Fasting on Yom Kippur in Israel? Join the club

September 25, 2012 by · Leave a Comment

The highways are empty on Yom Kippur in Israel (photo: Shutterstock)

I hate fasting on Yom Kippur. There I said it. The meaning of the holiday is great – I can definitely get into that. But the not eating and drinking part, not so much. It’s physically tough for me – and it gets worse as I grow older. But I wouldn’t dream of breaking with tradition – and neither, apparently, will the 64% of Israelis who plan on joining me this year. That according to a poll published today on the eve of the holiday.

These sorts of surveys – this one undertaken by the Gesher organization in conjunction with Ynet where the results were published - always fascinate me, because the number of Israelis who define themselves as religious is far less than the percentage of those who fast. For example, only 25% of those 64% of fasters will actually attend synagogue all day (although you need to add another 21% who say they’ll attend at least one prayer service).

On the other hand, 14% of those polled said they will consider attending some kind of alternative observance or activity. Those might include meditation or study programs or secular prayer services. Not everyone is so tolerant; 20.5% believe that these alternative ways “miss out on the true meaning of the day” and 9% view it as a negative phenomenon that harms Jewish tradition. (Don’t tell them that in our community, we add some Hebrew poetry during the final ne’ilah service.)

The study has some “duh, that’s obvious” revelations. Like the majority of Israelis who won’t fast on the holiday is only among secular respondents (59%), while 100% of the ultra-Orthodox play to fast and 86% of traditional Jews will too.

36% of respondents plan to spend some “quality time” with themselves or their family while 10% say they’ll spend the day watching films. Only 0.5% say they planned to travel – a tough move given that the highways are filled with bicyclists on Yom Kippur (fasting ones?) making vehicular movement tricky to say the least.

The poll was carried out among 502 Jewish Israelis aged 18 and over and has a 4.3% margin of error.

However you plan to observe Yom Kippur – fasting, speculating or biking – may it be a meaningful one that takes you confidently into the New Year. See you on  the other side.

Fuze Tea blitzes Israel

September 24, 2012 by · 3 Comments

Is that a miracle or a Fuze? (Image: Shutterstock)

You would have to have been living in a cave, under a rock or in general paying no attention whatsoever to TV, radio, the Internet or billboards all over Israel during the past few weeks to have missed the hottest new beverage to hit supermarket shelves. Or more to the point, the hottest old beverage.

Fuze Tea is essentially a complete re-branding of the venerable Nestea brand. Its advertising campaign emphasizes that it’s the “same taste” just with a “new name.” The emergence of Fuze comes from a divorce between Coca-Cola and Nestle, which jointly produced the old Nestea. Under the agreement, Nestle gets the name while Coke gets the taste.

The new teas and names are global (one video ad playing online features scores of happy young people from around the world enthusiastically downing Fuze Tea; a Hebrew voice over plays only at the end). While only Fuze Team has been aggressively promoted so far in Israel, Nestle plans a campaign for its new tasting Nestea later this year.

That should be interesting – reminiscent as it is of the New Coke debacle some thirty years ago. Blind taste tests then found consumers preferred New Coke over the original, but the change in the formula of such a classic brand was too much for soft drink imbibers to stomach.

When I first arrived in Israel, I was unfamiliar with the Nestea brand. I assumed that it was a uniquely Israeli beverage: “nes” is Hebrew for “miracle” and Nescafe was generally understood to mean “miracle coffee.” So too with the tea, I figured.

When Coke and Nestle split, the initial plan appears to have been to roll out a different Fuze product: Coca-Cola had bought a company by that name with its own line of vitamin-enhanced juices. But the name morphed to cover the old Nestea taste and, at least in Israel, the Fuze juices are not available.

Haaretz looked into the marketing of Fuze Tea in Israel and lauded Coca-Cola’s efforts. Within just two weeks of the ad campaign’s start, Fuze Tea grabbed 61 percent of the iced tea market. The campaign was so fierce that the market share of ice teas as a chunk of beverages in general shot up, including local competitors Tempo and Jafora-Tabori’s Spring Tea.

According to Haaretz, some of the success of Fuze Tea is that it is packaged in the same bottles as the old Nestea, which have a distinctive ribbed design. Tests have shown that if you pour a competing cola into one of Coke’s trademarked bottles, people will assume it’s Coke.

In our house, the switch to Fuze Tea has been relatively seamless, albeit not with a little initial giggling between gulps. “Please pass the Nestea, er, the Fuze Tea, yuck, yuck.” But after a couple of weeks, it’s Fuze all the way with nary a stutter, intentional or otherwise.

By the way, in case you were wondering, “what were they thinking with the name,” despite the egregious misspelling, Coca-Cola did indeed have “infuse” in mind. From the Fuze Tea website: “We infuse our tea with fruit, taste, with you, with joy and with imagination.”

I’m not sure what it has to do with tea, but it certainly took some imagination to come up with that line…

Nostalgia Sunday – Images from Israel October ’73

September 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment

Recently, I was gifted with a book, “Israel October ’73 Yom Kippur War”. And when I “gifted” I mean that someone was getting rid of a pile of books, I saw it and, grabbing it by its tattered cover, yelped, “You have to give this to me, I can write a Nostalgia posting about it!”

