Posted by Orit Arfa
I tried not to trip as I took a stroll through Israel’s first ever Gap clothing store at Jerusalem’s Mamilla outdoor mall and spoke with a few shoppers. I covered the mall’s opening in May 2007, and it seems like the Jewish capital’s most luxurious retail center has come into its own, with its stretch of cafes and shops bustling with activity along the walls of the Old City. What recession?
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September 29, 2009 | 5:04 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Over at the always useful ejewishphilanthropy.com, Prof. Steven Windmueller posts a major thought piece on the revolution occurring in Jewish organizational life today. I gobbled up every insight, as I see the truth of them play out in stories I hear over and over throughout the city. Windmueller calls the piece, “Leading the New Normal,” and begins with an assertion that is no overstatement:
We are experiencing the greatest institutional crisis since the 1930s. What is particularly unique to this current situation involves its level of complexity – social structures of all types must contend with issues of such magnitude, that normal decision-making practices seem inadequate and even problematic. The degree of uncertainty seems so incredibly profound. We have entered into uncharted territory with respect to the leadership challenges before us. In this context, being told to “think outside of the box” may no longer have credence, as the box itself seems to be a moving target!
He goes on to identify six key characteristics of our troubled times:
Complexity is the Name of the Game: In confronting this current environment, leaders are being introduced to a whole new set of operational challenges. Leading in an environment of chaos and uncertainty and managing in a period of conflict and confusion reflect the depth and scope of this economic dislocation. “This too will shall pass” may no longer be the appropriate leadership mantra. Rather, we are likely to embrace as our core principle: “anything but remaining here.” This could likely serve as the emerging new leadership message. Many of the institutional “givens” are no longer viable, creating multiple dilemmas as leaders seek to address new ways to manage personnel, operate programs, and engage constituencies. In the end, all options are now on the table, leaving little room for preserving a sense of stability and a framework for order. In the environment of the new-normal, leaders will need to demonstrate greater accountability, openness, and visibility. As business consultant David Wee suggests, “We need to compete by running faster, working harder or smarter than others in the marketplace…” Fairness and equity, he suggests, must also be understood as traits leaders must demonstrate in this new constellation.
Experimentation: Leaders in this first decade of the 21st century are being asked to re-invent their institutions so that they might operate in a different work paradigm. What will institutions look like, and how will they operate in this fluid and uncertain environment? For leaders then, the test will be to find a pathway through this maze of complexity. Yet, leadership theory suggests that even in crisis settings, new opportunities abound, challenging leaders to take risks and to explore new possibilities that would never have been considered in more “normal” times. The art of experiencing failure on the road to discovering new operational models may emerge as the norm.
Is Anything Sacred? Leaders were always told to protect “the core” of their enterprise; now businesses and non-profits are no longer even certain of what to define or protect as “sacred” or special to their operation. This creates in turn a situation in which everything is “in-play,” adding yet another dimension of uncertainty and drama to the traditional operational principles of governance and management. Meg Whitman, former Executive Director of eBay, proposes the following: “Leadership entails painting a vision of where you want to go, establishing priorities for getting there, building the right team, aligning the organization, and holding people accountable for results. It also requires an ability to communicate effectively so that everyone is on the same page. In addition, effective leaders create cultures where mistakes are acceptable.” The sacred now is about the process and the performers, and no longer the program!
Values as Core: While institutional structures and programs undergo radical, and in some cases, rapid change, leaders are told to return to the basics. In this context, institutions, whether out of desperation or out of conviction, are jettisoning many of their basic programs. Maintenance of core institutional goals and underlying values remains a primary leadership challenge. In this context, organizational leaders will need to both articulate and embody these values. Consultant Valerie Dennis suggests that beyond the realm of public responsibility, values-driven leadership must be seen as an essential feature of successful institutions. It not only serves as a competitive advantage to the external market but as a means to attract key lay leaders and quality professionals who demand more in the new-normal. Top talent wants to be identified with institutions whose decisions and actions are shaped by a defined value system and whose values are compatible with their own. “It assists in retention, job security, and building longer-term intellectual capital within an organization.”
