Spotting the wild Israeli

Adam Leighton (in blue) with Israeli biking group in Nepal

With all the Israelis who head off for the Far East on extended post-army trips, we were pretty sure we’d meet tens, if not hundreds, of our fellow countrymen and women during our recent trek in Nepal.

On the first six days of the trek, though, we met Brits, Canadians, lots of Germans, Japanese, Korean and Thai tourists, but no Israelis.

Was Nepal no longer an “in” spot for the young backpacking, dreadlocked, and multiple pierced Israeli rebel?

Apparently they were all waiting to gang up on us in one place, in the small village of Tatopani. They weren’t hard to spot: our “Isradar” (a term we coined for “Israeli radar”) started jumping as we reached our guesthouse where we were greeted by not a lone trekker but 15 Israelis…and their bikes.

The Israeli group (a rather mature bunch of mostly 40 and 50-somethings) was on a two-week biking tour of Nepal, organized by Gur Kotzer who runs elnepal.co.il, a joint Israeli-Nepali trekking agency.

I met up with Gur while bathing in the natural hot springs that have made Tatopani a Himalayan vacation get away – a sort of Ein Gedi for those who like to really rough it. Gur told me that his agency runs a whole host of adventures in Nepal, not just biking, including standard walking treks, jungle safaris and white water rafting. Gur is based in Israel, but travels to Nepal frequently.

The Israelis we met were not a part of any specific riding group. They hailed from all over the country (though none were from Jerusalem) and they had brought their bikes with them all the way from Israel. The group had just biked down nearly 1,500 meters that day (some of it through a driving rain) on bumpy roads and 900-year-old stone staircases cut into the mountainside.

Our paths continued to cross with the bikers. We met again at what’s arguably the “world’s largest Passover Seder” organized by Chabad in Kathmandu, and then again on our El Al flight home.

Interestingly, the Israelis’ “Isradar” was working just as well in the other direction and we were easily identifiable too. This always perplexes our kids who steadfastly believe that, as North American immigrants, we don’t look outwardly Israeli. How did the Israelis spot us then?

Easy: they spied my daughter reading a sign in Hebrew at the entrance to the guesthouse. It read “Shakshuka – excellent guest house and tasty food.”

Only in Israel…or should I say, only in Nepal?

Religion

Sniffing for chametz in India

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted – that’s because we just got back from our long-planned family trek to Nepal and India. We all arrived home safe and sound on Friday. Our luggage was less fortunate. As I write, it’s still sitting in the Mumbai airport.

Normally this wouldn’t be so unusual – bags get lost all the time. “Maybe there wasn’t enough time for your suitcases to clear customs,” the harried but surprisingly polite El Al representative at Ben Gurion Airport offered. That hardly seemed likely – we had an 8-hour layover in Mumbai.

Moreover, as transit passengers coming from another airline, I had to personally identify our luggage. I saw it tagged and put on the carousel belt. We answered questions from the El Al security guy and sat with the airline personnel who hand wrote our boarding passes. So, Indian bureaucracy notwithstanding, where could the bags have gone?

Here’s a thought, which I can’t substantiate but seems plausible nonetheless, especially since we flew during hol ha moed, the intermediary days of the Passover holiday: our bags were flagged for containing chametz.

Chametz, of course, is any kind of wheat product that has risen, forbidden during the festival of unleavened bread. While normally one’s bags are checked for contraband like explosives or weapons, perhaps in our case the dogs sniffed out our various candy, Cliff and granola bars. Or was it religious El Al workers waiting for nightfall, then poking around with a candle and feather as one does during the last minute check for chametz before the holiday? That would surely have made our bags miss the loading deadline.

There was more evidence. As we boarded the plane, a printed sign informed us that El Al had kindly cleaned the plane of any chametz and that all food would be strictly kosher for Pesach. We were served matza instead of the usual hot El Al pita and bagels (my favorite part of flying with Israel’s national carrier). Indeed, our bags could easily have caused a Knesset coalition crisis had they been hoisted into the hold.

UPDATE: My religious conspiracy theory, unfortunately, turned out for naught. Our bags arrived earlier this morning, in plenty of time for the final day of the holiday. However, in deference to our doughy cargo, we decided to unpack only on Monday night, when it’s officially OK to eat as many chocolate waffelim as you desire.

