Israel’s big jump

Israel’s big jump

It’s not something you see every day – or even every 15 years apparently.

Not that anyone other than those that participated actually saw anything, but overnight earlier this week, about 1,000 paratroopers in the IDF conducted a brigade-level parachute jump exercise.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the last time such a drill was held was over 15 years ago, even though soldiers in the Paratroopers Brigade, as well as some other IDF units, continue to undergo parachuting training on a regular basis.

The jump was kept hush-hush, but of course the families and friends of the families knew all about it, which means that most of the country was aware it was taking place. And when the army publicly disclosed the exercise 24 hours later and published photos and video of the jump, proud fathers and mothers scrutinized them for a glimpse of their sons.

According to military assessments, those sons are going to play an important role in any potential future conflict in the region.

“We cannot know what will happen in the changing Middle East and every western military which respects itself needs to know how to parachute large forces, bring them back together and then launch an attack,” Paratroopers Brigade commander Col. Amir Baram told reporters ahead of the jump which was done from Israel Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft over the Negev Desert

The jump went off as planned, and while the commanders were concerned that some paratroopers might be injured during the landing due to the heavy loads they were carrying, the IDF announced that only four soldiers required medical treatment for injuries to their legs.

Take a look at the jump here.



Haagen Dazs not kosher enough for Israel

Haagen Dazs white almond raspberry truffle

I have to admit that I prefer Ben and Jerry’s to Häagen-Dazs. Maybe it’s the fact that Ben went to my college or that their ice cream is simply more available in Israel. But that doesn’t mean I want Häagen-Dazs to go the way of Starbucks, Burger King and Dunkin Donuts, well-known American brands that didn’t make it in the Holy Land.

Nevertheless, that appears to be what’s happening. But not for economic reasons. No, it’s more of the haredization of Israel – now Häagen-Dazs isn’t kosher enough for Israel and the State Rabbinical Authority has issued a proclamation stipulating that any store selling the ice cream with the made-up Scandinavian sounding name will lose its kashrut license.

The reason: the milk that goes into the ice cream is made by non-Jews and not supervised by the official rabbinic authorities. Never mind the fact that religious leaders have for years used milk that is not chalav Israel (that is, made by Jews) under a ruling by none other than leading Jewish legal decisor Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that, due to strict Western regulation, there is no chance that pig products will make into bovine sourced milk.

But that’s not good enough for Israel, where the rabbis have decided that, since we now live in “Eretz HaKodesh,” as Rafi Yochai of the rabbinate’s kashrut division put it, “the majority of the milk produced is supervised [here], so there’s less reason to permit these products.”

Hence the decree that all liquid milk must now be Jewish-made or supervised. Ben and Jerry’s, by the way, uses milk powder (which apparently is still OK) and so, as a result, will still be available.

Not everyone agrees with the new rules. The Orthodox Union, which for years has been the gold standard of kashrut in the U.S., and increasingly in Israel, says it will stand by Häagen-Dazs. But who will sell it? My local SuperSol isn’t going to risk alienating the large number of kosher-adherent Israelis who shop there just for a little white almond raspberry truffle.

A fight for one’s right to consume Häagen-Dazs is unlikely to ignite the masses to return to Rothschild Boulevard, the site of this summer’s social justice protests. And, with increasing rumors of an imminent attack on Iran, it’s unlikely this latest round of religious rigidity will make much of a blip on the culinary radar.

Still, I shudder to think what’s next. No more Toyota cars and trucks in Israel because their carburetors aren’t sufficiently supervised? A blockade on iPhones because the workers in the assembly plants might be eating ham and cheese sandwiches while checking the screens for glitches? A ban on seaweed for sushi because it might contain traces of shellfish (oh, wait, that already happened…

For now, it’s just Häagen-Dazs, though. When asked what the brand’s aficionados should do now, Yochai from the rabbinate replied, “Love God more than ice-cream.”

Immigrant Moments

Changes to immigration law: good or bad for the Jews?

Avraham Michaeli, sponsor of the new bill

I first arrived in Israel in January 1984. At the time there was a rule from the Interior Ministry that one could only remain in Israel 365 days on a tourist visa before one’s “aliyah rights” started to kick in.

For anyone even vaguely considering one day immigrating to Israel, having any of those rights lost or shortened was a big deal financially. They included the amount of time one could buy a car at a discounted rate, similar reductions on rent subsidies, special deals on tuition at university and more.

Since I was planning aliyah, but was in Israel during those years as a tourist, I carefully calculated exactly 364 days in the country and left on that day, only returning when I formally moved here. This represented a significant hardship at the time: I had to leave both my job and girlfriend (the story does have a happen ending: we eventually got married and made aliyah together).

So it was with some surprise when I read a report in Haaretz that a bill in the Knesset sponsored by Shas MK Avraham Michaeli would permit Jews to live in Israel indefinitely on a tourist visa without ever having to formally immigrate (or lose their rights if and when they did make aliyah).

Michaeli’s rationale is that most people, if they stay here long enough, will eventually settle down, vote, and pay taxes like the rest of us, and that forcing them to leave reduces the chances of a future aliyah.

Israeli immigration officials are highly critical, asking why some people should be permitted stay in the country without the burdens the rest of us have – like serving in the army.