Power Issues: In the context of such rapid and complete transformation, institutional leaders report increased levels of conflict and tension over sharing of power and access to the decision-making access. This power surge can be seen in a number of different arenas, as boards seek to recast their roles and middle-management personnel argue for greater control over outcomes. Leaders are challenged both to be more transparent as they confront the difficult and painful options that may involve downsizing of personnel or closing of facilities or ending programs and to find their voice in asserting their vision and defining the direction for institutional change. In the end, much of what is playing out is centered on failed leadership What economists have learned is that companies can be easily derailed by poor leadership practices, the wrong management team, unclear values, etc… Just as with the business sector, the non-profit world is under increasing pressure to determine the new-normal and in turn, to build a sustainable foundation for the future. In the minds of many analysts, the rediscovery of the creative art of leading reflects the “new thing” needed to move organizations forward.
Checking-In: Leaders in this new environment report a heightened attention on their part to spending more time “hand-holding” key stakeholders, staff, and board persons. In such a destabilizing environment, one of the core functions facing leaders involves communication and engagement with these core constituencies. Helping people deal with confusion, offering input on possible outcomes and scenarios, and clarifying facts, all become essential tasks for organizational leaders. In dysfunctional work settings, one often hears about “performance malaise” where workers operate in an environment of “just getting by” or defining their current position as merely serving as a spring board for a future promotion. According to many management experts, one of the essential tasks of effective leadership involves its ability to read the depth of uncertainty and the levels of disconnect if they are to be effective and responsive to key audiences and to offer to those feeling most vulnerable a context for re-engagement. Rekindling the passion maybe one of leadership’s greatest challenges in the new-normal!
What’s missing are concrete examples of the shake-ups, conflicts and sweeping changes that these times have wrought, but our pages are filled with such stories, from the locl Jewish Federation’s search fo a game-changing leader to the “moving on” of Daniel Sokatch from San Francisco to New Israel Fund to the Madoff swindle that sucked so much money out of the system, to the state of affairs at Windmueller’s university itself... not to mention that sea-change taking place in Jewish journalism.
Yes, big changes are afoot and, personally, if you asked me, long-overdue.
Read the whole piece here.
September 29, 2009 | 4:10 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
David Suissa has a response to Rabbi Dan Moscowitz’s High Holiday sermon, “Shame on the Jews.”
Please, Rabbis, Stop Telling Us It’s Bad to Steal
By David Suissa
When I hear rabbis get up and sermonize about the importance of not stealing money, I cringe.
When I hear them sermonize about the imperative of not cheating in life, I yawn.
When I hear them talk about collective Jewish shame from the unethical acts of Jews, my eyes glaze over.
And when I hear them tell me it’s “not easy” for them to talk about all this stuff, I don’t believe them.
I mean, please.
DON’T STEAL MONEY? BE ETHICAL? It takes courage to say that?
Don’t get me wrong. Stealing and cheating are terrible. Jews who steal and cheat are criminals. They are a disgrace and a shanda to all of us. I get it.
But is that all a rabbi can come up with?
Rabbis are supposed to push and challenge and surprise us—not bore us with the obvious.
Their job is to use the law not to bludgeon us, but to inspire us.
Of course, they need to remind us of the importance of leading an ethical life.
But why stop there? Why not go deeper? Why not go into the soul of the mitzvah?
For example, stealing and cheating are not just about money—they’re also about human relationships.
When you bore someone—either by being dull or pompous or self-righteous—you are stealing a piece of their time.
When you use selective facts to sell your point, you are cheating.
When you humiliate someone, you are robbing them of their dignity.
When you gossip or spread rumors about someone, you are killing a part of their name. When you are late for an appointment, when you break a promise, when you’re not truthful, one way or another, you are stealing and cheating.
We steal and cheat in a million little ways, and we do it every day. Sure, these daily steals and cheats are not as dramatic as a billion-dollar shanda on the evening news, but they’re just as dangerous to the cohesion of our families and communities. They corrode our relationships and leave lasting scars.
Rabbis who focus on big money shandas think that they’re challenging us. They’re not. They’re letting us off the hook. We hear them and we think, “Yes, this sucks. But I pay my taxes and I don’t steal, so this doesn’t really apply to me. Now I can go back to whining about a shanda this is for the Jews.”
The deeper ethical crisis in our communities is in the personal stuff—the stuff that’s hard to see. It’s in the way we treat each other while the cameras are not rolling.
