Chanukah Music

Chanukah Videos II

So… last week I posted a whole bunch of Chanukah videos and you all just loved them. I know you can’t get enough, so here I am posting another four Chanukah videos. For this eight day holiday the fun never stops!

From rocky horror show to Matrix and Jazz themed videos, Jews all over the world use their musical talent to create unique artistic works showing their connection to the Chanukah miracle. If you have a video that expresses your connection to Chanukah then please send it my way!

#1 is Hanukkah Lovin’… by another gorgeous member of the tribe

 

My mom won’t admit it, but when she was younger she was obsessed with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sarah and I laugh about it, but every so often we like to indulge her, so Mom, this video is for you!

 

This video is kind of funky

 

And now for my own admission; I liked Sesame Street as a child but I still like it as an adult. Fortunately you can find clips of all the great shows on YouTube. Anyways I really enjoyed this Shalom Sesame celebration of Chanukah featuring the missing Menorah

 

That’s all for now, check back here and on FB later this week for even more Chanukah videos.

Kotel

Behind the scenes at the Kotel (Western Wall)

My friend Ilan is one of those super smart people who is fun to be with and knows almost everything that has to do with Israel, its history and its people. Ilan decided to become an Israel tour guide/educator; since we met during my last Israel visit we have stayed in touch.

Remember when I told you about my Birthright trip and my visit to the Western Wall (Kotel)? Well,recently Ilan sent me a piece about the history and significance of the Kotel for the Jewish people. There is so much I didn’t know!

Read Ilan’s paper and discover for yourself the significance of one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people.

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The Kotel Ha’Ma’aravi (Western Wall) is one of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. It was built by King Herod as part of his renovation and expansion of the Temple precinct commencing in 22 BCE, although a new theory posits that the Kotel was actually built after his death. And, of course, it is one of the key tourist sites in Israel.

Even though Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount itself – the site of the actual Temples – because of security considerations relating to organized Israel programs, and because of some Halachic (Jewish legal) opinions which prohibit Jews from ascending the Mount for reasons connected with tumah (ritual impurity), most Jews, and almost all Israel program participants, do not ascend the Temple Mount but visit the Kotel instead.

For some reason, it is often said that the Kotel is the holiest site for Jews across the world because it is the last remaining retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Obviously, this cannot be true, for if the other retaining walls did not exist the structural integrity of the Mount would certainly be compromised.

The Kotel is the holiest of the retaining walls because it is the closest to the kodesh ha’kodashim (The Holy of Holies), the place to which only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter and only on the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement.) This spot is also the site of Akeidat Yitzchak (The Binding of Isaac) and, according to midrash (Jewish lore), the site of Even Ha’Shetiya (The Foundation Stone), from which the world was created.

However, during the time of the Second Temple, the Kotel was simply a wall, serving functional purposes. Along with supporting the Temple Mount, the area adjacent to the wall was the Ben-Yehuda Street of two thousand years ago, with money change places and other stores serving the needs of the local and pilgrim population. How does such a place become holy? Is kedusha (holiness) intrinsic or a construct?

When considering kedushah (holiness) though, we must not only consider kedushat ha’Makom (Holiness of Place), but also kedushat ha’Zeman (Holiness of Time – Shabbat and Yom Tov), as well as kedushat ha’Adam (Holiness of People – all of whom are created in the Divine image) and kedushat ha’Peulah (Holiness of Action – for example, tikkun olam and tzedek hevrati (social justice) projects). Each Jew must consider for himself which marker of kedusha is most meaningful to him as an individual. Some visitors to the Kotel view it simply as a wall – a piece of real estate. Perhaps they can connect with God more at their home synagogue/temple, or even outdoors. They might even recognize kedusha more in the actions of a human rights activist or even a beggar on the street (created in the image of God). Kedusha means different things to different people. It is the role of each individual to seek it out for himself.

