a different side of Israel

Tag: Tech (page 1 of 4)

Hydrotherapy in the Kibbutz

Yamit Pool is located in the pastoral kibbutz of Netzer Sireni, and the place offers great opportunities for kids and expecting mothers to enjoy the soothing effect of lying in the water, or the fun of splashing around with Yamit and her dedicated and professional staff.

Yamit also treats children who have special needs with hydrotherapy techniques, and her website boasts a number of enthusiastic testimonials.

The name Yamit implies “of the sea” in Hebrew, and she has taken her birthright to a whole new level.

If Only Cancer was a Sign of Progress

A report published by the Ministry of Health a few days ago determines that the new leading cause of death in Israel is cancer. Previously, this dubious title was reserved for heart disease. The report explains the change by citing the development of new methods for the treatment of heart disease. At first glance, it sounds like good news. Here we are, a tiny country in the Middle East, able to defeat one of Death’s servants. Now we could move on to focus on its “lesser” sibling: Mr. Malignant Tumor.

Alas, if only this was a sign of progress, or a tribute to Israeli medicine.

As a child growing up in Israel, I was always taught that road accidents is the leading cause of death in Israel. Whether a proven fact or not, it had been ingrained into our brain. Teachers used to cite the appalling numbers of car victims, and the fact that these numbers exceed by far the number of Israeli war casualties. Well, it is true that the Israeli driver earned the reputation of being snappish and restless — a rather accurate description, which could only be rivaled by the Italian driver’s reputation. And getting into my car and onto the road is sometimes like entering a battlefield. On the one hand, it’s a stressful experience for many, but on the other, the perfect opportunity to vent off some anger — as honks, curse words, and the middle finger do not pose a rare occasion out here.

SerpentAnd what about violent crimes? The numbers are rising, and we hear more and more of young teenagers being stabbed outside of dancing clubs, or of old folks being brutally beaten and robbed. Crime families, such as the Alperon family, or the Rosenstein’s, have gained celebrity status, and appear to dodge the police time and time again with the help of their fancy lawyers. Domestic violence is also a phenomenon that declines to recedes, despite massive awareness.

Terror and rockets continue to claim their victims, although the numbers are have drastically fallen in recent years, thanks to the government’s firm approach. But even so, as peace is constantly lingering, conflict is likely to cause more sorrow for Israeli families in the future.

So we’ve been left with Cancer to be our biggest foe. Personally, I find the prospect of cancer terrifying. I know too many people afflicted by it, friends and family. In addition, the fervent sun in Israel is relentless in summer, and the presence of antennas and satellite dishes is always on the rise. It seems the world turns more and more radioactive by the day, and not only in Israel.

Finally, I want to address the reduced percentage of heart-related death in Israel. It is indeed a positive mark, but it’s something we can see across the Western world, and it is not unique to Israel. We have the privilege of placing advanced technology in our hospitals and cutting-edge drugs in our pharmacies, but less and less people can afford these — as poverty is spreading, while medical care is being progressively privatized.

Dear Government Officials, we may have won a single battle, but the war is still waging, and there is much more to do. Death is a tricky serpent.

Source: Haaretz ; Picture by My Pets

Spunky News

Israeli people are known for their sauciness and their “spunk”. They have the boldness to strive for success and to invent breakthrough enterprises. A good example for this would be the large amout of Israeli entrepreneurs, especially in the high-tech domain. And an even better example would be the state of Israel itself! I mean, it took major spunk for the first Jewish immigrants to disobey the Turkish and British authorities in Palestine, and to claim their place in the world. Whenever they were told “No”, they did not waver, and came up with saucy ideas such as the “Tower and stockade” operations.

Yesterday we saw a good example of that spunk on TV. As a prelude to his second visit of Israel (which began today), gave George W. Bush an exclusive interview to Israel’s Channel 10 News, conducted by front anchormen Yaakov Eilon and Gil Tamari. They sat down for an open, apparently unscripted, conversation with the US President. He seemed amused by their questions and attitude, and they came across as naughty kids who enjoy pushing the envelope ever more.

