Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Best Bulgarian Short Stories

If you do a search on Google for "Bulgarian short stories" one of the first results you will see is a news item from October stating that Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov won the BBC International Short Story Award. Penkov's story, "East of the West," from his 2011 debut short story collection of the same name, "explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict," according to the contest's organizers.

"East of the West" is the story of a village, divided by a river and by the harsh realities of the Cold War. To the east is Bulgaria, home of a boy known as Nose, and to the west is the home of his cousin, a more liberal land where one can buy blue jeans and Adidas sports shoes. Every five years the authorities allow the villagers to reunite for a feast, where the cousins can dream and plan for freedom and a different future.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where Is Israel Going?

The other day I read a comment posted in response to Alan Elsner's article "Israel’s diplomatic problem in one word: Settlements" that stated simply: “There should never be a two-state solution.” The poster didn’t offer any additional clues that would explain her position.

What is the alternative to a two-state solution? I assume that no one is suggesting a three-state solution to resolve our problems (Israel, Palestine, Gaza), so I will make the logical conclusion that this person either favors a one-state solution or a continuation of the status quo.

Supporters of a one-state solution have over 3 million Palestinians to answer for. Arab Muslim residents of Taibe today have the right to vote and to form political parties. In an expanded State of Israel permanently encompassing the entire West Bank, wouldn’t these basic rights be extended to all Palestinians?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Mistaken, a Book Review

A decent, hard-working man turns to the bottle and seeks violent vengeance in the aftermath of two tragic accidents. "Somewhere down deep inside me lurked a monster, an abomination, a bitter man so broken and lost that vengeance seemed the best course, the only road left to follow."

This was a thought running through the mind of Tyler Karras, the hero of The Mistaken, the fiction debut of Nancy S. Thompson. Tyler is living the American dream in San Francisco, when his brother joins ranks with the local Russian mafia. Tyler tries to intervene on his brother's behalf, but instead only becomes himself a target for their wrath.

Tyler's wife, pregnant with their first child, falls victim to a credit card scam and when she goes to confront the woman who perpetrated the crime, she is killed in a traffic accident. Wallowing in grief and ravished by excessive alcohol consumption, Tyler strikes a deal to deliver the woman con artist to the mafia in exchange for his brother's freedom.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why I'm Voting Meretz

There have been a number of heated political discussions around my family's dinner table in the last few days. "What do you think of Yair Lapid?" my children asked. "What about Tzipi Livni?" they questioned. "Surely, a vote for Labor will strengthen that party and give us a real chance of changing the government," they argued. "No, your father is voting for Meretz," my wife said. "Why?" they asked. Why indeed.

I looked at my children, and at my granddaughters, who are too young and innocent to care about politics.  I was suddenly filled with a sense of failure. My generation had failed to deliver peace. I had raised my children in a country constantly threatened by cycles of meaningless violence, Suicide bombings, rocket attacks, wars. Whatever happened to the hope we had for the future?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

There are no politics in war. Today, Israelis are all one party in this struggle. Will this unity continue after the ceasefire?

Rockets rain down on Israeli cities. A bomb blows up a bus in central Tel Aviv. Civilians and soldiers are killed and wounded. Houses and cars are destroyed. This is war, but as in war, Israelis are united today and stronger than ever before.

A recent poll published in Haaretz stated that 90% of the population supported the decision to launch the Pillar of Defense operation against the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. Even rock star Aviv Geffen, a longtime symbol of the peace movement, spoke in favor of the action. Rallies have called for even stronger strikes at Hamas. While most of the population is against launching ground operations, today the country stands firmly in support of its government.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Gaza War, In Memes

August 2014: This article was written during a previous confrontation between Israel and the Hamas in Gaza. Please read updated information:

Where I Stand on the War in Gaza

This evening nearly one million Israeli citizens raced to safe places when sirens sounded in many areas, including Tel Aviv, warning of incoming rockets. This morning, three civilians were killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip scored a direct hit on an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi. Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft continue to strike at terrorists and their rocket supplies in Gaza. Tanks congregate on the Gaza Strip border in preparation for a possible ground offensive.

