Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And Now, for Part 2 of our interview with David Lizzo. In this piece, Dave discusses living here, the Flotilla, and Gaza.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where is Yokne'am, What is Perma-culture, And More

This past weekend, I went on a bit of an adventure. I hit three cities, a few villages, and a co-op. Where did I go? What did I see? How did I end up playing darbuka under a passion fruit vine? Read on to find out.

I made the trek up to St. Louis' Sister City, Yokne'am - Megiddo. For those of you who don't know (which is nearly everyone), Yokne'am is a small city of 20,000 located in Northern Israel, located a bit south of Haifa. I had been put in touch with Shachar, a resident of Yokne'am who has been organizing a community of young adults, and thought he'd be a great person to speak to and learn from. There is no central bus station in Yokne'am, and so I got dropped off on the side of a main road, next to a mall.

Shachar picked me up, and I was a bit relieved to learn that he had actually be born in the US, which made me feel better about speaking to him in English. He and his wife, Yamit, and their 5-month-old, Ma'ayan, live in an apartment block with a pretty amazing view of the surrounding area.

We spent the afternoon talking about the area, the neighborhood, and the community. Below is a video of Shachar talking a bit about Yokne'am

After a nice Shabbat dinner at the apartment of one of the other young families in the community, Shachar and I went to a house party in Zichron Yakov. There, we found people doing what is called 'Playback' in which one person tells a story and then actors act it out. It was a little weird, but also pretty interesting. Along the way, we met some great people.

On Saturday morning, we went to a permaculture coop which is based around sustainable design. The coop was having an exchange event in which people brought clothes and books and could take things that others brought. In addition they had music, dancing, and some great food. Israeli hippies do it up right.

Saturday night, I stayed with Yogev and Noa, two St. Louis Israelis who were back in Tel Aviv for work. While out watching the US/Ghana soccer game, I ended up sitting next to Zach, who had just finished a year in St. Louis as a Koro fellow.

Sunday morning I made it up to Ra'anana to interview Joseph Gitlers, founder of Leket, an amazing non profit. You'll have to stay tuned for that video.
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Interview with David Lizzo Part One

David Lizzo is a native of St. Louis who moved to Israel and lived for 4 years, getting citizenship and going into the army. Find out why he did it, and what he learned.
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tel Aviv

A friend told me about Tel Aviv that there are many more beautiful than her, but none quite as beautiful like her. The city, Israel’s biggest, is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the country. Considered the first ‘Modern Jewish’ city, Tel Aviv’s history spans back over 100 years. Known for its beach culture, night life, and shopping, Tel Aviv is the place to be… and after a week and a half of VIP meetings, skill buildings sessions, lectures, workshops, etc., I was ready to be there.
Intercity travel in Israel is a breeze, assuming your Hebrew is decent. Buses run from the central bus station in Jerusalem to that of Tel Aviv every 10-15 minutes. I instead opted for a bus that let me off a short walk from Azrieli, a large corporate tower and mall, to meet Shiri, a close friend of Kinneret Nahamani, who moved from Israel to St. Louis seven years ago. At the Azrieli mall, you are immediately struck by…how similar it looks to any American mall. Sure, the people are skinnier, the music favors techno over hip hop, and a few stores have unfamiliar names, but other than that, we are talking about the same terribly over-stimulating consumer experience. I did, however, have a big Shawarma, which helped sooth my aching senses.
From there, it was pretty easy to hop a bus over to the beach, where I met Mike Simmons, a Cincinnati native in town for a Krav Maga seminar. Krav Maga is the fighting system used by the Israeli army and Mike, who started a Krav Maga studio in Cincinnati, was there to advance his training and bring new innovations in the field back to the 513. Mike and spent the afternoon on the beach, soaking up the intense sun, sipping Goldstars, (Israel’s Budweiser) and playing a game called Matkot. Matkot is a game that can be used as an analogy for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Basically, two people hit a ball back and forth between each other using paddles. You don’t keep score, and when someone misses the ball, you just pick it up and start smacking it again. In short, it is pointless, but everyone is obsessed with it.
After the beach, I dropped by Ariel’s place. Ariel is a friend from Washington University, where we studied Hebrew together. She moved to Israel after college and has been living in Tel Aviv with her boyfriend for a few years now. We went to her boyfriend Eran’s parent’s house for Shabbat dinner, where I was stuffed with food by an Eran’s mother. To be fair, the watermelon was potentially the best I’ve ever had in my life.
We managed to take our leave before any weird family moments could occur, and back at Ariel’s we caught up with a few of the other PresenTense fellows who had decided to make the jaunt to Tel Aviv. As we sat enjoying drinks on Ariel’s rooftop patio, it was hard not to imagine how much fun it would be to live there. Around 12:30 we made it out on the town, walking down Rothchild, a famous street with a pedestrian boulevard down the middle. We ended up at a champagne bar, where we listened to some amazingly remixed music that combined Balkan horn riffs with pounding Electronic drum beats. By the time we got to bed, I didn’t at all mind sleeping on the couch.
Saturday morning, I met up with Lee, a friend who had been a soldier on the Birthright trip of a few good camp/NFTY friends. We had kept in touch and she accompanied me down to the beach to connect with Noa and Yogev. Noa and Yogev are Israelis who work in St. Louis for AmDocs, an IT company. They just happened to be in town for a few weeks. This time, we went to a totally different beach, much further North, with a more young adult population. It is worth saying at this point that Israeli women are devastatingly beautiful, but even more so on the beach.
We actually went in the water, but quickly left after hearing that there were ‘medusot’ (jellyfish) nearby. Noa and Yogev convinced me to stay another night (not that much arm twisting was involved), and over the course of the night, we managed to eat some amazing ice cream, catch up with St. Louis native, David Lizzo, see a Michael Jackson impersonator, and make a stop at Tel Aviv’s best Shawarma place.
Tel Aviv is in many ways, worlds apart from Jerusalem. You see far fewer Haredim (ultra-orthodox), or Kippot at all for that matter. Far more people have tattoos, there are more bars, and far more Hebrew is spoken. At all hours of the night there are people out on the street, usually sitting at cafes.
Also, there is a totally different energy. Whereas Jerusalem has a spiritual energy, a holiness, and a piousness, Tel Aviv has a young frenetic energy, a more visceral energy.

