Take A Ride On the Wild Side

Paradise for some, hell for others – Tel Aviv’s electric scooter craze

By David E. Kaplan

You cannot escape them!

 Walk down any street in Tel Aviv, and you’re most likely to be overtaken – not to mention overrun – by electric scooters. For many pedestrians – from young parents pushing prams to seniors strolling with extra care – a common opinionated exclamation:

 “They’re a menace!”

Some may animatedly add an expletive before the word: “MENACE”!

Not so, says Yair who the writer briefly interviewed at a traffic light along Tel Aviv’s famed Dizengoff Street. “It’s a pain taking the car, getting stuck in traffic and then hassling to find parking; you can waste half your day!”

Adjacent to him on her scooter was his wife, Lucy, appearing notably pregnant.

Facing the reality that soon there will be three in the family,  “I suspect this might all change very soon,” said Lucy with an all-knowing maternal smile.

For the most part, residents in Tel Aviv, are embracing electric scooters and their smart-phone rental systems, using them to zip along avoiding the heavy traffic. Tourists are catching on too.

“Julie, where have I caught you,” I asked my friend visiting from abroad. “On the way to the beach on a hired electric scooter,” she replied.

A few years ago, I would have been surprised – maybe even shocked.

Not today!

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Movers & Shakers. As electric scooters take over the world, Tel Aviv stands first in line.

It’s a lot quicker and cheaper than the alternatives such as a bus or taxi. “It’s so convenient and accessible” all users agree. The app on the phone informs where the nearest available scooter is located.

“It’s so easy; I go to the beach, I stop there, I use the app and that’s all. Also, its fun.”

Tel Aviv lends itself to this trend.

Tel Aviv had already adjusted to the two-wheel trend building bike lanes all around the city. The city has approximately 70km of marked bike lanes. Some of them are on sidewalks in the city and some are outside the city center, in the neighborhoods and parks.

The sunny weather, flat landscape and constant traffic jams make the scooters an appealing option.

There are now around 7,500 electric scooters available, in addition to the thousands of bicycles and electric bikes already on the streets.

Doing It My Way

The industrial designer who started it all is Nimrod Sapir, responsible for Inokim, the lightweight, folding electric scooter brand that’s taken Tel Aviv, and much of Israel, by storm. In Japanese “Inokim” means “speed” and Sapir is a guy on the move – and in a hurry!

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A Quickie. Inokim’s Quick-3 e-scooter can be folded in three seconds. Photo: courtesy

As he told ISRAEL21c “I’m always cycling, rollerblading, roller-skating. It’s a personal thing for me; I always want to get to places quickly.”

Turned-on by the electric scooter way back in 1999, “still with the old batteries and antiquated motors,” he became hell-bent on creating a better product, and launched his first electric scooter in 2011 under the brand name MyWay. This was before moving on to partner with Israeli entrepreneur Kfir Ben Shushan in 2014, changing the brand name to Inokim and driving up sales.

Today, the folding e-scooter is shaping the future of urban transport.

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Easy Rider. On the way to work in a suit, this rider holds his folded Israeli Inokim electric scooter at a railway station.

The two other main brands currently operating in Tel Aviv are US Bird and German Wind.

Bird recently announced that about 250,000 people have used its app-based, dockless e-scooter-sharing service in Tel Aviv for more than two million rides since August 2018.

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On The Boardwalk. Popular way to enjoy Tel Aviv’s scenic promenade adjacent to the Mediterranean is by electric scooter.

Bird Israel general manager Yaniv Rivlin says, “Israel was selected by the company’s managers as one of the first targets for expansion outside the US.”

Ben Shuhan is not deterred by the many competitors in the market. “Demand is much higher than supply, and we think it will increase. This is a supplementary transportation solution that more and more people are adopting. Today, the problem is finding an available or charged e-scooter for riding, especially near the railway stations, which are the places with the highest demand. Among the competition, it’s hard to find an e-scooter fit to ride in the afternoon. There’s room for more players.”

Why have electric scooters become so popular?

Sapir emphasizes “You need no skills – it’s easy to use, easy to ride, easy to get from place to place.”

This is why, he contends that scooters are still leading over other electric mobility options such as electric bikes and hoverboards.

Furthermore, “None of them are as safe as an electric scooter, where you hold a bar in your hands. That gives you a very great feeling of comfort and safety.”

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On Track. Inokim electric scooter inventor Nimrod Sapir rides one of his creations on a railway platform in Tel Aviv.

Solution Not The Problem

Asked by, Globes that with Israeli sidewalks becoming increasingly crowded, whether the trend is sustainable in the long term, Ben Shushan replied:

We’re trying to form as many partnerships as we can with several mayors. The municipalities can also profit and realize that we’re the solution, not the problem. In any case, we’ll work strictly according to regulations, so we also reached agreements with 500 businesses, including 150 parking lots in Tel Aviv, that we can use as stations for renting if we can’t leave them spread around the public space.”

To the question whether  renting detracts from marketing e-scooters for sale, Ben Shushan, replied not at all.

“Since our competitors entered the market, our sales have grown by 30%. Awareness of e-scooters has only increased. Here, too, it’s a win-win situation for us.”

“We want to be in every big city in the world, focusing on businesspeople for transportation in downtown areas. You can carry it with you on the train or bus, or you can put it in your trunk and park your car outside the city for far less.”

Designed in Israel, Inokim electric scooters, are sold in 15 countries as a smart green solution for mobility in large cities.

Sapir has won several industry awards as the first electric scooter designer to overcome the tradeoff between performance and weight: Inokim scooters are not only attractive and robust but also quick-folding and lightweight.

“That’s why we stand out,” he told ISRAEL21c.

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Electrifying. This young Tel Avivian is going places on her electric scooter.

Streetwise

Apart from the three obvious factors for the electric scooter’s popularity in Tel Aviv:

  • easy parking
  • quick arrival at destination
  • ideal climate

Sapir adds that the electric scooter is a perfect fit with the Israeli mindset. “Israelis are lazy about walking, always in a hurry and always trying to do too many things at the same time” – the ideal

candidate. And then, when you further add to this cauldron of personality traits that “Israelis are also very fast to adopt technologies or new trends,” it goes a long way to explain why electric scooters are so prominent on the country’s urban roads.

Its impact on city life is immense, Sapir notes.

“First of all,” he says, “I’d like to think it is reducing the four-wheeled cars in the city, and I believe it has. You can imagine that all the users of these electric scooters gave up other ways of transportation.”

Secondly, he’d like to believe that some people have even given up their private cars thanks to the scooters, “which they can easily fold up and carry on the train or bus and take to the office.”

The popularity, he contends, leads to the third observation, and that is the age ranges of users.

Before, I would say it was 30 to 45, but now there’s no limit,” he says.

Young people use it; old people use it — there’s really no limit.”

What’s the inventors favorite scooter route in the city?

“The tayelet from Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa. I always take my visitors there,” he says, referring to the city’s seaside promenade.

“It’s very unique,” he adds. “You have the city on your left and the beach on your right.”

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Upward Mobility. Popular way to enjoy Tel Aviv’s scenic promenade adjacent to the Mediterranean is by electric scooter.

In The Family Way

At a beachside restaurant, the writer coincidentally bumps into again Yair and Lucy enjoying a lavish lunch. Beside their table laden with food are parked unobtrusively their two electric scooters.

Methinks in a few months’ time, when they may be back at the restaurant, adjacent to the table will be in place of the two scooters – one baby pram!

 

She Came, She Saw, She Conquered

J-Lo Made Israel’s Summer Sizzle Some More

By David E. Kaplan

If Helen of Troy is mythically remembered as “The face that launched 1000 ships”, then Jennifer Lopez’s  short stint in Israel boasts an even more impressive outreach.

As Ynetnews.com reported:

A thousand ambassadors would not have been able to improve Israel’s image in the eyes of the world the way Jennifer Lopez, who has over 100 million followers on social media, has done during her five day visit to the Holy Land as part of her concert tour.”

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Alluring Anatomy. J-Lo stuns nearly 60,000 fans in Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv.

The ‘contoursof Israel’s strategic thinking were instantly outmatched by Jennifer Lopez’s ‘contours’, as the “slayer of red carpets”   disembarked from her El Al flight wearing a leopard-print crop top and matching leggings. She was happy to be in Israel – her first visit – and wanted the world to know it. Unlike other artists of J-Lo’s stature, she didn’t make it hard for photographers, or media in general, to get a hold of her.

And get a hold of her, Israelis did.

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Riveting & Revealing. J-Lo going full throttle in Tel Aviv.

The Bronx-born actress, singer, dancer, fashion designer, producer and businesswoman who turned 50 on July 24, began her international “It’s My Party” tour on August 1 in Tel Aviv.  And what an open-air party it turned out  to be in Yarkon Park – nearly 60,000 fans!

Earlier, Lopez had intimately shared on Instagram her feelings towards her fiancé  – former baseball star Alex Rodriguez, known as A-Rod –  with a heartfelt caption:

“… you are one of a kind, my hurricane…”

This would also describe J-Lo on stage at Yarkon Park – “one of a kind” and “hurricane”.

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A Knock Out. Jennifer Lopez knocks it out of HaYarkon Park, Tel Aviv. (photo credit: EREZ OZIR)

Experiencing a Lopez concert is extraordinary. Each number comes with its own theatrical act with riveting choreographed dances, props of all imagination and stunning costumes. This mother of two was in and out of costumes throughout her 90-minute performance that ranged from a one-legged body suit for the opener “Medicine” to a shocking red salsa-style gown in honor of the late Selena Quintanilla (for which Lopez starred in the 1997 biopic Selena) and then to glimmering gold heeled boots that ran up the thigh, to a final electric green bodysuit.

