Nostalgia Sunday – Air conditioning: from luxury to necessity

In writing about my long history with various heating systems over the years, I have noted in the past that Israel as a cold country with a very long hot season. I still stand by that statement. However, as we are now in the sweaty grip of a hot, hot, hot summer, it seems only right to address the topic of air conditioning, a thing that we did not used to have.

As with heating systems, I have been through every known form of cooling system in Israel, starting with fans (floor, pedestal and ceiling), and something known as desert cooler, an Australian device which in order to be effective required that ice cubes be deposited in a small internal drawer. A fan would blow air over the ice, one would be cool for a bit and eventually the ice would melt and water start leaking all over the floor.

Another AC-related memory: while at Tel Aviv University, my teacher, the great stage and costume designer Lydia Pincus-Gani, telling us to finish up our final projects before may “Because after June it will be too hot and you won’t be able to think”. She assumed — correctly as it happens — that as students, we did not have the means to afford air conditioning. She was also correct in her assessment that it is humanly impossible to think in the Mediterranean heat.

Yet, it was hard to overcome years of social conditioning about air conditioning; that it was a bourgeoisie luxury, a treat but not a necessity. My own personal epiphany was two-fold. First, all of my friends on Kibbutz Ketura, who were real, true pioneers, not citified bougie wimps, lived in air conditioning. If they could live with this contradiction, I wondered, couldn’t I?

Second, on a trip to Italy during a horrific heatwave in the late 80s, I saw street vendors selling tiny fans on strings. The good citizens of Rome were walking around with these ridiculous gadgets blowing hot air into their faces. “These people don’t know from air conditioning,” I said to myself and suddenly realized that I did.

A brief look at the history of modern air-conditioning marks the post-WW2 1950s boom years as the point of entry into the US home market. In Israel, air conditioning took a bit longer to arrive. In those years, the afternoon siesta was part of the Israeli workday which, at the very least, prevented the country’s working population from a collective case of heat stroke. By the end of the decade, however, the country came to its senses and the first air conditioning factories were established: Electra in 1961 and Tadiran in 1962.

On its Hebrew website, Electra Consumer Products (ECP) states that in 1968 it developed the first split air conditioner – a floor model – “which was presented in Israel and abroad as an innovative product”.

A cursory search in Google patents failed to establish whether the above claim that may in fact be true, given the Israeli knack for innovation. (Check out this Israeli invention for operating air conditioning using solar power). It is a little worrisome that ECP parent company Elco states on its website that it is “the sole manufacturer of AC systems in Israel” — they are not — but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and declare it an oversight. Or maybe a little excess freon inhalation.

What is for sure is that ECP has kept abreast of global innovations in air conditioning and, according to its website, has been first to introduce them in Israel. For example, it states that it was first to introduce remote controlled air conditioning, first to introduce the portable air conditioner and, in 2004, first to introduce the coolant R-410A, (which has replaced R-22 as the preferred refrigerant for use in residential and commercial air conditioners in Japan, Europe and the US). As have Israel’s other manufacturers, ECP has launched a line of technologically advanced inverter air conditioners.

Tadiran was founded in 1962 by the merger of two companies, Tadir and Ran and by the 1980s, had become a titan of Israeli industry. The company does not exist as a conglomerate anymore but — as Wikipedia puts it — the brand name survives through spin-offs and sold divisions, including Tadiran Appliances, also known as Tadiran Air Conditioners.

“Tadiran Appliances was acquired by the Carrier Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, itself a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) of the USA and a constitute of Dow Jones Industrial Average. Carrier initially acquired 26% of the company in 1997 and took full ownership of it in 2004. In October 2009, Carrier sold Tadiran Appliances to Crystal Consumer Products, a white goods distributor in Israel, which shortly afterwards changed its name to Tadiran Holdings (TASE: TDRN).”

