he could not see them!

I had not prepared what I would say,” he told Weiss, and then the thought came to him about what was most dominating the news – the ultra-religious community in Israel; how they were suffering more than most with Corona. How they were experiencing the most cases diagnosed and the most deaths and then being blamed because of their beliefs. As if they deserved it!

The media was full of it; being battered by the disease and then by the media. The worse hit of the ultra-orthodox communities were the citizens of Bnei Brak who had been “fenced off” like in a “ghetto” with roadblocks at all entrance points.

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Under Scrutiny. An Israeli police officer speaks to a strictly Orthodox student in Bnei Brak. Not since Corona has the lifestyle of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel come under such scrutiny in the media. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Suffering And Stigmatised

These were the thoughts that percolated in the rock musician’s mind between performing his numbers when he appealed, to let them be; to leave them alone. Suffering enough, they did not need to be subjected to public ridicule and rebuke.

Explaining to interviewer Dana Weiss:

I said, “leave Bnei Brak alone. They are not guilty; they believe in God; I believe in Google.”

Laying bare the cultural chasm, Geffen might have thought that was the end of the matter until he finished the show. Suddenly:

 “I leave the stage and I see on my telephone, without exaggeration, 420 messages. I start opening them, scrolling, and learn that someone had given my number to all of Bnei Brak. And I cried. I could not leave the empty amphitheatre. The love, the division in the nation, suddenly everything came together. The love I received came from people I had denigrated since I was nineteen and now responded with love and tears. ‘Thank you so much Aviv for thinking of us,’ I read.” I was sitting on the stairs, the amphitheatre was empty, and I was reading the messages and crying. At four in the morning, the theatre staff got me up and told me: ‘Go home.'”

Relating this in the studio, Aviv again breaks into tears, soliciting from the interviewer:

“Wait a minute; you cried why? Because you feel guilty of what you once thought of this community or about the sudden love you discovered from them? Do you really know why you cried and why you are crying again?”

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Up Close And Personal. A tearful Aviv Geffen relates in interview on Channel 12 how moved he was to the online personal messages he received from the ultra-Orthodox citizens of Bnei Brak.

Aviv does not hide the fact that artists by nature are egoists. They feed off the audience; they need that reassurance, that affirmation. However, all this is denied by Corona because there is no real audience only a virtual one. “And then suddenly, I receive these hundreds of messages from Bnei Brak” that were genuinely moved by his words and  the song  Kotzim (‘Thorns’) that he had dedicated to the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. (See the words in English at the end of the article).

Trying to make sense of it all to the bewildered interviewer, Geffen continues:

 “I cried because of all those years we learned how to hate the other – the religious and the secular. ‘He’s religious, he’s secular.’ I, too, was a soldier in this game. Suddenly I saw the other. You ask: So how did the corona change me? Just like this: I learned to respect. A flame of love, simply amazing, was lit. I cannot even describe it in words, only in tears.”

Still not completely satisfied with this answer, Dana Weiss persists in her enquiry:

So what! Are you thinking that your attitude back then about the ultra-Orthodox was a crime or a sin? Is this what brought on the tears?”

Geffen answers emphatically and an admission:

No, not at all. It was because for the first time I saw them.”

Hope For The Future

Aviv Geffen’s next appearance would again be before a live audience but this time not in front of their TV’s but on Tel Aviv beachfront at the Charles Clore Park. The concert on the 21st May was the biggest gathering since the Corona virus struck Israel.

Most appropriate for Corona, Geffen broke into “The Hope Song” an iconic hit he wrote following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that is often compared as Israeli version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We will conquer peace,
And not the territories.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

To eternal freedom,
To my children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is …

Until it is …

(The Hope song- Aviv Geffen & Shahin Najafi – 06:30min)

Geffen’s peace hymn was all the more powerful and poignant; when partnering him on-stage before an audience of 6000 was exiled Iranian artist Shahin Najafi. What is more, they sang in Farsi – the language of Israel’s archenemy Iran  – and in Hebrew.

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Language Of Love. Iranian Shahin Najafi (right), and Israeli Aviv Geffen (left) rehearse in Tel Aviv. Geffen and Najafi say their Hebrew-Farsi fusion offers hope in a volatile region. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

The pair showed that despite the bitter enmity between their countries, ordinary people can find common ground.

From the ultra-Orthodox to Iran, Corona was providing a platform for revealing “common ground” and giving credence to Avi Nesher’s astute assertion that:

Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset

Thorns -קוצים (Kotzim)

(English translation)

Thorns are all that is left of me

The flowers you have given me have died by now

Ways I have walked in

I am now retracing my steps

After not finding that which I have searched for

Everyone can dream

Paper boats in water

I just wanted to sail as far as I could

I am a man from nowhere

Just searching for a reason to breathe

Look, I have built us a house

When he was born I gave all that I didn’t have

Thorns, forcefully reminding

Not granting me forgiveness

Cutting through us and not letting go


Flags Of Hope!