And that didn’t even cover it all. In fact, the less ‘covered’, the more welcomed! Cracking jokes on stage, she teased that her one-legged jumper only showed off part of her bottom.

Actually, getting to the “bottom” of it, J-Lo was making a statement.

While efforts were made to sabotage her tour to Israel – nothing too unusual – she would have none of it. Her manager, Benny Medina, assertively expressed that made a headline in one newspaper:

“There Was Nothing That Was Gonna Stop Us from Being in Israel”. 

“Party” Poopers

Despite  social media appeals from BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) activists to cancel her “It’s My Party” tour to Tel Aviv, Medina told Israel’s Channel 12, “Nothing was going to stop”  Jennifer Lopez’s party in Israel.

BDS’s failed fiendish efforts included a July the 5th letter to Lopez urging the singer to boycott Israel arguing:

Tel Aviv, where you are about to perform, is used as a tool for marketing the State of Israel as a ‘cool’ and ‘cultured’ democracy, while hiding a brutal history of colonisation, even that of the city itself.”

Like foul laundry that it was, it didn’t wash!

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters frequently pressures artists to not perform in Israel and to boycott the Jewish state. Experiencing declining success, such efforts with J-Lo also proved  “water off a duck’s back!

Only a few months earlier, David Draiman, frontman for the heavy metal band Disturbedsaid in a May 30 Facebook video on the band’s fan page:

The very notion that Waters and the rest of his Nazi comrades decide that this is the way to go ahead and foster change is absolute lunacy and idiocy. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s only based on hatred of a culture and of a people in a society that has been demonized unjustifiably since the beginning of time.”

To easy understand J-Lo’s position, is to have read an earlier interview when she asserted:

I have no patience for anything that’s not real. Just no bulls–t.”

“We feel you, girl,” replied the interviewer, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

And if Israeli fans thought they couldn’t love J-Lo any more than they already did, the singer gave every reason to love her more.

She told the Tel Aviv crowd she loved them multiple times and even had an upfront on-stage whisper with a fan translated in Hebrew for all to hear. Fans screamed in delight.

Her message for the night resonated:

You are capable of accomplishing anything you want, so long as you believe.”

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Superstars On Super Beach. J-Lo, A-Rod and kids on Tel Aviv beach.

Israel is a country of believers, but its people are also family-oriented  and so J-Lo connected even more with her audience when she turned the concert into a “family affair”.

How so?

Lopez’s fiancée Alex Rodriguez who was in the crowd appeared on the big screen during the event; Lopez’s daughter, Emme, made an on-stage appearance singing a brief duet with her mother and her 11-year-old twin – who appeared bashful at first – hit a couple of impressive notes to show she too has the Making of her Mom.

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Exploring Jerusalem. Jennifer Lopez visits the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 2, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Day After

The next day, after wowing 57,000 fans in Tel Aviv, J-Lo, A-Rod and their kids visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall. It was Friday and bustling with people. A video posted on social media showed the singer amongst  the jostling crowd, touching the stones at the holy site and whispering in the ears of her children.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez kept his social media followers up to date.

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Golden Girl In City Of Gold. With the Jerusalem’s Old City in the background, Jennifer Lopez and A-rod on a camel. (Photo: Instagram)

In a clip posted to Instagram the previous day, A-Rod showed JLo and himself looking around at the Mediterranean from the balcony of their Tel Aviv hotel room. The clip is embellished with a heart at the top and the words, “The mother land Israel” next to an Israeli flag and exclamation points, then the words:

First time I’m here. I’m in love!! #energyoffthecharts!!”

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We Love Tel Aviv. J-Lo from her hotel balcony in Tel Aviv.

The following day the celebrated couple’s message from the Western Wall  to their millions of followers around the world:

Jerusalem, you are unforgettable. What a perfect finale to our first trip to this beautiful land.”

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“Jerusalem, you are unforgettable. What a perfect finale to our first trip to this beautiful land.” (Alex Rodriguez‏Verified account @AROD FollowFollow @AROD More)

Moscow On The Yarkon

J-Lo has come and gone. Well not quite. She has come but she not quite gone for she has left an endearing and enduring message of love and understanding.

But not only, for she has taken some of ‘lively’ Israel with her!

So impressed was J-Lo with Israeli singer Maor Rayri’s performance during her opening act in Tel Aviv, she invited him to perform as part of her upcoming Moscow concert. The Israeli singer – known as ADL – recently gained world-wide attention after he performed with American rapper Snoop Dogg and Columbian singer Maluma (Juan Arias).

She Came, She Saw, She Conquered taking away some Israeli spoils.

Good luck to her.

Happy Birthday J-Lo.

 

 

A Tale of Two Photographs

By Gina Jacobson

It was election day in Israel and that meant that we got the day off. No school and no work, so once my husband and I had voted, we gathered the kids, hopped on a train and went into Tel Aviv to visit the Eretz Israel Museum.

 

We wandered around looking at the various exhibits and then we came across the David Rubinger, I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997 exhibit. Being a photography nerd, my husband was fascinated and spent a bit more time in the exhibit than the kids or me. So, we headed outside and sat on a bench to wait for him.

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David Rubinger (1924-2017)

The photographer, David Rubinger, who won the 1997 Israel Prize in Communication and died in 2017 was one of a small selected group of photographers whose works are etched on local and international memory. His career began at the end of the enlisted “Zionist photography” period, that dominated the local photography scene until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. His iconic picture of the three soldiers at the Western Wall is an image that is seared in the collective consciousness of Jews around the world. It is a symbol of hope and our shared connections. His photographs have recorded some of the most important and poignant moments in Israeli history.

Rubinger took his photos with analogue reflex cameras, in other words, he never saw the image at the moment it was photographed, and this exhibition was a journey into his memories.

Once the husband was done, he headed out of the exhibit and seeing us sitting together, stopped to take a photo of us.

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David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of paratroopers at the Western Wall during the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, June 1967.

As he took the photo, the usher for the exhibit came rushing out, ‘No, no, no, you cannot take a picture there!’ She exclaimed (in Hebrew). My husband, who has been shouted at before for taking photos where he was not allowed to, started looking for a no picture sign. ‘No’, she said again. ‘You cannot take a picture here, that wall, that wall is old and ugly!’

She then pointed across the courtyard, ‘That is where you must take a picture!’ She was pointing at a shady spot with a colourful flower bed.

‘Here. Here is a pretty wall covered in Jerusalem stone, and look at these beautiful flowers. This is where you must take a photo!’

And so, slightly bemused, we proceeded to let her direct us to sit in front of the pretty wall and pretty flowers.

‘No!’ She cried again. ‘Abba (dad), must be in the photo too!’ while taking my husband’s camera out his hands and directing him to sit with us.

She even laid her uniform jacket on the bricks for the children to sit on while shuffling us around to best show off the pretty blooms.

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After a few misfires with the camera, and my 11-year-old popping up to show her what to press, she snapped a beautiful family photo of us, and the pretty Jerusalem stone wall and the pretty flowers.

We thanked her and she told us that she had planted those flowers herself and was very proud of them. We also had a conversation about where we came from, ‘Oh, you are not tourists, why did you make aliyah? How long have you been here? How are you settling in?’

She told us that she is also an immigrant, from Uzbekistan, and that she came to Israel many years ago. She then took our map and showed us the best exhibits for the children to enjoy and wished us well before going back to the photography exhibit.

It may not have been an iconic picture that captured Israeli history, but it was a picture that recorded Israel’s present.  This is a country whose diverse population is reflective of those who have been here since the birth of the state and those who for a variety of reasons have chosen to come home. Capturing the simple delights of a family outing after a democratic election, speaks about the optimism that encapsulates Israel. It also creates a lasting memory of all the country has endured and its unpredictable but hopefully bright future.

We had a wonderful day, voting, exploring the history of our country and generally relaxing, but the best part of the day for me, was a photo, with my family, in front of some gorgeous flowers!

 

 

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

Where It All Began

Tel Aviv’s oldest Jewish district, Neve Tzedek is young at heart.

With its 19th century gentrified homes, trendy cafés, boisterous bars, beautiful boutiques and exquisite art galleries along its narrow cobbled leafy lanes, Neve Tzedek (“oasis of justice” in Hebrew) is one of Tel Aviv’s most fashionable districts and also where the story of Tel Aviv really began.

By David. E. Kaplan

 

People believe that the story of Tel Aviv began with a seaside lottery in 1909 but in truth, the story of modern Jewish settlement in this coastal metropolis began nearly two decades earlier with the first house built in 1888 by Aharon Chelouche who arrived in Palestine in 1838 as a young boy with his family from Oran, Algeria.

The writer stood with a group of mostly former South African Israelis outside his house at No. 32 on the street that bears his name and had as our guide, Yair Chelouche,  a direct descendent from the father of Aharon, the patriarch of the family – Abraham Chelouche.

“Abraham is believed to have stated before he left Algeria in 1838,” said Yair, “that unlike many others who were migrating to the Land of Israel at that time, “I am not going there to die – but to live!””

Unlike his biblical namesake of 3000 years earlier who  came close to suffering the sacrifice of a son, this 19th century Abraham endured the sacrifice of two sons only meters away before he set foot on “The Promised Land”.

