Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
The Irish band Dervish was scheduled to perform in Israel next month. As the concert’s day approached, Dervish’s Facebook page filled with posts by fans, who threatened to boycott the band itself, if they won’t cancel their visit here. Unfortunately for them, but mostly for their Israeli fans, the band members caved in to fans’ pressure, and decided to join the unreasonable cultural boycott of Israel.
Here is what the band members published (spelling mistakes included): “Dervish wish to announce they will not be taking part in the Irish music concert series in Israel this June.
Our original decision to participate in the concerts was, like all our tours and appearances, completely non-political. The organiser of the shows is a musician and friend of the band for many years. He has worked to bridge divides between people through music for much of his life. These concerts were organised in this same spirit. At the time we agreed to these performances we were unaware there was a cultural boycott in place. We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott. Our decision to withdraw from the concerts reflects our wish to neither endorse nor criticise anyone’s political views in this situation. Dervish are a grouping of like musical minds, we are not a political party .Our motivation as a band has always been and will continue to be our love of music”.
This is a letter I sent them:
Good for you, Dervish, for not breaking the boycott, God forbid. It is very important to not take sides politically, by boycotting a state just because people with a clear political agenda have decided to do so. It is very important to focus strictly on doing music, which is why you made the right choice by not sharing it with your Israeli fans, who, the last time I checked, were humans just like the rest of your fans.
Take Elton John, for instance. He decided to perform here, even while being fully aware of the boycott. People threatened him, saying that if he will not boycott Israel, they will boycott him. It has been two years now, since he performed here, and last time I checked, he was still pretty popular. Same goes for Lady Gaga, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many more.
Dear Dervish band members, whose names I don’t bother to learn, this is not a game. This is not first graders who decide not to play with the foreign kid because of a dumb rumor they didn’t bother checking. This is the real world, and you are messing with people’s lives here. We, Israelis are real people, not fairytale characters who live in a faraway land. We are flesh and blood, and last time I checked, your Israeli fans did nothing wrong to our neighbors. Your Israeli fans are not decision makers, and certainly not murderers. They are people who try to live a normal life, while others think it’s funny to mess it up. Your so-called politically correct announcement is hurtful, and so are some of the comments written by your fans. For every Youtube video you see condemning Israel’s “apartheid” system and humiliating treatment toward Palestinians, I can show you a Youtube video showing the exact opposite.
Never judge a book by its cover. Ever heard that sentence? What if I will send a letter to Coldplay, saying Ireland is a terrible place, where they treat brown-eyed people like they are second-rate humans? I’ll attach a well-edited video with proof, and ask all of my Israeli friends to join me in that struggle. It is impossible to even think of Ireland, while this massacre is going on. Sounds absolutely ridiculous, right? But think to yourself: what if it actually worked, and you have nothing to do to make it stop? What if there is in fact a problem, but it is much more complicated than you can imagine, and you are being punished just because people are too narrow-minded and don’t bother digging a little bit deeper?
This is not high-school, this is international relations. Moreover, these are people. Just like you. You are not sure what’s really going on in Israel, and you will never be sure until you will come here. But the one thing that is sure is that hurtful cancellation. That happened for sure. It is sad that a band like you forgot what music is all about - which is bringing people together. Music is the one international language which should never be infected with politics. Congratulations, you helped that infection spread. You are now poison.
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May 6, 2012 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
My grandfather passed away surprisingly about two months ago. Recently, we received a letter from an elementary school in Florida, informing us that a donation of Chai has been made by our American family friends to this school, in commemoration of him. I remember seeing this type of donations before, when I was working at a summer camp in Georgia last summer: American Jews make donations in multiplies of 18, to all sorts of facilities and institutions, and get their loved ones’ names, or even their own names, engraved on the walls of place receiving the donation.
This type of donation is not common here in Israel, while in the U.S it appears to be a grand part of the Jewish culture. Reading this letter, knowing my grandfather has been commemorated in return of a modest yet very kind donation, put a smile on my face and filled my heart with completion. This is truly an admirable thing that should be adapted by Jewish communities all over the world. It is simply beautiful and beautifully simple, to make a donation according to your abilities, which is appreciated, no matter how high it is.