By Gina Jacobson

This past week Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, our 72 Independence Day!

Usually this day is celebrated with fireworks, concerts, ceremonies, and parties. People gather on the beaches, in the forests and in the parks.

Not so this year.  Covid-19 put the kibosh on all of that. Israelis were relegated to celebrating indoors, in their own homes, under strict lockdown conditions.

What still did happen though; and what happens every year; is that the municipality starts putting up Israeli flags along the streets, on street poles and lamps. They hang blue and white bunting across intersections. This takes place across cities and towns country wide and is very festive!

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Families also decorate their balconies, gardens, and cars with flags. The whole country is proudly blue and white!

A week or so before Yom Ha’atzmaut, I came across a post on Facebook written by someone who was upset that the municipality was, in his opinion, ‘wasting’ money that could have been used towards medical care, equipment and such, because they were putting up these flags.

That comment bugged me. Even now, a week after Yom Ha’atzmaut has come and gone, it’s still bugging me.

I totally understand that our medical needs are huge, that our medical front liners need PPE equipment and that we need more ventilators and that saving lives is the most important thing we can do.

But…I also feel that celebrating our independence, our homeland and our freedom is just as important. Perhaps this is even more so in these troubled and uncertain times.

Seeing those flags made me smile. Seeing those flags made my heart feel lighter. It made me feel connected to people, my fellow citizens, when I had spent almost an entire month in my home with no personal contact with anyone outside of my immediate family.

(Photo credit: Paul Jacobson.)

Those flags gave me hope.

It was an affirmation. We are Israel!  We are Israelis –  and we can overcome anything that is thrown our way.

So, random Facebook man, I vehemently disagree!

Those flags are not a waste of money. Not at all. They are – Joy, Love and Hope. And they are a promise.

We WILL make it through this.

We WILL survive.

It’s what we do.






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Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.

Heritage Hike

Stuck at home this Independence Day because of Corona? Take a virtual journey of Israel’s Independent Trail. From Hebrew city to Hebrew state, the trail begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the Establishment of Israel in 1948.

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Embedded in the ground are 10 markers along the one-kilometer brass strip of Independence Trail.


By David. E. Kaplan

Walks these days are mostly to the supermarket or pharmacy. While hardly fun, adventurous or cerebrally challenging they are essential. However, no less “essential” is to ensure the mind remains active even if our legs are taking ‘a back seat’!

Prior to Corona, Lay Of The Land toured Independence Trail that was inaugurated in 2018 in honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Only one kilometre (0.6 miles) long, it is rich in 40 years of intense nation-building history. Opting to use a guide rather than the free Municipality of Tel Aviv’s Independence Trail App, our guide began:

 “It was 40 years of wandering before the Biblical Hebrews entering the Promised Land of ancient Israel, today you will be exposed to those 40 tumultuous years of establishing modern Israel during the first half of the twentieth century.”

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Exploring History. A golden path takes these young visitors on an interactive walking route through the history of Tel Aviv along Independence Trail. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

How better to begin this hike of 10 stops with a cup of coffee and where better to enjoy it than where the hike officially begins – The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, one of the most central spots in Israel.

Kickoff at the Kiosk

The aroma of coffee was irresistible and adhering to the adage “When in Rome”, we all ordered “café hafuch” – Israel’s famous “upside down coffee”.

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Frequently compared with a latte, it is creamier and is also made in reverse. If in a latte, the milk goes on top of the espresso, a café hafuch uses steamed milk on the bottom, and then a shot of espresso is carefully poured on top of the steamed milk and finally topped with milk froth as well as nutmeg or cocoa powder.  The most iconic aspect is the “reverse” – so typically Israeli of hitting the right button but ‘Israeli style”.

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“The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv”. The trail begins here at Tel Aviv’s first kiosk built on Rothschild Boulevard in 1910 the year after Tel Aviv was established on sand dunes in 1909.

“Today, as you can see,” said our guide, “Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is lined with restaurants and cafés but when the street was first established in 1909, not all the residents were in favour of any commercial activity. While some were agreeable about setting up shops in the neighborhood, others were against, but a year later a small kiosk opened where we are today.”

Situated in the exact same spot where the original once stood and modeled after the eclectic architectural style of the time, the small kiosk is today called Espresso Bar.

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Bustling And Boisterous. Much of ‘Independence Trail’ is along Rothschild Boulevard the social nerve centre of downtown Tel Aviv.

Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.

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Fountain of Knowledge

Gutman’s mosaic fountain reflects the simplicity of the early days of the “First Hebrew City” as it was once the fashion to call Tel Aviv.  Israel’s famed artist, who was also an accomplished illustrator, photographer, and writer “went to school here, played in these streets, absorbed its sights, sounds and smells and projected them in his colorful exuberant art,’ informed our guide. “He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1978 and as you can see, the mosaics around the fountain tell the history of Jaffa – the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.”  In a kaleidoscope of color – the artist’s leitmotif – myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history are emblazoned, from Jonah and the whale to Moses Montefiore and Theodore Herzl.

