Iron Dome system intercepts missiles – but not in Jerusalem ChameleonsEye /
A New Reality,Life,War

First siren

When I was growing up in California, I had a terrible fear of being caught in the shower when an earthquake hit. What would I do, stressed my pre-teen self; would I run out into the street stark naked in order to save myself? How would I live down the embarrassment? Or would I risk injury or even death out of prurient prudishness?

Fast forward to November 2012 and, although Israel has its earthquake worries too, the bigger concern this week is missiles from Gaza. And my shower nightmare just came true.

The missile alarm sounded in Jerusalem Friday afternoon, just as I was finishing my pre-Shabbat shower. The siren in our area is not super loud, but it was unmistakable as I switched the water off and grabbed my towel. I heard my wife Jody calling my name and then the slam of the front door as she headed down to the shelter with the kids and the dog, leaving me alone in our bathroom.

I have never heard a missile siren before. We made aliyah three years after the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein lobbed 42 Scuds at Israel. No sirens – other than the annual memorial blasts on Yom Ha Zicharon and Yom Ha Shoah – have rung in Jerusalem since. I didn’t expect to hear one this time either: we have assured ourselves for years that our enemies would never want to risk hitting sites holy to the Muslim world. I guess the rules have changed.

I decided that I would not run out in just a towel. I entered my bedroom, threw on a t-shirt, reached into the underwear drawer and was about to pull on my pants when the siren stopped.

Now what? Jerusalem is supposed to have a minute and a half from the time the siren goes off and a missile lands. So if the siren is silent, there’s no more reason to rush, right?

The official response is that one should stay in the shelter for 10 minutes. Accordingly, I should have still high-tailed it to the room with the reinforced concrete. But I didn’t know that yet.

My movements slowed. I continued to get dressed, but I felt no sense of urgency. The fear that the siren triggered had been sublimated into something else – what was it? Fatalistic acceptance? A calm calculation on the odds that a missile would land exactly where I was standing in my bedroom? Shock?

By the time my shoes were tied, Jody and the kids were coming back upstairs. Ready to go to shul? I called out.

My curious calmness continued once in the synagogue space. Shouldn’t I be scared? Others were visibly shaken. There were still tears being wiped away. What was wrong with me?

Near the end of the Kabbalat Shabbat service I noticed something unusual. I had been holding a piece of paper with the prayers on it. There were sharp crease marks where my fingers had been gripping the edges. It looked like I’d tried to take a punch at something. The Sabbath Bride? God?

We all slept that night in suitable attire for a midnight run, slippers lined up by the door to the bedroom. There was no additional siren. There might never be. (Didn’t the IDF say they’d taken out nearly all of the long-range missiles?) But for at least one moment, I faced the shower nightmare of my youth and survived. How my psyche will hold up is another matter entirely.


Israeli biker nears finish line for cancer research

As ISRAEL21c reported back in June, 24-year-old Israeli Tom Peled was poised to begin a cross-country biking trip from Los Angeles to New York in support of the Israel Cancer Research Fund.

On October 21, Tom Peled will roll into his final stop of Bike for the Fight, which was inspired by the death of his father from cancer in January 2011.

Bike for the Fight bracelets

“We already rode 2,400 miles and raised $80,000 for cancer research in Israel!” he wrote us last week. “But more than just numbers, we have had unbelievable experiences with so many people that were touched by what we are doing.”

Often joined by groups of cyclists from the communities he passed through, Tom met the Israeli ambassador to the United States and appeared at campuses across the country. An auction prize of spending the final week with him and companion bikers Roey, Eran, and Luca was won by Dror Malo, a Microsoft Israel employee and one of Bike for the Fight’s biggest supporters.

Tom reports that everyone is asking if there will be another ride. “The amount of seeds we are planting, funds and awareness that we are raising for cancer research, and the amount of people we move and touch with what we are doing – it has all become bigger than us, bigger than we could ever imagine, and there is no stop,” he replies. “Bike For the Fight is finishing this journey in a week, but New York is not going to be our last destination.”

You can read Tom’s blog here and follow him on YouTube.

Master illusionist David Copperfield with Pelled.
Arts and Culture,Business

Meet Israel’s head magician

Dahlia Pelled takes two ordinary rubber bands and stretches one with her fingers. Then she scrunches up the second band and “melts” it into the first until they become one, not more than four inches in front of your eyes.

Though the president of the Israeli Society of Magicians has many other neat tricks up her sleeve, rubber-band sleight of hand is her trademark. Photographs on the walls of her Givatayim office overlooking the Tel Aviv skyline show her doing magic for former US President Bill Clinton, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, and Israeli Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert.

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After witnessing Pelled’s slick trick, Biden quipped that he would love to take her along to sensitive meetings in the West Bank.

“I wish with magic we could solve all the problems,” Pelled reflects in an interview with ISRAEL21c. “If people in charge of the world looked at things differently, we’d have a more peaceful world.”

Even if her magic wand cannot make peace, Pelled is doing her part. “I am privileged to have a profession which is always making people happy and smiling in astonishment. It’s lots of fun.”