This shows pure kindness and acceptance of all, which are two of the qualities which describe the Jewish culture in general, and the American-Jewish culture specifically.
It is not difficult to show appreciation for all donations, but sometimes we tend to forget to do so. It is easy to get lost in pride, and sniff at modest donations, while respecting grand amounts of money. This is the reason letters like the one we received are so heartwarming.
I am very grateful for your never forgetting the true values of Judaism and of humanity. This everlasting commemoration of my grandfather in a school far away from here put true, genuine smiles on my family’s faces, for the first time in weeks. Thank you.
May 3, 2012 | 11:26 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
My vote for Tzipi livny was my first vote ever. I was 19 when the elections to the Knesset were at their prime. Since it was my first election ever, and the first time I showed any interest in politics, you can be sure I’ve done deep research before going behind the curtain.
Being a young, fresh voter, I decided to go through all the statements of all the different parties (and there are a lot in here) which I felt were relevant for my general beliefs. I didn’t care about previous rumors of corruption or fresh gossip or any type of dirt rival parties presented. I only cared about the issues the party leader tended to take care of, and the party’s general agenda. Kadima, the party which was led by Livny, was still fresh. After rising in 2005 as a pure center party, it felt like the perfect party for me. I don’t have a distinct political point of view. I’m neither right wing or left wing, and I was looking forward to see our country being led by a party which deals with various issues with a clear mind, one issue at a time. As for Livny, she was a woman, and a charismatic one. Her portrait on billboards made me believe in her and in everything she wants to do. She was a true epiphany. A strong, confident woman, who fits perfectly for the 21st century Israel.
Kadima won the election, but Livny failed to get a proper coalition together. Lacking agreements with several parties, the second leading party, the Likud, took the stand. I really looked up to her by holding on to her beliefs and not caving into small politics. I was convinced that as the head of the opposition, she will correct the Israeli politics for good.
Now, almost four years later, there’s no doubt- Tzipi has disappointed me, and the majority of Israeli voters. The woman we’ve all put our faith in, the former minister of foreign affairs, a politician who always focused on doing her job more than on the publicity, has failed. In three and a half years she did absolutely nothing. The strong woman, who promised everything I could hope for, was probably the quietest head of opposition in a while. Her quitting the government and leaving her job before the next election was the final straw for me. After losing the inner elections in her party to Shaul Mofaz, she was probably so embarrassed she forgot why she is here to begin with. She forgot that making a difference can be done even while not being on top. That one doesn’t necessarily have to be the first on a list to have great impact.
From being at the top, she single-handedly brought herself down. Her leaving the Knesset proves she also believes she has failed us. She knows she has nothing to give, because otherwise she would stay and fight her battles until the last day of duty. With all that being said, I still hope she decides one day to return to the rough world of politics. Surveys show people still have faith in her and hope she will be back, stronger than ever and proving everyone wrong. I hope she does, because all of her political failures, disappointing as they are, are also her strongest point. Throughout the way, she never gave up her integrity, which is hard to find nowadays. I hope she will rise again and correct the wrongs of the past. Tzipi, please take four years, no more, and reunite with the 2009 values. This I hope, and we will be waiting.
May 1, 2012 | 2:33 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Yesterday, I received a text message from my father who said: “there was an attempt to kidnap a little Israeli girl in Disney World.”
The first thing that popped into my head at that moment was an infamous urban legend with the same title. The story of that urban legend tells of a young girl/boy who was kidnapped right underneath his/hers parents’ sight while vacationing at Disney World/Disneyland. According to the story, the child suddenly vanished, taken away in what is supposed to be the safest place in the world. When the parents find out their child is gone, they call security, which blocks the gates of the park, so that no one can enter or leave. All of a sudden, after long searches, the parents recognized their child. Her/ his head is shaved or colored, the clothes are different, but this kidnapper forgot to change the child’s shoes , and only by recognizing them, the parents are able to save him/her from leaving the park with the kidnapper. After the child is reunited with his parents, he is usually found to be doped up with blurry vision, and doesn’t remember a thing. The parents, obviously, refuse to be exposed while telling their story to the press, and sometimes threatened to sue Disney.