“In the past, Tadiran Appliances used to manufacture a wide range of White goods… However, today only the air conditioning business remains active (and still has the highest market share by far in Israel).” Among the brands represented by company are Amcor (once famous for being almost everyone’s first refrigerator in Israel) and Crystal (maker of almost everyone’s first washing machine in Israel).

Today, central air conditioning is a standard feature in any new Israeli home and are one of the recommended appliances for any new immigrant.

The upstart in Israel’s air conditioner market is Tornado. Although established in 1989, it was in 2003 that Tornado joined forces with China’s Midea Group, a leading air-conditioning and refrigeration corporation with the world’s third largest production facility. The air-conditioning systems manufactured there under the Tornado brand name are exclusively for the Israeli market.

Tornado’s commercials are also in keeping with its roguish image (clips below). My favorite from a few years ago: a gang of crooks shout to the camera “”Tornado! Truth is, I didn’t buy one! But I have one!”

Upside down or miracle: Pini conquers Israel, U.K. next?

June 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: tv 

You know that guy who sits next to you on the El Al plane from Israel? The outspoken, sometimes obnoxious young Israeli, first time out of the country, so full of chutzpah he’s sure the world will soon be genuflecting at his feet? The one who speaks in the ultimate “Hebrish,” asks for extra hummus with his semi-stale airplane pita, and who will ultimately win you over with his blunt naïveté and Sabra charm?

That’s Pini. And now he’s got his own web TV series.

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I shouldn’t say “now,” exactly. The Pini show has already aired two 10-episode seasons on YouTube and is finishing up production on a third. It’s been a run away success in Israel, racking up a quarter million views per program (Ynet heavily promotes it). The production values are especially high.

But I only just discovered it after reading an article in the London Jewish Chronicle about how U.K. Jewish Film organized a screening last week, encouraging British viewers to tune in too.

Which makes sense, since the plotline has Pini as a recently released soldier who makes his way to London with the aim of becoming the next celebrity chef ala Gordon Ramsey (Pini worked for five years as an IDF cook, he tells us in voiceover). In the first episode, we meet Pini’s straight laced Welsh flat mate, Tom Jones (not the 60’s crooner) and Carla, Tom’s sexy French cousin who early on becomes the butt of Pini’s frequent mistranslations of Hebrew words. An example: he offers Carla a choice of upside down (hafuch) or miracle (nes) coffee, which Israelis will immediately understand but the interplay but that baffles per Carla.

There’s also lots of Bamba and humous – Pini is a veritable Zohan, although the real deal.

Pini is the alter ego of 28-year-old Tomer Barzide who studied film in London. “It wasn’t my first time abroad,” Barzide told the Jewish Chronicle in an interview last week. “But it was the first time that I had tackled situations that normally you don’t as a tourist.” Pini originally was made as a project for Barzide’s school studies.

While Pini pokes fun at both Israelis and Brits, the best part of the program is that Pini is so downright lovable. You almost want to take him home and meet your mother. Until he offers to make her upside down coffee too.

You can watch the Pini shows on his YouTube channel here.

Gilad Schalit takes the ball

Gilad Schalit attends a Maccabi Tel Aviv game. He'll soon be writing about them.

Israeli sports fans will be able to enjoy a new columnist shortly when Gilad Schalit launches a sports column in the leading daily paper Yediot Aharonot.

The former soldier turned national symbol, who was held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years before being released last October, is a sports fanatic. He credits returning to freedom in a relative whole to the fact that his captors allowed him to watch sporting events on TV.

In one of his only public appearances since being released, Schalit joined a workout with the players from his favorite basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv. And in March, he was flown to the US to watch the NBA Allstar Game.

According to the reports of his new job, Schalit will be teamed with longtime sports columnist Arik Henig, a colorful staple on the Israel entertainment scene. Henig, who writes “The Starting Five” column for Yediot, brought the NBA to Israel when he brokered the agreement to broadcast NBA games on the brand new commercial Channel 2 in the early 1990s. Later Henig broke into TV himself, adapting and serving as executive producer for the popular Keshet/Channel 2 reality game show Monit Hakesef (Cash Cab). The two make quite a pair – as reserved as Schalit has appeared to be in his public appearances, Henig is outgoing and a prototype Sabra.