The situation is very worrisome. This is war. We've fought against the Hamas terrorists in the past, given them the benefit of the doubt through periods of relative quiet, yet they continue to launch their rockets at Israeli civilians. What other country in the world would allow its citizens to come under such attacks? Israel has a right to defend itself.

The war is also taking place on the Internet, with activists sharing posts and tweets. I've collected some of the memes being shared, some of them prepared by the IDF, the Israel Project, and Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and others whose origins are unknown. I hope that this war, which started so quickly, will end just as quickly and that the citizens of Israel will no longer face the threat of rocket attacks.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunrise in Eilat

While my colleagues are sleeping off their hangovers from a late night company party, I am up at the break of dawn, taking in the beauty of Eilat, Israel's southernmost city.

The day's intense heat is still hours away, but now it is comfortable along the shores of the gulf. The waters are calm, there is a pleasant breeze, and the sun rises in spectacular brilliance over the distant mountains in Jordan.

Walking along the beach I come across fishermen and fisherwomen, casting their lines to tempt the colorful fish. Cats are plentiful among the rocks and await their share of the morning's catch. Here are some of the scenes of Eilat in the new day.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Birds of Another Feather

My friends have an ostrich farm in the middle of the desert. Jodie and I visited there on Saturday, surprised that the middle of the desert was much closer to our home than we had imagined. The El Hayaen Ostrich Farm is located near Ofakim, not far from the Gaza Strip. Once there were 22 such farms in Israel, exporting 20,000 ostriches a year to Western Europe. El Hayaen is the only farm still operating today.

Ostriches were once an indigenous species in Israel, but they disappeared from the desert landscapes in the 1920s. I had previously seen ostriches roaming in the Hai Bar Nature Preserve near Yotvata, and on a visit to Kibbutz Ha'on near Lake Kinneret many years ago.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shalom Tower in the Beirut Skyline

Israel has just bombed Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the latest intelligence reports suggest that only 4 out of 5 plants were taken out of operation. This news is playing in the background in the opening scenes of the new season of Showtime’s “Homeland”, the Emmy-winning series that has its origins in an Israeli television drama.

Each new episode of “Homeland” is airing in Israel on YES satellite television only days after being broadcast in the United States, so Israelis are fully up to speed on bipolar former C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison and former POW-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody. Israelis watching the show will be pleasantly surprised to recognize some of the settings of the initial episodes of Season Two.

Monday, October 8, 2012

You're Never Too Old for an Adventure

How hilarious is The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared? Everyone I know who has read the book has ended up laughing out loud. Repeatedly. It's just that enjoyable and funny!

The international bestseller, written by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson, tells the story of Allan Karlsson, who is about to celebrate his one hundredth birthday. Everyone will be at the party in the old age home - the mayor will be there, the local press will be there. Everyone except for Allan, who escapes through his bedroom window in his slippers and makes his getaway.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Built My Sukkah Upside Down!

When you purchase a sukkah in Israel it's supposed to be a lifetime investment. The so-called sukkah l'netzach is easily constructed and then stored away after the holiday for future use. How is it, then, that I've gone through four or five of the contraptions over the years?

The first "ever-lasting" sukkah I bought was nothing more than a set of irrigation pipes. The end of each pipe had to be screwed onto the next pipe's connecting threads with the help of a monkey wrench. This sukkah swayed dangerously in the slightest breeze. After one or two holidays, the end of the pipes broke off, effectively shortening its shelf life.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Into the Mindset of a Suicide Bomber

It begins with a suicide bombing. An explosion in a restaurant in central Tel Aviv. At least 17 people are dead, including a group of teenage girls celebrating at a birthday party. Ambulances race to Ichilov Hospital, where doctors and nurses labor around the clock to save as many lives as possible. One of the surgeons is an Israeli Arab citizen, Dr. Amin Jaafari, who has been trying to contact his wife, due to return to the city from a visit to her grandmother in Nazareth.

