Showing posts with label Idan Raichel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Idan Raichel. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Day Trip Up North in Israel

So it is time for a distracting blog as opposed to one about  the  ongoing political situation or the battle with the Covid virus and its mutations.  After quite a long time of not travelling very much in the country, I thought I would write about a day trip that we took this past Sunday and a few of the highlights.  Call it a bit of a distraction - but maybe also some ideas for next time you are in Israel.  We had tickets for an evening concert up north, so we decided to make a day of it.

We set out in the morning to the Dalyat Al Carmel market, outside of Haifa. That is about and hour and 20 mintues from Ra'anana in decent traffic conditions  Apparently, the big day for the market is Saturday but that is not something that we would do on Shabbat - so we went on a Sunday.  This market is a market run by Druze Israelis.  The Druze are an Arab speaking minority group in Israel, who number about 100,000.  They do not identify as Muslims.  They serve in the IDF and participate in all facets of Israeli public life.  The market is quite similar to other Arab markets in Israeli including the market in the Old City of Jerusalem.   We wandered around in a variety of shops in the market area.  The shopkeepers were very friendly and welcoming.  We were offered coffee. We chatted with them.  They spoke about how difficult it has been over the past year and a half with the lack tourism.  We felt like we should buy something but weren't really looking for anything in particular.  In the end, we bought a few seat cushions that we could take to the concert we were going to later at a Roman ampitheatre.  More about that shortly.  

We went to another place about twenty minutes away called the Bethlehem Spice Farm.  We were hoping for a bit of a tour and explanation but these days, with the lack of tourists, that is only available for tour groups of at least 10 or so that book in advance.  Instead, we wandered around the enormous spice store which featured bulk spices of every possible kind, mostly grown on site, apparently.  We sat and had a coffee at the coffee bar, which was quite tasty, accompanied by a pecan pie that was reasonably good - not overly sweet like many can be.  

After that, we decided to look for someplace to eat that would be reasonably close to our eventual destination the "Shoni Ampitheatre in Benyamina."  We found a restaurant called Taj - a Kosher Indian restaurant in Or Akiva (under the supervision of the Or Akiva Rabbinate).

Taj is not exactly gourmet dining.  It is a small, family run Indian restaurant with a relatively short menu.  But the food was quite good and tasted quite authentic.  There was outdoor seating with a capacity of, perhaps, 15.  I understand that they do quite a bit of takeout business.  There was a mildly operational fan cooling us off a bit - though I have to say it was still quite warm.  

We ordered a vegetable Thali dish which came with a roti, a curried zucchini dish, dal (in this case, yellow lentils), rice and a variety of chutneys.  We also ordered a curried salmon dish and some large samosas.  The roti was quite good and really not too far off from the delicious rotis that I used to enjoy at the home of one of my very good friends, growing up in Toronto.  The prices were moderate.  The service was friendly and  prompt.  This was much more like one of the fairly fast storefront Indian restaurants, so abundant in Toronto, especially in the Leslieville area (Gerrard and Greenwood) than a sit-down full-service restaurant.  But then again, there really aren't that many options for Indian food in Israel and even fewer for Kosher Indian food.  A one-time Kosher Indian restaurant  in Jerusalem, that was situated in the Crown Plaza Hotel, has since closed.  The Tandoori chain, with a branch in Herzliah, is not particularly authentic tasting and is not Kosher.  There is a decent restaurant in Ashdod, called Namaste that is Kosher and serves good food.  It is a bit out of the way for those in central Israel but we have been there a few times.  All things considered, we enjoyed Taj and would be happy to go back at some point, especially if we are in the area. 

Caesaria, Israel
We were quite full when we left, which is usually the case when you leave an Indian restaurant (in my experience) even though we really didn't order that many dishes.  We still had a few hours until our concert so we decided to head over to the ancient ruins at Caesaria and wander around there for a bit.  It was only about 10 minutes away from the restaurant.  We have been there many times and it is a great place to visit.  This time we were looking to take a short walk at the beach and then sit somewhere, have a drink and watch the sea for a bit.  We decided on the Beach Bar where we found just what we were looking for.  

