Monday, February 28, 2011

New Zealand Refuses Israeli Rescue Aid

According to an article in today's Hebrew language daily, Yedioth Ahronot, New Zealand authorities have refused to allow Israeli rescue units into New Zealand to help search for missing Israeli tourists. Shortly after last week's earthquake in Christchurch, Israel offered to provide a variety of assistance to New Zealand, including highly specialized, experienced search and rescue units that could help locate trapped or missing people. New Zealand turned down the offer.

The article notes that search and rescue units from other countries were permitted but not from Israel. It highlights the lack of any clear explanation for this refusal. The Israeli rescue teams had been provided with detailed informaton about the likely locations of a number of missing Israelis and felt that they had a chance to provide a last bit of hope for the families of those who were missing.

Later today, the online news site YNet reported that New Zealand had now agreed to accept Israeli assistance in the form of sanitation, water purification and portable facilities - reversing its earlier refusals of any Israeli aid. However, there was no suggestion that New Zealand had changed its position on allowing the search and rescue teams.

A number of Israelis who were known to be in the vicinity of the earthquake remain missing. It would be truly unfortunate if lives were lost as a result of an ill conceived political decision.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lufthansa: Toronto to Tel-Aviv via Frankfurt

Flying from Toronto to Israel on Air Canada on a Thursday night? You will wind up with a stopover in Frankfurt. The wait time in the Frankfurt airport is about 3 hours. The flight arrives at in Frankfurt at 7 a.m. and leaves for Tel-Aviv at 10 a.m. You have to switch over to a Lufthansa plane for the 3.5 hour flight from Frankfurt to Tel-Aviv.

The Air Canada leg of the trip was great. Comfortable seats – a decent amount of room, personal video screens and entertainment systems…all around a fairly smooth trip.

The transition to Lufthansa in Germany was also reasonably smooth. Your baggage can be checked right through without any need to go and collect it for the transfer. The walk from one gate to the other is quite long – but that is probably not too different from any other major airport.

You have to pass through extensive personal security – including full pat downs for all passengers. You then have to go through special additional personal security set up at gate C13 – only for flights to Israel.

The actual Lufthansa plane – well that was quite uncomfortable. We were seated 10 across – in a 3-4-3 configuration – with what seemed like much less room. No personal entertainment system, very little leg and seating room - and overall- the feel of a very cramped ride. Fortunately it was only 3.5 hours.

The staff were reasonably attentive – considering the number of passengers they had to manage. They passed by quite a number of times ready to offer hot and cold drinks – wine, liqueurs – even cognac – as well as a hot meal.

We would have arrived about 10 minutes early – but spent some time circling in the Mediterranean to avoid being ahead of schedule. On arrival in Tel-Aviv – things were also reasonably smooth – though no one seemed to bother to unload priority baggage first.

Probably the best think about the transfer was the great prices in the Frankfurt duty free shop – a wide ranging selection of scotch and other drinks – all much cheaper than the duty free shops in Toronto or Tel-Aviv.

The Frankfurt lounge was also decent – featuring a really nice espresso machine – but – on the cheap side – you have to pay if you want wireless internet service.

It’s obviously much better to fly direct – though if you want to fly direct on a Thursday night – you are limited to El Al – which means leaving earlier in the day – and no Aeroplan points. Another option is to fly through Philadelphia on US Air – which is not a bad option – though it still involves a stopover.

The option of transferring through Frankfurt can wind up saving as much as $500 – so sometimes it might be worthwhile to put with 3.5 hours of discomfort…

David Broza in Ra'anana

There are few musical experiences as satisfying as seeing a great entertainer in an intimate hall – with high quality acoustics. Last night we were privileged to attend a David Broza concert at the Ra’anana Music and Art Centre – along with about 250 other fans. It was a real treat.

Broza is a self-proclaimed troubadour. He combines folk music – often built around the lyrical poetry of others –sometimes very well-known poets – with Spanish guitar playing and middle-eastern rhythms. Having spent time living in Spain, Israel and the United States, Broza’s music combines a variety of influences.

The concert was a two hour collection of Broza’s greatest hits covering a span of more than 30 years. Broza was accompanied by three other musicians – a percussionist, a bass player and a second guitarist – the newest addition to his band. The four musicians were seated on stools strumming, plucking and swaying to the music – mostly smiling as they played through the carefully selected set list.