After endless hours in the wards, Amin returns to his home in an affluent neighborhood only to be woken hours later by police knocking at his door. He is called back to the hospital to identify the body of one of the victims. In the morgue he sees the remains of his wife. The police tell him that the extensive wounds she suffered are due to the fact that she was the suicide bomber who detonated in the restaurant.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kill Me Now, a Book Review

It's easy to fill in the missing location - Israel - but this tale of a middle-aged man's dating misadventures is universal.

The first thing I noticed when reading Kill Me Now! by Lawrence Fisher was that the location of the story was never mentioned. The author, who lives in Tel Aviv, doesn't state that his maneuvers on the dating battleground take place in his hometown, but this is easily deduced as the story couldn't take place anywhere else.

"My book is all about dating in Israel and my hilarious escapes and escapades," Lawrence told me, but he never states this openly in his book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

No More Shana Tova Cards in the Mail

How can you decorate your sukkah with Shana Tova greetings received by phone and email?

My mobile phone buzzed to announce an incoming text message. “To all the residents of the Mate Yehuda Regional Council: The coming year should be a year of health and success, prosperity, peace, security, and…”

The message was cut off, but then my phone buzzed again as I received the second part. “Always at your service,” the message concluded, listing the head of the council in the signature.

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Dinosaur Era Mobile Phone

The other day I attended a company meeting and watched a laptop presentation projected on a large white screen at the front of the room. When discussion turned to a video about the product, a video that was hosted on YouTube, we tried to access the Internet via the company’s wireless setup. Unfortunately, the connection was very slow and we all sat for several minutes while the content buffered on the screen.

“Wait, I have it on my phone,” the person next to me stated, and indeed, the video was being broadcast faster on his smartphone than it was through the wireless connection.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bulgarian Cheese Is Made in Israel

I saw a commercial on television the other day depicting some well-known food products and linking them on a map to their countries of origin. One of those items was Bulgarian Cheese and it was displayed against the map and flag of Bulgaria.

Wait a minute, I thought. There is no Bulgarian Cheese in Bulgaria! That’s just another urban legend, created by the mad men of Israeli marketing.
Having lived and worked in Bulgaria for two years, I can state as a fact that there are only two kinds of local cheese sold in Bulgarian supermarkets. All hard yellow cheese is called Kashkaval, and all blocks of white cheese are somewhat similar to Feta.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why I Left iUniverse

I published The Virtual Kibbutz, my collection of short stories about life on the kibbutz, with iUniverse in April, 2003. At the time, iUniverse appeared to be the most professional publishing-on-demand option for my book. I paid my fees, received a number of free copies, and purchased many more to send off to Jewish publications with hopes that reviews would encourage future sales.

This week at my request The Virtual Kibbutz was removed from the iUniverse book catalog. It is still possible to order the one or two remaining copies at Amazon and other online retailers, but soon the original edition will become a collector’s item.

I plan to republish The Virtual Kibbutz independently in the coming months. For now, here is the reason why I left iUniverse.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tunnels to Jerusalem

A few years from now the new high speed train to Jerusalem will make its speedy way to the capital on a route not far from my home. I will never see the train as it passes because it will be traveling through a tunnel under the mountain ridge on the other side of Nahal Yitla, the picturesque valley that runs to the north of Moshav Neve Ilan. 

I recently hiked through this valley, almost reaching a controversial railroad bridge that nearly destroyed the mini-canyon, considered the deepest and most impressive in the Jerusalem Hills, but I hadn't ever managed to see the bridge or the rail tunnels until now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Aliyah Circa 1972

Moving to Israel is not easy, and never was. Take it from an oleh vatik who is this year celebrating forty years in Israel. Looking back, one sometimes wonders how such a life-changing move like aliyah is even possible.

The Greek cruise ship Queen Anna Maria served as the Mayflower for many Americans making aliyah to Israel in the early 1970s. After a week-long crossing of the Atlantic and making port calls in Lisbon and Athens, the ship delivered its ambitious, idealistic passengers at the docks of their new homeland.