A magical 30 years

Magic is Pelled’s professional hobby, not her livelihood. She and her husband, Peli-Hanamer, co-own People & Computers — Israel’s leading publisher, event producer and community club organizer in the high-tech field. Multinational firms such as Google, HP, IBM, Symantec and NetApp pay People & Computers to organize events in Israel, leading to a high profile for the Pelleds.

The company reached its 30th anniversary in 2011. Last May, the Israeli Society of Magicians also marked its 30th anniversary, with an International Magicians Festival at the Holon Theater featuring top Israeli and foreign magicians, illusionists and mentalists.

In what might seem like a homage to both 30-year milestones, Pelled recently turned 60.

Born in Geneva, she owes her exotic good looks to her father, an Iraqi Jew, and her mother, a Thailand native who converted to Judaism. Her father always wanted to move to Israel and open a bank, but his high-level contacts in the fledgling state persuaded him to go to Geneva to establish the Swiss-Israel Trade Bank to facilitate payments to secret agents operating in Europe.

Dahlia Pelled, president of the Israeli Society of Magicians.
Dahlia Pelled, president of the Israeli Society of Magicians.

Though they attended an international school and spoke English at home, Dahlia and her siblings considered themselves Israeli, and when she was 11 they finally arrived in their homeland. Her father bought his kids magic tricks every time he traveled to New York. Little did he know what that would spark.

Not just an illusion

Pelled performed a couple of times as a teen and then forgot about magic until much later – after serving in the air force, getting married, finishing a degree at Tel Aviv University and giving birth to her firstborn, Dana.

“At age 25, I saw an amateur magician entertain at a talent show at Club Med, and it made me want to go and study magic again,” she says.

She was intrigued by fresh twists to classic acts, like the renowned illusionist David Copperfield’s update of the “cut a woman in half” trick. Copperfield introduced a transparent box in which he “cut” himself in half with a laser.

“The process of magic fascinated me,” Pelled says. “Today the magic world is very much into keeping and appreciating the history of every trick and following its development. You have magicians who invent magic and then you have performers who do it on stage. It’s constantly evolving, and there is a strong link between inventors and performing magicians. They meet at the hundreds of professional conferences held around the world all year round.”

Pelled was a judge at last year’s European competition preceding the tri-yearly International Federation of Magician Societies world magic championships pitting continental champions against each other in several categories.

She explains that magicians specialize in one or two areas: illusions, micro-magic (card and coin tricks, for example), parlor magic, stage magic, children’s magic, manipulation or mentalism (mind-reading).

Mentalism is popular with Israelis. In the 2012 season, Israeli TV stations premiered three new magic and mental arts shows.

“The trick itself is only 20 percent of the effect,” she says. “The other 80% is how you perform it.”

Pelled dazzling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with her rubber-band trick.
Pelled dazzling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with her rubber-band trick.

Only female professional magician in Israel

“I am one of the few women magicians in world, and the only one in Israel,” Pelled says. “I do some of the standard tricks differently than the male magicians do, such as the ‘confabulation’ routine usually done with a man’s wallet. I do it with a lady’s cosmetic bag.”

Why aren’t there more female magicians? “Most magicians start at nine or 10, and usually by the age of 12 or 13 girls aren’t interested anymore,” she explains. “Perfecting magic takes a lot of time by yourself practicing, and you cannot divulge your secrets to anyone. Teenage girls want to be with their friends.”

That’s not to say Pelled is in any way antisocial. Between her business, her magic, serving on the board of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and her volunteer work at nursing homes, she’s a highly visible personality.

She is also a new grandmother, thanks to daughter Dana, an executive with People & Computers. The two other Pelled children are Ben, an MBA student in New York, and Dida, an established musician also studying in New York.

Citri at his university office, surrounded by photos of his late wife and son, along with other diagnostic kits he’s invented. Photo by Lorena Sabater

Supreme scientist, to the very end

I received an email from Prof. Ami Citri informing me of the sad news that his father, Prof. Nathan Citri, passed away at home in Jerusalem just before Rosh Hashanah.

Though well past 90 and officially retired from the Hebrew University since 1989, Nathan Citri had never stopped seeking simple solutions to intractable world health problems. Together with Ami’s mother Naomi, who died in 2011, Prof. Citri invented a prototype for bedside kits that detect and identify “superbugs” from blood or urine, yielding lifesaving information within minutes rather than days.

He’d taken the prototype to England to get the ball rolling on developing the kit. When I came to his home to interview him earlier this year, he’d related how the expert with whom he met there predicted it would take a couple of years for the product to be commercialized. “Look at me,” he had told the expert. “I don’t have that kind of time. We need to do this right now.” And so the kit was fast-tracked toward getting the European CE Mark of approval.

I had asked him for his secret to longevity, and his smile faded. He refused to speculate on that, he told me, because he could make no sense of the topic. His parents and teenage sister were murdered by the Nazis – he had escaped to Palestine through the Youth Aliyah rescue project in 1937 – and in 1995 his beloved elder son from his first marriage, Yoav, was killed in an accident. Photos of Naomi and Yoav hung above his workspace, where he was involved in developing yet another medical diagnostic kit until shortly before his death.

