Friday, December 30, 2011

Fighting UK Anti-Israel Bias, One Professor at a Time

When  Israeli Smadar Bakovic, a post-graduate student at Warwick University, was assigned Professor Nicola Pratt as her master’s supervisor, Smadar immediately asked for a replacement. Pratt, a known anti-Israel campaigner who has repeatedly called for Britain to implement a program of boycotts and sanctions against Israel, couldn’t be impartial on a study of Israeli Arabs, Smadar claimed. The university refused to make a change and Smadar was given only a passing mark.

Smadar’s paper dealt with the identity of Israeli Arabs after the second intifada. In her feedback, Pratt said that Smadar had a tendency to “adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Self Publishing in the Days of The Virtual Kibbutz

As I work towards the completion of my novel, I have begun considering how to get it published. The world of publishing is evolving. More and more authors are deciding to self publish and self promote their books. While that will work for some, others continue to search for literary agents and traditional publishers with hopes that their book will be one of the few that make it onto bookstore shelves.

At this stage I plan to go the traditional route with my manuscript, as I don’t have the time or resources to self promote my work. It’s funny to think that I’ve already traveled the self publishing road, but that is indeed how my collection of short stories, The Virtual Kibbutz, was published in 2003.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Street Without A Name, a Review

In my fiction writing, I am trying to give a faithful portrayal of Bulgaria. Having lived in Sofia for two years and after extensive travels across the width and breadth of the Balkan country, I feel confident that I will be able to express some of my appreciation for my temporary home in my writing. However I wonder if I will ever be able to fully describe Bulgaria as it really is.

Describing Bulgaria is not a problem for Kapka Kassabova, who was born and raised in Sofia but now lives in Scotland. Her 2008 book, Street Without A Name, is part memoir, part travel documentary. As listed on her website, the book is a “coming of age story at the end of Communism, and an unsentimental journey across post-communist Bulgaria.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Naomi Ragen and Edgar Allan Poe

The Jerusalem District Court this week ruled that author Naomi Ragen plagiarized the work of writer Sarah Shapiro. The court found that Ragen, in her 1992 novel Sotah, uplifted sections from Shapiro’s Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother’s Diary, published in 1990. The case had many similarities to recent charges of plagiarism against the author of a novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s child bride.

According to media reports, the Jerusalem court determined that Ragen’s actions constituted a premeditated act. Ragen, the court noted, as reported in Haaretz, “testified that work written by the plaintiff served as 'raw materials' for her, and that her method of writing is based on drawing from a 'well' and 'imagination' in ways that include the works of others, including those rendered by the plaintiff."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

High Court Divorces Itself from Civil Marriage in Israel‏

According to Israel's "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty" passed by the Knesset in 1992, "All persons have the right to privacy and to intimacy." I would have assumed that this law also grants Israeli citizens the freedom to marry whom they choose. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Leaving aside the question of who should have the authority to perform Jewish wedding ceremonies in the State of Israel, which is a problem in itself, does the law of the land allow "religion-less" Israelis to marry?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Too Many Ladas


As I walked the back streets and alleyways of Sofia, one of my regular pleasures while living in Bulgaria, I couldn’t help but notice the many tired-looking cars parked in the older neighborhoods. Many of these vehicles were Ladas, a very popular brand during the heyday of communist rule due to its reputation for reliability in adverse conditions. In the traffic-filled streets of the Bulgarian capital I saw Ladas rumbling ahead alongside sleek, highly polished Mercedes and BMWs. For some reason, I latched onto this make of car, seeing it as a symbol of my temporary home.

During my wanderings, I took pictures of the aging vehicles I saw, often mislabeling them when posting on our Bulgarian blog. For me, every old car I saw was a Lada. My Bulgarian friends corrected me and I learned that my pictures were actually of Moskviches and Trabants.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Israeli Frog Hops Back from Extinction


Considered an extinct species since 1996, and not seen since the 1950s, the Hula Painted Frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) made a surprise reappearance in the Hula Nature Reserve in northern Israel last week.

Stop! A blog post about a frog? Yes, a blog post about a frog!  

We can learn a lot from the following story about the resilience of Nature and the ability of man to make amends for his past mistakes and take positive steps to fix the environment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews

One of the first things I learned about Bulgaria when my wife and I went to live there for two years was that the country’s Jews were spared the horrors of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that Bulgaria sided with the Nazis and that its government passed anti-Jewish legislation and planned for mass deportations, its entire community of 50,000 Jewish citizens survived World War II intact.