A trip to the white city is highly recommended
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's Good in Jerusalem?

With so much media focus on the negative, along with a blurred view of reality, many people forget that Jerusalem is a functioning city with supermarkets, restaurants, bars, and a little nightlife thrown in. So just what the hell am I doing in Jerusalem?

It seems fitting that, given the parameters of Jewish Geography, Jerusalem, and jetlag, that my very first night in Israel should be spent at a wedding. Finding my way there was not an easy task, as Jerusalem is not at all laid out in a grid, a fact predicated along the hills and valleys that make up its topography. Luckily, after running into a friend at the bus stop, and combining forces (and Hebrew skills) we were able to find our way and move on up (literally) to our destination.

This was my first Israeli wedding, so it is, perhaps, worth it to recount the experience. First, there were several hours of appetizers and drinking, followed by a very short ceremony in which the groom gave the ring to the bride, the Rabbi said the Hebrew bit, followed by the Shevah Brachot aka the Seven Blessings, gave a quick speech about how important it is to create a Jewish home filled with joy and not distrust, as this distrust and lack of love between Jews was what caused the destruction of the second temple, the glass was broken and then the ceremony was over.

The ensuing dance party was pretty fierce and I was thankfully thoroughly exhausted by the time I got back to my apartment in Baka.

Thursday was our first day of Orientation at PresenTense and included a deluge of information on web-based tools and ideas. My coach (like a mentor), tipped me off to something called 'boogie' going down that night at a local community center so I went to check it out.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera because somethings just need to be seen. The room, which had been converted into a club, replete with sound and lighting, was filled with slightly hippied out Israelis, moving to the incredibly diverse and well mixed musical selections. After about 20 minutes, one of the women assembled everyone together to lead in a sort of yoga/tai chi stretch routine that was pretty amazing and out there at the same time. Once the beats got bumping, though, it became a hot spot pretty quickly. Combinations of reggae, electronica, hip hop, and African beats. Apparently this goes down every Thursday night. I assume I'll be back.

Yesterday morning, I was able to sit down with Esther Kustanowitz aka EstherK, one of the queens of the Jewish blogosphere and social media scene. It was great to see a her in person, as her digital resume stretches to all corners of the internet. We spoke about how she ended up as the writer she is today and the evolution of bloggers in society and culture.

As I mentioned earlier, Jerusalem is a pretty hilly city, and some streets are at an intense angle. Going running here destroys you pretty quickly. I took a video while walking to a Cincinnati friend's apartment to showcase some of those steep grades:

Coming up this weekend will be a trip to Tel Aviv, the happening party capital of the Jewish state. Stay tuned.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Farmer's Market Vs. The Shuk

Perhaps one of the glimmers of hope in our time is a renewed focus on the sources and contents of the food we eat. Many cities have seen renewed interest in their farmer's markets, but in Israel, the shuk has been a focal point of shopping for a very long time.

Cincinnati's Findley Market and St. Louis' Soulard Farmer's Market (and now Tower Grove) have long been known for being a produce lover's paradise, replete with more affordable produce, often brought to market by the farmers themselves. There is no atmosphere quite like that produced by a produce-heavy market; people inspecting each piece of fruit for blemishes, trying not to lose their children, bumping into each other in the confined spaces...

Now imagine all of that color and sound, only bigger, fresher, cheaper, and filled with one of the most ridiculous groups of people on the planet, known affectionately as 'Israelis'. This is Mahane Yehuda.