The real shame is in the rabbis who haven’t yet figured this out.
September 29, 2009 | 2:25 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
What lessons are still to be learned from a war Israel fought 36 years ago today?
As Haaretz.com reported, Israel marked on Tuesday the 36th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, one of the most costly and traumatic conflicts in the country’s history.
At a state ceremony at Israel’s national cemetery on Mount Herzl, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Labor) spoke of the bravery of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers who repelled the assault.
“Whoever fought in the tough battles in the [Suez] Canal and the Golan Heights is well aware that it was not the wisdom of leaders but the heroism of warriors in the battlefields that saved the State of Israel,” he said.
A coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria launched the war in a surprise attack on the Jewish holiday in 1973.
More than 2,600 Israelis were killed in the hostilities, which had far-reaching effects on Israel and the entire Middle East.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also attended the ceremony, during which a cantor recited the Hebrew prayer of mourning El Malei Rachamim.
Vilnai added: “The Yom Kippur War is going further and further away… [but] the impression the war left on the state and on the army’s preparedness is very deep.”
The military and political lessons are by now fairly straightforward, as this article makes clear:
What did Israel get out of the Yom Kippur War?
Despite the initial successes of the Egyptian and Syrian forces, the war proved once again how effective the Israeli military could be. After the initial set-backs, the war served as a huge morale boost to Israelis. Despite a co-ordinated attack on two fronts, Israel had survived and had pushed back the nations that had initially broken through Israel’s defences.
Though the Americans provided the Israeli military with weaponry, they also provided Israel with something far more important – intelligence. Documents relating to the American spy-plane, the ‘SR-71 Blackbird’, show that the Israelis knew where major concentrations of Arab forces were as they were supplied with this information as a result of a SR-71 flying over the war zone. With such knowledge, the Israelis knew where to deploy their forces for maximum effect. What appeared to be intuitive devastating counter-attacks by the Israelis, were based on very detailed information gained from American intelligence. Basically, the Israelis knew where their enemy was and could co-ordinate an attack accordingly.
The war also served as a salutary lesson to the Arab nations that surrounded Israel in that initial victories had to be built on. The failure of the Egyptian and Syrian forces to defeat Israel pushed Sadat towards adopting a diplomatic approach. It also encouraged some Palestinians to more extreme actions. On the diplomatic front, the Camp David talks took place while the actions of the PLO became more violent.
Why didn’t the Arab nations build on their initial successes?
Clearly, the use of intelligence massively benefited the Israelis. However, as in 1948, the Arab nations did not fight as one unit. Their command structure was not unified and each fighting unit (in the Sinai and the Golan Heights) acted as individual units. With up to nine different nationalities involved on the Arab side, mere co-ordination would have been extremely difficult.
Secondly, the Israelis had to work to one simple equation: if they lost, the state of Israel would cease to exist. Therefore, for Israel it was a fight to the finish – literally “death or glory”. If the various Arab nations lost, they could survive for another day.
Those lessons and lasting effects of the Yom Kippur War are well-reviewed in a brilliant column by Yossi Klein Halevi, called, “War and Atonement,” written in 2003 on the 30th anniversary of the war:
For 30 years, Israel has been obsessed with the political and strategic consequences of the Yom Kippur War, when the nation learned the limits of power and the treachery of self-confidence — and learned, too, how the heroism of ordinary soldiers could compensate for the incompetence of their leaders.
Each of those lessons has had profound consequences for the Israeli soul. But Israel has yet to fully understand the spiritual effects of the war that began on the Day of Atonement.
Historian Michael Oren has called the Yom Kippur War the moment when Effi Eitam started, and Yossi Beilin stopped, putting on tefillin. Eitam, a former secular kibbutznik and now head of the National Religious Party, emerged from the war convinced that only a divine miracle had saved the Jewish state and that ultimately there was no one to depend on but God.
Beilin, by contrast, had abandoned his secular upbringing and, as a teenager, become an observant Jew. Like Eitam, he emerged from the war convinced that all of Israel’s political and military leaders had failed. But Beilin went one step further: He determined that God had failed, too.