When considering the Kotel, we must also discuss the concept of Achdut Yisrael (the unity of all Jews). Many people visit the site and are enchanted by what they perceive to be an incredible level of unity between all Jews, whether they are locals or visitors, and regardless of their level of Halachic observance – a true center of gravity for the entire Jewish world. Others are offended by what they perceive to be discriminatory practices against women, and against non-Orthodox Jews, which have even led to the arrest of worshippers. They davka see the Kotel as the embodiment of disunity and even sinat chinam (baseless hatred) which, according to our Sages, led to the destruction of the Second Temple.

The importance of the Kotel to world Jewry is clear; it has been a focus for our prayers and of our spiritual and national identity for centuries. But, as visitors, we must ensure that we do not approach the site on a simplistic level. When visiting the Kotel, we must consider how we relate to issues of kedusha and Jewish unity (or lack thereof). Our experience at the Wall should not be an affective one only, detached and separate from the intellectual issues which the site raises. There are no clear answers to these issues; each individual must decide for himself how he relates to them.

My company, Teaching Israel, believes in an intellectual and academically rigorous approach to teaching and learning about Israel, which develops knowledge and skills, while exposing participants to values and attitudes, without trying to promote a particular set of beliefs and practices amongst them. We facilitate both cerebral and affective learning opportunities for our participants. For more information please visit www.teachingisrael.com, and connect with us at www.facebook.com/teachingisrael, www.twitter.com/teachingisrael and at www.teachingisrael.wordpress.com

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

 

Chanukah Music

Chanukah Videos!!

Chanukah is one of my favorite holidays. No – its not just because we get eight days of presents.  Nor is it because of the beautiful Chanukah lights that we lght each night; one on the first night going up to eight on the last night. Its not even because of the super yummy (but spectacularly unhealthy) sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and the Latkes that we stuff ourselves with.

Chanukah is my favorite holiday because it symbolizes Jewish self determination,  Jews rising up to protect their nationhood, their religion and heritage, their right to be who they want to be. Chanukah commemorates, among other things, the Jews rising up to free the land of Israel from foreign domination, and to set the course of their own lives.

Being that Chanukah is my favorite holiday I want to share with you some of my favorite Chanukah videos.

First… the Macabeats of course with their classic that got over 7 million views on youtube!

 

The Macabeats also released this sequel

 

Next, Nefesh B’Nefesh with their own viral flashmob in Jerusalem’s city center!

 

Nefesh b’Nefesh also put out this video following 8 Olim (immigrants to Israel) during Chanukah. Am I the only one who thinks that the girl with the dreadlocks is super cute?

 

The Ein Prat Fountainheads is one of my favorite Israeli groups. I love this Matrix style video

 

and this other Chanukah video by the Fountainheads

 

My sister thinks these guys are super hot

 

And finally – this new release about Chanukah, by my favorite reggae artist Matisyahu!

Aleppo's Destroyed Synagogue, first built around 1000 BC

Testimony from my great-grandfather Avraham on Jewish life in Aleppo, Syria

I hated learning history back in high school, it was always about dates and names of people that I forgot the day after my exams. Family history though has always fascinated me, especially because I have the coolest grandparents and great-grandparents who lived during historic times and did some pretty amazing things.

Remember when I told you that I am half Syrian, on my Dad’s side? Well, my great-grandfather Avraham was born and grew up in Aleppo Syria. He died a month after my older sister Sara was born. I have always wondered what life was like in his hometown.

Saba (grandfather) Shlomo recently showed me a tape recording (first time I ever saw a tape recorder!) of an interview he did with Great-grandfather Avraham. He made it so that one day he would be able to share it with Sara and I.   Here is the translated transcript (the original transcript is in a mixture of Hebrew, French and Arabic).

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In Arabic, Aleppo is called Halab. This is Aramaic for milking a cow or goat. The legend is that Avraham our forefather spent time in Allepo on his way from Ur Cassadim (in modern day Iraq) to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and milked his herd there. In the Bible it is called Aram Soba.