“In those days there was no port of Haifa only a beach next to a few coastal villages. And so, small dinghies used to row out to the sailing ships that anchored offshore and bring the passengers ashore. Tragically, one of these dinghies capsized, and Abraham’s young sons, Yosef and Eliyahu, drowned,” related Yair.

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Promised Land. What Haifa looked like when Abraham Chelouche arrived in 1838 with his family from Algeria. Two of his sons drowned when a small transport boat from the ship capsized

After settling briefly in Nablus, Abraham Chelouche moved his family to Jaffa, where Aharon, then nine years old, grew up.  Later, when Aharon married and had children, he named his second son Yosef Eliyahu in memory of his two drowned brothers.

“Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche is my great grandfather”, says Yair

Strong Arm Tactics

The Chelouches spoke fluent Arabic and had no difficulty settling into life in Jaffa, a thriving, colourful mainly Arab port town that must have shared similarities with the family’s native Oran.

Young Aharon grew up to be a shrewd businessman – a goldsmith and money changer. His sharp mind and keen eye for a good deal soon made him a wealthy man.

Yair relates a story that has become part of the family folklore: “Aharon calculated that the mineral content of one particular Ottoman coin was worth considerably more than the monetary value of the coin itself, and so he collected these coins, smelt them, and then sold the mineral or used it to craft valuable jewelry.”

Aharon was not only an entrepreneur – but a visionary. Emerging as the leader of the Sephardic community in Jaffa, “He believed,” says Yair, “that Jews should build their own town, and in 1883, bought the first plot of land north of Jaffa that would become Neve Tzedek. This was over twenty years before he joined a group of about 100 people on the sand dunes in 1909 to acquire plots by way of a seashell lottery that became Tel Aviv.”

In those days, indicates Yair, “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 continues, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”

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Founding Father. Aharon Chelouche, Abraham’s son, and founder of Neve Tzedek.

Reshaping a Landscape

To attract Jews to join his large family, Aharon built a Beit Knesset by his house located today close to the magnificent Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater.  Established in 1989, just over a century after Aharon culturally transformed this barren landscape of sand dunes and brushwood, the Suzanne Dellal Center today is the home of dance in Israel and premier presenter of Israeli and international contemporary dance companies. Situated in the center of Neve Tzedek, Yair points out where the original synagogue stood, the water well and a school, and where a plaque remains of the builder’s name – “Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche” – Yair’s great grandfather. “He became one of Tel Aviv’s important builders and apart from building many of the city’s first homes and schools – his most famous construction was the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, originally known as HaGymnasia HaIvrit (lit. Hebrew High School).”

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The School that Yosef Eliyahu Built. The famed Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, originally known as HaGymnasia HaIvrit is where the Shalom Meyer Tower stands today

Only a short walk from Neve Tzedek, the cornerstone ceremony of the school took place in 1909, the founding year of Tel Aviv and was the county’s first Hebrew high school. The design was inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and remained a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when “it was regrettably razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower on Herzl Street,” laments Yair.

One of the most visited tourist sites in Tel Aviv, the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s beautiful and sprawling multi-level campus, consists of four performance halls, numerous rehearsal studios, a restaurant and cafe, and wide plazas that host various outdoor performances and events throughout the year.

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Sacred Spot. The famed Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theatre is close to where Aharon Chelouche built the first synagogue.

Yair points out where his great grandfather’s factory stood – “Fabrique Chelouche Frères”. The name, painted in French and Arabic, was still clearly visible until building started a while ago on that plot, and, standing beneath its place, Yair relates that “the building material produced here was used for most of the early construction of Ahuzat Bayit (Hebrew meaning “Homestead”) the forerunner to the naming of the city – Tel Aviv. “One can still see the brightly patterned floor tiles of Chelouche Frères in some of Tel Aviv’s oldest buildings,” says Yair.

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Building A Future. The remains of the Chelouche factory that made building material for the early development of Tel Aviv

Political Shenanigans

Neve Tzedek boasts a variety of architectural styles from Bauhaus to eclectic and at the beginning of the 1900s, it was the intellectual and cultural hub of Tel Aviv, attracting artists and writers. To appreciate their legacy and the impact it had on the cultural destiny of the future State of Israel, “a visit to the Nachum Gutman Museum is a must,” asserts Yair.

Only a short walk from Beit Chelouche (Chelouche Home), the museum is located on the east end of the narrow cobbled Rokach Street, named after another celebrated Neve Tzedek resident, Israel Rokach, who became the second mayor of Tel Aviv, after Meir Dizengoff. On the way, Yair relates family stories of the political shenanigans in the 1936 mayoral election between Rokach and his opponent – Moshe Chelouche, brother of Yair’s grandfather, Avner, son of Yosef-Eliyahu. Although Moshe won the election, the British High Commissioner intervened in the support of Rokach, and despite the public uproar about British intervention in the Jewish democratic process, “Moshe served little more than a day, while Rokach went on to serve as mayor of Tel Aviv until 1953.”

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Visionaries. Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, Yair’s great grandfather, who built much of Neve Tzedek, including the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium with Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff (right).

Rokach would also go on to head the Maccabi World Union, sit as a member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), serve as an Israeli Interior Minister and be awarded the title of ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’. Rokach’s house in Neve Tzedek is today a museum – possibly the oldest museum in Tel Aviv – and is often used to showcase cultural events.

A Brush with the Past

The Nachum Gutman Museum used to be known as Beit HaSofrim (the Writer’s House) due to the large number of famous writers who lived here and gathered for literary meetings and discussions, such as the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, S.Y. Agnon, who would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Joseph Aharonovitz, editor of the newspaper HaPoel HaTzair (The Young Worker), Dvora Baron, labeled as “the first Modern Hebrew woman writer” and Nachum Gutman’s father, a renowned Hebrew writer and educator who wrote under the pen name S. Ben Zion.

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City Lights. A colorful depiction of Chelouche Street by the renowned Israeli artist, Nahum Gutman, who grew up in Neve Tzedek.

Nachum grew up in the neighborhood, absorbing as a child the local lifestyle and intellectual culture of a young vibrant expanding city. This impacted Nachum’s art enormously, depicting a culturally explosive city in vivid vibrant colors.

Welcoming his visitors, we were ‘met’ by Nachum or rather by one of his large colorful paintings. A juxtaposition of images of Tel Aviv, it captures its iconic architecture, and outdoors way of life as a coastal city, with the sea in the background and ships coming into dock. We see outdoor cafés with people sitting around tables on the sidewalks, chatting, reading and watching the passing show. This is quintessential Tel Aviv – a vibrant city with people on the move. In this sense, little has changed. Gutman captured the essence and spirit of a city that stands the test of time.

“And it all began with a house that now stands at 32 Chelouche street,” Yair reminds us.

Keen to learn more about the personalities of the Chelouche pioneers and how they shaped the future, Yair ‘unveiled’ this intimate heartwarming historical gem!

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Shady Character. In the European fashion, these early homes on narrow lanes were built close to each other to provide shade.

A Tale of Two Families

When the founder of Neve Tzedek, Aharon Chelouche, was still living in Jaffa, an incident occurred that that would connect two Palestinian families – the Jewish Chelouches and the Arab Samarras – for over a century.

Sometime in the early 1860s, a caravan of merchants passed through Jaffa on camels on the way to Alexandria and neglectfully left behind a young Arab boy. By the time his father Sheikh Samarra realized, the caravan was too far travelled to return.

The young boy was brought before Aharon Chelouche who said:

“No problem, he will live with us until his father returns from Alexandria”

And so, three months later, on the return, his father Sheikh Samarra from Tul-Karem collected his son who, by all accounts, had enjoyed his stay in Jaffa with the Chelouches who had cared for him well.

Nothing more of the Samarras was heard until the Great War of 1917. The Turkish authorities, fearful that the Allies would invade Palestine from the sea, considered Jaffa’s Jews a threat to national security and exiled them inland. The Chelouches, who were exiled to Kfar Jamal near Tul-Karem, found themselves in a pitiful situation. Their funds had run out and had little to eat. Aharon was then 90 years old, and his sons Yosef Eliyahu and Abraham Haim now headed a family that was destitute.

Help then came from an unexpected source!

One day, a pair of camels, preceded by a donkey, appeared on the path. The rider came down from his donkey and asked:

“I am searching for the refugee Aharon Chelouche. Is he here?”

Brought before the old man, the visitor said, “You do not know me. My name is Hajj Ibrahim Samarra. I am the youth to whom you once gave a majida (Arabic: glorious) in Jaffa. Your benevolence will never be forgotten. And I heard that your family were refugees here.”

Hajj Ibrahim then unloaded from his camels, sacks of flower and beans, and leather bags of oil. That young boy left behind in Jaffa nearly four decades earlier, was now a rich man, the Sheikh of three villages.

There was more to come – a lot more!

He invited Aharon’s sons to his home, broke through a hole in the wall with an axe, and removed a red handkerchief holding 500 gold pounds, which he handed over to Yosef Eliyahu – with whom he had played as a child during his three month stay in Jaffa – and said:

“Take it, I have enough. Return it when the war ends, Inshallah. It will be my shame if you do not take the money.”

Yosef Eliyahu thanked him and offered a promissory note.

“Why?” asked Hajj Ibrahim.

“What if we all die in the war,” replied Yosef Eliyahu.

“Then neither of us will need the money,” protested Sheikh Ibrahim.

