Israel to rock the Kodak but hoping for more glam

Israelis are not in a partying mood

Israel is turning 60, but few here in the Jewish State seem in the mood to crack open the champagne.

Israelis are still gloomy about the country’s perceived failures in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and every day brings fresh reminders that no solution has been found for the growing problem of cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t see Israel as a failure, but what makes this anniversary less of a celebration is that we cannot proclaim a happy ending,” veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot, said in an interview. “We did not reach a point that we can say, ‘OK, the period of state building is finished, and now we can live happily after.'”

The contradictions of life here can be painful. Israel has an outwardly robust economy that produces high-tech giants but also a record number of people living in poverty. There is a feeling of security that has come with a decline in terrorism-related deaths, but also a widespread resignation that peace remains a distant dream.

All this, to say nothing of government corruption, one of the problems most troubling Israelis.

“I don’t feel very festive,” said Shaanan Street, lead singer of the popular Israeli hip-hop band, HaDag Nachash, shortly before taking the stage at a Tel Aviv club recently. “Israelis are not too happy. They are worried instead about the next war and how they are going to finish the month.”

In a country where one in three children lives in poverty, there has been grumbling about the $28 million the government has budgeted to mark the country’s 60th birthday, even though some of the money is earmarked for educational and infrastructure programs.

Meanwhile, many say, the list of celebratory events is a bit of a snooze.

Aside from the bigger-ticket items like local fireworks shows, a huge dance party in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and sound-and-light shows, scheduled events include a concert titled, “Military Orchestras Playing Peace,” and the display of the world’s largest Israeli flag, measuring 656 feet high and 320 feet wide.

The week after the anniversary, President Shimon Peres is also hosting a conference with a star-studded guest list on the future of the Jewish people.

Israel at 60 is a modern-day Sparta and Athens, Barnea said, walking a fine line in its dual existence as both a garrison state and a thriving cultural and business locale.

“It’s not easy to live successfully in these two worlds at the same time,” Barnea said.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator who runs an independent think tank in Tel Aviv, the Reut Institute, agrees.

The national mood, he said, exists in “tension between exuberance and concern, because Israel is a country that offers very polarized performances on a number of levels.”

“Let’s start with socioeconomic,” Grinstein said. “According to certain indicators, we are world leaders in research and development and ranked in the top 10 in the world in terms of business and technology. And at same time, other sectors are badly underperforming, like education and law enforcement and the entire government structure, which is in crisis.”

Grinstein advocates structural reform of the government to make it less beholden to sectarian interests, yet, he asks, which Israel will prevail in the next 60 years, “the Israel of excellence or the Israel of mediocrity?”

A recent Haifa University poll of Israeli Jews found their faith in state institutions at an all-time low. Fewer than half those surveyed, 48 percent, said they have faith in the Supreme Court, 15 percent said they had faith in the police and just 9 percent said they had faith in the government.

Mitchell Barak, who heads Keevoon, an Israeli research firm in Jerusalem, said recent surveys conducted by his firm show Israelis are more concerned with corruption than with threats from the Arab world.

Earlier this month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav turned down a plea bargain offer that would have required him to admit to sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of a possible indictment against him on more serious charges, including rape. Katsav now may face those charges and go on trial.

“We are seeing a significant rise in people who’ve had it with their elected officials,” Barak said.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma’ariv, said Israelis do not know whether the government has viable plans to deal with the country’s ongoing threats, both external and internal.

“They don’t have the slightest idea about what is really going on,” he said.

Eti Doron, a toy store owner in Tel Aviv, said a weariness has descended upon Israelis.

“There is a feeling of being down. People are not sure what is happening with the country,” she said. “Socialism has disappeared, the corruption is worrisome and our leaders are powermongers.”

A nearby grocer, Danny Horvitz, sounded a different note as he packed bags at his small store.

“Overall I feel positive,” he said. “There is corruption here, but overall things are good. Israel will be here in 60 years, and it will be even stronger. There will be a deal by then with the Palestinians.”

Horvitz paused before adding, “That is what I hope for, at least, and that things will be good for both us and them. Otherwise, neither one of us will be here.”

Get ready to sing . . . Hatikvah!

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May Days!

