Stranded in the Judean Hills

Admiring the view...before the sun went down

I got the SMS around 3:00 PM on Friday. “Abba, I’m OK. But we’re kind of stuck on top of a mountain.”

It was our 14-year-old son Aviv who was out with five students from his school, plus one of his teachers, on a “preparation hike.” The idea was to scout the route before the entire school set out on their tiyul shnati – the annual hiking and camping trip that is de rigueur for Israeli students.

Participating in a tiyul shnati starts from a young age: grade schoolers spend the day outdoors; by junior high, there’s an overnight day or two. And in high school, the annual hike can last up to an entire week. Depending on the school, you may camp outdoors and cook your own food (barbequed tuna is a favorite), or you may stay in a local youth hostel (not sure the food there is any better).

Aviv and his comrades had set out to map Nahal Tze’elim, a challenging but beautiful hike in the Dead Sea area. They started at 5:30 AM and should have been back home by mid-afternoon.

But to paraphrase the opening lines of the new J.J. Abrams’ TV series Alcatraz, “That’s not what happened. Not at all” (watch the show and you’ll appreciate this somewhat obscure pop culture reference).

The problem was that, halfway through the hike, the kids’ teacher became ill during the trip. Nothing life threatening, but his hiking speed was significantly reduced as he coughed his way up and down the rugged Judean Hills.

And that was how the intrepid hikers found themselves at the top of a mountain as the sun went down. Not expecting to still be in the desert at that hour, no one had thought to bring a flashlight. They were also all out of food. There was a full moon, but it wasn’t due out until later in the evening.

They had no choice to hike down, on the edge of a cliff, in the pitch black. What should have taken 20-30 minutes took over two hours.

In the meantime, the ill teacher’s daughter had driven down to meet the students at the end of the hike.

When the hikers hadn’t returned an hour into the pitch black, the daughter thought about calling the emergency services. Would they have to send a helicopter to rescue the presumably stranded hikers? No one knew: There was no cell phone reception in that part of the wilderness.

Fortunately, it wasn’t much longer until the weary crew emerged from the nahal and returned to the cars. It was 8:00 PM – five long hours after Aviv’s first call, and well into Shabbat.

Aviv was back in Jerusalem at 10:00 PM to tell the tale while devouring his mother’s world-famous chicken soup. No, he never felt in any danger. Yes, he was scared. Mostly he was tired. We were relieved, but mostly kept it to ourselves.

Two days after his unexpected adventure, there was a second “preparatory hike.” Aviv decided to pass. We didn’t complain.

Music bloggers Rebecca Schiller, Samantha Edussuriya, Luke Britton, Rory Hamilton and Brandon Bogajewicz together with Joanna Landau (founder of Kinetis) jam with Idan Raichel. Photo by Michal Elchadaf

ISRAEL21c meets music bloggers

A free trip to Israel with all expenses paid and intimate concerts with some of the top musicians in the country. Sound good?

That’s why five bloggers from the US and UK – Rebecca Schiller of the New Musical Express, Samantha Edussuriya of MTV Iggy, Luke Britton of This Fake/DIY, Rory Hamilton of Feel My Bicep, and Brandon Bogajewicz of The Burning Ear – jumped at the offer to come to Israel for a week of five-star pampering.

The Kinetis nonprofit group brought them over to show them that Israel has a lot more creative energy than the headlines around the world tend to illustrate.

“Our tours generate significant on and offline ‘buzz’… and offer followers of our guests a glimpse into Israeli reality behind what they see on the news and media,” writes Kinetis on its website.

Schiller wrote in a blog on NME about the trip that there are “a few unbelievably talented acts nestled away in Tel Aviv that most certainly deserve some overseas attention.”

Edussuriya of MTV Iggy said the blog she works for is always on the lookout for new global music and innovative international acts. And that’s what was on the menu for the visit here.

Photo by Michal Elchadaf
Music bloggers Rebecca Schiller, Samantha Edussuriya, Luke Britton, Rory Hamilton and Brandon Bogajewicz together with Joanna Landau (founder of Kinetis) jam with Idan Raichel.
It was a packed week with concerts, seminars and one-on-one chats. The bloggers met with the likes of Acollective, Ninet, Useless ID, Orphaned Land, Idan Raichel, Geva Alon, TYP, Tiny Fingers, Ninet, Mira Awad and Ahinoam Nini.

ISRAEL21c caught up with them during a visit to Muzik – School of Creation and Production in south Tel Aviv to chat about music as an international language. File-sharing and the internet have no doubt helped musicians around the world be heard. But nothing beats face-to-face interaction or jamming together for a real musical relationship to be formed.

Israeli musicians used to be hesitant about singing in English – mainly from the point of view of not being accepted by local fans – but since 2005 there’s been a domestic explosion of Israeli artists recording in English and today it’s totally acceptable.

Yet even with the internet, the bloggers told me that they knew few Israeli musicians. Their week in Israel has no doubt changed that.