The book was published for distribution in the US by Masad (a company defunct for so long there is not even a trace of it in the Israel Corporations Authority’s online database). Because it’s an interesting snapshot of that time — and with all credit to writer/editors E. Ben Hanan, A. Bar-Amon and I. Taslit, photographers N. Gutman, S. Ben Yakir, A.S. Golan, Z. Zur, S. Cohen-Zedek, Z. Sherf and S. Levidon and graphic designers A. Frank and T. Carmon — we present a few scanned pages from the book.

The Attack on Two Fronts (click on image for larger).

Early Days (click on image for larger).

Bomb drops near Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan on visit to West Bank (click on image for larger).

The Home Front (click on image for larger).

Negotiating the Cease-Fire with Egypt (click on image for larger).

Coming Home (click on image for larger).

When Israeli headlines hit close to home

September 22, 2012 by · 1 Comment

Members of the Karkal Battalion, the only mixed male-female combat unit in the IDF.

One nice thing about Fridays is that I find myself ignoring the news. Sure I’ll read the paper in the morning (so old school), but only rarely will I pay attention to the web sites or the radio during the day.

Which is why when I called my daughter to wish her a Shabbat Shalom at around noon on Sunday, I hadn’t heard any of the reports. Those reports stated that terrorists from Sinai had infiltrated Israel at the Egyptian border where my daughter is stationed and had opened fire on soldiers there, wounding some, before being killed by other IDF soldiers.

I got her answering machine, but didn’t leave a message, knowing that she’d see the missed call and return it when she got a chance. And I went back to cleaning the house.

She did call back about an hour later, sounding extremely animated and lively. “Did you hear the news,” she asked?

Now, that’s not generally something you want to hear from a combat soldier serving along a ‘hot’ border where African refugees, Bedouin drug smugglers and Arab terrorists of every ilk are regularly attempting to traverse for their own particular means.

“What news? I warily asked, and she unfolded much of the above story, adding some details. Talking in a nonchalant manner like she was describing a school hike, she recounted the play by play and how she commanded the base next to the attack and sent out soldiers from her Karkal Batallion to successfully hunt down the terrorists.

Only later in the afternoon when more details of the attack became known did it become clear that a soldier from a different unit than hers – Natanel Yahalomi – had been killed in the terror attack while attempting to give water to an African refugee.

When we send our children to the army to defend Israel, we know the risks involved, yet we never really think that ‘our kids’ are going to be in harm’s way. Even though during her nearly three years of service, our daughter has taken part in plenty of ‘campaigns’ involving extremely shady characters, this was the first instance that resulted in a casualty among her colleagues.

Unfortunately we get all too used to seeing headlines with ‘IDF soldier killed’ but this time, it sent a shiver down my spine. He wasn’t just a soldier, he was a kid, probably looking forward to getting home for Yom Kippur or Succot, going out with his friends, eating his mother’s home-cooked food, and needling his siblings.

My daughter will hopefully get to do all of that this week, and you can be sure I won’t be taking any of it for granted.

Jerusalem downtown rebounds

September 21, 2012 by · 1 Comment

Jerusalem light rail (Shutterstock)

Finally some good news from downtown Jerusalem. After years of griping about delays and cost overruns regarding the ill fated light rail, coupled with dire warnings from local merchants that their businesses were irreparably doomed, apparently things aren’t so bad after all.

A municipal survey has found an overall increase of 41 percent in the number of pedestrians in the last year. Foot traffic went up from 298,000 visitors in July 2011 (the month before the light rail started service) to 422,000 visitors this past August.

How did the city carry out this survey? Not by asking people at street corners how long they’d been there (that might have an entirely different outcome), but by checking the feeds from 17 video cameras installed around the downtown area.

Some of the interesting results: the largest increase in pedestrians was around Nahalat Shiva (Yoel Solomon Street and environs) near Zion Square, which increased 87 percent since last year. That might have something to do with the brand new Mashbir department store that now anchors the area.

Mahane  Yehuda foot traffic was up 38 percent, although merchants there complain that it’s more tourists than locals who actually buy broccoli and bananas. That was part of the reason shuk merchants were less than enthused by this year’s Balabusta festival which brought tens of thousands of visitors during four evenings in August but little additional revenue for the fruit and vegetable sellers.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was thrilled by the numbers. “There is no Jerusalemite that doesn’t get excited to see that the city center is again bustling and active after it has been fading for so many years,” he said in response to the survey.

Barkat is right. The city center died slowly and ingloriously following the opening of the Malcha Mall years ago and city officials have pinned its ressusitation on the light rail and the creation of a pedestrial mall along Jaffa Street. That plan is now bearing fruit.

From a personal perspective, I heartily agree. Jaffa Street is wide and European in flavor now (a good thing since European countries that have introduced light rail have seen similar revivals of their downtown areas, according to Nadav Meroz, head of the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan in an article published in The Jerusalem Post). It is a pleasure to sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and sip a mango smoothie without the soot and smell of the cars and buses that used to ply downtown’s main drag. I actually look forward to having to visit downtown.

Next week downtown will put through another test as an estimated 1 million visitors from Israel and abroad throng Israel’s capital during the Sukkot holiday, with an emphasis on visiting the nearby Old City after their jaunt down Jaffa.

Yes, the light rail is still slow, it still doesn’t really go anywhere most people need, and Jerusalem can’t hold a candle to the diversity of shopping and entertainment opportunities that Tel Aviv sports in its downtown areas. But we’re on the way, and if the light rail served as a ticket in the right direction, then maybe all the years of aggravation were worth it.

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