There are a lot of holidays this month, and your school or synagogue probably has special activities for them. We’ve listed them below … but we’ve taken out the vowels. See if you can fill in the blanks and then match the holiday to the date we celebrate it on. Scroll down and see if you have the right answers.

1) L_G b’_M_R
2) M_M_R__L D_Y
3) M_TH_R’S D_Y
4) R_SH CH_D_SH _Y_R
5) Y_M H_SH__H
a) May 1
b) May 5
c) May 11
d) May 23
e) May 26

A Time to Celebrate

Israel turns 60 on May 14. Which, of course, means it is party time! On May 18, Los Angeles is having an all-day bash in the park. From 10 a.m.-10 p.m. at Woodley Park (between Burbank and Victory boulevards) in Encino, hear music, watch a fashion show, enjoy tons of food, play games, enjoy rides, buy Israeli products and wish the Jewish state a happy birthday.

The Jewish Journal will be there with our friend, Anne Marie Balia Asner, author of the Matzah Ball Books series, including “Shmutzy Girl” and “Noshy Boy.” Anne Marie will be signing her latest book, “Klutzy Boy,” so be sure to stop by our Readers Lounge and take a break from the heat. Yom Hooledet Sameach Yisrael!

For more information, visit

MUSIC VIDEO: Gad Elbaz and Alon de Loco in ‘Ha layla ze haz’man’ — ‘Tonight’s the Night’

Two Israeli cliques— cool kids and Yeshiva students—somehow manage to ‘just get along’ in this hiphop music video from rappers Gad Elbaz and Alon de Loco in ‘Ha layla ze haz’man’—‘Tonight’s the Night’

Black Eyed Peas and the Commitments rock the walls of Jerusalem

Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie might have been knocked off the Egged bus billboards advertising the group’s show at the Jerusalem Rocks! Festival because of her immodest dress, but the crowd enthusiastically welcomed her on Sunday night.

“I heard that in the advertising for this event, they cut me out of the picture, maybe because I wear stuff like this,” she said, pointing to her cropped top that showed off her well-toned abdomen. “I hope I didn’t offend anybody, I just like to look a little glamorous.”

That she did, even when she was at the Western Wall stuffing a note in one of the cracks — “I’m not gonna tell you what I wrote”; floating in the Dead Sea on Saturday, where she “exfoliated”; and in church in the Old City on Sunday. But beyond looking glamorous, belting out tunes with the Black Eyed Peas and prancing across the stage, Fergie and the rest of the band, including front man, and band members and Taboo, wanted to make it clear how much they love Israel.

“We’re missing the MTV Awards for this because we feel it’s a very important ’cause … this is the Holy Land,” said Fergie, who took the award for Female Artist of the Year in absentia.

“I love Is-ra-el,” sang to the tune of “Hotel California.” “I’m moving to Israel, I’m in paradise.”

It was the Black Eyed Peas’ second concert in Israel, having performed in Tel Aviv last summer. But it was their first time performing in Jerusalem, where they headlined Jerusalem Rocks! a nonprofit international music festival celebrating peace and unity.

The Sept. 9 festival opened with Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash and Palestinian hip-hop band D.A.M. performing together, followed by Ireland’s The Commitments and then Arrested Development, a progressive hip-hop act known for early 1990s hits like “Tennessee” and “People Everyday.”

The Black Eyed Peas and Arrested Development were enthusiastic about Jerusalem Rocks! from the start, said producer Carmi Wurtman, who has created several music festivals in Israel, including the One Shekel Festival, which brings 20,000 people from poor communities to see Israeli performers for the price of just one shekel.

“We knew we had to get a headliner, and once we had the Black Eyed Peas on board, everything else began to trickle down,” he said. “I’ve been listening to Arrested Development for a long time, and they always had a positive message. And that’s how Hadag Nachash fit in, because they have a strong Jerusalem message.”

The Commitments followed. Given their Dublin background and experience of the Irish conflict, it made sense to invite them to a peace festival in Israel. The lineup originally included more Israeli bands, but the festival changed venues at the last minute from Teddy Stadium to Sultan’s Pool, and was shortened by an hour, Wurtman explained. The estimated 6,000- to 7,000-person crowd would have seemed too small for Teddy Stadium, so the show was moved to the outdoor venue Sultan’s Pool, adjacent to the walls of the Old City.

