Foto Friday – Bezalel takes on Ashdod

The city of Ashdod has been in the headlines recently for some unpleasant reasons — missile attacks, burst water mains, port workers strikes and slowdowns — and so it is time to repay a visit to this port city, which is generally a very pleasant place. It has become a popular destination for Russian tourists, eager for some winter sunshine, and was also, according to the municipal website, “awarded all of the prizes granted by The Council for a Beautiful Israel”.

The modern city of Ashdod was founded on November 25, 1956 but the area has been continuously inhabited with human settlement in Ashdod dating back to the Paleolithic Period and urban settlement originating from the 17th century BCE under the Canaanites and then under the Philistines, who conquered the city in the 14th century BCE.

Ashdod developed into one of the five most important Philistine cities. During the Israelite period (600-1200 BCE), Ashdod was partially held by the Tribe of Judah and is mentioned 13 times in the Bible. By the way, Ashdod is home to the Corine Maman Museum, reputedly one of the only museums in the world dedicated to presenting the rich history and culture of the Philistine world.

The city was subsequently conquered by Assyrians — evidence of their presence was found at the Tel Ashdod excavations — Persians, Greeks, Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and in modern times, controlled by the British Mandate prior to the founding of the State of Israel.

Photo by Yair Aharonovic

I was actually in Ashdod last month* with my drinking and running group, the Holyland Hash House Harriers. As always, I was impressed by the city’s wide boulevards, spacious beachfront, green parks and public sculpture, of which there is quite a great deal — 300 statues, at last count.

In fact, modern Ashdod is an urban planning success story: it is the only city in Israel that was planned before being settled and is the fifth largest city in Israel, with a population of 230,000 living in 17 residential boroughs. The demographic composition is also unusual in that there is a balanced distribution of religious and secular Jews, Israeli-born sabras and new immigrants, the latter comprising 38% of overall population.

Photo by Yevgeni Doroshenk

Photo by Shai Mizrachi

Photo by May Castlenuovo

The city, old and new, is the subject of the exhibition, Bezalel in Ashdod, a collaboration between the Ashdod municipality and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. The exhibition will be on display for two days only – November 23-24 – at the old commercial center of Ashdod, Aleph District, and features works from 120 students and faculty of the Department of Photography who were guests of the city for a week last year.

Photos by Eli Singalovski (left), Neta Laufer (right)

During their stay, the students and faculty took photos of the different facets of the city: people and buildings, streets and parks, industrial and commercial areas, inside homes and of course, the port.

Photo by Vera Vladimirski

Photo by Sergei Litoinov

Curators Noa Zayit, Nir Evron and Noa Zdaka state, “The starting point of the exhibit was to concentrate on a single city, as it references examples of compassion, beauty and kindness, but also encompasses art criticism and conflict documentation – the result being a vivid, courageous and real-life picture of the city.”

Photos by Atalia Renaski (left), Gideon Levi (right)

*As luck would have it, we were just exiting the city when the siren sounded, warning of an incoming missile strike. That’s life in the Wild Wild Middle East.

Hollywood actors, Jerusalem scenery

Rob Morrow in Northern Exposure - will he be adding Jerusalem to the pole?

I know that some readers weren’t too happy with the headline of my last posting which stated that Crosby, Stills and Nash were performing at a tapas bar in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda shuk. Sorry about that, I didn’t think it would be that realistic to the point someone might actually believe it.

However, speaking doogri, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is fond of saying in his gangsta persona, this item is 100% true – if you hang out on the streets of Jerusalem this week, don’t be surprised if you run into Ralph Cifaretto from The Sopranos or Dr. Joel Fleishman from Northern Exposure.

The actors who played those iconic roles – Joe Pantoliano and Rob Morrow respectively – are in town with almost two dozen of their Hollywood brethren (actors, producers and directors) for a week-long visit to meet with Israeli and Palestinian policy leaders, members of the arts, culture and business communities, and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

There’s no Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johanson in the delegation, but joining Pantoliano and Morrow are some pretty big and once-big Hollywood names, including Emmy Award-winner Patricia Arquette (Medium, Holes); Matthew Modine (Batman – The Dark Knight Rises, Full Metal Jacket); Stephen Baldwin (The Usual Suspects, Born on the Fourth of July); and Griffin Dunne (After Hours).

The trip is the brainchild of The Creative Coalition in conjunction with the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC-affiliated organization. The Los Angeles-based Creative Coalition is a non-profit group founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, and according to their write up, “is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance,” using “the power and platform of the arts and entertainment communities in award-winning public service and advocacy campaigns.”

Actor Tim Daly (Wings) serves as the organization’s president and is leading the delegation in Israel.

I wouldn’t mind having coffee at the David Citadel Hotel in the capital with any of the participants, but I do have particularly soft spots for Morrow, whose role as Dr. Joel Fleishman in the series Northern Exposure codified the American Jewish experience as well as Woody Allen, and Griffin Dunne, whose writing and acting, particularly in the spoof After Hours has always been inspired.

Maybe as a result of their visit, we’ll see an upcoming series about an American medical student who pays off his financial assistance by being sent to a development town in Israel.

Nostalgia Sunday – Singing About Women

Last Friday, groups of women in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva, got together for an unusual purpose: to sing in public. The gatherings were organized to protest the trend towards gender separation in the public areas of religious Jewish neighborhoods — once limited to the synagogue it has now extended to buses and sidewalks — and its effect of late on the Israel Defense Forces. The halachic ruling forbidding men hearing the female singing voice took center stage this past summer when nine religious IDF cadets walked out on a performance by two male and two female singers. The cadets were subsequently punished but the issue remains on the table.