Ami Citri, a neurobiologist who this academic year began a double appointment at the Hebrew University as an assistant professor at the Silverman Institute of Life Sciences and at the Safra Center for Brain Sciences, said in the email that there was no funeral for his father.

“Since my father committed himself to science in life and death, his body was returned to the Hebrew University Medical School,” he wrote.

Our sympathies go out to Ami and his half-sister Miki, a social worker at Hadassah University Medical Center.

They’re even playing FreshBiz in Times Square.

Don’t launch a startup till you play this game

Starting a company can sometimes be likened to a game of chance. Coming up with the right idea at the right time, when the market is neither saturated nor in financial freefall, isn’t always under the business owner’s control, no matter how crack the team.

Ronen Gafni aims to enable entrepreneurs to surmount the vicissitudes of chance by turning the startup game into a real board game. FreshBiz is the result of eight years of development by Gafni, an entrepreneur who is now taking his biggest gamble yet with a product that looks not unlike the fabled Game of Life, but is far more practical.

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FreshBiz players move through various business stages, from starting a new company to trading on the stock market. Dice throws and “business opportunity” cards help them advance toward the winner’s slot.

Instead of earning $200 by passing Go, players pay “toll passages” along the way (many of life’s most important lessons often cause great heartache, not to mention cash, Gafni says). And you have only 90 minutes to do it. The game aims to simulate the world of business and to improve business behavior and industry acumen.

Unlike typical board games, competition is secondary to collaboration. “There can be more than one winner,” Gafni explains. “So it’s not about beating other people. It’s about finding creative ways to make enough money to get to the winner’s block. And if you collaborate, the chances are higher that everyone is going to get there.”

Ronen Gafni, developer of FreshBiz.
Ronen Gafni, developer of FreshBiz.

As players move around the board, they can start new businesses whenever they land on an empty lot. It may cost $2 million to open a business, but if you pay attention, you may have the opportunity to start a company for half price — if you find a partner. Similarly, you may be able to trade stocks more profitably if you team up with someone else.

Game translates across cultures

Sounds like you’d need an MBA to succeed in FreshBiz, but Gafni insists that “you’ll pick it up very fast. From the second game on, you’ll be more creative about how you play.”

You can buy the physical game for $50 or download an iPad version of FreshBiz for $7 so you can play against a maximum of four players in your living room or on the Web. But perhaps the best way is to join a FreshBiz workshop.

This is what Gafni has been doing for the last 18 months – running tests with real people around the world, to see how the game works and whether cultural differences matter. He has 30 facilitators (each pays $700 to buy a kit, after which they can then run as many workshops as they want) and has played the game in Israel, New York, Spain and Singapore; at banks and financial firms; and with professors and MBA graduates at New York University’s entrepreneurship program.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are very few differences in game play across cultures. That’s because “it’s a game about our core beliefs,” Gafni says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in India or Italy; we all go through the same experiences. In Israel, people might scream more, while in Europe the game might be quieter. But our insights are very much the same.”

A Freshbiz workshop.
A Freshbiz workshop.

Where is Gafni’s favorite place to play FreshBiz? “Madrid,” he says. “I don’t know Spanish, but I can see how the game is going by the movements made by these top executives.”

The game is so far translated into Spanish, Russian and Hebrew, in addition to English, of course. Gafni estimates 3,000 people have played the game already in more than 100 sessions.

Tel Aviv ‘world tour’

FreshBiz officially hit Israel last month when Gafni held a workshop with 200 entrepreneurs and business owners at the ZOA building in Tel Aviv.

The cost to join a FreshBiz workshop varies depending on the length, from NIS 150 (about $38) for a short session to up to NIS 2,000 (a little more than $500) for a whole weekend per person. Gafni hopes that organizations will pick up the tab for their top team members.

A workshop can include anywhere from 20 to 150 players. The facilitator does some lecturing with an overhead projector, but it’s mostly about sitting (or jumping) around the board.

Gafni’s goal is to have one million FreshBiz’ers in three years. The iPad app is key, he says, and it will comprise more than just the game. “There will be an entire community for entrepreneurial thinkers, where they can share knowledge and opportunities. They can create events and parties” outside of the digital realm.

His own entrepreneurial path started when he began trading stocks while serving in the IDF. He built a stock portfolio worth hundreds of thousands of shekels until the global financial meltdown “It was a heavy blow for a young guy like me who was just getting started,” Gafni says. “But it also taught me the philosophy of recovery from a financial crisis.”

He and his wife later worked together in their own marketing consulting and branding company, where he saw “so many owners are stuck playing an old game of life and business. The world is changing around them, with technology, the economy, globalization, society – it’s not the same as it used to be – but they don’t know how to adapt themselves to this new game.”

Gafni, 39, was inspired to create FreshBiz after he realized the new world of business looked nothing like the landscape his parents knew. “They both worked in a bank for 30 years and then got their pensions,” he says. “I knew from the age of 10 that I wouldn’t do that. Knowing how much I’ll earn at the end of the month is boring. It’s cooler not knowing!”