The real light show
Art

The real light show

Ever since last year, I’ve been waiting excitedly for the now annual Jerusalem Light Festival. The event brings world-class international light artists to Israel’s capital to situate their magnificent light installations along the streets and alleyways of the Old City.

Last year’s light creations were so fabulous, I thought it could get only better. I was wrong, unfortunately.

In 2010, Zedekiah’s Cave (also known as Solomon’s Quarries), near Damascus Gate, was transformed into an underwater masterpiece, with eerie lighting and the sounds of the sea. The cave itself, which dates back to the time of Herod the Great, stretches 5 city blocks culminating in a vast 300-foot long auditorium-lie chamber.

This year’s exhibition in the cave was interesting – a set of 40 Bwindi masks from the border area between Congo and Uganda, lit up in different colors to a pulsating “bi-vocal” African soundtrack – but it was disappointing compared to the 2020 show.

The program also promised a “red and blue market celebration” along the trail that led through the Muslim Quarter. Instead, it was just a long line of red lights leading through a mostly deserted marketplace with some bored teenagers and a lot of Israeli soldiers.

I shouldn’t be so harsh – there were a few cool installations, especially the “fairy tale” images projected onto Damascus Gate, turning the ancient stones into a three dimensional medley of dragons and marionettes.

But that had to be balanced by the Hurva exhibit – last year, a film chronicling the history of the Jewish quarter projected on the recently restored walls of the massive synagogue. This year, it was a rather subdued installation featuring strands of light, changing colors, set to some sort of vaguely familiar new age music.

Overall, it also seemed like attendance was much lower, but this was only the first night; maybe it will pick up.

Total eclipse in Jerusalem, June 15, 2011

The real show, however, was not in the alleys of the Old City, but above it. A total lunar eclipse, the longest in 100 years, and culminating at 10:22 PM, had festival goers fascinated by the wonders of nature above much more than the artistic creations of men and women below.

The light show continues for a week. The eclipse, unfortunately, was a one-hour affair.

Israeliness

We’re number one…in Facebook use

I’ve always suspected it. My kids seem to be permanently attached to Facebook and other social media services. Now, new research proves I’m right. And it’s not just my family – it’s the whole country.

According to a just released poll by the well regarded market intelligence firm Comscore, during April the average Israeli spent nearly 11 hours performing online social networking actions. That’s the highest in the world.

I’m not sure how to compare these poll results on Israeli behavior with the rest of the world – it seems to me that our friends in North America are just as busy updating their status and chatting as we are. But then I haven’t spent as much time watching a teenager in Los Angeles glued to his iPod Touch as I have my own kids. Indeed, the incessant ping and beep of a message arriving has become the new background music to our once analog life.

Dvir Reznik suggests that Israel’s high ranking in the Comscore poll may be because our cell phone data plans are more generous that those overseas.

Reznik is the VP of Marketing at Israeli startup Onavo, a company which compresses data to make mobile use more economical (I blogged about them earlier when they raised a $3 million round of financing). Reznik explained that, while most Americans seem content with (or are at least forced to settle for) only a few hundred MB of data flow a month, Israelis can easily jump into the 2-5 GB range for roughly the same price.

And where is much of the social media consumption occurring? On our increasingly ubiquitous smartphones, of course.

The Comscore poll also found that Israel has the second highest relative number of social network consumers, with 90% of Internet users having their own social media profile. Canada came in with 85% while, in the U.S. and Western Europe, it was a paltry 60-70%. (The Philippines was in the top spot with 93%).

All this is fun to write about, but it’s not necessarily a good thing for the social future of humankind. An influential new book called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle has been widely quoted since its publication earlier this year.

In the book, Turkle cites some very disturbing research about how social media is adversely impacting our in-person relationships. It’s not just parents who are annoyed at their children texting at the table; kids are craving the attention of their distracted parents too. It affects the bond that forms between mother and baby during nursing, with the Imma too busy checking messages to spend time with her infant. And teenagers told Turkle that in many cases they actually prefer to chat online than to speak to a friend in person.

But for Israelis, that’s not the important take away. We’re number one, gush the newspaper reports, to a chorus of knowing “pokes.” In a world where our little country is being increasingly delegitimized, any claim to fame is welcome. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve already posted a link to this article to Facebook and Twitter.

Israeliness,Life

Target practice

When I made aliyah nearly 17 years ago, the army rejected me. I was 34, married with two kids and a job, and too old to be properly trained, I guess. Plus it was at the height of the Russian influx of immigrants – there probably wasn’t even a spare bunk for me to sleep in.

Still, I’ve always felt I missed out on something by not sharing the army experience…even if just for a few weeks or months. Now, while I’ll never be able to have the privilege of eating army food or mopping the floor on base (I do enough of that at home), there’s one thing I could do outside of the army: fire a gun.

So when the online coupon site GroopBuy offered a 70% discount on an hour of instruction and 50 bullets at the Krav shooting range, I didn’t hesitate to click the “buy” button.

