Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
News flash! This was a news flesh a year ago!
When I have days off, I enjoy watching the Ellen DeGeneres show. An hour of tons of fun and zero worries. Several weeks ago I had a day off, so I turned on the T.V. for some DeGeneres time. It was one of the 12 Days of giveaway shows in December, 2010. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but they weren’t: turns out I’ve been watching this show for months, in a delay of more than a year! I guess someone out there, in the big fancy world of television, underestimated Israeli television viewers by thinking we won’t notice or won’t mind that delay. Well, I mind, especially when the same thing happens, though with just a couple of months of delay, with E! news and several other television shows. I may be a bit overreacting, but isn’t it a complete waste? Who in the world, thinks it is okay, in the year of 2012, to air shows with such a noticeable delay? The thing is that unless a Christmas/new year’s/some other holiday show is aired, it is almost impossible for us to notice the delay, unless we are frequent followers of American websites.
If you thought that maybe there is some fundamental problem in purchasing these shows from American networks on time, let me tell you this: American Award shows, for example, are aired live (in times such as 3 am, Israel time).Israeli Networks and cable/satellite companies are competing for who airs new episodes as close to the USA air time. But while shows like Glee or Mad Men are aired here two days after they air in the States, other shows like Two Broke Girls, are “all new” here, while you wait for the second season…
Despite the fact that these are “just” entertainment shows, this makes Israel Pop- culturally behind. And this doesn’t happen on television only, but also in cinema andmusic. This I noticed clearly when I got back from my summer in the States. I kept singing the thrilling song by the respected poet, Rebecca Black: “it’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday…”, while noticing the question marks in my friends’ eyes and slowly fading out in embarrassment. About a month after I came back, my friend asked me if I want to see the new movie: Horrible Bosses, which I watched two months earlier. Not to mention Will Farrel movies, which for some reason don’t show in Israel at all. Once again, all of this happens while movies such as Harry Potter premiered in Israel the very same day they premiered in England (which, at some point, was even before they premiered in the States).
I don’t even know who’s to blame. Is this the Israeli entertainment industry’s poorly made decisions? Is it the American entertainment industry, which holds back the movies, songs and television series? Who makes us watch American television by doing illegal downloads or by spending hundreds of dollars on ITunes, which is also possible only for Israelis who purchased gift cards while vacationing in the States? I am guessing the former is more to blame, but this will probably never occupy great scientific minds, and I guess there are Israelis out there who still have no idea they are watching shows months after the original airing time. The only thing for me to do, and the greatest Jewish virtue of all, is to complain. I mean, come on! After all the Jewish people have been through, why does the world have to be so cruel?! We were wandering all over the world for 2000 years, with no place to call home, and by the time we finally win the state of Israel, we are doomed to be pop-culturally delayed. Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?!
But in a more serious note, I sometimes wonder if the people of the world know that in this small country, who hits front pages in all 50 states when it comes to security issues or international politics, has people who run normal lives. Israel is more than an international issues magnet. This entertainment delay makes me see why some people think we ride camels and culturally old fashioned. I guess both Israeli and American decision-makers don’t see this delay as an actual problem, considering our problematic relations with our neighbors. If one of them is reading this: let us blend in the pop-culture, and catch up with the rest of the world. It may seem like a small, not-important issue, but sometimes it’s the small things that count…
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March 28, 2012 | 2:31 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Israel is a very small country, yet somehow has the same amount of reality shows as there are in the USA. This reality-country size ratio makes those shows the center of the public eye. EVERYBODY watches at least two reality shows, and every Israeli knows at least one reality contestant personally. It is obvious that almost every season, a reality incident reaches the headlines and stays there until the next one comes along. As I write these words, the newsrooms and news websites are having major discussions about one big reality incident that rocked the holy land, and unlike usually, I am not being sarcastic.