After browsing online, reading articles on almost every major Israeli news website, I came to realize this is one big hoax. The story was identical to the urban legend. Just in case, I Googled “child kidnap Disney” and came up with nothing. The only link which was relevant was one of a similar story, only this one ended with the exposure of the parents’ hoax by the press. By this time, I and most of the people who wrote comments to the online article figured out that this story was not true. Unfortunately, my father still refused to believe a story which appeared on the morning news, and on most news websites, was not verified properly. “But it was the news,” he said to me on the phone. A couple of hours later, it was out in the open: the story turned out to be fiction, and the reporter who was the first to publish the story was suspended until more details on the case will be revealed.
My guess was that she didn’t have enough stories for the morning broadcast, and there was a lot of pressure on her to find a story appropriate for the headlines. While missing a story, she came upon those parents who reported on the false case, following the urban legend’s smallest details. She probably didn’t have the time to verify the facts, and published the juicy story as is. I don’t think she will lose her job or be banished from all media forms. She was tricked and she fell into a trap, tempted by a sensational story. But with that, I can say it took me about five minutes to figure out the truth, by simply clicking “search”. There is no question on the matter: she really messed up, and gave us journalists a bad name. People recently started questioning our integrity and hard work, and I guess their claims may slowly form into something actual. This story is either sad or amusing. Not quite sure.
April 30, 2012 | 1:44 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Roger Waters, Carlos Santana, the Pixies are just a few of a long list of artists who gave in to political pressure and cancelled their scheduled performances in Israel in the past few years. After receiving threats of an artistic boycott by anti-Israeli groups, they were publicly called to avoid coming to this “horrible” place. Those artists joined the cultural boycott of Israel, which was organized by our haters, and that its outcomes are worse than any hostile news report. Those artists helped to put Israel in cultural solitude, simply because they were too afraid of criticism, and managed to bring politics to the universal language: music.
While some caved into the pressure, there are several reasonable, confident, true musicians, who don’t care what people think: they are here to make music. Here, in Israel, we don’t listen to Israeli music only, but rather enjoy international music, mostly American and British. I, myself, am a huge Elton John fan, and when he announced his arrival to Israel, I was almost hospitalized. Shortly after the announcement, the pressure reared its ugly head. Up until the day of the performance, I, along with 40 thousand ticket purchasers, had no idea if we will be able to have the night of our life, or receive a refund. The wait was nerve-wracking. Every week in the four months from the announcement to the performance, new conflicted reports were published. I was certain he would cave, for the fans are the most important thing for my good friend, Elton. But he didn’t disappoint, and played for us like never before.
June 17th, 2010. I’ve been waiting for this night my entire life, and this is why even four months after purchasing my ticket, I still couldn’t believe where I was. Ramat Gan stadium, at night, just me and my 40 thousand best friends. At 8:45 pm, almost too early in Israeli time, the lights went off, and as the late comers were still trying to find their seats, the band members took their places on stage. The youngest amongst them is a 50 year old pretty-boy keyboard player. The eldest, wearing a flannel shirt showing a wrinkled, hairy chest, was obviously not self-conscious. Two minutes of instrumental intro reached its climax when King John took his place by the piano. He was short, fat, and looked more like my grandfather than a rock legend, but when his fingers touched the keys, the world ceased from spinning. It seemed like everything negative or wrong in the world simply faded away. There were no wars, no global warming, no politics. The world became the notes that came out of John’s piano. At that moment, before even performing the first song, I found myself tearing up. I was overwhelmed both by the existence of this concer, and by the amazing force of each note. The gentle vibration in his rusty voice, along with unbelievable improvisations, cast a spell on me.
