Swinging in Israel

October 10, 2010 - 10:29 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Business, General, Israeliness, Life, Pop Culture 

With celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore reportedly in Israel to renew their wedding avows amid marital troubles and tabloid claims of swinging, they might want to take note of this item in the morning paper.

Two different Israeli swingers web sites have apparently been at each other’s throats. Arbitrators have thrown out a petition by the owner of one online Hebrew “swingers” website who accused a competing site of unfairly taking domain names associated with his company and directing visitors exclusively to that site.

The sites in question – swingers.co.il and zigzug.co.il - receive thousands of visits a day from Israelis interested in couple-swapping and other forms of alternative coupling, according to the report in The Jerusalem Post.

The IL-DRP, which handles domain name disputes, was contacted by the owner of swingers.co.il last month in order to transfer the registration of two domain names owned by zigzug.co.il to him.

Until recently, both of the domain names had been registered to the owner of swingers.co.il but had gone back on the market after he failed to renew their registration.

As a result, the owners of Zigzug swooped in and snapped up the two domain names, creating a threesome of URLs leading to the same site.

Arbitrators who reviewed the petition dismissed it, ruling that the term “swingers” is widely used among sites catering to the swingers community and that the term has no “secondary meaning” linking them specifically to the petitioner.

The owner of swingers.co.il had argued in the petition that the name “swingers” was very well known in the couple-swapping community, and that Zigzug, acting in poor faith, had used the names “swinger” and “swingersparty” solely because they so closely resemble “swingers.”

According to the report, in recent years, Israel’s thriving swingers community has grown more and more popular due to the discretion and convenience of the Internet. Online forums have found no shortage of viewers who, in years past, might not have braved the underground private parties and clubs where such activities were for the most part confined.

So, if Kutcher and Moore, who probably chose Israel for their current destination due to their connection with the Tel Aviv Kabbala Center, get the inkling for some action while they’re here, they now know which web sites to turn to.

Ravishing Rosh Pina

August 22, 2010 - 9:54 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Holidays, Israeliness, Life, Travel 

With Turkey off the natural list of prime destinations for Israelis this summer, more and more vacationers have been looking closer to home for some r&r.

The ‘tzimmer’ – or bed and breakfast industry – has flourished here in recent years, especially in the Galilee. You can’t go ten feet without another private home advertising luxurious or rustic surroundings for couples or families.

And nowhere has the b&b explosion hit more squarely than in Rosh Pina, the quaint, hillside town just east of Safed. Stocked with new age craft stores, natural food cafes, cobblestone roads and incredible views, the once-sleepy town is now alive with Israeli tourists looking for a little bit of Switzerland in their own backyard.

On our recent visit there, we chose a tzimmer called “Love in the Orchard,” an adorable four-tzimmer establishment run by Yoram and Zahava Shamai, two salt of the earth Rosh Pina veterans. They turned their huge backyard into a beautiful orchard with fruit trees, surrounded by two cottages (with another two on the top floor of their house).

Each room is meticulously decorated, and stocked with a huge jacuzzi, giant double bed, kitchenette, LCD tv with cable and DVD, wireless, and every other anemity imaginable. Not only that, there’s a decent-sized swimming pook in the back yard with a relaxing patio – perfect for early evening swims with a glass of wine.

The ‘breakfast’ part of the the b&b comes via an option for a breakfast complete with herb omelettes, sparkling wne, fresh whole wheat rolls, cheeses, fruit and cider. By the second day, we had to beg off because there was just too much food.

Rosh Pina, besides, being a great location to stroll around in despite the steep inclines, is a perfect jumping off point to explore the Galilee, whether you head toward Safed, Kiryat Shmona or stick close to home and the amazing Tel Hazor archeological site 10 minutes away.

A few years ago, there was a rumor that Madonna was negotiating over buying a place in Rosh Pina, so she could be close to the sources of Kabbala in Safed. Now we can understand why.

Nostalgia Sunday – Hamsa Hamsa Hamsa

A new exhibition, Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic Through The Ages, opened at the end of last week at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ). The exhibition examines the origins and development of magical practices in Judaism from the First Temple period to the present day by focusing on beliefs, customs and particularly, the use of magic objects in daily Jewish life. For although Judaism forbids the invocation of black magic there are no proscriptions, (at least according to the exhibition guide), against white magic, “i.e. defense against the dark arts, the forces of evil and the damage they cause.”

This is good news — tfoo, tfoo, tfoo — given the Jewish genetic predisposition to obsessive compulsiveness in which spitting on the ground three times isn’t OCD, it’s a necessary reaction to any bad news, (or good news if you’re trying to fool the evil eye into looking the other way).

In Israel, this sort of white magic is part of daily life. Having a spate of bad luck? Everyone knows where you can find a local reader of coffee grounds, tea leaves or an amulet-writing guy who, for a price, will take the hex off. And of course, for everyday evil eye warding off, the hamsa five fingered amulet has you covered.

The hamsa (the name means “five” in Arabic) is a regional symbol that is as old as… well… as old as the region. According to Wikipedia, “it is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The hamsa is often incorporated in jewelery and wall hangings, as a defense against the evil eye. It is believed to originate in ancient practices associated with the Phoenicians of Carthage.” These practices include protecting the home and there are doorways, ancient and modern, throughout the Middle East, that are decorated with blue-paint handprints.

The Phoenicians associated the hand with the goddess Tanit and there is a continued link between the hand and powerful females. In Islam, the hamsa is sometimes called “the hand of Fatima” (for Fatima Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and in the Jews of North Africa, who adopted the symbol, would “sometimes call it the hand of Miriam, referencing the sister of the biblical Moses and Aaron.”