A Jewish wedding celebration in Aleppo

My family was an interesting one. My mother’s family was from the “old” Jewish community, the one that had been there [in Syria] since the time of the First Temple, about 1000 BC. The legend is that it was founded by King David (did I ever tell you that we can trace our family tree back to him?). My mother’s family was there before Islam came to the area in the 7th century. My father’s family was from the “new” community; the one that came there after all the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

I was one of 10 children born to my mother, but only eight of us reached it to the age of bar or bat mitzvah. And our family was healthy and well off. We had good food and hygiene and doctors, but there was still a lot of babies who died from childhood diseases like measles and even flu. The poor Arabs died at a much higher rate.

My father owned a shoe factory. He had stated off as a shoe salesman, but after the French took over (that was the year I was born) it became possible for Jews to do better and his business got bigger until he bought the factory. He employed over 200 people. He had a chain of stores in Damascus,Beirut and Tripoli as well as Aleppo  He also exported shoes to Europe and had bank accounts there, in Britain,France and Switzerland. That would be a great stroke of fortune for us later.

A page of the Aleppo Codex

I had my bar mitzvah in the old beit Knesset (synagogue) in Aleppo   It was called the beit knesset shel Yoav, because the legend was that it was built by Yoav ben Tzruya from the Bible, almost one thousand years before the Christian’s calendar. It was certainly very old; there were writings on the wall from at least as early as 834 BC. It was a beautiful building and it housed the Keter Aram Tzova (Allepo Codex) which the Rambam – our ancestor, Rav Moshe ben Maimon – said was the most authoritative text of the Torah, the Nevi’im (Prophets) and the K’tuvim.

My father did not want us to study at the Alliance (Israélite Universelle) school because it was not religious enough. My brothers and I learned Torah privately with a Chacham (wise scholar) and with private tutors for secular subjects. We studied science, business, French and Arabic and also some English, which was good for me when I came to America, much later. My sisters also had tutors, but only studied French and literature, and of course Torah.

When France fell in 1940 the Vichy regime (that allied with the Nazis) controlled Syria, and all we Jews had to register. Our fate would have been that of the Jews of France, but before even the Yellow Star was decreed, the British and the Free French took over. That was in July 1941, and before the end of the year I married.

My wife Esther was born in Syria, but her parents got her French citizenship; but that was taken away from her for about a year by Vichy. It was not easy during the war years, but it was much better for us than for people in Europe. I was working in my father’s business by then and he had military contracts to make boots for the Free French forces. Before the war my father’s footwear had been seen on the Champs Élysées on the feet of fashionable young women. When the war ended they were on the Champs Élysées again… on the feet of the Free French soldiers who liberated Paris!

When the war ended in 1945 we were overjoyed. Syria had formally declared independence in 1941, but it was only recognized as a republic in 1946. With independence came prosperity, but also chaos. Already, from when I was a child the hostility to Jews had begun to increase. Many of us had left for America, Britain and France before the war (those who had gone to France had leapt from the frying pan into the fire!). With Eretz Yisrael so close, many had gone there. After the war, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael were struggling for their independence and the Arabs didn’t like it. When the UN voted for a Jewish state on November 29, 1947, our neighbors and the entire Arab world were furious! All across the Middle East Arabs attacked Jews. Haj Amin al-Husseini called on the Arabs to finish what his friend, Hitler, had started!

In December we in Aleppo learned a Russian word, pogrom! They killed more than seventy Jews, injured many more, burned our shops and homes and set fire to our holy beit knesset shel Yoav. The Keter was damaged and smuggled out of the country. I was the father of three children and I was not going to stay and place them and my wife in more danger. My father was old by now, but very resolute. “Take the children and flee,” he said. “But where should we go;America,France?” I remember the scorn on his face when I asked that, “How can that even be a question for you? Go home; go back to our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem!”

Leaving was not simple, but my father’s business interests abroad meant that we had excuses to travel and although the government would not let us take our assets with us, the bank accounts abroad meant we were not penniless. In 1948 I arrived in Eretz Yisrael, and before the end of the year we saw our land free again after 2,000 years.

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Hi, it’s Joe again. Today there is not one Jew living in Aleppo. Its really sad that our whole history there is gone, but we keep it in the places that we live now, such as New York and Jerusalem. And considering the terrible civil war going on and the human rights atrocities being committed by the Syrian regime its probably a good thing that we have no more family in Aleppo.