“We would have been happier if there were more people,” Wurtman said. “Then again, this was more of a park festival than a sit-down festival. We learned a lot from this experience.”

While the festival was a nonprofit event, co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation, Digital Israel, festival co-founder Jeff Pulver and several other donors, Wurtman said that there was “consumer confusion on this project.” Ticket prices were first set at NIS 390 ($95) per ticket, which ended up being too high for most Jerusalemites. Prices were later lowered to NIS 200 ($50) per ticket, but even then the tickets never sold out.

Still, said Jacob Ner-David, one of the festival co-founders, the festival was a success in helping change Jerusalem’s image and bringing together international artists to Jerusalem.

“Revival of the dead is not an easy thing,” he quipped, referring to the many years since Jerusalem has hosted any kind of rock concert or festival. “We’re a lot smarter now.”

The members of Arrested Development came to Jerusalem four days before the concert, spending time touring as well as experiencing a traditional Shabbat dinner at the home of Ner-David. On Saturday night, they, along with members of the Black Eyed Peas, were hosted in East Jerusalem, where they smoked water pipes, ate grilled meat — the local specialty — and heard local rappers as well as oud players.

“The artists all had a great time; they said it was the single best experience they ever had,” Wurtman said. “They got Jerusalem hospitality.”

As Arrested Development co-founder Speech put it, “This is the single best experience we’ve ever had on the road. Performing in Israel has been the fulfilling of a dream.”

Blogger Jeff Pulver reports on the concert

MUSIC VIDEO: HaDag Nachash — ‘The Sticker Song’

MUSIC VIDEO: HaDag Nachash (Snake Fish)—‘The Sticker Song’ (‘Shirat Ha-sticker’)sums up the political climate of Israel in bumper stickers.  Brilliant.

MUSIC VIDEO: ‘God Almighty When Will It End?’ Subliminal and Miri Ben-Ari

Subliminal and Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari:“Adon Olam, Ad Matai?—God Almighty, how much longer?”

(Hebrew with English subtitles)

Yes, we know we have two translations here.

Hip Cynics for Export

In Israel, no one wants to be a friar — a sucker, a patsy, a flunky, a tool.

It’s the Israeli equivalent of the Chinese never wanting to lose face. And in Israel, this primary motivation explains much of the country’s machismo — and perhaps even its political situation.

Yet who can resist making fun of such puffed-up pride?

That’s one of the appeals behind the music of Hadag Nachash (Snakefish), the best-selling Hebrew hip-hop band performing in Los Angeles on April 16 as part of the Let My People Sing weeklong festival.

“And we’ll do our reserve duty/pay our taxes/and get stuck in traffic/(No one screws with us)/We are definitely, definitely, definitely not, we’re definitely not friars,” go the lyrics of the “Not Sucker” song.

This tune comes from Hadag’s second of four albums, “To Move,” which features the silhouette of a little boy gleefully urinating on the cover. (This tidbit is animated graphic on the group’s tripped-out Web site.)

But the point of their rapping verses isn’t to mock just for irony’s sake. As “The Sucker Song” says,

“My friends say enough!/Stop being so heavy/and I’m not opposed to it/but the situation is absurd.”

The situation in Israel is absurd: for youths who have to cut their fun short by going to the army, and for everyone who has to live in a constant state of war. As their lyric puts it:

“If it’s a combat zone here/there’s a minefield/ what does it matter if I pay by check, credit or cash?”

What does it matter, indeed. These are the nihilistic sentiments of a band from Jerusalem that formed in 1996 and released its first studio album “The Groove Machine” in 2000. The group claimed to be a “funk band with a rapper” and proved, according to the Israeli music site Moomba, that “there can be good Israeli rap.”

But the music is more than rap; it’s got bluesy rhythms that are even lounge-y at times.

This is the band that The Village Voice said “holds the record on songs we aren’t embarrassed to play for the goyim.”

You don’t necessarily need to know Hebrew to enjoy the sound. But it would help if you were young — or had a young musical taste. That’s why the band was brought over for the otherwise more adult “Let My People Rock” concert.

