Art,History and Culture

365 days of inspiration in new app

Israel365 app

Got an iPhone? Love the diverse and often dazzling landscapes of Israel? Enjoy a bible quote every now and then? Then a free iPhone app from a newly minted immigrant, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, should keep your fingers swiping in inspirational bliss.

Weisz’s app, Israel365, is a visual calendar of sorts. Each day has a different picture and quote from the bible. The quotes are in English and Hebrew with transliteration. And that’s it. Nice and simple. Well, not quite: If you want to dig deeper there’s also a Hebrew lesson based on the passage. But most people will probably just look at the pictures.

Which is absolutely fine, because they’re really quite pretty. Weisz assembled some 30 Israeli photographers who donated their pictures to the app. Inspiration aside, the app is also a form of subtle advertising  (if you like what you see, you can contact the photographers and Israel365 takes a 50% cut).

Weisz says he got the idea after reading that, when Herzl was considering establishing the state of Israel in Chicago, a Christian pastor named William Blackstone set out to visually illustrate the connection of the Jews to Israel, not Africa, by underlying every passage referring to the Promised Land in the bible.

Weisz was fascinated and did the same thing. “I couldn’t get over the fact that [references to Israel were] on nearly every page,” he says. Before you could say Holy Sand Dune, Weisz had made aliyah, launched a non-profit called “Teach for Israel” (it connects rabbis back in the States with their local Christian Zionist communities, something Weisz was already doing as a congregational rabbi in Ohio), and found an enterprising software developer who could get the app out in time for the beginning of the 2012 calendar year.

Weisz has big plans for Israel365, including versions that will run on the Android and other mobile platforms, along with the addition of more languages. “Since the content is limited to 365 bible verses and the bible already exists digitally in other languages, this should be very do-able,” he says.

The app is officially published by the United with Israel organizations, which calls itself “the world’s largest pro-Israel social community with nearly 900,000 supporters on its Facebook page alone.

You can get a preview of the app here.

Music

Radio Free Nachlaot celebrates its second birthday

Steve and Lorelai from Radio Free Nachlaot

Jerusalem’s Radio Free Nachlaot turned two this month. The Internet-only radio station, whose slogan is that it broadcasts from “an undisclosed location somewhere deep in the heart of Nachlaot” plays a mix of Grateful Dead (and Dead-inspired) music, mixed with Shlomo Carlebach and Torah talks “24/6” (the station rests on Shabbat).

Except on Wednesday nights, when the station’s founders, Anglo immigrants Lorelai Kude and Steve Levine, give me a chance to rock out.

Since August, I’ve been on the air playing everything except for the Grateful Dead. Whether that’s the latest indie rock (think of the improbably named New Pornographers or Death Cab for Cutie – hey, maybe there is some Dead on my show); classic 70s pop (be honest: you can never hear too much of “Amie” by the Pure Prairie League); or melodic grunge (Spock’s Beard or Smashing Pumpkins), come 7:00 PM, I’ll be spinning the tracks for two energetic, eclectic hours.

Running a radio station these days is a far cry from my stint as a DJ during college. Internet stations like Radio Free Nachlaot can now gain a worldwide following without the need for expensive transmitter towers, FCC licenses or ever expanding libraries of LP’s and 45’s.

In fact, there are no more records (or CD’s for that matter) at all. All you need is a computer, a one-time purchase of a broadcasting software program, a virtual stack of MP3’s, a decent microphone, and somewhere in the vicinity of $99/month for streaming bandwidth and, voila, you can be heard beyond the 10 mile radius that was my audience in 1983.

Moreover, you can even broadcast from a laptop in your bedroom (which Steve and Lorelai do in the wee hours of the night when shlepping to the main studio in Givat Shaul would be insomnia inducing).

That freedom is great, but computerization takes some of the fun out of DJ’ing – instead of cue’ing up two records and artfully mixing them together, now the software handles all the segues between songs – and frankly, most of the time, a lot better than a human being would.

Radio Free Nachlaot joins Rusty Mike Radio as the two main English-language Internet stations beaming out of Israel. The stations are unusual in that they feature real people behind the mic’s; most other Internet stations are either pre-programmed or custom-driven by the individual listener (see Spotify, Pandora and Last.fm).

The truth is, it’s somewhat of a miracle I got the gig at all. When Israelity colleague David Brinn made the initial shidduch, Lorelai’s first interview question for me: “So what’s your relationship with Jerry” (referring to the Grateful Dead’s late Jerry Garcia)?” I sheepishly replied that I had none and then proceeded to wax nostalgically about The Buzzcocks and The Tubes.

On its two-year birthday, Radio Free Nachlaot is averaging about 2,000 listeners a week, split almost evenly between Israel and the U.S., although there are also listeners from some 95 other countries. Lorelai told The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Zohar earlier this year that “considering we’ve never spent an agora on advertising and rely only on social media and word of mouth, that’s tremendous.”

You can listen from the station’s website or via iTunes Radio (it’s under the world/international category). In addition to my decidedly eclectic show (past playlists are here), there are programs featuring jazz, soundtracks from musicals, “homegrown” Israeli rock, and live broadcasts on Sunday nights that have featured the likes of Lazer Loyd from Yood and Yehuda Katz from Reva L’Sheva.

