December 10, 2018

Mayor of Frankfurt Leads German Pro-Israel Activism

Uwe Becker

Uwe Becker’s Facebook page might confuse followers into thinking he’s the mayor of an Israeli city. Almost every other post includes references to Israel. One features a screenshot of “red alerts” signaling attacks on southern Israel. One profile picture reads, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” After the attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, it was changed to: “#TogetherAgainstAntisemitism.” 

Of course, he’s not the mayor of an Israeli city but of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital. He’s also one of Germany’s most pro-Israel politicians, having taken up Israel’s cause with steadfastness, out of personal conviction and an understanding of Frankfurt’s Jewish roots. 

At his office at the Town Hall in the historic city center, he pointed through the window to the Paulskirche (House Church), where German Jews led the first National Assembly in 1848 to establish constitutional democracy in Germany, a movement that was eventually quelled by the ruling, aristocratic elite. The Rothschild banking family hails from Frankfurt. Evidence of Jewish life in Frankfurt dates to the 12th century, but it is believed to have begun under the Roman legions. They lived largely as merchants, traders and moneylenders in this imperial free city.

“It’s the most Israel-friendly and the most Jewish city in Germany,” Becker said proudly, surrounded by Israeli and Jewish memorabilia.

Leaving his office without a security detail, he took a reporter on a brief city tour, starting with the restored Old Town. The first Jewish ghetto in Europe was set up in the Judengasse (Jewish Alley) in 1462. In the seminal book on the history of German Jewry, “The Pity of It All,” 19th-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is cited as describing the overcrowded, heavily regulated ghetto as follows: “The confinement, the dirt, the swarm of people … made a disagreeable impression, even from only outside the gate. … And yet they were also human beings, energetic, agreeable. Their obstinacy in sticking to their own customs, one could not deny to respect it. Moreover, the girls were pretty.”

While Becker trumpets Frankfurt as a “Jewish city,” Jews were not spared persecution throughout the ages, including the Holocaust, to Becker’s deep pain. Today, the Jewish cemetery constitutes the city’s Holocaust Memorial, and the Jewish Museum is situated in the former Judengasse.

Fast forward to the early 1980s, and Tel Aviv and Frankfurt are declared sister cities, a natural match considering both are the only cities in their respective countries with a true metropolitan skyline. A tram goes through the city parading pictures of Tel Aviv and the Hebrew word for “friendship.”

“I would call it one of our most vivid partnerships,” Becker said. “With Tel Aviv, there is a very deep connection between bilateral visits and youth exchange.”

Thanks to Becker’s lobbying, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been declared anti-Semitic by his party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Frankfurt bans BDS activities from its municipal spaces and doesn’t do business with banks that engage BDS and BDS-affiliated groups.

“I saw [BDS] was gaining support, and I was afraid that when they brand Israel like the worse ‘apartheid’ state, it would be really difficult to change. I said to myself, ‘We can’t wait to let them march on the ground.’ ”

Becker’s public pro-Israel line isn’t always in sync with the reigning policies of his own political party, which as of late is has been accused of having grown tepid in its support for Israel. Lame-duck Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government criticized President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Becker publicly praised the president’s decision. 

Similarly, in reaction to Trump’s defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German government pledged to fill in the gaps — to Becker’s dismay. He also opposes dealings with an Iran that pledges Israel’s destruction while the German government (part of the P5+1 coalition that signed the agreement) seeks to salvage the Iran deal. 

He thinks the German position to cater to Palestinians and Iran comes from a desire to be evenhanded and humanitarian. 

“Historically, Germany has always tried to moderate conflict, to be in the role where two possible partners accept Germany as a moderating partner,” he said.

He shares his government’s support of a two-state solution, but as the best option in the face of no other viable alternatives. However, support for the Palestinian Authority must cease until it ends terror attacks and its pay-for-slay schemes, he said. 

“As long as Gaza uses money for terror tunnels, we must freeze our aid,” he said.

On the controversial refugee policy, Becker recognized a need to assist asylum seekers but he favors rapid integration and the combatting of anti-Semitism in their midst, which includes not only visits to concentration camps but education on Israel. He thinks as an international city, which accepted some 7,000 refugees, Frankfurt is poised to lead the change. Today, about 7,000 Jews live in Frankfurt.

As the Catholic grandnephew of a local mayor who belonged to the Nazi-resistant SPD party, Becker’s support for Israel doesn’t necessarily come from the “historic responsibility” many Germans feel because of the Shoah, but from the personal connection he developed upon his first visit to Israel in 2004. 

“To make it short, I fell in love with the country. … When you get back to Germany and Europe and you see how the media is reporting on Israel in a way that’s different from the situation, it really got my internal motivation to say that someone has to tell the real story about the country.”

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. 

Nimrod Back Creates A New Spin on the Ancient Top

Nimrod Back

If a one-day supply of oil that ends up burning for eight days is a supernatural occurrence that’s been celebrated for over 2,000 years, then a top that can spin continuously for forty hours is a veritable modern-day Hanukkah miracle. 

Nimrod Back is the miracle-maker behind Limbo, a solid-metal spinning top with a gyroscope hidden inside that allows it to spin in perpetuity — or at least until the rechargeable battery runs out. 

Back, 34, got the idea from watching the movie “Inception,” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character deduces whether he’s awake or dreaming according to whether the spinning top topples over. Back said his customer base falls into three categories: The first category is made up of people who are into what Back calls “executive toys” — C-level suits fidgeting with a spinner during board meetings, for whom the Limbo is a prestige item (it costs around $60). “We develop toys for children with salaries,” he explained.

The second category is comprised of physics aficionados. “The Limbo represents a very cool principle called angular momentum,” Back said, referring to the rotary inertia of an object in motion around an axis, like our planet. 

The third category includes “Inception” fans. Of the thousands of comments Limbo has attracted from several viral videos, the one that is most often repeated is along the lines of, “Oh s—, we’re still in a dream,” Back said.

An industrial engineer living in Tel Aviv, Back always liked making things. When he was 12 and his skateboard was confiscated, he unscrewed the back of his wooden school chair and after sanding, filing and securing wheels to it had a new skateboard small enough to hide in his backpack. 

“It’s a weird object that stands on its tip and turns. It’s already kind of magic, a tiny miracle.” — Nimrod Back

His penchant for making things plus a love of fantasy made inventing magical items, as he calls them, an obvious career move. “I call them magical items and not magic tricks because you don’t need to be a magician to use them,” he said. 

He also invented Pressy, a tiny, customizable button that fits in a mobile phone’s headphone jack to start apps with a single press; and Boogie Dice, which roll when you clap your hands or snap your fingers. But only Limbo has earned his company, Fearless Toys, over $1 million, $800,000 of which came from a crowd-funding campaign and more than $300,000 in sales. 

Part of Limbo’s appeal, Back said, is something that even regular spinning tops have. “It’s a weird object that stands on its tip and turns. It’s already kind of magic, a tiny miracle,” he said.

He posited that watching a spinning top has a calming, hypnotizing effect because a person’s breathing ends up synchronizing with the rotations in much the same way it does when a person watches a candle burn. In June, Limbo beat the existing Guinness World Record for spinning with a 27-hour spin. 

Beyond its record-breaking capabilities, Limbo is “pretty good for hustling,” Back said. He explained that at restaurants he will wait for the waiter to approach before spinning the Limbo on the table. Invariably, the server will wait patiently for it to fall before taking Back’s order. At that point Back will smile wryly and say, “Let’s bet that I’ll finish my dinner before it falls.”

While it was not designed as a dreidel, Back said he hopes that by next year he will market a Limbo version for Hanukkah.

‘Come From Away’ Lands in L.A.

Photo courtesy of Centre Theater Group

When United States airspace was closed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, 38 planes were ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland, increasing its population of 10,000 by 7,000 overnight. The story of how the town’s residents opened their homes and hearts to strangers from all over the world is the subject of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Come From Away,” which opens Nov. 28 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Guitarist Adam Stoler was with the show on Broadway and segued to the touring company in October. He’s part of the band of onstage musicians who perform the music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 

“Not only are we onstage for the entire show, we’re in costume and we get to interact with the cast,” he told the Journal. “I love it because I didn’t get into this business to sit in a pit. I wanted to be part of the action.”

Stoler wasn’t familiar with the story before he came on board, but he loves its message. “It’s about the Ganderites who took these people in and housed them and fed them. It’s about the relationships that were forged between the Ganderites and the passengers. It’s about treating people with love and respect and helping each other,” he said. “There are little things that we all can do every day to be kind to each other. Little things can make a big impact.”

The characters are based on real people, many of whom have seen the show multiple times. One, an American Airlines pilot, is planning to bring a large group to see it in L.A., Stoler said. “Two of the characters, passengers from different planes, met and ended up getting married.”

For Stoler, who was living in Manhattan during 9/11, the show “brought back memories of my own experience. I woke up that morning to a phone call from my brother saying, ‘I’m still alive.’ He was getting off a bus in front of the World Trade Center as the first plane hit and narrowly escaped with his life. So the show is very cathartic for me. There are parts that are very difficult, but in general, it’s a very uplifting show. You should feel good when you leave the theater.”

Stoler grew up in a musical family. His father played guitar, bass and piano and introduced him to music. “I had my first guitar at 5 and by 10 I was taking lessons,” he said. “I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do.”

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in jazz performance and composition from New York University, where jazz and world music artist Richard Bona became his mentor, Stoler toured the world with Bona. “It was an extremely formative experience,” he said. “It also opened a lot of doors for me.”

His itinerary included Israel, where he’d visited twice before. “I got to perform in Tel Aviv at Philharmonic Hall. It was a wonderful experience. I cannot wait to go back. My wife hasn’t been there and wants to go.”

Of German and Russian Jewish heritage, Stoler grew up in a “Conservative, somewhat observant kosher home. I had a bar mitzvah and can still read Hebrew, but can’t understand it,” he said. “I’m less observant these days but [Judaism] is still a significant part of my identity. I like to think it makes me more open to different types of music. I’ve always been interested in world music, music from the Middle East, and music from our prayers are influenced by that. My heritage has broadened my perspective.”

In “Come From Away,” “a lot of the music has a traditional Irish vibe to it because that’s what a lot of the culture is in Gander,” Stoler said, calling it a “very challenging score.” He plays several differently tuned acoustic and electric guitars during the show. “There’s a lot of back and forth and fast changes between scenes.”

He has a one-year contract, “but they’re already booking this production into a third year. I’m going to take it one year at a time and see how it goes,” Stoler said. So far, he’s enjoying life on the road. “It’s a luxury situation compared to what I’ve had touring with solo artists and bands. We’re in L.A. for six weeks. It’s really nice. You feel like you’re living in the city and really get to see the place. Our spouses are able to come out for portions of the tour. My wife came to Seattle and will come to L.A.”

Stoler loves the city and is looking forward to hitting Venice Beach, trying restaurants in different neighborhoods and “exploring outside of L.A., hiking and doing other outdoorsy stuff.”

Although Broadway “wasn’t something that I was particularly going after, it fell in my lap in a wonderful way,” Stoler said. But he continues to compose and record his own material with the mobile recording equipment he takes with him on the road. 

“Each experience brings new challenges and I enjoy bouncing back and forth to keep things interesting. I see myself continuing to do Broadway, my own music and music for other artists,” he said. “I’ll probably do some of that while I’m in L.A. After the show is over, I’ll be out the door and in Hollywood.”

“Come From Away” runs Nov. 28-Jan. 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.

‘Israeli Soul’ Food Comes to Los Angeles

Good food and great conversation are the ingredients for the perfect evening.

Last month, the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) hosted master chef Michael Solomonov and restaurateur Steven Cook, who introduced Angelenos to their latest cookbook, “Israeli Soul.” 

More than 150 people attended the event at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel for an evening of kosher food — hors d’oeuvres by Hasiba Hummusiya and halva from Hebel & Co. — and Israeli wine on the patio, followed by a discussion with the authors, moderated by KCRW’s “Good Food” host Evan Kleiman and a book signing. 

“Israeli Soul: Easy. Essential. Delicious” is the follow-up to Solomonov and Cook’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.”