It’s Saturday night. The semi-finals of the Israeli “The Voice” airs. About half the country stares at the screen as one of the live performances ends, and the mentor is about to hand out the verdict. It is a sure fact that Yuval Dayan will win not only the semi-finals, but the entire season. She was marked as the favorite from her first audition. Just when the mentor, Shlomi Shabat, was about to open his mouth, the 17 year-old announces that she has had enough. She said she was missing school and her friends, and that she is simply not ready to handle this pressure. At that moment - at least for every Israeli who has been watching T.V at the time – the world stopped spinning.
The following day, all the major newspapers had her face all over the center section. The eight o’clock news had special panels discussing the dramatic moment. News and entertainment websites were packed with surfers’ comments, not to mention almost all Israeli Facebook status.
I guess you could laugh to yourself, thinking how ridiculous this is. I mean, reality drama happens all the time, and that’s what E! is for. At first, I reacted the same way. As a person who (pretends to) never watch reality television, I found it absurd that while missiles are being shot, and the U.N is having trouble in finding its way, the last thing that matters is a teenager who got tired of the sudden fame, as if she didn’t know what to expect when auditioning for a reality show…A day later, when I noticed the Israeli media insisted on keeping discussing the event of that night, I had a realization. Israel is all about real life drama. We are under constant threat, and we live up each other’s behinds, so there is nowhere to hide. We need to deal with serious issues and are all a part of every single event that has something to do with us, and occurs either in or out of our small territory. We are connected by an infusion from the daily paper, having stress wrinkles added to our morning routine. With all that being said, we somehow succeed in being constantly happy.
We have many ways of making this joy possible. One of them is by making a big deal out of a minor reality drama. Sometimes we have to put the real life drama aside, and discuss passionately a teenager’s discussion; we are Israelis, after all. We have to use our superhero ability of being nosy and argue about whether this person, who most of us know nearly nothing about, made the right decision or not. We need to come up with a conspiracy which claims it was a clever PR move towards the finals, and that the production was prepared for this farewell speech. We have to admire that girl for challenging the reality industry by saying “enough.” We have to look up to her, for she is a true Israeli, who does whatever she wants, and no one can stop her.
We must hate and love reality shows at the same time, because despite our constant criticism for the low intellectual level, it provides us a great escape…
March 25, 2012 | 11:52 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Dear members of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council,
Let me start by saying how important it is, to me, that there is someone out there who’s job is to protect the most valuable thing in the world: human rights. You are here to make the world a safe place for those who can’t find security in their own home.
I read about your recent resolution, ordering a first probe into how Israel’s West Bank settlements may be infringing on Palestinians’ rights. Right on! You really nailed it this time! I mean, nowadays there is nothing more important than inspecting how settlements that exist for years, influence the lives of people whose legal position in this state has been unclear for years. This everlasting conflict, which has been going on for years, is the most important thing for you to do, no doubt.
There is something about your ability to recognize the burning issues of the world that leaves me speechless, and even makes my heart skip a beat. On your blind journey to justice, you probably missed that fact that Israel is a civilized, modern country. There is a big discussion on wheather Israel is treating Palestinians the “right way,” but it has never hurt their basic human rights. So if that’s okay with you, allow me to address some other places in the world, just once. It’s not that far from here, several hundred kilometers from Gaza. There is something going on there too, but don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.
Currently, there is a major human rights violation in Syria. This one, as opposed to the current events in Israel, is real, so get ready to handle this in some other way other than condemning politely. I don’t know if you heard, but about a year ago, the people of the Arabian dictatorships of the Middle East, decided that they had enough, and began to fight for freedom. In some countries, Libya, for instance, the struggle ended with the joy of freedom. Syria was an example of a place where the ruler refused to surrender and let Democracy win. For months now there is genocide over there. Blood floods the street, the guns roar, and no one is safe. It is a bit hard to believe, but behind the cute little mustache and the shy smile, Bashar El- Assad is a ruthless killer. Innocent men, women, and children are being butchered every single day, while the president and his wife are sitting at their palace, enjoying the latest Harry Potter movie.