My first home in Israel was a third floor apartment on Bar Yochai Street in Jerusalem's Katamon Tet neighborhood. From inside the tiny, spartanly furnished rooms I could hear the calls of the watermelon merchant, “Avatiach!” as his horse-drawn wagon made its way down the street with huge, tantalizing melons. Children from the tenement buildings ran alongside to the parking lot, where a few shoppers approached, eager to taste the merchant's fresh produce.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Recovering Kentucky Politician Defends Israel

Jonathan Miller, 45, a progressive Kentucky Democrat, served as his state’s Treasurer for eight years and unsuccessfully ran for the office of governor in 2007. A former aide to Vice President Al Gore, Miller now considers himself a “recovering politician” whose website serves as a forum of ideas how to fix America’s most intractable problems: climate change, skyrocketing health care costs, the country’s multi-trillion-dollar debt, and more.

Since his retirement from politics, Miller says “I am dedicating my life to working on causes that I believe in, which of course includes the safety and security of the Jewish State.”

In June, Miller published The Liberal Case for Israel: Debunking Eight Crazy Lies about the Jewish State (Kindle edition). Miller spoke to me about his book in an exclusive interview.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Authentic Arab Cuisine at Haj Kahil

Meeting up for dinner with visitors from overseas celebrating their engagement called for a special restaurant, and a friend suggested we try Haj Kahil in Jaffa. As we were currently experiencing the heaviest heat wave of the year, my wife insisted that I first find out if this Arab style eatery had air conditioning. When I called to make a reservation, I asked this all-important question.

The man who answered the phone laughed for many seconds. “Do you think I could work in a restaurant in Jaffa in the summer months if there wasn’t air conditioning?” he asked me.

Haj Kahil indeed has air conditioning, and you can’t miss it due to its prominent location at the edge of the Clock Square in Jaffa. Well, you could be slightly mistaken if you turned towards either the Haj Kahil Express or the Haj Kahil Shwarma restaurants across the street. Apparently they all belong to the same Israeli Arab family which has a track record of four decades in the restaurant business. Taxi drivers and locals know the square as Haj Kahil Square.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Bulgarian Connection

The attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas was also an attack on Israeli-Bulgarian friendship.

“They didn’t give me aspirin and wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom.” These were the words of one of the Israelis sequestered in the Burgas airport terminal on July 18th in the hours after a terrorist bomb exploded on a bus of tourists killing 7 people, including 5 Israelis.

Overnight, a team of Israeli doctors and Magen David Adom paramedics arrived in Bulgaria to check the medical condition of the more than 30 Israelis injured in the terror attack, some of whom suffered serious, life-threatening injuries.

The Israeli tourists welcomed the arrival of the team from home with a warm round of applause. What other country cares so much for its citizens that it sends an aircraft to transport them home as soon as possible after such a tragedy?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: Unorthodox

Deborah Feldman, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Unorthodox (Simon & Schuster, February 2012), was born and raised in the Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Her memoir, subtitled “The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” is a compelling read. One can’t help but feel for the author as she seeks the freedom to think, live, and act independently, and not according to the dictates of an insular, oppressive world.

The book is controversial, and controversy helps sell books. An exposé of the way women are treated in the Satmar community is bound to result in a backlash of denial and alternative depictions of that life. The publication of Unorthodox, however, has led to some serious charges. Media reports and blogs suggest that the author fabricated certain elements of her story, similar to what James Frey did in A Million Little Pieces.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Segwaying through the Parks of Tel Aviv

“All you have to do is lean to the right, and the Segway will go to the right; lean to the left and the Segway will go to the left. You lean forward and you go forward.”

“How do you stop?”

“Just lean back and the Segway will come to a stop.”

These were the directions my coworker and I received just before we put on our helmets and stepped onto our two-wheeled self-balancing personal transport scooters. We were at the Tel Aviv Port, and our guide was Liran. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Devaluation of Facebook

It wasn’t so long ago that Facebook was a new and exciting phenomenon. It was a place where you could socially interact with family members, friends, and colleagues; post your vacation pictures; and amuse each other with witty status updates.