In 1981, while a student at Tel Aviv University, Yair Chelouche, the great-grandson of Yosef Eliyahu went into the office of his great uncle Aharon Chelouche, named after the founder of Neve Tzedek, who was then Dean in charge of student affairs.

“Sit down Yair” he said, “I have a story to tell you”.

Aharon then related that the week before, an Arab female student had come in to see him about a certain problem. When he saw her surname, he began asking her questions, and not too long thereafter he said to her:

“We are connected by 100 years of history. You have a wonderful family.”

“How do you know my family?” she asked rather puzzled.

And so, Aharon began:

“When your great-great grandfather was a little boy, he was left in Jaffa…”

At story’s end, she burst out crying and the elder Jewish Chelouche and the younger  Arab Samara hugged.

Today, while Neve Tzedek still retains its quaint character with colourful buildings and small narrow streets, the district is an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, attracting the rich and famous.

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Riveting Revelations. It came as a surprise to the South African group, organised by Telfed, that their guide Yair, whose family were the founders of Tel Aviv, attended school in Johannesburg.

Where “in the old days” its residents included  the likes of great literary luminaries like Nobel laureate, S.Y. Agnon, and Y.H. Brenner, pioneer of modern Hebrew literature, in modern times, residents have included billionaire Roman Abramovitch, the owner of the English professional football club Chelsea F.C., and superstar Gal Gadot of ‘Wonder Woman’ fame.

It is little ‘wonder’ that Neve Tzedek, where the story of Tel Aviv began, is once again in the limelight – attracting residents, investors, pursuers of culture and tourists.

Yair, who created in colorful concentric circles the family tree for the a Chelouche family reunion (2004) that attracted over 500 members from Israel and abroad and held at Beit Chelouche, relates:

“It was wonderful meeting all my family, young and old, and who all descended from our patriarch, Abraham Chelouche, who not only founded a dynasty, but whose progeny helped create this great city of ours – Tel Aviv.”

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Pulsating Beat. A magical ambiance in its shaded cobbled courtyards and narrow streets, the old of Neve Tzedek attracts the young at heart.

You’re In The Army Now!

Notice of Caution

If you’re male and between the ages of 18-26 traveling to Lithuania on a Lithuanian passport beware…

By David E. Kaplan

 Jews with roots in Lithuania, known as Litvaks, have been active in applying for Lithuanian citizenship after the country in 2016 amended the law to make it easier for them to do so.

Most of them are Litvaks from Israel and South Africa and to a smaller extent, from the USA.

 Over 90 per cent of the South African Jewish community are Litvaks.

Lithuanian officials estimate that around 200,000 Jews with Lithuanian roots live in Israel and according to preliminary findings by the Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town  (UCT)the size of the Jewish community in South Africa has shrunken to fewer than 50,000.

In July 2019, I received a letter by way of an email from the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel warning young people aged 18-26 with duel Israel-Lithuanian citizenship to only enter Lithuania with an Israeli passport. It cited a recent case of a 22- year-old grandson who traveled  with his extended family on a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Kaunas (Kovna) who was arrested at passport control for military service and only released after the intervention of the Israeli embassy in Vilnius (Vilna).

Lithuania has a mandatory recruitment law that applies to boys aged 18-26.

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In order to clarify the situation, LOTL wrote to the Lithuanian Embassy in Tel Aviv  and received this reply:

From: consul.il <consul.il@urm.lt>
Sent: Thursday, August 1, 2019 12:07 PM
To: (Me)
Subject: FW: Del karines prievoles LR pilietybe atkurusiems LR piliečiams, taciau niekada negyvenusiems Lietuvoje

In response to your email inquiry please be informed that:

° According to the Article 8 of the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania who is a citizen of another state at the same time shall be considered by the State of Lithuania to be only a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania. The possession of citizenship of another state shall not relieve him of the responsibilities as a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania under the Constitution, laws and other legal acts of the Republic of Lithuania.

° From the beginning of 2015, the conscripted army has been renewed in Lithuania. Every year (usually until January 15 of the calendar year) lists of military conscripts of the calendar year are drawn up randomly, with the help of a computer program. You may check the list of military conscripts online: https://sauktiniai.karys.lt/  All Lithuanian men aged 19-26 can be invited to perform compulsory military service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces for a period of 9 months. The priority shall be given to volunteers. Generally, only 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. It is important to emphasize that neither this law nor other legislation provide a legal basis for an exemption from the military service to a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania who is a citizen of another state at the same time and (or) serves at the moment or has completed service at the army of another country.

° A military conscript who is on the list of conscripts may submit a claim based on evidence to the Regional Military Conscription and Compilation Division regarding a postponement of his military service due to disproportionate damage to his interests and his application would be considered by a special commission.

For additional questions and clarifications we would suggest you to contact Lithuanian military duty and recruitment department in Vilnius:

Address:

Mindaugo str. 26, Vilnius 03225, Lithuania

Tel.

+370 5 2 30 96 91, +370 706 84 376

Email:

RKPKSvilnius@mil.lt

Pagarbiai/Respectfully,

LR ambasada Izraelio Valstybėje

Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania to the State of Israel

Ph.: +972 3 6958685

Fax: +972 3 6958691

Sason Hogi Tower

12 Abba Hillel Silver str., Ramat Gan 5250606

http://il.mfa.lt

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Our Letter to Rep. Rashida Tlaib

Join us for a day while we are in Israel together.

By Gina Raphael

 

Dear Congresswoman Tlaib,

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Gina Raphael with her 10 year old daughter Mia

My name is Gina Raphael and I am from Los Angeles, California. Outside of my business and family, my energies are focused on developing the State of Israel as a beacon of light to the world. I’m so glad you’re visiting Israel in August along with Rep. Omar. I, too am traveling to Israel at the same time along with my ten-year-old daughter Mia, who is also an immigrant, adopted from China. Mia has been fortunate to visit Israel many times and has grown to love Israel just as much as her love for America. We would like to invite both of you to spend a day with us in Israel’s north and experience some of the amazing work going on. We’d love to show you what is really happening outside of the media.

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world-class Culinary Institute – Israel

For instance, we can visit the future site of a world-class Culinary Institute in the north of Israel that will be the finest in the Middle East. It will bring people of all walks of life and religions together through a love for food. The Institute will help to transform a region that has had a 40 percent decline in population. This region is supposed to be the silicon-valley of food technology. Amazing work is happening in Israel’s north that will benefit all Israeli’s population – Jews, Druze, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians alike As they say there, they don’t coexist… they exist as great neighbors. I would be honored to show you how they ‘exist’!

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Dr Salman Zarka is the general director of Ziv Medical Center, Druze by religion,  whose staff has treated hundreds of wounded Syrian civilian

Close by, we can see the initial plans for a new medical center that will help people of all religions given this lacking resource in the area. On prior visits, we met Syrians who have been helped by Israelis at hospitals. I’m not sure if you realize, but Israel took care of over 4,000 Syrians wounded during the Syrian civil war. The average patient spent over 1 month in the hospital, with a few spending over 18 months. The government hospitals never turned down one patient, regardless of how intensive the wounds or needed surgeries. We’d love to show you the Galilee Medical Center, where 3,000 wounded Syrians were treated. The director of the hospital, Dr. Masad Barhoum, is an Israeli Arab I’m sure you might enjoy a conversation with him to hear what the reality truly is. I would love nothing more than to see kindness like this sprinkled throughout the world.

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Dr. Masad Barhoum, MD, MHA General Director Galilee Medical Center

We can also receive an update on a program funded by amazing donors in the US that provides new career training to women across religions that have been impacted by violence as well as others just searching for new ways to move their lives forward. While women in Israel build bridges together, it’s disheartening to hear that those in your own community attack those individuals that work together with Jews to make positive change together.

If you let me know at your earliest convenience if you can spend time with Mia and me in Israel, we can try and arrange a meeting with the head of Israel’s Bank Leumi and their new Chairman Dr. Samer Haj Yihye. The head of Israel’s leading bank is an Israeli Arab which highlights the pluralistic nature of the country.

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Dr Samer Haj-Yihye, newly appointed chairman of Bank Leumi.

We can also ask to meet with Amir Ohana, Israel’s Minister of Justice who is gay. While other countries in the Middle East torture or kill those in the LGBT community the largest city in Israel, Tel Aviv, is known as the most gay friendly city in the world. This is only a sampling of the many things we can do together as we share the beauty of Israel together. As we hope for you to experience the reality of Israel, so you can advocate for the only democracy in the Middle East and America’s closest ally.

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Amir Ohana, Israel’s Minister of Justice

This will be Mia’s 8th trip to Israel and she has already become a beacon of change. Mia has raised money to help provide special training to young individuals from all different religious backgrounds with special needs pairing them with canines. I’m sure she would like nothing more than showing you the Israel she knows and loves.

Thank you so much.

-Gina Raphael and Mia Raphael

 

 

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Road Of Revelations

Short In Distance, Bialik Street Is Long In History

By David E. Kaplan

There was sound reason why the organizers  of Israel’s 2019 Eurovision Song Competition in Tel Aviv chose to hold the  Semi-final Allocation Draw at the city’s former City Hall in Bialik Street.

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Beit Ha’ir (Hebrew for City Hall) overlooking the charming Bialik Square is today a museum drawing thousands of tourists.