His voice is not the same, no doubt, and the high tones are hard to accomplish, but sir Elton Hercules John knows he can trust his audience. Almost as if it was prepared in advance, 40 thousand people sang “Roooooaaaadddd aaaaahhhhh” in perfect pitch. He knows how to get the recognition he deserves. At the end of each song, he leaves his comfort zone by the piano, reaches the center of the stage, and bows to the roaring audience, while mumbling “thank you. I love you”. Other than that, he doesn’t talk much, and let the songs speak on his behalf. Unlike most performing artists, he doesn’t tell the stories behind the songs, nor personal stories of any kind. He doesn’t need to. It is a shame to waste music-time. Nevertheless, there was one monologue on which he didn’t skip. Prior to his arrival, just like before any musician’s arrival to Israel, there was a lot of pressure on him to cancel his performance. Anti-Israeli groups called on him to join a cultural boycott on Israel. This type of pressure took down many musicians who were supposed to come here, but not John. To the sound of 80 thousand hands clapping and 40 thousand mouths whistling, he announced that no one can stop him from coming to Israel, and that it is the purpose of music to bring people together. Just like that, he managed to top the pure beauty of the music he makes.
Despite being a huge Elton fan, there were some songs I didn’t recognize. It didn’t matter. I was caught up by each note, as my heart pounded like crazy. The energy trough the audience was un-Israeli and somewhat mellow, but when he started playing “Benny and the Jets”, some sparks of energy started to go through the seats. When he started playing “I’m Still Standing”, there was no warm seat left. Everyone was on their feet, jumping and singing the lyrics which best describes John. Two and a half hours felt like ten minutes to me. Two and a half hours of musical combinations which made both my body and soul shake with thrills, sewed like a golden thread by John and his band.
He returns for the encore to a continent-crossing cheers. For solid five minutes he stops everything and reaches the front rows, shaking hands, signing, and collecting flowers and love. Then, he blows a kiss in the air, and sits by the piano. He starts playing the legendary “Circle of Life”, while images from The Lion King are shown on the screen. The show is sealed with my favorite song of all time: “Your Song”, as a fireworks spectacular shoots in the air. As he leaves the stage, the lights turn on, both in the stadium and in my life. I will never forget that night, the night when the ground shook.
April 29, 2012 | 12:10 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• On April 22nd, Israel showed respect for our homeplanet by turning off the lights for one hour. Three weeks after most of the world, the state of Israel was shut down from the day-to-day activities and rush. For one hour, the lights in most Israeli houses were turned off, and public places were also darkened. In Tel-Aviv, Israeli musicians electrified the stage in a musical concert. The concert was possible thanks to special eco-friendly energy, generated by volunteers who peddled special bicycles.
• New subject for school: Thanks to a new initiative, students of the governmental schools in Gaza will study Hebrew as of next year. According to the education office in Gaza, Hebrew studies are a part of a new enrichment program that also includes Turkish language studies. Seventh and eighth grade students will learn the two foreign languages. Hebrew teachers will probably be people who have learned the language while spending time in Israeli prison, as well as those with academic studies in Hebrew.
• Israeli nomination for one of the biggest film festivals: The Israeli feature movie God’s Neighbors has been chosen to be screened in Cannes Film Fetsival’s “Critics Week”. The movie, directed by Mani Yaesh, tells the story of a group of Breslov Orthodox Jews, who attempt to force their beliefs on their surroundings, and who, “in the name of God”, uses violence against anyone who dares to think differently. The movie has also been nominated for the Came’ra D’or prize, for “Best First Feature Film”.
• Jerusalem like you’ve never seen it before: After a year of production, the Imax 3D film Jerusalem is finally ready to air, and is scheduled for a worldwide release in 2013. The purpose of the film is to bring Jerusalem to the viewer, while providing the feeling of actually being there. Jerusalem will take you on a spectacular aerial tour of Israel and its capital city, once believed to be the center of the world.
You can get a sneak peak here:
April 26, 2012 | 10:37 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Today, Israel celebrates 64 years of existence. That’s really not much. It’s almost nothing in a scale of countries to age, but in this short period of time, we sure have been through a lot. In 64 years, Israel has been through wars, diplomatic issues, growing population, ground development and many other things every newborn country is going through. But to me, the most amazing thing that happened here was the new culture that developed. Israel is nothing like any other place on this planet.
