Celebrity at the wedding

Ori Lachmi from the Israeli TV hit "Srugim"

The young man in the light purple shirt and the small knitted kippa looked awfully familiar. He was sitting in the row in front of us at the chuppa of the daughter of close friends. My wife Jody went up to him. “I recognize you, but I can’t place from where,” she said.

He held out a hand. “Ori Lachmi.” Jody continued her quizzical look. “Maybe from ‘Srugim,’” he offered. “Of course!” she blushed, shook his hand and sat down. I did the same, adding “I recognized you immediately,” although I hadn’t.

Lachmi played the character of Ro’i, doctor Nati’s religious gay brother, on the popular Israeli TV series, Srugim. He had one of the only good roles in the show’s rather dreary second season, creating a believable persona and raising some issues that are usually swept under the unpolitically correct carpet in the God-fearing world.

As the real-life wedding proceeded towards the meal and into the dancing, I kept my eye out for Lachmi. Despite the fact I grew up in California, I’ve never seen – or cared much – about movie stars. The last time I was in the presence of a celebrity, it was David Schwimmer who played Ross on Friends, at a sushi bar and frankly it was no big deal. The tempura didn’t taste any different. But this was Ro’i – from my all-time favorite Israeli show.

“You’re a bit smitten, aren’t you?” Jody commented. “Go up and talk to him.” “What would I say?” I replied. “Anyway, I’d get all flustered with the Hebrew.”

When I got home, though, I did what any good journalist with a crush would do – I googled him. It turns out that Lachmi is a local Jerusalem boy who grew up religious (unusual on Srugim where all the actors playing religious Israelis are actually totally secular).

Lachmi attended the religious Horev schools (where a number of children of our friends go) but got into hot water after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated when he set up a memorial corner without official school permission. He was suspended from the student council for three months and some students compared him with Rabin’s killer, Yigal Amir, saying they “both took the law into their own hands,” Lachmi told Maariv NRG in a 2010 interview.

He subsequently transferred to the Hartman High School (from which our oldest son graduated). Lachmi majored in theater.

As upset as Lachmi was from his treatment at Horev, that wasn’t the last straw. He had received an offer to act in a film and he ran the script by his mother. There was a scene in which he had to kiss a woman. His mother vetoed his participation. It was Shabbat and “after that, I just got up, turned on the TV and turned it off, turned it on and turned it off several times,” he said. “And the sky did not fall.”

Lachmi is now a proud, but ambivalent, datlash – an Israeli acronym for someone who is formerly religious. He still visits his family regularly on Shabbatot, but says he can’t abide by stringent religious laws that require strawberries to be soaked in soap for five minutes or that forbid eating brocoli at all, for fear of ingesting forbidden worms, he told Maariv.

What was his connection to the wedding? His still religious brother is married to the groom’s sister. And, it turns out, I could have actually talked to him without getting tongue-tied – he’s half Anglo (his mother is from Australia). I did the next best thing: I friended him on Facebook. Perhaps I should now go and stalk the other actors from Srugim. I kind of have a crush on Hodaya too…

Srugim returns to Israeli screens later this month on Yes.

Rosh Hashana videos…and more

Rosh Hashana videos…and more

New Year’s videos from Israel and other Jewish organizations tend to circulate around the web and email at this time of year. The Fountainhead’s “Dip Your Apple” video is by far the most popular, with well over a million YouTube views.


But there are other cute clips, including one where a bearded techie dips a variety of Apple products (an iPhone and an iPad) in honey vats of varying sizes.


There are also a couple of videos not specifically related to the holiday but that also provide inspiration and enjoyment for the New Year.

Guy Barzily was born in Israel, raised mostly in London and recently appeared on the Dutch version of the “Idol” franchise. His audition was wildly received by the judges. One said “I’ll kiss the ground you walk on.” From another: “That was a perfect audition, more than perfect. You’ve astounded me.” (For the record, I didn’t think it was that good, but judge for yourself.)


Then there’s this cool video made by 24-year-old Jerusalemite Eran Amir, which depicts 500 people flashing across the stream in 100 seconds while holding 1,500 photographs from around the country. Like the Fountainheads, his clip has also racked up an amazing million + views.