Beach Bar, Caesaria

The Beach Bar is an aptly named spot that spans a fairly large area with some seats very close to the water and others further away but with a nice view.  We found some seats in the shade and looked for something very cold to drink.  Unfortunately, we were told, it was "too early" for the ice drinks - which only come out at  night.  Go figure.  So we went for some lemonade.  My highlight of the day was the drink menu, which featured a drink called  a "Crazy Trump" made with mango and passion fruit juice.  It was tempting but we took a pass.  We sat and enjoyed the  sounds of waves crashing against the shore barrier and watching the  sun slowly set, though we were still an hour or two away from actual sunset time.

Our last stop was the concert venue itself.  We were off to the Shoni Ampitheatre in Binyamina, which is about 15 minutes away from Caesaria.   We were going to see Idan Raichel, a popular Israeli performer.  He often performs with a full 7-9 piece group but he is now doing a series of concerts by himself over the next few months at this outdoor ampitheatre.  He plays  piano, guitar, accordian (though he didn't play any accordian this time) and a variety of other instruments.  Many of his songs are fairly sombre, soulful and emotional.  

The venue was first come first serve seating.  We thought we were going to be seated on the stone seats that fill the ampitheatre (hence the need for the pillows that we bought at the market). Instead, we

Idan Raichel

wound  up with second row seats on uncomfortable plastic chairs.  Raichel was great.  He told lots of stories in between songs, some of them were quite interesting.  For example, he said his 5 year old daughter asks him why so many people want to take a picture of him so often when they are walking around in the city.  He told his daughter that it is because he writes songs that people like to listen to.  So his daughter answered - if it is the music that people like - what use would they have for a picture?

He played for about an hour and a half with a couple of encore songs.  It was the first time that I had seen him live.  From the live videos I have seen, it would probably be better to see him with his full band - the "Idan Raichel Project" but this was still quite enjoyable.

I am going to save most of the political comments for another blog.  I don't have that much to say at this point.  The nascent Israeli government is still working out the kinks and the Bibi-led opposition is trying everything that it can to topple the government and re-install Bibi.  I have a reasonable level of confidence that this current Bennett-led government, as precarious as it is, will ride things out and stick around for a reasonable time period.

I have been staying up late (or getting up early, if you prefer) to watch  the NHL hockey playoffs.  It was a shocking but welcome surprise to see the Montreal Canadiens make it to the Stanley Cup finals, in a bid to become the first Canadian team to win the Cup since 1993 (when Montreal last won it).  Montreal barely squeezed its way into the playoffs and was a heavy underdog in every series it played.  Somehow it won the first three series and made it to the finals against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.  I didn't have very high hopes - but maybe there would be another miracle.  Well, after the first three games, Montreal was down 3-0 and I couldn't bring myself to stay up all night last night with the prospect of watching Tampa take the Cup.  So I woke up this morning with the pleasant  news that Montreal had managed to extend the series.  I think only 2 or  3 teams in the history of the NHL (that spans more than 100 years) have managed to come back from a 3-0 deficit so the odds are heavily stacked  against Montreal.   But maybe I'll take my chances and see if they can extend the series once more on Wednesday night.  Miracles sometimes happen, don't they?

Israel is wrestling with a rapid spread of the Delta variant of Covid and the government is contemplating different restrictions, including bringing back the use of a "vaccination passport."  For now it is all talk as the government waits to see how many of the "positive" people actually become very sick.  For now, fortunately, the numbers of people  who have become very ill are still quite low and that is a positive sign, not only for Israel, but for every country that has managed to vaccinate a high percentage of the population as well as for those countries that are still hoping to do so.

Wishing everyone the best of health and enjoyment of the hot summer weather.  


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Yom Hazikaron / Yom Haatzmaut 2021 - Commemoration and Celebration

The past couple of days have represented Israel's annual emotional roller coaster.  From the depths of sadness to the heights of joy as Israel commemorates Yom Hazikaron (The Day of Remembrance for  Soldiers and  victims of  terror attacks) on one day and then  celebrates Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) the next day.

Yom Hazikaron is a very powerful day.  So many people in Israel have been touched by tragedy - the sorrow of having a family member  killed or seriously injured in the course of  serving in the military or the horror of having a family member,  friend or  other acquaintance  who was killed or seriously injured in a terror attack.  This is a small country - so the 23,928 fallen in a country of  only 9 million is a very large number.  