Located in Central Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda is the place to get everything from fresh produce and breads (challah and pita are a must), to spices, meats, cheeses, and pastries. Patches of fire-truck red explode (no pun intended) from bunches of peppers, deep purple plums draw you in, while whole sacks of 20 spices you can't even name (zatar?) fill the air with pungent aromas. And then there is the rugelach..... most Americans swear by the rugelach at Marzipan, and it is cheap enough to be really deadly.

For the real experience, though, you have to see Mahane Yehuda on a Friday afternoon, during the pre-Shabbat shopping crunch. Everyone and their grandmother is there buying food for Shabbat dinner. Black hat, Ultra-Orthodox Jews are grabbing a few final avocados, secular Israelis are grabbing Challahs, Americans on Birthright are getting in the way, literally everyone is there.

We took a quick and dirty video to show you some of the sights and sounds:

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Post From Israel

Arriving in Israel is always something of a homecoming and this trip has already proven that Israel is the center of Jewish geography.

Not only did I share the flight with a friend from youth group in Cincinnati, I was picked up at the airport by the brother of a friend from St. Louis, who drove me to Jerusalem. I was then able to take a 10 minute walk to the apartment of a friend who studied with me at Washington University, followed by the wedding of a friend with whom I studied at the University of Haifa. At her wedding I ran into a former camp counselor, a graduate student of my father's who is married to another youth group friend, as well as another friend from St. Louis.

As I continue this trip, I hope to provide video of some of these individuals, particularly those who have some connection to St. Louis. The idea behind the video will be to transmit interesting stories, ideas, and experiences by to the St. Louis community with the hope that this content sparks further discussion and innovation.

The video below is Ariel Beery, one of the founders of the PresenTense Institute, speaking about the importance of community support, amongst other things. I thought it a fitting way to start

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Flotilla Fadicha - Expanded

Now that the international and digital world is on fire about the 'Gaza Freedom Flotilla', it is worth distilling and discussing the main points of the crisis/uproar/etc. In my opinion they are:
1. is the Israel naval blockade of Gaza illegal?
2. is attempting to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?
3. is stopping those who attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?
4. is attacking those who are stopping those who attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal
5. is defending against activists attacking troops stopping the attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?

If you haven't already heard about the flotilla, start here.

The crux of this issue really lies in the fact that the Israeli navy is enforcing a maritime blockage of the waters around the Gaza strip. I understand that even amongst law experts, there is much disagreement about the legality of this blockade, based on whether or not the territory is Israeli and a few other details.

As some history, When Hamas violently wrested power from the PA in Gaza a few years ago, Israel began the blockade with the reasoning that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has dedicated itself to destroying Israel and that it would attempt to smuggle weapons via the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians have indeed done this before, and with the rise of Iran's role in providing weapons and tactics, this is of increased strategic importance. For a legal perspective on the blockade, click

The second question is obviously tied to the first. If this blockade is in accordance with international law, then it is totally illegal and violates the territorial sovereignty of Israel to subvert it, but in the same way that drug smugglers from Mexico to the US are subverting US territorial sovereignty. If this blockade is illegal, then subverting it is not.

Next, the Israelis have consistently warned that any attempt to subvert the blockade would be met by the Israeli Navy, who would force the ships to turn around or board the ships, tow them to Israeli territory, detain, and deport the passengers. This is perfectly within their rights if the blockade is legal, as well as if the blockade is illegal, so long as they have evidence that the ships attempting to subvert the blockade are carrying weapons or other contraband. Additionally, the flotilla claimed to have been a humanitarian mission focused around providing aid to needy people in Gaza. Both Israel and Egypt offered to deliver the aid to Gaza directly, just as they have done with all previous aid shipments. The flotilla organizers rejected this, wanting specifically to challenge the Israeli blockade. Israel has subsequently transfered all of the aid from the flotilla to Gaza.

Now, do those passengers aboard the ships have the right to self defense? Sure, if there were clear evidence they were being threatened. However, from the accounts, it appears as though all of the other ships were taken without incident, and only on the flagship did violence break out. From the videos, the activists aboard the 'mother ship' were clearly violent. You can see in the video posted yesterday, that the Israeli commandos boarded the ships with paintball guns in their hands. Could those have been perceived as threatening, sure. Were they? No.

Finally, from video, it is clearly apparent that the commandos were attacked by a mob wielding some type of rods or sticks, there are videos of knife attacks, and one of Israeli soldiers being fired upon by guns. Under these circumstances, did the Israeli soldiers have the right to defend themselves with deadly force? I believe the answer to be yes. By calling this a massacre, and demonizing these commandos for responding with live fire (even though this appears to have been a last resort), we take what was clearly a tragedy, and distort it for propaganda purposes.

For the timeline of events, click here
To view some of the weapons used by the activists, click here
To read some opinion from my least favorite news source, click here
For a view from an Israeli soldier, click here
For the STL JCRC's experience, click here

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