The Facebook of today is different. It is a business, a public company with the goal of making you confront advertising everywhere you turn.

With ever-present concerns of privacy abuse, the clunking social monstrosity that we, the people of the world, have co-created with our freely submitted user contributions is every day becoming less of a fun place to hang out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Did John the Baptist’s Bones Get to Bulgaria?

In July 2010, when my wife and I were still living in Sofia, a strange, somewhat sensational story made its way into the news. Bulgarian officials confirmed that remains of Saint John the Baptist were discovered during archaeological excavations on the Black Sea island of Sveti Ivan, not far from the town of Sozopol which we had visited.

According to the report, archaeologists discovered an exquisite reliquary, or ‘relic urn’, that contained six human bones: a knuckle bone from the right hand, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib, and an ulna, or forearm bone. The remains were buried under a church in a fourth-century monastery. They were linked to John the Baptist because archaeologists also found a small box nearby which bore an ancient Greek inscription mentioning John the Baptist and his birthday. The inscription also asks God to "help your servant Thomas."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Anne Frank Speaks

It was just a month ago that my wife and I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, reading the words from Anne Frank’s diary in the exact location where they were written during the Holocaust years. I would never have imagined at the time that somewhere halfway across the world, someone was giving Anne Frank a voice.

What connection is there between a Caribbean-based magician/comedian and Anne Frank? How did it come about that a statue of Anne Frank was unveiled in a park on the island of Aruba? And who made a short documentary about Anne Frank that is up for awards in the Aruba International Film Festival (AIFF), with its world premiere this weekend?

Meet Adam Steinfeld, the ultimate modern magician and the man who is magically bringing Anne Frank’s words to life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Cutting for Stone

My wife is currently reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese after hearing my very favorable recommendation, so there will be no spoilers in this review. Instead I will focus on the book’s very appropriate title.

For those with very short attention spans, let me start with the bottom line. In my opinion, this is an excellent book, with very unusual, but believable characters interacting in a very unusual setting. So, what’s it all about?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Bravery of Anne Frank

On our recent visit to Amsterdam we visited the very crowded Vincent Van Gogh Museum and the still-in-renovations Rijksmuseum. The museum that was most impressive, however, was the Anne Frank House, home of the Jewish girl who kept a diary of her family while they hid in a warehouse attic for two years during the Nazi occupation.

Outside the narrow building is one of Amsterdam’s picturesque canals, but that sight would not have been visible from behind the thick black curtains of the secret annex where Anne lived from 1942 to 1944, when her family was betrayed and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Tragically, Anne died of typhus just months before the war’s end.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Amsterdam, City of Bicycles

Amsterdam is a city of picturesque canals, of coffeeshops that legally serve cannabis products, of flower markets and Van Gogh sunflowers, of Rembrandt masterpieces and Gouda cheese, of red light sex tourism and Anne Frank heroism. Amsterdam is all this and more, but the first impression one gets when one takes to the streets of the Dutch capital is that Amsterdam is a city of bicycles.

While Tel Aviv is doing its best to be bike-friendly, it has a lot to learn from Amsterdam, where just about everyone cycles. Talk about special bike lanes - it’s almost as an afterthought that there are lanes for cars in Amsterdam. The bicycle traffic is thick and furious.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interview with Erica Manfred, Jewish Vampire Author

Earlier this week I posted a review of Interview with a Jewish Vampire by Erica Manfred, a humor-filled tale of a Jewish divorcee who finds the love of her life when she dates a man who has been dead for a few centuries. Television shows and films have made vampires very popular these days, but not many of these undead creatures are Jewish. Or are they? I interviewed Erica Manfred to learn more of the story behind this book.

ES: Okay, what’s up with your obsession with vampires?

EM: I've been a vampire fan ever since I read Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire in the 80s. Her writing was mesmerizing and the whole concept of a vampire society with its own rules, cast of characters and passions fascinated me. Of course it was all in the writing.  Anne Rice was a wizard in that book. She's never written anything so brilliant again, but I still read her anyway. From there on I became a fan, watching all the movies and reading vampire books that intrigued me. I lost interest for a while but then Twilight came along and I fell in love all over again, and True Blood captured me completely.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Oy Vey, Jewish Vampires!