From all of us here at Israelity (and me personally) – Shana Tova!

Immigrant Moments

A personal validation of Zionism

When I backpacking around Europe and Asia, some 25 years ago, I felt a mix of disdain and sadness for the many tourists I’d encounter ensconced in their oversized, air conditioned tour buses, being ferried around from site to site, taking in the highlights through tinted windows which they’d abandon only at carefully selected cafes and for quick museum jaunts. They’d never get a chance to really know a city, I thought to myself, by walking it block by block, riding the trams and soaking in the local atmosphere.

But when my mother recently came to Israel, an organized tour was just the ticket. Despite our having lived in Israel for 17 years, this was my mom’s first ever visit to Israel and, at nearly 80-years-old, she wanted to see everything.

The two-week tour, run by the Margaret Morse travel agency, was as challenging as it was comprehensive. The 100-person, three bus “adults only” group started in Tel Aviv, headed up the coast via Caesarea to Haifa, cut across the Galilee to Kibbutz Goshrim with a stop in Safed, climbed up to the top of the Golan Heights, danced on a boat in the Sea of Galilee, drove down the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem (where they spent 5 days touring the capital’s extensive offerings) before plunging even further south to the Dead Sea, Masada and Eilat.

The tour guide on my mom’s bus was a staunch Zionist and peppered his exhaustive descriptions of antiquities and modern Israeli innovations with an hefty dose of idealism. The 2,000-year-old longing of the Jews for the land of Israel, why all Jews should move here, our tragic history and inspiring renewal in the modern state – it was all there in spades.

Now, since we moved to Israel, my mother has never really commented on our decision. Not visiting was less out of a philosophical stance than the fact that my father was disabled and never could have handled all the climbing, steps and stairs (which my mother pointed out were ever present). After he died two years ago, she began thinking seriously about visiting her children and grandchildren here.

While it’s true we never heard any outright cries of protest about our living so far from California, where I grew up and where my parents still were, we also didn’t receive any emotional support towards such a life-defining choice. Until now.

It was over a sushi lunch (these days becoming more the classic blue and white staple than the staid falafel) that my mom turned to us and mustered a few words that were as transformative for her as they were affirming for us. “I understand now why you’re here,” she said as a single tear ran down her face. “This is where you belong.” And then for emphasis: “I’m glad that you are here.”

After so many years of assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that our move here had dealt a mortal blow to my parents, a rejection of everything we’d been raised with that, in parallel, ripped their grandchildren away from the warm multi-generational embrace they had undoubtedly anticipated, these words of validation brought tears to our eyes too. We didn’t require it per se – we’re middle-aged adults ourselves and supposedly long past the need for our parents’ approval. But it’s never too late for a mother to tell her son “you done good, kid.”

Mom flew back to California Saturday night. Will the enthusiasm for our adopted home and her newfound Zionism remain, once the cheerleading of her tour guide has abated and the comforts of routine and sanitary bathrooms return? That’s not clear, though I hope a remnant at least will remain. But for a moment, we were all on the same page. And that was a happy enough conclusion to a novel that has been a long time in the writing.

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A crafty New Year

I’m thinking that the impending holiday has to be about more than the fact that my husband is leaving for two weeks to work as a baal tefillah at a synagogue in Toronto — read, vacation money, new furniture funds and maybe some put into savings — the food that has to be cooked for three days of chag and the mountain of dishes that will be washed. (Although there are some good recipes in there.)

And so, I’ve been inspired by a gan tradition that I had to fulfill, which was that we had to make cards to be given to our boys this week. It happens in schools and ganim throughout the country before Rosh Hashanah, but this was a first for me. So I first thought about easy ways to fulfill it; scribble something on a paper, print out a coloring page and use that. But then I warmed to the idea and came across all these momblogs that are just filled with crafty ideas, some cool, some kitchy. I finally settled on this one, from ChallahCrumbs, Thumbprint Bees for their RH cards, using just black construction paper, yellow fingerpaint and a white crayon. The idea was really adorable, just that my yellow paint ended up drying invisibly on the black paper and I had to use yellow crayons to outline the bees. No matter, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Even thought the thumbprint bees weren’t a total success, we had a great time today with Playdoh and a new Fun Factory, so much so that I’m thinking of embarking on another project tomorrow, Wine Cork Stamp Rosh Hashanah cards from creativejewishmom, in which you use wine corks and a red stamppad to create really sweet apple stencil cards, napkins, gift tags, what have you.