Oren’s formulation is a reminder that the political decisions taken after 1973 by Eitam and Beilin and so many other Israelis on the Right and the Left were, in fact, responses to the spiritual shattering that took place in that war.
Tellingly, both Gush Emunim and Peace Now were founded not after the Six Day War but only after Yom Kippur 1973. Though both movements presented themselves as optimistic, they were driven more by the apocalyptic dread of 1973 than by the utopian dreams of 1967.
In the first chaotic days of the Yom Kippur War, Israel glimpsed its own mortality. By reopening the question of Israel’s permanence, Yom Kippur returned Israelis, in some sense, to the anxiety of pre-state Jewish existence.
Israelis had experienced that uncertainty in the weeks before the Six Day War, when trenches were dug in public parks as potential mass graves. But the extraordinary victory of 1967 seemed to still any doubts about Israel’s ability to survive in the Middle East.
Despite the daunting security challenges that confronted Israel after the Six Day War — the globalization of PLO terrorism and the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal — Israelis experienced an unprecedented sense of invulnerability. The Arabs could still threaten the lives of individual Jews, but they couldn’t threaten the life of the Jewish state.
Even as we lost faith in the imminence of peace, which many Israelis naively believed would happen during the summer of 1967, the question of survival that had obsessed the Jews at least since the destruction of the Second Temple had apparently been resolved.
In 1973, I was a student at the Hebrew University overseas program. That Yom Kippur, I was in synagogue when the siren went off at 2 p.m. A man sitting next to me said, smiling: The war will be over by nightfall; the Arabs must have been crazy to start with us again.
That night, Moshe Dayan appeared on TV. It’s a big desert, he said, with his half smile and his eye patch like a wink. But clearly the war hadn’t ended by nightfall. Something had gone wrong. Only afterward did the home front learn how close we’d come to the end of the Zionist story.
THE DISASTROUS failure of the Labor government to correctly read the intelligence warnings and to adequately prepare for war was more than a lapse of leadership. It marked the disgraced end of the generation of the founders. Labor leaders had infused the nation with their optimism and assurance that obstacles existed only to be overcome. Now, that Israeli self-confidence was shattered.
The collapse of Labor’s authority was ultimately a spiritual trauma. Secular Zionism — whose main carrier was Labor — had provided Israelis with an alternative faith, especially after the Holocaust when many Jews had lost confidence in traditional Judaism. Secular Zionism’s happy ending to Jewish history had been the Jews’ emotional defense against the Holocaust, making it bearable again to be a Jew. Now, though, there was no defense against the abyss.
If 1967 represented the Jewish triumph over history, 1973 was the counterrevolution, the unraveling of 1967.
Yom Kippur 1973 undermined the Zionist revolution in one more crucial way: It restored the pathology of Jewish relations with “the world,” as the language of Jewish despair put it.
The current wave of anti-Israel demonization in Europe and elsewhere was prefigured then, in the months after the Yom Kippur War. The Arab oil boycott turned Israel into a pariah; fewer countries had diplomatic relations with the Jewish state than with the PLO, which didn’t even pretend to seek anything but Israel’s destruction. The UN General Assembly gave a standing ovation to Yasser Arafat, who wore a pistol to the session and preached the destruction of a UN member state. In the terrible phrase of the late historian J. L. Talmon, the state of the Jews became the Jew of the states.
Zionism had been the Jews’ final strategy for acceptance, ending their status as a ghost people haunting the nations, as Zionist thinker Leo Pinsker put it. Yet not only had Zionism failed to win Jews acceptance, Zionism itself became the pretext for the latest assault on Jewish legitimacy.
The result was the greatest theological crisis among Jews since the Holocaust.
WHY DID every attempt to create a normal Jewish relationship with the world seem to fail? Why were we cursed? The urgent question that confronted Israeli society after 1973 was how to avert the return of the exilic condition. The settlement movement and the peace movement were both attempts to outwit the imposition of the ghetto on the Zionist dream — the first through divine redemption, the second through utopian peace.
Some Israelis, though, concluded that the proper response wasn’t to try to resist the ghetto but to embrace it.
