a different side of Israel

Category: Culture (page 9 of 22)

Local Israeli music, art, theater, celebs and talent. Culture in Israel, Middle East and around the world as it relates to Israel.

New in Cinema

Leonard Cohen will include Israel in his summer tour

If all goes well, and there are no last-minute cancellations (which we’re used to have), Leonard Cohen — the man and the famous blue raincoat — is set to perform in Ramat-Gan Stadium on September 18. Yes, he’ll be back after 35 years.

Leonard Cohen

…Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor…

Israeli Comics

Human Narration on

A family visit to Berlin

Comic DrawingThe Third Ear (“Ha’Ozen Ha’Shlisheet”) is an icon of Israeli culture. For years, the record and video store offered Israelis what we needed most: rare vinyls, imported CDs, obscure films, the latest action flicks with Hebrew subtitles — In short, pure, wholesome, nourishing entertainment culture. The company has now taken another leap into the cultural foray by launching its own comic book and graphic novel imprint: Third Ear Comics.

The imprint’s first book represents a spellbinding introduction to Israeli pop art, inasmuch the author — Merav Salomon — heads the illustration department of Israel’s prestigious design and arts school, Bezalel. Salomon’s book, entitled “A Family Visit to Berlin,” documents and is in itself a journey to Berlin through the melancholy lanes of memory, anxiety and longing.

Third-Ear Comics has lined up a series of other high profile artists and young talent to provide an outlet for a group of artists who often fall between the cracks of the institutions of fine and commercial art. It’s an exciting breakthrough for Israeli culture since the company has decided to publish both local and international artists.
Talk to Third-Ear Comics to give your feedback or to suggest up-and-coming artists at

Happy Shavuot

In Israel we celebrate Shavuot today. It’s a holiday that marks the beginning of summer, as well as symbolizing the day when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Eating dairy products is traditional in Shavuot, as well as spraying each other with buckets of water.

I love Shavuot. It’s an optimistic holiday. So I’ll share with you today an optimistic video clip from the local indie music scene. Yonatan Rozen is the singer, and he’s mainly known in Israel as an actor. The song is titled “Automobile”. Happy Holiday!

A Tale of Two Cities

There is only one Jerusalem. And there is only one Tel-Aviv. Both cities dominate the Israeli landscape, while each of them represents different aspects of the country.

Jerusalem is the capital. The heart of Judaism, and the largest city in the country, it is home to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). Jerusalem lies inland, on top of several hills, and surrounded by forests and valleys. It is a conflict city, which has a large orthodox population on one side, as well as a large Arab population on the other side.

Tel Aviv is the heart of new Israel, the epicenter of its culture and its Western lifestyle. The first Hebrew city to be built by the Zionist pioneers, it lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and attracts young people at their 20’s from all across the land. Many foreign embassies reside in Tel Aviv — including the American embassy — since Jerusalem’s status as the Israeli capital is under dispute in the international scene.

The “Ha’Dag Nahash” (the Snake Fish), a successful Israeli band, has a rap song that describes the rivalry between these two cities. The character in the song moves back and forth from one city to the other, uncertain where his heart lies.

The song is titled “Ee’Ne A’Ni Ba” (Here I Come).

The first and third chorus goes like this:
Tel-Aviv, A’Ni Ma’Gia, Ba’ti Leha’Zia – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Tel-Aviv, I’m coming, ready to sweat – You’re the only one, I swear)

The second chorus goes like this:
Ye’Ru’Shala’Eem, Ho’Zer E’Laeich, El Ho’Mo’Taich – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Jerusalem, I’m returning to you, inside your walls – You’re the only one, I swear)

Anthem to Israeli Artists in Europe

Elad Keidan - Israeli FilmmakerLast week, an Israeli student film won first prize in the prestigious Cannes Festival in France. The short film “Anthem” (Himnon) was directed by Elad Keidan, a young student director. The movie tells the story of a man from Jerusalem who walks along the streets of a famous neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Keidan was exhilarated during the post-win press conference. “I imagined that we might win one of the prizes, but I didn’t expect the first prize,” he told the media. “On my first night in Cannes I dreamt that I had won the competition, and the truth is I was pretty stressed out. Now that it’s already happened, it’s very exciting. I am proud of the fact that the judges, who are highly respectable filmmakers, liked the film — Particularly Hou Hsiao Hsien, who chaired the jury, and is an admirable filmmaker. It’s a real honor.”