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Colourful Past. The Nahum Gutman Fountain depicts the history of Jaffa from ancient times until the creation of Tel Aviv. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

Our next stop was the personal home built in 1909 by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, whose name is literally cemented to the beginning of Tel Aviv.

 Home Truths

Akiva Aryeh Weiss was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which later evolved into Tel Aviv. As President of the then newly established Building Society, Weiss presided over the famous 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city of Tel Aviv.

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Weiss, who immigrated from Russian Poland to Palestine in 1906 “was a jeweler and watchmaker, and founded the textile industry in Mandatory Palestine, building the earliest textile factory, the Lodzia House,” continued our guide.

“One of Weiss’ dreams, which became a reality was the establishment of a Jewish diamond industry in Palestine.”

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The House That Akiva Built. Built, planned and erected by Akiva Arieh Weiss himself, the cornerstone of the house, the first in the new area known as Ahuzat Bayit, was laid in the summer of 1909.

Now restored, the cornerstone of Weiss’ Tel Aviv house located at 2 Herzl Street was laid in 1909. Originally a single-story structure, the upper floor was added in the 1920s.

Towering Truths

Our third stop was the visitor’s center with its history of Tel Aviv in the Shalom Meir Tower in Herzl Street. Although once the tallest building in Tel Aviv  – and when built in

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Busy Builder. Several constructions built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche are today’s heritage sites all around Tel Aviv.

1965 was the tallest building in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania – far more historically significant is its prestigious predecessor – the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. The country’s first Hebrew-speaking high school and originally known as HaGymnasia Ha’Ivrit (High School in Hebrew),  the cornerstone laying for the school took place on July 28, 1909, the same year as the city’s founding. Designed by Joseph Barsky and inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, it was built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, whose family founded Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) in 1887 and were again among the founding settlers of Tel Aviv in 1909. These are the proud ancestors of Lay of the Land cofounder, Yair Chelouche who was too enjoying the tour and contributing to the history of the area.

“The school was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower,” added Yair.

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Major Landmark. Designed by Joseph Barsky inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and built Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, the Gymnasia Herzliya on Herzl Street was the country’s first Hebrew high school. It was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower.

Some of the schools celebrated alumni include Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the poet Nathan Alterman, the artist Nachum Gutman, the physicist Yuval Neeman, the present mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai and the journalist and chairman of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid.

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Did Alterman write poetry about Tel Aviv?” asked a member of our group.

Sure,’ replied our guide. “An immigrant from Warsaw, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. In contrast to the Hebrew poets who preceded him, who felt more connected to religion and biblical landscapes, Alterman was an urban poet who shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.”

Looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, the guide told us a popular joke in Tel Aviv of the 1960s after the tower went up that encapsulates the trajectory of modern Israel.

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Tel Aviv On A High. Housing the Visitors Center with the history of Tel Aviv, the Shalom Meir Tower commonly known as Migdal Shalom was Israel’s first skyscraper

“A Tel Aviv taxi picked up a New York tourist who was boasting about his city, how skyscrapers appear suddenly like wild mushrooms when suddenly the taxi turned into Hertzl street and the tourist, who was looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, bellowed:

“WOW! What building is that?”

To which the taxi driver replied:

“I don’t know; it wasn’t there yesterday!”

The imagery of Alterman’s Tel Aviv was a far cry from the city of today, but that vibrancy portrayed by the poet’s pen was all too evident as we proceeded along bustling Rothschild Boulevard to our next stop – the Great Synagogue.

Spiritual Centre

The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.

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These Walls Have Ears. Completed in 1926, the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv on 110 Allenby Street is rich in history some of which is revealed in memorial slates recording historical events that occurred here during the British Mandate period.

“People who attended services here included Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Begin. It also hosted the inaugurations of Israel’s chief rabbis and the funerals of national icons such as the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry Haim Nahman Bialik and the Zionist leader Haim Arlosorov, assassinated in 1933 while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.”


We marveled at the building’s features, notably a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained-glass windows – replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

“Not widely known,” revealed our guide, “The Declaration of Independence was meant to be declared here on the 14 May 1948.”

“So why was it not?” I asked.

Ben Gurion knew that the moment he made the announcement Israel would be under aerial attack and if the new State’s leadership were altogether under one so identifiable a roof as the Great Synagogue, it would make for an easy target for low-flying enemy planes. Instead, the Declaration took place around the corner at a much smaller building, which will be our last stop on the tour.”

Ben Gurion’s concern was “not unreasonable,” continued our guide. “Arab planes bombed Tel Aviv three times and one Egyptian pilot was taken prisoner when his plane was forced down nearby.”

Also “nearby” was our next stop: the Haganah Museum.

Freedom Fighters

Located on Rothschild Boulevard, the Haganah Museum was once the home of Eliyahu Golomb the founder and first commander of the Haganah. A paramilitary organization, the Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and from1930 to 1945, this house was the Haganah’s secret headquarters.