Jewish singles around the world are quite familiar with JDate, the website where they anxiously post their profiles in hopes of meeting their beshert (Yiddish for ‘predetermined soul mate’). When Rhoda Ginsburg, a 41-year-old overweight Jewish divorcee signs up at the site, she never expects that her shidduch (Yiddush for ‘match’) will be with a Jewish rabbi who has been dead for hundreds of years.

“I would like to tell the story of my life,” says Rhoda’s date when they meet up at a bar. “What’s so special about your story?” Rhoda asks, unwilling to make their meeting a professional gig for her writing career. “I’m a vampire,” her date replies matter-of-factly.

A Jewish vampire? Oy, vey izt mir! (‘Oh, woe is me!’).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Breakfast in Ein Kerem

The sun is shining brightly on the golden onion domes of the Russian Orthodox church on the hills overlooking the picturesque village of Ein Kerem. Down in the valley, tourists from all over the world flock behind their guides to Mary’s Spring or up the hill to the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. While walking through the colorful and serene alleyways one can easily forget that the village is actually a neighborhood of the city of Jerusalem.

It’s Friday morning, and Jodie and I have a coupon for a free breakfast for two. Our chosen destination is Karma, a restaurant located in the very center of the village. Parking is a challenge, though, as the two levels of free underground parking lot across from the restaurant are completely full, a fact that is unknown to the guard who keeps signaling visitors to drive right in. Above the lot, tour buses are circling around and discharging their visitors. We’re lucky to find a tight spot under a tree not far away.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Did Anyone Ask for Elections?

Only a week or so ago, nobody was talking about having elections this year in Israel. The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whether we supported it or not, was firmly entrenched until sometime in distant 2013. And then, as if we almost missed their initial inception, early elections are all that we can talk about and will take place on September 4th. The only thing we’re lacking is an answer to the question - why?

Let’s not get our hopes up. If anyone expects Israel’s post-election government to be more stable, more capable of achieving social justice and/or restarting the peace process, he is probably unfamiliar with the fractious state of Israeli politics.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Yemen, So Close Yet a World Away

If you could get in a boat in Eilat and sail south on the Red Sea to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, you would arrive in the Republic of Yemen, a nation rich with oil reserves but with a population that is one of the poorest on earth. Yemen, a colorful land that played an important home to Jews throughout the ages, has recently been in the headlines due to its role in the Arab Spring protests.

The L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is hosting a stunning photographic exhibition entitled “Travels to Yemen 1987 - 2008”. The lens of renowned Israeli photographer Naftali Hilger’s camera offers a rare glimpse into a society caught far behind the rest of the world.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Google Takes to the Streets of Jerusalem

“To help you explore Israel’s history and present, we’ve launched imagery of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa on Street View,” Google announced on its official blog yesterday. “You can explore the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and each of its four quarters, walk along the Via Dolorosa and see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, visit the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives,” Google said.

In the coming months, Google will add imagery of the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Eilat and other Israeli towns. In the meantime, virtual visitors can already take 360 degree tours of some of Israel’s most popular attractions.

While not providing specifics, Google officials said at the official launch yesterday that they had met with security officials and had worked to ensure that Google Street View doesn’t constitute a security threat to Israel.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hiking Upstream of the Damaged Yitla Gorge

Last week Haaretz reported on the damage caused to the Yitla Gorge in the Judean Hills by the construction of a railway bridge, as part of the high speed line to Jerusalem scheduled to be completed by 2017. “The gorge we knew no longer exists,” said Avraham Shaked, a nature preservation coordinator with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

The mini-canyon of Nahal Yitla, a valley located to the northwest of my home in Moshav Neve Ilan, was considered as one of the “deepest and most impressive in the Jerusalem Hills.” The “Yitla Stream is situated in the heart of one of the best preserved Mediterranean grove areas in the Hills,” said Ze'ev Hacohen, a ranger from the Nature and Parks Authority. It “functions as a habitat for a variety of cliffs plant species and as a nesting site for predators species like falcons, buteos and eagle owls," he said. Yitla is not actually a stream, as there is no water in the valley.