While Bialik Street does not project the grandeur of Paris’ ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysees’, or the allure of New York’s 5th Avenue, it personifies the cultural journey of Tel Aviv – a journey where visitors require not tough shoes but adventurous minds.

image003 (58).jpgBialik street can take five minutes to casually stroll or five hours for a true experience – it all depends on your pace, for each pause is poetry. A side road off the pulsating Allenby with its cafés, pubs and restaurants, one exits the traffic and tumult of one world, to enter another of tranquility and charm. With its fine examples of Bauhaus architecture, Bialik Street is a UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Starting at the T-junction of Allenby and Bialik, we began its tour. The writer strolled down the little brick road, admiring the diverse architectural styles of the buildings, until arriving at the former home of one of Israel’s most celebrated artists, Reuven Rubin (1893-1974). Today it is the Rubin Museum and the writer met with its curator, Carmela Rubin, the daughter-in-law of the late artist.

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Bialik Street in the 1920s.

Street-smart

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Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873 –1934), was a Jewish poet who wrote primarily in Hebrew but also in Yiddish and was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry. Although he died before Israel became a state, Bialik ultimately came to be recognized as Israel’s national poet.

Established in 1909 on desolate sand dunes, Tel Aviv in the 1920s drew like a magnet, many of the leading writers, artists, musicians, actors and journalists. Carmela attributed this to the arrival in 1924 of one man – Chaim Nachman Bialik, who would emerge in his lifetime as Israel’s National Poet and the celebrated resident of the street that would take his name.

 “That he chose to settle in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem influenced others to follow him. People today are hardly aware of the monumental impact Bialik had on his generation.”

Why?

Firstly, he arrived with such stature, a towering intellectual whose poetry and prose, calling for a reawakening of the Jewish people, resonated with a new breed of emerging Jew in Eastern Europe,” explained Carmela.

In this quest, language was the key and “Bialik was in the forefront in the renewal of the Hebrew language. Jews in Eastern Europe at that time spoke Yiddish; Hebrew was the language of the prayer book, reserved for the Sabbath. The Zionist movement had its central platform, the revival of Hebrew as the conversational language of Jews and Bialik was the spearhead in this mission.”

The generation of Hebrew poets who followed in Bialik’s footsteps, notably Jacob Steinberg and Jacob Fichman, would be referred to as ‘the Bialik generation’.

“Bialik was so much more than a renowned poet – he was a leader, and by choosing to settle in Tel Aviv in the 1920s, he transformed a small parochial city in Palestine into the center of contemporary cultural activity.”

Acknowledged as a leader of his city’s renaissance – as the Medici were to Florence  –  it was little wonder that his good friend, Meir Dizengoff, the mayor of Tel Aviv, not only assisted him to acquire a mortgage to build his house but also to rename the street in his honor before even the first brick had been laid. To so honor a person while still alive is rare in Jewish tradition – only for exceptional human beings.”

Bialik was one such person.

It was through the likes of Bialik that a fledging city transformed from sand dunes to cultural oasis.

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Artist Reuvin Rubin on his balcony in Bialik Street.

Portrait of an Artist

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Reuven Rubin’s ‘Self Portrait with a Flower’ (1922)

It was into this milieu that the artist Reuven Rubin arrived in Palestine in 1923, this time to settle. At an exhibition in Tel Aviv in 1927, Bialik wrote in the catalogue: “Blessed is Rubin who has had the privilege of bonding with Eretz-Israel while his talent is in bloom. Eretz-Israel, presented as Rubin sees it – with its mountains and cities, its gardens and valleys, its old people and women, its Jews and Arabs, its donkeys and goats, its stones and plants, joined in unexpected combinations on one small square of canvas – looks like the legend of Eretz-Israel.”

But it’s Rubin’s art of Tel Aviv that provides “a visual documentation” of a strip of land transformed from sand dunes to city,” explains Carmela. “When I show groups around the museum, I talk less about the theories of art and more on that thin line where art meets and reflects life so that when visitors leave the museum, they will feel they have touched the soul of Tel Aviv. After all,” asserts Carmela, “art is long, human life short; Rubin is dead, but his art is alive and tells a story for future generations.”

The narrative of a city emerging out of sand dunes is poignantly portrayed in the two paintings Carmela shows this writer. In Self Portrait with a Flower, painted in 1922, the young artist with black curly hair stands proudly in front of the barren yellow sand dunes from which the city of Tel Aviv is still to arise. There are three small homes and the Mediterranean coast is seen in the background. Rubin is holding in his left hand a vase with a white lily symbolizing fertility and in his right, his paint brushes. “The painting is a commitment to the future; both hands visually express the promise of the artist to impact upon the barren landscape of Tel Aviv – through his personal life and through his art.”

He succeeds in both.

In Les Fiancées, painted seven years later in 1929, the artist appears – still with his paint brushes in his left hand – but now, seated on his right is no longer a vase of with a lily but his beautiful bride-to-be. They appear regal in dress and demeanor on a balcony overlooking an established city; conspicuously absent are the barren sand dunes. A small plane is seen flying over the Mediterranean, symbolizing modernity and civilization. Clearly, the personal life of the artist and the development of Tel Aviv have merged and matured – the fruition of the idealism that embodied the earlier 1922 painting.

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Reuven Rubin’s self-portrait and fiancé with Jaffa in the background. ‘Les Fiancées’ (1929)

These paintings reflect Rubin fulfilling the Zionist dream and when the artist’s work was exhibited in New York and bought by Jews in the 1920s, “It was bringing a visual image of Jewish enterprise in Palestine to a Diaspora who had little idea of what was happening here,” asserts Carmela. “Rubin’s work was performing a pivotal role. If the content of his paintings portrayed Jews physically planting seeds and cultivating the land, the ideological impact of his work was achieving precisely the same result in the mindset and perceptions of Jews abroad.”

What Bialik had achieved in literature, Ruben set out to enhance and enrich through art.

The Rubin Museum is on three floors, where apart from the works of the artist and his splendidly preserved studio on the top floor, the second floor presents a pictorial lifeline in photos of the artist. There are also rooms allocated to temporary exhibitions unrelated to Rubin. On the day of this writers visit, on exhibit were photographs of the different architectural styles prevalent in Israel.

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The Rubin Museum on Bialik Street. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Cultural Cauldron

I leave the Rubin Museum and walk to Kikar Bialik (Bialik Square) which is encircled by architectural diversity – the former Tel Aviv City Hall, the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and Library, the Bauhaus Museum, (sponsored by Ron Lauder, displaying Bauhaus-designed furniture, graphics, lamps, and glass and ceramic-ware by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Christian Bell, Willhelm Wagenfeld and others) and the Jewel in the Crown, the Bialik House Museum.

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Dining room at the Bialik House. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Ayelet Bitan Shlonsky is the curator of the Bialik House Museum and manager of the Bialik Center, which includes running eight major “happenings” a year, notably in mid-summer, the annual White Night celebrations that attracted thousands to the square, as it does each year when local Tel Aviv musicians entertain till the early hours of the morning. “The concerts in the square are free and we celebrate Tel Aviv’s birthday each year with a different theme or genre of music from all over the world. Not only are we establishing Bialik Street as the city’s center for culture and history but also as a place for music and fun.”

Standing in the middle of the square, Ayelet points out the buildings in Bialik Street and explains the variety of architectural styles, notably Neo-classic, eclectic and Bauhaus.  “In one short road,” she says, “we have it all – the phases and faces of Tel Aviv architecture. It’s all staring at us!”

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On Tel Aviv’s enriching Bialik Street, architecture ranges wildly from eclectic to Bauhaus.

Entering Bialik’s house is like opening a treasure trove. The eye feasts on a kaleidoscope of diverse designs and colors. The architect, Yosef Minor, a disciple of the Eretz-Israel school, integrated European and Arab architecture, and Bialik’s house is an outstanding example of a merger of contrasting styles. “This pleased Bialik,” explains Ayelet, “who preferred not to simply transplant western culture as the Bauhaus architects would do a decade later but rather integrate western concepts with the east.”

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The ambiance of the orient with its arches and columns beatify every corner of Bialik’s home.

Despite the influence of the Orient with its arches and columns that beautify every corner of the house, the architect does not allow one to ever doubt that the house was built for one who was revered as one of the main spokesmen of the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community of Palestine). The hearth and pillars on the reception floor are covered in tiles decorated with Jewish themes, the products of the Bezalel workshop in Jerusalem. The hearth depicts the journey of the Ark of the Covenant and the story of the spies Moses sent to scout the land, while the pillars are illustrated with the twelve tribes and the months of the Hebrew calendar. And if this was not enough, a further element underlines the connection between Jewish history and Zionist belief: On one side of the pillar appears a replica of the Roman coin Judea Capta and on the other, a coin of captured Judea freed from chains with a caption reading: “Judea liberated”. This theme of Jewish courage and revival are at the core of Bialik’s philosophy.

In 1903 Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg) sent a firsthand report to Bialik on the Kishinev pogrom where Jews were massacred.  Based on Ahad Ha’am’s detailed account of the bloodbath, “A year later,” says Ayelet, “Bialik published his epic masterwork, ‘The City of Slaughter’, a searing condemnation of Jewish passivity.”

… the heirs

Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,

Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees!

The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!

Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,

So sanctified My name!

It was the flight of mice they fled,

The scurrying of roaches was their flight;

They died like dogs, and they were dead!

The Kishinev pogrom was instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave for Palestine and became a rallying point for early Zionists.