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Initially protecting the pioneers on kibbutzim (cooperative farming communities) from an attack in the 1920s and 1930s, the Haganah went on to facilitate the illegal entry of more than 100,000 Jews into Palestine after the British government’s 1939 ‘White Paper’ restricting immigration. “In this way,” explained the guide, “the Haganah paved the way in providing the essential manpower that proved so critical in the War of Independence.”

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Elijah Golomb Defense Museum. This four-story museum display is one of the most advanced and sophisticated of its kind. Designed with huge video screens, models, backdrops and stories from the organization’s history from its inception to being an IDF, the historical story is told through the personal story of a young Palmach member and a Holocaust survivor who takes part in prominent events during the struggle, such as ‘The Night of the Bridges’.

So tranquil is Golomb’s residential room and office on the ground floor today, it is hard to conceive that this was the nerve center of a war for the survival of the Jewish People in Palestine.

“It’s one thing to fight but without finance little can be achieved,” said the guide as he led us to our next stop – the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank.

Money Matters

The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center showcases the history of the Jewish State’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, the Centre’s exhibits reveal the country’s historical development of money with exhibits from ancient coins to banknotes, and coins issued from pre-State days to the present.

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Particularly entertaining were the interactive activity stations that explain, by means of computer games, the functions of the Bank of Israel, the history of money, and the contribution of the central bank to the economy. No less fascinating were the short films on the essential role of the Bank of Israel in maintaining price stability, supporting economic growth, employment, and reducing social gaps in Israeli society. It is sure going to have “one job on its hand” in the immediate post-Corona era!

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In Safe Hands. The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center on Lilienblum Street presents the historical development of money in Israel.

Back then, our next stop was the Tel Aviv Founders Monument.

The ‘Plot’ Thickens

The Founder’s Monument and Fountain is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. Nestled into a green space on Rothschild Boulevard, it is a serene spot, dotted with benches, centered around a small pool and fountain, and located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, on 16 Rothschild Boulevard.

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Founder’s Monument And Fountain. Located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, it was here that the historic lottery for the distribution of plots held on April 11, 1909, took place.

The historic lottery for the distribution of plots was held on April 11, 1909. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Sixty-six grey seashells and sixty-six white seashells were gathered with the names of the participants written on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. A white and grey shell formed a pair, assigning each family a plot.

It was on this very site that the founders’ monument was planned 40 years later and established in 1951, on Dizengoff’s birthday.

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Designed by Aaron Priver, on one side is a sculpture divided into three sections. The bottom shows sand dunes and wild animals that roamed the area before the establishment of Tel Aviv. The middle section depicts the first homes, mostly one-story, and the top represents the Tel Aviv of 1949, with specific landmarks, and the Tel Aviv of the future as envisioned at the time.

On the other side of the monument is the list of the sixty-six founding families of the city of which includes the Chelouche family that founded the quaint neighboring district of Neve Tzedek over twenty years earlier.  Pointing out his family’s name on the monument, Lay of the Land co-founder Yair Chelouche related how his great-great-grandfather Aharon Chelouche acquired the plot of land that became part of Chelouche family folklore.  “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.” Smiling, Yair continued, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”

Two decades later, representatives of the Chelouche family would join other family members in 1909, this time not throwing stones but picking up shells with their plot numbers on it.

The genesis of Tel Aviv was brought “home” to us when passing 9 Rothschild Boulevard.  “Stop,” bellowed Yair, and then revealed, “here was the house of my great-grandparents, the first house that my great-grandfather, Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche built for them when they left Neve Tzedek for the “new” city of Tel Aviv.”

And so began the saga of “the city that never sleeps” – Tel Aviv.

Horsing Around

Our second last stop was at a statue. While most cities in Europe and the Americas are replete with leaders and warriors perched defiantly on horses, such artistic depictions are rare in Israel. So, it is with some curiosity that we looked upon the bronze statue opposite the Founders Monument of a man riding a tired-looking horse. The rider is not a general but a civil servant – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. He may not have made his mark on a battlefield, but he left a far more enduring legacy.

For miles and miles in every direction from this small statue, the rich urban development that is Tel Aviv today, can be traced to the superlative efforts of Tel Aviv’s first mayor who encouraged its rapid expansion and conducted daily inspections, paying attention to details. How did this indefatigable mayor travel each day to inspect the progress of the projects throughout his growing city?

By horse of course!

No wonder both rider and horse look exhausted.

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Giddyup. The statute of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor riding his horse from his home to City Hall, then located on Bialik Street. With cars on the side, the image conveys how commuting has transformed over the century.

Created by the artist David Zondolovitz, the statue was unveiled in front of the mayor’s historic residence, our final and tenth stop and the most important of all.

What was the end of our trail, was the beginning of the modern State of Israel!

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Independence Hall

On May 14, 1948, the house on 16 Rothchild Boulevard – then serving as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence.

Our guide related the events and atmosphere of that day.

