Israeliness,Life

Snow-tubing

Snowtubing in Canada...is Israel next?

We were all ready for snow in Jerusalem a couple of weeks back, but there was none in the end. Now snow is back in the weather for Friday, and I’ve already seen a few flurries today.

But, after a week in Toronto, where we just were for a family wedding, I’ve seen more snow than the average Israeli will experience in a lifetime. And it’s given me a business idea (since I really can’t stand cold weather, I offer it up here at no cost to any budding entrepreneurs).

Forget about skiing on the Hermon. Welcome to “snow-tubing.”

Snow-tubing is like one of those water slides where you zip down in a big inflatable inner tube…except that it’s in the snow.

We took a few hours to enjoy this hi-tech update of tobogganing during our Canada trip and had a blast. The white stuff was coming down pretty hard the day we went – a real treat for the kids who grew up in Israel and have never really experienced serious snow.

The thing that’s great about snow-tubing is that it’s so simple. All you need is a big hill (ours was essentially a ten story drop) and some tubes. The “chair lift” is just a rope with a hook that connects to the handles on the tube. Once you get to the top, you can slide down individually, or link the handles to go down up to five as a time (see the picture).

The ride is fast – no more than 20-30 seconds and there’s no telling which way you might spin (it’s nice to face front so you can see where you’re going, but you get a lot more snow in your eyes that way). The wind can be intense, too – I thought my cap was secure but it blew off and had to be retrieved by a somewhat surly snow staffer.

Snow-tubing is safer than skiing (no real chance of breaking a leg) and requires no training. There’s only one downside to bringing this “sport” to Israel. In Canada, there was a single queue and everyone waited their turn nicely. After a few visits to various water parks in Israel, it’s hard for me to imagine Israelis not attempting to cut in line or to return after a long hot chocolate break to announce “I was after her.” You try arguing with an Israeli teenager 0r – even scarier – a soldier on break, when there’s ample material to fashion a truly injurious round of snowballs!

Trying some Magisto magic with my home videos

Magisto…not just for cats

Over the course of the last 20 years, we have amassed nearly 100 hours of family videos – clips of the kids when they were little, trips, bar mitzvahs, every single school event (hey, remember pre-school graduation!)

True, a lot of this footage is boring, but some brings back nearly forgotten memories of a time when our kids weren’t yet surly teenagers or brave army patriots.

The problem is that all those memories are recorded on three different types of media: VHS, Hi8 and Mini-DV. The latter is digital so I can import it into my Mac, run it through iMovie and cut out all those extraneous shots of feet and the insides of backpacks. But my VHS player broke years ago and someday soon my Hi8 camcorder will be un-repairable too.

So, like many parents I know, I sent all that footage to a service that digitizes it for you, turning it into DVDs and movie files you can stream on your computer or post to YouTube. Sounds great, right? Except that I still have 100 hours of video (taking up half a terabyte of space on my home server). Will I ever find time to watch it all?

Which is why I was intrigued about a new Israeli startup called Magisto, which I wrote about recently for our sister publication, Israel21c. The company lets you upload clips to their site, then Magisto somehow magically chooses the best shots, adds a smattering of special effects (wipes, swirls, split screens), selects music that you post (or you can use their licensed library of pop tunes), and even ducks the soundtrack down when your two-year-old is saying his or her first words.

The result is a two-minute, fast moving, professionally produced video suitable for uploading to YouTube or, even more importantly, attaching to various key milestones along your Facebook Timeline.

There are certain limitations – you can only post a maximum of 16 clips or 600 MB – and all your Magisto-created videos will have a certain similarity to them. I also found that the audio ducking wasn’t perfect and having a robot choose for you gives you lots of close-ups and action shots, but those might not be what you want. Still, Magisto is here to stay: the company has raised over $7 million.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for editing on your own, but Magisto’s founders say that no one has the time to do that. And they’re right. It took me weeks to properly edit the footage from our family trip last year to Nepal. On the other hand, my 13-year-old son is less exacting with the videos of his friends jumping off walls and has been having a grand time playing with Magisto.

Note: since my article was published on Israel21c, Magisto has launched an iPhone version, which allows you to easily convert the already-digital video you have on your phone into a Magisto movie. With video capture rapidly shifting to smart phones, that sounds like a killer app to me. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it already, Magisto is free.

Religion

Hasidim and sex – Haaretz spices it up

The "Beis Yisroel" with his entourage vacationing in Europe.

They say that nothing sells newspapers like sex and Haaretz had a doozy last week: the second part in an expose (OK, just a spicy research study) on the sex lives of a particular group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel – the Gur Hasidim. The article was the talk of our table this past Shabbat.

As too often happens, stories in the media aim to titillate first; present the facts only secondary. But this article seems to have some meat to it. It’s based on the doctoral dissertation of Nava Wasserman, who conducted her research under the guidance of Prof. Kimmy Caplan, at Bar-Ilan University.

A central part of the study quoted in the Haaretz article focused mainly around the wedding night. Wasserman describes how Gur members are taught that sex – and any sexual thoughts – are a sin and how young men in the sect by and large know nothing of the subject…until two hours before the wedding.

At that point, a Gur “counselor” reveals to the groom what he must do on his wedding night. “There are grooms who throw up or faint when they hear these things,” Haaretz quotes Wasserman as saying. She cites an interview she conducted with a young Gur man who related that, “I saw black circles in front of my eyes and all of a sudden I found myself on the sofa.”

