Israeli Pebble Carpet Designed for Heart Health?

Neora Zigler pebbles carpet
An Israeli designer creates a rug that incorporates real pebbles. Walking on them is like a foot massage!

It’s pretty common these days to see pottery and household objects from Israel that are designed to resemble nature.
While you may see pathways made of pebbles at resorts and spas, it’s not likely you’ll find them inside your carpets. Inspired by the east, Israeli designer Neora Zigler chose to sew pebbles inside layers of synthetic fabric and the result is her Pebbles Carpet. Zigler says it forces one to walk slowly, with concentration, but I bet walking on it is good for your health, and heart. (more…)

Israeliness,War

Taking care of our children

Hila Betzaleli poses at the Mount Herzl parade grounds, two hours before the tragedy in which she lost her life. (photo credit: Channel 2 News)

Two soldiers died tragically yesterday in what would seem to have been preventable accidents. The incident that grabbed the top headlines was at Mount Herzl where a lighting rig fell during practice for the next week’s Independence Day ceremony, crushing to death 20-year-old Hila Betzaleli from Mevesseret Zion.

The other death was 19-year-old Yehoshua Hefetz who collapsed during an exercise at the Combat Engineering Corps. in the Negev desert where he was training for the group’s elite Sayeret Yahalom special operations unit. First reports were that he was severely dehydrated on an unusually hot day with high winds and lots of dust. The army says it was cardiac arrest, although a post-mortem electrocardiogram performed at Eilat’s Yoseftal Medical Center showed no evidence of any congenital heart defect.

The second death hit closer to home: our daughter knew the young man, a Jerusalemite, through a mutual friend and went to high school with Hefetz’s sister. She texted me yesterday quite upset, understandably.

The two incidents – the second one in particular – always raise the question of “how could they have let this happen?” We send our children off to the army and entrust that the IDF will take care of them. War is one thing, but training accidents are particularly tragic.

And there have been others: earlier this year, Private Dvir Moor died after contracting an infection during basic training. And two years ago, another training incident claimed the life of Omri Shoshan was accidentally shot in the back.

I know that sh*t happens. As a parent, I have sometimes imagined locking my children in the house so that they’d be free from any harm out in the big scary world. I can’t imagine our children would agree.

Our daughter said that Hefetz’s father had died just two months ago. He is survived by his mother and two sisters. Our hearts go out to him and Hila Betzaleli. May their families know no more sorrow.

City non-planning

The Hursha event flyer

I posted back in November about some neighborhood excitement over the planned recycling area in the Hursha, a neighborhood playground and garden. At the time, we were all disappointed because while an area had been paved for recycling bins, no bins were ever brought to the paved area and it seemed clear all these months later that it just wasn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, the garden’s been taking off, as well as more heavy-duty recycling in other nearby neighborhoods, enabling people to gather their cardboard, batteries, plastics and metals more easily. It’s still nothing like cities that I know in the States, where you just bring your recyclables curbside on the appointed day (yes, I know people who have to freeze their garbage because pickup is so infrequent). But, it’s something.

And then, a major scoop on why it is that the Hursha recycling area never happened. During a ‘heppening’ — Hebrew for a gathering, an event — that was taking place yesterday at the Hursha playground, sponsored by a local Jerusalem political and social action party, a municipality official taking part in the event told a friend that the reason the bins were never put in place is because the space wasn’t planned well, and there was no way the recycling trucks would ever be able to access the bins.

The Hursha, you see, is situated between two streets, Efrata and Korei Hadorot, accessed by what we call a simta, a kind of open alley or path that connects the two streets. The recycling space is at the front of the park, about midway up the simta, formally known as Barzilay Street, and therefore inaccessible to cars or trucks. It’s quite true, there is no way to access large recycling bins and clearly someone in the municipality made a big mistake when they poured the cement for this particular corner.

So that’s it. No cardboard or metal recycling corner for Talpiot, or not yet. And it seems doubtful that the city would post an apology sign, letting us know that they screwed up. Instead, the orange-painted area has become a default hangout space for parents and their toddling kids, until someone comes up with another, better idea.

Business,Life

Audited

Fortunately we don't have to file taxes as in this picture from 1920 in the U.S.

For the 17 years that we have lived in Israel, we have been boy scouts when it comes to paying our U.S. taxes. We file our 1040s dutifully, even though there is rarely any tax to pay (we pay our 45% pound of flesh to the Israeli authorities and then the double taxation treaty with the U.S. keeps us in the clear).