Despite the ominous reports of environmental damage, on a hike upstream from the site of the controversial railway bridge I discovered beautiful, pristine green scenery in totally serene surroundings.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Author Interview with Kim Wright

Last year I read and reviewed a debut novel, Love in Mid Air - a story of American housewives that can best be classified as “chick lit”. I began corresponding with author Kim Wright because her follow-up book had nothing to do with that genre, but rather with the path authors must take in order to get their books published. As an aspiring novelist I have been following Kim’s advice for some time, and I’ve watched as her writing has gone off in new directions. I interviewed Kim to learn about her books and her plans for the future.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Can Israel Do About the Suffering in Syria?

A total of 21 people were killed in Syria on Saturday despite President Bashar Assad's acceptance of a six-point plan that calls for an immediate cease-fire with rebels and an eventual democratic transition. According to officials at the United Nations, which is pushing the cease-fire plan, the estimated number of Syrians killed in the 13-month conflict is more than 9,000.

Israel and Syria are still technically at war, with much more than a disputed border separating the two nations. Yet Israelis cannot help but empathize with Syrian civilians bravely fighting the oppressive rule of Assad’s government. Unlike NATO’s intervention in Libya, it doesn’t seem as if the West desires to get involved in Syria’s internal strife. Is there anything that Israel can do to alleviate the suffering in Syria?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Migron Migraine

Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday unanimously rejected a compromise deal between the government and the residents of Migron, which would have delayed for another three and a half years the dismantling of their settlement, which was built on private Palestinian lands. An earlier court decision had called for the settlement’s dismantling by April 1st; now the court has called for Migron to be demolished by August 1st.

Migron is the largest “outpost” in the West Bank and home to fifty families. It is located on a hilltop northeast of Jerusalem. The Peace Now organization defines “outposts” as “settlements that have been built in the West Bank without Israeli government authorization, in violation of Israeli law.” This is hard to understand as the government has invested millions of shekels in Migron’s development and in its protection by the army.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Swings & Heartaches by Lilly of the West

It’s a bit strange that one has to go all the way to Bulgaria to meet up with a music band that can faithfully perform bluegrass and country music. It was in Bulgaria that we met Lilly Drumeva, the singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, music arranger, manager and record producer of the Bulgarian group Lilly of the West. "Swings & Heartaches" is the group’s recently released ninth album.

We first met Lilly at a concert staged at a studio in Sofia in November 2009 which aired on Bulgarian National Radio. The performance was recorded for the Bulgarian Golden Radio Fund and was accompanied by an announcer giving the history of bluegrass and country music. The introductions were in Bulgarian, but the songs were a highly enjoyable mixture of country, folk, bluegrass and original compositions, most of them performed in English.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Two Wars of Gaza

Life is anything but normal in Israel’s south. School has been canceled, public gatherings have been limited, and the sirens sound repeatedly. Since Friday, some 200 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, striking cars and buildings in large population centers like Beer Sheva and Ashdod, and reaching as far north as Gadera. Luckily, there has been no loss of life, thanks in part to the success of the Israel Defense Forces’ Iron Dome air defense system, which has intercepted a large percentage of the Palestinian rockets.

Israel is currently fighting two wars in Gaza. One is, quite obviously, against the members of terrorist organizations who don’t hesitate to fire at Israel’s citizens wherever they may be. Israeli forces respond by targeting the rocket launch sites. Some 25 terrorists have been killed but some Palestinian citizens have lost their lives as well. There is no indication when this latest cycle of violence will end.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Becoming a Grandfather, a Second Time

How is it possible to fall in love at first sight with someone before you’ve had a chance to see her? How can you cherish in your heart a newborn baby who has not yet been named? How can one take pride and joy in a birth without being responsible for it?