Happy Pesach…I’ll have more to report from our trip (and some surprising Israeli connections) after the holiday.

Matza zombies heading to a screen near you
Israeliness,Movies

Matza zombies heading to a screen near you

It’s a plotline tailor made for the next Israeli entry into the Oscars: IDF soldier holds down menial job and shirks responsibility wherever possible. When he meets the girl of his dreams, he is set upon by ruthless enemies and must overcome his conflict-avoiding tendencies to save both country and his true love.

There’s just one twist: zombies.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kIdCwnhH9w&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Poisoned” is a new film by Didi Lubetzky that aims to be a “coming of age” slash Zombie comedy cult classic. According to the film’s synopsis, the protagonist, Danny, is the son of a legendary Israeli war hero. But the lazy Danny serves as an assistant custodian in a remote base that’s home to an elite combat unit. When his high school crush, Maya, arrives to deliver vaccines to the soldiers, she mistakes Danny for one of fighters and shows an interest in him for the first time.

But the vaccine turns the soldiers into flesh-eating zombies who kill everyone in sight. The uninfected Danny must save the day.

The film began as an idea that Lubetzky had as a student at Tel Aviv University Film School. It’s mostly self-financed and was influenced by other zombie comedies such as “Shaun of the Dead.”

But, this being Israel, social parody is never far behind. So to give “Poisoned” an even more Israeli twist, it all takes place on Passover. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” the film’s promo material asks? Zombies at the Seder, of course (and don’t give me any the lip about my Seder being so boring, all the participants turn into zombies anyway).

Happy Pesach to all you matzah-munching zombies. I wonder what’s for dessert?

Israel and US partner for prosperity

What in the world do graphic design, agriculture technology and legal services have in common? They are three examples of a wide-ranging and growing catalog of professional services that Israeli companies are providing to American businesses and consumers.

A new web site from The Israel Economic Mission and Israel Export Institute has organized and categorized these services. The website, Professional Services from Israel (http://professional-services-israel.export.gov.il) is part of a larger effort to build awareness of the ways American and Israeli businesses and consumers are working together as partners in prosperity.

On the web site, Israeli professional service providers are grouped into twenty eclectic and divergent categories. Their services are marketable for both business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) applications.

Zohar Peri, Economic Minister to North America with the Israel Economic Mission to the US, says that there are many situations where turning to Israel for professional services makes the most sense for Americans.

It would be easy to label it as simply outsourcing for the sake of saving a few dollars, but that would not be accurate, Peri says. ?It?s not just about cost,? he told ISRAEL21c, noting that other countries ? India, for example ? are better known for their cheap labor. ?It?s really on the basis of quality.?

Jonathan Jarashow agrees. As founder and president of H. Crimson, a custom publishing agency in New York, he has been responsible for the publishing of over 100 million custom magazines, brochures and calendars over the years. This May, Jarashow together with his Israeli partner Eli Kazhdan, introduced Jerusalem Design, an Israel-based model of his American company.

?We [at H. Crimson] have been encouraging our clients to try [Israeli design] and they have been very pleased with the results,? he says.

Israel has the highest ratio worldwide of engineers in the workforce and the highest ratios in the world of university degrees and academic publications per capita, Peri says, while Israel?s reputation as a haven for innovation, creativity and know-how makes it a natural choice for many Americans seeking a fresh perspective on their projects.

But does outsourcing to Israel cost American jobs? Yes and no, says Kazhdan, who draws upon his previous experience as Israeli government as chief of staff of the Ministry of Industry & Trade, as well as chief of staff of the Ministry of Interior in considering the polemic. Kazhdan contends that, by cutting costs without sacrificing quality, businesses that choose to outsource to Israel can seize a competitive edge, allowing them to grow and expand faster and ultimately add more domestic jobs in other areas.

?There is no doubt that in the era when the world is flat, in Tom Friedman’s terms, there is a constant movement of jobs from one part of the globe to another, capitalizing on the competitive advantages of different areas and countries,? Kazhdan told ISRAEL21c.

?Having said that, I should note that successful outsourcing does not merely transfer work from the US to Israel, but rather uses Israeli skills and expertise to ramp up the business in the United States. When Jerusalem Design cuts costs for US?based customers – without compromising on quality, the US customer is then able to build up his or her core business faster in the US than s/he would have been able to do otherwise.?