These five bloggers have a combined audience of nine million followers. So, when they meet a new artist they like, chances are someone else is going to read about them as well. And that’s always a good thing.

Rocky Horror Purim Show

Rocky Horror Purim Show

For the past several years, friends of ours have hosted a pre-Purim party featuring a screening of the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The impetus was straightforward: they love the musical and enjoy the “group” viewing experience, which includes participatory dancing to the “Time Warp,” newspapers held overhead while someone squirts water at you (to illustrate a segment shot in the pouring rain), and yelling out various bawdy quips at specific moments in the film.

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Jody and I were in the audience (if you could call it that) this week. Everyone was encouraged to come in costume. Eschewing the de rigueur attempt at cross-dressing, we played protagonists Brad and Janet, dressed up in white lab coats during the scene when Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s creation Rocky Horror comes to life.

The evening was lots of fun, but I wondered, why Purim davka? You can have fun most any night of the year. And then, in the middle of Rocky’s big solo “The Sword of Damocles,” I saw it. The assembled Transylvanian groupies were spinning…groggers.

Yes, that’s right, the very samenoise makers that Purim revelers spin to drown out the name of the wicked Haman every time it’s spoken during the Megillah reading on Purim evening and morning.

I did a double take. Maybe these were just party favors. But there was no mistaking it – I’ve never seen anything like these particular types of groggers anytime except at Purim. Were either Jim Sharman, the director, or Richard O’Brien, who wrote the music, Jewish? Is the eerie castle where the soon-to-be-revealed aliens from the planet Transsexual reside really a metaphor for Ahasverus’s palace? The Internet isn’t saying.

Come next Purim, if you’re not too tipsy (or maybe better if you are), consider renting and watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show at your place.

Happy Purim!

Shimon Peres, superstar

Shimon Peres, superstar

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with youngster Shimon Peres.

Sure there’s Betty White and Tony Bennett, but you could make a case for the most hip octogenarian out there being none other than Shimon Peres, Israel’s venerable president.

At age 88, Peres is a new media star and has spent this week, after holding a face to face with President Barack Obama and addressing the AIPAC conference, touring California hi-tech hotbeds as the toast of Silicon Valley, with heavyweights like Mark Zuckerberg and Serge Brin clamoring to pose next to him like he was a rock star.

Zuckerberg helped Peres launch his official Facebook page, which is aimed at creating a dialogue with Arab users. The president repeatedly praised the social networking site as a way for people to bypass failed efforts of governments to seek peace.

And if that’s not enough for you to press like, Peres’s people recruited celebrated Israeli DJ Noy Alooshe to put together a techno mash-up of a Peres speech to promote the page. Alooshe, a member of the techno group Chovevei Tzion, was propelled to international success after his parody last year of former Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, which included excerpts from one of his speeches during the early stages of the Libyan civil war.

Accompanied by a pulsing techno beat, the Peres clip features Peres rapping his way through a “be my friend, for peace” riff in his endearing Old World English acent. Visually, we see the presidentin various scenes, from scrolling through his page on a Tablet to meeting international leaders and celebrities like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and the Pope.

The clip appears, of course, on Peres’s own YouTube channel. The man’s a modern marvel. Meanwhile I’m still trying to figure out what Twitter is all about.


Meeting whiz kid Ben Lang

Ben Lang

When I first met Ben Lang, I didn’t take much notice. Apparently I should have. The 18-year-old returning immigrant has taken Israel’s hi-tech scene by storm, in the process being written about by no less than 22 publications in Israel and the U.S. – including this one from Abby Leichman on our sister site Israel21c.

As Abby writes, Ben began his entrepreneurial career just a few years after his bar mitzvah. He created a site to help students find and share class notes; opened his own eBay business; and started a blog for budding young entrepreneurs. He was almost sued by The New York Times for making a website called, which explained how to read The Times for free after the paper erected a formidable pay wall.

His latest project is a co-venture with another young Israeli, Nir Kouris. The site, called Innovation Israel – similar to EpicLaunch, his previous blog for entrepreneurs – is a community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors, with of course an Israeli twist. One of their first ventures was a live coding event called Hackathon – which we wrote about here.

All of this will be coming to an end – perhaps more a temporary hiatus – when Lang joins the IDF later this month. In the meantime, he’s been working with the marketing team at Wibiya -here’s my story about them from two years back.

Ben is the son of Jennifer and Phillipe Lang (dad’s a hi-tech entrepreneur as well and we once met in my office to brainstorm ideas). Philippe’s brother Yvan is an accomplished architect and the father of one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates (yes, we’ve kept in touch all these years). Mom Jennifer is my wife’s ex’s sister. Now that’s Jewish geography at its finest!

I can’t say I’m buddies with Ben – other than on Facebook – but I’m glad to have chatted with this up and coming superstar once at a family event. I expect to hear more about Ben Lang in the future – in three years time…or before.