The miracle of life is so precious and never ceases to amaze. Yesterday, my second granddaughter arrived in this world, and from what I’ve seen of her, she’s a pretty talented kid. Her parents must still finalize her name but already she’s proven quite capable of breathing oxygen and nursing on her mother’s milk. And she’s pretty photogenic as well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It’s About Time for the Times of Israel

There are a number of websites reporting the news from Israel on a daily basis, but these websites appear dated, as if the modern technologies powering the Internet somehow overlooked them. More bothersome is the fact that each of the existing news sites is biased, appealing only to certain types of visitors and presenting the viewpoints and analysis that please its intended audience.

Along comes The Times of Israel. It’s about time that the day’s Israeli news is presented to readers in a manner that’s not only pleasing to the eye, but also in the way it was meant to be reported. Calling itself “the one-stop site for Israel, the region, and the Jewish world,” The Times of Israel launched last week and is quickly building up a loyal audience.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing About Bulgaria - the Cold Snap Story

How easy is it to write about Bulgaria in a work of fiction? Having lived in Bulgaria for two years I am attempting to give an accurate picture of the country in my writing. Recently I posted a review of Cold Snap, a collection of short stories set in a fictitious village some 60 kilometers east of Sofia. The book was written by Cynthia Morrison Phoel, who served in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer.

I interviewed Cynthia to get some background about her successful efforts to write about Bulgaria.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Kosher Camera

Now available: a camera that automatically replaces the image of a woman’s face with a brown paper bag. You need not fear that immodest images will appear in your digital photographs. This amazing camera’s built-in facial recognition software analyzes a scene and detects all the faces of women within the frame. The final result is a distorted pixilated face, an obtrusive black bar, or the much-preferred brown paper bag, guaranteed not to arouse you in any way.

The reason that this newly launched Kosher Camera website is so hilarious is because it is a humorous response to a very real and serious problem in Israel.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Israel Fears a Nuclear Iran

The international media has been full of reports of an impending Israeli attack on Iran, even going so far as to detail how such an attack would take place. Every day there are new stories supporting this theory, while others suggest that the public debate on the issue is aiming instead to spur tougher economic sanctions on Iran and force it to back down from its nuclear program.

Although Iran’s leaders contend that their program is intended solely for civilian purposes, they have not restrained themselves from expressing their animosity for Israel.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Footnote, Israel’s Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Film

“The nominees in the category of Best Foreign Film are…”

Headlines this past week stated that the ‘Israeli film industry is a surprising powerhouse’ due to the fact that the country has had four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the past five years, “giving Israel more nominations during that period than any other country.”

But, no Israeli film has ever won the coveted award. With an Iranian film the favorite for this year’s Oscar, the Israeli film “Footnote” will probably remain just that, a footnote on the list of the country’s nominated films that just miss winning top accolades.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Will This Man One Day Be Israel’s Prime Minister?

Two weeks ago, popular news anchorman Yair Lapid announced that he was leaving his Channel Two position in order to prepare for an entry into Israeli politics. Within days, public opinion polls predicted that a new political party headed by Lapid would win between 15 - 20 seats in the Knesset, thereby becoming the country’s second biggest party after the Likud. The political shock waves sent out by Lapid’s announcement may signal the advent of new general elections sooner, rather than later.

The major problem with Lapid’s entering the political fray is that no one knows what he really stands for.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cold Snap, a Review

Reading Cold Snap by Cynthia Morrison Phoel one is immediately transported to Bulgaria, where the author served as a Peace Corps volunteer. The linked stories deal with the residents of Old Mountain, a ragged fictitious town some 60 kilometers east of Sofia. Just six stories in total make up this collection. By the time one finishes the book, the characters and their daily struggles are well-known and almost demand a second reading to make sure nothing was missed.

I found Cold Snap to be an amazingly effective title for this short story collection. “Cold Snap” is the name of the concluding, novella-length story that ties all the characters together. It deals with a bitterly cold season, when the residents of the town are forced to endure freezing temperatures as they wait for the central heating to be turned on. Cold snap could also describe the painful fall of Pavletta, whose ankle is broken so loudly that the sound of the cracking bone is carried across the town square.