Shocking, right?! I was surprised, too. The only explanation that comes to mind as for why the UN did nothing in the matter so far, is that you’ve been so busy flipping stones at Israel, searching for something to accuse us for, that you didn’t have the time to watch the news. It’s okay, I only blame you a little bit. But now that we put the cards on the table, this is your chance to prove the world wrong, and do something worth doing. Stop the real violation of human rights, the most basic ones, actually: life and freedom. And please, don’t even dare comparing the situation in Syria to the one in Israel, because that will be the proof of your being anything but a neutral organization.
I wish I had the guts to send you this letter as is, but knowing myself, I would probably write a polite Email instead, wishing the UN wouldl put politics aside and deal with the true pain, the suffering and the constant fear the people of Syria deal with daily.
March 22, 2012 | 1:40 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
First, I would like to point out that what I’m about to write is something I never thought I would even think: a new Facebook campaign changed my perspective on mankind.
Well, maybe not on mankind, but my perspective on several matters of my life has changed entirely, thanks to a social network. About a week ago, one of my friends shared a photo on his wall: it showed a man with a young girl, smiling to the camera. Behind them- the Israeli flag, along with a title that said: “Iranians, we would never bomb your country. We love you.”
Seeing that, while reading about Israel’s intention of bombing in Iran- made me quite furious. Iran is working intensely on making nuclear weapon, threatening to erase the state of Israel, and this left-wing man wants to make friends…The next day, more on those began to appear. My fellow Israelis, who are under existential threat, spread the word of their love for the people who want to destroy them. When the Iranians published their response- my cynicism faded away. “Israelis, we don’t want a nuclear bomb. We want peace and Democracy. We are your friends.” A day later, the web was filled with photos provided by both sides.
So the people of Israel and Iran want peace, while the tension between the states can be cut with a knife. Any day now an Iranian bomb can be launched towards Israel. Any day now Israeli forces can break the border to Iran. The citizens of both countries won’t have the time to prepare- it will just happen. There will be deaths; some will suffer from permanent mental damage. This will change the course of the world and effect international relations for good.
This campaign got me thinking: I hold grudge for the Iranians only because the media tells me so. We are enemies simply because that’s the way things are. To me, the Iranians are those who try to kill me, but the truth is, it’s the Iranian leader who wants to kill me. This whole story got me thinking about previous wars- what caused them to break out? What made two countries hate each other so much so they started to shed the blood of others?
Was it desperation due to poor economical state? Was is the rage of the people for other people’s foreign policy? Or was it a leader with delusions of grandeur, who craved for glory? Many political scientists sought the answer to this question for centuries. Several theories were presented, each one explaining the same thing in a different way. There is no right answer, but I must say the past couple of weeks made me open my eyes to more possibilities and other points of view. Being familiar with other opinions stimulates our mind, and helps us be wiser. We should all go outside, browse online and enter websites we’ve never entered before. We should read opinions different than ours, and even if we disagree, and remain with the exact same opinion we owned before- we should keep in mind we still gained something great. Only then, we can get a more true, better perspective on life.
March 19, 2012 | 3:27 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
A chilling sequel to my previous post:
Earlier this morning, a man riding a black motorcycle opened fire outside of “Ozar Hatorah” school in Toulouse, France. Israeli teacher Jonathan Sandler, his two children (3, 6) and another girl were killed.
Throughout the day, the French police investigated the shooting, while trying to figure out whether it was a crime on criminal grounds or a crime of hate.
A couple of hours ago, I heard the one thing I hoped not to hear. According to one of the leads, the main suspects are three Neo-Nazis who served in the French army and were recently dismissed. The murder weapon also appeared to be connected to two other murder cases from the past two years, where French- Muslim soldiers were killed.
According to recent reports, in 2008, the French authorities noticed Neo-Nazi undercurrents throughout a certain unit, and started a “clearing operation.” A photo of the three suspects saluting the Nazi flag was found, and they were released from service. People who believe in violence, and have hatred running through every inch of their body, will stop at nothing. As I’ve stated before, Neo-Nazis still exist. They are not many and try to stay under the radar. World leaders choose to handle violence of Anti- Semitic background just like any other violence case. The criminal gets caught, then sent to prison. This is exactly what the world leaders did 70 years ago. Putting Neo-Nazis in jail isn’t going to stop the Neo-Nazi party. This is just like taking care of the symptoms, instead of putting an end to the disease.