The Israeli immigrant society crucible that melds together folk beliefs from all every part of the Diaspora, coupled with modern manufacturing methods, has brought the hamsa’s popularity to new heights.

Go to Tel Aviv’s Nahalat Binyamin crafts fair on a Tuesday or Friday morning and you’ll find hamsas fashioned from every medium: silver, gold, brass, stained glass, wood, decoupaged pressboard, paper mache, plastic, clay, plastic clay (Fimo), fabric… an endless wellspring of good luck charms at the ready to protect you and your home. Speaking of which, Home Center’s been selling a tablecloth with hamsas woven into the fabric. There are hamsa-shaped cookie cutters. Israel’s queen of retro, Michal Negrin, has produced a line in her own unique style. And of course, hamsa keychains abound. I especially like the ones that decorate a 5 shekel-sized disk for your supermarket shopping cart.

It’s a bit strange that this symbol — which has little to do with Judasim but everything to do with the Middle East — has become so ubiquitous. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra help in the luck department. It’s worth checking out the rest of the talismans, amulets and charms at the Angels & Demons exhibition. And if you can’t get to Jerusalem in time to see the exhibit first-hand, BLMJ has launched the first Israeli museum iPhone app – look up Jewish Magic through the Ages at the iTunes store.

Spending the High Holidays with Madonna

May 15, 2009 - 8:17 AM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: General, Holidays, Life, Music, Pop Culture, Religion 

Madonna in her 'Sweet and Sticky' tour  - on the way to Tel Aviv?

Madonna in her 'Sweet and Sticky' tour - on the way to Tel Aviv?

It appears that Madonna just can’t stay away from Israel. According to Ynet, the former Mrs Guy Ritchie will be spending time here over Yom Kippur in October, including a performance to end her Sweet and Sticky world tour.
Of course neither her web site nor the touring industry site Pollstar mention anything beyond the August 29th final performance in Bulgaria. But considering that Madonna’s spent the holiday periods in both 2004 and 2007 in Israel with other students of Kabalah, it sort of makes sense.

According to the report, Madonna had attempted to perform here many times in recent years, but no promotor could cough up her hefty fee. And even this time, promoters Shuki Weiss and German producer Marek Lieberberg are still looking for commercial sponsors, like telecommunication giant Orange, to help defray the costs,

It’s a far cry from the relative ease it took to bring Madonna to Tel Aviv in October 1993 for The Girlie Tour. Of course, then it was a huge undertaking, with giant screens, and an elaborate Broadway-style stage show – I don’t think Hayarkon Park saw quite another extravaganza like it until Paul McCartney arrived last year. Not being a Madonna fan, I can say it was one of the most impressive shows I’ve ever seen, and left me with a new found and lasting respect for her talents.

So, whether she chooses to head of to Safed for some meditation, or hang out by the Tel Aviv shore, I’m one of those who are hoping the rumors are true, and that Madonna’s on her way back.

Yoga puts religious Israelis in an uncomfortable position

April 16, 2009 - 9:42 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Religion, Sports 

Israelis doing yogaToday’s Western societies are into all kinds of Eastern recreational and spiritual pursuits. There are also scores of Israelis from multiple generations returning home from backpacking jaunts to India and elsewhere in the East on an ongoing basis. Combine the two phenomena, and the booming popularity of yoga in Israel seems like an obvious eventuality.

For Israelis who are interested in spirituality avenues that are new to them, regardless of potential conflict with their Jewish roots, yoga is hardly a problem. But for the increasing numbers of Israeli Orthodox Jews who are experimenting with flavors from other faiths and integrating them into their own traditional frameworks, yoga isn’t always a straightforward pursuit.

Other spiritual paths might be less problematic for religious Jews looking to pepper things up: Buddhism, for example, is often justified on the grounds that it is essentially a code of ethics with possibly nothing to teach in terms of deities. And other religions have their own potential beefs (pardon the apropos expression) with yoga. However, some Jewish theologians, including a well-publicized responsum by Chabad Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, have justified yoga practice among Jews on the grounds that one ought not throw the baby out with the bathwater – in other words, just because many yoga practitioners include chants dedicated to multiple deities in their practices, that doesn’t mean that the spirit-calming and body-stretching advantages of yoga ought to be avoided.

Another complication to the situation is that it might not be so straightforward that yoga’s Hindu chants to more than one god represent idolatry. Many other theologians have posited that since they all essentially represent manifestations of the one primary godhead, Brahman, the additional Hindu gods can be seen as analogous to Jewish mysticism’s concept of the sephirot, the kabalistic manifestations of the Jewish God’s various components of holiness.

Regardless, there are thousands of religious Israelis who are simply scared of yoga’s spiritual elements and prefer to focus on its exercise-based advantages. Case in point is Californian immigrant yogi Aviva Schmidt, whose yoga studio in Jerusalem, “Power Flow,” has been christened by Ha’aretz as “Israel’s first kosher power yoga studio.”

Located in Jerusalem’s posh Rehavia neighborhood, “Power Flow” specializes in power yoga, which is different from conventional yoga in that the exercises are quicker and more exhausting. “They call it yoga for athletes,” Schmidt said. “It’s not your slow, meditative and gentle yoga, it’s a workout.”

As Schmidt explains her approach to the conundrum….

“Yoga is based on Eastern tradition and focuses a lot on meditation. Different positions are worshipping different idols, which goes against Judaism. So I keep it very pareve: for example, I don’t say the names of the positions, there is no chanting, no ohming. I do focus on the breathing, as this is very important in yoga, but any kind of eastern philosophy stays outside.”

Hey, whatever floats your boat. We’ve heard of kosher cell phones and kosher sex, so kosher yoga? Why not.

Image of Israelis doing yoga courtesy zivpu from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


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