“They are extremely popular with kids,” said Genie Benson, one of the festival organizers and the head of the Keshet Chaim Dance Troupe. “I think it is important for American Jewish kids to understand that Israel has artists that they can connect with, and through music they can connect to kids in Israel.”

It would be more than organizers bargained for if American Jewish kids also connect with Hadag Nachash’s attitude: fed-up, irreverent, bordering on anarchist.

“What do we do, what do we do, that I’m always stoned like this?

I don’t want/I don’t want to reach the edge.

What do we do, what do we do that my generation is crooked like this

I think it’s too late to come out of this.”

But of course, to really get the band’s groove, it would help if you spoke Hebrew — and not only spoke Hebrew, but lived in Israel to understand all the political, religious and artistic references.

For example, you’d have to have seen the hundreds, if not thousands of contradictory bumper stickers and slogans plastered across the country over the years to understand “The Sticker Song.” Consider all the times the word Shalom, or peace, occurs in the following lyrics:

“Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom … Am Chazak Oseh Shalom … Ayn Shalom Im Aravim … Ayn Aravim, Ayn Piguim.” — A Whole Nation Wants Peace … A Strong Nation Makes Peace … No Peace with Arabs … No Arabs, No Attacks.

“The Sticker Song,” off their 2004 album “Local Material,” was written by literary novelist David Grossman; such are the far-reaches of Hadag Nachash into the upper echelons of Israeli culture.

It’s a culture that mixes lowbrow with highbrow, humor with meaning, Bible with rap. Perhaps at this pre-Passover concert they will sing their “Numbers” song, which is a play on one of the Passover hagaddah’s closing songs, “Who Knows One?”

The song begins incrementally:

One is the number of the countries from Jordan to the sea

Two are the number of countries that here one day will be.

Three years and

Four months is the time I gave to the to IDF.

And up it goes:

Nine times I was close to a terrorist attack, at least for now.

Ten is the most Israeli answer to the question, “What’s going on?”

“Ten” means great, perfect. When someone asks, “How’s it going?” “Ten” is the answer an Israeli should give.

Eser. Great. Fabulous. Perfect.

For more information about Hadag Nachash, visit

Read This Related Article:

The King of Israeli Hip-Hop

Despite everything.


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, January 14

See Harrison Ford battle Nazis in his quest to secure the Ark of the Covenant from a lost Egyptian city. The classic Spielberg adventure movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” comes to the Aero Theatre today as part of its special “Indiana Jones” trilogy weekend. Head back tomorrow to catch a double feature of the two follow-up films, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Sat., 7:30 p.m., “Raiders…” and Sun., 5 p.m., “Temple of Doom” and “Last Crusade.” $6-$9 (single and double feature). 1328 Montana St., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, January 15

Opening this weekend is galerie yoramgil’s latest exhibition, “Two American Classics: Abraham Walkowitz and Reuben Nakian.” The retrospective displays a large selection of both renown artists’ works, including some 40 abstractions by Walkowitz and terracottas, bronzes and drawings by Nakian, with saucy titles like “Nymph and Goat” and “The Emperor’s Bedchamber.”

Jan. 14-Feb. 28. Opening reception Jan. 14, 6-9 p.m. Free. 462 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-2641.

Monday, January 16

For a special program honoring the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., look to the Museum of Tolerance. Its commemoration takes place twice, once on Sunday as its “Family Sunday” event, and once on Monday, with personal stories by Tommy Hawkins, former L.A. Laker and vice president of the Dodgers, and other sports and music icons.

2 p.m. (Sun. and Mon.). Ages 10+. Free. Photo ID required. Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2526.

Tuesday, January 17

David Mamet comes to Pasadena today, as Classic and Contemporary American Plays (CCAP) presents a staged play reading of “American Buffalo.” James Eckhouse, of “90210” fame, directs actors Bill Smitrovitch (“Independence Day”), Joe Spano (“Apollo 13”) and Michael Weston (“Garden State”) in the drama about a coin heist gone awry.