For the first time in well over a century, the seemingly unstoppable movement of Jews out of Orthodoxy was at least partly reversed. Thousands of secular Israelis did the unthinkable and embraced ultra-Orthodoxy. It was the ultimate repudiation of Zionism, a post-Yom Kippur surprise attack on secular Israel. Uri Zohar, filmmaker and Bohemian symbol, was the best known of the new haredi (ultra-Orthodox) penitents. They included many others drawn from the Ashkenazi elite, kibbutzniks and artists, pilots and commandos.
The term “haredi” — one who fears — is a useful definition for that initial wave of penitence. For the counterrevolution against Zionist normalization was driven by fear — the fear that no matter what Jews did to try to be accepted by the nations, whether assimilating as individuals in pre-Nazi Germany or assimilating collectively via statehood into the community of nations, in the end every attempt would be thwarted. Because it was the Jews’ divine destiny to be outcasts.
The religious penitents were atoning for the sin of Zionist normalization. As Uri Zohar insisted, Zionism, that cleverly disguised assimilationist movement, was itself the sin.
Not since the pre-Holocaust era did Jews become as obsessed with the relationship between sin and punishment as they did in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The Holocaust, with its excess of punishment, had suspended the traditional discourse on the relationship between Jewish suffering and Jewish misdeeds. The Yom Kippur War, though, restored that relationship — for secular as well as religious Israelis.
Clearly, the War of the Day of Atonement had been a warning. But against what sin? Each segment of Israeli society suggested a different answer.
The various options which post-’73 Israel developed were all strategies of atonement. Peace Now and Gush Emunim were both attempts to atone for the perceived sins of Israeli society in the years between 1967 and 1973. For both secular Left and religious Right, those sins were not merely tactical mistakes but fundamental flaws in the Israeli character.
For the Left, Israel’s post-’67 sin was arrogance. Israel had become intoxicated by power and territories. Hadn’t Dayan said, Better Sharm e-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm e-Sheikh? The result, claimed the Left, was that Israel had missed Anwar Sadat’s peace feelers before Yom Kippur 1973. A nation that spurns the pursuit of peace is destined to be pursued by war.
For Gush Emunim, the sin was ingratitude. Israeli society had not been diligent in settling the biblical lands, had ignored a divine opportunity to restore wholeness to the nation. If we didn’t begin settling the land, the rabbis of religious Zionism now argued, God would rescind His gift. A nation that spurns blessing is destined to be pursued by curse.
There was one more Israeli response, which emerged tentatively at first but then with increasing assertiveness. The Israeli sin, some began to suspect, was to believe in ourselves and in our national mythology — in fact, to believe in anything at all. The state was just a state, without metaphysical or even historical meaning. What mattered was survival of the individual, not the collective. “Don’t call me a nation,” sang Shalom Hanoch. Every Israeli for himself.
DISILLUSIONMENT WITH all systems and ideologies is the starting point for both nihilism and spiritual search. Together, those two options help define today’s Israel.
When a person is suddenly confronted with mortality, he tends to react in one of two extreme ways. One is to cling to this world, cherish the threatened body and pursue its pleasures. The second is to seek transcendence, to live for eternity instead of the transient moment.
Israeli society has simultaneously pursued both options. The trance and Ecstasy parties, the mass flight to Goa, the weekend shopping trips to London — all are symptoms of nihilistic despair.
At the same time, Israel has become a world center for every new spiritual movement and alternative therapy. For all its maddening shallowness, New Age is a re-assertion of meaning and faith. In recent years, God has emerged as a major protagonist in Israeli popular music. Groups like Sheva, Esta, Shotei Hanevuah (The Fools of Prophesy) sing of their search for the Divine Presence. The hard rock band Hayehudim (The Jews) evokes the pain of life without faith and expresses envy for those who have it.
If anything, the crisis that began with the Yom Kippur War has only deepened.
The question of Israel’s permanence has become even more urgent in recent years. No Western society lives in greater intimacy with death than Israel; none has a more urgent need to find answers to the questions of meaning.
So, too, the crisis of authority — political, religious, moral — has become acute. As one popular bumper sticker puts it, “There is no one to trust except our Father in Heaven.” The political attempts at atonement have failed. We now know that Peace Now was wrong to assume that the blame for the absence of peace belonged to the lack of Israeli initiative, rather than the Arab world’s refusal to accept our sovereignty over any part of the land. As for Gush Emunim, the Israeli rejection of permanent occupation of another people isn’t a sign of spiritual weakness but vitality.