The executive chef of Zahav in Philadelphia, Solomonov is the 2017 James Beard Outstanding Chef in America and the 2016 Eater Chef of the Year. Born in G’nei Yehuda just south of Tel Aviv, Solomonov was raised in Pittsburgh, before returning to Israel at 18. With no Hebrew language skills, he started to work in a bakery, and his culinary career took off. 

Cook’s culinary career began 10 years ago, after he left his job as an investment banker in New York and returned to Philadelphia to pursue a career as a hospitality entrepreneur. In addition to Zahav, Cook and Solomonov own several Philadelphia eateries, including Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, The Rooster and Goldie restaurants. 

“The Zahav book told the story of our restaurant using my personal history, Israeli history and Jewish history,” Solomonov said. “With this book we just wanted to go to Israel and have [people] simply experience what eating in Israel is like.”

“Israeli Soul” is as much a travel guide as it is collection of recipes, Cook said. “We did an eight-day trip to 82 places and we’re excited to share some of the stories of the people we met.”

Cook added even though “Zahav” is now 10 years old “it only really scratches the surface of what Israeli food is all about. There are over 100 different cultures represented in the cuisine, and it’s always changing. The country is so young and you also have the food traditions that have been there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, all kind of intermingling.”

Book launch guests enjoyed hors d’ooeuvres by Hasiba Hummusiya.

Two years ago, the SEC premiered Solomonov’s film, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” at its Sephardic Film Festival, “In screening the film, I discovered that [Solomonov] was part Sephardic, and we got in touch,” SEC President Neil Sheff said. The SEC promoted “Zahav,” and then was approached to host the new book launch.

“The SEC is definitely all about education,” he explained, “but we also have Sephardic anxiety about food. Everything about food is important to us.”

The value of food, culture and history was certainly appreciated by the attendees and hosts. 

“From generation to generation, [food is] part of your heritage, it’s who you are, your family,” said Sheff’s wife, Rachel Emquies Sheff, who runs the SEC Food Facebook group. “We try to post cultural stories, anything that has to do with tradition and the origins of where [a] recipe came from [and] what it means to people.”

“We did an eight-day trip to 82 places and we’re excited to share some of the stories of the people we met.” — Steven Cook

“Certain flavors and tastes bring people’s memories back to their childhood,” Neil Sheff added. “I can still remember certain flavors from my youth that I still don’t find today.

“Every once in a while, I’ll taste something and it reminds me of my youth growing up in South Central L.A., where all the Sephardics lived at the time in the Ladino community. Whether it was a Saturday afternoon visit with candied preserves or a holiday meal, it’s a way of keeping us connected to our past. What we don’t want to do is only have a Sephardic religion or Sephardic Judaism that’s food-based only. We’re not just about food, but definitely the food opens the door.”

Both Solomonov and Cook mentioned the shwarma recipe in the book as a standout.

“You don’t think of shwarma as something you can do in your house, because nobody has a vertical spit in their backyard,” Cook said. “We have a lamb shwarma that we spice, roll up and slow roast. And once you rest and chill it, you can slice off thin slices and crisp it up.”

“And we have a very easy recipe for mountain bread,” Solomonov added. “You can make a delicious shwarma sandwich in the home. The five-minute hummus is very, very good. There’s a lot of good recipes. It’s hard to pick just one.”

Michael Solomonov signs “Israeli Soul.”

When asked what he hoped people would take away from “Israeli Cuisine,” Solomonov said, “At a minimum, I just want them to really love the photos. I want them to try the food, eat the food and love the food, and then I want them to go to Israel and use the book as a travel guide.”

Israeli Tech Hits Silicon Beach with Fusion L.A.

Photo by Moshe Levis Photography

Given their growing tech ecosystems, it seems only natural that Israeli startups and Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach should come together — and that’s exactly what Fusion LA is doing.

Over the past 12 months, the accelerator program that helps Israeli companies gain traction, raise capital and work with industry leaders in the U.S. has brought 20 Israeli companies to Silicon Beach, the coastal strip between LAX and Santa Monica that is home to more than 500 tech startups. The most recent eight startups were highlighted in an exclusive reception last month at SPACES in Santa Monica, hosted by Fusion LA Israeli co-founders Yair Vardi and Guy Katsovich. More than 80 investors and technology executives from Silicon Beach attended the event, which featured food, drinks and a showcase of brief pitches from the founders of a slew of Israeli-based startups. 

Katsovich said two of the startups, Farm Dog, a digital agriculture solution to help farmers use fewer pesticides; and Zero Energy Solutions, which helps commercial real estate companies save money on energy through their Climate Intelligence platform; are ready for investors.

“The grand vision is to be the launchpad for early-stage tech companies out of Israel,” Katsovich said. “We want to utilize the talent of Israeli founders and have them do business here in the United States, specifically Los Angeles.”

Katsovich visits Israel every few months to seek out tech companies. He brings their people to L.A. on tourist visas, where they then take part in a three-month program led by Vardi. During the program, Fusion LA helps participants meet investors, entrepreneurs and executives who help them adapt their companies’ branding, marketing and sales strategies to the U.S. market. 

“Coming to the U.S. is all about building relationships and long-term commitment,” Katsovich said. “Half of our companies we’ve invested in have already set up shop here. They have a founder that’s moved [to Los Angeles] or some business development representative. This is something we put an emphasis on.”

“There are companies that have been around for four or five months. It’s really about how we succeed in L.A. together, helping each other out. That aspect I love.” — Liron Brish

Iftach Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Zero Energy Solutions, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, said he is about to open a U.S. subsidiary. “The reason I joined this specific program is for their networking,” Cohen said. “For me, [this event] is an opportunity to say what [we’re looking] for and what we are delivering.”  

Katsovich and Vardi invest $20,000 in each of the companies in exchange for 5 percent equity in each of them. Moving a business to another country can pose significant challenges, so they look for smart, talented and assertive people to work with, among other things. 

Liron Brish, CEO of Farm Dog, was born in Israel and grew up in Texas and New York before heading back to Tel Aviv for six years. He moved to Los Angeles a month and a half ago, something he had planned to do before connecting with Fusion LA.

“Moving to California was difficult for me internally, but being able have a soft landing and folks that I can call great friends right off the bat was very helpful,” he said.

“There’s been great camaraderie between all the different startups,” Brish added. “My company’s been around for about three years. There are companies that have been around for four or five months. It’s really about how we succeed in L.A. together, helping each other out. That aspect I love.”

Vardi said, “We’re proud to see many familiar faces and new professionals who recently joined our community as mentors and friends of the program, investing their time and money to help Israeli founders scaling their companies in the U.S. market. The L.A. tech ecosystem is booming with over $10 billion in venture capital investments in the past two years. It’s exciting to be part of boosting Israeli innovation in SoCal.” 

Yehuda Goldberg: The Entrepreneurial Educator

Yehuda Goldberg

American-born Yehuda Goldberg always felt he missed out by forgoing the chance to spend a year in Israel after high school. On the other hand, he said, there wasn’t really a program for him. Despite having been born and raised in a pro-Israel, Modern Orthodox family, he wasn’t ready to sit and learn Gemara for 10 hours straight in a yeshiva. Goldberg was a conscientious, enterprising teenager who had founded two digital marketing startups while still in school — so he wasn’t looking to come to Israel to party like many kids his age. Bereft of choices, Goldberg went straight to college. 

Sixteen years later, Goldberg, 34, is looking to right that wrong with the next generation. He said skipping a gap year and going straight to college is a growing phenomenon among Modern Orthodox North Americans who feel that going to Israel would delay their careers. So together with American-Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Chayen, last September Goldberg opened Torah Tech, an alternative gap year program with the tagline, “Torah in a real-life setting.” Whereas many post-high school yeshiva programs in Israel actively nurture an insular “bubble” in which 18-year-olds can focus solely on Torah study and spiritual growth, Torah Tech provides an environment that mimics the life their graduates are likely to go on to lead. 

“We’re immersing them in a framework that they can take with them for the rest of their lives,” Goldberg said. He bristles at the term yeshiva. “We’re a career development program. We’ve denied acceptance to boys looking to go to yeshiva.”

Nonetheless, his students are expected to turn up at 7 a.m. for morning prayers and Torah study at the beit midrash  (study hall), which, in keeping with the school’s ethos, is situated along with 65 startups in a shared workspace in Israel’s high-tech epicenter, Tel Aviv. A business-centric beit midrash affords the students the chance to really live the value of Torah v’Avodah (Torah and work), Goldberg said. Professionals from the surrounding startups often join the boys for their daily prayers and study sessions. Because the program is kept purposely small, there’s also a social responsibility to show up on time to comprise a minyan — the 10 men required for prayers. This inaugural year has 10 boys enrolled and Goldberg has pledged that the student intake will never creep much above 30. 

“Yehuda Goldberg opened Torah Tech, an alternative gap-year program with the tagline, ‘Torah in a real-life setting.'”

Three times a week, the students attend tailor-made internships — the “tech” part of the program — that include cancer research at Tel Aviv’s renowned Ichilov medical center, 3-D prosthetics, self-driving cars, big data, as well as non-high-tech internships such as photography. This year’s crop was at the top of its classes and already has been accepted to high-ranking colleges including Johns Hopkins for pre-med. 

After a nine-hour day at their respective jobs, the boys return to the beit midrash for evening prayers and a study session billed as a “Chavurah With Professionals” led by C-level executives. Goldberg is the founder of the Judah Agency, a digital marketing firm that has handled ad campaigns for brands including Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon and Toyota. 

“We’re showing them that here’s someone who runs a $100 million [venture capital] fund and yet he finds the time to sit and learn,” Goldberg said referencing a teacher and member of his board of directors, Aleph VC’s General Partner Aaron Rosenson. “This is how life works. The hatzlacha (success) comes from Torah.” 

The choice to situate Torah Tech in Tel Aviv, while deliberate, is not always celebrated by parents who associate it with being a party city. But Goldberg disabuses them of those notions, saying, with the highest concentration of Jews in Israel, a separate beach, an ongoing religious renaissance, Tel Aviv is fast becoming the most desirable place for young, observant Jews to live today. 

Gal Niv: The Star Behind the Rock Stars

Gal Niv

Gal Niv can solve any problem. She’s just the type of person you know can handle it — whatever “it” is.

A missing cable connector a half-hour before showtime? No problem. Coordinating a sound check in the middle of a festival in the summer desert heat? Don’t sweat it. Missing merchandise? Moody door team? Overlooked journalist? Niv’s got it. And that’s why she’s the rock star behind the rock stars, the fixer, the handler, the master of the moment — the show manager for one of Israel’s most dynamic bands, Full Trunk.

Niv, a tall and striking 30-year-old with boundless energy, whose first name means ‘wave’ in Hebrew, was born and raised in Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra. “You know Lebanon? We’re just below it,” Niv says of her hometown on the far-too-active northern coastal border of Israel. A true kibbutznik, Niv grew up on this breathtaking pastoral mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean, in a tight-knit group of girls, roaming barefoot from house to house in the extended family of the 1990s kibbutz. Her father, Shimon, is an archetypical old-school kibbutznik. He spent his career doing artificial inseminations of dairy cows throughout the western Galilee, traveling Europe in an Israeli dance troupe and, after his mandatory military reserve duty was finished, volunteering for the municipal police force. 

Her mother, Cookie, a retired emergency room nurse, made aliyah to Israel from Montreal at the age of 18. “A typical Polish mother,” as Niv says, “she makes enough food for the whole army and worries like crazy.” 

Shimon and Cookie started taking Niv to concerts when she was 3.  These days the roles are reversed, with Niv bringing them to shows — but as VIPs.

Niv lives in Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan with her boyfriend Hani and rescue dog Russell. “I was never one of those people who couldn’t wait to get to the big city,” she said. “I love where I grew up. I love the North.”

But, alas, Tel Aviv is where the music industry is, and the industry, it seems, has long been calling.

It’s hard to imagine Niv not being fully immersed in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.  Niv’s day job is working for a boutique booking agency for established Israeli bands. Like many in the small Israeli music industry, she has a side hustle — traveling around the country as Full Trunk’s show manager.

Niv took her time finding her way, as only an Israeli could be allowed to do. She went into the army. She worked abroad selling beauty products in Edmonton, Alberta. She followed a boy to a remote island in Thailand. She worked in a tattoo parlor, a record store and a plant nursery. She milked cows. But as much as she might have thought she was lost and lacking direction, Niv had a constant North Star guiding her way: music. 