How exactly did it come to be that the Jews of Bulgaria were saved?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

16 Years since Rabin’s Assassination: Has Anything Changed?


I can still remember sitting glued to my television set in shock on Saturday night, November 4, 1995. It was one of those pivotal moments when everything changed. After having witnessed television reports of the largest peace rally in Israeli history, we suddenly saw the screen fill with news of the assassination of our prime minister. Yitzhak Rabin (1922 – 1995), one of our country’s greatest generals and statesmen, had fallen victim to the bullet of a right-wing Israeli radical.

How could it be that an Israeli leader working for peace would be killed for the ideas in which he believed?

The disturbing picture accompanying this post is graffiti spray-painted this week on the walls of the home of Hagit Ofran, the “Settlement Watch” director of the Peace Now organization.  The text translates as “Ofran, Rabin is waiting for you.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are These Writers Nuts?

Here’s the challenge: write a 50,000 word novel during November. That’s 1,667 words a day, every day, for thirty days. Don’t bother to edit now, just write. Who would take on this wild challenge? I have an excuse (I am currently in the advanced editing stages of an already written novel), but some 250,000 writers from all over the world are hitting their keyboards furiously every day this month. Some of them are published authors. Are they crazy?

Welcome to November, designated as the National Novel Writing Month. That’s NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for even shorter…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Combating Israel’s Gender Segregation


The modern state of Israel usually maintains its image as a country where women enjoy full equality with men. However, incidents involving gender segregation have been surfacing more frequently recently. Now, women are ready to fight back. A sing-in protest has been organized to remind everyone that women are people.

Last month I wrote how the ultra-Orthodox residents of the town of Beit Shemesh were trying to impose their extremist ways on the women of their community, including violently attacking a religious girls school which they felt imposed on their interpretation of modesty.

The ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim was in the news when residents divided their streets into men-only and women-only sidewalks, separated by fences and cloths that would prevent the opposite sex from being seen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Druze Villages on the Carmel


Halabi is playing a shepherd’s tune on his flute to the delight of his guests. The Sheep Restaurant is a popular stopping point at the entrance of Daliat-el-Carmel, a Druze village high on the slopes of Israel’s Mt. Carmel, a short twenty minute drive from Haifa. A few minutes before, as the diners were enjoying dishes of lamb mixed with rice, pine nuts and walnuts; kebab with minced meat and mint; grilled chicken breasts; stuffed vegetables and fries; Halabi was strumming chords on his oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument common to Middle Eastern music.

‘Welcome back my friends,” Halabi greeted us upon our arrival, although it’s not clear whether he actually remembered us from our previous visit a few years ago. He was eager for us to try the business meal, which started with tasty homemade humus, tehina, pickled vegetables and sour labneh, all accompanied by Druze pita, which is similar in shape and texture to an oversized pancake.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest


This post is slightly different than my previous ones. Today’s “blogfest” is a one-day festival interconnecting the blogs of aspiring writers across the Internet, introducing readers to other like-minded bloggers.

I learned about this “blogfest” at a blog called The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, written by Matthew MacNish from Cumming, Georgia. As Matthew writes in his introduction, he runs his blog “in an attempt to help other novice writers avoid the mistakes I made in the beginning of my road to publication.” That is the reason many new writers turn to the blogs of others: to get advice and encouragement and to learn from the experience others gained as they wrote their way to publication.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Setting Gilad Shalit Free


A yellow ribbon is tied to the rearview mirror over my dashboard. I received the ribbon one afternoon a few months ago when I drove by the protest tent outside the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem. Activists at the tent and all over Israel were marking five years since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by the Hamas. Pressure calling for a deal with Hamas which would set Gilad free had been constant since he fell captive but has been growing even stronger in recent months.

Last night the Israeli government approved a deal which would set Gilad Shalit free. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Tribute to Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011


Right from the start, let me say that I have never owned, or used, an Apple electronic device. The computers I operate have always been PCs or laptops, empowered by Microsoft operating systems from one version of Windows to the next. My phone is certainly not smart, yet it’s endowed with features and services that I don’t know how to use. I enjoy digitally recorded music, but I’ve never purchased it online nor listened to it on a gadget small enough to fit in my pocket.

In addition, I can’t recall offhand a single Pixar movie I’ve seen. For me, a tablet is something to be swallowed before bedtime and an application is something to send in the mail. 

I am a digitally challenged adult. Yet even so, everything in my day to day use of modern technology has been made possible in its present format by the innovation and vision of Steve Jobs.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mozart’s Last Aria, a Review



According to Wikipedia, the cause of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35, “cannot be known with certainty. The official record has it as hitziges Frieselfieber (severe military fever)” while researchers “have posited at least 118 causes of death.” The article states that “the most widely accepted hypothesis is that Mozart died of acute rheumatic fever.”

But what if something more sinister was involved? In October, 1791, not long after the premier performance in Vienna of his opera, “The Magic Flute”, Mozart told his wife that he knew he would ‘not last much longer. I’m sure I’ve been poisoned,’ he said.