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Crowds began to swell in the afternoon at cafés and balconies along the boulevard. People were waving little flags and singing and then at three o’clock, journalists from around the world started filing into the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They were joined by dignitaries to the rapturous applause of the crowd.

At exactly four o’clock, David Ben-Gurion started the ceremony by banging the gavel.

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Israel On Day 1. Seventy-three years ago, David Ben-Gurion declaring independence in 1948.

Outside and around the country, people were listening to the ceremony in the first broadcast of Israel Radio.

Ben-Gurion read the declaration, which opened with a historic prologue on the Jewish connection to the land and then it went on to assert that:

 “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, named the State of Israel.”

He was followed by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon who with a cracked voice, read the ancient prayer:

 “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

The crowd shouted “Amen!”

Ben-Gurion signed the declaration, then the members of the People’s Council were invited one by one to come up to the stage and sign the declaration alphabetically. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Hatikva,” the national anthem.

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Birth Of Israel. The Hall of Independence on Rothchild Boulevard is best known as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 14th of May 1948. The chairs are set out around the table as they were in 1948 and the names of those who attended the signing of the declaration are written on the chairs. Visitors can listen to a recording of the declaration ceremony and see a 16 minute film about the historic event. Two of the signatories were women Rachel (Kagan) Cohen and Golda Meir; three of the signatories went on to become Prime Ministers; one became the President and 14 of the original signatories served as cabinet ministers in the Israeli government.

As we finished the tour of Independence Hall, we came out and saw again the Espresso Bar formally The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv where it had all begun.

All agreed.

It was time for another cup of café hafuch.





The Changing Of The Guard

By Rolene Marks

The numbers are far too many to bear. Their names are etched in our national consciousness. We take succour in tales of their incredible bravery and courage, their daring and chutzpah, their duty and sacrifice. The young men and women who through 72 years of the modern state of Israel have paid the ultimate price in defense of their country and the many who have fallen simply because they were targeted for being Israeli.

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Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Remembrance day and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day are upon us. At the founding of the modern state of Israel, it was decided to have these two national holidays together – a genius idea because we have a heightened sense of the sacrifice and the cost of many for us to have the flourishing, democratic State we call home.

As the sun sets and the flags lowers signaling the start of Yom Hazikaron, our thoughts will turn to those we have lost, and our hearts open a little wider to welcome in their bereaved families. The first siren will wail its mournful cry, which pierces the soul and calls the nation to attention.

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The Cost Of Survival. A nation mourns each year for the loss of loved ones in the defense of the State of Israel.

This year, commemorations will be even more poignant. The threat posed by Covid-19 and new social distancing norms means that visits to military cemeteries which bereaved families and many citizens consider sacred; will be forbidden. There will be no unified ceremonies at the call of the second siren, there will be no heart wrenching poems and prayers.

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Chief of staff, General Aviv Kochavi, salutes and respects, alone, the fallen soldiers.

This Yom Hazikaron, solidarity will take a different form, but it will be as strong as ever. We are at a time when we are acutely reminded of the fragility of life. As those sirens wail, so we will bow our heads and tears will fall. We take 24 hours to go back in time and remember the name of those felled in battle and those whose lives tragically ended. We will remember the names. Names like Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein and Michael Levin. Names like Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul and so many who fell in our defense.

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(L-R) Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein, Michael Levin z’l

We remember the names like Taylor Force, Dafna Meir and Hallel Ariel. They suffered stabbings, shootings, suicide bombings and other murderous acts. So many, too many. We will listen to the stories and we will remember them.

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(L- R) Taylor Force, Dafna Meir, Hallel Ariel z’l

We will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948. This year, 42 more fallen were added to a list that nobody wants to be on. The IDF also recognizes  83 that were disabled who passed away and are regarded as fallen soldiers and 3,153 citizens who have died from terror attacks.

Behind every number, is a name – and a story. Behind every number are bereaved families, for whom every day is a bitter reminder. Yom Hazikaron is that one day where the whole nation wraps its arms around them. This year we will have to find a new way to do it.

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Memorial Day 2020 without the bereaved families and friends, yet we will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948 (Photo: Reuven Castro)

And then in a matter of moments, everything changes.

And as the clock changes, so too, does the mood in Israel. We observe that annual changing of the guard as we move from the intensity of grief to that of gratitude and celebration, understanding full well what sacrifices so many made so we can live in freedom. This year it is even more poignant as the flyovers and fireworks have come to a halt. While the barbecues may be lit, there is a tinge of sadness in the atmosphere as the threat of Coronavirus and social distancing means that we will not gather in each other’s homes, on the beaches and in the forests.  We will celebrate as one – from the safety of our balconies as individuals and families. As we toast to the State of Israel, there will be deeper, meaning to that salute to life – L’Chaim!

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Switchover. Following the end of Yom Hazikaron, Israelis display their nation’s flag as they revel in Independence Day celebrations, May 8, 2019. (Photo/Hadas Parush-Flash90)

There will be a changing of the guard both in traditions and emotions, but distance and restrictions will in no way diminish the unity and pride of Israelis. This is our strength.


