Nostalgia Sunday – The Wars of June

The first week of June is a hard one for Israelis. Both the Six Day War and the first Lebanon War commenced in early June; with those anniversaries come memories of a swift victory and the retaking of Jerusalem in 1967 and. in 1982, the initiative known as Operation Peace for the Galilee that would sink Israel into the so-called “Lebanese quagmire” for 18 years. So, early June is filled with memories — both nostalgic and traumatic — recriminations, media analysis, punditry and endless “What ifs”.

Here is one “What was”. 45 years ago in the days following the ’67 war, Moshe Lavi was a soldier traveling with camera in hand from the Golan Heights in the north to reunified Jerusalem and down to the Sinai peninsula and the Suez Canal, where this image was taken. (Click for large image).

He photographed everything from Egyptian artillery…

And equipment…

As well as the soldiers stationed there…

Many thanks to Moshe Lavi for generously sharing from his extensive archive of never-before published photos from Sinai in 1967.

Masada production of Carmen doesn’t bite the dust

'Carmen' being performed at Masada (Melanie Lidman)

Sometimes it’s all about the weather. The extreme conditions of the Israeli desert resulted this week in a lucky break for local mezzo soprano Naama Goldman, who saw herself thrust into the title role of Carmen in the Israel Opera’s lavish production at Masada.

7,500 people crowded the historical site’s amphitheater on Tuesday for a preview of the $8 million productoin which will be performed six times in the coming days. Goldman’s, an understudy in the role, got the nod when a sandstorm took place forcing the lead, Anna Malavasi, an Italian mezzo soprano, to bow out in an effort to save her voice for the scheduled performances..

The second Carmen, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, a Spanish mezzo soprano, could not perform because she was scheduled for Thursday’s premiere. Because of the grueling nature of the four-hour performances, there are two casts for the main roles so the singers can have a night off. So Goldman was told at noon on Tuesday that the show would go on with her.

The show itself, was evidently quite a spectacle. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, the creation of the set took 2,500 people working for six months. Set designers brought 120 trucks of sand to create mountains and hillsides, used by 10 live horses and seven live donkeys in the background to create the atmosphere of 19th century Spain. There are more than 800 performers and technicians involved in the performance.

It’s not the first time opera has been performed at Masada. not to mention the personnel involved in security and refreshments. The Israeli Opera first staged Verdi’s Nabucco, in June 2010, and last year, the company staged Aida. Next year, the company will perform Puccini’s Turandot. Let’s hope for no more sand storms.

That’s no taxi driver, that’s my wife!

If you’ve ever been in a taxi with a cigarette chomping, deodorant-challenged male taxi driver hammering his Neanderthal opinions into your ear, the news can only come as a breath of fresh air.

Retired Israeli teacher Orli Levi is behind a new business initiative – the country’s first exclusively woman driver taxi service.

The Yad Mordechai resident told Haaretz that her company Monita (a play on the Hebrew word for taxi with a feminine ending) has 30 drivers across the country serving hundreds of loyal customers, including religious women and employees of women’s organizations.

She added that the women passengers feel safer with a woman driver, both in their own personal sphere and due to the fact that statistically women are involved in less traffic accidents.

The story quoted a customer – Oshrat Kelermann – who uses the service for herself and for her 12-year-old daughter and described the atmosphere in their taxi service “more pleasant and less aggressive… I’m not willing for my daughter come home late with drivers I don’t trust, and being an hysterical mother, Monita took a lot of pressure of me.”

Monita is currently hoping to gain enough business to open their own taxi stand in Tel Aviv, and Levi said that not all the customers are women – men sometimes also prefer the more gentle driving touch of a woman. With jokes about woman drivers a universal standard, it’s refreshing to hear about some of them getting behind the wheel and doing something about it.

Rita narrows Israeli-Iranian gap with music

Rita in performance.

Israel and Iran maybe at each other’s throats, but there’s some common thanks to our own Madonna – Rita.
The country’s most popular female singer – whose full name is Rita Jahanforuz was born in Iran, is fluent in Persian and moved to Israel as a small child where she became a one-name wonder in the Israeli pop world.

Her latest album, All My Joys, takes some of the Persian hits of old and recasts them with a Mediterranean flavor, in the process making it palatable to peoples on both sides of the divide.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the album, which went gold in Israel in three weeks upon release, has become an underground party hit in Tehran despite the Israeli origin of the music.

In its story on Rita – titled ‘Iran and Israel Can Agree on This: Rita Jahanforuz Totally Rocks’ and subtitled ‘Jewish Star Remakes Persian Oldies in Tel Aviv and Her Fans in Tehran Can’t Get Enough’, the WSJ reported that Rita’s Iranian fans use special software to download her songs online despite government censorship on the Internet.