Who but a madman would poison such genius? This is the question raised in the new novel by Matt Rees, Mozart’s Last Aria. Rees, author of the award-winning Omar Yussef series about a Palestinian detective, calls his historical whodunit mystery a “crime novel in A minor.” 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Reality Show that Really Showed Compassion

Israelis have been glued to their television sets for years watching the rising fortunes and shattered dreams of individuals displaying their talents as they sought recognition as the country’s next singing stars and dancers. We laughed and we cried along with the contestants on dating shows, were thrilled with each of their big brother antics, and urged them along as they plotted their survivor tactics. We fantasized about our own fifteen minutes of fame and glory even as the reality shows became less and less real. None of it mattered, because this was the new wave of television.

Even so, none of these talent searches attracted me. In fact, I quickly switched channels instead of seeing the trumped up, false drama of the auditions and the nasty aspects of the selection processes. It didn’t matter to me that famous celebrities were serving either as the contestants, or as the judges. Reality shows, I thought, were fake representations of society. They just weren’t real.

All of that changed with Master Chef.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Will Nudity Save the Dead Sea?

In a covert pre-dawn operation that was nearly as well-organized as a military strike, 1,200 Israelis stripped off their clothes on the shores of the Dead Sea. American photographer Spencer Tunick aimed the lens of his camera at them and another of his artistic mass nudity installations was created.

"I hope to raise awareness about the place and help it to become recognized as one of the seven new wonders of the world," Tunick said, referring to his decision to stage the installation at the Dead Sea.

The photo shoot almost didn’t take place, as Israeli right-wing and religious politicians deemed it “artistic beastliness” and one Knesset member called it "Sodom and Gomorrah", referring to the depravities of the Biblical cities that were once situated in the area.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When We Danced On Water, a Review



I was quite shocked when I read the title the Jerusalem Post gave to its review of Evan Fallenberg’s second novel, When We Danced on Water. “A Tale of One City and Two Residents” was the headline, and while the review referred correctly to a novel with two main characters, the one city it talked about was Tel Aviv. Not once was Berlin mentioned, which I found strange, as much of the narrative dealt with the characters’ suppressed pasts in that city.

The story starts in Tel Aviv with a chance meeting between Teo, the former founder and choreographer of the Tel Aviv Ballet now in the twilight of his life, and Vivi, a middle-aged waitress unable to fulfill her potential as an artist. The two develop an unlikely friendship that manages to span the differences in their ages, enabling them to open up and reveal how each of them was damaged in the past.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cold Turkey

When Jodie and I walked through the bazaars of Istanbul in March 2010, we were greeted warmly. Although we spoke to each other in English and even though we had flown to the city from Bulgaria, the merchants recognized us as visiting Israelis and called out to us in Hebrew, encouraging us to visit their shops. Wherever we went on our visit to the Muslim country, we felt truly welcome.

We returned to our jobs in Bulgaria and two months later heard the news that Israeli naval commandos had boarded the ships of the so-called Gaza Freedom Flotilla. During the struggle on the Mavi Marmara ship, nine Turkish activists were killed. Despite the footage that showed the ‘peaceful’ activists brutally attacking the Israeli soldiers, resulting in ten of them being wounded, one of them seriously, the international community unanimously condemned Israel’s use of force.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Israel’s Taliban Grows in Strength


Men and women must walk on separate sidewalks and sit segregated on public busses.  Stores are forbidden to sell lingerie or any red clothing item, considered to be the color of passion. A shoe store is forbidden from displaying high heeled shoes in its windows. A medical clinic is forced to remove the word ‘women’ from its sign. A pizzeria is required to have separate hours for men and women customers. Stones are thrown at women joggers and bags of soiled diapers target storeowners refusing to give in to the demands of a modesty “police” force.

These stories are not coming from the harsh regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but rather from a small city not far from Jerusalem. Beit Shemesh, once a quiet town attracting little attention, has become the front line of the battle for Israel’s Jewish identity, and in this town, the side of reason is losing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Journey Begins

One of the main reasons I started this blog was for it to serve as a platform for my writing, specifically for the writing on which I am currently working. Loyal readers of this blog will be able to follow the progress of that writing project as it continues towards publication, because that is the ultimate goal.
At this stage I can share that I have completed the manuscript of my novel, and I am now hard at work editing and revising it, preparing it for the submission process ahead. The novel is a work of fiction, sort of a cultural thriller set in modern day Bulgaria. More details about this story will be revealed over the course of time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let’s Get Digital, a Review

The publishing industry is undergoing a rapid transformation. Hardback sales have collapsed. Sales of trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks are down. In July last year, sales of ebooks on Amazon outnumbered sales of hardback books for the first time. In February this year, ebook sales comprised 29.5% of the market, more than paperbacks.