Still, we can’t always win first place. On Saturday, in another part of Europe, Israel came ninth in the Eurovision song contest – the annual display of Europe’s worst pop music and its most tasteless fashion. Israel was represented by Boaz Mauda who delivered his best performance so far. The song “Ke’Ei’Lu Ka’N” (As If Here) was written by famous singer Dana International, the winner of the 1998 Eurovision. Well, coming ninth is quite an achievement compared with our embarrassing score at last year’s contest.

Source: Y-NET ; Picture by Festival De Cannes

Israel Celebrates its 60th Ringtone

Art and commercial interests have long been good buddies. Singers and painters always need a wealthy sponsor if they want to have the time to concentrate solely on their art, and accordingly, the “big suits” have a clear marketing interest in associating themselves with popular culture. The connection is therefore expected and quite obvious in most cases. Still, there are certain artists, especially those belonging to the older generation, whom we all look up to and admire for being faithful to their audiences and for never “putting out”.

In Israel, we have the same phenomenon, whereas “production factories” mass-produce instant celebrities such as Maya Buskila and Ninet Tayeb who go on to promote garment companies and cellular networks, while at the same time, long-respected artists such as Yonatan Geffen and Arik Einstein tend to remain away from the limelight of the advertising media.

Up until recently anyway.

Toilet Paper made of CashMaybe it’s the rising inflation, or the desire to feel “young and hip” — in any case, classic figures within Israeli culture have been falling one by one into the hands of “quick-buck commercialism” in recent months and years. The result is unique ads that attract many fans, but at the same time upset many others, who feel betrayed by their idol.

The biggest sensation of the last half year has been the consent of singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, age 69, to appear in a TV ad for the cellular company Orange, a subsidiary of the global Partner Communications network. For a sum of nearly a million Shekels, old footage of Einstein was merged with specially filmed scenes, as to create the appearance that Einstein was performing in the 70’s together with current-day artists. As just mentioned, he earned this much money without even leaving his home. Aside from the commercial itself, a festive album was recorded to commemorate this rare collaboration between “old” and “young” artists — titled “Hebrew Work” (“Avoda Ivrit”). The declared pretext for such an ambitious project is Orange’s desire to do something special to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

This month, we learned of another novel purchase made by Orange. This time songwriter Yonatan Geffen was chosen to promote the massive “Hebrew Work” concert which Orange is throwing out in the park in early June. Such a wonderful marketing strategy — not to mention they’ve decided to collect no entrance fee at the concert!

These are just two examples out of many. But it is sending a strong message to struggling young artists that if they want to succeed, that if they want to be able to make ends meet, they must engineer their music to target the popular ear, so that business moguls would want to sponsor them. It has the danger of degrading the artistic quality of our culture onto the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, everyone has to make money somehow. Why is it okay for Einstein to make money from selling albums but not from selling other products (like cellphones)? Why do we place such high expectations on him but not on young Ms. Ninet? Does she not deserve the same expectations? They’re both talented humans.

I don’t have an answer. It’s one facet of our Capitalist world we can’t avoid, and though it the situation bothers me, I think there is no use in playing prude.

Channel 10 — the true Survivor

Up until 2002, there was only one commercial broadcasting television channel licensed to operate in Israel. There were already many niche channels transmitting via the cable networks (which have meanwhile merged into the “HOT” network) or the satellite network “YES”, but up until that point, Channel 2 was the dominating force of commercial TV in Israel, and considered to be the mainstream option for the average Israeli TV-goer.

In 2002 businessman Yossi Meiman made the bold move and initiated the creation of Israel 10 (known simply as Channel 10 in Israel), infusing huge amounts of cash into this media adventure. At the beginning, it seemed that he threw away his money in vain, having to face many bureaucratic obstacles and initial low rating levels. Despite shameless purchasing of Channel 2’s main news anchors, Ya’akov Eilon and Miki Haimovitz, Israel 10’s future remained uncertain for the first 3 years or so. All changed when new investors jumped onto the wagon, and when Israel 10 had decided to claim its share of the lucrative pie known as Reality TV…