Watch a short clip of the interview: Mr. Bush on the Olmert Allegations

You could see them inquiring the president about his vision for the middle east, asking for his opinion as regards to the corruption allegations againt Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, and greeting him on his daughter’s wedding. At one point, they began speculating about a possible Iran attack, and albeit Mr. Bush said he doesn’t like to talk hypothetically, they continued to press the issue. Later, they teased the president about his relative lack of involvement in the middle east, saying it took him 7 years to actually “get started”, and asking whether the next president should start earlier. Yes, it actually happened, and I must say that admired the president’s way of handling the cross-fire. He remained calm, even laughed a bit, and then gave straight and frank answers about what he think that could and couldn’t be achieved by the end of his candidacy.

Finally, these two cheeky anchormen directly appealed Mr. Bush to release Jonathan Pollard — the Israeli spy held prison in the States since 1987 — as a goodwill gesture in accordance with Israel’s 60th birthday. He simply said that his policy on the matter hasn’t changed, and even agreed to reveal that he continually receives such official requests from the Israeli government; a piece of information the Israeli public would find very satisfying.

Maybe it’s the freshness of Channel 10 attitude, or perhaps it’s the lax behavior of a president who’s about to leave office — in any case, this rare interview was a pleasure to watch.

Shin Bet Blog

Shin Bet BlogIsrael security agency has launched a new blog in which four employees, identified by their initial letters, tell about their work as Shin Bet agents. Sounds intriguing? By what I’ve read and heard so far, the blog is not too exciting (to say the least).

This move is unexpected, considering the legendary reputation of this secret agency. I was very curious to hear what motivated this rare initiative. It appears that shin bet is interested in marketing itself as a standard high-tech company, while fighting its intimidating image. This move is a part of a bigger campaign aiming to attract program engineers and other high-tech professionals from Israel and across the world.
The lives of the Shin Bet employees as described online seem completely normal. That is the message Sin bet wishes to convey.

One of the bloggers, Y, tells the readers that his first priority is his family. “You don’t stay at work if u don’t really have to”, admits Y, who only wants to return home as early as he can. If you are looking for patriotic slogans, search elsewhere. It looks like working for Israel’s intelligence agency is not the James Bond stories that one might imagine. I personally prefer the myth, and by judging readers’ commentary, I’m not the only one!

While the official website has been recently translated into English and Arabic, the blog is only available in Hebrew. Don’t be too disappointed though: who really wants to read a blog by a boring high-tech employee ?…

Too Hot, much too Hot

Today’s been a record hot day for the season. I’m not sure what the temperature actually is but it feels close to around 90F. The heat in Israel can be uncomfortable, but it’s easy to get distracted from it when dealing with other things– like, say, the Israeli service industry.

My latest run-in– maybe “collision” would be a better word– was with the Internet and cable provider Hot. I’ll give a little background on the company in the form of telling you that there is a Hebrew website called “I Hate Hot.” The website is well built and seems very active.

The first salvo of stupidity occurred, naturally, the first time I contacted Hot about a problem I was having with my connection. The technician said, “How can I help you?” I said, “I have a problem with my internet.” There was silence until I said, “Hello?” The thick Israeli accent on the other end responded, “Ehhhh….yes, ehh, my computer is brroken, so I must to pass you to another person.” Bad omen.

They eventually managed to send out a technician– who didn’t fix the problem. They sent another one 3 days later and, you guessed it, no dice. They sent a third who decided it’d be better for him to not show up at all.

The first customer service representative to “help” me after the volley of failed technicians was a cute-sounding Israeli girl, Meirav. Meirav said she’d get back to me. Ha. The second one (also cute-sounding) told me she’d also call me back but I didn’t allow that to happen. Very angry by this point, I said, “No. Either I speak to a manager or I cancel the account. It’s that simple.” The girl pulled out a whole new strategy: she said “Okay, hold on please,” and then left me hanging on hold indefinitely. Clearly this girl was taught the art of attrition when she was in the army.

Then Yair called me from the tech department. “Ehhh…I must to know what the problem with internet.” Yair…Yair…are you really asking me this question again? We go through the motions of this silly dance of failed customer “service”. We reach a conclusion: someone who speaks English will call me back.

Are you still wondering if that actually happened?

I was initially going to use the first incident– the Hot computer technician who has a broken computer– as a metaphor to illustrate some sociological or economic phenomenon in Israel. I’m not sure what the metaphor means anymore, or if the situation is anything more than literal.