Schalit and Henig are expected to start their collaboration during this year’s NBA finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder which began this week. According to the reports, Schalit was already flying to the US for the games. He’s also expected to write about the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

It will be interesting to see whether the tight-lipped, shy Schalit will break out of his well-deserved shell and turn into a loquacious commentator on sports, and whether it will lead to a long-term career. However it turns out, it will be the another chapter in the remarkable story of Gilad Schalit, Israel’s public son.

Shmulik and Mushkie go to Kathmandu

June 3, 2012 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: tv 

Shmulik and Mushkie in top left and bottom right. Hezkie and Chani in the other squares. What a resemblance! (From collive.com)

Shmulik and Mushkie are not the kind of protagonists you usually see on Israeli television. The newly married Chabad couple are all set to begin their shlichut (emissary period) in Brussels when a last minute change of plans lands them in Kathmandu, just days before Passover, with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a mass Seder for the many Israelis who trek through Nepal on their way to the Himalayas.

That’s the premise for a new TV series on Israel’s Channel 2 called, appropriately, Kathmandu. And it’s addicting – not just because our family spent the Seder in Kathmandu last year. The relationship between Shmulik and Mushkie, despite numerous third world challenges, cross-cultural clashes and kashrut calamities, is just plain…sweet. This is not your standard religious-Jews-as-comic-relief faire to which most Israeli TV shows descend.

The show’s primary plot line depicts Shmulik and Mushkie as being the first Chabad couple in Kathmandu, although the program is clearly fictional: Rabbi Chezky and Chani Lifshitz have been there for years already. Is the show modeled on Kathmandu’s real Chabad couple? Certainly in one way: the two couples look remarkably similar (see the picture above).

While a drama, Kathmandu also goes for laughs: Shmulik getting thrown in jail for breaking into his Chabad House is a bit silly, but it does give Mushkie the opportunity to say to the police inspector, who presumably has never seen a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jews in black hat and wig, “do we look like we’re crazy?”

Kathmandu is funded in part by the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund and the Avi Chai Foundation, both of which are devoted to pluralistic Jewish understanding; hence, the portrayal of Shmulik and Mushkie is, at least to this non-Chabadnik’s eye, fairly accurate and certainly compassionate. Yechiel Fleishman, a real Lubavitcher, serves as an advisor to the show’s creators.

I always get a kick out of seeing totally secular actors playing religious types (you can see what Mushkie looks like out of her wig in this video interview; she looks like she was once a model!) To prepare for filming, the actors reportedly visited Kfar Chabad many times to learn niggunim, Chabad slang and frum customs (although in the opening scene, Mushkie’s sister’s skirt was above the knee, a definite no-no for any good Chabad family).

There’s lots more to the show than just the Chabad couple. There are a few stereotyped Israeli backpackers: the Shanti new ager, the stoned trekker, the Israeli who doesn’t speak Hebrew any more (“I love the language,” he quips. “I just don’t always love the people who speak it”), and the woman who is seeking her sister who has gone missing in the mountains.

I’m hoping that the characters develop beyond caricatures as the show goes on, but in the meantime, the authentic backgrounds (the crew spent two months in Nepal filming) are enough to bring back fond personal memories. I suspect the same will be true for many young Israelis.

For the non-backpacking set, check out Kathmandu anyway. It’s no Srugim or B’Tipul (the original version of HBO’s In Treatment), but it’s a definite cut above Ramzor and – forgive me for even using this in the same sentence – Ach HaGadol, the Israeli Big Brother.

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Reshet, the network behind the show, is putting the complete episodes on YouTube, so you don’t even have to have a TV. There are Hebrew subtitles, but none in English, though.

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 Nostal.co.il 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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