Neither dew, nor rain… except in the winter

By Geoff Winston, Keshet

I had the pleasure last week of taking advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather and the Purim holiday vacation to visit Mount Gilboa. I have always enjoyed the Gilboa – it’s incredible, 360-degree views and the biblical stories that unfold in front of one’s eyes from the top of the mountain.

It was here where Israel’s first king, Saul, was to lead his troops into battle. For the first time in his army career, Saul was scared about the next day’s battle, as God would not answer his queries. He dressed in disguise, snuck across the Jezreel Valley and went to see a fortune-teller in order to find out what would happen to him. He did not like the answer: The battle would be the scene of his sons’ and his own death.

Sure enough, during the next day, King Saul saw the death of three of his own sons before being fatally wounded himself. He had requested from his sword-bearer to kill him, lest the enemy take pleasure in doing so, but the lad refused to kill the king, so Saul had to take care of it himself. Saul’s successor, David, heard the terrible news about the death of his best friend Jonathan, Saul’s son. He cursed the land: “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain… ” (2 Samuel 1:21).

When one sees the mountain during the summer, one sees this curse – a clear stoppage of the forest on a certain section of the mountain. However, last week, I was able to see the beauty of what the rain had caused: Not only was the mountain green, not only was there a multitude of flowers of all types, but the granddaddy of all flowers of Israel made its grand appearance: the Gilboa Iris, endemic to the top of this mountain.

If you have time between now and the middle of April to travel to the Gilboa for a glimpse, you will not be disappointed!

Israelis turn into recycling fools

The conservation culture in Israel has always been way behind that of the US. In fact, visitors used to comment at how, on the one hand, how beautiful the country was, and on the other hand, how roadsides were littered with mounds of trash thrown from car windows.

While there’s plenty of roadside garbage still out there, recent years have seen great strides being made to encourage the recycling of bottles and paper. Recycling bins are now commonplace in almost all residential neighborhoods and have become a welcome part of the everyday landscape.

So much so that the company that has the bottle recycling service, ELA, announced this week that the rate that Israelis are turning in their used plastic bottles is now exceeding that of the US and Europe.

According to the stats, Israelis recycled 50 percent of the country’s plastic bottles in 2011, overtaking Europe at 48% and the United States at 29%. The actual amount was 20,000 tons of plastic, up from 16,000 in 2010.

In 2011, 140 municipalities and regional councils across the country – including 20 new participants – installed about 4,400 new recycling bins, bringing the country’s total number of bins to about 15,000, the ELA report said.

I and my family certainly do our part, bringing our plastic bottles and old newspapers to the neighborhood bins on a weekly basis.

However, as afar as glass bottle requiring a deposit, I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Israelis collected about 77% of all beverage containers – plastic and glass – requiring deposit in 2011, exceeding the government’s target of 73% and amounting to about 600 million beverage containers.

I’m still am wary about using those bottle refund machines in the supermarkets, ever since I inserted a wine bottle and it came shooting back out like a rocket, landing on the floor in front of me and smashing into a million pieces while provoking the stares and ‘tsks’ of my fellow shoppers.

So for now, I leave that task to my wife, and concentrate on the plastic and the paper, as we join our fellow Israelis in our conservation future.


Stranded in the Judean Hills

Admiring the view...before the sun went down

I got the SMS around 3:00 PM on Friday. “Abba, I’m OK. But we’re kind of stuck on top of a mountain.”

It was our 14-year-old son Aviv who was out with five students from his school, plus one of his teachers, on a “preparation hike.” The idea was to scout the route before the entire school set out on their tiyul shnati – the annual hiking and camping trip that is de rigueur for Israeli students.

Participating in a tiyul shnati starts from a young age: grade schoolers spend the day outdoors; by junior high, there’s an overnight day or two. And in high school, the annual hike can last up to an entire week. Depending on the school, you may camp outdoors and cook your own food (barbequed tuna is a favorite), or you may stay in a local youth hostel (not sure the food there is any better).

Aviv and his comrades had set out to map Nahal Tze’elim, a challenging but beautiful hike in the Dead Sea area. They started at 5:30 AM and should have been back home by mid-afternoon.

But to paraphrase the opening lines of the new J.J. Abrams’ TV series Alcatraz, “That’s not what happened. Not at all” (watch the show and you’ll appreciate this somewhat obscure pop culture reference).

The problem was that, halfway through the hike, the kids’ teacher became ill during the trip. Nothing life threatening, but his hiking speed was significantly reduced as he coughed his way up and down the rugged Judean Hills.

And that was how the intrepid hikers found themselves at the top of a mountain as the sun went down. Not expecting to still be in the desert at that hour, no one had thought to bring a flashlight. They were also all out of food. There was a full moon, but it wasn’t due out until later in the evening.

They had no choice to hike down, on the edge of a cliff, in the pitch black. What should have taken 20-30 minutes took over two hours.

In the meantime, the ill teacher’s daughter had driven down to meet the students at the end of the hike.