Click here to read another account of displacement and lost in the Times of Israel

RAPvsROCKETS

RAP vs ROCKETS

Dear Joe,

Remember how we discussed the need to cheer up the residents of Israel’s South, suffering from Hamas’s rocket barrage? You recommended rap and I was like – what the hell??!! Joe, now I have to admit – you are a GENIUS!

It started with a phone call and an idea. This was followed quickly by branding, a social media strategy and a fund raising campaign. Three days later we were headed down south as rockets continued to pound Israel. It’s amazing what you can get done when everyone is united behind a cause! Despite being organized at the last minute, a bus load of Israeli artists made it to South Israel and performed 3 shows in one day!!! This was all possible thanks to the organizational mastery of Jewlicious Festival alum, Moishe House Jerusalem resident and amazing rapper Rinat Gutman, as well as support from the Schusterman FoundationNefesh B’Nefesh and Jewlicious. Audiences seemed starved for entertainment and RVR most certainly delivered. Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself. Here’s a video featuring Roi Levy and Gilad Vital from Shoteh Hanevuah singing their monster hit Ein Ani:

Let me tell you, that was one raucous Sayeret Givati brigade! Also performing were the amazing Sagiv Cohen, Hamasiach (aka Lior Shulman), Yitzchok Meir Malek, Shira Chen and Rinat Gutman, of course.

However, it seems the rockets did not stop falling despite our best efforts. Check the video below taken in Be’er Sheva where an air raid siren, actually a series of sirens, kept disturbing the show. Fun times.

Anyhow, it’s all very sweet. Now lets hope that the negotiated ceasefire holds.

Check out the complete album and the original post at Jewlicious

Sigd

Today we celebrate Sigd!

120,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel today, most of them immigrated to Israel (made Aliyah) during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991.

Sigd is an important holiday for Jews from the Ethiopian community. Held on the 29th on the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, the holiday marks the acceptance of the Torah, the longing for Jerusalem & Zion, and the unity of the Jewish people.   

And where did I first hear about Sigd? Well, I just received a letter about it from my friend Zvuvi in Israel – here it is:

Dear Joe,

I bet you never heard of Sigd, but in Israel it’s been a national holiday for the past four years. It’s a holiday that began in Ethiopia and was brought to Israel by the Beta Israel –Ethiopian Jews who live in our country. Some people believe that the Beta Israel Jews are descendants of King Solomon and the beautiful Queen of Sheba. Wow!

Ethiopia is a country in Africa. The Beta Israel community always dreamed of making Israel their home. After thousands of years, Israel is finally their country the same way it’s mine. I’m so happy and proud. That’s why I took a picture of some of my Beta Israel friends. I also took a picture of part of the Sigd celebration.

 

So what is the Sigd holiday all about? It takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur and it celebrates the Jews accepting the Torah on Mt. Sinai as their way of life. Sigd is cool because it’s like other Jewish holidays that start with a fast and end with a feast. We Jews know how to fast and we know how to cook! Look at the Fast of Esther which ends with a Purim feast. And what about Passover? We have the fast of the first born followed by the Seder. There’s another connection between Passover and Sigd. Passover is all about how we left Egypt and made it to the land of Canaan. In between, we were given the Torah. Towards the end of the Seder what do we say? “Le Shana Ha’ba’a B’Yerushalayim” – “Next Year in Jerusalem.” For thousands of years, on Sigd, the Beta Israel gathered on mountaintops outside their Ethiopian villages to pray for their return to Jerusalem…and look where they are today and where they have the big Sigd celebration. In Jerusalem!

Chag Sameach…Zvuvi

*Letter to Joe from Zvuvi is taken, with author’s permission, from Zvuvi’s Israel blog.

Zvuvi’s Israel is a fun Israel tour book for children written by award winning author Tami Lehman-Wilzig.

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Read more about this year’s celebration in this article in the Times of Israel, complete with many photos from the celebration held today at the Tayelet in southern Jerusalem.

