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.

Immigrant Moments,Israeliness

Emigrating Israelis – point counterpoint

The discussion of Israelis overseas just won’t go away. First I wrote about the video campaign “guilting” expats to come home. Then, as David added, the videos were pulled by none other than the prime minister himself. Now there is a “point-counterpoint” set of articles in Ynet that promise to keep the debate fomenting further.

Point: Liad Magen

In the first column, Liad Magen writes about why he wants to leave Israel. Like a good Rothschildian, he complains about the high prices, low salaries, a deteriorating medical system, monopolies, bank fees and even crappy public transportation. Then, surprisingly, he calls for his fellow Israelis to not work for a better society…but to emigrate.

Not only that, but he posts a status update to his Facebook profile in which he urges his friends and family to leave with him, to create an “immigration group” that will together settle a new land (North Carolina, Norway, he doesn’t say), supporting each other while looking for work and learning a new language.

Counterpoint: Tal Raphael

Magen’s article is followed by Tal Raphael, who sympathizes with his plight. Yes, Israel is a tough place to live. Yes, the wars we are forced to fight have scarred our small nation with too many dead. Her counter-argument, though, is not for Magen to come home, but to think of his children or grandchildren.

Raphael writes: “Perhaps you will succeed in the new country, and just like your friends, you’ll establish huge companies and do well for yourself. But maybe, in 60 years or so, you’ll have a grandchild. This grandchild will apparently not be called Liad, but rather, James, or Jimmy, or something else…Jimmy will be born in Los Angeles, or in any other city, and live his life with ease and without concerns, until one day, he will want to make aliyah to Israel.”

She continues: “Why would he want to do this, you ask? Maybe because someone will call him ‘Jew-boy’ on the street, or maybe he’ll open the Bible, or learn a little history, or seek meaning. Maybe he’ll hear that the falafel around here is the best. I don’t know when and why, but it will happen, and if not to Jimmy it shall happen to his grandson, or great grandson.”

Jimmy’s story, Raphael concludes, is that of the entire Jewish people, who keep leaving home yet always return. “I have no decisive answer for why this happens,” she concludes, “but I have 2,000 years of experience.”

And that, in many ways, was the exact point of the now pulled ad campaign aimed at Israeli yordim (emigrants): you’ll never be truly comfortable outside of Israel. And if not you, then your children who, while they may be comfortable calling you “Daddy” today (as in one of the videos), will eventually betray your decision to leave and, in turn, will break your heart to return to the land of their grandparents. And so, implies the video, why not nip that eventuality in the bud and stay to fight another day.

Most of the people I’ve spoken with about the video series felt it was right on and effective for its target audience. This timely point-counterpoint only serves to bolster that contention.

Holidays,Israeliness

New video campaign for expat Israelis: great advertising or big insult?

Haaretz reported today on a new video campaign by the Ministry of Absorption to convince expatriate Israelis to come home. The videos, however, have been met with fierce criticism by Jewish groups like the ADL in the U.S., calling them heavy handed, demeaning and even degrading to Christians.

Why all the fuss? The concern by the Israeli government about large numbers of its citizens living abroad is not a new one. By most estimates, there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have emigrated to the U.S. or are residing there for extended “temporary” stays. Many would love to come home if the circumstances permit.

Universities like Bar Ilan have active and well-funded programs to help Israeli “returning scientists,” which include providing research facilities, staff and even fast-tracked tenure. A hot shot Israeli programmer can certainly find high paying and satisfying work in Israel’s ever-booming hi-tech sector. And Israel’s economy has so far been mostly spared from the travesties of record high unemployment and mortgages under water that has afflicted the world, from Indiana to Italy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB-7734p-EI&feature=player_embedded#![/youtube]

But the Absorption Ministry decided to go the guilt route. In one video, a family of Israelis in America are Skype’ing with the grandparents back home. A menorah looms large in the background. Grandma asks her granddaughter what holiday is coming up to which she receives an enthusiastic “Christmas.” Grandparents and parents look at each other uneasily. The video’s title: “Before Hanukah turns into Christmas, it’s time to come back to Israel.”

ADL director Abe Foxman told Haaretz: “While we appreciate the rationale behind the Israeli government’s appeal to its citizens living in the U.S. to return to Israel, we are concerned that some may be offended by what the video implies about American Jewry.” Not to mention those who are concerned that the Grinch who stole Christmas may soon be depicted wearing a kippa and waving an Israeli flag.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry chimed in too, saying it was blindsided. “We only found out about it from the complaints that reached the consulates,” an official told Haaretz.

The Absorption Ministry was quick to assure detractors that it was only targeting Israeli expats, not American Jews and that, in any case, the videos have been met with positive feedback by the Israeli demographic targeted.

Here are two more videos that are part of the campaign – the American boyfriend who doesn’t know it’s Yom Hazicharon (Israeli Memorial Day):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FP3gJN_YScM&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

And one on the difference between Daddy and Abba:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glQDf8vXvkQ&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Jeffrey Goldberg has a more spirited analysis in The Atlantic.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Insulting or effective? Insensitive or a kick in the tush where one is needed most. Leave your comments below.