Israeli Survivor 10Yesterday 36% of Israel’s TV screens were tuned “10” — mine including — on the occasion of a “good-trash” celebration, known as the Survivor 10 Live Finale, taking place in a major basketball arena, no less. After 16 successful seasons in which the reality show Survivor has been a definite “hit” in America, it was high time for the gold-laying chicken to learn how to speak Hebrew. Still, it wasn’t a simple case of a format purchasing and localization. Israel 10 went several steps ahead and has grossly altered the known format, turning the fast-paced reality into a semi-scripted soap opera. Countless magazine articles have published multiple claims of game manipulation by the Israeli production, ranging from the supply of groceries to the castaways, and up to changing the rules on-the-fly in order to keep their preferred characters inside the game, when these faced an imminent threat of dismissal by their fellow tribe members. Personally, I have no idea if these claims have any truth in them; the production certainly denies such allegations. One thing is for sure, the show fulfilled its purpose as a major rating magnet, and provided Channel 10 with a widespread buzz, that is normally the exclusive property of Channel 2.

Three finalists came on top after 52 days on the island: Dan Mano, the young Haifa attorney, whose uncle owns the wealthy Mano Cruise company. Dan has been painted as the manipulative mastermind, who managed to irritate most of his fellow castaways, and a great proportion of the viewers. At one point, when Dan was about to be voted off the island in the following tribal council, the production suddenly transferred him into the women’s group, virtually “saving his ass”. He always claimed to simply playing the game, and personally I must admit that he was my favourite pick for taking the one million shekels prize. Next to him, we had Na’ama Keisary, the new mom, who left her one-month baby, and her dying father, in order to challenge herself in this dire experience. She hadn’t won even a single contest on the island, yet came across as a strong and independent woman. Last but no least, the third finalist pleading the jury for a check last night, was Noam Tor, the humble bee-keeper, who was elected Israel’s sexiest man alive by a major magazine. Noam was voted off the island relatively early in the game, but survived a secondary game in what was called “the Island of the Dead” — a serious deviation from the original format.

Despite being filmed in the Caribbean Islands, the winner wasn’t chosen on-site, as done in the original version, nor was the decision free of public influence. The castaways arrived at the Nokia Arena while already enjoying a celebrity status, and have had many weeks to influence the members of the jury after leaving the island. In addition, the TV finale included an SMS poll, in which the audience was asked to pick its favourite finalist — and these results would have been considered the tie-breaking vote if such a scenario was materializing. In the end, after an excruciating evening that included 3 weary finalists, and many emotional breakdowns, Na’ama Keisary was chosen the ultimate Survivor, surprising everyone believed strongly that Noam was signaled by the production as the suitable winner.

Now that the first Israeli season came to an end, Channel 10 is losing its first rating monster, and leaving many viewers with a bad taste in mouth. Nevertheless; it was fun, it was hot, and it was addictive. Expect a second season heading your way next year….

Underground Israeli Theater

Israeli theater is a well established domain of Israeli culture, with a large number of internationally-renowned actors and actresses, such as Gila Almagor, Yisrael Poliakov, Chaim Topol and Lior Ashkenazi, to name but a few. Israel has a number of prestigious theater venues, mostly situated in Tel Aviv — particularly Ha’Bima, Ha’Kameri, and Gesher. There is also an ever growing number of performing arts schools, partially a result of the growing number of Israeli productions in recent years and their newly found success overseas.

I want to discuss a specific kind of theater today, one which is already present strongly overseas, but is gaining widespread interest only in recent years. I am referring to improvisation theater, and especially to such methods as Jonathan Fox’s Playback Theater and Jacques Lecoq’s Physical Theater Method. Former Israeli students of these two innovating performers opened their own schools in Israel with accordance to their teachers’ unique style.

As regard to the Lecoq method, an acting school in the southern Tel-Aviv neighborhood of Florentin offers a three-year structured education in Physical Theater. It is still a small place with not too many students, but the school is already offering the local scene a chance to watch a type of performance that is outside the circle of mainstream theater.

Somewhat related, Playback theater has currently more followers in Israel, all across the country, though no official school exists yet. Several teachers have opened their own intimate groups, usually both practicing and performing inside different universities. The Playback theater offers more than just pure entertainment, it is also a type of therapy for both the performers and viewers. In a normal playback setting, there is a host who invites a person of the audience to share a personal story, and watch it being improvised on stage. This projection of inner conflicts and memories onto the performers can be a very powerful experience, and can be considered “recreational therapy”.

The scene is not very large yet, but the word is spreading among friends and classmates, and more and more people turn into impro acting for the pure purpose of having fun, not necessarily aspiring to become professional performers.

