Memories of the Mob

November 18, 2008 - 11:58 PM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: General 

Ze'evLooks like a couple of the big mob families are “going to the mattresses” after underworld figure Ya’acov Alperon was assassinated on a Tel Aviv corner just two days ago. Organized crime here runs rampant and there have been numerous innocent citizens caught in the crosshair of attempted assassinations.

I remember back in 2003 or 2004, the wife and I went to Tel Aviv to meet some friends visiting from New York for dinner. After a kick ass meal of grilled meat and 3,000 salads in Jaffa we went to Brasserie M&R at Rabin Square for some coffee and dessert. Shortly after we arrived I noticed about four or five security guards standing in front of the restaurant and one stayed in front of the two Mercedes illegally parked out front. Someone sitting with us (a spokesman for a MK) said that there is no way that it is a government minister because the only person in the government who has that much security is Ariel Sharon. Curiosity set in and after a short discussion we concluded it must be a mob boss. Turns out we were correct.

Now I don’t know much about security, but I do know if I was a mob boss and have had several attempted hits on my life I would take one of my security guards with me to the bathroom. My friend and I happened to go at the same time and as I opened the door as the now jailed Ze’ev Rosenstein was on his way out. I held the door for him (as I would do for anyone) and he actually said thank you. I was going to offer my drug smuggling services but why would he bother with me when he has former government ministers to do that for him? Anyway, we could have TOTALLY taken him out – easily. I wouldn’t have made it out alive and even if I did I would be on the run for the rest of my life but its fun to fantasize about. There have been many attempts on his life and innocent bystanders have been killed and severely wounded in failed assassination attempts. The irony wasn’t lost on me that we were sitting outside at a cafe in the middle of Tel Aviv and didn’t think twice about a potential suicide bombing but were suddenly worried about being caught in the crossfire of a mob hit.

My visiting friend (who is no stranger to Israel) was dumbfounded by the fact that his reputed mobster was wearing shorts, a really ugly shirt and crappy sandals. I don’t know if he was expecting him to be wearing an Armani suit or something but this is Israel. It’s as casual as it gets – even for mobsters.

Afterward, on the drive home, I wondered why my friend was looking at his feet.

Karpal and Lobel snag a Nevada Lulu

November 17, 2008 - 2:40 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Israeliness, Movies, Music, Pop Culture 

Emily KarpalPart Canadian, part Tel Avivian, pop singer-songwriter Emilly Karpal released her debut studio full-length album this past August. A collaboration with Tomer Adam Lenzinger, whom she met while working together on an Air remix, Nemashim (Freckles) has served Karpal’s career well, earning her considerable local airplay. One of the album’s key singles, the title track reached number 14 on the Reshet Gimmel radio station’s charts for Israeli music.

Now the cheeky, 80s-style bubblegum-electro retro-fest video clip for that single, below, has earned the performer some accolades from an unlikely source. Held in the low-key Nevada town of Pahrump, probably best known for being home to the Sheri’s Ranch brothel, the third annual High Desert Shorts International Film Festival has awarded $100 in cash prize money to Ofir Lobel for his work on the “Nemashim” video. The music video category’s competition was as stiff as can be expected from a community film festival, but Lobel’s slick work deserves kudos no matter what the scale of the context.

In addition to his music video work, Lobel, who has also spent lots of time in North America over the years, has served as a web-based news reporter and as a TV actor. He also has his own budding career as a musician.

In comments to the Israeli music video TV channel 24, Lobel has indicated that he hopes this award, nicknamed the Lulu, will open up career opportunities for him overseas. Karpal, on the other hand, said, “It’s fun that we’ve reached all the way to Nevada, since I’ve never even been there.”

Googling for Flu

November 13, 2008 - 1:12 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General 

Fewer Americans may get the flu this year – thanks to technology developed in Israel. Notice I didn’t say “medicine” or “vaccine,” but technology – in the form of Google Flu Trends (http://www.google.org/flutrends/), developed at the Google research and development center in Tel Aviv.

Google Trends lets you see how often a search term is entered into the Google “omnibox” across various regions of the world, and in various languages. The idea behind Flu Trends is to give people in specific regions a heads up on whether their area is set to be invaded by flu bugs. An uptick in searches for flu-related information, like symptoms and medications, would indicate that the disease is beginning to take hold in a particular area, according to Google’s blog (http://tinyurl.com/5lxh9v).

flue-shot-trends1111.jpg“Our team found that certain aggregated search queries tend to be very common during flu season each year. We compared these aggregated queries against data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and we found that there’s a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week. As a result, if we tally each day’s flu-related search queries, we can estimate how many people have a flu-like illness,” the blog says.

While most people don’t even realize that Google has a presence in Israel, the fact is the company has two development centers here – one of the few countries in the world to be graced with such an honor, and an indication of how highly Google values Israeli researchers and engineers. Yoelle Mark, heado of Google’s Haifa R&D center (the other one is in Tel Aviv), who spoke at a recent Google conference here. Trends was largely developed in Haifa.