Niv met Ofer Vayner, the bassist of Full Trunk, in 2009 when she was bartending at a local bar named, fittingly, Hendrix — as in Jimi. They became best friends. In 2014, Full Trunk released their first studio album. Niv was, perhaps, their first groupie. She hung out at practice, she was in the front of the audience at every one of their tiny first shows. She toured with them throughout England. She worked the door at their first show at the Barby, the legendary Tel Aviv Israeli music venue.  After their last album exploded on the Israeli music scene, they begged her to join the team for their fast-paced tour. 

If you’re ever in Israel and make it to a Full Trunk show, you’re in for a treat. The band members have a playfulness among themselves that they generously share with their audience. They get you on your feet from the first chord. They make you smile and dance with wild abandon. They give 110 percent to the music and to the fans.  And they can do all of this because they have the rock star behind the scenes making sure they can just play. They have what it takes to make it in the competitive Israeli music scene.

They have a ton of talent, and they have Gal Niv.

Tel Aviv GA Sought to Bridge Israeli-Diaspora Gap

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, speaks at its General Assembly in Tel Aviv. Photo by Eyal Warshavsky/JFNA

Jay Sanderson has attended many a General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, but the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said this year’s gathering in Tel Aviv was different.  

“In previous GAs we talked about a lot of different issues,” Sanderson said during an interview with the Journal at the Oct. 22-24 conference, which attracted more than 2,000 North American and Israeli participants. 

“What was unprecedented about this GA was that we focused on one thing: How to build a new kind of bridge between Israel and the Diaspora that enables as many people as possible to cross from both sides.”

The theme for this year’s event, “Let’s Talk,” was a recognition that Israeli-Diaspora ties are strained, and that both communities need to come together and heal the rift before it becomes unbridgeable. 

Held in Tel Aviv for the first time, the annual conference acknowledged that Israelis and North American Jews have different priorities and agendas because they have fundamentally different life experiences.

“We’re like two ships passing in the night,” Sanderson said. “Israelis don’t have a full understanding of what’s important to North American Jewry,” including religious pluralism, assimilation, anti-Semitism and the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank.  

In Israel, he continued, “Pluralism isn’t high on the list.” Security is, and the fact that most Jewish Israeli 18-year-olds are drafted when they’re 18.  

“A rocket fell on a house in Beersheva and a mother heroically saved her three children. We don’t have rockets on our borders,” Sanderson said. 

Richard Sandler, who is concluding his term as chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that despite these differing priorities, “we share common traditions and a common value system. We need to focus on the things we have in common, which far exceed the things that divide us.” 

“A rocket fell on a house in Beersheva and a mother heroically saved her three children. We don’t have rockets on our borders.” — Jay Sanderson 

During and between sessions, some of the North Americans expressed their concerns about Israel’s new Nation-State Law, which codifies Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people but does not mention the rights of the country’s minority groups. They also expressed hope that Israel will do much more to ensure the equal treatment of non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism. 

Sandler said the North American-Israel relationship has shifted over the years, to the point where Israel — which once struggled to feed and house its citizens — now offers educational and logistical assistance to Diaspora communities and is seeking to expand that role. 

During the GA, Israeli leaders floated the idea of creating a “Reverse Birthright” that would bring young Israelis to Diaspora Jewish communities, and setting up programs to teach Hebrew to North American Jews.    

“When I grew up you had two things you don’t have going on today,” Sandler said. “Back then, Israel needed a large infusion of philanthropic dollars from the U.S. Israel didn’t have the strong economy it has now. Today, Israel doesn’t need our dollars to the same extent, though of course there are people still in need.” 

At a time when Israel still relies heavily on the federations’ help to fund numerous programs for the most disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, Israeli officials are concerned about Jewish identity among North American Jews and are seeking ways to strengthen it. 

Sandler said this change in the Israel-Diaspora power dynamic has taken many Diaspora Jews by surprise. 

Referring to a presentation by the organization Israel Flying Aid, which is providing vital assistance to people in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Sandler said, “I don’t think American Jews think of Israeli NGOs reaching out beyond their border and making a difference in the world, just as we try to make a difference in the world. It makes us proud.” 

Helene Siegel, a federation delegate from Orange County, said she was impressed by the strides Israeli nonprofits have been making in addressing coexistence. 

During a GA session, two organizations that bring Jewish- and Arab-Israeli children together presented their work. One of them, Kids 4 Peace, brings Arab and Jewish teens together to work on joint projects and celebrate each other’s holidays. Their parents also meet on an ongoing basis. The program is considered a major success. 

“For me, this was a highlight of the GA because I really believe that kids are our future,” Siegel said. “These kids make connections with one another and then bring those connections back to their parents and ultimately to their communities. Instead of seeing them as ‘the other,’ they learn that ultimately most people want peace.” 

Blossom Siegel, Helene’s mother and a former head of the Orange County federation, said the GA always provides something new and innovative. The Tel Aviv GA marked her 40th visit to Israel. 

“This year, it was all about bridging differences,” she said. “The Israelis are more openly protective of their children while we Americans take our safety, our standard of living, our ability to get jobs somewhat more for granted.” 

Blossom Siegel said she felt gratified that so many of the sessions focused on the integration of Israel’s Arab community and on programs “that help children from different backgrounds become more tolerant of one another.” 

“It won’t happen overnight,” she added, “but it will happen.” 

Why Judaism Matters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, is interviewed onstage by Jewish Federations of North America Chairman Richard Sandler at the General Assembly in Tel Aviv, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Kobi Gideon/Israeli Government Press Office

The following is excerpted text of the speech delivered by Richard Sandler, outgoing chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, at the Knesset on Oct. 23 during the JFNA’s General Assembly in Tel Aviv. 

During these past three years, I have had the opportunity to study our community and the important issues that inspire us, concern us and often divide us, and I keep coming back to the same three questions: Why does Judaism matter? Why does how we treat one another matter? Why does Israel matter? And tonight I will ask you to please consider three imperatives that relate to these questions, for it is important to talk but it is also important to then take positive action.

Why does Judaism matter? We all know that we are a small people, less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population with many adversaries and enemies throughout our history; and yet, we have survived against incredible odds, while making a positive difference in the world exponentially disproportionate to our numbers. How could this be? It is because of a tradition rooted in the values in our Torah, which is over 3,000 years old. Times may change, but these values do not. 

The Torah is about who we are, where we come from and what is expected of each of us. It is so much more than a slogan or a verse that may support a point of view. 

We can only understand our tradition and its importance to our lives by going back to the basics, by learning the depth, richness and complexity of that tradition. We cannot live Jewish values if we do not understand what they are. 

So the first imperative is a collective communal commitment to studying Torah and the writings of our tradition. This commitment must not be driven by politics or religious philosophy, but by the earnest search for true meaning. I commit to you that I will study Torah this year, and I ask you, the leaders of our community, to do the same.

We need to take advantage of this remarkable time in our history, by learning our history and our tradition so that we can determine a future course in which we strengthen ourselves and our people according to Torah values. It is time we learn what made the Jewish people the Jewish people. 

Which leads me to the second imperative: No matter where we live; no matter whether we are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular Jews; no matter what political or philosophical position we hold; all of us must end the divisiveness that exists between us. We are a small people who have enough enemies outside of our community. We do not need to do their work for them by being so divisive.

“We can only understand our tradition and its importance to our lives … by learning the depth, richness and complexity of that tradition.”

We will agree. We will disagree. Our tradition is about debate and disagreement, but where people listen to each other, learn from each other and respect each other.

The most repeated prayer in our tradition, one of the only two prayers that the Torah commands us to say each day is the Shema. Shema means “hear” or “to listen.” We need to study together as we debate important issues and listen to different points of view. We do matter to one another. We’re too small a people to be like the rest of society where people of different points of view refuse to listen to one another and instead engage in Lashon Hora — negative or derogatory speech, or even worse, engage in sinat chinam, senseless hatred. And let us not forget that it was sinat chinam among the Jewish people that resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple.

Let’s leave this GA committed to being better informed to lead our communities from Lashon Hora to Shema — not as Israelis or Diaspora Jews, not as secular or religious Jews, and not as Jews from the left or from the right but as Jews who share a remarkable tradition and a common destiny. Our children are waiting for spiritual wisdom, for heroic ideals and for heroic vision. They want to stand for something and something important. Let’s dedicate ourselves to learning, to respecting each other and to protecting what is sacred so we ensure a Jewish future for our children in this remarkable time when we again have a Jewish homeland for the first time in 2,000 years and feel so comfortable and at home here in the United States.

And that leads to our third imperative. Being at home gives us new security and new responsibilities. Let’s never forget that the reason we feel at home in America is because there is this remarkable country called Israel. 

Our homeland is a small country the size of New Jersey. It has been in constant conflict for all of its 70 years. Today, there are countless thousands of missiles on Israel’s border aimed at Israeli citizens, in the hands of terrorists who call for the total destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Those of us in the Diaspora can’t even begin to understand or appreciate the challenges and pressures the Israeli people endure daily. 

This does not mean that as committed and caring Jews we do not have the right to expect more from Israel. Israel is far from perfect. And Israel also has a right to expect more from us. But first, all of us must listen to one another to truly appreciate and understand our different concerns and the different lives we lead, yet never forgetting Kol Y’Israel Arevim Zeh La Zeh. All Jews are responsible for one another. We have many differences, but so much more in common.

To my fellow Jews in Israel, I say we are all better off with thriving Jewish communities well beyond your borders. No people on this planet will ever care as much about a strong Jewish state as we do. 

And to those in the Diaspora, I say never take the miracle of Israel for granted. Israel gives us a seat at the world table — a seat we did not have in the 1930s and 1940s. It provides a shield for all of us we never had before. 

Let not any of us ever forget that because there is an Israel, and a strong Israel, there is an army that protects each and every one of us each and every day. Every young man and woman who serves in the IDF risks his and her life to protect us — all of us.

So as I close, I repeat the three imperatives:

Learn and encourage those in your community to learn Torah, learn the beauty and depth of our tradition; 

Listen to each other with respect and understanding. None of us has all the answers, but by listening we will gain a new knowledge of how to answer the important questions;

Never forget the blessing that Israel is to us — she protects us and connects us to the Torah.

Maimonides refers to Moses as the most perfect human being. At the end of his life, near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses set out a choice for the Jewish people which the Torah certainly sets out for us today: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life so that you and your children may live.”

More Than 30 Student Groups Announce Boycott of NYU Tel Aviv

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

More than 30 student groups are boycotting New York University’s (NYU) study abroad program in Tel Aviv, stating that they don’t want to be “complicit in the state of Israel’s targeted discrimination against activists and Palestinian and Muslim students.”

The groups, which included Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Young Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote in a letter published on Medium that it wasn’t right for Israel to blacklist 20 organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country.

“The University, as an adoptee of AAUP [American Association of University Professors] principles of academic freedom, has the duty to uphold these standards throughout the Global Network University (GNU) and be proactive in addressing any violations of these principles,” the student groups wrote. “NYU must upgrade its commitment to ensure equal access to GNU sites and to appeal decisions of entry within the Global Network. Until then, the members of our clubs will not study away and/or visit NYU Tel Aviv.”

The groups added that NYU’s student government passed a resolution during the spring that expressed “concern over the lack of global mobility” regarding Israel’s BDS blacklist; the groups were also concerned about the University of Michigan disciplining Professor John Cheney-Lippold over his refusal to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel.

“This sets a dangerous precedent, in which departments have the ability to unjustly penalize faculty simply for their support of Palestinian human rights,” the groups wrote. “As a department, we stand within solidarity with Cheney-Lippold and any faculty and students that support the Israeli academic boycott for Palestinian human rights.”

However, NYU spokesman John Beckman told NYU Local that the university is unequivocally opposed to an academic boycott of Israel.

“While we disagree with Israel’s policy about BDS supporters for precisely the same reasons of academic freedom and scholarly mobility that cause us to oppose academic boycotts, it is worth noting that no NYU student has been prevented from going to Israel, and a case involving a student from a different school was reversed in court,” Beckman said in a statement.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) director of the New York-New Jersey region, told the Journal in an email statement, “This action is another indication that university-endorsed study abroad in Israel is the newest tactic in the effort to delegitimize and demonize Israel.  We should be encouraging all students to explore and investigate for themselves. This effort to shut down opportunities for New York University students to conduct academic exploration in Israel is counter to all that higher education stands for.”