Jan. 17 and 18, 7:30 p.m. $25. Main Stage at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

Wednesday, January 18

For those who haven’t yet caught Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad’s “Paradise Now,” the UJ presents a screening today. The film about Palestinian suicide bombers has already garnered a Golden Globe best picture nomination, as well as some controversy. A post-screening discussion will feature Abu Assad; Nadav Morag, former senior director for domestic policy at Israel’s’ National Security Council, and Nick Cull, professor of public diplomacy at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications, and is moderated by The Journal’s Marc Ballon.

7:30 p.m. $10. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.

Thursday, January 19

All the young Jews looking for a little nightlife to go with their latkes need look no further than the legendary comedy club, the Laugh Factory. Aish presents a “Funnikah Party,” featuring stand-up acts by rising Jewish comedians. One free drink is included with admission, and the second l’chaim’s on you.

Ages 22-33. 7:30 p.m. Free (with advanced R.S.V.P.), $20 (at the door), plus two-drink minimum. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 278-8672, ext. 703.

Friday, January 20

Although we’re not quite clear on when exactly Shabbat lost its funk, OJG Productions’ new CD, “Hip Hop Shabbat,” promises to put the funk back in. And not a moment too soon. Tonight, the group is welcomed to the University of Judaism, along with Jewish young professionals, for a gathering named after the CD. Twenty- and 30-somethings will dine and sing along to the hip-hop, reggae and electronic Shabbat beats.

Ages 22-39. 7 p.m. $20. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-9777, ext. 473.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, November 19

Keshet Chaim Dancers and the Idan Raichel Project come together tonight to raise funds for some 20,000 Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration to Israel. Raichel hasn’t made it to L.A. since last February, so this one-night-only concert might be your only chance for a while to see the ensemble voted “Group of the Year 2005” in Israel. Keshet Chaim will open with colorful dance numbers, including one that combines traditional Yemenite dance with hip-hop.

8 p.m. $45-$150. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. (213) 480-3232.

Sunday, November 20

Celebrate L.A. Jewish authors today at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. Jewish Federation of San Gabriel Valley presents a special multiauthor day as part of its Jewish Book Festival, which begins with a bagel breakfast with Rabbi Abner Weiss, author of “Connecting to God: Ancient Kabbalah and Modern Psychology,” and continuing with a “Mystery Mavens” mystery writers panel and box lunch program featuring authors Rochelle Krich, Jerrilyn Farmer and Robert Levinson. The day concludes with an afternoon appearance by Peter Lefcourt, author of “The Manhattan Beach Project.” Attend one event or all three.

9:45 a.m. $18 (all-day). Individual tickets available. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. R.S.V.P., (626) 332-0700.

Monday, November 21

Now’s your chance to respond in person to Maureen Dowd’s doomsday New York Times column on the state of women today. The Writers Bloc presents Dowd, author of “Are Men Necessary?,” in conversation with her former boyfriend, “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin.

Temple Emanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, November 22

American Jewish Committee and Temple Beth Sholom join with various Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Sikh organizations for a special Orange County-wide interfaith Thanksgiving service, celebrating the diversity of America’s cultures and faiths. The themes of hunger and homelessness will also be addressed, and participants are encouraged to donate to Orange County’s Second Harvest.

7 p.m. Free. Wallace All Faiths Chapel, Chapman University Campus, University Drive, Orange. (949) 660-8525.

Wednesday, November 23

Now at the Jewish Artist Network (JAN) Gallery is the group show, “Chance,” an exhibition of abstract paintings “for peace and the future.” The seven exhibitors will donate 20 percent of sales to the purchase of art supplies for underprivileged children.

Through Nov. 28. 8 p.m.-midnight (Tues., Thurs. and Sat.) or by appointment. 661 N. Spaulding Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 230-8193.

Thursday, November 24

What’s with Jewish guys wanting to be rappers? One more group for your, um, listening pleasure is Chutzpah, which recently released an eponymous CD. That is, if you can get over the hip-hop posturing and the disturbing image of the hairiest white guy we’ve seen in a basketball jersey.

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Friday, November 25

Opening this week is the Hammer Museum’s “Masters of 20th Century American Comics” exhibition. The extensive show features in depth views of works by 15 of the most celebrated American comic strip and comic book creators, including Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine), R. Crumb (Zap Comix contributor) and Art Spiegleman (“Maus”).

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7041.