It is said that Bialik’s onslaught on Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitic violence,” says Ayellet, “inspired the idea of founding Jewish self-defense groups in Russia and later the Haganah in Palestine. You can see why Bialik was so important on so many levels.”

In 1922, Ahad Ha’am, now himself an established philosopher and writer and resident of Tel Aviv, attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for Bialik’s house.”

Bialik’s original ‘The City of Slaughter’ is housed in the museum.

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Exquisite tiles on exhibit at the former City Hall on Bialik Street (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

City Hall

Across the square from the Bialik Museum is Beit Hair – Hebrew for ‘Town Hall’. The writer’s guide is Ruthie Amoma an instructor at the Bialik Center. Beit Ha’ir is both a museum and a cultural center. Here visitors will find a permanent exhibition focusing on the life and work of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, alongside a photo exhibition that sets out to reflect and debate different aspects of the city’s history. Entitled ‘Revealing the Hidden City’, Ruthie explains that “the idea was to tell the story of Tel Aviv not from the writings and studies of historians but from the pictures and interviews of the residents of Tel Aviv. We set out to not only record what is known but to explore that which was unknown, hence the title of the exhibition.”

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Mayor With A Mission. Meir Dizengoff’s office in City Hall on Bialik Street. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Who better to tell the story than the people themselves?

“An appeal went out to Tel Avivians,” continues Ruthie, “to submit photographs and to be interviewed. We anticipated receiving from some 3000 residents, which would have been sufficient to open the museum. But we were not banking on the enthusiasm of the residents of Tel Aviv. We received a staggering 28,000 photographs leading to new insights on the history of Tel Aviv!”

It is this enthusiasm that so characterizes the personality of Tel Aviv today.

The magnitude of the transition from the sand dunes of 1909 to the city of the 1930s is brought home when Ruthie guides me to Mayor Dizengoff’s majestic office that overlooks Bialik Square. Hung upon the wall behind the solid desk of Tel Aviv’s first mayor is a giant size original 1930s plan of the city, depicting in detail the spread and sizes of land ownership. Some of these lots would have been owned by those very founding families that participated in the beach lottery on the sand dunes in 1909 and seen in the iconic photograph, also in his office.

Clearly, if Tel Aviv of the 1930s was a ‘City on the Move’, it is even more so today, testifying  to the best definition I have heard of Israel’s cultural capital:

A city that wakes up every morning deciding what’s it’s going to be.”

Continuously evolving and redefining itself, Tel Aviv is a smorgasbord of ideas and it’s all captured in one short street called Bialik.

It’s well worth a visit.

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Famous For Fun. Revelers enjoying a ‘White Night’ festivities outside old ‘City Hall’, Bialik Street.

 

 

* Title photo: Bialik Street viewed from the plaza with Bialik’s house on the left. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Mothers With Meaning

Meaningful ties with a sacred mission

By Rolene Marks

Few things in the world are more sacred than the bonds between mothers and daughters.  

This is a bond that is only made even more special with shared experiences.  Now imagine this incredible experience while exploring your heritage and roots as well as growing your special bond as you step back in time and follow in the footsteps of the matriarchs and then get a glimpse into the future as one can do in Israel.

It is with this in mind that Michelle Melamed Cohen who recently passed away from cancer formed Mothers with Meaning.

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The MAD’ing Crowd. A mother and daughter (MaD) proudly experiencing Israel’s enriching history – together.

Mothers with Meaning is an extraordinary organization that aims to grow the bonds between mothers and daughters while giving them the unique experience of forging unbreakable ties with Israel.

So where did this all start?

Melamed Cohen had a vision to create a programme which would create a space for secular women to form a sense of community in Israel.  She felt that the more religious women already had events and structures in place that connected them to Israel and their Jewish roots, so why not create the same for their secular sisters?

And so, Mothers with Meaning was born.

This vibrant not-for-profit was founded with the aim to connect women to their Jewish roots, Israeli history and the Land of Israel. Something great and bigger than them that they could feel a part of. The best way to do this was to create national and local events that would be meaningful, unique and above all create community.  Melamed Cohen believed that connecting hearts and brining Israeli women together through fun and meaningful activities was the best way to grow unity between Israel’s myriad of different cultures.

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Resounding Message. Ask this crowd of mothers and daughters and they will bellow: “We’re MAD about Israel”

It is heartbreaking to note that Melamed Cohen passed away before she would see the organization grow as it has, but she left a tremendous legacy.

Creativity is a great motivator and Melamed Cohen’s enthusiasm and passion for her vision proved infectious. This motivated one of the Israeli members of  Mothers with Meaning member, Orly Tesler, to come up with an idea that could include future generations. And so, the Batmitzvah programme for mothers and daughters was started.

https://www.facebook.com/MADaboutIsrael/videos/325452814524477/?t=10

There are three parts to this programme – the opportunity connects with your daughter, your Judaism and to Israel”, says Tesler. Orly was motivated to include women from abroad. “This is about connecting them to Israel from an earlier age and is totally non-political – it is about their identity as a Jewish woman,” says Tesler

Yehudit Novick agrees, “Going on this mothers and daughters tour was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life – what a privilege to be able to wake up every day with just me and my youngest daughter sharing a hotel room, and then sharing breakfast together. Even though I have been to Israel so many times, we experienced so many activities I have never done before. I loved every moment, from the inspirational and moving talks, to dancing, laughing and even crying together.”

Mothers with Meaning aims to stress the importance of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Over the last couple of years, many tours to Israel have become highly politicised and in the current climate where showing a proud Zionist identity often leads to intimidation and harassment, Mothers with Meaning hope to instill a sense of pride and confidence in identity. The hope is that participants on returning home will become involved in women’s Zionists organisations and  in their communities.

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Reaching New Heights Together. Mothers and daughters on the top of the ancient fortress of Masada in southern Israel’s Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

Some of the young girls who have participated have been so impressed and turned on by what they have seen and experienced  that they are making plans for their futures in Israel. They have expressed hope to either study or join the army!

Throughout the programme, they are encouraged to come out from their comfort zones and enjoy unique and enriching encounters  from training at army bases to meeting with Holocaust survivors.  These unforgettable events have been life-changing and have only enhanced the ties that bind generation to generation.

Everything is about connection – Shabbat at the Kotel, exploring Israel’s future in Tel Aviv, learning the importance of continuity and bearing witness with Holocaust survivors and so much more.

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The Young Ones. An experience that will impact on their lives forever.

Israel is more than simply a country that has conflict with her neighbours. There is a rich tapestry of cultures and history and while some may not be attracted to religious aspects, there is something for everyone.

Michelle Melamed Cohen may not have lived long enough to enjoy the rich fruits of her vision but the gift that she has created will pass down from generation to generation. Mothers with Meaning is transforming lives and building last bonds between moms and their daughters and instilling love for Israel – there is no greater legacy than that.

For more information about Mothers with Meaning visit: https://www.facebook.com/mwmisrael/

 

 

Art On The Move

The man and his art constantly ‘on the move’

An interview with Israel’s celebrated sculptor and experimental artist –  Yaacov Agam –  widely considered the father of Kinetic Art.

His message:  “Words divide us; sight unites us”

By David. E. Kaplan

The finest description I ever heard of Tel Aviv is “A city that wakes up each morning wondering what it’s going to be.”  Like its city – change, vibrancy, uncertainty and promise – are all characteristics that Yaacov Agam’s ‘Fire and Water Fountain” in Tel Aviv’s recently rejuvenated Dizengoff Square celebrates.

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Colourful Character to Colourful Art. Yaacov Agam in front of his ‘Fire & Water Fountain’ in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv.

After decades of public outcry, the iconic site frequently referred to as the “Times Square of Tel Aviv” – finally returned in 2018 to its original glory. Originally constructed in 1986, the kinetic fountain celebrates life, as well as unity-in-diversity, an important feature of Tel Aviv’s ethos, considered one of the most free and tolerant cities in the world.

To learn more of this evolving urban landscape and the man and his art, Lay Of The Land sat down for an exclusive interview with the 90-year-old artist at the new Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in the city of his birth – Rishon LeZion. In the words of the artist, “it is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to art in motion.”

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“We Have A Lift Off”. From above, the Yaacov Agam Museum of Art appears in the process of about to take off. The art has literally “taken off” with the public who are flocking to view in record numbers.

Apart from motion within the artist’s work, there is plenty of motion in the artist himself.  Picking up on my South African accent, the artist revealed, “I went on a travelling exhibition to South Africa in 1977 when Anton Rupert,” the South African billionaire businessman, philanthropist and art collector, “bought a number of my works. As an innovative entrepreneur he was fascinated by the ever-changing nature of my art – that perspective varies from the position you look at it.

Before meeting the artist, I ‘met’ his wife Clilla – without even realising it.

From the moment you step onto the grounds of the 3,200-square-meter Yaacov Agam Museum of Art (YAMA), one is engulfed into the rainbow world of the artist – surrounded by a sculpture garden of twenty multicolored pillars all dedicated to Agam’s late wife, Clilla.  She remains so much part of his life, his world and his art.

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Delightfully Dazzling. Interior to the 3,200-square-meter Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in Rishon LeZion dedicated to the colorful works of the world-renowned kinetic artist. Photo by Sophie Weinstein/OhSoArty.com

Looking every inch an artist with long gray hair under a well-worn hat and a full beard, we sat down for over two hours of animated conversation. Abounding in energy – “I’m off to Paris in a few days’ time” – I came quickly to understand how this diminutive man was a giant in the art world, transforming city landscapes and influencing people’s perspectives.