Several of the same groups signing the aforementioned letter also expressed support for the BDS movement in April, calling for the university to divest from all companies that conduct business with Israel and to boycott all pro-Israel clubs on campus.

In April 2016, NYU President Andrew Hamilton stated that the university would not engage in any sort of boycott of Israel.

“A boycott of Israeli academics and institutions is contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas, and at odds with the University’s position on this matter, as well as the position of GSOC’s [Graduate Student Organizing Committee] parent union,” Hamilton said in a statement. “NYU will not be closing its academic program in Tel Aviv, and divestment from Israeli-related investments is not under consideration. And to be clear: whatever ‘pledges’ union members may or may not have taken does not free them from their responsibilities as employees of NYU, which rejects this boycott.”

Note to the General Assembly: We Need to Listen

“We Need to Talk,” the theme of this year’s Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Tel Aviv, sounds like what people usually say before they terminate a relationship. Of course, for Israeli and American Jewry, termination is the last thing on anyone’s mind. The relationship may be strained but a break-up is inconceivable. The very purpose of this annual gathering is to strengthen communal bonds.

As Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in his welcoming address at the three-day conference on Oct. 21, “We are not strategic allies. We are a family. We are one big family. We don’t have only shared interests — we have a shared faith, history and future.”

This family, though, has become dysfunctional. The relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry seems to be getting worse every year.

Chemi Shalev, the Israeli commentator for Haaretz, wrote that the General Assembly’s bold theme was a “desperate plea” to save Israel-U.S. Jewish ties.

In other words, things have gotten so bad and have been allowed to fester for so long that this is no time to mince words. So, we might as well go for an intervention: “Hey, Israel, it’s gone too far.  We need to talk.”

Shalev may be right that the theme betrayed a sense of desperation, but that is precisely why it wasn’t the best choice of words. If we are desperate to save a relationship, we shouldn’t use a phrase that reinforces that desperation. 

I can appreciate how the organizers needed to show that it’s no longer business as usual in the relationship. As Shalev wrote, “Even if one interprets ‘We need to talk’ in the most positive way possible, it still denotes serious disagreements that can no longer be ignored.”

“Listening is more difficult to do than talking. Jews talk all the time. The problem is that, too often, we talk past each other.

We can agree, then, that it was time to make a provocative statement that would capture the urgency of the moment. But is “talk” the right word? I don’t think so.

Imagine if the theme would have been, “We need to listen.” That would have been even more provocative, because listening is more difficult to do than talking. Jews talk all the time. The problem is that, too often, we talk past each other. 

What we need is not more talking but more listening, from both sides.

Am I making too big a deal of an event slogan? Not if you consider that the theme for such a major gathering is not just for the attendees; it’s also for the whole Jewish world. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. “We need to listen” should become the driving mantra to repair communal bonds throughout all Jewish communities.

I wasn’t at the GA this year, but I hear it had some terrific events and panels. I saw a few online. I’m sure there was a lot of listening. My point is that, in terms of communal aspiration, the word “listening” is more powerful than the word “talking.”   

I’m sure the GA’s organizers would agree. In fact, JFNA President Jerry Silverman, in an interview on, said that “increased understanding was required both from Israelis and Diaspora Jews of each other’s concerns.”

How do we get to “increased understanding”? Through better and deeper listening.

As we move forward, American Jews could listen better to Israelis’ new security concerns. For example, according to a report this week on Ynet, instead of basing precision missile factories in Syria, Iran is now transferring the missiles directly to Hezbollah. Why is this a potential disaster? Because precision missiles can wreak havoc not just on civilian centers but on military centers, air force bases, power stations and even Israel’s nuclear reactors.

“We should also recognize another imbalance: There is no Israeli GA that shows up in New York or Los Angeles to critique the failures of American Jewry.”

This kind of existential danger ought to put our relationship problems in perspective. It’s not just a talking point on one side of the ledger. It’s fundamental to appreciating the completely different context in which Israelis live.

We in America have every right to express our concerns about Israel’s failures, and we will continue to do so over the coming year. And yes, Israelis should listen. But American Jews can also be better at internalizing the Israeli reality of living in a state of virtual siege, under constant threat of annihilation. If that doesn’t buy a little understanding, I don’t know what does.

We should also recognize another imbalance: There is no Israeli GA that shows up in New York or Los Angeles to critique the failures of American Jewry — like, for example, the failure to address the new generation’s vanishing Jewish identity.

When that day comes, I hope we in America will listen as well as we expect Israelis to listen. After all, we are one big family.

Meet Yonathan Berrebi: The Tahini Master

Yonathan Berrebi jokes that it was only after he began his internship at the iconic Le Jules Verne restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower, that world-famous chef Alain Ducasse earned his third Michelin star.

“I peeled the shrimp,” he said wryly. 

With Parisian parents, the culinary capital of the world seemed like an obvious place to receive his chef’s hat, so in 2005, Berrebi enrolled at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Academy. Years later, he managed the Israeli franchise of the famed French gastronomy company, Fauchon. Yet despite his French connections, there is no love lost between the 37-year-old chef and French cuisine. 

“Until this day, I hate French kitchens,” he said. “There is no soul in the food. Yes, they are great technicians, but it is nothing like the Spanish, Italian or Greek, where you can see passion [and] happiness and the flavors are bold.”

Berrebi abhors cookbooks, and follows neither recipes nor the work of other chefs. “I don’t want to be influenced by others,” he said. 

“While tahini is ubiquitous in Middle East cuisine, it’s never the main component. ‘Tahini deserves a front-row seat,’ Berrebi said.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Berrebi’s first restaurant is unique. Called HaTahinia, and located in Tel Aviv, the menu is comprised almost entirely of tapas-sized dishes made with tahini; from sea bream dipped in a tahini batter, to a dish called “The Party,” which lives up to its name with a poached egg waiting to explode under a bed of tahini, schug, harissa and artichokes. 

While tahini is ubiquitous in Middle East cuisine, it’s never the main component. “Tahini deserves a front-row seat,” Berrebi said. “It’s an amazing canvas and you can do whatever you want with it.”

The idea came to Berrebi while he was working as a private chef on a yacht owned by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. He was invited to cook a meal for the Prince of Monaco, Albert II, together with the prince’s private chef, “a stuck-up French guy with a closed top button,” in Berrebi’s words. 

Berrebi was experimenting with mixing the paste with seafood stock instead of plain water. Slowly but surely, the tahini — and the other chef’s heart — opened up. “I showed the pompous French chef something he’d never seen before,” Berrebi said, but was quick to add that the two later became friends. 

Berrebi’s life on the yacht was star-studded — cooking for the likes of Beyoncé, Tom Jones and fashion designer Marc Jacobs — and lucrative. But ultimately, he said, it was a gilded cage. “I was lonely.” Wi-Fi access was extremely limited, making his long-distance relationship with his partner, Kareen, all the more distant. 

Kareen first messaged Berrebi on social media after a tattoo artist posted a picture of the chef getting inked on the head with the image of a bisected brain. A tattoo aficionado herself, Kareen’s tiny, tat-emblazoned frame doesn’t exactly bespeak her background in information science.

Kareen gave up a career at Walt Disney to work at Berrebi’s restaurant, finding creative solutions to get over some of its teething problems.

Much like the chef himself, HaTahinia is an open book. “What you see is what you get,” Berrebi said, gesturing to the steel kitchen in the center of the bar. Diners are encouraged to interact with Berrebi as he prepares dishes from scratch in front of them. The downside is you might have to wait 25 minutes to be served. “But you didn’t come for a fast-food experience,” Berrebi said. On the upside, you’ll be offered shots of ouzo to tide you over. 

One thing Berrebi was not willing to compromise on was the location. Except for the fish and the tahini itself — which he sources from a family in Nazareth — all his ingredients come from the Levinksy market, where the restaurant is located.

“The real culture of food,” he said, “will always come from the market.”

A correction was made to this story at 12:14 p.m. changing the name of fashion designer Mark Jacobs to Marc Jacobs. 

Israeli Film ‘Longing’ Explores Fatherly Love and Loss

Shai Avivi; Photo provided by Breaking Glass Pictures

In the opening minutes of Israeli filmmaker Savi Gavizon’s “Longing,” middle-aged bachelor Ariel Bloch gets news that’s not only shocking, it’s a double-punch to the gut. Meeting his ex-girlfriend Ronit at a café, he’s told that he fathered a son 20 years ago. Then he learns that the boy, Adam, is now dead, killed when his car plunged off a bridge. Reeling from the news, he begins a quest to learn more about the young man he never had the chance to meet.

The answers he gets are complicated: Adam was a talented musician and poet, but he was also angry and troubled, with a history of defacing property, dealing drugs, stalking his French teacher, and getting his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant. How Ariel deals with and processes these revelations as he meets people in Adam’s life and learns about himself in the process is at the core of Gavizon’s dark comedy.

Starring Shai Avivi as Ariel, Assi Levy as Ronit, and Neta Riskin as French teacher Yael, “Longing” was nominated for 13 Ophir Awards—Israel’s Oscar — with Gavizon’s script winning the award for best screenplay.

“This is a story about parenthood, about the desire to be a parent and the afflictions that come with it: identification and honor,” he told the Journal. “This is a journey that creates near-laboratory conditions for the examination of the hidden aspects of parenthood.”

The divorced father of two children, Maya, 25, and Yoav, 20, the Tel Aviv-based writer-director of “Nina’s Tragedies” and “Lovesick on Nana Street” explained his inspiration for his latest film.

“A few years ago, when I got divorced, my kids became the anchor in my life. I developed an obsession to be with them as much as I could. On their days with me, I didn’t allow them to go to their friends and surely not to sleep over. They had to stay with me. Instead of being a good father to them, I was a good father for me,” he said. “Issues of awkward parenthood began to bother me and these issues looked for their story to be told. These issues, I think, resonate in the heart of every parent.”

Bringing the story to the screen posed several challenges. “The essence of the story is the journey of the main character from cold to hot and from loneliness to being surrounded by people, from thinking about himself to [recognizing] others. So I had to design him as a very cold, selfish and lonely person.” It is a very hard step to begin with, he explained, so it was important that he cast the right actor. He chose Shai Avivi because of “his talent, warmth, gentleness and lovable quality that makes people relate to him, even as a difficult to like character.”

“Longing” artfully treads the line between darkness and light, deftly blending comedy and tragedy. “I’ve always wanted to create a film which is comprised of absurd situations, because they allow access to deep emotions without falling into the trap of sentimentality and cliché,” Gavizon said. “Perhaps this is why I’ve allowed myself, for the very first time, to be led to the very end by a singular pain and a singular passion. ‘Longing’ is a tragicomedy, paved with more absurdity than any other screenplay I’ve written to date.”

“‘Longing’ is a tragicomedy, paved with more absurdity than any other screenplay I’ve written to date.” — Savi Gavizon


As a director, he said the most significant challenge he faced was directing this film in an entirely realistic fashion, in order to provide “a solid emotional platform for those moments that touch on the extreme and the ridiculous.” He explained that classic comic drama usually starts funny, and gradually becomes serious and painful, but in this case, “I chose to do it in the other way around. The movie starts very sad, and becomes more and more absurd and comic. ‘An Extremely Sad Comedy’ is probably a title that suits ‘Longing’ better than any of my other films.”

While the the story he tells is very extreme and charts a dangerous path, Gavizon and his cinematographer, Assaf Sudry, kept the film’s visuals modest and functional. “But if you look carefully,” he said, “you can see the manipulation we made with color and light. It was very important for me not to leave the texture of the things as they are. It’s not really realistic texture. Assaf was the perfect guy to do it.”

Although Gavizon did not base any of the film on real people, he was inspired to include a real Taoist ceremony his girlfriend told him about after returning from a trip to Singapore. “When a son dies, [Taoists] try to find for him a girl who also died, and they marry them in a ceremony. They believe that this marriage will [allow] them to be together, wherever they are,” he said.

