Showing posts with label Beauty Queen of Jerusalem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beauty Queen of Jerusalem. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

President Biden's Israel Visit, Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, Fiddler on the Roof in Hebrew and other comments

It has been quite a busy day in Israel for news stations, talk radio and Jerusalem commuters.  President Biden arrived in Israel on Air Force One for his first Presidential visit.  For Israelis, this meant that Highway 1, which connects the airport to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, was completely shut down for a good part  of the day.  The President's convoy, alone, would create a traffic jam in Israel.  But with all  of the security concerns, travelling to Jerusalem today was probably not a good idea.  (That is an extreme understatement, almost  comedically so)  So we watched from the comfort of home.

This is President Biden's tenth visit to Israel, though his first as President of the United States.  First on the agenda was a short press conference at the airport.  The president of Israel, Isaac ("Bougie") Herzog, spoke first.  Then  Prime Minister Yair Lapid and finally, President Biden.  No one said anything of great significance as far as I can tell but there were gushing expressions  of friendship and the usual statements about the closeness of the relationship between Israel  and the U.S.

Biden's  next stop was a military stop to look at one of Israel's newest missile defence systems, a project which Israel has apparently developed along with the U.S.  After that, it was off to Yad Vashem, where President  Biden spoke with two Holocaust survivors for more than 10 minutes.

Optically, this has already seemed like a far better visit than President Obama's first visit, even though Biden might ultimately carry some similar messages.  But unlike Obama, Biden has gone out of his way, initially, to stress the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to do so with warmth and attention to messaging.  It remains to be seen what follows.

Israeli political leaders  were falling over themselves trying to be photographed with Biden.  Former Prime Minister Bennett inserted himself into a runway walk along the red carpet before officials whisked him away.  Current  Prime Minister Lapid made sure that he had some wonderfully photogenic moments with Biden.  Former Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu made sure that he actually got a warm handshake from Biden  - even though Biden was generally giving fist pumps to  most of the other attendees.  Even Yamina leader Ayelet  Shaked managed to  make her  way over to a position right  next to Biden.  It was actually quite amusing watching all  of this.

In any event, it is a strange visit since not very much is expected.  No  major breakthroughs with the Palestinians are likely to take place and it sounds unlikely that there will be any major deals between Israel and the U.S.   So what  is the purpose of this visit, which was  planned before the current Israeli government  imploded?

There seem to be three answers.  For one, President Biden is  trying to round up support for the American approach to Iran and  its quest for nuclear weapons.  He is flying  from  Israel to Saudi  Arabia, directly (a first) on Friday and will also be discussing  Iran with the Saudis.  So  one objective is to try and bolster support for a potential revival of the Obama orchestrated nuclear deal.  Neither the Israelis nor the  Saudis are too excited about this prospective deal and, in fact, the Iranians have  not even agreed to it. So it is unclear what, if anything, will happen on that  track.

Secondly, President Biden is visiting Saudi Arabia to discuss oil and to see if the Saudis can help the current  U.S. situation by increasing  daily production of oil and, hopefully, lowering  the  prices.   This is something that Americans are deeply concerned about as oil prices have rocketed up recently, as they have all over the world.  

Finally, there  is a geopolitical side to this as well.  Biden is hoping to continue to build on the "Abraham  Accords" by moving  Saudi Arabia and,  possibly other countries, closer to becoming participants.  Saudi Arabia has, to date, indicated that it  seeks a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians as a pre-condition to joining the accords.  At the same time, Saudi Arabia is looking to protect itself against a potential Iranian threat and some  sort of deal with Israel and the  United States would  be quite helpful in that regard.  So it will be very interesting to see what, if anything, is announced in Saudi Arabia about the Saudi relationship with Israel.  Rumours here are that more  airlines from  Israel will be able to overfly Saudi Arabia en route to the far east, which will save Israeli travellers many hours of  travelling time.

President Biden also agreed to a very interesting interview with Channel 12  Israeli reporter Yonit Levy.  She pushed him with some probing questions  about  his plans for  2024 (no comment), his relationship with Netanyahu, the real reasons for this current visit and whether or  not  he would authorize force against Iran  if they won't join a nuclear deal (he said he would as a last resort).  In particular, Levy asked him whether, if Netanyahu gets elected and becomes Prime Minister, there will again be a great "freeze" in the U.S. -Israel relationship.  Biden answered that the relationship is  with the country and not any particular leader - and that he would work with anyone who is elected.  Great answer, I thought.  This is really what Prime Minister Netanyahu should have been saying during the last U.S.  election campaign but of course he  chose to be partisan instead,  almost stumping for Trump's re-election campaign.

Overall, it should be an interesting few days.  President  Biden is scheduled  to attend  the opening ceremonies of the Maccabbi games, which will take place tomorrow at 7 p.m. Israel time. (12 p.m. Eastern).  There are some terrific Israeli musical acts scheduled to perform.  I am really looking forward to watching.   At $500 a ticket, we decided not to attend but I'm sure it will be great on TV.  It would  also be crazy getting in and out  of Jerusalem.  Aside from the opening ceremonies, I am also looking forward to watching my niece compete in the swimming competitions.  

Israeli TV update

Over the past couple of weeks, we watched the Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.  Of all the Israeli shows that I have seen over the past few years, including Fauda, Tehran, Shtisel and  others, this was probably my favourite.  I have always enjoyed historical fiction.  Beauty Queen traces the fictional Ermosa family, a  Sephardic family living in Jerusalem, from pre-World  War I through to the mid 1940s (in the first season at least).  