In fact, Israeli society has begun to repent for the arrogance of our one-dimensional certainties. Speak to partisans of the Left and the Right and many will quietly concede that they failed to recognize the complexity of our dilemma — that we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them.
That acknowledgment isn’t just a political but a spiritual awakening, atonement for our failure to heed each other’s warnings, to embrace complexity.
WITH THE collapse of the absolute truths of Left and Right — each partially right, each disastrously wrong — the next Israeli debate over the country’s spiritual identity begins in earnest. Once again, the temptation is to choose between absolutist visions: a know-nothing secularism vs. a know-everything Orthodoxy. The state, of course, has reinforced that simplistic divide, by imprisoning Judaism within the Orthodox establishment.
That politically cozy and spiritually smothering arrangement has left the vast majority of Israelis religiously disenfranchised. (To this day, no word exists in Hebrew for a religious non-Orthodox Jew.) But just as the Left-Right schism faded into history, resolved by the failure of both sides, so too will the sterile secular-Orthodox divide give way to new religious options.
Indeed, the Yom Kippur War, which taught Israelis to stop relying on official structures and trust their own initiative, has opened the way for experimental forms of Israeli Judaism. Those first signs are evident in the new study centers around the country where non-Orthodox Israelis reclaim Jewish texts and traditions without becoming Orthodox. The signs are evident, too, at the mass youth festivals on Rosh Hashana and Pessah and Shavuot, where Jewish rituals are simply accepted as part of the culture, along with Eastern and even Native American rituals.
In that new spiritual movement, “secular‘ and ’religious” are no longer contradictions — they are, in fact, meaningless identities.
Two years ago, I participated in the Shantipi festival, held on the holiday of Shavuot. The high point was a Friday night concert by Sheva, a Galilee-based band that fuses Middle Eastern and reggae and rock music and draws its lyrics from Muslim, Hindu and especially Jewish prayer.
For two hours, Sheva turned Shantipi into a New Age-style synagogue. Thousands of young people sang along with the band’s powerful version of Psalm 121: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? My help comes from God, creator of heaven and earth.‘ Then the band played a reggae rendition of the first stanza of Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals, and the young people leaped and sang, ’Blessed are You, Adonai, King of the universe, Who sustains the world.”
If you’d asked them whether they were “religious,‘ most would have shrugged and denied it. That’s because Israeli society has forfeited Jewish authenticity to Orthodoxy, whose definition of religiosity denies non-Orthodox Israelis Judaic validation. (Consider that old secular Israeli expression, ’The synagogue I don’t go to is Orthodox.‘) And how could a concert happening on Friday night possibly be ’religious”?
Yet, standing with thousands of young people calling out for God’s protection and mercy at this time was one of the most moving religious moments I’ve experienced as an Israeli.
True, the first signs of indigenous Israeli forms of non-Orthodox Judaism are still immature, and, like all experiments, much can go wrong. But in taking responsibility for our spiritual state, we will atone for our failure to create an authentically Israeli Judaism, at once rooted and open to the world, worthy of the return of a sovereign people to its land.
That is the next phase of Israeli response to Yom Kippur 1973. The signs all around us indicate that it has already begun.
September 28, 2009 | 5:51 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
‘Ajami’ wins Israeli Best Picture award
An Israeli movie co-directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli won Israel’s Ophir Award as Best Picture, JTA reported.
The drama, a story about life in the Jaffa neighborhood of Ajami, and spoken primarily in Arabic, will be submitted to the American Academy Awards as Israel’s nomination in the category of Best Foreign Film. It was directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani.
The movie premiered at the Cannes Festival, where it earned a special mention by the Camera d’Or jury. It also was screened at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
September 28, 2009 | 5:19 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
Immigrants to Israel inevitably find themselves comparing life in Israel to life in their hometown, like I did when I made aliyah in 1999. Back on a visit to Israel a year since making yeridah (downward migration), I still find myself comparing: What’s better? What’s worse?
Here’s the best/worst list I’ve complied of purely materialistic pleasures and conveniences available in Los Angeles and Israel. Forget the obvious spiritual pros and cons (i.e., living the Zionist dream vs. the American dream), I’m talking pure gashmius (materialism).