Writers’ Conference

Amos Oz - Israeli WriterBefore all attention is deflected to President George W. Bush’s visit to Jerusalem today, the capital is hosting its annual Writers’ Conference, one of Israel’s leading literary events, which attracts internationally-renowned novelists and poets. One of the guests is Nadine Gordimer, South African writer, political activist and Nobel Prize laureate, who has long written about racial issues in her home country.

The authors have discussed political issues as well as literature:

“Israel is the country of immigrants and refugees, survivors and displaced people from all over the world. We weren’t occupiers, and we didn’t want to be occupiers”, said Eli Amir, the famous Israeli writer, “We were thrown into a historic situation that we have not managed to get out of. We are a torn nation. The occupation is destroying us. We have no right to control another nation. Our leaders and the leaders of the Palestinian people must do everything to get out of this situation.”

Amos Oz, winner of the prestigious Goethe Prize in 2005 spoke about his love-hate relationship with Israel, “I must personally admit that I love Israel even when I can’t stand it. It’s no coincidence that during a year when it’s tough to love Israel, it’s easier to love its literature. Israeli literature delivers the bill to the Israeli people – for the subjugation of the Palestinians, the occupation, the wars, the internal social injustices, book after book, creation after creation.”

We hope that authors will succeed where politicians have failed so far, and will help to bring a touch of normality to this conflicted area.

Source: Haaretz ; Picture by Princeton University Press

Claims Conference Disgraceful Exploitation of the Holocaust

Claims Conference DocumentaryToday we mark the Holocaust Memorial Day. Last year, the entire country was shaken after watching the documentary film The Morals of Restitution (Musar Hashilumin) . The film, created by the socially-conscious journalists Orly Vilnai Federbush and Guy Meroz, revealed the shameful economic conditions of so many of the holocaust survivors who live in Israel. More than 80,000 Shoah survivors live in atrocious poverty without some of the most basic means such as food and medicine. One survivor told the cameras shockingly that she had to go back to Germany, a place of her persecution, due to Israel’s lack of financial support. The film raised a pointing finger at the Jewish institutions including the Israeli banks, JNF (Jewish National Fund) and the Claims Conference, an organization established for the primary purpose of transferring restitution funds from Germany, for withholding payments of survivors who are literally dying in the meantime.

How could this happen in Israel, a state built by and for Jews? This is the question the audience of this documentary is left with. There was a point where things seemed as they were about to change. People protested and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a speech emphasizing the importance of the Holocaust survivors for this country while promising to distribute special funds. It all turned out to be a mere media spectacle – survivors were given a one-time allowance of a few dozen NIS and were left forgotten again.

A year has passed since. In a sequel broadcast last night the journalists returned to further investigate how and whether things have changed. They didn’t. Many of the survivors passed away while others continue in their daily suffering. The sequel shows how the Claims Conference organization has turned into a corrupt money making machine accumulating fortunes for its own benefits and agenda.

In light of this, one must wonder how these people live with themselves. More importantly, how does our society allows this to happen? It is about time that we not only remember but wake up from our apathy and take action to protect these people from death in disgrace. The only positive thing emerging from this issue is the courage of the creators to speak out which highlights the true purpose of journalism.

The CON in the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims

We are at home watching the shows and stories of the Holocaust. A day dedicated to the stories and the survivors here in Israel. There are 80,000 survivors in Israel that can barely survive and leave below the poverty line yet when they ask for help they are put through hell. Insurance monies, property taken from these people, claims money that were awarded all went to a group called the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims in New York.

The Conference is the sole beneficiary of German compensation. Actually $1,070,000,000 worth of compensation. When properties were released after the fall of the Berlin wall in Germany it was this organization that collected the properties – a list that until today is not being revealed to survivors. This body is today one of the largest single property ownership groups in Europe.

Today when a survivor wants to get the money he is left, he needs to face a battery of lawyers controlled by this New York organization. Even today this organization refuses to provide a list of the properties that are held supposedly for the Holocaust survivors.

120,000 properties were received, worth $1,050,000,000. And this money is transfered to organizations and foundations that have nothing to do with the Holocaust and its survivors. Organizations that are in Brooklyn, Jewish Museums, and a whole network of organizations not related to the Holocaust in any way.