Sderot shelter

100+ missiles fired at Southern Israel over the weekend

Dear Joe,

Since Friday over 100 missiles have been fired at Southern Israel from Gaza, many of them aimed at my hometown, Sderot. My family has been freaking out due to the intensity of the latest missile barrage. I interrupted my studies at Tel Aviv University to be with my family in Sderot – as the big sister I feel that I have to be there for my younger brothers and sisters.  School in Sderot has been cancelled, even though the building is fortified. Life has been put on hold.

Joe, when the siren goes off warning of a missile attack, how much time do you think we have to run to a shelter? 3 minutes? 1 minute? 30 seconds? No – we have no more than 15 seconds. We can sleep in the shelter but there is no toilet and shower in the shelter. And we have to go out to buy groceries, we simply can’t stay in the shelter all day.

Our neighbor’s down the street suffered a direct hit on their home. Fortunately no one was hurt, though their house was almost totally destroyed.

The thing is, I bear no hatred towards the residents of Gaza. They have to live under a Hamas dictatorship, a regime that has failed to improve the lives of ordinary Gazans but which is only too happy to engage in terrorist attacks on Israel, instead of focusing on Gaza’s economy or on improving education.  I really wish we could find a solution that both provided for the security of Israel and people like my family, and which also allowed Gazans to live prosperous lives free of Hamas and other fanatics.

Joe, the world barely knows about what’s happening in southern Israel. I know though that you care and I wanted to make sure that you are aware of what’s happening. I really hope that I will be able to welcome you to a quiet and peaceful Sderot during your next visit to Israel.

Xxx

Dalia

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Hey everyone, this is Joe. I feel sick to the stomach about this situation. I really admire Dalia for going to Sderot, even while missiles are falling, to be with her family. Even though I am thousands of miles away I feel that we have to be there though for Dalia and her family. I want to know, what can we all do for Israel? How can we put an end to this terrible situation? What can we in North America do about this? I would love to hear some ideas!!

Joe at the shipyard

A tour of the Judaean desert – via Skype

Dear Joe,

Remember when I told you that I had decided to become an Israeli tour guide. Well, I started my course just last week and I could not be more excited (check out my Facebook page). I am learning a new side to this country that I never knew existed and I want to share with you via Skype some of what I saw and experienced on our first tour day.

We gathered as the sun rises over Tel Aviv at the Arlozorov bus station, ready to set out on our first trip on the guiding course. The previous night, our coordinator had instilled the fear of God into everyone, promising that the bus was leaving at 6.30 am and if you were not on it, then tough. And then he said it again, several times. Obviously, the last thing you want to happen having already woken up at the crack of dawn is to make it all worthless by missing the bus, so it was that when I showed up half an hour early there were already about half the course there to meet me. And yes, we did leave on time.

Joe: “Wow, we never once left on time during my Birthright trip”

Our first journey took us south into the Northern part of the Judean desert. But before we could get to our first site of the day, we had about 90 minutes of travel time. I pulled out my travel pillow, looking forward to catching up on those lost hours of sleep. This went well for about 5 minutes before our guide grabbed the microphone and started pointing things out as we traveled down the road, and of course we were writing this all down.

One of the things that I love about this country is the incredible concentration of sites of interest. I must say, however, that this can be a mixed blessing; when on the guiding course one receives far more content than one would on a normal tour, to equip us for every situation and eventuality, so significant concentration is required. “On the left, an ancient archaeological site; on the right, the site of Israel’s first soap factory; look at the rock here which is a reddish color because of the copper, etc”. And I dutifully listened, and looked, and noted, and worked out some of the more complicated Hebrew words (limestone, flint, aqueduct, weaving ant, to name but a few of the additions to my lexicon on this trip).

Joe: “I feel like every rock in Israel has its own story to tell”

We passed Jerusalem and began the descent into the Judaean desert. I love the desert. Israel has two: the Judaean Desert, and South of it the Negev. Both are rocky (there is a small area with some dunes). The craggy rocks, the undulating hills (Israelis call them mountains, but having spent two and half years in Switzerland, I’m not sure), the weaving valleys, I find it all so incredibly beautiful. And tranquil. An amazing tranquility in the desert. A place to enjoy the aesthetics, to think and absorb the beauty of nature. And lots of historical, geographical and geological information too, on this occasion.