Bootleg CD sellers in the back alley of Tehran’s old bazaar wrap her albums in unmarked packages and hush any inquiries when asked if they sell her music. “Shhh…don’t mention Israel. Just say music by ‘Rita Khanum,’ ” which means “Ms. Rita,” said a young man named Reza selling bootleg music CDs and DVDs of Hollywood movies.

Since the album’s release, Rita has received adoring fan notes from Iranians on her Facebook page and last year, when she visited Radio Ran, a Persian-language Internet radio station based in a Tel Aviv suburb, the WSJ reported that the studio was flooded with calls from Iranians around the world.
Of course, not everyone’s enthralled with the Israeli-Iranian mix of Rita’s music. The Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, wrote that Rita is Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to gain access to the hearts and minds of Iranians. And Iranian websites and blogs criticized the singer for posting a video message for the Norouz New Year on the Persian website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressing the sentiment that “I hope that we all live alongside each other by dancing and singing because this is what will last.”

Inshallah, Rita, Inshallah.

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Nostalgia Sunday – Chess in Israel, then and now

The game of chess got some welcome attention last week when Israeli Grandmaster Boris Gelfand almost took the World Chess Championship. Israelis, who generally tend more towards football (soccer) and basketball when it comes to spectator sports, were drawn to the tense drama of a stalemate between Gelfand and Indian Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. In the end, Anand beat Gelfand in a tie-breaker, but we are still proud that our little country now boasts the second highest ranking chess player in the world. Both Gelfand and his wife Maya, who also manages his daily training schedule, noted that it would be nice if this new-found enthusiasm for the game could translate into much-needed funding, too.

Chess has always had a place in modern Israel, even before the founding of the State. During the British Mandate period, chess clubs were united under an umbrella organization, the Land of Israel Chess Society, which held five championships between 1936 and 1945.

During the Thirties, the Land of Israel twice participated in international chess Olympiad; in 1935 the team came in 15th and in 1939, when it reached 9th place. In the 1937 Women’s world chess championship held in Stockholm, American-Jewish competitive player Mona May Karff represented the Land of Isael and came in sixth.

After the founding of the state, the Land of Israel Chess Society was reformed as the Israel Chess Federation, with 20 chess clubs under its wing.

In 1951, Israel’s first chess championship was organized by the Federation in Tel Aviv, with an awards ceremony held in the presence of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Since that time, the national championship has taken place every two years.

The Israel national chess team participated in the Chess Olympiad of 1952 and ranked 11th. In 1954, Israel reached the 7th place, ending in a 2:2 draw with world champion, the Soviet Union — an achievement that brought public funding to Israeli chess.

Israel held its first International Chess Competition in 1958, which took place immediately after the 13th Chess Olympiad held in Munich. 14 chess players from Israeli and abroad took part in the games, which were held in Haifa and Tel Aviv. The following year, in 1959, the first women’s national championship was held.

During the Sixties, Israel hosted several international chess competitions including the 16th Chess Olympiad, in 1964, which was attended by 49 countries.

According to the wonderful site, “The games were held in the old Sheraton Hotel [which has since been demolished] and attracted much attention. Audience could follow the game via a closed circuit television system (a global novelty in those days) with commentary… To commemorate the occasion, the Israel Postal Authority issued a set of two stamps.”

Mass immigration from the Soviet Union during the Seventies brought many chess players to Israel as well as a number of chess coaches. In November 1976, Israel hosted the Chess Olympiad again, this time in Haifa but due to a political ban imposed by the Soviet Union and Communist bloc countries on Israel during those years, major chess stars did not attend and the event was a minor one.

In 1986, the 27th Olympiad was held in Dubai but the ban prevented Israel’s participation and several countries from Western Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands did not participate as well as a sign of solidarity with Israel. To counter the Dubai event, an international competition was held in Jerusalem but it was not recognized by the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

The wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the Nineties brought many strong chess players and coaches who have helped Israel reach of its recent major achievements, including Boris Gelfand’s win at the 2011 Candidates Tournament and his almost-win at the 2012 World Chess Championship.

Upon his return to Israel yesterday, Gelfand was greeted as a hero at Ben Gurion airport. As always, he was thinking of the game, telling Ynet: “I didn’t know it would be this way. I hope this will elevate chess in Israel to its rightful place.”

Your move, Ministry of Culture & Sport.

NOTE: This morning, Haaretz reported that in the wake of Gelfand-mania, the Israeli government will fund new chess clubs, a decision that “effectively doubles the ongoing budget for the sport from the ministry and the Israel Sports Betting Board”. Sometimes the good guys do win.

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