But with 18 families controlling the vast majority of the wealth, utilities and government institutions it’s not really that surprising. It’s even less surprising when you take into account a public that thinks an Ivri Lider-Aviv Gefen-Rita sing-a-long constitutes a protest. I say again and again that there’s only one real problem in Israel– it just has many facets.

I just got off the phone with another technician who told me confidently that he made an appointment with a “professional” technician to come fix the problem tomorrow, since the problem is complex and needs “professional” service (making me wonder what the other guys were). He asked me to hold, came back, and then told me that, actually, the pro can’t come tomorrow. Someone will have to call me back later.

The Rabbi and Netanya’s Building Boom

Netanya, Israel’s fifth largest city, has been undergoing a significant building boom recently; and one of the central “players” in this boom is an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi named Yaacov Shimon Sher. Rabbi, who also is a prominent city council member, and a key member of the board of Laniado Hospital, seems to be almost too much involved in a number of construction projects, both commercial and residential, that have going on in this sea-side city, 30 kilometers north of Tel Aviv.

In fact, local building contractors have been complaining recently that in order to receive a permit to begin a construction project in Netanya, especially a large scale one such as the multi-story apartment buildings sprouting up in various Netanya locations, they must first pay a sizable “contribution” to one of the many philanthropic projects that the Rabbi is involved in. When asked how much they have to “contribute” some of these contractors (who asked not to be disclosed) said: “it’s usually somewhere between five and ten thousand”. And it turns out that these sums are Dollar amounts, not Shekels.

Rabbi Sher, who has close ties to Netanya Mayor Miriam Fireburg, seems to always be in the picture concerning goings on at City Hall, as well as at Laniado Hospital. Located in North Netanya, next to the Ultra Orthodox residential neighborhood of Kiryat Sanz, Laniado is the only hospital in Netanya; and it has been undergoing an expansion program, funded largely by donations from contributors in both Israel and abroad. Considerable donations have also been coming from sources in the U.K., as well as from the U.S.A. And when mention and recognition of these are noted, Rabbi Sher’s name seems to be frequently mentioned – perhaps more frequently than should be for such endeavors.

Whether the Rabbi himself has any personal connection to any of these “fundraising projects” is a matter of speculation, as was noted on Israel Channel 2 television last Friday evening. During the program, it was noted that Rav Sher, as he is usually called, has a rather large villa on a very choice piece of sea front property located just meters away from a number of yeshivas that he is said to have raised funds for, as well as Laniado Hospital itself. The gist of the program was whether Rabbi Sher may have personally benefited from the numerous contributions he receives from the building contractors, as well as from other sources. Though he firmly denies this, many do wonder where how he was able to build such a fine home on such choice property, especially on the very modest remuneration that he receives for being on the City Council and as an Orthodox Rabbi.

A major commercial construction project, located in southern Netanya’s Sapir Industrial Park, called Alexander Center, is also connected with Rabbi Sher and his Philanthropic projects. Due to the scale of this project, which contains high tech companies, restaurants, and even a large cinema, the amount of the “contributions” is rumored to be even greater than the amounts previously mentioned. How the Rabbi allowed an American theme restaurant known as Hooters to be opened there remains a mystery, and no one is talking about this mater either.

The general consensus to this story is that if one wants to build a construction project in Netanya, especially a large scale one, he must first deal with Rabbi Sher and make the “appropriate contribution”.

T.A. Stocks in Freefall

There’s an old saying that says “whatever goes up must come down”. And in reference to world stock bourses, including the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, “coming down” is looking like nothing less than a catastrophic free fall. After dropping an average of nearly 3 percent yesterday, today’s opening looks like it could end even worse as stock markets all over the worlds are falling between 7 and 10 % per day over the dismal news concerning the problems of the American economy, still considered as the largest economy in the world.

There are a number of reasons why all this is happening, including the energy crises, global warming and climate change, the continuing aftermath of Al Qaeda sponsored terrorism, and perhaps (for the outgoing Bush Administration anyway) the nearly 5 year disaster known as the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. As for Israel, the economy here is heavily tied to the fortunes of the American Economy as Israel’s biggest economic pluses in recent years have been connected to technologically based industries, especially information technology and bio-technology. Due to Israel’s mounting political problems in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanese war and the conflict with the Palestinians in which most European countries consider Israel as an occupying aggressive oppressor of “Palestinian rights”, Israeli companies have had to rely more and more on the USA to market both products and services.