Mosaic at Inn at the Good Samaritan

There are of course many sites of interest, and our first stop was at the Inn of the Good Samaritan. According to tradition, this is the site of the famous Good Samaritan parable told in Luke’s gospel. In the 6th century a church was built here, and you can visit the partial reconstruction. There are also a variety of artefacts and stunning mosaics (like the one above) from around the area (partly in an air-conditioned museum). The museum also contains a very interesting display on the Samaritans, who still exist in Israel although latest numbers put them at under 1000. We will learn more about them as the course progresses.

View over Nachal Prat/Wadi Kelt

Back on the bus and a short hop down route 1 to this stunning viewpoint over Wadi Kelt. The view was so breathtaking that it required a moment’s reflection before turning to the important matter at hand of identifying the sites of interest; I can now point out a variety of locations from the viewpoint; from Jerusalem to Jericho; from a palace of Herod to the birthplace of Robert Kennedy’s assassin. Just in case you were wondering, of course.

Einot Tzukim

Onward South we went with the next stop being Einot Tzukim, the ‘lowest nature reserve in the world’. I’m not sure that is particularly anything to shout about on its own, but that should not let anything be taken away from the nature reserve. Based around 130-170 fresh water springs in the middle of the desert, King Abdullah of Jordan was so taken with the area that he designated it for his use only, when it was Jordanian territory. When it was no longer Jordan, Israel made it a nature reserve, and it was remarkable to see the freshwater springs and also to learn about the extensive wildlife, set right in the middle of such an incredibly barren and unwelcoming landscape.

The reserve also encompasses an archaeological site; the theory is that it was used to make the mythical afarsimon oil, known to have been an extremely valuable commodity in ancient times. No one knows what afarsimon was for sure (the word exists in modern Hebrew and means persimmon, but it is not the same fruit) but the search continues. There is also some modern history – the day of declaring the state Ben Gurion came here with his wife for a bit of ‘me time’ before heading up to Tel Aviv to make history. No doubt he was enjoying the serenity of the desert before what he knew would be complete chaos. And so the ancient and modern worlds connect.

I am really worried about the shrinking Dead Sea

We then began the journey in the direction of home, slowing to take in the rather depressing Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.) Rock. The P.E.F. was founded in 1865 and still exists, with the purpose of exploring, mapping and excavating the land of Israel, which was at the time under Ottoman control (they may have been gathering intelligence on the side, cheeky things). The rock marked the height of the Dead Sea at the beginning of the 20th Century. 100 years later and it’s quite sad to think that it is now some distance away from even touching the rock. It’s caused largely by a huge increase in the use of the tributary, the Jordan River, for water by all its surrounding countries. Hopefully the scientists and politicians can find a way to fix it.

Mikve (ritual bath) at Qumran

Our penultimate stop was at Qumran. I remember stopping at Qumran once before; a family road trip to Eilat. Dad saw the sign and decided that he wanted to stop there; I think everyone else wanted to get home (it’s quite a long drive). I vaguely remember it being closed in any event. This time, I certainly appreciated it more. Qumran is the site around which many of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found; their discovery is quite an incredible story. Some of these scrolls date back to the 2nd Century BCE, and are the oldest copies of the books of the bible in existence. I studied them a bit at university, and this context always adds more to visiting a historical site. It is thought that here lived a group of Essenes, a sort of ascetic cult that broke away from the mainstream Judaism in the Second Temple Period. There is a good explanatory film and small museum and then you can walk around the site. I always find it amazing to wonder around these ancient places, to imagine people walking those same paths thousands of years ago. It must have been tough in Qumran, in the middle of the desert, an unforgiving place where it sometimes rained once in two years. They must have been pretty committed.

