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.

Dan Senor, co author of Start-Up Nation.

ISRAEL21c to sponsor Dan Senor at Berkeley confab

‘This is just another example of the partnerships ISRAEL21c likes to form in communities to help show the “real” Israel,’ says president Amy Friedkin.

ISRAEL21c was proud to be counted among the sponsors of “Israel through the High-Tech Lens,” a two-day interdisciplinary conference held February 1 and 2 at the University of California-Berkeley. The conference was sponsored by the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society Program on Jewish Law.

The event brought together more than 35 Israeli and US business leaders, scholars and policy-makers to discuss business, legal, economic and social aspects of Israeli high-tech — models of tech-sector investment, green-tech trends, legal challenges to US-Israel business collaboration, global corporations’ involvement in Israel, labor-market diversity, cross-border collaboration in the Middle East and high-tech entrepreneurship.

ISRAEL21c sponsored a session led by Dan Senor, co-author of the bestselling Start-up Nation.

“This is just another example of the partnerships ISRAEL21c likes to form in communities to help show the ‘real’ Israel,” says ISRAEL21c president Amy Friedkin.

She met the institute’s director last summer and agreed to support the idea of a campus event focusing on Israeli innovation and technology. During a subsequent brainstorming session at the institute, she offered to approach Senor about participating.

“They’d been trying to put something together for a long time, since Berkeley is always seen as a seat of anti-Israel sentiment,” Friedkin explains. The institute’s members counter that image through graduate school-level programs designed to reveal the true face of Israel. Earlier this academic year, for instance, an Israeli Supreme Court justice came to Berkeley as a scholar-in-residence.

Ten diverse sessions at the conference explored two key themes, “Challenges and Opportunities of Local and Global Dynamics in the Israeli Technology Sector” and “Past Experiences, Present Trends and Future Directions — Lessons from the Past and Challenges for the Israeli Technology World in the 21st Century.”

Some of the other speakers were Intel executive vice president David (Dadi) Perlmutter, California Israel Chamber of Commerce executive director and UpWest Labs co-founder Shuly Galili, co-founder and CEO Gil Hirsch, Google Israel R&D center director Yossi Matias, and Anat Binur, founder of MEET (Middle East Education for Technology).

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.