With crude oil prices hovering at close to the $100 per barrel mark, and after the U.S. Treasury has wound up spending over $200 billion in it’s continuing war against insurgents in Iraq, these and other problems, including the mortgage loan crises, have brought the American economy to the brink of what is being talked about as a major economic recession; one even greater than the one of 1991-94 that resulted in the U.S. President George Herbert Bush (G.W.’s dad) losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, and at least half of the workers in high paying aerospace industries in California and other states looking for $1,000 per month sales jobs in cities like Atlanta.

The “R” word, meaning recession, is definitely being talked about these days, and is bound to arrive at Israel’s doorstep sooner or later. After all, the Tel Aviv stock indexes have been rising too high for too long, and as other bourses start “heading south” stocks in Israel are bound to go that way too. Many Israeli companies, especially the high tech ones are posted on the NASDAQ, the American “over the counter” stock exchange that for years has become one of the most popular indexes for technological based companies to be listed on. These stocks are often very fickle and any reverberation in economic fortunes can cause them to fall quite rapidly. Many NASDAQ listed stocks are selling for as much as 30 times the actual earnings of the companies they represent, which mean that a lot of speculation is involved in pushing up their trading value.

As a result, they are now leading the markets in a very troubling direction. Everyone will be watching which direction Wall Street will head today, following the breaking news announcement that the US Federal is lowering its prime lending rate by 0.75%. The Dow dropped by 500 points on Monday and even the Fed’s attempt to bring stability into the financial markets may not be enough to stop the fall, as the problems of the mortgage crises and other financial concerns remain. Most home mortgages are fixed rate ones that keep the same interest rate during the life of the loan.

What the intermediate to long term outlook for Israel’s economy will be as a result of these market flip flops remains to be seen. But for sure, if the “R” word becomes reality in America, it’s bound to reach Israel sooner or later.

Everybody Talks Green, But When It Comes To Actions…

The international hype around ecology and green living is slowly making it’s mark on everyday life in Israel. Awareness is rising in every field: The media is In love with the subject, academic research is developing and investors are discovering the amazing business potential in the new industry. We all seem to be moving forward, except our government.

Yesterday, the environmental lobby in the Knesset revealed the 2008 budget for the ministry of environmental protection. It doesn’t look good. The basic budget was cut down from 180 million NIS in 2007 to 100 million NIS, Research funding was cut down from 14.6 million NIS to 0.9 million and energy efficiency funding was cut down from 13.6 million NIS to 1.66 million.

MK Michael Malkior, the chairman of the environmental lobby, bitterly joked that even when he was a minister without portfolio, he had a bigger budget to work with.

This is even more absurd, given the fact that Israeli entrepreneurs are leading the green market with new technologies and business models. With the proper budgetary support, Israel could make a real ecological progress that might have international impact. Hopefully, private investors will grab the chance that our government doesn’t mind missing.

Black Gold

Black Gold World crude oil prices are now on the verge of reaching and even surpassing the $100 per barrel mark. Supply chain problems, a weak U.S. Dollar, and high demand has resulted in an international energy crises that threatens to plunge the world economy into a virtual tailspin. Countries which consume a high amount of petroleum, including the U.S.A. and China are trying to secure enough supplies to satisfy an almost unquenchable energy thirst. Many commodity traders and market strategists are predicting that the price of crude oil will go even higher, especially when the state of U.S. energy supplies are expected to be announced soon.

What is currently happening was actually predicted by fiction writers such as Ray Bradbury nearly 40 years ago. In fact, Bradbury, a renown science fiction writer during the 1950’s and 60’s wrote a surreal account of what might be the result of a world energy crises around the year 2000 with oil reaching the above price per barrel and remaining reserves so low that what is available is only for the military, and for operating farming equipment used to produce to food to feed a world population topping 8 billion. Bradbury wrote that the result would be Americans having to revert to lifestyle, transportation wise, that their great-grandparents had; i.e. back to the days of the horse and buggy.