It was apparent from the answer to my first question that the interview would be as challenging as understanding the man’s art.

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City Of Lights. Further ‘lighting’ up Paris, is Agam’s underwater colourful “Fontaine Monumentale” in the La Defense district, Puteaux, Hauts de Seine.

Where do you live?

“I live on my shoulders. As you can see, I am here now in Israel. Next week I will be in France. I live wherever I am at the moment.”

The answer incapsulated the character of the man, his art and the museum, which had greeted me with twenty multicolored pillars at the entrance, and nine more inside, all changing as you walk by. The artist explains:

Usually, when you see a painting in a museum, you stand in front, you look at it, and then you move on. With my work, you will never see everything. I want people who come to the museum to be able to see the paintings from every angle, so it’s also changing the way you look at art.”

The foremost pioneer of optical-Kinetic art, Agam encourages spectator participation. When I revealed that I received a stiff rebuke when I got too close to a painting in a renowned museum in New York, he replied “that will never happen with here – I want people to physically connect with my art.”

It is little wonder why children love Agam’s art and why the artist honours children by appealing directly to them.

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The Art Of Politics. Israeli artist Yaacov Agam sandwiched between French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the Élysée Palace 2019.

Kinetics for Kids

The “Agam Method” for which the artist was awarded in 1996 the Jan Amos Comenius Medal for the non-verbal visual education of young children by UNESCO, teaches children to identify, analyze, and create with the visual building blocks that make up our world. Together, these building blocks – such as shapes, patterns, directions, and symmetry – form a universal “visual language.” The Agam Method has a long history of classroom implementation, research, and refinement dating back to the 1980s. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel led experimental studies to determine its impact on young children’s learning. Data from 1990 through to 2007 indicate that children who engaged with the method, improved significantly in early geometry and visual-spatial skills, including shape identification and deconstruction, visual acuity, and mental rotation of objects. Children also demonstrated significantly higher problem-solving and school readiness skills, particularly in the areas of writing and math.

Do you have any grandchildren?” Agam asks.

Two,” I reply.

On happily hearing that are both aged in months rather than in years, he asks, “If I gave them a pencil, what do think they will do with it.”

All my answers wrong, Agam demonstrates grabbing a pencil and thrusting up and down making points on the table.

Points is the most primary act of creation and is born out in the first drawings found in prehistoric caves.”

What about the line?” I ask.

Now you are talking evolution – that came much later; could be 1000 years later or even 10,000 years. We do not know. The line is the most significant advancement in the history of evolution.”

Following my rudimentary lesson in the history of art, we jump many millennia forward to Dizengoff Square 2018.

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Enriching Encounter. An animated 90-year-old Agam (centre) welcomes and addresses in the Museum’s auditorium in May 2019, a group of former South Africans living in Israel. (Courtesy TELFED)

 

Carousal of Color

So what is Agam’s response to the major transformation of Dizengoff Square which in the 1930s was the fashionable hub of the city but as the years passed, became seedy? Many blamed it on the square’s elevation above the street below and so what gave the Hebrew slang verb “l’hizdangef” (“to Dizengoff”), coined to describe strolling down the Tel Aviv’s iconic north-south artery, by the 1980s exposed not only a disconnect from vehicular traffic, but a disconnect from people.

Reinstalled back to street level, with traffic proceeding around rather than beneath, Tel Aviv center is again living up to its image of change.

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Carousal of Colour. The famed Artist Yaacov Agam ‘Fire & Water Fountain’ in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square. Photo by Linneah Anders

What did you aim to express with your fountain at the very epicenter of Tel Aviv?

“Firstly, the buildings surrounding the square are German – designed by architects fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s – and I wanted to brand the square distinctly Israeli with vibrant colours expressing life to contrast with the stark utilitarianism of the Bauhaus architecture. This I achieve with over 1000 colors visible through the water!”

Noting my disbelief,  he said: “Come with me now; I’ll show you!”

Like his art, there was something ‘kinetic’ about this 90-year-old!

The fountain combines fire and water – two contrasting elements. Is this not unusual?

“More than unusual; its unique No other artist in the world has combined water and fire together.  It was once said in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) during a tough debate:

If Agam can make fire and water, what’s the problem?”

Agam explains how the fountain comprises several big jagged wheels – coloured geometric shapes, which are perceived as different images from different angles. A technological mechanism automatically activates at different times of the day and night that turns the wheels on their hinges, shooting fire and water upwards accompanied to music.

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Shifting Imagery. Moving from side to side, both image and colour transform profoundly.

The artist’s vision is for people across the globe to be able to activate the fountain through an app. “I don’t want it simply like before; we have to move forward with technology – combining science and art making it globally accessible.”

Why is global interest so important to you?

“Because the fountain’s message is universal. I believe it provides Dizengoff with gravitas; the miracle of fire and water with over 1000 colours, ‘reflects’ diversity. The fountain sends a message to the people of the world that although we are different, we are one.”

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Riveting Revelations. Artist Yaacov Agam (right) and the writer, David Kaplan at the Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion.

Over the Rainbow

What influence did your father – a rabbi – have on your perspective on life and your art?

“My father was an orthodox rabbi and a Kabbalist; I am a visual rabbi and every work of mine is a visual prayer.

Is this why symbols of the bible like the rainbow are integral in your art?

“After the flood, God promised Noah never to destroy the earth again, and placed the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that covenant. It is a visual prayer of peace, reminding that everyone is a party to the covenant to protect our environment.”

Showing me a painting of a rainbow, Agam continued:

“The rainbow is one of the loveliest sights in God’s creation as the colours stand out individually and yet merge with the colour next to it reflecting unity in diversity.”

You seem to suggest that the visual trumps words in our understanding of reality?

“If the message of the rainbow was only in words, only those who understood the language would understand – some would understand, others would not. Words divide us, sight unites us. Children are born into a world of seeing before speaking. When they start to talk, that introduces separation and disunity. Seeing is so important that when God wanted us to understand him, he provided visions and so when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, it is written that the People of Israel “SEE” not only hear the word of God.”

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Agam’s Wife. From the moment visitors step onto the grounds of the Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion they are engulfed into the rainbow world of the artist as they are ‘greeted’ by ‘The Pillars of Clilla,’ named after his late wife. These columns transport visitors into the mind of Agam and lead you into the museum’s central space, which boasts his ‘panorAgam’ work, originally displayed on the bow at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1981.

Is it the same with the vision of the rainbow – the need to SEE rather than read of God’s communication with man?

“Yes; following the flood, it is written in Genesis that whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, “I will SEE it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” The problem today is that people do not know how to see; they rely too much on language to understand – and the soul of reality alludes them.”

Through The  Prism Of Prison

While Agam trained at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem before moving to Zurich, Switzerland in 1949 where he continued his education at the Kunstgewerbe Schule, he cites the unexpected and unplanned as no less instructive in his education as an artist.

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The Artist And His Art. The artist explaining a work at the museum in Rishon Lezion, the city he was born in 1928.

Who would have thought that such education included prison?

“Yes, I was imprisoned by the British in Latrun, and who would join me there in 1946 was Moshe Sharett who would later become Israel’s second Prime Minister. He taught me Hebrew and grammar and he told me over and over that while there is a past and a future, there is no present in Jewish thinking. The present is fleeting; gone forever in a flash. Through our discussions, I formulated a perspective of time that is at the core of my art that is mobile, in a state of constant change; nothing is static. I met all the great artists at the time – Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp – but they were stuck in the past, and the past does not exist, I prefer to be in the state of becoming, like the true meaning of Shabbat (Sabbath) – resting to prepare for the coming week.”

I interrupt and suggest that Marcel Duchamp’s famous Nude Descending a Staircase (no 2) painted in 1912, is not static, that it captures the movement of a figure in descent.

So why, one hundred years later, is she still descending the stairs?”

I had no answer!

“Like Abraham leaving his father to create a nation,” Agam too feels he has “created something new; a new way of thinking different to the other artists,” a far cry from the early 1950s then with his young wife in Paris “we literally starved and had to go to the Salvation Army for food.” In 1953, he had his first one-man show and sold his first panting to the famous surrealist artist Max Ernst.

When Robert Lebel (1901–1986), the famous French art critic and writer, “saw my work, he said, “We have a new prophet.”

He was not wrong.

Victor Vasarely, the Hungarian-French artist, widely accepted as a “grandfather” and leader of the op art movement, “told me you have no right make static work. Young artists, particularly from South America were attracted to my style and started to imitate me.”

In time, Agam’s art would attract the attention of President Pompidou of France. “When he was the Prime Minister, he went to see my show. I later received a call from the Secretary General of Artistic Creation who asked me, “What did you do to our PM. He went back and forward in front of your painting; he could not understand it but was fascinated.”

Later, when he became President, “he wanted a sculpture in his office and asked for a presentation of modern sculptures without the names of the artists.

“I will decide,” he said.

He chose mine because he could move it.” This led to a commission by the President of a moving salon environment at the Élysée Palace in 1972, where the environment shifted according to the viewer’s position. Enjoying tea with President Pompidou, “He revealed to me that he guided Queen Elizabeth through the salon and that she said she loved it.”

Asked to make a work commemorating the peacemaking efforts of the president of Egypt, Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Agam created in 1978 a mesmerising Star of Peace. A kinetic sculpture, it appears from one direction to be the five-pointed star of Islam, from another, the six-pointed Star of David, and from a third – a new star formed from their fusion.

