Foto Friday – Peaceful Vistas

Tumultuous doesn’t begin to describe the week’s events. The Boston Marathon Bombing, the explosion of the chemical plant in Texas, and now the (still ongoing) manhunt after the bombers have pushed North Korea and Iranian nuclear threats off the headlines… for the moment. These are crazy days.

Time to take a break with some beautiful panoramic images of places we love.

1980_ Panorama Tel aviv_norm.jpgTel Aviv Coast. Photo by Dana Friedlander.

Panorama1 The wailing wall and Temple Mount_normWailing Wall and Temple Mount. Photo by Noam Chen.

IMG_2795_Itamar Grinberg the Sea of Galilee_normSea of Galilee. Photo by Itamar Grinberg.

Negev - Ramon Crater 4. Dafna Tal.jpg_normRamon Crater at Sunrise. Photo by ​Dafna Tal.

Acre - Akko 11-  St. John church_normAcre (Akko); St. John church. Uncredited.

NormalHaifa 001Night view from Mt. Carmel, Haifa. Uncredited.

All photographs courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Flowers and flour in Ein Kerem

February 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Environment 
Ein Kerem almond blossoms

Ein Kerem almond blossoms

With the weather in Israel looking positively spring-like for this coming week, now is the time to head to the hills to enjoy the seasonal flowers, in particular the almond blossoms which are out in force. We did just that this past Friday, when the weather was similarly gorgeous, and made a great new (for us, at least) discovery: there is an easy hike – more a quick jaunt into the woods – right in the heart of Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, well worth a visit even when the flowers aren’t in full bloom.

The entrance to the valley is opposite the Trezoro ice cream and pizza place on Rehov HaMa’ayan 25 (stellar location, mediocre gelato). There are only two real routes in – one marked for pedestrians and another for bikes. Both lead to the same destination, all of about 10 minutes walk away. That might be why the stroll is popular with families with young kids, dogs and picnickers. This is not a trek that will strain your hiking credibility.

You’re also never completely off the grid – you can always see some of Ein Kerem’s buildings on the hillside above – but that doesn’t detract from the presence of the ever present almond trees, the lush green grass that has been nurtured by this year’s ridiculous rains, and the occasional splash of licorice.

Before we headed into the valley, we stopped at Café Inbal, one of Ein Kerem’s few kosher restaurants, to pick up some of their exquisite breads. Shaped like oversized muffins or, better yet, small challahs, we sampled three types, all freshly baked and still warm when we opened our bag in the middle of the “hike” – a pillow-y white bread that would make Wonder wince like sourdough; another shaped more like a focaccia and equally as bleached; and a yellow-orange spiced bread that had hints of cumin, zatar and maybe even Indian masala. They were all good enough to eat even without the dips that come when you have a full meal at the restaurant.

The combination of the flour from the bread and the flowers of the field made for a much-needed break from the urban necessities of cleaning and cooking for Shabbat. And because Ein Kerem is so close, perhaps in a coming week we’ll head out to hike again, double up on the rolls and bring a few home for Friday night dinner.

Almond blossom season continues for another month or so – don’t miss this oasis adjacent to the big city.

Glass half full – Better Place transforms station error into customer service case study

February 19, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Environment 
The message reads "Error in process...please wait"

The message reads “Error in process…please wait”

Hey Better Place electric car aficionados: ever wonder what would happen if you pulled into one of the company’s fully automated battery swap stations and it didn’t work? Well, I’m here to tell the tale. It’s a classic glass half empty/half full situation. Half empty: the station broke down and we weren’t able to get the fresh battery we needed at midnight. Half full: Better Place has really great customer service.

The full story: we were driving back to Jerusalem from a bar mitzvah party in Rehovot. We left relatively early because we knew we’d have to swap batteries before climbing the hill home. We asked OSCAR, our electric car “operating system” and friendly GPS where the most convenient swap station was. Anava Junction, it replied, near where Highways 1 and 431 intersect.

We’ve swapped at Anava before and, in the past, there’s always been a station attendant present. But Better Place is phasing out that staff (they had mostly been doing quality assurance anyway as the stations run on their own). No problem: we pulled up, the station “recognized” our car, the gate swung open without a word, and we were guided through the process via the stations’ electronic signage.

The car was hoisted up as normal, allowing the Better Place robot to slide under the vehicle to remove our battery and insert a new one, a process that takes all of five minutes. And then, a yellow warning sign appeared. It read takala – a word that first year ulpan students quickly learn to dread. “Error.”

We waited a couple of minutes, but the yellow warning remained. So we called Better Place Customer Service.

Now, I’ve written before about Better Place’s attentiveness and professionalism towards its customers and Dor, who picked up the call, was no exception. He calmed us down and tried various fixes on his end. The yellow warning would disappear, the process would resume, but then the takala alert came back.

We went through this quite a few times over the course of about half an hour before it was clear that the ever patient Dor had exhausted his ability to remotely fix the issue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just that we couldn’t get a new battery. The robot now would not release our car to go find another station (we could have driven back a few kilometers to Nesharim or tried our luck at continuing on to Beit Shemesh or Hemed on the charge that remained).