Though this hasn’t exactly happened as Bradbury hypothesized, petroleum supplies are not meeting world demand, and the result is the current price situation. A truly frightening scenario of what might be coming down in only two years time was noted on a popular television news channel when a group of people which included former US Army commander in Iraq John Abuzaid, and a top former member of the Treasury Department were involved in a ‘what if’ dramatization occurring in the year 2009 – only two years from now. In this scenario, crude oil is now priced at $145 per barrel and gasoline is selling in America at more than $5.00 per gallon, with long lines at gas stations reminiscent to the oil crises of the mid 1970’s. The American economy has been plunged into a deep recession and unemployment is hovering at the 12 percent mark. To make matters worse, Iran, estimated with possessing close to 15% of total world oil reserves, has just announced that it now possesses nuclear weapons and is cutting off its oil exports to most countries, especially ones like the U.S. which have been “unfriendly” to the Islamic Republic. As a desperate measure, gas rationing has been introduced on a scale not seen since World War II.

And Israel, which itself has to import more than 98% of it’s petroleum supplies, has just announced that unless other nations become involved, it would have no option other than stage a “first strike” attack against Iran “with all necessary military options on the table” (meaning the possible use of it’s nuclear arsenal against the Iranians).

While this scenario hasn’t yet become reality, what is frightening is that is could occur as early as two years from now. A new president will be occupying the White House and most likely a foreign policy agenda that could be quite different that what has emanated from Washington since the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. The new Administration, especially one controlled by the Democratic Party, might be more willing to compromise with countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia for the sake of obtaining more petroleum supplies. And that compromise might be one that would force Israel to pursue a military strike option against Iran.

Alternative energy measures, including using more hybrid automobiles, solar energy, hydrogen and fuel cells will eventually reduce world dependence on “black gold”. But these measures may take several more years to become viable enough to push petroleum into the background as a major energy source, and relegate it to being more important for use in the petrochemical and related industries. After all, fuel cells have been talked about for over 40 years. This is also true of developing cars and other vehicles that would run solely on electricity – possibly even powered by solar panels. The technology is currently available, but the major oil countries have shelved many of these innovations in order to continue making high profits.

The rising price of oil is also pushing up the price of gold, now above $800 per ounce. And while gold has much less ‘practical use’ than oil, it is a yardstick measure of inflation and financial crises.

The profits of the oil companies may be coming to an end, however. To reinforce this stark reality, an appropriate quote was once made by the famous American comedian and actor of the 1930’s, Will Rogers, when he said in respect to petroleum: “they ain’t making it anymore”. And sure enough, this is so true. Next Big Mobile Content Startup

I know these guys and have been watching them grow and develop into this great site and technology platform over the last 12 months. HooQs is the next thing in mobile content sharing and worth a look.

The company developed a platform and community that allows the sharing and sending of video content to new generation cell phones (which is becoming the norm). It’s very interesting how this company is bridging between Internet content and mobile content and I am sure we will see more of these initiatives in the coming months in what is now a definite trend. The company is lead by the very capable hands of Itay Gissin and is a sure up and comer in the field of mobile content sharing. Watch out for this one !!

This is a new video clip they just put out to promote the site and service at

Petach Tikvah Neo Nazis

Petach Tikvah Neo NazisThe recent detainment of 9 youths suspected to be connected with a group of Neo-Nazis in Israel is something that is most disturbing in a country literally founded on the memories of perhaps the greatest disaster to befall the Jewish People. Though mentioned extensively in the media, as well as discussed in forums on talk shows and news commentary programs, the issue is being played down by government departments which deal with new immigrants to Israel – particularly those who have come from the Former Soviet Union, or FMS for short.

In a recent article printed in the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Amos Hermon, who heads a special government task force set up to deal with anti-Semitism in Israel, said that the government does not wish to “generalize” concerning those who hail from the FMS, since only a very small group of young people seem to be involved in this kind of organization. Hermon went on to say that these kids suffer from “frustration and non-integration into Israeli society” and that Neo Nazi groups in their home counties now number about 50,000. The number of people engaged in this activity is not known, but is probably less than 100, divided into small groups.

Still, the film clips shown on television, mostly shot with cellular phones, indicate an increasingly structured organization that often resorts to violence against other youngsters, as well as causing problems for older people as well – including religious people. Painting Neo-Nazi graffiti on a synagogue in the resort city of Eilat is something that is particularly disturbing.