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Holocaust Memorial – New Orleans A slow walk-around of Yaacov Agam’s Holocaust Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana, captures in an artistic visual prayer the memory of the Six Million Jews of Europe and those millions of other victims murdered by the Nazis from 1933-1945.The sculpture is composed of nine panels, each with different designs. As you view the sculpture from different angles, the designs on the panels meld to form distinct images. Ten images come into view as you walk around the panels.

Other public projects include a 1987 memorial at the Western Wall for the victims of the Holocaust, and the world’s largest menorah: a 32-foot, 4000-pound structure at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan and based on the original menorah in Jerusalem’s Holly Temple, “not the fake version you see on the Arch of Titus in Rome.”

Concluding the interview, I ask:

Is there any one of your work you prize most?

“It’s impossible. My art is about movement and you can’t have all movement in one work of art. It’s like prayers in Judaism; there is no one prayer but many.”

Fair eneough; is there at least one artist that influenced you the most?

“Yes, the Almighty!”

 

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A Light Unto The People. An illuminated Agam Museum in Rishon Lezion at night.

To learn more about the Agam Museum of Art visit:

https://en.yama.co.il/

 

 

* Title Picture credit: Reuven Castro

 

Out Of This World

The week that was Eurovision in Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Shifting from the salon sofa and watching the buildup to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition on TV to actually immersing oneself in the swelling  crowds at the Eurovillage in  Tel Aviv’s beach front was an eye-popping opener or as one says in Hebrew:

Ein milim” – “no words”.

For a press that usually obsesses with covering Israel in a negative light, what a refreshing change:

Britain’s The Independent ran with a headline reading:

This year’s Eurovision was one of the best in recent memory,” praising the broadcasts “general splendor” and calling it “an incredible show.”

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Stunning & Spectacular. An extravaganza of sound, sights and light at the Eurovision final in Tel Aviv.

CNN called the grand final “a showpiece that would have disappointed few Eurovision fans.

The New York Times, which only recently published a vile antisemitic cartoon anchored on Israeli politics, said the show had “enough glitz, plumes of fire and special effects to invigorate even the blandest Europop.”

Even the BBC was captivated by the special atmosphere. Its newsreader Graham Norton during his live commentary  said of the 2019 rendition of Israel’s 40th anniversary of “Hallelujah”  by Gali Atari accompanied by previous top Eurovision contestants – Conchita Wurst, Måns Zelmerlöw, Eleni Foureira and Verka Serduchka:

What a real treat for Eurovision fans… a really special moment. A gorgeous moment.”

The BBC was spot on – it was a “gorgeous moment”. However, the entire week was a compilation of “gorgeous moments.”

Off course, there were still those who could not resist ‘aiming’ their pens in describing Eurovision in Israel as  “Tel Aviv caught between partying and politics” but so be it:

The event lived up to its expectations; the theme of Israel’s Eurovision was “Dare To Dream”,  a theme espoused by Israel’s founding father Theodore Hertzel, who defied the naysayers over 120 years earlier with “If you will it, it is no dream.”

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Alive & Electrifying. The writer was amongst the 100,000 plus in this aerial view of the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv during the second semifinals of the Eurovision song contest on May 16, 2019 with Jaffa in the background. (Courtesy Tel Aviv Municipality)

The results were there for all to celebrate as the eyes of the world – some 200 million viewers – were on Israel and seeing:

How you can build a country in 71 years and that despite the immense challenges, despite being surrounded by enemies desiring our extinction, despite a biased  global media in perpetual assault mode against the Jewish state, saw the curtain rise on a modern, fun-loving, exciting, enterprising, entrepreneurial and hi-tech behemoth that can also show the world:

How to party

And party Israel did.

Tel Aviv lived up to its reputation of the “City That never Sleeps” or as I like to describe it, “as the city that wakes up every morning  and decides what’s its going to be”.

Yes, the people of the “Start-Up Nation” know how to “work hard” but they also know how to “play hard” and  the multitude of visitors from abroad were swept away by the euphoric atmosphere.

Three Swiss visitors I spoke to, agreed, “The atmosphere here is special; you will never see anything like this in SwitzerlandEurovision or no Eurovision

A twentysomething from Germany remarked, “It’s funny; I’ve been here a week and even with the time change, Europe is fast asleep when you guys are still partying.”

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Sea’ing Is Believing. Adjacent to the sea, ecstatic fans in the fans zone by the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 18, 2019.REUTERS/ Corinna Kern

Euphoria in Eurovillage

The lingua franca of the people standing around me  near the main stage at the Eurovillage was a cross of European languages and many of them were holding aloft their country’s flags.  Facing me were the flags of Romania, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Looking back, all I could see was a sea of people, gyrating to the music of an Abba Revival band from Sweden. The four singers down to their dress looked like Abba and if you closed your eyes, you could be back in the seventies – they sounded exactly like Abba.

Most the people around me were probably not even born when Abba won with Waterloo in 1974, but tonight was Tel Aviv’s “Waterloo” as it won in victoriously emblazoning to the world, if you want to know us, come and see Israel for yourself.

Clearly, the thousands of overseas visitors were happy they did.

Party Poopers

BDS failed abysmally in sabotaging the event. Despite their appeals for countries to boycott – notably by their flagbearer, Roger Waters – not one European country pulled out. Noted for flying a balloon of a giant pig with a Star of David at his concerts and then denying “I’m NOT an anti-Semite”, Ranting Roger made a last ditch-11th hour incoherent rant on social media following an appeal “from my friend Omar Barghouti”  for contestants to boycott Tel Aviv. A co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Barghouti does not believe in a two-state solution as he believes that the “creation of a Jewish state was a crime” and calls to restore the name of “Palestine” for the entire area from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

Waters’ appeal met on deaf ears.

Where once people listed to his music, today, few were interested in hearing what he had to say.

Even the pro-Palestinian Icelandic ‘Hatari’ participated albeit displaying Palestinian flags. They received no thanks for doing so!

The Iceland band’s gesture cut no ice with BDS who wrote on its Twitter account:

Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”

At a press conference, Hatari offered a purely positive message saying, “We need to unite and remember to love – hate  on the rise in Europe.”

Yes, that hate is manifesting itself in the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Europe since WWII.

And happy to join that hate fest  are Fatah and the  Palestinian Authority (PA).

During the week leading up to the final of the Eurovision, Fatah and the PA campaigned vigorously and visually for countries to boycott  Tel Aviv as reflected in its cartoons published daily linking Israeli music to violence – including the visual depiction of the common PA libel that “Israel intentionally kills civilians”.

Fatah posted the cartoon below on Facebook, showing an Israeli soldier shooting at Palestinians in Gaza. Musical notes are flowing from the “Eurovision” but turn into an ammunition belt for the soldier’s machine gun.

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In a second cartoon posted by Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dressed up as Israeli singer Netta Barzilai who won last year’s Eurovision and brought the competition to Israel. Netanyahu is holding a missile in each hand:

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Missiles? What the PA and Fatah neglects to advise its gullible readership is that it was the Palestinians in Gaza that only two weeks earlier had launched nearly 700 missiles at southern Israel, killing four  Israeli civilians, injuring many and causing severe structural damage to property, including moving motor vehicles.

Never Stop Dreaming

Israel’s message to the world was so poignantly encapsulated by the Shalva Band. Shalva (The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities) is a registered non-profit organization that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families in Israel. The eight-piece band, which includes Israelis with blindness, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities, called on spectators “to never stop dreaming.” The band performed a rendition of A Million Dreams from the film The Greatest Showman.

The band made it to the finals  of The Rising Star, the local Israeli contest that determines who represents the country at the Eurovision. Predicted to win by judges and audience members, they dropped out because performing at Eurovision would have necessitated violating the Sabbath in order to participate in the Saturday night final broadcast.

At a press conference they revealed that they were living out their dream.

“When we first started playing together people wouldn’t listen to us, they would just leave the room,” said Band director Shai Ben-Shushan. “We worked hard, and we became better and better, and we believed in ourselves. After a lot of hard work, we got to Hakochav Haba (The Rising Star) – and in the beginning we didn’t believe that we were good enough to make it to the end.”

The Israeli public thought they did.

“We’ve made a huge change in Israeli society,” he said. “Today, when we walk in the street, the Israeli people want to embrace us – not because we’re a gimmick, but because we’re good at what we do.”

If only the PAHamas and BDS  would understand this message

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“I’m Not Your Toy”. Championing diversity, Eurovision 2018 winner Netta Barzilai performs at the Eurovision semifinal in Tel Aviv.

Wonder Woman On Wonder City

A quick lesson in “three minutes” about life in Tel Aviv was revealed in the back of a taxi by Gal Gadot, Israel’s famed star from Wonder Woman with taxi driver, famed Israeli comedian Yuval Semo.

“Three minutes,” says the Hollywood superstar it took for  Netta Barzilai in 2018 to bring the Eurovision to Israel with her winning entry “Toy”; “three minutes,’ she joked, “is the average an Israeli waits before getting personal – a little too personal,” and “Three minutes to understand the essence of Tel Aviv – Inspiration, innovation, big ideas and open arms. Come as you are, bring who you like, love what you do, day or night, daring and caring, outgoing and including everyone under one hot sun.”

At the end of the week – All Said And Sung – the real winner of Eurovision 2019 was – ISRAEL!

As Israel’s message in its 1979 Eurovision win: “Hallelujah