That doesn’t mean it’s easy: this last year we became aware that we’d never filed two forms – one for foreign owned businesses (I have one) and the other a declaration of most of our personal assets. Neither have any tax implications – they’re for information only – but failure to file carries a $10,000/year penalty. It cost a small fortune to get into compliance – and even that wasn’t a sure thing.

So when I received a thick envelope from the IRS (the U.S. Internal Revenue Service) yesterday, my heart started to pound. If it was just a statement of acceptance – or even a refund! – that would have been a one-pager.

We were being audited.

The letter tried to reassure us that it was probably just a random selection and in all likelihood we’d be fine. There was no mention of the two forms I’d filed late, which was a relief. But it summoned us to an examination by telephone, which would probably take “two hours,” it said. We would also have to send in advance a vast number of documents – bank statements, checks, proof that our children were dependents during the period for which we were being audited – all in English.

Our bank statements, invoices and receipts are in Hebrew of course. The letter said these would all need to be re-written by a “certified” translator, one with an Internet site to verify his or her credentials (and prices). No Hebrew speaking buddy would be accepted. Thankfully, there was no requirement for notification, which can run a good $100 per page.

I was audited a couple of years back by the Israeli tax office. They sent two women to my home office and grilled me over my business expenses. I had to call my accountant several times during the examination in order not to make a costly gaffe with my spotty Hebrew. In that case, my file was closed and I was off the hook. Hopefully it will be the same way this time.

Have you ever been audited by the IRS? I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave your comments on this blog.

Emek Tzurim Park: a hidden treasure in Jerusalem

The beginning point of Emek Tzurim

File this one in the “who knew?” department.

During the intermediary days of Passover, my wife and I had the opportunity to join a guided tour through the Tzurim Valley that begins at the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University and ends at the Dung Gate entrance to the Old City, opposite the Western Wall. The route – more an easy walk than a hike – includes so many surprises, that it’s a wonder it isn’t on everyone’s Israeli traveling agenda (we’d never even heard of it).

Surprise number one: there is a blue and white marked trail that leads through a mostly untouched, Judean valley full of olive, oak and “Judas” trees and, at this time of year, red poppies and lots of greenery – not what you’d expect in the heart of East Jerusalem with its ever-present view of the glinting gold Dome of the Rock.

The trail leads past a “sifting tent” where rubble from the excavation of the Solomon’s Stables area of the Temple Mount has been transported to allow visitors to try their hand at archaeology-made-simple. Work by the Islamic Wakf to build a mosque where the Biblical-era Stables once stood caused an outcry in the archaeology community when the remains – full of Second Temple treasures – was found dumped outside the Old City walls.

In the sifting tent, the dirt is placed into raised containers to make it easier for families (there were many children) to poke through. We didn’t try our hand…there was much more to see.

Surprise number two: there is a gorgeous park situated midway along the path named after early Mormon leader, Orson Hyde, and built as part of the mid-1980’s deal that allowed for the creation of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. A perfect place for picnicking, the park is large, lush and mostly deserted. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that.

Descending out of Tzurim Valley (a National Park since 1988) and into the Kidron Valley, we reached the Gethsemane Church and its adjacent gardens. The gardens are open free of charge from 9:00 AM – noon and then again from 2:00 PM until the sun sets.

Zechariah's Tomb

The concluding segment of the journey overlooks the Mount of Olives – not a surprise – but also a number of Jewish tombs – one for Absalom (the rebellious son of King David) and another for the prophet Zechariah, who in all likelihood is not actually buried there: Zechariah preached during the First Temple-era, but graves from that time are located on the western side of the Old City. The tomb itself is carved out of solid rock, much like Petra, although not as colorful or on as grand a scale.

Our tour – led by a Naomi Ehrlich, a charming, competent and occasionally outspoken Israeli tour guide – lasted about three hours, which included many stops for explanation and snacking. You can easily walk it in half the time and the path is well marked. Naomi offers the tours during the Passover and Sukkot holidays through the Jerusalem AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel).

Of course, if your politics prevent you from walking through East Jerusalem, you’ll have to forgo this extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating adventure. The Tzurim Valley Park itself is controversial (note the ongoing tensions over the creation of the nearby Mount Scopus Slopes National Park) and the sifting tent is run by El’ad, which also backs the City of David archaeological site.

I’d recommend putting such proclivities aside – at least for a couple of hours – to enjoy one of the region’s as yet mostly undiscovered delights.