Watching Broza perform – you can’t help but feel the love of music that radiates from his guitar and his smile. With such a dominant Spanish influence – some songs have the energy and feel of the Gypsy Kings. For these up tempo numbers, the audience was clapping and tapping along – some even moved up to dance next to the stage.

Other pieces are well known in Israel – as sing along anthems –such as Mitachat l’Shamayim (Under the Skies). The whole crowd knows the words – and Broza adds the role of choir conductor to his repertoire.

The highlight of the evening was simply Broza’s masterful guitar playing. Whether it was the two newest songs that his band was performing – which are part of a CD that is about to be released – or the many classics that the group played through – they were all marked by infectious and exciting sounds of the Spanish guitar.

The finale – a second encore number- was Yihyeh Tov – “It will be alright” – a song dedicated to hope that there will be peace in the Middle East and that “we will all live together – as siblings.” Broza is quite active in the peace movement – working with organizations such as Combatants for Peace –that look for ways to build tolerance, understanding and friendship between Israelis and Palestinians.

Though I have seen Broza quite a number of times – in different cities – this type of venue was a wonderful showcase for his music. The sight lines were great – we were close to the stage – and the sound was crisp and clear.

Broza is currently touring similar sized venues throughout Israel after having recently completed a trip through parts of France. He will likely be back to North America – for his annual mini-concert series in late December in New York and Toronto.

His web site includes more detailed bio information – and other links.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Company Men - Better Off in Canada...

I saw The Company Men this week. Being an employment lawyer, primarily representing dismissed individuals, I thought it might have an interesting angle that relates to what I do. Unfortunately, there was no real legal angle at all.

In part this relates to the huge difference between Canadian and U.S. employment law.
In the U.S., most states are “at will” – so the severance provided – even to long service employees is often quite minimal. In Canada – and most other common law countries, employees are entitled to “reasonable notice” or equivalent compensation when they are let go – so they have that much more of a cushion to allow them to find other work.

One of the main characters in the movie is let go after 12 years of service – from a sales management position. He is only 37 but is earning somewhere around $160,000. In Canada, this would be a fairly easy 12 month case - at least. In the movie – he is given 12 weeks’ severance – and doesn’t even consult with a lawyer. It is almost assumed that there would have been no point.

The effect of this difference is dramatic. An individual in Canada in this situation – with 12 months’ compensation – or somewhere in that range – may not wind up having to sell the house, the car, the furniture – and *sob* even the xbox (as happens in this film). Often, the “reasonable notice period” in Canada is enough to allow the person to transition to other employment – and to retain a greater sense of dignity than might otherwise be the case.

Of course, the movie is concerned with the hardship faced by U.S. employees, in the midst of some very difficult times. In particular, the movie tries to show how over-extended, high earning white collar employees can suddenly fall quite dramatically in a very short period of time – and face alarmingly harsh and unanticipated consequences. The movie also comments on the gap between the earnings of the upper levels of management and the workers – and describes some of the excesses of upper management – such as the use of private jets – while thousands of working class employees face the prospect of lengthy unemployment. It also speaks about the very nature of the American economy and laments the transition from a manufacturing and production economy – to one of personal services and resource production.

Although the movie did illustrate the challenges and despair of prolonged unemployment in economically difficult times, I felt that it failed to develop into anything beyond that almost descriptive purpose. I also felt that although it probably reflected a certain reality in some American circles – it was much less applicable to Canadian workplaces – or those in other countries – even in these difficult economic times.

Sure many people suffer greatly when unemployed – and they are not always entitled to generous – or even reasonable severance packages. But in many countries outside of the U.S. there is at least more of a safety net to soften the blow of restructuring – from fair severance arrangements and government run employment insurance programs. Sometimes, Canadians and nationals of other countries have to fight for these benefits. If the movie had been made in Canada or elsewhere outside of the U.S. – it might well have turned into more of a legal picture – as the characters would have fought to secure reasonable separation arrangements – in a court or at a labour tribunal (as in the U.K. or Israel).

