a different side of Israel

Tag: Summer

Happy Days Here Again?

Unemployment center
“They certainly look happy, don’t they?”

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Sung during the Great Depression, and composed by J. Yellen and M. Ager

Bank of Israel Chairman Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz appeared happy when it was announced that the numbers of unemployed Israelis had decreased to “only” 17.5 thousand new claims in Jun/July, as compared to 18.6 thousand during May, or a decrease of 5%. That, according to Steinitz, brings the total number of redundant workers down to “a more manageable level” of slightly less than a quarter million souls. Another statistic that appears to cause both Mr. Fischer and Steinitz to smile is that the number of people being fired from various jobs fell by 2.2.% as compared to previous months.

But if all this is supposed to be such great news, why are so many not smiling, or whistling modern versions of Happy Days are Here Again? And why did the Bank of Israel have to go out and purchase another 100 million dollars on top of the 250 million the bank bought a few days earlier to try to stem the continuing decline of the Greenback? Perhaps things aren’t as “happy” as Fischer and Steinitz want us to think?

During the summer months, unemployment figures always seem to drop a bit for a number of reasons, including many people finding temporary summer jobs, or taking a vacation due to their kids being out of school; or simply waiting for the job market to pick up again in the fall. This logic is particularly true for women who are now unemployed from high tech or similar higher paying positions, and have decided to be home with their children instead of having to pay for expensive day care; since the greatest day care “plans” around , school and pre-school, are both out on summer break.

Another factor deals with people who out of desperation have taken lower paying jobs as cashiers, security guards and even maintenance workers that pay only minimum wage or slightly higher; making them under employed as compared to their former status. All of this goes along with a statement made the other day by U.S. President Barack Obama, when he told a press meeting that “we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the end of the current recession”. He almost broke in a version of the Happy Days song himself while making this statement, apparently giving himself the credit for any improvement in the still faltering U.S. economy.

But getting back to what’s happening on this side of the pond, it’s still far too early to whistle any happy tunes; especially when many people’s unemployment benefits are about to run dry and local banks are calling on credit card companies to return payments due to lack of funds. We must also bear in mind that when that Happy Days song came out in 1929, the Great Depression had not even begun yet.

So who’s whistling this song now? Maybe Yuval and Stanley are – but a lot of folks aren’t!

Bravo di Opera di la Scala in the park

Summer is often a wonderful time to attend open air concerts. And such was the case Thursday evening when the world renown Italian opera theater, La Scala of Milan, put on a performance together with the Israel Opera Company in Gan Yehoshua in north Tel Aviv. The concert, in which a special open-air version of Verdi’s Requiem was performed, was given free by both the joint performers, and the Municipality of Tel Aviv, together with other sponsors, including the Israel Tourism Ministry, the Italian Embassy, and Subaru automobile importers.

operaFor those thousands of people who had the pleasure of attending this concert, including those of us who came to Tel Aviv by train to avoid all the traffic and parking problems, we weren’t disappointed, although we had to scramble to get chairs and not have to sit or lay on the grass like many aficionados did; as many of those who brought their own folding chairs with them had to leave them at the entrances to the concert site – some sort of stupid management policy, we reckoned. The sheer numbers of people who attended, many of whom even brought babies and small children along (who were as enthusiastic as their parents for the most part) would have made many think that Madona had decided to up her September concert date; which will be performed in the same location.

Things finally got underway at 9:15 pm after some introductory remarks by His Honor, Mayor Ron Huldai, who used the concert as a good platform to talk about the ongoing 100th anniversary celebrations for his city and to express his gratitude for the gracious participation of La Scala, said to be perhaps the finest opera house in the world, depending of which side of the Atlantic Ocean one lives on.

The only criticism regarding the hour and a quarter concert, was perhaps the type of opera itself that was performed, Verdi’s Requiem; which as opera aficionados know, is a very “heavy” and serious performance, with a great deal of religious connotations, especially in regards to Christianity. While not being real opera fans, but were there for the experience, we felt that there might have been some better choices for a mid-summer night’s open air performance; such as Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubador) or even Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. For an audience which was at least 90% Jewish, and with many observant people in attendance, the subject matter of this performance left a bit to be desired.

Despite this minor issue, the concert was still worth attending, even though we had to leave about 10 minutes early (stepping over and around people sitting and lying on the grass) so as not to miss our train north, and thus missed the “grand finale”, fireworks and all.

If we go to Madonna’s gig, we’ll be sure to pitch up early.

Gay Pride Parade celebrates Tel Aviv’s 100th

More than 20,000 gays, lesbians, and curiosity seekers turned out for Tel Aviv’s 11th annual Gay Pride Parade on Friday, June 12. The event was staged by the city’s growing homosexual community, was coordinated as a part of the community’s Gay Pride Month and the city’s 100th birthday celebration. Gays and lesbians from all over Israel, as well as many visitors from abroad participated in the colorful event which includes groups like “Rugada”, a Russian group of (slightly) hairy gay men, Transgenders for Change, the Israeli Arab lesbian group “Asawat” (voices), “Bat Kol” ( Jewish religious lesbians) and one called Femmes.