No One Left Behind

El Al – Israel’s National Airline – missions to bring stranded Israelis home during the Corona crisis

By Rolene Marks

This is Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) – we never leave our brothers or sisters stranded.

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Marathon Flight. Four El Al 787-9 Dreamliners headed to Peru to rescue around 1,000 stranded Israelis. The 16 hour plus flight times, made them the longest flights ever flown by El Al. (Photo: Jacob Aviation)

I recently enjoyed the distinct pleasure of interviewing Captain Ofer Aloni, a veteran pilot who has had a renowned career both in the army flying Cobra helicopters; and for El Al – Israel’s national carrier.

Captain Ofer Aloni is warm and engaging. A pilot with an enduring passion for music, Captain Aloni recently participated in a historic mission – to bring back stranded Israelis from Peru because of international travel bans due to the global spread of the Corona virus. He graciously shared some insight into this extraordinary mission, one of several to various countries.

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Hitting The Right Chord. When not flying, music is a big part of Captain Ofer Aloni’s home life. (Photo: Courtesy of Ofer Aloni)

What makes these missions extra special, is that this is the first time the Boeing airplanes, with their tails proudly displaying the Israeli flag, have flown to these countries. Australia, Peru, Colombia, Nigeria, Costa Rica and various others – Israel has proven that we will dispatch our national carrier to the far flung corners of the world to bring our citizens home safely.

First Direct Flight To Melbourne Lands. Rescuing stranded Israelis, the flight on the 2 April 2020 from Tel Aviv Israel to Melbourne Australia took 16 hours and 24 minutes.

Captain Aloni describes how the mission started. “We heard that there was a mission being planned to go to Peru and everyone wanted to be a part of it,” he says. Israel does not have an Embassy in Peru but the prospect to fly to a place where El Al had never been before, proved intriguing.

Before the planes could take off on their extraordinary mission, a sterile environment had to be created on board because of the highly contagious nature of Covid-19. A sterile area was created behind the cockpit – business class became a no-go area. Pilots and cabin crew took great pains to keep a distance from each other, and social distancing rules means that there was absolutely no contact between pilots and passengers and cabin crew had to wear masks and what has now become de rigueur Corona accessories.

With a sterile environment set up on board, it was time for the two El Al flights to depart for Lima, Peru.

Flying into the unknown is very exciting for a pilot and this time we were flying over countries and in weather we had not previously experienced,” says Aloni.  The flight path soared over the magnificent Amazon Rain Forest and high above the Andes mountains, with its unusual clouds and the weather was eye opening.  High clouds above the Andes Mountains are fertile ground for storms.

For this long haul flight that took over 30 hours with no layover, the six pilots took shifts. Usually, the pilots that are off shift, are able to rest comfortably on proper cots with sheets and blankets but in this case, nobody seemed to mind catching a few z’s on the floor of the cockpit. “It was special, and the atmosphere was different – we knew that we doing something completely out of the ordinary,” says Aloni.

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The flight path from Tel Aviv to Lima.

It was certainly out of the ordinary. With the whole world engaged in a war against encroaching Corona virus, airports were closed and for the first time, flight traffic was quiet.

After flying for so long, it was time to notify air traffic control that El Al was coming into land.

This was the most incredible feeling. It was so exciting not just for us, but for the air traffic controllers at the airport in Lima. This was the first time ever that they were greeting El Al pilots and having planes land in the empty airport. I felt so lucky! Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned to congratulate us but we are Israel – we never leave our people behind,” says Aloni.

The notes of an emotional speech given aboard by captain Ofer Aloni on the return flight from Peru.

With a 1000 enthusiastic and grateful passengers on board, it was time to head home.  This was a flight like no other and while Aloni and his crew had to keep a safe distance from the passengers, the affable Captain took to the on-board microphone to address everyone. For Israelis and Jews around the world, this was defining moment. It was a moment that would signal light and collective brotherhood.

August 2018 – Captain Ofer Aloni, son of Holocaust survivors, with his guitar, making a special emotional gesture with passengers returning from Poland to Israel , after delegations visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi death camps.

I used the opportunity to speak about using this opportunity of quarantine to appreciate our togetherness. I said to them that I would love to hug all of them, we couldn’t at this time, but we can focus on each other,” says Aloni.

Footage of the speech and ensuing singing was posted to social media channels and had people the world over singing – and shedding a few emotional but joyful tears.

Home sweet home – and was homecoming ever this sweet?!

The reception waiting for crew and passengers was simply extraordinary! There were about 30-40 parents, clapping, crying and thanking us and I could not contain my tears,” says an emotional Aloni. “This was the greatest reward! There are moments in life that you cherish. For me, it has been the rescue of four soldiers I rescued during combat, and now this mission is definitely another one. We don’t leave anyone behind – on the battlefield and in crisis,” says Aloni.

Israel has proven the ancient tenet that we are all responsible for each other – even if it means flights to every corner of the globe, including the unexplored that bring with them new terrain, and that every life is precious which is why we never leave anyone behind.