Given Israel?s booming high tech industry, it should come as no surprise that the most popular kind of professional services that Israel currently provides to Americans involve technology, such as software development and testing.

Less obvious is Israel?s emergence as a choice for various legal and accounting support services. The reason for this curious development, Peri says, lies largely in American and other Anglo expatriate communities that have arisen in Israel over the years.

?These [professionals] are people who were accomplished in their field and moved to Israel. They know the conditions, the language and legal and accounting systems.?

This close familiarity with American thinking goes beyond the immigrant community, however, notes Peri.

?Many Israeli-born engineers and professionals studied in America and have American degrees,? he says.

In addition to offering high quality, there is another advantage for Americans to consider Israeli professional services: the Israeli workweek.

Since the Israeli workweek begins on Sunday, when most American businesses are shut, there is a day of productivity that can be gained that would otherwise be wasted.

?What most people don?t realize at first is that it is really two days of productivity that are gained, not just one.? The second day, Peri points out, is Monday. Since Israel is seven hours ahead of the eastern United States, when American businesses are just arriving at work, Israeli businesses have had practically a full day?s head start to get even more done.

The Internet allows for near-instant transmission of data, rendering the physical distance between Israel and the United States less relevant, while advances in airfreight shortens the distance for non-digital media.

This dynamic has opened doors to American-Israeli collaboration on projects that used to be strictly local affairs, such as printing.

?Americans are surprised to find that Israeli graphic arts and printing is on a very high level, and with the advantages of the Israeli work week along with overnight shipping, they can get projects done even faster than they could have locally,? Peri says.

Israel?s professional services are truly a partnership with America. Many of the companies listed in the Web directory have opened American offices including some American staff and all have American representatives.

The benefits that Israeli services provide are keeping American businesses competitive in a crowded global marketplace, Peri says. It?s a win-win situation for American businesses and consumers and Israeli service providers alike, filling a niche and a need that would otherwise be vacant, to the detriment of both countries.

Peri likens Israel?s professional services offerings to a very specialized store catering to special needs as opposed to a wholesaler looking to undermine the local economy.

?We are a boutique, not a supermarket,? he says.

Israeli news sites now requiring ad reading – what’s a news junkie to do?

Which link do you click to get rid of the ad?

I understand that there’s no choice. But do they have to be so darn annoying?

In the last few months, two of the three main online Israeli news sites I visit have instituted advertising techniques that are particularly invasive…and there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn them off.

Haaretz was the first to get the revenue-building bug. When you visit the English language site, you are first treated to a full-page ad. There is a “close” button so you can quickly skip it, or the advertisement automatically disappears after a few seconds. The ad only appears when accessing the home page.

While the Haaretz ad slows down my access to the site (and I should point out that I have never once clicked on the link), The Jerusalem Post’s technique is downright infuriating. The Post uses the same style of pop over ad, but it appears every time you open any page of the site, not just the home page. To make matters worse, for some of the ads, there is a deceptive “close” link that would open the ad itself (the real “close” link was above it).  That strategy at least appears to have been removed in the last week or so.

The third main English language news site from Israel, Ynet (the online version of the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot), has thus far withheld the temptation to force readers to suffer through the opening commercials.

Now, I know that the online news business needs to change – the revenue models have never been sustainable on display ads alone. And Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post are hardly the only sites trying to figure out how to stay afloat. The New York Times in March announced the imminent launch of its new web revenue scheme – subscriptions will be required for heavy web clickers (free if you subscribe to the print edition) and the fees are hefty by online standards, starting at $25/month. The Wall Street Journal online has required subscriptions since its inception, as has The Economist. New business models for publications delivered on tablet devices like the iPad are also in the works.

Naysayers claim that a newspaper requiring a subscription fee is shooting itself in the foot; that savvy web users will just move on to the next free site. Does that make the enforced pop over ad the better bet? Here’s an idea: why not give me a choice and allow me to pay a small amount to avoid the ads? I might not do it, but at least then I’d feel like it was my decision.

In the meantime, I’m slogging through the ads. But note to The Post and Haaretz – I’m visiting Ynet a whole lot more these days (oops, I hope no one at Yediot is reading this post!)