Onliners vloggers
Blogging,Education,History and Culture,Life

Onliners Chapter 3: Funny stories

Anyone who’s got an embarrassing/funny story about their first time in a foreign culture will relate to the experiences described in the third installment of Onliners, the Students For Israel vlog following exchange students Pascaline Wagemans from Belgium, Simon Baaske from Austria and Danielle Gershon from the United States.

The three stars of Onliners are posting a new video every week during the three-month summer semester in an effort to provide an unbiased, minimally edited glimpse into the “real” Israel through the eyes of visiting college students.

Pascaline was on the receiving end of a typically Israeli pickup line as she got off a bus. Simon’s big “oops” moment happened during a walk through a Negev village, while Danielle’s first humiliation was during a cab ride, when the cab driver yelled at her and threw her out of the taxi.

Onliners team
A New Reality,Blogging,Education,History and Culture,Life

Onliners, Chapter 2: “A good shocker”

“I have to be honest: I didn’t know a lot of about Israel the first time I came here,” says Pascaline in the second five-minute episode of Onliners, entitled “Israel?! Seriously?” She candidly reveals that her first trip was simply to follow her Jewish now-ex-boyfriend, and she found Israelis to be rude, loud and difficult. “This is exactly what I started loving here because it made me more assertive.”

If you recall from last week’s blog, Onliners is a new vlog produced by Students For Israel under the banner of the National Union of Israeli Students.

Spread the Word
• Email this article to friends or colleagues
• Share this article on Facebook or Twitter
• Write about and link to this article on your blog
• Local relevancy? Send this article to your local press

The group of 23 Israeli college students chose Pascaline Wagemans from Belgium, Simon Baaske from Austria and Danielle Gershon from the United States — all studying at Israeli universities this year – to answer a question in a weekly video during the three-month summer semester to present an authentic youthful perspective on the “real” Israel.

This week’s question: “Why Israel?”

Danielle, who expected sand and camels on her first visit at age 12, says it was “a big shocker; a good shocker” to discover how developed Israel actually is. She decided then and there to come back for college.

As for Simon, he always has to explain to friends back home – and to Israelis, too — why he chose not only Israel (“a land of mystery”), but Beersheva in the south – not the most hip and happening area. An international relations student, he says he wanted to immerse himself among real Israelis to better understand daily life outside tourist venues.

Will Pascaline cross the line between assertive and obnoxious? Will Danielle continue her love affair with Israel? Will Simon get bored and hot in the Negev? Stay tuned.

The Cupola. Photo by Mel Brickman
Art,Entertainment,History and Culture

Lights in Jerusalem

My friend Barbara and I were standing at Jaffa Gate facing the Cupola – an 82-foot-high domed structure by Italy’s Luminarie De Cagna – at the magic moment when night fell and its 63,000 electric candles came alive with tiny points of colored light.

It was opening night of the Jerusalem Festival of Light in the Old City, the fourth such event to bring international and local light artists’ sculptures, performances, projections and displays into the inimitable atmosphere of the ancient neighborhood.

Many people go for four nights to explore each of the four routes – orange, blue, green and yellow. Barbara and I opted for orange (my favorite color) and spent the next two hours on foot taking in some pretty awesome spectacles in the pleasant night air.

Rosoni de Cagna’s street lights.

Rosoni de Cagna’s street lights.

Our route was, cleverly, sponsored by the Orange wireless communications company, which presented a show called “Clear” in Batei Machase Square, an area of the Jewish Quarter built in the 19th century. The show featured colossal projections on the Rothschild House, which functioned as an Arab officers’ school between 1948 and 1967 and now houses an elementary yeshiva. The show was accompanied by a guy in heavy gloves playing a giant musical instrument called an Earth Harp. The strings were attached to a rooftop way over yonder above our heads.

At one point a reporter approached to ask our impressions of the free event. I told her that it brings a refreshing and fun perspective to a part of town that I might not otherwise care to explore at night. The normally dark cobblestoned alleyways were animated with polyglot tourists enjoying the colorful installations and pulsing music. Festival-goers were expected to number about 250,000 despite the fact that the Israel Opera Festival was going on at the same time.

My evening ended with an outdoor performance on light and electricity by Mayumana, a quirky high-energy Israeli modern dance troupe. Snaking my way back to Jaffa Gate to catch a bus home around 11:00, I discovered that this was when the crowd was truly starting to arrive. It was going to be a long and lively night in Jerusalem.

Mayumana in action. Photo by Ron Birn

Mayumana in action. Photo by Ron Birn

Some other things you can see through June 14:

  • Ocubo: A Portuguese interactive virtual “ball game” where participants control the weather.
  • Key Frames: The French group Laps used LED light pipes to create more than 60 characters, animated by choreographic light and music.
  • – Cathedral: Developed by Raoul Hurwitz from Estonia, this installation was made entirely out of salvaged old windows.
  • – Light Benches: A project of the German architect Bernd Spieker, these illuminated benches invited passers-by to rest and take in their surroundings.
  • – Faces of Jerusalem: The German artist Jan Ising’s three-dimensional exhibit presents a collection of projected photos of the people of the city, taken by Ising and Bartosh Navarra during April.
  • – The Enlightened Magic Circus: A magical journey through the Christian Quarter featuring 10 illuminated circus scenes that the German artist Nicola Dicke painted using her own special technique on slides.
  • – Shadows Story: Inside the Cardo, a restored Roman marketplace in the Old City, Israeli artist Adi Paz-Faingold presented a light-and-shadow version of “Hansel and Gretel.”
  • – Afterlight: A Dutch creation in the Cardo using dynamic photographs projected on the wall that created optical illusions accompanying an animated journey into the human brain.
  • – Pitaya: A floating display of pollen and jellyfish made entirely out of plastic pipes and lit with LED bulbs, Pitaya hung in the air above the audience.
  • – Dragons and other animals illuminated by innovative light technology by the Mystorin Theater Group celebrated the Chinese Year of the Dragon.


Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker
Art,Entertainment,Life,Music,Pop Culture

Israeli ‘Carmen’ is a hot ticket in the desert

The Israeli Opera returns to Masada this week with a majestic production of Bizet’s Carmen. On the backdrop of the stunning ancient fortress at the lowest point on Earth, the five open-air concerts will draw some 50,000 opera newcomers and devotees.

Since first staging Nabucco in 2010 and then Aida in 2011, the Israeli Opera has made it a tradition to stage a grand production annually at this magical setting.

Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker

Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker

And while there are many aspects of the show to write about, Israeli opera fans should remember this name: Na’ama Goldman.

The 26-year-old mezzo soprano was the talk of the General Rehearsal last night.

Listed briefly in the program as a cover for the roles of Mercedes and Carmen, Goldman was given the chance of a lifetime last night after Canarian Nancy Fabiola Herrera – who has performed the title role of Carmen all over the world — and Italian mezzo soprano Anna Malavasi – also meant to perform the title role – both called in sick (one fell and sprained her shoulder; the other had sinusitis).

Naama Goldman. Photo from Israeli Opera website

Naama Goldman. Photo from Israeli Opera website

Most of the audience had no idea that Goldman’s performance was the first time she was performing it on this stage. The young Israeli did a magnificent job and deserves the standing ovation she received when conductor Daniel Oren put his baton down.

Herrera was meant to take on the title role for the premiere. She performed the first two acts but then gave way to Goldman mid-show, citing a sore throat. Some critics said Goldman’s voice lacked maturity while others were blown away by the clarity. There was no denying the exceptional baptism-by-fire performances she gave.

It was Romanian soprano Brigitta Kele (Micaela), who happened to be sitting to my right, who told me about Goldman’s feat. Kele – who sported a hospital mask halfway through the opera – explained that for many of the international performers, the desert production was proving to be a strain on their voices.

The sand blown by the wind coupled with the desert heat had caused a number of the artists to suffer sore throats and stuffy noses.

Still, Kele said, she and her fellow visiting performers were only too happy to be in Israel. Kele – who is making her Israeli Opera debut with Carmen – raved about Tel Aviv (where first rehearsals were held) and said the desert setting really was exceptional.

Altogether, Carmen comprised 450 international performers, including 32 Spanish flamenco dancers.

The Israeli Opera regularly attracts an international cast. Artistic administrator Michael Ajzenstadt told ISRAEL21c last year that foreign singers, conductors and directors enjoy coming here for professional reasons. “There are hundreds of opera houses, but we’re an important house with prestigious connections around the world,” he said.

Of the three productions to take place at the foot of Masada, Carmen was being hailed as the most challenging to date.

Organizers said there were some 2,500 workers involved in creating the site — a 3,500 meter stage with 30 tons of lighting and sound fixtures and a reception area, parking and seating venue built from scratch and set to be completely dismantled the morning after the last show.

Add to that 3,000 magnificent costumes, 10 horses, seven donkeys, over 200 security personnel, the Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra, the Israeli Opera Choir, the Encore Youth Choir, the Tel Aviv Philharmonic choir and 25 marquees (which contained dressing rooms, make-up areas and dining services).

While impressive, it was the ‘who?’ that everyone asked about at the start of the production when the cast change was first announced, that turned out to be the most talked about aspect of the evening.

And, of course, that next year’s grand-scale opera at this spot will be Turandot – and that work on the production is already underway.

A New Reality,Blogging,Education,Life

Onliners do it for Israel online

Meet Pascaline Wagemans from Belgium, Simon Baaske from Austria and Danielle Gershon from the United States. All of them are studying at Israeli universities this year.

Why did they decide to attend college in Israel and what do they think about life here? They’re explaining all that in Onliners, a new vlog produced by Students For Israel, a group of 23 diverse college students under the banner of the National Union of Israeli Students.

Spread the Word
• Email this article to friends or colleagues
• Share this article on Facebook or Twitter
• Write about and link to this article on your blog
• Local relevancy? Send this article to your local press

The idea is to use online social media to present an authentic youthful perspective on the “real” Israel in response to hate materials and misinformation in cyberspace. Onliners isn’t any sort of official hasbara PR shtick. It’s a raw look at Israel for both outsiders and insiders.

As Pascaline says, “People are super-surprised when there is a non-Jew who is not afraid to come to your country.”

The three stars of Onliners are posting a new video every week during the three-month summer semester, featuring their frank and unbiased answers to questions about why they’re here and what they’re experiencing or observing about Israel socially, culturally, academically and economically. The clips get minimal editing before being uploaded weekly to visual platforms including Facebook and YouTube.

In the first episode, which lasts six-and-a-half minutes, the three students introduce themselves and what they hope their project will accomplish.

Says Danielle, “The main goal is to allow the world to see a different image than what the media portrays.”

Simon relates that he applied to Onliners because “I kind of like the idea that someone is here, he’s seeing things, he’s perceiving them and there’s no agenda behind it.”

The project leaders hope to influence mainly those viewers who don’t yet have a concrete opinion about Israel and the Jewish people.

I’ll be blogging about each episode on Israelity, so stay tuned.