Israel’s come a long way since its camel riding days. (Lists are in no particular order. Feel free to add your own in the comment section.)
Israel’s Ten Best Gashmius
Tel Aviv Nightlife:
Bars and clubs never seem to close; no last calls for alcohol; no mean bouncers guarding the VIP section; people go to have fun and not to see or be seen; everyone is Jewish (which eases Jewish mating for those who care); drinking in public allowed—and sometimes encouraged. I discovered this one place off Rothschild where you buy a bottle of champagne, a few glasses and just drink on the curb. Aahh!
Maybe because it’s the land of milk and honey, but dairy products are so full of flavor—and flavors. I love the varieties of yogurt available in Israeli supermarkets: tiramisu, strawberry cheesecake, coconut, and litchi, to name a few. YUM.
Israeli cafes in general serve espresso-based coffee drinks and pastries so much more flavorful than its American counterparts with an atmosphere that is always lively. It’s no wonder Starbucks failed in Tel Aviv.
Israeli beaches and sand are so warm and friendly. Tel Aviv, while crowded, is built for lounging, flirting, and good old-fashion fun, and the swimming is great!
Finally hairstylists who know what to do with my Jewfro! It costs less than $20 to get my wild hair straightened by a blow dryer; in the US they charge $75 and my hair still comes out frizzy. (Hairstylist Yossi Levi at the Hadar Mall is my new man—he fixed up a botched LA hairdo.)
Strange how I used to wait to go to LA to do my shopping; now I wait to come to Israel. While Israel has its share of local and international clothing chains, I find so many European style boutiques with cute, affordable, and unique fashions.
Israel is so much closer to exotic places: Europe, Asia, the Far East.
Surprising, I know. Since I know Hebrew, I lately find talking to an Israeli cable or internet operator is so much more pleasant and efficient than talking to an American one. Service is less automated and much more real. No one calls me “ma’am.”
Healthy fast food:
I love how Greek and Arabic salads are considered fast foods in Israel—even at McDonalds.
You rarely have to get into a car in Israel’s major cities to get where you need to go, and people are always walking.
Israel’s Five Worst Gashmius
As a driver in Israel, finding parking in the big cities has been the bane of my Israeli life. Roads aren’t built on grids. Street signs are small. Too many one way lanes. And most of all, I CAN’T STAND THE INCESSANT HONKING!
Okay, it’s not so bad, but summers in Tel Aviv, at least, are very hot and and way too humid for an LA girl like me.
I’ve tried both HOT cable and YES satellite in Israel, and neither offers the wealth and breadth of programming we get from the center of it all, Hollywood.
Tel Aviv is recognized for its Bauhaus architecture, but I find it unattractive. If Jerusalem weren’t built of golden stone, I imagine it looking like a hilly Tel Aviv. Unless they are new or refurbished, homes and apartments here generally have a run-down feel.
Lack of aesthetically pleasing retail outlets:
Shops and stores, while modernizing at a rapid pace (especially in malls), often look like holes in the walls with cheap signs, random displays, and cramped quarters.
LA’s Ten Best Gashmius
Los Angeles is characterized by spaciousness: apartment complexes, homes, restaurants, stores, parking lots, parks, and roads.
Whole Foods and Trader Joes:
Israel has adorable little health food shops, but none offer the breadth and spaciousness of these organic LA favorites.
Israel is getting a little fancier with multiplexes like Cinema City in Herziliyah, but no movie experience yet rivals the American one with its courtesy, spaciousness, and sound/screening quality.
American cable and satellite stations offer a much greater selection of television shows and movies, and in LA we get all the great shows first. (Only in Israel they are often commercial-free.)
I love the plethora of beautiful private homes with diverse architecture in the Los Angeles area.
Everything is open on Shabbat/holidays:
It’s nice to know that the city doesn’t shut down on holidays and Shabbat if I feel like sinning (I’m sure some Jews beg to differ.)
Los Angeles shops and malls are just so pretty, like museums of capitalism.
Korean spas/Thai massages:
I love how I can jump in my car at 8 pm and drive to a Korean spa in Koreatown for a dip in a hot tub of tea, or how I can walk into a Thai massage parlor for a midday rub. (The foreign Thai workers should think of opening up massage parlors here—the kosher kind.)