Where a country faces massive and widespread unemployment, the safety net will only help for a certain period of time. But it will often make things far more manageable than that which is illustrated in The Company Men.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ikea Store Destroyed

It's hard to imagine an entire IKEA store vanishing - but that is what happened in Israel early Saturday morning. A massive fire apparently started from the roof area at about 5:45 a.m. on Sat February 5, 2011. According to Israel's daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, 39 Israeli fire crews arrived at the blaze in an effort to save some of the premises - but the roof collapsed and the whole building was destroyed along with its contents. The damage is estimated at $150-$200 Million.

The store, located next to the coastal town of Netanya, about 15 minutes north of Ra'anana, was the first Ikea store to open in Israel in 2001 - and had traffic of some 7000 shoppers a day. It featured a fully kosher Ikea restaurant - serving things like Ikea's famous Swedesh meatballs and Swedish lox (smoked salmon). For the past few years, the store has been closed on Shabbat (Saturday). Since the fire occurred early Saturday morning - no one was inside the building and no injuries have been reported.

Fire marshalls are investigating the cause of the blaze. It seems amazing that a store of this size, containing such a tremendous amount of merchandise, would be so vulnerable and could be destroyed so quickly. One almost wonders if the building was simply put together like some Ikea shelves...

Store owners have indicated that they intend to have the premises rebuilt within six months - so tourists visiting Israel in the summer who are anxious to try some kosher Swedish meatballs will probably be okay. Likewise, the company intends to look after the hundreds of employees who will be out of work until the store reopens. As for Israelis who have ordered merchandise that is yet to be delivered...well...according to Yedioth, they are advised to make sure that they keep their receipts - just in case the orders have somehow gone missing...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Ice Hockey in Israel

In Toronto - it's been about -10 C - perfect ice hockey weather. Here in Israel - at the height of winter (Feb 3, 2011) - it's about 15C - that's above 0. But for some desperate hockey lovers - that's still perfect weather for driving to Metulla to play a 1 1/2 hour pick up game of ice hockey.

It was raining heavily tonight - and most of the players had to travel between 2 and 3 hours each way - to the one ice hockey arena in all of Israel - right up at the border between Israel and Lebanon - at the Canada Centre. But we still had 30 skaters and 2 goalies - and everyone had lots of fun.

As I've written before, the Israel Recreational Ice Hockey Association (IRHA) runs a game every second week - throughout the year. A mish mash of ex-patriot Canadians, Americans, Russians and homegrown Israeli hockey players - ranging in age from 12 to 75ish - drive up to Metulla to play their favourite game.

From Ra'anana (near the centre of the country), the drive is 178 km. Stretches of that are high speed toll highways - but other parts are much slower roads. We car pooled with two other players. We are now able to prove that you can squeeze four fully loaded hockey bags into the trunk of a Toyota Corolla - albeit with quite a bit of pushing before you slam the trunk closed...

The teams are divided each week quite fairly by the organizers - and there are three lines of players - each at different skill levels. Though some of the players are very competitive - and the goalies are terrific (one of them, a 12 year old immigrant from the U.S.) - the main idea is to get out on the ice and have a good time playing non-contact hockey (mostly).

A great addition tonight was having a young woman play - which made this now a co-ed game. She was put on the 3rd line - but probably deserved to be on the 2nd, considering her high skill level.

My son kept his 3 game goal scoring streak going - and was quite happy about that. I'm just happy to say that I was able to play and have fun - I won't say much more about my skill level...

After the game - the players quickly gathered just outside the Canada centre for a short Ma'ariv service. Most of us then headed over to Shlomi's Baguette - a shawarma place in downtown Kiryat Shmona - about 9 km south of Metulla.

The big highlight of the season - is that the IRHA is running a tournament in late February - with recreational players from all over the world coming to Israel to play hockey and then tour the country. It's a four day tournament - Feb 21 to 25 - with players signed up to come from Canada, the U.S., various European countries and a team of native Israelis. Last year, Canadian hockey hero Paul Henderson attended at the tournament and dropped the puck at the final game.

For anyone planning to be in Israel - any time of the year - you can bring your hockey equipment and contact the IRHA to participate in one of the games. Or you might even be able to borrow a full set of equipment from the IRHA - if it was too difficult to bring your stuff.

For More information - visit