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][/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.


Twilight in Jerusalem

Young fan meets her vampire idol in Jerusalem yesterday (picture submitted by Jeanette Gory-Shavit)

The news that Kellan Lutz, the actor who plays vampire Emmett Cullen in the hit Twilight films, was staying at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem sent some young fans into spasms of celebrity stalking, camping out on a blistering hot Shabbat afternoon for a glimpse at their hero.

I know this because we were there too, but not to check out Lutz. We had walked my mother back to the hotel where she was staying (on her first visit ever to Israel, at age 79 – but more on that in another post).

The small gaggle of chattering, cell phone-addled girlhood had been waiting more than an hour for a Lutz sighting but to no avail. We didn’t care much until we ran into an old friend who had driven up all the way from Yavne with her 14-year-old daughter to sneak a peek.

Lutz was in Israel, along with actor Miguel Ferrer, Columbian singer Carolina La O, and Cuban performer Didier Hernandez as part of a trip sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Americas Voices in Israel, and El Al Israel Airlines.

America’s Voices in Israel, which is the prime mover behind this and other celebrity journeys, brings media and entertainment personalities to Israel with the aim of spreading more positive messages about the country. Previous visits have included stars from TV’s Full House, Ally McBeal, 90210, House and Raising Hope.

On the current trip, Lutz was the only participant to have been to Israel before. He told Arutz Sheva that “I’m amazed at the scope of history here. In the US, there is 200 years of history and here we are talking about thousands of years of stories and tradition that truly fascinate and amaze me.

Back at the Inbal, we left without seeing Lutz, but a Facebook posting later that day by our friends who’d driven up from Yavne breathlessly revealed that the vampire had indeed shown up and was quite generous with his teenage fans, posing for pictures and being a real sweetheart, albeit a blood sucking one. But hey, these days we can’t choose our friends. Vampires work for me.

Israeli man to give birth

In the movie 1994 film “Junior,” a scientist played by pre-“governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees to carry a pregnancy in his own body. While that comedy was pure fantasy, in Israel the same scenario is playing out…and this time it’s real.

Yediot Ahronot reported earlier this week that a 24-year-old man walked into an emergency room in central Israel and informed doctors that he was in his seventh month of pregnancy.

No, Israeli scientists are not playing around with some experimental treatment as with the Danny Devito character in Junior. The man in question was born as a woman. He went through a sex change operation several years ago, removing his breasts and taking hormones to create a more male appearance (he apparently was sporting a goatee).

But, in an unusual move, the man (who asked that his identity remain secret) left his sexual organs intact (most transgender men undergo surgery to construct a penis). That enabled his surprising pregnancy.

Yediot reported that in Israel, one out of every 400,000 women seeks to become a man. This, however, is the first reported pregnancy. The doctors in the emergency room, by the way, released the patient, ruling that the pregnancy is proceeding as planned.


The “mechinistim”

On the road to mechina

School officially started a week ago, and along with it the beginning of the “mechina” year. As our daughter is one of the new mechinistim, I thought this might be a good time to talk about what is a mechina, in large part also because our friends and family overseas have never heard of the concept.

Basically, it’s possible to defer one’s army induction date by a year to participate in mechina, a program that combines study, volunteering, hiking and getting to know who you are as a person. Up to seventy 18-year-olds live together, cook together and play together, becoming better citizens and hopefully more sensitive human beings. They also do a lot of pre-army physical preparation. The army likes the mechina system because it delivers more mature and motivated new recruits.

There are tens of mechinot in Israel, with more sprouting up every year. There are several types: all religious, all secular, boys only, girls only, and mixed boys and girls / religious and not religious. Our daughter chose the latter.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post quoted Shmaryahu Ben-Pazi, the director at Aderet (that’s the name of the mechina our daughter is attending), as explaining that these “programs teach young people to leave behind indifference and deepen their Jewish and democratic principles and values.”

Aderet’s educational director Assaf Perry added that his mechina aims to mend the rifts present in modern day Israel. He defines those as “the rift between the religious and secular, between rich and poor, between the center of the country and the periphery.”

Studying starts early in the morning and discussions go late into the night. This is not learning for a grade; it’s what you’d call in yeshiva “Torah l’Shma” – studying for its own sake. The same is true at the mechinot, as they debate provocative questions like “is it a Jewish value to die for your country.”

As excited as I am for our daughter, saying goodbye was another matter entirely. My wife and I both drove her to the drop off point last week – we only really needed one parent in the car, but we wanted to get a chance to see what the other mechnistim looked like when they were still raw individuals, before they jelled (or didn’t) into a tight group.

At the parking lot next to a McDonald’s in Beit Shemesh, I felt like I was sending my child off to college in the States (she’ll be 18 later this week and she’ll no longer be living at home, so the comparison is apt, even though she won’t be out of the army for another three years).

I also hoped to give her a big hug as she was swept away into the crowd of other eager 18-year-olds. But she wasn’t having any of that, as she instructed us to leave her a good 100 feet from the other kids.

It’s often hard (it certainly is for me) to let your kids fly away after spending so many years carefully raising them with all the right values and extra-curricular opportunities. But if we have to set them free, sending them off to a mechina might be the best thing we’ve done yet.

The agony and the ecstasy in Jerusalem’s excavations
History and Culture,Holidays

The agony and the ecstasy in Jerusalem’s excavations

by Yossi Yeinan, Keshet

Stairs to the Second Temple

Ancient stairs uncovered in City of David

It’s been 50 years since Irving Stone wrote his popular biography of Michelangelo, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. If not for copyright restrictions, The Agony and the Ecstasy might be the title for a new history of Jerusalem.

Life here is like that – exciting and intense – and every so often there is a news story or a new discovery that captures that intensity perfectly and encapsulates what life in Jerusalem is all about.

I experienced a moment like that just recently when I toured not-yet opened areas of the City of David National Park. Over the last five years, archeologists have uncovered a monumental staircase nearly half a mile long that ran – in Second Temple times – from the Shiloach (or Siloam) Pool at the southern end of ancient Jerusalem up to the Temple.

A drainage channel lined with beautifully dressed stone runs directly underneath the staircase along its entire length and will be opened to the public later this year.

Flavius Josephus and the rabbis of the Talmud describe these stairs in Temple times at Succot – the harvest festival. Imagine the scene: the granaries and storehouses were overflowing with the bounty of the summer harvest and tens of thousands of pilgrims – men, women, and children – would come to Jerusalem and ascend these stairs festooned with bright torches and jugglers for the festive occasion. The Jewish people would give thanks and pray for the fall rains before returning home to plant the winter crops.


The unity of temple times gave way to infighting (will we ever learn?), the Romans destroyed the Temple, and some of the surviving Jews hid in the drainage tunnel underneath the stairs – only to be smoked out and murdered by the Roman conquerors.

We know the story because Josephus recorded it, and because in the last few years we’ve found the cooking vessels and household items left behind by the Jews who lived and died here more than 1,900 years ago.