And all of this is occurring in the country which has the largest number of living Jewish Holocaust survivors in the world.

Petach Tikvah Neo NazisRepresentatives of immigrant groups from the FSU are “advising” the public not to “generalize” the actions of their constituents as a result of “such a small group of people”. It was also emphasized that perhaps the apprehension of the nine Neo-Nazi members in Petach Tikvah may be a ‘wake up call’ concerning the lack of success by the government in absorbing the large waves of FSU immigrants who have largely been left to their own devices as far as being absorbed into the mainstream of Israeli society. This is in spite of the fact that a great deal of Olim, or immigrants from Russia and other FSU countries have served in the army and have found good employment opportunities; especially in the technology and science based sectors.

Despite efforts being made to try and explain the activity of these kids, including statements that many of them live in “Russian ghettoes” and feel completely separated from normal Israeli life; this kind of activity should not be allowed under any circumstances. The reality is that more than a fifth of Israel’s total population originated from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and other FSU countries. A great many of these people, at least 250 – 300 thousand are not officially Jewish; which further contributes to their alienation. Besides Neo-Nazis, other fringe groups, including Satan worshipers and other similar groups have become more prevalent; with excessive drug and alcohol use being common.

As to what needs to be done with these “misguided kids”; they should be forced to attend special counseling sessions to discourage them from participating in these forms of activities. For really hard core members, especially ones who are in leadership roles, they should be deported back to their countries of origin.

Organizations of this nature are none the less dangerous to the future of the State of Israel than terrorist ones such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And the bottom line is that they should not be allowed to function at all in the Jewish State.

New IDF Options for Young “Ex-pat” Israelis

New Israel Military recruiting options are being developed to reach out to more than 150,000 children of Israeli citizens who now reside outside of the country. The programs, being tailored for young people aged 18-24, including Jews who are interested in pursuing academic studies in Israel, are being designed to induce young people to not only enlist in these special IDF military programs, but stay on afterwards as either immigrants or returning residents.

New IDF OptionsThere are an estimated 700,000 Israelis living abroad, many of them in the USA and Canada. Those of university age have had a problem in attending universities and colleges in Israel due to having to either leave the country after 18 months or be inducted into the IDF. The new changes will allow students to complete their education in Israel without being pressured to make these two choices at the end of the 18 month period. The new service programs, involve three IDF service categories: ‘Schlav Bet” (an auxiliary IDF service unit composed of young people from foreign countries who serve for a period of 16 months in logistical capacities, including drivers and artillery units); Diaspora Talpiot (a special technical oriented division composed of soldier with high tech and related backgrounds to assist in developing advanced weapons systems); Mahal, a special unit made up of volunteers who are not Israeli citizens; and Garin Tzbar, made up exclusively of young people from abroad who hold Israeli nationality.

Many young people who enlisted or were inducted into the IDF, and subsequently placed in units like Schlav Bet, thought that their talents and educational backgrounds would be better utilized in the military. Many, however, spent their initial compulsory service period doing such mundane duties as driving garbage and other utility vehicles, or learning how to operate already obsolete heavy weapons systems. The new programs will make more effort to examine each new recruit’s background in order to give them more gratifying military duties to help instill in them a love for the country to induce them to remain in the country afterwards.

In units such as Diaspora Talpiot, the IDF wants those assigned to this special section to remain in the military and not pursue positions afterwards in the private sector (which pay more money).

Mahal, which transliterated is Mitnadevei Hutz La’Aretz, has a very special part in Israel’s history when nearly 4,000 Mahal volunteers, from 43 countries, fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49. Many of them remained in Israel afterwards and helped develop the country’s economy, as well as making outstanding contributions to Israeli cultural life. Just a few of these people include Murray Greenberg, Harold “Smoky” Simon, Eddy Kaplansky, Gene Tamari, and Harold Stutsen. Mahal is still a very important part of the IDF program to induce young men and women to volunteer to serve in the IDF; and many do stay on after their 14 month compulsory service period ends.

Garin Tzbar is very attractive to children of native born Israelis who come alone and do not have immediate families living in Israel. As their parents may have left Israel many years before, these kids may not speak Hebrew well enough to integrate easily into a regular IDF army unit. Garin Tzabar was originally created with and is still connected to the Israel Scouts organization (part of the International Scouting organization). This program is specially designed to attract kids with Israeli nationality to come to Israel and serve in the IDF.