Going home – Sweet home!


“The Show Must Go On”

Can’t go to concerts, then ‘Corona Concerts’ come to you as top Israeli musicians perform nightly in our living rooms

By David E. Kaplan

How accustomed are Israelis that when the chips are down, they will not be denied culture and entertainment! It’s a hallmark of the character of this country and its people. Through wars, intifadas and incessant missile attacks, the message projected is that ‘The Show Must Go On’.

It’s in our national DNA.

Over a decade before Israel emerged as a state,  culture was foremost on the minds of those navigating its destiny.

On 26 December 1936, The Palestine Orchestra – the forerunner of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) – was born.  Its genesis coincided with The Great Arab Revolt (1936-1939) that began in April 1936 when a Jewish convoy was attacked, and two drivers killed. If frightening violence against Jews prevailed in Palestine, it was the impeding genocide of Jews in Europe that was the impetus for the formation of the IPO.

The great Polish-born Jewish violinist and musician, Bronislaw Huberman, who foresaw the Holocaust, persuaded 75 Jewish musicians from major European orchestras to immigrate to Palestine, creating what he called the “materialization of the Zionist culture in the fatherland” on the sand dunes of Tel Aviv.

Striving for excellence, Huberman invited the greatest conductor of the time, Arturo Toscanini, to conduct the opening concert, to be performed at the Levant Fair in Tel Aviv on 26 December 1936. Toscanini abandoned his renowned NBC Orchestra for several weeks “to render paternal care to the newly born…”

Having escaped the rise of Fascism in his homeland of Italy, the great Maestro said:

“I am doing this for humanity…”

That thirst of a people for music prevailed and is embedded in Israeli culture.

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Origins Of An Orchestra. Violinist Bronislaw Huberman founder of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) and Moshe Chelouche, Chairman of the Palestine Philharmonic – forerunner of the IPO – (centre), greets Arturo Toscanini (left) on his arrival to conduct the inaugural concert of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra in Tel Aviv on December 26, 1936. Moshe Chelouche was a descendant of the family that founded Neve Tzedek in 1887 and later Tel Aviv in 1909 and 2nd mayor of Tel-Aviv.

When in 1948, South African Dr Jack Medalie the grandfather of famed Israeli songwriter Doron Medalie volunteered to serve in Israel’s War of Independence as a doctor in the front line, he recounted how  in the thick of war, “I was surprised one day  when we were taken to a desolate place in the Negev where our soldiers sat listening to an orchestra under the baton of a young American.” The name of that “young American” was –  Leonard Bernstein, who was touring the war-ravaged country with an ensemble of 35 members of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra performing to civilians and soldiers alike  – a grueling schedule of forty concerts in sixty days.

Conducting several Beethoven pieces, “with a gusto of physical movement the like of which I had never seen,” recorded Medalie, “it was an amazing spectacle of an orchestra playing to an appreciative brigade of soldiers behind enemy lines.”

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Bernstein In Be’er Sheva. Leonard Bernstein at a concert given with members of the Israel Philharmonic for the armed forces, Be’er Sheva, November 20, 1948.

War might be raging, but culture was no casualty.

Recovering from his surprise, it did concern Medalie that between Beethoven and Bernstein “a few enemy bombs could have destroyed most of the Palmach in the Negev.”

Bernstein would later describe that of all his experiences in the nascent Jewish state during its war for survival, “the greatest being the special concerts for soldiers. Never could you imagine so intelligent and cultured and music-loving an army!”

Has any army anywhere been so described?

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Band On The Run. Hurrying from one base to another under fire, the Palmach’s musical and entertainment troupe, ‘Chizbatron’ is seen here with Chaim Hefer, the bands founder and chief songwriter, seated center right with the piano accordion.

Maintaining high moral during that war was critical, and whose ‘VOICE’ was most prominent was polish born Chaim Hefer who joined the Palmach in 1943 and took part in smuggling illegal immigrants through Syria and Lebanon. In January 1948 he was one of the founders of the Chizbatron, the Palmach army troupe, and was its chief songwriter. Hefer and his troupe would travel to combat units in the front line -their stage often a bed of rocks, a dusty dirt road or their tour truck. With the lighting furnished by a jeep’s headlights, the sun, the moon, or simply from a bonfire, the band often performed four to five times a day, each time before a different squad and sometimes sustaining casualties when some of its members were injured as their truck hit a landmine on the way to a performance. The fact that the ‘Chizbatron’ performed in the most dangerous places during the war, contributed to raising the morale, and some even say that “the Chizbatron was a battalion in its own right.”


‘Golden’ Oldie

This is little doubt that one of the most iconic Israeli songs of all time is  “Jerusalem of Gold”. Written by the  “first lady of Israeli song and poetry” Naomi Shemer and released three weeks before the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967, the paratroopers who first liberated the Western Wall – then more commonly called the Wailing Wall – sang this song in triumph after the Old City’s liberation after 2000 years of “occupation”.