Those of you who have been to Israel probably noticed this unique population who have a unique way of life. If not, come visit us again, or simply ask your state’s ambassador in Israel what is so special about this place. For the 64th birthday, “Yediot Ahronot”, one of the grand national papers, asked the foreign ambassadors to tell what is their favorite thing about Israel. Liselotte Kjærsgaard Plesner, the Danish ambassador, said that the two things she loves most about Israel are the entrepreneurship, in which Israelis are known to excel, and the tomatoes. Spain’s ambassador to Israel, Alvaro Iranzo, said his favorite things are the coffee shops in Tel Aviv (“Tel Aviv is a city I will never forget.”) The French ambassador, Kristoff Bigot, said the thing he looks up to Israel for is the Israeli openness and solidarity (“Israelis have the most amazing energy, honesty and straightforwardness.”)
As Israelis, we love complaining. To us, the government is unable to deal with anything, simply because we always know better. One common sentence in almost every conversation between Israelis is: “if only we will be the ones who run the state, we would be in a better place right now”. In between complaints comes our Independence Day, and for this special holiday, everything is right. Suddenly, there is no bad news, the papers are colored in white and blue, and everyone throws barbecues with big smiles on their faces.
A couple of days ego, my friends and I talked about the things we love most about living in Israel and being Israeli. Here are mine:
1. The scenery: Deserts, cities, snow, beaches, nightclubs and Kibutzes- Israel’s got it all. There is a local destination for every mood. Having everything only a couple of hours’ drive away is truly a remarkable achievement, which doesn’t only bring tourists, but also makes us feel like we live in the most unique place in the world.
2. The warmth: Israel is hot. Very hot. In summertime I sometimes feel like I am about to melt. But having almost no winter is not the kind of warmth I love about Israel. The warmth I am talking about is the human warmth. We may push in lines sometimes, or steal hotel shampoos, but when a fellow person is in need, you can count on the closest Israeli to provide assistance. Once you meet an Israeli you become his/her friend, before he/she even knows your last name or where you are from. It’s the willingness to think of others, friends or strangers, before oneself, that sure puts a smile on my face.
3. The solidarity: We live in a world that follows the rule ‘every man for himself.’ But living in Israel, this is quite impossible. We all do things together, and are joined by the same emotions at the same time, sometimes without our even noticing. I believe the Israeli solidarity is mostly due to the fact that we all serve in the army. The recruitment for the purpose of serving our country brings us all together, young and old. Moreover, because we live in a small place, where everything concerns everyone, most of us, if not all, don’t go through the day without reading the entire paper. When Gilad Shalit was held captive, everybody joined the efforts to bring him back home. When he returned, the news channels followed the story for the entire day, as there was not a dry eye from north to south; This past summer, we all shared the joint struggle of the middle-class in the demand of ‘social justice’; When we were informed that our source of water, the Kineret, is drying out, all households started saving water.
These are just few examples out of many. All of this togetherness, the shared experiences and the fact that we are still writing Israel’s history, really makes us ‘feel’ each other, and I am grateful for that.
4. Original creations: nine Academy Award nominations, 13 Grammy Awards, 10 Nobel Prize winners, one Miss World winner, seven Olympic Medals. This is a source of indescribable pride. It shows how amazingly talented Israelis are, and how far can the Israeli mind go. The ability to conquer almost every mountain top in pop culture surely puts Israel on the map.
5. The way everyone knows everyone: So we all serve in the army, and share a very small piece of land with relatively few higher- education academies and universities. This is a sure recipe for a situation where no one is a stranger. We often call each other “brother” or “sister”, and there is surely a good reason for this nickname. We are all like this one big family, and pretty much stuck up each other’s behinds, but in a good way. It is very likely for an Israeli to recognize every day at least one name which appears on daily papers. When two Israelis meet, here or abroad, all they need is two minutes, and you can count on them to find out why they look so familiar to each other. Whether it’s from the military service, university, hometown, scouts, or volunteer work - we are all connected to each other.
6. Bamba: Israel sure stands behind many delicious foods, but the one Israeli invention which is, to me, one of the most Israeli things there is, is the Bamba. This peanut butter snack from heaven is all Israeli and all good!
7. Jerusalem: I don’t consider myself very religious, but there is something about that city which takes my breath away. Seeing the tower of David at night, smelling the goods at Ben-Yehuda market, touching the Western Wall, eating the local Hummus, hearing the magnificent combination of a Rabbi, a Priest and an a Muazzin all together calling for service - this is Jerusalem. It is an out-of-this-world experience for all five senses, and a spiritual home for visitors and residents from all over the world.