The bill has some strong public supporters. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky supports it, citing birthright as an example and saying, “The more Jews spend time in Israel, the stronger is their Jewish identity and there’s also a bigger chance that they will make aliyah. If you want more aliyah, there should be more Jews.”

Taking the opposing view, a former emissary for the Jewish Agency, Akiva Werber, felt that 27 months (according to rules, revised since my days here in the early 1980s, the amount of time one can now stay in the country without becoming making aliyah or obtaining temporary resident status), was enough to make a decision whether “to share our mutual fate as citizens or not.”

As for me, while such a change in the law would have helped me, I too don’t want to be an after-the-fact freier (the classic Israeli epithet for “sucker”), even if everything worked out just fine.

The bill is probably a tempest in a teacup and is unlikely to pass. After hearing objections, Michaeli instructed the ministries involved to decide “what makes sense from a professional point of view” and report back to him with proposed changes. He said he will consider those changes and then determine whether to amend the bill or continue to push it as is, according to Haaretz.

In any case, the Knesset session on the proposed change has been adjourned for the next two weeks.


You got chocolate in my wine! No, you got wine in my chocolate!

Wine and chocolate at Tishbi

I’m a big fan of wine tastings. And an even bigger fan of chocolate. So when I had the opportunity to visit the new Tishbi tasting center, which combines both wine and gourmet imported French chocolate, my interest was piqued. Moreover, my palette was proud of yet another Israeli innovation, not so much hi-tech this time, but palpably pleasing nevertheless.

The Tishbi winery has been around since 1984 and is run by the family of the same name, which is committed to keeping it small and boutique.

Winemaker Golan Tishbi was the one to come up with the idea of mixing wine and chocolate. The new tasting center, which was opened earlier this year, has been a word-of-mouth success, bringing in more than 40,000 visitors so far.

Tishbi takes its wine and chocolate seriously. Once in the tasting room, you settle into a standing station around a wooden bar. In front of you are three glasses and a rectangular box with six pieces of chocolate. Each chocolate is paired with a specific wine to bring out the flavors in both.

The glasses are of different sizes: the larger the glass, the more of the wine’s vapors enter your smell receptors, changing the overall sensory experience. I didn’t notice it so much, but I’m sure the late Israeli dean of wines Daniel Rogov would have.

For each chocolate, Tishbi instructed us to break off a piece and let it rest on our tongues. Taste it, feel it, let it melt, he beseeched us. It was hard not to bite, but then I was never very good with lollipops either. Once the tongue is thoroughly coated with chocolate, you drink in the wine. Let it float over the chocolate, Tishbi implied.

We then had a choice: let the wine carry the chocolate down, like a wet pill, or take them in one after another.

After a few moments of contemplation, it was on to the next wine and chocolate pairing. We learned the difference between “Manjari” chocolate from Madagascar and the Caribbean “Caraibe,” as well as the percent of cocoa inside (up to 85%, as decadent as they come).

At NIS 30 (less than $10) for a 45-minute gastronomic and oenological indulgence, it’s worth the gas to huff it up to Haifa (Tishbi is on the way, in the picturesque village of Binyamina). And if you need to chill out afterward and let the wine settle, Tishbi has a nice dairy restaurant right next door. But go for the apple pie – enough chocolate for one day!

There’s more about Tishbi and other delights in Israel’s Carmel region in this article.


Tel Aviv named one of the world’s most creative cities

Tel Aviv's Waze makes the list

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail has named Tel Aviv one of the world’s most creative cities. Tel Aviv shared the honors with London Sydney, Stockholm and Shanghai. The article itself is a whopping 21 pages; Israel takes up the first four.

The “award,” if you can call it that,” was bestowed on Israel by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. The institute ranks cities but what it calls “The Three T’s” – technology, talent and tolerance.

The article focuses on several Israeli startups which have either raised a lot of money or been sold for even larger amounts. The authors (there are five of them) pointed to PicApp and PicScout, which sold for a combined $20 million to Indian and American buyers, respectively; cellular company Provigent which was snapped up by U.S. chip maker Broadcom for $313 million; and Snaptu which Google bought for $70 million.

Companies on the list that have raised significant funding include (over $5.5 million) which makes face recognition technology that is used by more than 30,000 developers, and Waze, which we covered in-depth in Israel21c. Waze was singled out for both the amount raised ($67 million) and number of users (8 million in 45 countries).

Waze makes a free crowd-sourced GPS navigator app for mobile devices; the company claims it is used by one out of every three Israeli drivers. Waze made headlines overseas this past summer when it was used to provide real-time traffic information during the Los Angeles area’s super-hyped “Carmegeddon” (a driving apocalypse precipitated by the weekend shut down of the city’s major freeway).

Why is Tel Aviv so creative when it comes to startups? The authors cite Israel’s mandatory military service and the resulting informal atmosphere. Says starup CDO Neal Naimer from Woojer, “In Israel, personal relationships aren’t all that relevant to business. Israelis will do business with you within five seconds of meeting you. In fact, there’s virtually no small talk at meetings. Nothing. Zero. They’re very direct.”

Read our coverage on Waze here.