“I thought that it might be interesting and unique to create a story with these circumstances, [set] in a Western society. But what interested me more about this marriage was the parents; I was attracted to their psychological need to continue being parents and less in the mystic and metaphysical side,” he said. “I think this ceremony goes one step deeper and darker than the Jewish way that I know to mourn and deal with death.”

The Haifa native, who is not religious, said he does “study Judaism from time to time, and I have religious people in my family. I’m surrounded by Jewish culture and tradition. I have no doubt that these facts directly and indirectly affect my work.” Right now, he added, “I’m busy wondering what my next film will be about.”

“Longing,” now in theatrical release, will be available digitally and on DVD on Oct. 12.

Kafka and the Cat Lady

Eva Hoffe with Max Brod Photo from Hoffe’s family archive

The story of Eva Hoffe is a sad one. In essence, it is a long, sordid history of broken promises. It begins with Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka. Before passing away, he entrusted his friend Max Brod with a large collection of his manuscripts, instructing Brod to destroy them.

He did not.

Brod, in turn, left them to his secretary (and alleged lover) Esther Hoffe, with the instructions that she transfer them to a public archive in her lifetime.

She did not.

Thus they ended up in the hands of Esther Hoffe’s last living daughter.

For decades, Eva battled the Israeli courts for her right to Kafka’s manuscripts, stored in vaults in Tel Aviv and Zurich and (according to some individuals I asked) in a small, brown suitcase hidden somewhere in her squalid apartment.

Had Eva won her case, she would have sold the manuscripts for millions of dollars. But she lost. And then, in August, she died at the age of 85.

Reading of her death, it wasn’t her manuscripts that I thought of first. Rather, it was her cats. Before I knew of her as the keeper of Kafka’s lost work, I knew her as the cat lady of Spinoza Street.

It was years ago that I met her for the first time. This was back when I first moved to Tel Aviv. I didn’t know many people and would sometimes spend my afternoons wandering around the city — mentally mapping the streets and trying to get my bearings. It was during one of these walks that I happened into Trumpeldor Cemetery.

Minutes from the hectic commercial center of Tel Aviv, the quiet and dignified cemetery felt a world apart. The names inscribed on the graves sounded familiar to me. Nordau, Ahad Ha’Am, Arlozorov, Dizengoff, Bialik, Tchernichovsky – the politicians, poets, and leaders of Israel. Until then, they had been nothing more than street names to me.

As I continued my walk, I saw a familiar face pass by — an older woman with a scowl and a hunched back.

Back then, I was working at a small nursery school on Spinoza Street. My days were spent shaping Play-Doh, building with Legos, and taking the kids out to the small back garden to run around.

The woman I saw in the cemetery was familiar to me as the pair of peering eyes that sometimes glanced at us from a window high above our nursery school’s back garden. 

Franz Kafka
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I had never spoken to her, but I knew of her through local lore. It was Eva Hoffe, the much-maligned cat lady of Spinoza Street, and the unlikely keeper of Franz Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts.

She turned and saw me looking at her. It appeared that she recognized me as well. Slowly she made her way over to me. “You work at the preschool,” she said.  “I can hear you very well from my apartment. The children make a lot of noise.”

The truth is, we could hear her too. More specifically, we could hear her cats.

She paused a moment, weighing what she wanted to say. I assumed it would be something unpleasant. My boss had never missed an opportunity to characterize her as a child-hating and crotchety neighborhood burden.

 “You make a lot of noise,” she repeated. “But you make the children laugh. It’s lovely to hear to them laugh.”

This caught me off guard, but before I had a chance to respond, she took my arm and began pulling me with her. “Come,” she said, gesturing to a grave. “This is Max Brod. Today is his memorial. He was a friend of my mother’s.”

We stood in silence a moment as we looked at the grave. I don’t remember how much I knew then of her legal battles for Kafka’s manuscripts, or of the significance of her mother’s relationship with Brod. She didn’t bother explaining. After a beat, she said goodbye to me and walked away.

The next week at work, I saw Hoffe taking out her garbage during the students’ outdoor playtime. 

We exchanged waves. My co-worker, Jenna, cocked her head at me. I explained how we had met and added that Hoffe was, surprisingly, a very sweet lady.

Jenna rolled her eyes.

This was to be expected. Those who worked at the nursery school thought of Eva the way my boss did. She had even managed to influence the thinking of the class mothers.

The issue was her cats. Back then, Eva’s shrieking cats could be heard from her windows at all hours. She must have had at least 20 of them in there, all fighting and bristling and mewing plaintively to be fed.

My boss so disliked having Eva as a neighbor that she led a small but determined campaign against her. She encouraged the class mothers to lodge complaints with the municipality about the cats, telling them to say that the presence of so many animals in a confined space had a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of their children (a complete falsehood). “Without more voices,” she would say, “nothing will be done.”

After a certain number of calls had been lodged, the city would come and clear out the cats, after which Eva would begin to collect them again.

At times, I would defend Eva’s right to her cats, but I was always met with the same response, which was that it wasn’t ethical to keep all those cats cooped up in there. I would tend to agree, but somehow I sensed that cat-activism was not the motivation behind the campaign. It was something else. My boss’ ire was aimed at Eva herself and the appeal to “think of the cats!” was unconvincing.

As I learned more about Eva’s case, I began to defend her right to her manuscripts as well. And for the same reason. The state’s case didn’t convince me.

The state argued that the Hoffe family had no legitimate right to Kafka’s manuscripts. Brod had specifically requested that they be placed in an archive. In disobedience to his wishes, the Hoffes had decided to cynically profit off of them through private sale.

But if the state was truly concerned with honoring the wishes of the manuscripts’ rightful owner, why not look to the source — to Kafka himself — who wanted them destroyed?

As a writer, I am always disturbed when the posthumous requests of authors regarding their own work are disregarded. The dead have few advocates, and the long-dead have none. The question of destroying the manuscripts was not part of the equation in the Hoffe case. As such, it seemed to me that this was a matter of two illegitimate parties battling over a piece of property which belonged rightfully to a fire pit.

Before I knew of Eva Hoffe as the keeper of Kafka’s lost work, I knew her as the cat lady of Spinoza Street.

If that was the case, why not rule according to “finders keepers” and let poor Eva keep her ill-gotten heirloom? The state of Israel surely had no greater claim.

Had she won her case, she would have made millions through the sale of the manuscripts. The highest bidder most likely would have been a national archive anyway. Israel would have lost a literary treasure, but Eva would be luxuriating in a gorgeous mansion, her cats strutting about happily, crystal dishes of food in every room and a servant making the rounds tending to the litter boxes.

But she lost and the work contained in the vaults was ordered to be transferred to Israel’s National Library.

In lieu of a truly legitimate claim to the manuscripts, one question considered in the case was that of stewardship. Again and again, it was pointed out that Eva Hoffe was unqualified to care for historical documents — especially if some were kept in her own home.

This same argument was thrown around on Spinoza Street by those who wanted to rob Eva of her cats.

I am a cat owner myself and have always loved the way the strays stalk the streets of Tel Aviv. There are those who complain about Tel Aviv’s cat “infestation,” but for me, they stir up a sense of wilderness and mystery. If every street hides a story as interesting as that of Eva Hoffe’s, surely the cats are the keepers of those stories. This is, I believe, as it should be.

On more than one occasion I asked my boss if she ever considered the possibility that Eva’s cats were not mistreated. That they were noisy because they were cats and because cats make noise. After all, we worked at a preschool.  Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that, in addition to their charming laughter, they make plenty of noises far less pleasant, often resorting to screaming, yelling and crying. This in no way reflects on the warm and loving environment we provided for those children day after day.

A woman so devoted to cat ownership, I argued, is surely devoted to their upkeep and health as well.

“How can you know for sure?” my boss would ask me.

I didn’t know for sure. Nor did I consider it my place to try and find out.

Some stones are better left unturned.

And so it was that I found myself defending the right of an old woman to be ornery and mad, of cats to live in squalor, and of great works of literature to go lost.

Matthew Schultz is a writer living and working in Tel Aviv.

The Man Who Makes Tech Go ‘Boom’

Hillel Fuld

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the death of Fuld’s brother, Ari, who was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist on Sept. 16. Fuld tweeted shortly after Ari’s murder: “He lived as a hero and died as a hero. My big bro is gone. Thanks for the messages. Really. Just looking for oxygen now …”

In the summer of 2014, Steve Wozniak ­­— the man who helped develop the personal computer — visited Israel for 24 hours. He invited Hillel Fuld, a keen-eyed, peppy Jerusalemite who takes the term “tech aficionado” to a new level, to a breakfast meeting at the David InterContinental in Tel Aviv. It was the height of the Gaza War, and in the middle of their meeting, a siren blared, warning of an incoming missile.

“I had to rush the founder of Apple to the bomb shelter,” Fuld breathlessly recounted. “It was so surreal.”

Wozniak is one of Fuld’s 34,200 followers on Twitter, along with Ellen DeGeneres, Yoko Ono, Ashton Kutcher, Arianna Huffington, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and a host of brands including Coca Cola, Tommy Hilfiger, United Airlines and Windows. 

Today, Fuld is the strategic adviser to around 20 Israeli tech companies, advising on all things growth, from social media, content, PR and fundraising, to the art of pitching. He also collaborates with tech giants including Google, Oracle and Microsoft as a mentor and influencer. 

 “I help Israeli tech go ‘boom,’ ” is Fuld’s self-styled tagline. 

When he was 15, Fuld made aliyah from Queens, N.Y., to Jerusalem. For as long as he can remember, he has had a passion for technology, although his wife prefers the term obsession. After completing his military service and receiving a degree in political science anthropology, Fuld wanted to pursue something in the tech arena. At the suggestion of a friend, he took a job as a technical writer at Comverse Technology but was totally unaware that the position entailed drafting user manuals. 

Still, his experience at Comverse — which at the time was the biggest tech company in Israel — was invaluable, he said. At the same time, he began scribbling his thoughts on tech for what he called a “diary on the internet.”

“Today we call that a blog and it turns out that was set to become a thing,” Fuld noted. He amassed a large following and entrepreneurs soon began approaching him for advice. He had no business model and refused to take a dime. “People kept telling me to monetize but I said no. I’m happy to help and money will follow,” he said. 

“I had to rush the founder of Apple to the bomb shelter. It was so surreal.” — Hillel Fuld

He kept his job at Comverse and blogged on the side. “In time, those two things merged and my job became my passion and my passion became my job,” he said. 

“Now I’m living my dream,” Fuld said. “I wake up in the morning, I head to Tel Aviv and meet with truly legendary entrepreneurs who are building world-changing technology. It still makes me pinch myself that they’re taking my advice.”

He credits Twitter for contributing to his success. “I was able to leverage Twitter’s culture of openness 10 levels above what I ever could have dreamed of,” he said. Through the social media giant, Fuld met and interviewed his idol, Marc Andreessen, the billionaire entrepreneur credited with inventing the first web browser. He also met his teenage crush, “Who’s the Boss?” actor Alyssa Milano, with whom he talks regularly. He was recently named the 15th most influential tech blogger on the internet.

“The amount of influence that you can have sitting in your living room wherever you are in the world is phenomenal,” he said.

Fuld is selective about the companies he chooses to work with but said the most important aspect is the people. “At the end of the day, technology doesn’t win, people win.”

Where does he plan to go from here?

“If I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.

Staying in Israel at Great Cost

Lysann Bendel

Lysann Bendel was in the middle of her conversion process to Judaism when she caught a glimpse of her grandfather on a TV screen.

Living in Israel, she was watching German television as it documented the 2001 inauguration of the new synagogue in her hometown of Dresden on the site of the old synagogue, which the Nazis burned to the ground during the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms. She always knew her grandfather was a Dresden firefighter who tried to battle of the infamous 1945 firestorm that destroyed Dresden’s Baroque Old City, and which took the lives of his first wife and two children.

She never knew until that moment that her grandfather could have been one of three firefighters who saved the only remnant of the synagogue: the golden Jewish star ornament. Her research confirmed that he was involved in hiding it during the war.

“I’ve been asking myself very often why should he actually risk his family’s life,” the blue-eyed Bendel said at a Tel Aviv café, sporting a funky, dirty-blond buzz cut. Her tan is a testament to her life in Israel. “I never had an idea of being Jewish or part of that. So I asked myself what brings his family to rescue the Star of David, hiding it from the Nazis, for eff-ing sake. I seriously believe that my grandfather knew about his Jewish roots. There is no other thing that makes sense to me.”