Not only that, in one case when the Conference received a property and then is faced with a claim from the actual property owner, the Conference demanded 50% of the money and threatened in writing the owner that they will take his house if he doesn’t pay up. Blackmailing Holocaust survivors!!! The CON gets worse and is aggressively covered up to the extent that employees are fired for asking the wrong questions.

There are 24 Jewish organizations that control the Claims Conference each having the same weight in decisions and allocations. And so Israel with its 80,000 survivors gets the same weight in deciding on the allocation of aid as for example South Africa with its 900 survivors.

The Conference allocates money for political favors and people on the board of directors are getting ridiculous salaries with administrative costs that are running in the millions. The term for this in the US is Self Dealing! It is Self Dealing that is now hopefully going to be investigated by the District Attorney of New York.

“Yirgon Uotzei Merkaz Europa”, an organization in Israel that received $9,000,000 from the Conference over the years, is managed by one of the guys close to the plate. That organization that supposed to help Eastern European jews is charging $4,000 a month for a room in their retirement home. It gives no breaks to Holocausts Survivors of course. The organization that received money and is supposed to help Holocaust education and support survivors has absolutely no such services or consideration to survivors. This year the organization will receive another $670,000.

To date 2,000 Holocaust survivors received assistance from the Conference.

Gideon Taylor the head of the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims makes $450,000 a year!

Good People…

Shirly Brener Hits Big Time

Shirly BrenerAnother Israeli actress has landed the lead role in a Hollywood production. According to recent reports, Israeli actress Shirley Brener has nabbed the leading role in a new action film called “Streets of Blood”. She will be starring alongside Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer, and rapper 50 cents.

Brener will portray a drug addict who gets in trouble with the police. “I am excited about the filming, I feel like I am taking an additional step and this time opposite a Hollywood diva like Sharon Stone”, said Brener to the press.

More Israeli actresses are joining Natalie Portman in conquering the big screen. Last month inside sources hinted that Ayelet Zurer would star next to Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s upcoming film “Angels and Demons”, based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. In 2001, Zurer made an unforgettable appearance in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich”, which launched her international career.

I have no doubt that our representatives are extremely talented, but in this business it also demands a lot of luck! Considering this international success, I hope these women are wearing a Hamsa against the envious eye!

Also can be added to this impressive list, singer and songwriter Yael Naim whose hit song “New Soul” has been rocking American charts in the past few months.

Way to go!

Lice Art in Israel

If you run into people in Israel strangely scratching their heads, they might be German artists. Seven young artists from Berlin have chosen to express themselves in a very extraordinary way; they are spending seven nights and days in an Israeli museum in the company of lice.
Why? That’s a great question.

Is it art, gimmick, or the art of the gimmicks? This gallery has been loaded with provocations. Did these Germans intend to associate this unusual exhibition with the Holocaust? The Holocaust is still a very touchy subject in Israel. Holocaust survivors and their families might be offended, especially so close to Holocaust Memorial Day.

“We were aware that, as Germans in Israel, there was a risk we may be misunderstood, that we would open up wounds People ask about it – we had one woman who came and thanked us for making such a great statement against the fascist rhetoric of German history”, said one of the artist to the press.

Another artist explained that the group is exploring the theme of hosting.
I am a great supporter in freedom of speech, but some things just give the impression of being tasteless, even for the sake of art.
These German artists can enjoy their freedom of scratching. I am keeping away from this gallery.


Maya Bouskilla Joins The Army

Maya Bouskilla ArmyIDF gets a special gift for Passover: Maya Bouskilla, a famous Israeli pop singer, has enlisted to the IDF at the age of thirty. The Israeli army service is mandatory for every young person at the age of 18, which means that Maya has joined about a decade past enlistment usual age, making her one of the oldest candidates to ever join the army.

Bouskilla evaded serving in the Israeli army, claiming to be religious. However, a few years later, Maya appeared in an advertising campaign for swimsuits that was not exactly modest, putting her religious orientation under serious doubt. The Israeli media passed a harsh critique on this move, which was rightly viewed as the adoption of a double standard. This was definitely not Kosher on her part!

Maya tells she has regretted dodging the army. Did Major General Elazar Sern make the Israeli singer change her mind? Stern has protested last month against the popularity of false claims of religion amongst young women, urging them to join the Israeli forces.

Is it simply a coincidence that Maya joins the army just as she releases her new album? Enlist to the army for public relations? It sounds too radical to me …

I say –if you’re gonna shoot, shoot, don’t sing!
Image: IDF Photo

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