Eventually we were thrown out at closing time. There was time for just one more brief stop on the way home,Nabi Musa, the site where Muslims believe Moses is buried. Night was falling and prayers were beginning so we didn’t stay long; a quick peek at the shrine and some history outside before heading home, arriving at Arlozorov at 6.45, just over 12 hours after we had left.

Quite an intense first day! In addition to all the general information, we also received lots of useful practical tips, such as good places to stand and address a group in a particular site; good routes; ideas about how to integrate sources. One has to pay just as much attention to the way the material is delivered, as to its content. At every site I was thinking about how I would relate it when my time to guide will come; plenty of food for thought. All in all, very enjoyable, although completely exhausting. Looking forward to more to come!

Joe: “Thanks so much Samuel and looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming adventures”

Microsoft Israel annual developers conference

Microsoft and Israeli Hi-Tech

Hey everyone,

iPhone or Android?

Among my friends we all have strong opinions on the issue. We each pick our OS and promote our choice over and over, much like my sister Sarah when she speaks about Israel.

Well, for Israelis, things just got a bit trickier. Windows 8 for smartphones was launched at the Microsoft Discovery event today in Tel Aviv. For the first time, Israelis will be able to have Windows on their phones in Hebrew! It would have been so cool to be at that Discovery Day – new gadgets, new software and of course Israelis; it must have been something.

My guess is that in a year from now the question will be: iPhone, Android or Windows?

Not only was Microsoft show-padding all its latest bling, but Steve Ballmer – the CEO of Microsoft – came as well and met with the Israeli government and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They signed agreements relating to research and development, online government services and promoting Israeli tech & start-ups. Mr. Ballmer said that it was his fourth visit… ummm… he’s been more times to Israel than me.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu

Microsoft and Steve love Israel so much that Microsoft R&D Israel Center is one of their largest R&D centers in the world, plus Israel was Steve’s first stop on his Windows 8 World Promo Tour. I guess I’m not the only one to think that Israel is a real special place.

But things don’t stop there for Israel and tech this past week. EMC, a data storage company, opened its second EMC Labs facility in the world in none other than Israel, with the first being in China. And  the CEO of Intel came all the way from the USA just to be in Israel for the announcement of a high school program funded by Intel to train the next wave of techies in the country. I do wonder – who loves Israel more: me or the CEOs of the world’s most successful hi-tech companies?

Now for some cool facts:

  • Israel has the highest number of Hi-Tech start-ups outside of the USA
  • Israel has the fourth largest science industry per capita in the world
  • After China, Israel has the most number of companies listed on the tech heavy NASDAQ exchange
  • The center of Israel is called Silicon Wadi (Translation of Valley into Arabic)

Speaking of which, since Israel is the Hi-Tech place to be outside of California, I’ve been thinking: should I do a Hi-Tech internship in Israel next summer? Perhaps with Career Israel? Some of my friends have already done an Israeli hi-tech internship and have had an awesome time, plus it will look great on my Resume.

Thoughts people?

Joe

Echoes of the Shofar at Jerusalem’s Western Wall

When I was in Israel I made sure to visit the Western Wall, the last surviving remnant of the Jewish Temple from over 2,000 years ago. It was amazing to see so many Jews praying together from all over the world.

We take it for granted that Jews can pray anytime at the Western Wall, but for centuries Jewish access was restricted, sometimes we were even completely locked out.

I found this amazing video showing how young Jews during the British mandate, at great risk to themselves, smuggled in a Shofar to the Western Wall area and blew it at the end of the Yom Kippur services. Wow! – I’m just so inspired by their bravery and dedication!

Jerusalem is full of places that are holy for the Jewish People and the Islamic and Christian religions. I am proud that under Israeli sovereignty the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif in the Islamic tradition) is packed with Muslim worshipers during their Friday prayers, that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher welcomes Christian pilgrims from all over the world, and that we Jews at last have the right to pray without being barred by foreign powers.

For thousands of years, when Jews have gotten married, the grooms have smashed a glass to remember the destruction of the temple and our exile from Jerusalem.

Here’s Matisyahu, one of my favorite reggae artists, singing about what Jerusalem means to him. Enjoy!