Bendel, 38, didn’t think she had Jewish roots when she moved to Israel on a whim in 1999. Her last name is the only real clue. She describes her childhood growing up in the former East German city as “beautiful.” Back then, Dresden was hardly rebuilt, and she fondly remembers driving in a “Trabi” (East German car brand Trabant) to surrounding lakes. But she never felt like she truly belonged. Germans are known for being reserved and withdrawn. She’s talkative and inquisitive, perhaps a symptom of her “Jewish soul.”

But life in Israel, while spiritually satisfying, has not been easy. She persisted through the intifadas and wars because of her love for the place. Currently, she works at an entry-level position at a software company to make ends meet, having had to abandon Holocaust studies at Bar-Ilan University. She paints in her free time in her Tel Aviv flat, but lately has been catching herself wondering what life would be like in Germany. Sometimes, she even has a case of “Ostalgia,” “nostalgia” for the communal life of East Germany.

“Tel Aviv is the only place my individuality stays the way it is. ” — Lysann Bendel

“To stay in Israel comes at a great cost,” she said. A few months ago, she suffered a stroke, arguably from stress. “I understood in the last two years that we pay a price for everything we do; for me, it’s health and finance. It’s much harder in Israel to make your dreams come true than in Germany. There, I would have never stopped my Ph.D. to make money.”

But no matter how stressful life is in Israel, this creative spirit feels at home, especially in Tel Aviv.

“Tel Aviv is the only place my individuality stays the way it is. In others place I’ve lived in Israel so far, I’m ‘the German,’ ‘the blonde,’ ‘the cute girl.’ ”

Her divorced parents still live in Dresden, unable to truly identify with her Zionism. She considers herself a type of ambassador for both countries, continuing an ongoing process of reconciliation between the Jewish people and Germany.

“Actually, the first years in Israel, I was always asked about, ‘What did your grandparents do?’ Now, it’s: ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

In her case, it’s because of her grandfather that a firestorm still rages in her heart for Israel. He died when she was young, but he always reminded her of the pain and destruction of World War II, and how the next generations must make sure it never happens again.

“I believe he’s my guardian angel in life. Everything seems to be linked to him.”


“HEARTS,” 2015

A hearts mural on Rabbi Meir Street in Tel Aviv. “Hearts” is part of the international exhibition “Passage to Israel,” which opens at the Sagamore Hotel in the South Beach area of Miami Beach on March 8, as part of a three-month “Peace 70” initiative (

An Israeli at the Ends of the Earth

Natalie Silverlieb

When Natalie Silverlieb told her mother that she was moving to Vanuatu, her mother’s first response was “Vanu-what?” followed by, “Why?”

Silverlieb’s family and friends — as well as her husband, who did not join her on the 10-month trip — were puzzled as to why the New Jersey native would uproot her life in Tel Aviv to live in a remote island nation in the South Pacific. (On her recent return home to Tel Aviv, she had to travel for three days through five countries, covering 10,000 miles.)

Fewer than a dozen Israelis live in Vanuatu, but Silverlieb moved there a year ago to become a local director for the humanitarian aid agency IsraAID. She now oversees a large-scale water infrastructure development project funded by the World Bank.

In the time she’s been stationed in Vanuatu, Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

Her mother, a world away in Montville, N.J., worries about her, but that’s nothing new. Her mother worried when Silverlieb made aliyah to Israel in 2012, when she spent time at a Jewish camp on a small Turkish island in the middle of the Bosphorus, and when she volunteered for six months in an Indian orphanage.

The ultimate adventurer, Silverlieb has always been audacious and relentless in following her passions. She was an actress for most of her life, pursuing her dream all the way to the Great White Way. After more auditions than she could count, she made it to Broadway as the female lead understudy for Disney’s “Tarzan.”

“I literally thought I’d die an old lady backstage in my dressing room,” Silverlieb said of her commitment to being a professional actress.

But in 2007, after “Tarzan” closed, Silverlieb’s brother, Sam, persuaded her to go on a Birthright Israel trip, which proved transformative. When she returned to New York and got back on the audition trail, her life didn’t make much sense anymore. It was time for a new dream.

Trusting her intuition and her heart, Silverlieb moved to Israel, where she quickly began to understand some of the reasons why she was drawn to the Jewish state. For her, tikkun olam (repairing the world) was a flag to rally behind. She sought a way to combine her performance background with her budding commitment to social justice.

Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

After completing her master’s degree in international community development at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Silverlieb started to focus on international development. She supported Jewish communities in such places as Bulgaria, Greece and India through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and started working in the field with IsraAID after the 2016 Canadian wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

“I feel like I got really lucky,” she said. “I’ve always admired IsraAID’s work.”

A few months later, with two suitcases in hand, she was on her way to Vanuatu.

Silverlieb said she is inspired and humbled to “put my values into action through a Jewish and Israeli lens.”

She may be an international development professional by trade, but by nature she’s a true diplomat, proud to be an “ambassador” representing Israel and Jews in one of the most remote locales on the planet.

The people of Vanuatu put Israel on a pedestal, she said. “They’ve studied the Bible. They know it’s the Holy Land.”

For now, Silverlieb has signed on to continue her work in Vanuatu, despite being homesick for Israel every day — “the food, the culture, the little Hebrew I can speak, the holidays — you know, it’s just your home.”

In February, when she returns to Vanuatu, her husband will join her.

Then, maybe, her mother might worry a little bit less.

Muvix Reinvents the Cinema Experience

Photo courtesy of Muvix

The demise of the movie theater has long been predicted but has yet to happen. The final nail in the coffin may be streaming services like Netflix and inexpensive 4K, flat-screen monitors (or even personal devices, which millennials often prefer), which make staying in with a bucket of homemade popcorn a cost-effective and convenient alternative to the cineplex.

Alon Nisim Cohen, a cinema buff and fan of the classic movie-theater concept, decided he wasn’t about to let a time-honored tradition become the latest casualty of the digital age.

Each room sports a large flat-screen TV and furniture designed to remind you of home.

Instead, he decided to bring digital smarts to the theater.

The result is Muvix,  a mashup of the comforts of home with the excitement of a night out on the town, all run by a mobile app.

While the Muvix Concept mini-multiplex at the Tahana — the old Tel Aviv train station — looks and feels like a movie theater, what the company really is selling is a cloud-based technology for on-demand, multi-theater synchronized screening.

Muvix has built 14 mini-theaters in a single open-plan building. Some accommodate only two people, others can hold a party of 20. Each room sports a large flat-screen TV and furniture designed to remind you of home (for instance, a couch and comfy armchair or two large double beds).

To book a screening, you first download the Muvix app and choose the movie from a list of 100 or so recent and classic films. At the theater, you get a pair of headphones to plug into your smartphone. The app tells you which theater you’ll be using. The Muvix software links the video with the soundtrack.

The core of Muvix’s technology is keeping track of hundreds of users watching potentially dozens of films at once, with the soundtracks streaming over multiple cellular phone networks (or at the Muvix Concept space, via Wi-Fi).

You don your headphones and the movie starts at the appointed time. If you want to order food during the film, you can call a waiter from within the Muvix app.

Muvix Concept in Tel Aviv is really a beta testing facility for Muvix’s eventual move on the U.S. market. So far, 5,000 people have seen a Muvix-powered film. The theater has been open to the public since July on weekends; the introductory fee is NIS 20 per person (about $5.70), including a free drink.

Muvix’s staff is small — only 15 people in nearby Petah Tikva — and the company has raised $6 million from several angels along with founder Cohen, who previously headed and took public CyberArk, one of Israel’s largest cybersecurity companies.

While Muvix aims to create a fun alternative to watching at home, where Cohen and Muvix CEO Nithai Barzam are going with the technology is not necessarily the movies. Barzam envisions Muvix software being used in corporate environments, where a series of pop-up theaters easily could be rolled out for a night or two. The “movie” might be company-provided content about its new product line or a team-bonding event.

Sticking with the Hollywood direction, a municipality could create a pop-up theater in the park, on a rooftop or at the beach with multiple screens. You pick your movie from the app, don your headphones and share the experience of being together while watching what you prefer.

Muvix could be implemented in a hospital waiting room, an airport waiting area, a live concert or a sporting event, Barzam suggests. All the controlling software is run from the cloud.

The Muvix experience can seem a bit isolating at first because you’re ensconced in your private sound bubble. If you want to talk to your friends, a private group audio button lets you speak over the soundtrack to others in your group.

Worried that your phone doesn’t have enough juice to last the entire film? Hit the call button on the app and a Muvix staffer will bring you a battery charger.

The Bukhari Renaissance Woman

Photo by Efrat Lotenberg

The living room in an apartment in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood was heaving with people, young and old, most of whom had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughter. Their host, Eti-Jon Eliezerov, had just finished a skit impersonating a Bukharian Jew cooking up a storm.

According to Bukhari tradition, a woman’s worth, jokes Eliezerov in a sing-song voice, is measured by whether she can peel a potato in one go.

“The peel has to be a single coil and must remain thin,” Eliezerov emphasizes.

At the age of 13, her father fell in love with her mother after observing her chop a carrot with dazzling agility.

Eliezerov was born and raised in the house in Florentine where, today, she hosts evenings celebrating Bukharian Jewish heritage. She returned to live there in 2011 after a 32-year absence, during which she married — much to her parents’ chagrin — an Ashkenazi. Together, they had three children.

Eliezerov’s parents arrived in Palestine in 1935 from Samarkand, modern-day Uzbekistan. Along with hundreds of thousands of their Jewish brethren in Central Asia, they spoke a Jewish dialect of the Tajik-Persian language. It was a grueling, two-year trudge by foot to the Holy Land, with multiple tragedies and pitfalls along the way, including a stint in an Afghani prison and the death of Eliezerov’s older sister.

When speaking of her parents, Eliezerov’s voice oozes unbridled adulation. Her mother, a dancer, and her father, a musician, traveled the world together giving traditional Bukhari performances. But little Eti, at 6 years old, paid a steep price for their wanderlust. At a loss for what to do with her, her parents put Eliezerov in an ultra-Orthodox orphanage in the coastal town of Netanya for a year and a half while her parents took off on a tour to Paris. Later on, she was moved to another institution in the town of Bnei Barak. It was only in fourth grade that Eliezerov returned to her parents’ home in Florentine.

“My mother was devastated. She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’ ” — Eti-Jon Eliezerov

Eliezerov said she feels no bitterness toward them. “I’m not angry. I was never angry at them. I’m not able to get angry at them.”

“My parents were the warmest, most hospitable people,” she says.

She credits her up-and-down childhood in her later choice to become a therapist, specializing in psychodrama and gestalt.

These days, though, Eliezerov says her calling is to restore the Florentine neighborhood to its heyday. Today, the neighborhood, which hugs Jaffa on one side and the fancy Neve Tzedek district on the other, is a haven for hipster millennials. The Florentine that Eliezerov remembers from her childhood, though, brimmed with a fusion of culture and Jewish tradition.

“There was a lot of love in this neighborhood, everyone’s door was always open. It was colorful,” she says.

Eliezerov already has gotten the Tel Aviv municipality on board with bringing back the long-dead tradition of a parade through the streets on Simchat Torah. She also spearheaded an initiative called “Florentine in a Pot,” creating a bridge between the neighborhood’s old and young populations in which the elderly give cooking workshops infused with storytelling to their young neighbors.

And in her own house, Eliezerov is living her dream by hosting monthly evenings celebrating Bukhari culture. She wears traditional Bukhari garb and serves her guests Bukhari food, such as Plov, a rich rice dish embellished with meats and carrots. Armed with a doyra, a Bukhari drum, Eliezerov dances and sings lyrics that hark back to bygone days in Samarkand.

Although she is a born and bred Sabra, Eliezerov said she felt “just like I’d arrived home” when she traveled to Uzbekistan as a guide on a roots trip.

It’s a wonder, then, that in her early 20s she rebelled by marrying an Ashkenazi of Polish descent.