I can’t promise what will come out of all that, but I’m willing to give it a try. Finally, I’ll also be creating a non-dairy frosting for very sweet apple-shaped cupcakes. I already made these a week ago, using a lime cupcake base — gotta use all the limes from our tree — and a readymade frosting with red food coloring. But, have to think non-dairy for some big meat meals, so will probably be using this frosting recipe. Still, I can tell you that the cupcakes are a hit and there’s something very satisfying about creating such a finished looking product.

How’s them apples?

From Rothschild Boulevard to a Jerusalem living room

From Rothschild Boulevard to a Jerusalem living room

We first met Niv Kaikov a few months back at Tel Aviv’s White Night celebration. We were strolling on Rothschild Boulevard – yes the same one that’s been filled with tents all summer – which, during White Night, is instead filled with musicians. Every block, sometimes even every half a block, there is another band set up. The music is mostly rock, with a little world/ethnic thrown in to remind you of what part of the world we live in.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuSyc-KAHcQ[/youtube]Niv Kaikov performing “A New Way” live at house concert in Jerusalem. Here’s the official video for the clip.

As my wife Jody and I made our way down the boulevard, we’d stop to listen to maybe to a song or two, before moving on to the next performer. We did this musical shuffle for a good hour until we got to a young singer-songwriter whose tunes we really liked. We stayed for a couple songs. Then a couple more. A woman in the crowd was selling his CD. We bought it. We never buy CDs on the street from bands we don’t know, but there was something about this particular artist that spoke to us. That was Niv, of course.

Afterward, we struck up a virtual conversation via Facebook, during which time we decided to bring Niv to Jerusalem to put on a house concert. It would be romantic with wine and candles; an intimate acoustic performance. Niv was excited – it would be his first time playing in the Holy City. And, entirely by coincidence, the date that worked best was my birthday.

Now, here’s the 21st century spin: all the planning was done entirely virtually. We never once spoke to Niv over the phone. We didn’t even know what his non-singing voice sounded like. Still, when he walked in the door, I gave him a big hug, feeling like I’d known him forever.

Niv turned out to be as charming in person as he is in his songs. Moreover, his story is inspirational to any budding artist: he had been working as a project manager at an e-commerce company in Tel Aviv. His boss offered him a promotion and laid out a 5-year success path where Niv would become CEO and have 30 people working for him. But Niv actually hated hi-tech. And so on the same day as he received the promotion, he quit his job to pursue a full-time career as a musician.

Niv sings about his career choice in Derech Hadasha (A New Way), the first “single” from his CD (it got some airplay, he says). Other songs relate to his experience after a near-fatal motorcycle crash, and his wedding at the top of a mountain at sunrise (“we got lost on the way…the groom almost didn’t make it!”) He is at once professional and sincere, heartfelt and driven. And it doesn’t hurt that his voice and styling’s are reminiscent of a younger Ivri Lider.

For the show’s finale, Niv and his band (he brought a second guitarist and a percussionist with him) belted out his “second” single – the song Pesak Zman. When he sings about the value of “taking a break” (the English translation of the song title) from life’s many “statuses” (he mentions cars, jobs, jewelry) in order to step back and reflect on what’s truly important, you believe him. Indeed, Niv says, his dream would be to morph into a kind of motivational speaker using music as punctuation for transformation and change.

Making it in the music business these days is tough: it’s rare to be “discovered” by a big record label mogul anymore; most of the promotion work and expenses fall on the artist. Indeed Niv has invested in several professional music videos and the recording of his songs with a full band. He is very active on Facebook and social media to build a community of committed fans.

We were delighted to move from the virtual to the real and celebrate my birthday with this dynamic, talented musician. While this blog isn’t a platform for in-your-face PR, my recommendation to check out Niv’s MySpace page is born from the best intentions: to support a young musician who truly moved me…and perhaps to help him from needing to return to that corporate day job.