8. The optimism: I am often addressed by people who live abroad that ask me how come I still live here, with the missiles and the threats and the unpopularity in some parts of the world. My answer is one of the most famous Israeli sentences: Everything will be all right. This sentence, combined with the strong belief that everything will, in fact, be all right, is the Israeli essence. No matter what, we stick with our home, with the country that our parents and grandparents built. We sure have been through a lot, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. But don’t worry, be happy!
9. Israeli Breakfast: chopped salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onion with fresh-squeezed lemon juice on top, along with an omelet and 5% cream cheese. Add some bread, and fresh made cappuccino, and you have yourself a perfect Israeli breakfast. I make sure to have one outside, with my friends, at least once a month, on a Saturday morning. The food, the sun and local gossip - that’s the good life.
10. Driving a French car, purchasing products online from the US, always saying that Europe is much safer, having a Facebook profile picture of you near the Great Wall in China, mixing words in English while talking to your friends, and constantly planning your next trip abroad, but always knowing there’s no place like home.
For your birthday, my dear Israel, I wish you many more years of fulfillment. May you never stop developing and may you always be an important part in our lives.
April 24, 2012 | 10:15 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Being the most painful day for the Israeli nation, the Israeli Memorial day marks for me, more than anything, solidarity and togetherness.
In its 64 years of existence, Israel has been through more than ten wars and operations, and endless terror events. To this day, 22993 Israelis have lost their lives in the battle for our homeland, 126 of which- in the past year.
Today, like every other year, the Israeli nation bows its head for the victims and heroes. No matter where you are or what you do, on 8pm the night before, and 11am in the morning- you will stop. At those times, a siren is heard throughout the country, and all Israelis stand still and show their respect and grief for those who lost their lives and their families.
Luckily, I haven’t lost anyone to terror or on the battlefield. None of my high-school classmates or my military service partners have lost their lives, nor a family member. Despite that, every year I can’t help feeling grief and sorrow. In the land where we address complete strangers as “brother” and “sister”, I can’t help feeling I lost 22,867 relatives. I am not a strange bird on the matter. On Memorial day, most people I know, even while not knowing any of the veterans and victims, go to at least one memorial ceremony, and cry. My friends and I go to our high-school, where the pupils read aloud the names of the graduates who are no longer with us and the school choir sings one of the many songs that were composed throughout the years, especially for this day. At the town square, and in every military base, soldiers stand, hats on their heads and weapons in their hands, and guard the memorial candle and the Israeli flag. I was one of them, just two years ego.
Everything is different that day: the radio only plays quiet songs, the television broadcasts Memorial Day specials and most of the stores are closed. Every working place, campus, military base and school, conducts a ceremony, and a national ceremony is held in Jerusalem. But it is not just the official atmosphere which is different; it’s also what each and every one of us feels inside. None of us pretends, and it is not a façade- it is real. We are all Israelis, and we share that Israeli experience every day. We all know each other, and we all share the grief with the families who lost their loved ones. But while the grief for some of my friends and I, fades away as we enter Independence Day, which is the next day, those families stay with the loss and carry it with them every waking minute. The loss is present in their lives every single day, and they carry it in every breath they take. For one day, all citizens of Israel share that loss with them, and show the proper respect for those who fought for our right to continue living here, and for those who did nothing but living, and were killed by suicidal terrorists for no reason.
The Israeli soldiers, who lost their lives in wars since 1948 to this very day, took the bullet for my family and me, so we could sleep at night. Some were 18 year olds, young men and women who just finished high-school and were getting ready to begin their lives. Others were older people with families who were called to serve again, just for the war-time.
When thinking about those veterans, there is no left wing or right wing. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether deaths were in vain or for a higher cause. The only thing that matters is the loss, and the support we can provide to the families who experience this loss for another 364 days. In memory of those who are no longer with us, who, like flowers, were picked up in their bloom, I light a candle. For their family members, I salute you. May they all rest in peace and may there be no more early deaths.