“My mother was devastated,” she said. “She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’”

Eyebrows, it seems, are not inconsequential in Bukhari tradition. Despite her choice of partner, Eliezerov was adamant to preserve some of the Bukhari traditions relating to marriage and as such she insisted on a Koshchinon, the traditional eyebrow grooming ritual. According to Eliezerov, Bukhari women are forbidden from touching their eyebrows – which, she points out, is often a unibrow – until they are about to get married. A few days before the wedding, and prior to immersion in the mikveh, the bride is surrounded by married friends and relatives who watch as the Koshchin – the eyebrow groomer – shapes her brows using a special blade and string. The Koshchin usually doubles as a comedienne, stage whispering in the bride’s ear crass nothings about what awaits her in matrimony. Special songs are sung at the occasion, and in keeping with Bukhari tradition, endless trays of food are served. To gasps of oohs and aahs, the mother of the bride also presents her daughter’s dowry, consisting of flowing gowns and dresses and bedsheets.

Nevertheless, after a 30-year marriage, Eliezerov divorced her husband. He was, in her words, too far from religion. Especially after her adult son became religious, she realized just how much she missed the faith of her childhood. These days, Eliezerov, who returned to being an observant Jew, feels like she finally has found her place in the world.

“I’m in my childhood home, making people laugh, making them cry, using my talents to move people,” she says.

“All my life, I’ve waited for this.”

Episode 61 – Drags to Riches

A few months ago Tel Aviv celebrated Pride month with a glorious parade. This annual event has already become a tradition and attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over Israel and from across the globe to this tiny Mediterranean city.

Indeed, Tel Aviv is known as the Pride capital of the world, but that status was not bestowed upon it, but rather earned. When you come to think of it, it’s not obvious that in a religious, conservative country like Israel, such a vivacious sub-culture of LGBT would flourish. And yet, it does.

Uriel Yekutiel is maybe one of the biggest international symbols of the Israeli LGBT community. As a renowned performer, Yekutiel is tearing up the stages of Tel Aviv’s night life. As a dancer and an actor, he’s been creating viral video clips for years, and in 2015 he even danced with Bar Refaeli in a commercial. Yekutiel’s videos are young, fun and provocative.
Yekutiel also led the revolution of mizrahi-themed gay parties, and apart from that, he devotes much of his time to social causes, like the struggle against suicide in the gay community.

Uriel Yekutiel joins 2NJB to talk about his fascinating life and career.

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Uriel’s commercial with Bar Refaeli:

WATCH: Holocaust survivor recounts leaving father behind on train to Auschwitz, receives message from him years later

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A remarkable story has emerged of a Holocaust survivor leaving her father behind on the train cars headed for Auschwitz and receiving a message from him years later.

The 92-year-old survivor, identified as Klara Prowisor, told filmmaker Matan Rochlitz that she, her husband Philippe Szyper and her father were all forced by the Nazis to ride the train cars to Auschwitz. Szyper repeatedly insisted that they jump out of the car in Belgium, but Prowisor initially resisted because her father had become gravely ill and didn’t want to leave his side. Others in the train car didn’t want them to jump because the Nazis threatened to punish them if anyone was missing.

However, after sleeping on it she eventually decided to jump.

“I left my father,” said Prowisor, “and it was so painful. I abandoned my father in such terrible conditions.”

Szyper jumped shortly after Prowisor, and Belgian citizens provided them refuge until the war was over.

One evening in 1962, when Prowisor and Szyper were visiting Tel Aviv, they were walking down Dizengoff Street when Prowisor was approached a woman who said she had been looking for Prowisor for 20 years because she witnessed Prowisor’s father wake up after Prowisor had jumped. Prowisor’s father told her to relay a message to Prowisor.

“If you ever meet my daughter again, tell her I’m the happiest father,” Prowisor’s father told the woman. “I’m glad she jumped.”

Prowisor learned from the woman that her father had passed away on the train before the train had reached Auschwitz.

“He had this intuition to tell me, ‘You did the right thing,’” said Prowisor. “I live with that. A weight fell off me.”

She later added, “It was so important for me to hear this woman pass on my father’s message to me. It’s exceptional. It’s a gift … from God.”

Prowisor then said she didn’t believe in God.

The woman who relayed the message to Prowisor has never been identified, but it is believed that she was Dutch.

The full video can be seen below, via the New York Times:

Riding on the Right Side of the Law

Barak "Doveleh" Moskowitz. Photo by Danielle Shitrit.

On the road to the hard-knock Israeli town of Ramla, between the small town of Kfar Chabad and the smaller moshav of Beit Dagan, there’s a bar where bikers come and park their hogs.

It’s called Bonnie Design, and it’s equal parts watering hole, social club and shrine to all things Harley-Davidson. It’s here that Barak “Doveleh” Moskowitz, a hardcore member of the Israeli motorcycle gang Zion Riders, parks his custom bike each day. (A friend gave Moskowitz the nickname “Doveleh,” Hebrew for “Little Bear,” and it stuck.)

He doesn’t come to drink, although he’s always happy to join his friends at the bar. Moskowitz says he has been sober since 1991, when at the age of 26, he joined Narcotics Anonymous, embraced its 12-step program and gave up the drugs, booze and petty theft that had marked his previous decade.

He doesn’t really come to chat, either, although Moskowitz is laid back and generally loves to talk.

For Moskowitz, the real reason to come to Bonnie Design is the dog that lives along the way.

“I have one dog and two cats at home,” Moskowitz said, “but I also have a dog near Ramla. He’s been tied up his whole life. He’s a big dog — very nasty. He’s chained up in a field. So every day I bring him food.”

Moskowitz is a study in contradictions: a tatted-up, road-hardened biker who greets friends with a grin and double kisses on the cheek; an ex-con who cuddles up at night with a rescue pup and who spends hours each day at a trendy vegetarian cafe in the heart of posh Tel Aviv.

Moskowitz has a name for the dog in the field: “Gingy,” because of his reddish fur. He would love to take home the animal, he said, but unlike Moskowitz, Gingy can’t be tamed.

“He’s a murderer,” he said. “He would kill anyone. He would kill my dog and my cats, but with me, and only me, he is OK. I understand him and he understands me, too.”

Moskowitz was born not far from Gingy’s field, in the Israeli town of Ness Ziona. He first tasted crime as a teenager, stealing cars and motorcycles with packs of friends who would hang out and cause trouble along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.

A few years later, while completing his mandatory three years in the Israel Defense Forces, he was stationed in a jeep with three other men at the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. It was Oct. 6, 1973, and his commander wanted to make an omelet on the jeep’s hot plate. He ordered Moskowitz — the youngest and lowest ranking among the quartet — to head over to the unit’s makeshift kitchen tent to grab some olive oil.

A few seconds after Moskowitz scrambled out of the vehicle, a Syrian strike took out the jeep. Moskowitz survived, but the guilt shattered him.

“Three people died in one place, but I didn’t. For sure it was luck,” he said. “And that’s where it all started. I started taking opium, and then I started to live on the street.”

For years, Moskowitz was caught up in a cycle of crime and punishment. He served multiple stints in prison for theft. He lived illegally as a squatter.

He had a son while in prison, and before Moskowitz got out, his wife took the child and left. He says he held the baby once, when the boy was 8 months old. He says he hasn’t seen the child since.

The suffering, he said, “got too much,” and in 1991 he bade crime, drugs and alcohol goodbye. He started to earn a legal living by buying and reselling vintage items and antiques. Today, his closest and most genuine family, he said, is the Zion Riders, Israel’s answer to the Hell’s Angels.

He is a fixture at Cafe Xoho, the vegetarian Tel Aviv cafe popular among olim, Anglos and the gluten-free, raw-food and vegan set. He loves it there, he said, and this past summer he rode his Harley down to the Negev desert to attend the wedding of the cafe’s owner.

Last year, knowing he could never bring Gingy home with him, Moskowitz  rescued a black Labrador puppy named Sunny. He can’t bring Sunny on his bike with him, but in a few months, he said, he is going to purchase a motor home to drive around the country. Sunny will travel with him, wherever he goes.

These days, Moskowitz is recovering from gastric bypass surgery, which he had because of developing diabetes, and he is meeting weekly with his 12-step group to offer support and to help him stay clean.

“We sit and we talk about everything,” he said. “People like me, we are many thousands in Israel.” 

Debra Kamin, an American journalist living in Tel Aviv, is a regular contributor to The New York Times Travel section, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Time magazine, Town & Country and Variety.

[WATCH] That time Tom Petty hung out with an Orthodox rock band in Israel

Musician Tom Petty died at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital last night, October 3, after suffering cardiac arrest. The rock star just wrapped up a big tour, which ended on September 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, marking the 30th anniversary since he visited Israel for a “Temple in Flames Tour.”

From the vaults: September 1987, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers toured Israel with Bob Dylan, performing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A film crew followed Petty around and chronicled the experience for MTV‘s Musical Passport series, Rock Israel.

“We’re really just whirl-winding through here, so it would be hard to say I have any impression of the people,” he said during a private interview, probably backstage between shows.

On the tourbus, Petty pointed out the window. “What’s that?” he asked as they passed an ancient site. “Well, it ain’t Mulholland Drive,” one of his bandmates responded.

“I haven’t heard any Israeli Rock and Roll, though it must exist,” he confessed. And he soon found out, it does a la Orthodox rock band, Diaspora Yeshiva Band. “I think anyone should be able to pick up an instrument and jump around,” Petty said smiling.

While sightseeing in Jerusalem, Diaspora Yeshiva Band’s frontman Avraham Rosenblum, points out the Mosque of Umar. “That’s considered the holiest place to Jews because there’s a rock directly underneath that and that rock is considered the foundations to the universe. Some of our famous rabbis said the process of music also began here,” Rosenblum said.

To which Petty responded, “That’s pretty wild, right?”

Israel gears up to host prestigious Italian cycling race

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, bicycling with retired cycling champions Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Giro.

Stressing the chance to show off Israel to the world, Israeli officials joined with their Italian counterparts in announcing Monday that three stages of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race will be held in the country, starting in Jerusalem.

It will mark the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races — the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history.

Israeli officials said the race will be the biggest sporting event ever held in their country and touted it as an opportunity to showcase the Jewish state — and its capital — to the world.

“Hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our other historic sites,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the hotel gathering. “Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all.”

The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on “everyone who loves the Giro to come here to Israel.”

“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone.”

Israel will host the first three stages of the Giro, or “the Big Start,” on consecutive days from May 4 to 6. Stage 1 will be a 6.3-mile individual time trial in Jerusalem, passing the Knesset and ending near the walls of the Old City. Stage 2, in the North, will start in Haifa with riders pedaling 103.8 miles down the Mediterranean coast to the Tel Aviv beach. Stage 3, in the South, will cover 140.4 miles through the arid Negev from Beersheba to Eilat on the Red Sea.

Italian officials told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that they were being careful to avoid crossing into politically sensitive areas, like the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, which they feared could spark protests. An official map of the Stage 1 route shows it approaching but not entering the Old City, which is located in eastern Jerusalem — where much of the world, but not the Israeli government, envisions a future Palestinian capital.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar.

In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.

Alberto Contador, left, and Ivan Basso, right, former winners of the Giro d’Italia, with race and Israeli officials including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, fourth from right. (Courtesy of the Giro)

Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said Monday that the race would celebrate Bartali’s memory. In addition to being a great sports champion, he said, Bartali “was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the young generations — never to be forgotten.”

Retired Giro champions Alberto Contador of Italy and Ivan Basso of Spain, both two-time winners, also were on hand for the Jerusalem announcement.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian real estate magnate and philanthropist who recently immigrated to Israel, helped bring the Giro to Israel and will serve as its honorary president. Adams said he was motivated by love of cycling and a desire to help his adopted country.

“I would call this the antidote to BDS,” he told JTA, referring to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. “The media sometimes portrays our country in a negative way, and this is a way to bypass the media and go straight into the living rooms of 800 million people. They’ll see our country exactly as it is, and my experience is people almost universally have positive experiences when they encounter Israel.”

The Giro is just part of Adams’ larger plan to make Israel a cycling powerhouse. A co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team founded in 2014, he is building the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv to be finished in time for the race.

“My plan is to bring Israeli athletes to the highest level of the sport,” he said.

Ran Margaliot, an Israeli former professional cyclist and the general manager of the Israel Cycling Academy, said the team has applied to compete in the Giro and will find out if it qualified in December. It is among 32 second division teams jockeying for a wild card spot, but he is hopeful.