Gay Pride in Tel Aviv 2009The celebrations began at 10 a.m. with a “pre parade” Gay and Lesbian Tourism Expo outside the Gan Meir GLBT Center in central Tel Aviv that included a number of tourism and other exhibits of interest to the gay and lesbian community, as well as music and other live entertainment. The parade itself kicked off at 1 p.m. on Borgrashov Street, and moved along to Ben Yehuda and Gordon streets before ending up at Gordon Beach where a TGIF beach party was held with music mixes by a professional DJ and plenty of snacks, beer and soft drinks until Shabbat began.

Besides the usual drag queens, muscle beach guys and other celebrants, this year’s parade included Israel’s version of Dykes on Bykes, in which lesbian participants on all kinds of motorized two wheelers (from cycles to mopeds) rode in unison together with rainbow colored Gay Pride flags attached to their handle bars.

Another unusual event this year was a mass “wedding” of five couples, something never done before in the Community (such weddings, although not legally recognized, are usually done in private due to adverse reactions from the non-gay community, especially the religious communities).

The festivities didn’t end on the Sabbath’s onset, however, as smaller parties continued into the night at various gay and lesbian pubs and other hang-outs.

For those who had to end their celebrating at the onset of Shabbat, as well as for all other interested participants, a Pink Elephant party will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday evening at the Tel Aviv Port opposite the Montana Ice Cream emporium.

Tel Aviv’s homosexual and lesbian community has become one of the most active ones in the Western World; and certainly the most high profile one in the entire Middle East. Gay and Lesbian tourism to Israel has increased substantially in recent years, with visitors from many countries coming to the “non-stop city” to enjoy its many attractions for the Community. “We want people to feel fully free to come here and enjoy being with Israeli gays and lesbians, and even to get married if they choose to do so”, a Gay Pride official said.

Opening Matkot Season

Like baseball in America, the sport of Matkot happens in Israel every Spring (and Summer, Fall and even Winter, for that matter). You just can’t go the beach in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Herzelia, Haifa, Ashdod or Ashkelon without seeing people hitting a small rubber ball back and forth to each other with a large wooden paddle that resembles a piece of plywood sandwiched between two pieces of rubber or other material. And the characteristic “poing poing” of the paddles can be heard so much that most beaches require these players to square off on a beach section set off just for them.

Often said to be Israel’s “unofficial national sport” Matkot comes from the words “Makah” in Hebrew or “madka” in Arabic, both words meaning a knock or blow. The sport’s origins seem to come from back in the 1930’s when people were first seen batting a small ball back and forth on the Tel Aviv beachfront. Probably, it was because things were a bit more laid-back in those days, and there simply weren’t very many tennis or squash courts available. So, one had to do what one had to do – and that was to improvise.

Since those simpler times, the sport has spread to other countries as well – especially to those that also have good beach fronts to play on, including those southern islands like Koh Samui in Thailand, where “just a few” young Israelis are often seen hanging out.

The sport attacks both young and old aficionados, and some of the real “veterans” such as one known as Morris “The Great” and Amnon “The Cannon” have decided to take the sport even further by setting up an official Matkot Museum where photos and paddles used by some of the Matkot greats of the sport will now get the attention they are surely due. We would imagine that some of Israel’s most interesting, if not famous personalities have “had a go” at this game at one time or another; and their photos while engaged in a heavy Matkot round will probably be seen there as well. Negotiations are now going on with the Tel Aviv Municipality to be given a suitable place where all this glorious stuff can be put on display for all to see.

In the meantime, Morris “The Great” Zadok, has set up a museum of his own, located at 61 Shabazi Street in the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood (Also known as Shikun Shabazi). There’s even talk about trying to get this great sport entered as an Olympic event. Who knows? It might wind up being the source of Israel’s next gold medal.

As for guys like Morris, and Amnon, you’ll still find them on the beachfront, enjoying the game they have grown to love so much. ” I dream every night of the next day’s game” Amnon says.

End of Summer

* (en) Israel LocationWe’re quickly approaching the end of August. And even though we had some nice weather at the end of last week, it’s steaming hot in Israel at the moment. Nevertheless, the sky darkens a bit earlier.

Next week the school year begins, and hundreds of thousands of children will get off the streets and into the classrooms. One girl who might not ordinarily resume school is Rose from Netanya, who’s been missing for 3 months, and only two days ago came to the public’s attention. Today we learn that her step father is suspected of murdering her, and this story has a shocking similarity to the murder of Hodia Kedem 6 years ago by her father, as a twisted way of taking revenge at his ex-wife. We still don’t know if that’s the also the case this time, and the whole of Israel is hoping that Rose will eventually be found safe and sound.

On the environmental front, Israel is drier than it has been for many decades, and there is a real threat of entering a state of water shortage. Another consequence of the heat is the excess use of air conditioners and the resulting spread of allergies.

September 1st is a day dreaded by many, anticipated by many. But we still have a whole week to go.

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