The French government did something truly remarkable, in my opinion. They tried to cure the disease. They took people who believe in the unbelievable out of the system, before they had the chance to infect it. Even though, it is very important that we all remember this is not the end, but merely the beginning. People who are fed by hate will not stop at red light. The world should not only condemn, but also act. I looked up this story online, and found very few “hits” in English. This is why I’m writing this story here for you, so we can enhance the awareness of such unforgiveable crimes.
Four human beings found their deaths, probably due to the simple fact of their religion. Violence on similar grounds occurs every day. How many times a week do we read or hear of lives being taken because of pure hate? Just because he was gay, just because she was Jewish…We are all dealing with outside threats: from nuclear weapons to global warming. The world isn’t exactly Disneyland as it is, so let’s do our best to put an end to the inside threats.
March 18, 2012 | 12:58 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
John Demjanjuk (born by the name of Ivan Mykolaiovych Demianiuk) was a Nazi, who was suspected to be the Terrible Ivan (a famous Nazi figure who terribly abused Jews, both mentally and physically, during the Holocaust), and was cleared from the benefit of the doubt. Though there was never a question about his belonging to the Nazi party and taking a part in the mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust, he was never charged with any crime. This Friday, he died of old age, at 91.
Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and was granted citizenship in 1958. In 1986, he was recognized as Terrible Ivan by Holocaust survivors and was transferred to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. He was sentenced to death here, but his appeal to the supreme court left him clear of charges due to the benefit of the doubt. During his appeal he had claimed to be “just” a guard at concentration and death camps, and stated that the identification of him as Terrible Ivan was a case of mistaken identity.
Because of the fact that this specific trial was leaning on Demjanjuk being Terrible Ivan, he could not be officially charged for the crimes he committed as a guard (the magic of bureaucracy). Therefore, he was released back home to Ohio.
In 2001, Demjanjuk was charged again, this time on the grounds of him serving as a guard at Sobibor and Majdanek camps in Poland. He was to be deported, but appealed once again and stayed in the States. In 2009, he was deported to Germany, where he would stand trial once again. According to reports, he was charged with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder, one count for each person who was murdered under his supervision.
His trial lasted nearly two years. He was a very old man, and arrived at court lying on a hospital bed, breathing with the aid of an oxygen machine. Reports say he was acting a little bit, by pretending to be sleeping, or drifting in and out of consciousness, situations that caused cancellation of testimony and extended the duration of the trial. Eventually, he was sentenced to five years in prison, but was later released due to old age, and lived at a German nursing home until his calm, quiet death at the age of 91.
Bureaucracy set this cold blooded murderer free; when there was a chance to legally end his life (the law in Israel states that death penalty can be applied to those who committed severe crimes against humanity during the Holocaust). Combine that with a sharp attorney and acting skills, and a criminal of the worst kind there is got to live a long and happy life as an American.
To me, every single person who took ANY part of the mass butchering of the Jews during the years 1939 to 1945 should be punished severely. Unfortunately, most of those people got to live the life their victims never got to live. Demjanjuk was merely an example. The tip of the iceberg. Ruthless killers either died of old age, or had the privilege to take their own lives, without having to face the 6 million prosecutors. Those who never took actual part in the inconceivable actions and simply stood aside, or even those who chose to shut their eyes and ears and to pretend there was nothing going on - they are almost as guilty to me as those who did the actual killing. Taking into account they were under the spell of Hitler’s charisma, I feel inner peace knowing they will die with guilt. That’s enough for me. Those who committed the worst crime ever committed, and lived to enjoy every minute and got to rest in peace - those people are the living proof of injustice.
I can’t imagine the number of those who got away due to the oh- so- wrong legal system of the world (after all, Nazis were judged in Israel, USA and Europe, sometimes all together).