On Erev Yom Hazikaron, there are ceremonies held  across the country.  We normally attend the Ra'anana commemoration but due to Covid-19, spaces were limited  to advance ticket holders only and there was no space left. So we watched three different nationally televised commemorations.  These ceremonies included speeches from high ranking military personnel, politicians, families of the fallen and poets and writers.  Many of Israel's most  well known musical artists perform sombre songs at these events  and torches  of remembrance are lit in honour of the fallen, in each case  with a detailed story of a fallen soldier or victim of a terror attack.  There aren't many dry eyes watching these events.

On the day of Yom Hazikaron, which this year was yesterday April 13, 2021, there are ceremonies at the military cemeteries across the country.  There is a rule that no family of any fallen soldier will be alone on this day.   So soldiers who are currently serving in the army  are assigned to attend these ceremonies across the country to console and support the families.  Our family members have taken part in this  tradition in the past.  At 11 a.m., across Israel, there is a lengthy two minute siren.  Much like on Yom Hashoah, the whole country comes to a standstill.  Everyone  stops in their place and  stands silently.  Throughout the day, radio stations play remembrance themed  music.  TV stations show documentaries about the fallen solders, the victims of terror and the tragic  periods in Israel's history.

As the sun goes down, Yom Hazikaron ends and Israel pivots from  one of the saddest days of the year to one of  the happiest.  It is simply amazing  how  so many people are able to do this so fluidly - but  then again, I suppose that is part of life.  And that is the message of these two days - to take the unspeakably sad - together with the joy - and to see it all  as part  of the complex state that is Israel.

Tonight's official Yom Haatzmaut  celebration was reminiscent of some US 4th of July celebrations - fireworks, a military flyover, marching  bands - and of course some political speeches.  The initial musical performances were mostly by the Israel Military Band.  Some  were quite good.  In between, different prominent Israelis were called up to light torches in honour of Yom Haatzmaut.   Some  of these torch lighting  ceremonies were  particularly poignant. Two  Druze  medical staff  came up to light a torch on behalf of all of the medical workers who have worked so hard over the past  year  helping Israelis to fight Covid-19.   They also proudly represented Israel's Druze community.  Another torch was lit by a woman who had been attacked fiercely by her  husband last  year  and  had only survived due to the timely intervention of a neighbour.  Both women came  up to light a torch on behalf of victims of domestic violence  and to raise awareness of the issue.  Several others lit torches in between the various musical performances with the accompanying story of  each torch lighter. 

After the official national ceremony, different stations broadcast different celebrations.  We recorded two  of them and watched one  live.

One of the highlights of evening was the program run by Idan Raichel, one of Israel's most popular musical performers.  I have written about Raichel previously.  Last year, on Yom Haatzmaut, during the height of Covid-19, he and his band put on an outdoor, physically distanced concert with all of the musicians spread out in a park.  You can watch the 45 minute concert from last year here if the link still works.  We thought it was fantastic.

This Year, Raichel outdid himself.  He held a contest for soldiers from across Israel.  He asked them to send him recordings of themselves singing his songs.  He then picked a bunch of winners and decided to invite them to come join his nationally televised Yom Haatzmaut concert this year.  But to notify each of them - he drove to their bases, with one or two of his band members - and showed up to suprise each of them and invite them personally.  He also invited them to rehearse with him and his band.  He recorded these suprise meetings.  He visited one soldier at an outpost at Israel's southernmost border with Egypt.  He visited another up near the northernmost border.  And others in between.

At the Yom Haatzmaut  event, he showed all of these videos and then performed one song with each of the performers, a mixture of women and men, from different regions in Israel, different  backgrounds and different types of military roles.  It was really quite something.  The parents or other family members and friends of the soldiers were in attendance - and after each peformance Raichel asked them what they thought of the performance.  He also asked the guest performers to say a few words about the experience.  All of the singers and  their family members were simply overwhelmed.  

Ultimately, Raichel said he would pick one or more  - to work with to release an original song that the selected performer writes and performs, with Raichel's help.  Raichel himself was so supportive of all of these  soldiers, so interested  in their life stories, so self-deprecating and simply - throughout the evening  - someone who projected such a sense of decency, respect and love.  

Winner of Raichel Contest
In the end, he selected one of the soldiers, much to the disappointment of all of the others who were hoping to fulfill a dream.  The winner and his mother were ecstatic.  The whole event was  moving, emotional and musically fantastic.  