Written during neighbouring Jordan’s occupation when Jews could not enter the Old City and worship in their holy places, it describes the longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem.

After the war, Shemer added the last verse and is a heart-wrenching ‘reply’ to the lamentable second verse:

“We have returned to the cisterns

To the market and the square.

The shofar calls on the Temple Mount in the Old City.

And from the caves in the rocks, a thousand suns glow again.

We will go down to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho. “

 The album “Jerusalem of Gold” was the most widely-sold album in Israel and there was hardly a home that didn’t have a copy of this record. The lyrics and tune resonated to Jews across the globe, awakening their eternal longings  – a musical affirmation of a people’s desire to survive and strive.

Maestro Mehta

Another “Classical”  illumination was revealed to me in an exclusive interview in 2016 with former IPO lifetime director and conductor Zubin Mehta who regaled on his solidarity concerts in Israel during the First Gulf War (1990-1991) when he, and violinist Isaac Stern, were presented with gas marks  “just in case.”

“We never needed them,” he said, “and we only performed during the day, as the scuds were mainly at night when the country was in total darkness.” However, what fascinated the Maestro was  “the grit of Israeli audiences. People were rightly worried of scuds landing anywhere in the country with possible chemicals,  and here we were, the Israeli Philharmonic, performing to packed  audiences. Israelis were undeterred – they wanted to hear the music they loved.”

Deafening alarm sounded in the hall, disrupting Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 for violin and orchestra. The orchestra players went offstage to wear their masks, and Stern stepped off the stage, too, wanting to continue with the concert, but it was impossible to continue playing the concerto while the musicians wore masks. He decided to play the Adagio from Bach’s Sonata Violin No. 1 in Bach Minor, with the alarm still wailing in the background, and the audience stood up and burst into applause, which was accompanied by a siren. Stern wore no mask.

 Play On

Fast forward to 2002 and in the midst of the Second Intifada, when people avoided public places due to random suicide bombings on busses, bus stops, malls, clubs and restaurants, the South African Zionist Organisation in Israel – Telfed – organized a solidarity concert at Yad Lebanim Auditorium in Kfar Saba, aptly titled – “The Show Must Go On”.  Actors, musicians, dancers and singers from all over the country  – including a dance troupe from Eilat – performed and while it was feared, “no one will come, people are scared to go out at night”, the auditorium of over 800 seats was a sellout.

The people’s spirit of solidarity through culture prevailed, and snippets of that show can be enjoyed by logging below (As the movie begins on YouTube halfway, you will need to ‘rewind’ to the beginning):

Corona Concerts

Clearly, come hell or high water, Israelis from the past to the present, love their music, so no sooner had the government introduced regulations limiting gatherings due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus – including the cancellation of all cultural events until further notice –  many of Israel’s top performers signed up  to entertain Israel’s populace  stuck at home.

Writing in The Jerusalem Post,  Hannah Brown  expressed that “The missile barrages last November that drove residents of the south into shelters were a good dress rehearsal for the current health crisis. In that case, musicians went to the shelters and played for small audiences. But this time, even small numbers of spectators are not permitted, so the musicians are performing in empty auditoriums” and televised to the nation. Some of the musicians are performing in their own homes, like last Monday night’s concert in the garden of Omer Adam, whose music fuses elements of eastern “Mizrahi” and Western pop instrumentation.

Israel’s  2020 own “The Show Must Go On” series, kicked its first concert on a Saturday  night in March with Idan Raichel, one of the most well-known  Israeli artists abroad.

The diverse group of performers  appearing on Israel’s Channel 12 includes Harel Skaat, Amir Dadon, Maor Cohen, Asaf Amdursky, Dudu Aharon, Danny Robas, Knessiat Hasechel, Netta Barzilai, Marina Maximillian Blumin, Monica Sex, Natan Goshen, Idan Habib, Miki Gavrielov, Elai Botner, Amir Benyun, Kobi Aflalo, Karolina, Keren Peles, Shiri Maymon, Rami Kleinstein, Shuli Rand, the Shalva Band, Shimon Buskila and more.

Golan Einat, owner of the Zappa Group that is cosponsoring the ‘Corona Series’ together with Keshet, said: “In these difficult days, it is a great privilege for us to try to bring Zappa’s live performances directly into the homes of hundreds of thousands of people in Israel.”

And now all of you who might have missed these extraordinary concerts, can ENJOY at your leisure at home by linking onto the various performing artists below:

Omer Adam

Idan Reichel

Harel Skaat

Amir Dadon

Knessiat Hasechel

Danny Robas

Marina Maximillian Blumin


Ran Danker

Idan Habib

Elai Botner

Amir Benyun

Kobi Aflalo

Itay Levy

Keren Peles

Shiri Maymon

Rami Kleinstien

Shalva Band with Kobi Marimi

Shlomi Shabbat

Rotem Cohen

Liran Danino

Beit HaBubot (Dolls House)

Muki & DJ Jello

Roni Dalumi

The Revivo Project