Elders, adults, teenagers, children, infants - millions of people whose only crime was their birth, either died horrible deaths or went through hell for years. Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals, dark- skinned, Gypsies - those people weren’t considered to be worth living.
Many of those people got to have families, jobs and friends, and live a life of fulfillment, still positive that their way is the right way. Most of the original members of the Nazi party are no longer amongst the living, but don’t be mistaken. There is a whole new generation of Nazis, and their number is continuously growing. Just like 80 years ago, they start quietly. Gathering strength and resources. Slowly preparing to strike again. The world, once again, sees nothing. It’s nothing. They will never actually DO anything. To me that sounds familiar. I’ve read about it in History class in high- school…
March 16, 2012 | 11:28 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
What does being an Israeli mean? For many years, people have tried to name this “thing” that we, Israelis, have. What is that “quality”? Lacking a scientific definition, people had to come up with a Hebrew name for it. There is not a word in the English vocabulary that has the same meaning. There can’t be, for this word describes something that’s all Israeli. “Excuse me, I need to cut in line, I just have a question…” Yes, Israelis have “Chutzpah”, and lots of it. You know what else? We’re proud of it!
That “Chutzpah” got us in a bit of trouble over the years. Traffic Wardens all over the world will never forget reading the sign: “Don’t’ give me a ticket, I’ll be right back” on a car parking in a non-parking zone. Waiters will always remember the Israeli couple who asked to return a dish, because they “didn’t think it would look like this” when they read the menu. Not all of us are like that, but we can all use some “Chutzpah”, when needed. Deep in my heart, I always knew this “Chutzpah” will change the world. Now it’s closer than ever. Thanks to a few strongly opinionated Israelis, the socio-economic order of Israel, and perhaps of the entire world, may change as never before.
One hot summer morning in June, a young Israeli man noticed that the price of the Cottage Cheese sold by the leading dairy company was rising. Again. That man decided that he had had enough and formed a protest group on Facebook. In the age of social networks and instant messaging, it wasn’t long before thousands of people joined him in his protest. This soon became “the protest of the middle class”. It began with a demand to lower the price of dairy products in Supermarkets: after that company showed no interest in lowering the prices, many people actually stopped purchasing certain dairy products.
- Here I need to explain something: In our small country, there is virtually no competition in a few of our industrial branches. One of them is the dairy products branch-
What began as a small protest that the “big guys” believed would fade away, soon spread at the speed of light: the protesters demanded Social Justice. Young protesters, who are unable to afford purchasing a house in Israel, due to sky-rocketing real- estate prices, settled in tents. The first “tent city” grew in Tel- Aviv. Soon, more and more tents showed up all over the country. Later on, parents of young children raised their voices against the high cost of child education. This struggle came to its peak when mothers of young children marched, pushing strollers, in 16 different cities at the same time.
This was only the tip of the iceberg. During this summer, the Israelis got together and demanded Social Justice, and no one could ignore it. Not even the people sitting in the highest chairs. The climax and highlight of this nation-wide protest was a mass demonstration that significantly took place in the Nation’s Square in Tel-Aviv. 400 thousand people came to protest against the impending extinction of the middle class. This was the biggest protest Israel has ever seen. After three months of ongoing, tiring struggle and countless headlines- our Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to convene a governmental committee to help create Social Justice in Israel. This committee has yet to come up with a result that would satisfy the protestors, but no one has given up yet.
Just when we thought this couldn’t get any bigger, the middle-stage protest became world-wide. Tents began to show up in New-York, Madrid, Chicago, London and more. More and more signs were held up high, as Wall Street was occupied.
At a time when socio-economic disparities are growing, the middle class began to slowly disappear. One day, some Israelis opened their mouths, and now the world may change forever. All thanks to some good, old fashioned Israeli “Chutzpah”.
March 14, 2012 | 3:20 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Len Levitt, a Jewish puppeteer who has personally met Miss Piggy, made Aliya two months ago, and settled in my hometown, Ra’anana.