After this show, there will be other musical performances throughout the evening  on tv, on web sites, and live across the country.  In fact, in Ra'anana, one  of the performances, aimed at the younger crowd starts at 1:30 a.m.  I don't think we will be attending that one.  People will be hosting parties into the wee hours, setting off fireworks and  generally celebrating this 73rd birthday of the state in many different ways.

Tomorrow the annual national  bible contest will be televised -  for participants from Israel and across the world.  There will also be an air show, a rave party at Tel-Aviv's Yarkon park, street parties all day across the country and other festivities everywhere.  Israelis will head to the beaches  and the national parks in the expected mid-20s heat - and there will be barbecues everywhere (our place included).  The chick peas are soaking overnight for the homemade humus.

Being in Israel for these special days is really a great privilege - right up there with being here for the Jewish holydays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and others.  There is a really powerful mix of remembrance, loss, determination and resolution - that imbues both Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah and Yom Hazikaron and then the contrasting happiness of celebrating Yom Haatzmaut.  This year there is a sense of cautious optimism that has added to the joy.  Even though Israel remains mired in political quicksand without a new government and facing the prospect of yet another election, there is a feeling that Covid-19 is being defeated.  

I hope that the rest of the world will soon feel this same level of optimism in the fight against Covid-19 everywhere.  Wishing everyone a Chag Sameach and the best of health.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Live Music - Concerts in Your Family Room - In Response to Coronavirus

It seems that we are all united around the world with the feeling that we are caught in a vice that is tightening.  Announcements in Canada, Israel, the U.S.., the E.U. and so many other places around the world seem to bring increasingly strict measures aimed at slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.  We don't know how bad it is going to get or when it will be over.  We might be reassured that parts of Asia seem to have been able to get it under control.  On the other hand, we look at Italy, Spain, German and some other countries and it is very concerning.  Things may get completely out of hand in the U.S. (and many other countries) very soon.

Here in Israel, much has been shut down.  Restaurants, bars, malls and many other places.  So many people are working from home.  Grocery stores are open, drug stores, gas stations.  As of yesterday, banks were moving to  close most branches and do  most things virtually.   Health care workers are overwhelmed and are bracing for a sudden and massive explosion in the number of cases.

With all of these challenges, some musicians are doing their part to make the world a better place and bring some joy and happiness to people, many of whom are in self-isolation.  Israeli's Channel 12 with Mako has been running a series of live concerts with no audience - held at Zappa Clubs in Israel.  As you might know, Zappa is a chain of small concert venues - with night club seating and meal service.  We have been to quite a number of concerts at different Zappa locations.  The Zappa in Jerusalem is Kosher and has a great menu.  And, of course, you are sitting very close to the performers with a great view.  But I digress.

On Saturday night, Israel's Channel 12 broadcast a live show by Idan Raichel.  It was just him and his piano - playing a half hour set and talking to the audience.  He encouraged people to open their windows and sing along with their  neighbours and then send recordings back to the Mako website and to him.  Reichel was very cognizant of the messages he was sending.  He performed alone and spoke about the need to follow the latest health directives while still enjoying life.  It was really quite an excellent performance. "We have the capacity to bring out the best in ourselves when we all join together." That's my  loose translation of one of his comments. 

Last night, we watched Keren Peles perform.   Another excellent performance.  In contrast to Raichel, Peles had a bunch of other performers with her on stage (some sitting very close to her...despite the 3 metre recommendation...).  She sang duets with a few different singers but also played some solo pieces.  I wasn't as familiar with her music, but she was great.  She mixed her wonderful piano playing with powerful, emotional vocals. 

Mako/N12/Zappa are continuing to line up more concerts with Israeli performers in the coming days.  It is really something that can bring a bit of smile after a day of hearing all kinds of terrible news reports.

Maybe this is something that the world will pick up on.  I already saw that some North American performers were trying to line up a big virtual concert for April 1st, 2020.  I also read a report that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra had performed a live streaming concert to an empty hall. 

With so many sports events shut down - and large scale events out of the question, maybe our musicians and their sponsors can help fill a void and bring a bit of music and joy to the hundreds of thousands of people who are stuck at home - either in self-isolation or as a result of current conditions.

Continued wishes for the best of health to everyone.