Wasserman explains that “the sect is willing to pay this price, to receive the benefit of sanctity.” Girls, by the way, receive more extensive counseling, a few weeks before the wedding.

The rules of sex in the Gur society apparently stem from the late Rabbi Israel Alter (also known as the “Beis Yisroel”), who led Gur from 1948 to 1977, and wanted to unify the sect by distancing it from Western society which, Wasserman notes, Alter felt “blew sexuality out of its natural and necessary proportions.”

“When my goals are spiritual, I must do everything to reduce my natural desires,” Wasserman continues in the article. “Gur Hasidim contend that it is possible to control sexual urges. When a Gur Hasid walks down the street, he will direct his gaze downward. On a bus, he might remove his glasses.”

With this in mind, it’s not too hard to understand how we’ve come to the separation of men and women on buses.

Wasserman is clear to emphasize that the Gur are a small group within the greater ulra-Orthodox community and that stereotyping an entire population is unfair and incorrect. That was certainly the response at our Shabbat table where the kids didn’t want to hear from Abba’s presumably bigoted pontifications. In response, I sent them the articles to read after Shabbat.

Now you can too. Part one is here. And here’s a link to part two. You can draw your own conclusions.

Religion

Gur Hasidim and sex: Haaretz spices it up

The "Beis Yisroel" with his Hasidim on vacation

They say that nothing sells newspapers like sex and Haaretz had a doozy last week: the second part in an expose (OK, just a spicy research study) on the sex lives of a particular group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel – the Gur Hasidim. The article was the talk of our table this past Shabbat.

As too often happens, stories in the media aim to titillate first, present the facts only secondary. But this article seems to have some meat to it. It’s based on the doctoral dissertation of Nava Wasserman, who conducted her research under the guidance of Prof. Kimmy Caplan, at Bar-Ilan University.

The parts of the study quoted in the Haaretz article focused mainly around the wedding night. Wasserman describes how Gur members are taught that sex – and any sexual thoughts – are a sin and how young men in the sect by and large know nothing of the subject…until two hours before the wedding.

At that point, a Gur “counselor” reveals to the groom what he must do on his wedding night. “There are grooms who throw up or faint when they hear these things,” Haaretz quotes Wasserman as saying. She cites an interview she conducted with a young Gur man who related that, “I saw black circles in front of my eyes and all of a sudden I found myself on the sofa,” Wasserman explains that “the sect is willing to pay this price, to receive the benefit of sanctity.” Girls, by the way, receive more extensive counseling, a few weeks before the wedding.

The rules of sex in the Gur society apparently stem from the late Rabbi Israel Alter (also known as the Beis Yisroel), who led Gur from 1948 to 1977 and wanted to unify the sect by distancing it from Western society which, Wasserman notes, the Gur felt “blew sexuality out of its natural and necessary proportions.”

“When my goals are spiritual, I must do everything to reduce my natural desires,” Wasserman continues in the article. “Gur Hasidism contend that it is possible to control sexual urges. When a Gur Hasid walks down the street, he will direct his gaze downward. On a bus, he might remove his glasses.”

With this in mind, it’s not too hard to understand how we’ve come to the separation of men and women on buses.

Wasserman is clear to emphasize that the Gur are a small group within the greater ulra-Orthodox community – no more than about 20,000 – and that stereotyping an entire population is unfair and incorrect. That was certainly the response at our Shabbat table where the kids didn’t want to hear from Abba’s presumably bigoted pontifications. I sent them the articles to read. Now you can too. Part one is here. And here’s a link to part two. You can draw your own conclusions.

 

Food

Where we get our water

Israel's National Water Carrier

Two items were in the news this week concerning where Israelis get their drinking water.

The first is good news: the water crisis, which we’ve been suffering through for nearly a decade (this winter appears to be a welcome exception), may be coming to an end in the next year. And by 2020 or so, we may actually have a water surplus!

Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, told the Knesset Economics Committee this week that, due to increased desalination of seawater (Israel has six desalination facilities), by 2013, 75% of Israeli households will be using desalinated water, alleviated some of the two billion cubic meters of water the country is currently missing. All this extra water will allow for the rehabilitation of Israel’s Coastal Aquifer and may lead to a restoration of safe water levels in the Sea of Galilee.

Even better: by 2030, Mekorot predicts that Israel’s agricultural irrigation – which uses more water than households – will be completely based on desalinated and brackish water.

That covers water from the tap. But Israelis also get their water from bottles – mineral, spring and filtered water – and that’s the other piece of news that surfaced this week: the coming restaurant water wars.

Strauss Water plans to offer restaurants free purified water from its Tami 4 water filter systems if they serve the water in pitchers bearing the company’s brand and – more importantly – they stop selling mineral water from Strauss’s competitors: the companies that make Mei Eden, Neviot, San Pellegrino and Sam Benedetto. Strauss sees it as a way to sell more Tami 4 machines.

Strauss will pay the restaurants a premium, given that the new arrangement will cut into the eateries’ bottom lines (mineral water sales can make up to 2% of a restaurant’s sales). The bottled water industry in Israel is valued at $270 million; 38% of that is sold in restaurants.

The restaurant industry is skeptical. The Strauss premium would have to be pretty high to make up lost revenue. And an article in Ynet points out that Strauss has only concluded one restaurant deal so far, so it seems like the road to its marketing success will be a dry one for a while, but Strauss is one of Israel’s biggest food conglomerates, so it may not go thirsty for too long.