Krav is located in the basement of one of the typically drab industrial buildings in Jerusalem’s Talpiot shopping zone. I met my instructor, Talia, who took me even further downstairs to the firing room. I was accompanied by a larger group of more experienced shooters. Nevertheless, Talia gave all of us the same training, which consisted mostly of how to stand and hold the gun.

The other men (and one woman) nodded as Talia went through her list; I did too but I was missing about 50% of the content. My Hebrew is OK for basic conversation, but there were a lot of technical words I’d never heard of. Not a good idea when you’re about to shoot a gun.

The situation was made even more precarious by the layout of the room. I had imagined individual cubicles, walled on three sides – protection against novices. Instead, it was simply a large open space with the shooters standing shoulder to shoulder. Not a place where you want to hear “oops.”

I picked up the gun and it was clear I had no idea what I was doing. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll help you once the others are done,” Talia offered. Good idea.

The more experienced shooters proceeded to fire off round after round while I sat in the back wearing protective goggles and noise reducing headphones. 20 minutes later, it was my turn.

Talia, it turned out, was an English speaker from Los Angeles, so there was no language barrier as she told me (repeatedly) “keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire – and don’t aim it at me!”

That would be a really big oops.

My hands were sweating as I let out my first shot. I missed by a long shot. The flash of gunpowder surprised me; the weapon jolted upward. “Not bad,” Talia said with a generous dose of California encouragement.

Over the course of the next 49 bullets I gradually gained confidence and actually hit the target 15 times (see the picture). By the end, I was already jaded, feeling like I was on a carnival midway aiming for spelunking rabbits.

Talia jolted me out of my deadly daydream. “If that had been a real terrorist,” she said, smiling, “he’d be dead.”

That’s when I realized: the Israelis who come to the Krav shooting range are not just having a good time – this is the real deal.

I walked out sobered but proud. I had entered a new stage of Israeliness. It wasn’t the same as the basic training our kids go through, but if I ever find myself needing a gun to stop a bad guy, I’ll know what to do.

Blue and white ninja…with fruit
Entertainment

Blue and white ninja…with fruit

With over 1,000,000 downloads, Fruit Ninja is one of the more popular gaming apps on the iPhone, iPad and Android platforms. In the game, you basically have to swipe and slice fruit that’s tossed onto the screen – the more fruit you dice, the higher the score. But avoid the “bombs” or you lose immediately.

Now meet the “real” Fruit Ninja…and guess what, he’s Israeli. Fruit Ninja guy appears on a YouTube video where gets fruit thrown at him which he has to fight off with a large kitchen knife. He does pretty well – that knife is sharp – until his off-screen tormentors pelt him with mangos, bananas and cucumbers (hey, that’s not a fruit!) to the squeals of laughter on both sides. Some “slicing” sound effects round out the show.

It’s not a high quality video – just a few guys goofing around in what looks like an army bathroom – but remarkably, the video has been viewed over 97,000 times – more than TechTechManTV’s video review of the app itself (which garnered only 85,000 views). It also has 197 comments. That makes this one of the unlikeliest viral videos of the year.

Well, not quite. The Israeli Fruit Ninjas were probably inspired by another “real life” Fruit Ninja. This guy, with his own ninja headband, has more than 650,000 views and even has a sequel.

But the Israelis have one up on the competition: our blue and white ninja hits his mark more often. Perhaps the result of some super secret army commando unit that trains against infiltration of foreign fruit?

Here’s the official trailer from Half Brick Studios.

Entertainment,History and Culture,Israeliness,Music

Aida at Masada

Photo: Yossi Zwecker

It was a magnificent night at the opera even if the people behind me were more interested in their iPhone apps than with the classic story unfolding on stage.

I had been invited to attend the Final Dress Rehearsal of Aida at Masada, along with 140 other journalists, 40 foreign diplomats, and nearly 7,000 Israelis – many of them from periphery communities.

The Israeli Opera is very open about its mission to bring spectators from all classes of society to its shows, especially those who usually wouldn’t see this art form. And though the majority of the audience sat mesmerized in their seats throughout the nearly four-hour affair, the two couples sitting behind me missed the magic of the event and chatted throughout the first two acts before leaving early (lucky for me).

Their chatter aside, there was a feeling of great excitement in the air.

The desert backdrop was perfect for the improbable love story of the Ethiopian princess and the Egyptian army officer. The sets were incredible and the lighting design was astonishing.

American soprano Kirstin Lewis, who took the lead role of Aida, served up gorgeous high notes to an audience gathered at the lowest point on earth.

It was a grand-scale production in every sense of the word. Joining the 20 multi-national opera singers on stage were a Bedouin dance troupe from Rahat, a dance troupe from Arad, and dozens of chorus singers and actors. Maestro Daniel Oren was on the podium conducting the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion. And, being set in Egypt, there were herds of camels, too.

The production of Aida marks the beginning of the 2011 Israeli Opera Festival.

Having seen a good number of operas before, there is no doubt that this was a performance to remember. And, though they cut out early and showed complete disinterest, I believe that even the folks in the row behind me will keep a memory of being at the opera.