When the hikers hadn’t returned an hour into the pitch black, the daughter thought about calling the emergency services. Would they have to send a helicopter to rescue the presumably stranded hikers? No one knew: There was no cell phone reception in that part of the wilderness.

Fortunately, it wasn’t much longer until the weary crew emerged from the nahal and returned to the cars. It was 8:00 PM – five long hours after Aviv’s first call, and well into Shabbat.

Aviv was back in Jerusalem at 10:00 PM to tell the tale while devouring his mother’s world-famous chicken soup. No, he never felt in any danger. Yes, he was scared. Mostly he was tired. We were relieved, but mostly kept it to ourselves.

Two days after his unexpected adventure, there was a second “preparatory hike.” Aviv decided to pass. We didn’t complain.

Music bloggers Rebecca Schiller, Samantha Edussuriya, Luke Britton, Rory Hamilton and Brandon Bogajewicz together with Joanna Landau (founder of Kinetis) jam with Idan Raichel. Photo by Michal Elchadaf

ISRAEL21c meets music bloggers

A free trip to Israel with all expenses paid and intimate concerts with some of the top musicians in the country. Sound good?

That’s why five bloggers from the US and UK – Rebecca Schiller of the New Musical Express, Samantha Edussuriya of MTV Iggy, Luke Britton of This Fake/DIY, Rory Hamilton of Feel My Bicep, and Brandon Bogajewicz of The Burning Ear – jumped at the offer to come to Israel for a week of five-star pampering.

The Kinetis nonprofit group brought them over to show them that Israel has a lot more creative energy than the headlines around the world tend to illustrate.

“Our tours generate significant on and offline ‘buzz’… and offer followers of our guests a glimpse into Israeli reality behind what they see on the news and media,” writes Kinetis on its website.

Schiller wrote in a blog on NME about the trip that there are “a few unbelievably talented acts nestled away in Tel Aviv that most certainly deserve some overseas attention.”

Edussuriya of MTV Iggy said the blog she works for is always on the lookout for new global music and innovative international acts. And that’s what was on the menu for the visit here.

Photo by Michal Elchadaf
Music bloggers Rebecca Schiller, Samantha Edussuriya, Luke Britton, Rory Hamilton and Brandon Bogajewicz together with Joanna Landau (founder of Kinetis) jam with Idan Raichel.
It was a packed week with concerts, seminars and one-on-one chats. The bloggers met with the likes of Acollective, Ninet, Useless ID, Orphaned Land, Idan Raichel, Geva Alon, TYP, Tiny Fingers, Ninet, Mira Awad and Ahinoam Nini.

ISRAEL21c caught up with them during a visit to Muzik – School of Creation and Production in south Tel Aviv to chat about music as an international language. File-sharing and the internet have no doubt helped musicians around the world be heard. But nothing beats face-to-face interaction or jamming together for a real musical relationship to be formed.

Israeli musicians used to be hesitant about singing in English – mainly from the point of view of not being accepted by local fans – but since 2005 there’s been a domestic explosion of Israeli artists recording in English and today it’s totally acceptable.

Yet even with the internet, the bloggers told me that they knew few Israeli musicians. Their week in Israel has no doubt changed that.

These five bloggers have a combined audience of nine million followers. So, when they meet a new artist they like, chances are someone else is going to read about them as well. And that’s always a good thing.

Rocky Horror Purim Show

Rocky Horror Purim Show

For the past several years, friends of ours have hosted a pre-Purim party featuring a screening of the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The impetus was straightforward: they love the musical and enjoy the “group” viewing experience, which includes participatory dancing to the “Time Warp,” newspapers held overhead while someone squirts water at you (to illustrate a segment shot in the pouring rain), and yelling out various bawdy quips at specific moments in the film.

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Jody and I were in the audience (if you could call it that) this week. Everyone was encouraged to come in costume. Eschewing the de rigueur attempt at cross-dressing, we played protagonists Brad and Janet, dressed up in white lab coats during the scene when Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s creation Rocky Horror comes to life.

The evening was lots of fun, but I wondered, why Purim davka? You can have fun most any night of the year. And then, in the middle of Rocky’s big solo “The Sword of Damocles,” I saw it. The assembled Transylvanian groupies were spinning…groggers.

Yes, that’s right, the very samenoise makers that Purim revelers spin to drown out the name of the wicked Haman every time it’s spoken during the Megillah reading on Purim evening and morning.

I did a double take. Maybe these were just party favors. But there was no mistaking it – I’ve never seen anything like these particular types of groggers anytime except at Purim. Were either Jim Sharman, the director, or Richard O’Brien, who wrote the music, Jewish? Is the eerie castle where the soon-to-be-revealed aliens from the planet Transsexual reside really a metaphor for Ahasverus’s palace? The Internet isn’t saying.

Come next Purim, if you’re not too tipsy (or maybe better if you are), consider renting and watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show at your place.

Happy Purim!