While these programs are still being revamped, and are in the process of undergoing many restructuring changes, they will definitely help to add additional manpower to Israel’s military forces, as well as perhaps a badly need psychological uplift to a country that needs them now, more than ever.

Good For Some: Household Income Rises

Little DanceI’m sure that a lot of Israelis were happy to learn that the “average” household income has now risen to more than 12,000 New Shekels on a gross income basis, with a ‘take home’ amount of around 10,000. That’s great news to hear, especially if you are one of these lucky households.

The bad news is that the disparity between rich and poor is rising quickly, turning a country that formerly had a very high middle class into one where less than 10% enjoy relatively high incomes and more than 30% are living below the established poverty line.

Naturally, this statistically set poverty line includes all kinds of unfortunate folk, including new immigrants from countries like Ethiopia, ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab Israeli families (Arabs are still considered as “second class” citizens by their Jewish counterparts) and of course older people.

The term ‘older people’ does not necessarily mean people who lived very modest lives while helping to build the infrastructure of the State, and are now barely surviving on National Insurance pensions. This term also means a lot of people in the age 55+ range who may have lost their good jobs and are now having to get by on low paying, hourly wages positions such as working in call centers, as cashiers in supermarkets, or as security guards.

Yes, things certainly have improved in Israel since the beginning of the technology revolution and the new economic “reforms” designed to benefit the rich but hurt the most vulnerable sectors of society, i.e. the working poor.

Even the term “working poor” has an ominous ring to it as it lumps together a broad group of people, of all ages, who despite holding down full time jobs, just can’t make enough to get by on. The more recent influx of outsourced jobs from Europe and North America have resulted in the opening of call centers that operate on the client country’s normal business hours, and in many cases when their customers are at home. Working for jobs paying anywhere from NS 18 to 25 per hour, with virtually no social benefits, is now the accepted norm in these positions. And if one calls in sick, he simply doesn’t get paid for time off.

On the high end of this new income ‘totem pole’, there are more millionaires, and even billionaires, in Israel than ever before. They live in homes costing millions of dollars and drive cars costing the price of a 3 or 4 room flat. Their increasing numbers make the governmental authorities feel that they have helped to bring the State of Israel up to a level comparable to most European countries. While this may be true in some cases, it does not apply ever growing number of citizens who used to be considered as being in the middle class and now have fallen ‘through the cracks’.

Recent attention has lately been given to aged Holocaust survivors who came to Israel in 1948/49 with nothing but their lives and the hope that it would be possible to start over again in a country free from anti-Semitism and intimidation. Most are now well into their 80’s and in poor health. Few, if any of them, are benefiting from Israel’s brave new economic world, and even a small amount of additional government stipends to purchase food and needed medications is still being held up by a government more interested in other types of projects.

While it’s encouraging to see the country’s share markets rising and inflation standing at near zero levels, are all of these factors really worthwhile if at the expense of many people who have given their all to developing the country? Better to have inflation and subsidized employment possibilities, if this means that more people will live decent lives with more self respect.

Life after 50 in Israel

Reaching age 50 can be an exasperating experience in Israel’s increasingly sophisticated job market. The problems of 50+ persons in finding suitable employment was again brought to light recently on Channel 10 TV; in which Mr. Oded Levinton, Manager and Treasurer of the “Fifty Plus/Minus” foundation, reiterated the difficulties that older people have in finding suitable work in Israel’s technical and youth oriented economy.

Mr. Levinton, who himself has not held a regular job for more than five years, said that more and more people in this increasing age group, many of whom are highly qualified, are finding the ‘windows of opportunity’ are becoming narrower and narrower, with only less desirable low paid jobs available. According to Mr. Levinton, employers feel ‘uncomfortable’ to hire an older worker, even though that person has qualifications that can be used. “It appears that in the end, an employer prefers to hire a younger person, even though that person may not have the skills that are actually needed. The employer appears to feel ‘uncomfortable’ and even ’embarrassed’ by having to ask an older, experienced person to perform a menial task such as sorting out incoming mail or making a cup of coffee for persons attending a morning meeting.