But it turns out that Google has been not only using made in Israel tech – its whole identity could be considered to have been created here, according to this article in Haaretz. Artist Ruth Kedar designed the famous Google logo ten years ago while she was at Stanford in California. According to Kedar, the logo’s simple look is deceptive, hiding its complex layers. “Someone who sees the logo for the first time doesn’t necessarily need to absorb all the layers and considerations behind every decision – it’s better for him to discover something new every time,” the article quotes here as saying.

“It somewhat amuses me to turn on the computer and look at the logo I designed. But it also fills me with pride,” she said. “When you say Google to people today, they immediately see the colorful logo.”

All politics are local…

November 11, 2008 - 9:06 PM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Politics 

Modiin BallotsToday, there are municipality elections throughout the country, including in my town of Modi’in. The news is certainly focusing on all the sexy elections such as the former head of the air force vs. the communist in Tel Aviv and the high tech mogul vs the Rabbi in Jerusalem but hey, there are important issues we are dealing with here in the suburbs as well.

My wife and I have been following our local election very closely. It’s only the second time I’ll be voting where the “situation” isn’t an issue. It’s quite refreshing actually weighing candidates on issues such schools, city expansion, economic growth, dog poop etc.

Now there are two parties we support, Shachar – a party of secular and religious residents whose main emphasis is on improving education – and the Greens – who are all about the environment, improving the quality of life and care deeply about the preservation of Modiin’s local archeological sites.

Mayor is a different story. The candidate I support has been polling fairly low. Even though the two leading candidates will probably have a run off and force another election I am still voting for the lower polling candidate who I believe not only would do a superior job, but has always been responsive to my concerns as a resident of Modiin. Someone mentioned today that one should never vote on strategy but rather who you believe will do the best job. I subcribe to that philosophy as evidence in my disastrous vote for Tafnit in the last national elections. Honestly, I’ll vote for whoever promises to establish quality dog runs in Modiin. I’ve been living here almost six years and my dog has gotten pretty anti-social due to the strict leash laws and the lack of open space for our pooches to run around. That’s my issue. Bring on the dog runs!

Out With the Old, in With the New

November 11, 2008 - 12:34 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General 

Israel is full of villages – “k’farim,” in Hebrew. There’s Kfar Tabor, Kfar Vitkin, Kfar Shemaryahu, Kfar Habad – and my personal favorite, Kfar Saba. Most of these villages were established decades ago, usually as agricultural settlements.

And some of Israel’s many k’farim may still be largely involved in agriculture – probably the ones way up north or down south. But as the Tel Aviv-centered megalopolis expands ever outwards, and better highways and rail links bring the periphery closer to the center, many of the k’farim in the center of the country have found a new way to grow profits – with real estate, as developers buy up the old free-standing houses, many with large lots, and magically turn them into luxury apartment buildings, offices, malls, and all the other features of Israel’s increasingly urban/suburban landscape.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course; people gotta live, and as crowded as Israel is, there is still plenty of open space in the Galilee, and especially the Negev. While many farms and fields in the Sharon region, for example, have been turned into homes and stores, effective Israeli methods of land reclamation has turned large parts of the Negev into flourishing farmland, with everything from vegetables to fruit to grain growing nicely.

In Israel, as in much of Europe, the city centers are the most expensive places to live, and the further out you move, the cheaper the home. But when enough people move far enough out, that location gets an “upgrade,” and turns into a city, in and of itself. And that’s what’s been happening to almost all of the small towns, the k’farim, that once surrounded Tel Aviv. The villages are still there, in name – but now many of them are big cities.
kfar111108.jpg
Living as I do in a town not too far from Kfar Saba, I’ve seen the process unfold there over the past few years. First came the mall in the middle of town; then came the new luxury buildings and homes, with real estate shooting up in value by hundreds of percent within a couple of years. Then, they built the new park, a sure sign that Kfar Saba was no longer a “k’far,” which would have its own natural open spaces. Now, the developers have moved on to the edge of town; the funky industrial zone, which really was dedicated to industry (not shopping, like in a lot of other towns), is getting a huge sandlar111109.jpgcombination office/mall space, which will take up about five big city blocks!

Thus the photos accompanying this piece: I may have come across some of the last “authentic” original agricultural-era homes in Kfar Saba. Someone still lives in the house with the sign in the top photo (there’s a satellite dish on the roof), but apparently they got an offer they couldn’t refuse, because it appears that a “luxury building” is going up on the site.

At least we’ll still have the shoemaker, (“sandlar”), whose little shack is seen in the bottom photo. This structure must have been built decades ago, but whoever owns it still has some principles, it seems – no “for sale” signs are up on this one, yet. Maybe the municipality should buy it out in order to preserve it – and let the next generation get a sample of “the way it was.”

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