The Borders bookstore has closed its doors. Amazon has begun publishing its own titles. The Kindle is the top-selling item in Amazon’s history. Authors are expected to market their own books. And self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it once had when it was considered solely a vanity press.

In this changing landscape, prospective authors have a new option available to them. Instead of turning with a manuscript to a literary agent to search for a publisher, authors can publish their own books. According to self-publishing advocate David Gaughran, if a new author has “the technical capability to operate an email account and download [his new] book, [he/she has] the capacity to learn what it takes to become a publisher.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Opening Night of the Fair

My connection to the Khutsot Hayotser Arts and Crafts Fair goes back many years. The annual summer fair, held in the valley below Jerusalem’s Old City walls, is being staged this month for the 36th time. It was approximately that many years ago that my sister displayed her macramé creations at a small booth during her high school summer vacation, first bringing my attention to the arts and crafts on display.
The fair has come far since then, with professional artisans and international crafts exhibitions now attracting thousands each night during a two week period each August. The fair has become a tradition in Jerusalem and it is advertised as the main tourist attraction of the summer season.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Love in Mid Air, a Review



Chick lit is defined by Wikipedia as “genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.” As a genre, it sells well, with titles frequently topping the bestseller lists and becoming part of modern culture in the “Sex and the City” tradition. The target market for chick lit is obviously women. A question that sounds as if it could be phrased by Candace Bushnell/Carrie Bradshaw herself would be: Should men read chick lit?

Debut novelist Kim Wright admits that the intended demographic for Love in Mid Air is American women in book clubs, so she was interested in knowing what I thought of the book. In fact, much of the narrative revolves around the day-to-day routines of this demographic. Its characters are members of a book club, active in church renovations, mothers who escort their children to softball games. These are housewives dealing with the simple, yet complex trivialities of life in the American suburbs.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

To Die with Dignity

It’s one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and the hourly newscast is being broadcast on Galei Zahal, Israel’s Army Radio station. Except this time the broadcast is different. Veteran newscaster Adi Talmor is not the Shabbes goy reading the headlines. Instead, Talmor’s death is one of the headlines, especially due to the way he died.

After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Talmor, age 58, decided to end his life with the help of Swiss assisted-dying organization Dignitas. The decision came as a shock to Talmor’s colleagues. Since his death, Galei Zahal and sister radio station Galgalatz have reported the news in the words Talmor wrote especially for the occasion, and this afternoon there will be a program of his favorite music. Because his body was cremated in Switzerland, there will be no funeral and the only memorial ceremony that he asked for was a gathering on his beloved Tel Aviv boardwalk.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer of Tents

On a Friday night two weeks ago my family and I strolled along Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. This is usually one of the most beautiful streets in the city, with its Bauhaus buildings, tree-lined sidewalks, and ample space for bike riders and child play. But this summer Rothschild is different; it is the center of a nation-wide social protest which has resulted in the boulevard’s being renamed by some as “If I Were Rothschild”, referring to the European Jewish banking family that helped finance many institutions in pre-state Israel.

The first tent was set up on Rothschild exactly one month ago and its placement there, in protest of the high cost of living, led to additional encampments up and down the street, and in other cities all over Israel. Last Saturday night the growing social protest movement held a march in central Tel Aviv attracting some 280,000 people and staging a rally that included a performance by Shlomo Artzi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review: A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria

My wife and I lived for two years in Sofia, Bulgaria. On a number of occasions we visited the Sofia Central Synagogue and each time we were amazed at the beauty of the building. The synagogue, opened to the public in 1909 in a ceremony attended by the Bulgarian Tsar, has been fully renovated and restored. In September, 2009, we were present at its 100th Year Anniversary with Bulgaria’s president seated a few rows ahead of me.

I never noticed a photographer capturing shots of the historic occasion from the balcony above, but he was from Vagabond, Bulgaria’s only English language magazine. The picture he snapped is now on the cover of A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria, just published by Vagabond Media. If you look closely you can see my balding head and white kippa, just visible above the word “everyone” on the book’s cover.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The First Post, an Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my new blog! I am not new to the world of blogging, having recently returned from Bulgaria where I posted regularly at Ellis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures. As part of my full time job, I post about the world of poker on the Titan Poker Blog. But this is the first time I’ve decided to create an online home for my writing.

You can expect to find opinion pieces, book reviews, short stories, general musings, and information about my upcoming novel - a work in progress. Articles that appear on this blog will range across a wide variety of subjects. I hope you will enjoy!

For those who don’t know me, I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and moved to Israel (made aliya) in 1972 at the age of fifteen. I finished high school in Jerusalem, served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel in Israel’s southern Arava desert, and now live on Moshav Neve Ilan outside Jerusalem with my wife, Jodie. We have three children and one granddaughter.