“I certainly think we deserve an invitation,” Margaliot told JTA. “No one can tell me we’re not good enough, and we work as hard as the Europeans, even harder.”

Margaliot said that while he failed to achieve his ambition of becoming the first Israeli to race in a Grand Tour, the next best thing would be for an Israeli member of his international team to do it.

“You can imagine what it would mean for an Israeli rider to be racing in his own country, passing near his home and friends and family,” he said before catching himself. “But we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”

On first Israel visit, Conan O’Brien falls for ‘beautiful’ women and shakshuka

Conan O’Brien overlooking the beach in Tel Aviv on Aug. 26. Screenshot from Twitter

Conan O’Brien first trip to Israel has so far been a love fest.

Since arriving in the country Friday to film a special episode of his TBS talk show, he has schmoozed with locals in Tel Aviv, calling them “fantastic, really funny, nice people.” And they have reciprocated the affection.

In a Facebook video shot Saturday evening in Jaffa, in south Tel Aviv, O’Brien flirts with a young blonde woman, despite the presence of her husband.

“Is this music you’re hearing right now making you fall in love with me?” he asks, referring to a droning tune in the background.

“I already did,” she replies.

But it’s not just the women.

“All the men are incredibly buff, and the women are beautiful,” O’Brien says. “A lot of men in speedos, if that’s your thing. Fortunately for me, it is.”

O’Brien also gushes about the food. He recommends shakshuka, the Middle Eastern breakfast dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce, advising, “You gotta get yourself some shakshuka, and get it today.”

He also endorses Gold Star lager, Israel’s best-selling beer, deeming it “amazing, terrific.”

Although O’Brien describes Tel Aviv as “absolutely gorgeous,” and says he went for a run along the waterfront, one thing he is not a fan of is the heat. “I’m like a vampire. When the sun comes up here, I just start shrieking and hissing,” he jokes.

With the temperature in the city reaching a humid 90 degrees over the weekend, many Israelis can relate to that criticism.

O’Brien will reportedly spend five days in Israel shooting his international special “Conan Without Borders.” In announcing the trip, he joked that he was coming “to help Jared Kushner,” U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and aide, who arrived in the country Wednesday to advance peace talks.

In his video Saturday, O’Brien said he would visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and employees at the new Setai hotel on the Sea of Galilee told JTA he had booked rooms there for later in the week.

Not content just to watch O’Brien’s video about them, which has been viewed more than 400,000 times, some Israelis have been posting photos of their interactions with the comedian on social media, too.

An Israeli entertainment journalist shared on Facebook photos of O’Brien taking shots Friday night with the chef at a high-end Asian restaurant. And on Saturday afternoon, O’Brien appeared to charm Israelis enjoying Shabbat on Tel Aviv’s central Rothschild Boulevard.

“Every second word cracked everyone up.. He really knows how to be a celebrity, so accessible and friendly,” one man wrote in a Facebook post that included photos of him with O’Brien. “He stops cars in the streets and starts talking to the drivers, shouting Shabbat shalom to passersby in broken Hebrew.”

Another Tel Aviv resident went so far as to give O’Brien the shirt off his back — in exchange for O’Brien’s blue button-down. The man explained that he had stepped out of his apartment to get a cup of coffee hoping no one would see him in the ripped up old army shirt, but “from here to there Conan liked the shirt.”

“What a king,” a commenter wrote.

However, at least one Israeli may have been less than charmed. In a video O’Brien shot in a restroom on his inbound El Al flight, someone can be heard aggressively shaking and banging on the door.

“Peace, peace, l’chayim, l’chayim,” O’Brien shouts. “Please, please, there’s a peaceful solution here.”

Netanyahu: Moving Embassy to Jerusalem could ‘easily be done’

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

In a meeting this month with Republican members of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to express support for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to one of the participants Representative Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). The Pennsylvania lawmaker told Jewish Insider that Netanyahu “believes is that it could easily be done. In his (Netanyahu) words: We already have a consulate in Jerusalem. It’s a matter of just changing the sign to make it the Embassy.”

While President Donald Trump repeatedly urged the transfer of the Embassy to Jerusalem during his 2016 election campaign, the real estate mogul turned commander in chief signed a national security waiver on June 1 keeping the U.S. diplomatic compound in Tel Aviv.

“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” the White House noted in a statement at the time.

[This story originally appeared on]

The Israeli leader raised the issue of the Embassy in response to a question by Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE). According to Rep. Smucker’s recollection of the meeting, Netanyahu “believes that there wouldn’t be a lot of pushback in the event that we do that.”

Palestinian officials have vehemently opposed the Embassy’s relocation. Jibril Rajoub, one of the most influential Fatah members,  told the Times of Israel in January, “Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a declaration of war against Muslims.” Jordan, which maintains ties to East Jerusalem guaranteed in the 1994 peace treaty, has also said that moving the Embassy would cross a “red line.”

After the national security waiver was signed this summer, the momentum to relocate the embassy appears to have declined in Washington following months of anticipation by many of the President’s supporters. However, Netanyahu’s backing of the embassy transfer to Jerusalem in the August meeting with Congress demonstrates it is not a settled issue yet.

Netanyahu slams ‘fake news,’ calls investigations a ‘witch hunt’

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently the subject of multiple corruption investigations, lashed out at the “fake news” media at a rally attended by thousands of Likud Party supporters.

Held Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, the rally was organized by coalition chairman and Likud lawmaker David Bitan, who told Israeli media he organized the rally because Netanyahu is being “persecuted” by the media and the opposition. Supporters were bussed in from around the country for the rally.

In his speech, Netanyahu slammed the “fake news” media, echoing a sign at the rally that said “Fake news is f***ing news.” Some journalists said they were verbally abused by rally participants.

Netanyahu called the corruption investigations “an obsessive witch-hunt against me and my family.”

“They don’t want to just take me down, they want to take us all down. They know that they can’t beat us at the ballots, so they are trying to circumvent democracy and topple us in other ways,” Netanyahu said.

“We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an unprecedented hunt against me and my family to bring down the government. They are putting unrelenting pressure on the legal system in order for them to present an indictment without any proof,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently the subject of two corruption investigations. In the first, called Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from billionaires and then taking action on their behalf. In the second, called Case 2000, he is accused of striking a deal with a newspaper publisher in order to receive favorable coverage at the expense of a competitor, Israel Hayom, owned by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Two other corruption scandals target close associates of Netanyahu and both his wife and older son also are targets of investigations.

Why Mariah Carey is being grilled about an Israeli corruption scandal

Mariah Carey at a press conference for the Israeli cosmetics brand Premier Red Sea in Tel Aviv on June 26. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Mariah Carey’s latest trip to Israel hasn’t been full of screaming fans and big stages.

She’s in Tel Aviv for business as the new face of the Premier Dead Sea cosmetics brand. During a press conference on Monday, she was grilled with questions about a past relationship — specifically how her ex-fiancé might be entangled in the corruption scandal dogging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The last time the Grammy winner was in Israel, in 2015, things were much different. Carey visited with James Packer, an Australian billionaire who was her then-fiancé. The couple had some fun at the Western Wall and met with an unnamed “spiritual leader” for guidance about their future. They also had a fancy private dinner with Netanyahu — a close friend of Packer’s — and his wife, Sara.

So why else is this Israel trip different for Carey? For one thing, she and Packer broke up last October.

Oh, and Packer has also since been linked to Netanyahu’s headline-grabbing corruption scandal.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has been accused of illegally taking lavish gifts from several of his rich supporters, such as billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. He also allegedly made a deal with Yediot Ahronoth, one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, so that the publication would cover him more favorably. Several dozen people have been questioned by Israeli police in connection to the investigations.

Netanyahu has denied the charges, saying he received gifts but not bribes.

Packer has been accused of giving Netanyahu’s oldest son Yair free hotel rooms and luxury flights, and he has been wanted for questioning in Israel since March. Rumors spread that Carey might be questioned by police at some point, but this is not actually the case, according The Hollywood Reporter.

When asked about Packer’s current whereabouts, the diva had some choice words.

“I don’t know where the motherf—er is,” Carey Israel’s Channel 2 News. “How am I supposed to know? I don’t know, for real. I really have no idea about the political stuff that goes on, I don’t pay attention to it.”

Another interview with the Israeli entertainment show “Erev Tov” was shut down by her publicists.

“Oh, now they want to blame me? Someone wants to blame me for something now? What did I do? I didn’t do anything,” Carey said in the interview.

The ruffled pop star cancelled a reception she had planned for Tuesday night and is now only staying in Israel for a few days to fulfill her contractual obligations.

She does plan to visit the Dead Sea for the first time, and she’s bringing her six-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan (no typo there) along.

“I’m hoping they’ll have a good time and won’t get salt in their eyes,” Carey said Monday.

All she wants for Christmas is to be kept out of her ex’s corruption probes.

Mula Goldman on the Six-Day War: ‘You can’t even think about losing’

Left: An undated picture of Mula Goldman during his service as a paratrooper for the Israel Defense Forces. Right: Goldman recently at his home in Tarzana. Photo by Eitan Arom

Two weeks after Sam “Mula” Goldman was discharged from active duty military service in May 1967, war broke out in between Israel and its neighbors. Around him, Tel Aviv began to empty out as the fighting-age men went to war.

“The way you mobilize at that time was you just go from door to door, people go get people,” he said in a recent interview.

But because he had just left active service and wasn’t yet on the roster of reservists, nobody came to get him. So, unbidden, Goldman turned up to his unit. It was never a question of whether he should report for duty.

“When there is a war, you go fight the war,” he said, speaking on the phone from Texas.

Goldman now works in construction, commuting between Tarzana and Dallas. His three sons, all of whom live in the United States, also were Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including one, Erez, the Los Angeles regional director of the Israeli American Council, who was a paratrooper like his father.

Fighting in 1967 was something like a rite of passage for many members of Goldman’s generation. In Israel, war is a fact of life, he said.

“It’s part of growing up,” he said. “It’s part of the culture. … But we don’t make a big deal out of it. You’re not unique. Many people go through the same thing, you know what I’m saying? You don’t brag about being in the army.”

When Goldman reported for duty, the army found a job for him, commissioning him to organize a unit that would drop behind enemy lines with mortar equipment.

“We were trained only a few days,” he said. “I never dealt with that stuff before.”

The plan was to jump out of planes into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Desert. But on the way to the plane, plans changed and the mission was canceled. Instead, Goldman was sent to the Sinai to fight alongside regular infantry. Then, plans changed again, and Goldman was moved to the Golan Heights.

“All the way across the country,” he said. “And then everything was so quick — in six days it was over, man.”

For the remainder for the war — three or four days — Goldman fought a literal uphill battle in the Golan, exchanging mortar fire with Syrian forces until the Israelis gained the higher ground.

The experience was not without its frightening moments, but actual battle left no room for the emotion, he said. “You’re afraid on the way going there, on the way back maybe. While you’re doing it, eh — no time to be afraid.”

Instead, Goldman’s narrative betrays a tone of absolute necessity, where failure was simply out of the question.

“In Israel, you can’t even think about losing,” he said. “You gotta win. Losing is not an option. … If Israel lost the Six-Day War, there wouldn’t be Israel anymore.”

As the child of Holocaust survivors, the thought of annihilation was not far from Goldman’s mind. Of his mother’s 12 siblings, only four survived World War II. Goldman himself was born in 1946 in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen before his parents took him to Israel two years later.

“We grew up with the slogan, ‘Never again,’ ” he said. “So, of course, it’s in the background.”

But after the war, any fear evaporated, replaced almost overnight by jubilation.

“We lived for a little while in a euphoria. We the garesh [apostrophe],” he said, a reference to the Jewish state’s diminutive size. “The little Israel can do what nobody can do.”

Shortly after the war, Goldman moved to Pennsylvania to attend Philadelphia University, but Israel was never far from his heart. When war broke out again in 1973, he decided to join the fray. By his telling, Israeli expatriates were fighting for seats on flights to Tel Aviv.

“Of course, you don’t have to go,” he said, “but I came. I wasn’t by myself. A lot of people did it.”

Why join a war when you’re tens of thousands of miles away with no specific obligation to fight?

“Because that’s your country,” Goldman said. “What do you mean? It’s your country, and if not you, who will?” n