The manicure shops on Robertson Boulevard are the best. In Israel it’s generally harder to find high quality manicurists and skin care services (facials, waxing, etc).
I much prefer Sundays off over Friday, since Fridays in Israel are inevitably spent preparing for Shabbat.
LA’s Five Worst Gashmius
There are some great places to hang in LA, but I have yet to have real good fun at a Los Angeles bar or nightclub. Nightclubs sometimes feel like prisons with all their checking IDs, bouncing, and Hollywood snobbery.
Israel’s roads may be crowded and disorganized, but given its size and traffic, it often takes longer to get around in Los Angeles.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can get smoggy, but at least the sky still looks blue.
You live in your car:
Except for Third Street Promenade and a few places near Hollywood, it’s hard to find great, stimulating places to stroll in Los Angeles (aside from malls) where shops, cafes, and things-to-do abound.
If I wanted the option of public transportation, the LA system is still a pain in the butt. I tried the Metro. Don’t care for it.
September 28, 2009 | 3:57 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Posted by Tom Tugend
It used to be the conventional wisdom that Americans wouldn’t go to see foreign movies because they didn’t like to read subtitles.
Fortunately, that phobia seems to have dissipated and one indicator is the success of the Israeli, Polish, French, Hungarian and other film festivals in Los Angeles.
Upcoming is German Currents, screening Sept. 30 – Oct. 5 at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Goethe Institut in mid-Wilshire, and Redcat in downtown Los Angeles.
Recommended is “Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family,” a sumptuous production on the fortunes of a 19th century German merchant dynasty, based on Thomas Mann’s epic “Die Buddenbrooks,” which led to his Nobel Prize in Literature.
The film screening Oct. 4 at the Aero Theaters stars the noted German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl (“Avalon,” “The Music Box” and “Jacob the Liar”) as the family patriarch.
Also scheduled on Oct. 4 at the Goethe Institut is “A Triangle Dialogue,” featuring the works of five young directors from Israel. Poland and Germany.
Included are three short films set in Israel, dealing with the wall separating Israelis and Palestinians, a family mystery, and gay soldiers.
For details, visit www.goethe.de/ins/us/los/kue/flm/gec/enindex.htm
September 22, 2009 | 11:43 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Arianna Huffington arrived in Tel Aviv today on her most recent visit to Israel.
The founder of the Huffington Post quickly turned a day of meetings with Israeli hi-tech geeks, venture capitalists and politicians into a comprehensive blog, cutting through the jet lag to distill the essence of a dinner meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak:
During dinner, Barak’s security detail stood guard around the table, guns at the ready and on full display. One of the guards stood directly behind the Defense Minister. Even though he was stationary, his eyes—and, it seemed, his brain—were in constant motion. He was an adrenaline rush come to life. In comparison, the Secret Service detail that guards the U.S. president seems positively laid back.
During his time as Prime Minister, Barak ended Israel’s military occupation of southern Lebanon, and was part of the failed Camp David summit with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. Given this, I asked him to compare George W. Bush’s leadership to Obama’s when it comes to Israel. “I’m an ABB,” he said. “Anyone But Bush. Obama is investing a lot of his political capitol in the peace process, and it’s important that we don’t waste this moment.”
And what would it take to break through the current stalemate? “The Palestinian Authority,” he told me, “needs to accept becoming an independent Palestinian state even before the borders are finalized.”
Huffington spent most of her day touring Israel’s burgeoning hi-tech incubators, chaperoned by Yossi Vardi, the venture capital muscle behind the creation of Instant Messaging. I can’t help think Huffington, who has leashed (or unleashed) cutting edge technology to journalism and news delivery over at HuffPo, couldn’t help but be impressed by the energy and vitality of Israel’s hi-tech entrepreneurs. So enamored are Israelis of their hi-tech sector, the Israeli version of Entourage, called Mesudarim,features young hot shot tech geeks, not actors.
And how smart is it to show the editor of HuffPo, a bulwark of American liberalism, to an Israel that is multi-dimensional, cutting edge, complex and vibrant—what better way to counter the growing stereotype of Israel-the-Bully that has gained more and more credibility on the Left?
Tomorrow Arianna meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Stay tuned.