Tel Aviv resident Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman decided to take some creative action and, via Facebook and her blog, organized a street protest for women to sing public on 11.11.11. Initially, the event — Women’s Protest, Women Sing Out Loud — was only supposed to take place in Tel Aviv, but groups quickly formed in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheva.

A downloadable songbook was made available with backing from sponsors: the Masorti movement, which is affiliated with the Conservative Judaism movement; Noam, the Masorti youth movement; the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel; Be Free Israel, a nonpartisan movement working on behalf of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; and Israel Hollaback, the local branch of a world movement that uses technology to end gender-oriented and sex-oriented street harassment.

I attended the Tel Aviv event which was, in a word, mellow — more a sing-a-long, less a protest. The song selection was interesting; the once separate worlds of Israeli soft-rockers like Yehudit Ravitz came alongside Mizrahi singers like the late Ofra Haza. Now, 30 years down the road, both of their songs were sung with equal measures of fondness.

HaYalda Hakhi Yafa BaGan - Yehudit Ravitz

Shir HaFreha – Ofra Haza

This oldie, Yeshnan Banot (alternately translated as “There are girls” and “Some girls”) was given a new lease on life in the 90s by Israel’s favorite Eurovision entry, Dana International.

Yeshnan Banot – Lahakat HaNahal

Once song that was missed out: Eifo Hen, HaBahurot HaHen (“Where are they, those girls?). Written in 1966 and sung by Yehoram Gaon, it praised the women of the early pioneering days while simultaneously putting down their daughters — “Once they rode horses on high… / These days, they ride their husbands”, “Once they read Pushkin… These days, they get straight to business” — and so on and so on. Nontheless, the song had enough kitsch appeal to spawn a Dance version by girl group Sarafan.

Eifo Hen, HaBahurot HaHen – Yehoram Gaon

Eifo Hen, HaBahurot HaHen – Sarafan

Also missing: a raft of songs that would have Hollaback Israel hollering back for reinforcements from abroad. These include Jacky Mekaiten’s Shir HaMe’antezet (Song of the Tease), Ahavat Poalei Binyan (Construction Workers Love), and the infamous Kshe’at Omeret Lo (When You Say No) which begs the musical question: When you say ‘no’, what exactly do you mean?

Written in 1962, lyricist Dan Almagor revisited the song in 1992 to add a new verse: “When she says ‘no’, what does she mean? / She means exactly that, when she says ‘no’”. In a way, this shamefully sexist musical lyric became its antithesis. It is also a perennial hipster favorite: Kshe’at Omeret Lo was revived in the mid-90s by drag queen quartet Bnot Pessia, and was recently deconstructed by funk-rockers HaGroovatron.

Kshe’At Omeret Lo – HaGroovatron

Crosby, Stills and Nash play Jerusalem shuk

Long Time Gone playing in front of the Zavit Hamidrash synagogue in Mahane Yehuda.

We spent Thursday evening out and about in Mahane Yehuda, the historic fruit and vegetable shuk in the heart of Jerusalem. But we weren’t there buying produce.

In the last few years, the venerable ‘old world’ market that has been a Jerusalem institution since long before the state was established, has become a nightlife magnet. Cafes, pubs, tapas bars and chic restaurants have opened their doors attracting a young, hip clientele.

Being neither young nor hip, my wife and nonetheless ventured out after dark into the shuk, and made our way to the Que Pasa tapas bar. Situated in an alley between Mahane Yehuda’s two main streets, the bar is directly across from an old, hole in the wall synagogue.

About 50 patrons were sitting out in the alley at tables to listen to a set by Long Time Gone, a well-known local trio who do a spot on acoustic show of songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They were smoking and the audience was grooving for a good two hours in the cool, but refreshing, Jerusalem evening air.

The band was set up directly in front of the synagogue entrance, which had been closed for the evening after Ma’ariv services. I thought the juxtaposition of the tapas bar, the band and the synagogue perfectly reflected the irresistible mosaic that encapsulates Jerusalem life. May it ‘carry on’ for a long time comin’.

Finding the ‘Muzika’ in Israel

Geva Alon being interviewed by Igal Hecht for 'Muzika'. (Photo: Ziv Kenet)

Americans and Canadians are going to be able to get a crash course in Israeli music and the people who make it when Muzika, a new half-hour 52-part TV series that focuses 52 of the most captivating musical voices in the country, begins its run this month.

Among the artists highlighted and interviewed in the series are Ahinoam Nini, David Broza, Hadag Nahash, Geva Alon, Asaf Avidan, Idan Reichel, Karolina, and Subliminal. The series is the brainchild of Canadian/Israeli filmmaker Igal Hecht, whose Chutzpa Productions boasts 40 documentaries – many of them about Israel – to his credit, and it’s co-produced by Israeli filmmaker Lior Cohen.

“The musicians will talk about their careers, highlights and their music,” Hecht told the Canadian Jewish News. “It offers a rare opportunity for people to enjoy some of the best music in the world, while at the same time see a different Israel.”

Hecht said that he shied away from delving into politics with the musicians, preferring to stick to their musical story. And rather than just focus on mainstream artists, he said that the show presents an accurate portrayal of the diverse melting pot of musical influences coming out of Israeli musicians, so there’s Ladino, hip hop, Hassidic, Mizrahi, reggae, and everything in between.

And one of the perks for Hecht was to be in intimate situations with some of his favorite artists – like sitting with David Broza in the musician’s living room and receiving a personal concert, or joining Ivri Lider in the studio.

While North American Jews and Israelis living abroad are natural target audiences for the series, Hecht is confident it will appear mostly to music lovers, regardless of what they know of Israel. Muzika will be screened beginning November 20 on CTS, Cross Roads Television in Canada, and on Shalom TV in the US.

Check out the show’s YouTube channel for some previews.

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