While at times the show  might seem like  a bit of a soap opera, it is set against the backdrop of life in Jerusalem, mostly in the 30s and 40s.  It deals with the relationship between the Jewish community and the  Ottoman rulers  initially - then subsequently, the British authorities and the tensions  with the Arab community.  The politics of the time also play a role.  There is discussion of the power of the Histadrut (the largest Israeli workers'  union of the time) balanced against the "revisionists"  (the pre-cursers to the modern more free-market Likud party).   The show  also looks at the pre-Independence military organizations in Israel (the  Hagana and "Etzel") and  the different  types  of operations these  groups were carrying out.  This is of course also set against the heavy backdrop of the rise of the Nazis in Germany, the  outbreak of the second World War and initial reports of the Holocaust.   

The first  season of the show was originally aired by YES TV in Israel in 2021 over 44 episodes, each of which are about half  hour in length.  This year, Netflix picked up the series and edited the first 44 episodes into two seasons of 10 episodes each, with English subtitles.  So  we watched the first  10 episodes on Netflix - which covers about 20-22 episodes of the Israeli version.  The rest hasn't yet been released on Netflix.   So we were left hanging....what  to do...

We  found that all 44 episodes are available on sdarot.buzz but without English  subtitles.  We couldn't resist and watched the 20 or so episodes that are not yet on Netflix.  It was quite compelling - we just  couldn't  stop watching.  Perhaps it is not for everyone.  Some  people have  apparently found  it a bit slow and  it does  flip back and forth between the 1920s  and the 1930s - sometimes you don't know what year you are  in.  But it all  comes  together.  It helps if you are a history  buff, particularly if you enjoy Israeli history.  But  I think that there  is enough in the show to enjoy it even if you are not so keen  on pre-Independence  Israeli  history.  Netflix has the English subtitles.  To watch on Sdarot, you will need fluent Hebrew.

In other Israeli TV news, the fourth season  of Fauda is  now out  - or is being released  weekly.  The first episode was shown  on Israeli TV tonight and  it will run for the next  10 Wednesdays (or so). After that, apparently, it will be released on Netflix worldwide.   So  if you are a big Fauda fan, you will get another round  of Fauda on Netflix this year.  It was action packed, suspenseful and entertaining  but it is too early to comment on the fourth  season  as a whole.

Finally, although this is in a slightly different category, we went  to see Fiddler on the Roof,  in Hebrew, at at the Cultural Centre  in Tel Aviv a theatre in the heart of the city.  I have, of course, seen the play many times in English  in New York  and Toronto.   This was my first time in Hebrew though I had heard the soundtrack.  Overall, it was an excellent production.  The lead character, Tevia (he is named  Tuvia in the Hebrew  Production) was played by Natan Datner and  he did an excellent  job.  He was a very convincing Tevia  with a powerful  voice.  Some  of the other performers were a bit weaker (for example Tevia's wife, Golda) But the Hudel performer was excellent as was Motel the Tailor.  

Even though I have seen the play many times, it is still an emotionally draining  experience, on so many levels.   The complete disappearance  of the Jewish communities of Europe is very real and personal.  It is the story of my  grandparents and great grandparents as it is for some many Jews around the world.  Together with that, the play touches on the challenges of maintaining tradition in the face of post-enlightenment modern realities and that is a also a subject that is very close to home.  What, if any, traditions will our children continue?  And even the subject of intermarriage, which was already a big  challenge for the U.S.  Jewish community when the play was  adapted in the 1960s (from Shalom Aleichem  stories written at the turn of the century) seems  to have an even more  powerful  impact in 2022 when U.S. intermarriage rates are higher than 50% and Canadian rates are not too far behind.  So there is lots to think about as the town of Anatevka is eliminated and the population is expelled.  I won't deny shedding a tear or two (or maybe more than that).  

Quick Political Comment

As you may know, Israel is in the midst of another election campaign with voting to take  place on November 1, 2022. I will write some more detailed election related blogs as the election draws closer.  I will simply say  at this point that it is too close to call.

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu is in the midst of his criminal trial, which is getting lots of  press these days.  He is hoping that  he  can come up with a coalition of  more than 61 seats and get himself back in to the Prime Minister's chair.  So far, polls seem to be indicating that  this is possible but far from certain.  

Former Prime Minister Bennett has announced that he is dropping out of politics.  His party, Yamina, is now being led by Ayalet Shaked and it is not clear that Yamina will  pass the electoral threshhold.  Yamina may well join Likud or some other party before election day.

Current Prime Minister Lapid is polling at anywhere from 22 to 26 seats.  It would be quite a feat for him to stay in power but anything is possible.

There are a  variety of other  political suitors pushing in different  ideological directions.  Should be quite entertaining over the  next two months. I anticipate that there will be all  kinds of mudslinging, underhanded tactics, insults and lies.  Everything  that western political campaigns seem to have these days.

Final  Comment

I couldn't leave this without stating the obvious - that airports are crazy these days and flights between  Toronto and  Tel-Aviv are completely full, incredibly pricey and more  disorganized than ever.  Airport waiting  times are very long.  It can take 2-3 hours to get through all of the security and check-in procedures to leave Israel.  Arriving in Israel is fairly efficient  generally, in contrast to arriving in Toronto  these days, which is a complete disaster.  

With El Al scheduled to discontinue its Canadian service at the end of October, 2022, prices  will  undoubtedly rise sharply, which is unfortunate.  I can't  say that I have been a loyal  supporter of El Al, since the benefits of  flying Air Canada were overwhelmingly superior.  But I know that many Israelis prefer to fly El Al since it "feels like  home."  They will be very disappointed that this option is no longer available to and from Toronto.

I suppose,  soon enough, you will be able to fly Saudi Arabian Airlines to Tel-Aviv from Toronto.  After all, you can already fly  Emirates, though I haven't tried it yet.  However, you might want to get  here, Israel will be happy to welcome you.

And with that I will sign off on this one and  wish you  all the best until next time.