Incredibly apologetic, Dor made us an offer we couldn’t refuse – especially one at 12:30 AM. He pressed a button on his call center console and the door to the station manager’s office magically opened. There on the desk was a set of keys to an identical Better Place car sitting in the station’s parking lot. “Take the keys,” he said, “and drive home with our car. In the morning, we’ll bring your car directly to you.”

Which is what we did. And since Better Place only sells one model of car, our replacement vehicle was identical to our regular one: just as powerful up the hill, same comfort we were used to. We made it home with plenty of juice to spare.

In the morning, our car was delivered as promised. Alon, the driver, was ecstatic at having the chance to visit Jerusalem. “I’ve only been here once in my life,” he said, “and that was to the Old City and the Kotel” (the Western Wall). Apparently, Better Place is operating a clandestine employee Birthright program on the side.

My wife Jody pointed out positively Zen-like that these things can happen in any kind of car. “We could have gotten a flat tire in our old Toyota Corolla,” she said. And it’s doubtful we’d have had such cheery Customer Service.

Bottom line: sure, we would have rather stayed at the party and danced for longer than explore the insides of a Better Place swap station. But it gave Better Place a chance to prove again how it has mastered the art of keeping the customer satisfied even under unexpected adverse conditions.

Nostalgia Sunday – Holon Story Garden

Holon-story-garden_motti-sasson+david-grossmanOnce upon a time, the city of Holon was dull, drab and dead boring. So much so that its first mayor, Haim Kugel, proudly described it as a place where people drank a nice glass of tea on the porch before going to sleep at 9:00 PM. Those days are gone. Today, Holon has reinvented itself as the city of niche museums, galleries and festivals, a city of art and design, and a city with lots of things for kids to do.

This past week, author David Grossman was preset at the inauguration of a sculpture garden inspired by his children’s book, “Once There Were Two Monkeys”. The new garden is part of a larger outdoor project, called the Story Garden, of sculptures depicting characters from beloved children’s books, both Israeli and international.

So far, 36 stories have been immortalized as public sculptures. The unique project draws to thousands of visitors to Holon every year. In 2009 the project won the Azrieli Prize for Urban Planning.

According to Moti Sasson, Mayor of Holon: “Through a combination of sculpture and literature, available and accessible to all, we hope to increase awareness and love of children’s literature as well as familiarity with the characters. The project is also part of the development of the ‘green lung’ of Holon which is now considered one of the greenest cities in the country. ”

The newest addition, “Once There Were Two Monkeys”, features sculptures designed by artist and sculptor Lilah Pinkas Markman with landscaping by architect Keren Gerstein. Along with the imaginary world of dinosaurs, moons, twinkling stars and a giant pink winged kangaroo there are also shaded seating areas, lawns and gardens.

Holon-story-garden_shnei-kofim2

Markman said that when she read the book in Holon’s Mediatheque library, “The characters just spoke to me and called out for me to sculpt them.”

This is the third garden to be based on a David Grossman children’s story. There are also “Itamar Climbs the Walls” and “Itamar Meets a Rabbit”

Grossman stated, “My books have already been adapted to plays and films but there is nothing more pleasant than seeing children touch, play and enjoy sculptures inspired by characters in my books.”

Other favorite stories that have been brought to life include:

Tiras Ham (Hot Corn)

Holon-story-garden_tiras-ham

Shmulikipod (Shmulik the Hedgehog)

Holon-story-garden_shmulikipod

Ayeh Pluto (Where is Pluto?)

Holon-story-garden_ayeh-pluto

HaKina Nehama (Nehama the Louse)

Holon-story-garden_ha-kina-nehama

And even though he isn’t really Israeli, he is so beloved by Israelis that we’re willing to adopt him as our own: the Little Prince.

Holon-story-garden_petit-prince

More details about the Story Garden and a map of the project can be found on the Holon municipal website.

A video about the Story Garden project:

Photo of Holon Mayor Motti Sasson (L) and author David Grossman (R) by Eli Neeman. Story Garden images by Avishai Teicher published under Creative Commons license courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Israel You Love Photo Contest

Show us the Israel you love in a new photograph contest by ISRAEL21c that launches next week and you could win an iPad mini or two runners up prizes of Amazon gift cards.

The new ISRAEL21c photo competition.

The new ISRAEL21c photo competition.

It’s the first time that we’ve run a photo competition and we’re keen to see what you can come up with.

We’re looking for great images that celebrate Israel. Wild, wacky, beautiful, happy, funny, warm, moving, breathtaking – we want to see Israel and its people through your eyes.

The competition begins next week on February 11th and runs until February 25th. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for details.

Readers can vote for their favorite snaps until March 5, and then ISRAEL21c will choose the final three winners from the top 20.
Winners will be announced on March 8.

The best shots will be featured on ISRAEL21c and will be included in a special movie to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday in April.

So let your friends know, get your cameras out, and start snapping.

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