Also on the program was a representative from the government employment office’s Institute for Skilled Workers, known in Hebrew as the Lishkat Ha’taasuka. The representative said that his agency is very much aware of the problem that older workers face, but that this is a world-wide phenomenon that is a reality of our modern, technical oriented age when people are retiring later and living longer. He continued by saying that efforts are now being made to pay more attention to the plight of older workers, especially those over age 50, with more re-training programs being offered.

Re-training programs? This idea has been used before, but still doesn’t solve the problem of employers passing over older people in favor of those who are considerably younger. And for those in the 60+ age bracket, the situation is even more desperate, with virtually no opportunities available.

While Israel is now considered to be a free market economy, and fewer jobs are guaranteed anymore, the time may have come for everyone to realize that with former ‘baby boomers’ from the 1950’s and ’60s either approaching or already in this age group, more attention had better be made to try to help older workers find suitable employment, other than jobs on the lower work rungs of the career opportunity ‘ladder’ which pay no better than minimum or near-minimum wage, and are usually on an hourly basis with virtually no social benefits.

Since some of the readers of this web blog may be in the age group already, or nearing it, reader comments will most certainly be welcome. This is a problem that may get worse before it gets better, and will affect more and more people, unless solutions are found to help put this able and qualified manpower pool to better use.

Drop In Military Service Recruitment

A recent editorial in the Jerusalem Post stated that 25% of today’s youth in Israel do not want to be in military service, or have been disqualified from the military due to physical or emotional problems. No longer are the country’s youth considering careers in the military either, as even this opportunity is becoming less available due to budget tightening measures to help keep the country’s inflation index at a near 0 level.

Why is this happening when Israel’s enemies are becoming more militaristic, and are willing to become martyrs in order to kill or wound more and more Israelis? The answer may lie in the fact that modern Israeli youth have simply changed most of their values from doing everything for their country to simply doing everything for themselves.

That’s right; Israel has become a “No. 1” oriented society, where people are only interested in looking after their own concerns and not for the society as a whole. Beginning as a country with a “one for all and all for one” mentality in the country’s early years, Israel has become a nation in which social minded goals for its youth have been replaced with materialistic ones; including new cars, private homes, and frequent trips abroad. It’s actually cheaper to fly to Turkey or Greece on holiday than to spend the same time at an Israeli resort hotel – kosher food and all!

Instead of pursuing vocations involving physical work, such as driving a bus or truck (once very desired vocations), or as a tradesman or mechanic, today’s youth prefer to pursue careers in information technology where they also receive a late model car to drive to and from their posh, air conditioned jobs, enjoying a lifestyle that even their parents could only dream about.

Last summer’s Lebanese war did more than simply point out the problems that reserve soldiers faced by a government unable to provide for their basic needs while in the field. This war also indicated a society who simply wasn’t prepared to go to war, while the country’s enemies have been training and building up their military infrastructure. This ‘infrastructure’ now includes a virtual army or more then 15,000 trained soldiers in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip, consisting of 4 field brigades, and an increasing array of munitions and explosives, most of them smuggled in under the obliging eyes of Egyptian soldiers and international “monitoring” forces.

When the country was fighting for its existence in the 1948 War of Independence, many of the men fighting in Israel’s military and paramilitary forces were either volunteers from abroad or Holocaust survivors who had only been freed from Nazi death camps a few years before. These men, and women, knew that it was either fight or die, and many did die during those first terrible months, especially in battles like the Battle of Latrun (in which more than 600 former Detention Camp inmates were slaughtered trying to take the Jordanian held Latrun Police Station) and the Battle of Burma Road, in which the American volunteer, Col. Mickey Marcus, lost his life.

Inspiration: what more inspiration is needed other than the obvious; in that the State of Israel is in perhaps more danger than it has been in since the Yom Kippur War and War of Independence. With Syria and Iran, two of Israel’s arch enemies, now forming a military alliance, and Hezbollah once again at full strength along Israel’s northern border; not to mention Hamas in the South and Israel’s “former” enemy, the PLO, entrenched in the West Bank, the people of Israel have no shortage of enemies to deal with.

The main concern these days for the Jewish State is whether the country’s youth are ready, and able, to accept the challenges needed to prevail.

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