Friday, December 19, 2014

My Evening with Sarah Silverman

You either love her or you hate her, but either way you have to admit that the American Jewish comedienne says everything that's on her mind, no matter how vulgar or repulsive it might be.

My evening with Sarah Silverman – it almost sounds like a date. But this was a date I didn't even know was listed on the calendar when my wife sent me an email in the late afternoon. "Did you know that Sarah Silverman is receiving an award at the Jerusalem Cinematheque this evening?" What was the likelihood of getting tickets at the last moment? Amazingly, there were two seats left in the tenth row. On the spur of the moment, I made the purchase.

The occasion was a screening of "Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles", her debut comedy special for HBO. The film, a stand-up routine Sarah performed before an intimate audience of 39 people at L.A.'s Largo nightclub, won her the 2014 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special. The film was shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival taking place in Jerusalem. Before the screening, Sarah received an achievement award in recognition of her work in entertainment.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Incident with the Montenegrin Honey Wine

There's so much to see in Montenegro that we felt compelled to take home something special as a souvenir. We bought a bottle of local wine and this is what happened.

Montenegro is a very small country marked by stunning nature. Our travels took us through the Durmitor, a national park with majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, and a deep canyon - the Tara - which we couldn't stop staring at in wonder. We also made our way south for a stop at the Skadar Lake nature reserve, and then continued to the Montenegrin coast.

The walled city of Kotor is located along a secluded section of the fjord-like Gulf of Kotor. Many tourists arrive in Kotor by cruise ship, but we came by land. We enjoyed our stroll within the well-preserved medieval old town, seeing the so-called "column of shame" where citizens threw vegetables and eggs at petty criminals; the 17th century clock tower; the Maritime Museum; and the twin-steepled Cathedral of Saint Tryphon.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Black Stain on Israel's Environment

A pipe burst in an isolated area of southern Israel last week resulting in an oil leak. No big deal? A very big deal! In what is being described as the "worst ecological calamity in the state’s history," some five million liters of crude oil spilled out to cause serious damage to one of the country's most unique, and less known nature reserves. While images of contaminated, blackened desert riverbeds were shown repeatedly on local television screens, not a single voice of authority stood up to claim responsibility for the disaster.

The pipe belonged to the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) and has been used to transport Asian oil from Israel's southern port city to refineries at Ashkelon. Originally established in 1968 as a joint venture with Iran, EAPC today operates 750 kilometers of pipelines in Israel. A previous spill in 2011 caused extensive damage to the Nahal Zin nature reserve, but that was only 1,000 cubic meters of jet fuel.

This time the spillage was far greater and it is estimated that it will take 50 years to rehabilitate the Evrona nature reserve, located in the Arava region some twenty kilometers north of Eilat. Evrona, a rarely visited stretch of desert lying along the Jordanian border, is barely noticed as motorists speed south to holiday vacations on the Red Sea shore. Evrona is home to both rare deer and the northernmost Egyptian Doum palm trees in the world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Despite the Headlines, It Is Safe to Visit Israel!

Last Friday morning I scrambled up steep stone steps, set in place nearly five hundred years ago. These were the walls constructed for Suleiman the Magnificent, protecting the ancient, timeless city of Jerusalem. Built on a rocky base that had previously served the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great, the Ottoman walls remain solid even today. Walking atop the ramparts one overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, holy to three of the world's major religions, and on the other side, the busy, modern thoroughfares.

My wife's first cousin had arrived in Israel, along with six other members of his immediate family. They were on a tour of the country, with plans to visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, a kibbutz, and the Negev Desert in the south. For some of them, it was their first visit ever. They hired a guide and met with people who spoke to them about Israel, its politics, history, society, and culture. On Friday, I accompanied them as they climbed the ancient city walls, and on a visit to the Old City's Jewish Quarter.

Read the rest of this article on The Oslo Times.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Brave New World of The Circle

It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but every day I check how many new followers I have on Twitter; how many Likes my Facebook posts received; and how many pageviews were registered on my blog. I'm not obsessed with being successful on social media, but the more re-tweets, the better. For me, this is just part of my efforts to build my platform as an author.

But imagine, if you will, a world where increasing one's following is more important than anything else. And imagine that in that world, success is measured by the number of Likes, Comments, Tweets, and Favorites you have received. In such a world, all social platforms are combined under one roof. One roof, one circle.

This vision of an all-encompassing social media platform is the future depicted in the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers (Knopf, October 2013).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I Write about Bulgaria

It was a cloudy, spring day and my wife and I were sitting on a bench, waiting for the Regional Historical Museum to open its doors for the day. We were in Vratsa, a small town in northwestern Bulgaria, 2-hour's train journey north of Sofia. A statue of 19th century revolutionary Hristo Botev overlooked the pavement, the hero's arm clenched across his chest as if he were about to launch into a fervent call to rebel against the long-gone Ottoman oppressors. A gypsy boy approached us.

The boy mumbled something in Bulgarian, a language we had failed to master despite several meetings with a tutor who emphasized grammar, rather than conversation. The boy held out his hand.

My wife shook her head, indicating that we didn't intend to hand over any money. We had heard about the Roma, and how they were discriminated against not only in Bulgaria, but elsewhere in Europe as well. We saw them picking through the garbage outside our modern apartment building. Their horse-drawn wagons battled to make their way up our cobblestone street. We knew to keep our distance.

The boy smiled. He stuck out his hand even more enthusiastically.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Touring the Dark Side of Tel Aviv

The short story collection Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron, takes readers on a tour through the city's seedy neighborhoods.

A former police officer escorts visitors to the riverbank where a murdered girl was found in a suitcase; the building where an infamous rapist was caught; and a strip club where a former cop regularly performs in the nude. In "The Tour Guide", a short story by Yoav Katz, the bourgeois Israelis eager to see the grimier side of Tel Aviv are people with full-time jobs, children, and a bit of free time. They are looking for thrills and are willing to be shocked that such crimes take place in Israel. "Fear and sanctimoniousness are a profitable combination"; the tours attract large crowds.

Readers of Tel Aviv Noir, Akashic Books (September, 2014) will feel that they have joined one of these tours. The short stories included in this anthology explore prostitution, drugs, alcohol abuse, gambling, and murder. Like the rest of the series launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, each of the stories here is set in a distinct Tel Aviv neighborhood. A map is provided at the beginning, showing Florentin, Rothschild Boulevard, Neve Sha'anan, Dizengoff Center, and the other locations where the stories take place.