In the past 35 years, Levitt wrote scripts and plays, taught puppet workshops, activated some of the most famous puppets in the States, and touched the lives of many children. He performed in films, educational programs, television shows, commercials, and even performed live in synagogues and community centers.
Levitt operated puppets on the sets of The Muppet Show (television series, the Disneyworld ride and even their latest movie), Team America, Sesame Street, Men in Black, Scary Movie, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Levitt and his puppets became famous figures in many Jewish communities. As a private producer, he works under the name of The Levity Puppets.
When I got the chance to interview the man behind my childhood heroes, I didn’t think twice, and had the instant need to share:
What brought you to the world of puppetry?
“I got into puppetry at age of 12, when I volunteered to do a puppet show for Purim, at my synagogue. A friend of mine from school, who was also into puppetry, joined me. We watched a ‘make it yourself’ guide by Jim Henson and made our own puppets. We wrote an original script and the show was a success. Later, we did another show at school. Later, we were invited to perform at children’s birthday parties.”
When did you realize that puppetry is your calling in life?
“Puppetry was a very big hobby of mine as a kid. When I enrolled in college, I realized that I probably won’t be able to make a living out of it, and majored in political economy. After I graduated, I decided to give puppetry a chance after all, and see if I could make it as a puppeteer. I knew that if I will never give this a chance, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I was lucky to succeed at a very early stage, and got my masters degree in puppetry.”
What draws you to work with puppets?
“I have a childhood experience that I remember very vividly: I grew up in a suburb of New York, in a small town. Every summer, the circus came to town, just like in the old movies. I watched the performances and I remember the rush I felt through my bones. I remember how happy I was, watching the clowns, the performers, the animals. I carry that joy with me every day, and that is the feeling I love giving to other people. I love to watch children laugh and just have fun. I love to give children that thrill of excitement. When I see children smiling, shouting and clapping, I feel satisfied. Thant is when I know they had a good time they won’t forget in a long time. Over the years, I got to work for some famous directors, such as Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg. I got to be a part of several blockbusters, and this was also a very meaningful experience for me. It’s always nice to make money. Sometimes earn money and sometimes I don’t, but I always make children happy.”
Two months ago, Levitt made Aliyah, and settled in Ra’anana with his wife and two children (4 and 8). “Growing up, I was a member of a Zionist youth movement, and I was always attracted to Israel. I got to visit several times, and had always been interested in the adventure of the Jewish land. Since college I’ve been making promises to move here, but my Hollywood career stopped me from actually going through with this decision. What finally brought us here were our children. We wanted to raise our kids here, and have them learning Hebrew and have a strong relationship with Israel. So we packed our bags and moved here, and now we will try and raise our family here. After 30 years of wanting to move here, I’ve decided that nothing will stop me and my family”.
You have operated puppets on the set of The Muppets, as well as on the set of Team America, which is meant for an older crowd and have a completely different content. What type of puppets do you prefer working with?
“Shows like The Muppets and Sesame Street were the reason I fell inlove with puppetry. They were my heroes growing up. I remember seeing Cookie Monster for the first time. I was amazed and thrilled by this amazing character. I was always amazed by how fun and light characters can be. While I enjoyed working on Team America, working for The Muppets is a dream comes true.”
In the age of 3-D and computer animation, is there still a room for puppets?
“While computer animation is quite thrilling, and there has been quite a few 3-D movies lately, I believe there’s nothing like the thrill of the “real thing”. We are aware of computer manipulations and abilities, and we do enjoy them. But when you see a puppet flying across the room, doing a back-flip and landing on its feet, you get a much greater experience. You know it is a puppet, but you can’t stop thinking: ‘how did they do that?’. The “Wow” effect of watching a stunt performed by a puppet is greater than any big explosion seen in 3-D.”
As someone who had the honor to meet the Muppets in person- do Kermit and Miss Piggy get along in real life?
(laughs) “In real life, Kermit and Miss Piggy get along just fine. Better than fine. The arguments and disputes are for the camera only. They love appearing on tabloids covers, and they’ll do whatever it takes. It’s all for the publicity.”