And let’s not forget the “9 Days of Jerry” broadcast in August to mark the birthday and yahrzeit of Jerry Garcia. Because at the end of the day, my show notwithstanding, Radio Free Nachlaot will live – and die – with the Grateful Dead.

Art,Education

Artsy desert kibbutz wins bid to design Waldorf interior

On a family vacation in the Arava Desert, we popped in to see the new Art Center of Kibbutz Neot Smadar. When driving toward Eilat, we had always seen the tower sticking out of this tiny kibbutz, but never had the opportunity to check it out from up close.

Neot SmadarAs we approached the enormous building, it felt as if we were entering a palace from a fairy tale: bright pastel colors right out of a Crayola box, surrounded by manicured gardens and well-placed water fountains (in the desert!) balconies surrounding the inner courtyard, decorated by cement birds in place of guardrails – and huge dimensions.

Kibbutz Neot Smadar was founded in 1989 in the middle of nowhere. The idea was to form a relationship with the desert and the environment through organic farming, water recycling, etc. In the late 1990s, the members embarked upon building an art center, creating new architectural techniques and building materials using the resources of the desert. The heart of the project was the six-story air chimney that collects the wind, cools it via a water spray system and then uses the force of the wind to disperse the air through underground ducts and vents to cool the center’s studios and workshops — in essence, an efficient natural air conditioner.

Neot SmadarI bumped into a former teaching colleague who decided to leave suburbia some five years ago in order to join in the completion of this project, which took 13 years. Yuval was known at the “botzan” – the mud teacher. He would build things around the school out of natural products, such as a huge teepee out of palm branches, benches out of mud, a fish pond, a gazebo. With Yuval’s help, the builders were able to complete the art center using only materials that they created and their own manpower.

And there’s more to the story of this quirky kibbutz, where members eat their meals together in silence and start each day with a mandatory yoga/meditation session.
Exhibiting their newly created natural concrete molding reliefs and sculptures, the kibbutz put in a bid to design and decorate the inside of the soon-to-be-opened Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem – and won! Soon we will be able to see the relationship between the extravagant, world famous hotel and little-known, minimalistic Kibbutz Neot Smadar.

Apple fanboys rejoice: tech giant opening development center in Israel

Apple is reportedly buying Israeli chipmaker Anobit for a half a billion dollars.

My friend Eliezer is such an Apple fanboy that, when he heard that Apple is planning to open a development center in Israel in Haifa, he seriously considered moving or commuting there.

While I expect Eliezer will maintain his Jerusalem residence, the news was nevertheless exciting (especially for those – me not included unfortunately – who bought Apple stock when it dipped below $80/share at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 – it closed at $383 today – and believe a blue and white connection will boost that price even further). For the rest of us, well: Apple in Israel – wow! And even more so: this will be Apple’s first ever development center outside the U.S.

Apple’s plans materialized earlier this week when a delegation headed by Apple VP Ed Frank, visited Israel over the weekend, touring sites like Haifa’s Scientific Industries Center (MATAM), according to Ynet.

Ynet also reported that Aharon Aharon, former head of Zoran Corporation’s R&D center, has been named the head of the new development center in Israel. The Marker added that Apple has hired a real estate company to find it a site big enough to house about 200 workers.

The move apparently is not dependent on another big Apple announcement: the acquisition of Israeli chipmaker Anobit, currently in the works for some half a billion dollars, but the two will undoubtedly play off each other. Anobit develops flash memory for smart phones, tablet computers and music players – all three of which are Apple’s hottest properties. Faster flash could help speed up Apple’s devices, which would help keep the distance between iPhones, iPads and competing Android units.

How did Apple get interested in Israel? It may have started when the company hired Haifa  resident Johny Srouji in 2008. Srouji is a VP at the company involved in the chip-making field. Never hurts to have a little protexia in Cupertino.

Will a bonified Apple presence increase the adoption rate of Apple tech in the Holy Land? Judging from visits to my local Aroma café, Apple has nothing to worry about: I now see more MacBooks than Windows machines these days.

But hosting Apple’s first overseas development center certainly gives us bragging rights…that is until the next big deal in this hi-tech Holy Land is announced.

Iraq asks for Israel’s help for desertification

Can desertification bring us together?

Sometimes coexistence between Israel and its Arab neighbors can happen in the most out of the way locations.

While, officially, Israel and most of the Arab world are officially at war, and while Israelis and Palestinians seem locked in a perpetual state of avoidance through declaration, at the recent Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, representatives from Iraq and Tunisia approached staffers from the Jewish National Fund at the latter’s booth. Their goal: to seek Israel’s help in fighting “desertification” in their countries, reports Yediot Ahronot.

The U.N. has defined desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting mainly from adverse human impact.” What causes desertification is as hotly contested as the peace process. Some say it’s the result of wind erosion; others that it comes from overgrazing by livestock. For the politically correct, it’s a part of overall climate change and global warming.

Whatever the reason, Susan Sami Jameel Albanaa, who is head of air pollution control at the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment, started the ball rolling by requesting Israeli assistance, and said she “hoped an open dialogue on the issue of desertification could be kept open” between her office and the Israeli representatives. Yediot adds that her colleague, Mohamed Bahir, also asked for our help in controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

And, as if Iraq and Tunisia weren’t enough, apparently an Afghani representative “swapped stories” with JNF officials at the conference, saying that he “never conversed with Israelis before and was very glad for the opportunity.”

As are we.