Showing posts with label Ra'anana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ra'anana. Show all posts

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Yom Hashoah 2021

Today is Yom Hashoah  vHagvurah 2021 - the day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism.  This day is commemorated in Israel and by Jews and many others around the world to remember the 6 million of our people who were murdered by the Nazis and  their collaborators between 1939 and 1945.

Most years, I travel back to Toronto after Pesach and I am not in Israel for Yom Hashoah vHagvurah, which is only 5 days after Pesach ends.  But this year I have had the zchut (the privilege) to be here for this poignant and extremely important day.

Officially, Yom Hashoah began at sundown yesterday.  Perhaps as a starter with things to consider, someone sent me a video of a debate between Alan Dershowitz and the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.  It is interesting to watch, though Kahane was a purveyor of some extremely racist and repugnant views.  I'm not convinced that the way to defeat these folks is by giving them a big public stage.  Dershowitz did a decent job on some points, but fell quite short on many others.  Overall, I'm also not convinced that he  accomplished  his objective of "exposing and defeating" Kahane.  Instead, he probably gave him more publicity than he deserved.

I raise this because the Israeli Knesset has sworn in 6 member of the Religious Zionist party.  This collection of new Knesset members includes racists, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists and generally extreme nationalist types.  Some of these  new  Knesset members have already spoken about proposing laws to make it harder  for  women to file complaints of sexual assault and harassment, limiting rights for  same  sex couples in Israel,  and legislation  aimed at  Israeli Arabs.  I'm not drawing parallels here but I am also not convinced that the best way to defeat these views is to given them platforms on an ongoing  basis.

In the evening  yesterday, we want to the Ra'anana commemoration at Yad  L'Banim (the City square, essentially).   This is an annual event.  Generally, the City of Ra'anana (like most cities across the country) honours  6 different  Holocaust survivors by telling their  life stories -  and then calling them up, usually with children or grandchildren, to light one of the 6 torches.   In between each group, there are sombre musical  performances.   There was also an interpretive dance performance this year.  Due to Covid, there was no event  last year.   This year's event was by advance registration only, for those with prove of vaccination only.  You had to show photo ID along with proof of vaccination to get in.  

These are powerful events, with lots  of tears.  Stories of people  who  lost their  entire  families but somehow made it to Israel and survived.  Horrifying  stories of harrowing  conditions, and cases where  these  tough individuals somehow eked out their survival.   Over the course of  the evening, a number of  poems were  read  (some  originally written in Yiddish, some in Hebrew) and we heard from a number  of speakers including  Ra'anana's mayor.  Special Yizkor prayers were recited in memory of those  who were killed including the El Maleh Rachamim prayer sung by Ra'anana's chief  Hazzan.  It was a powerful and difficult ceremony.

From  there, we went to a friend's house who had invited a member of a Holocaust survivor's family to come  and  share the  survivor's life story for a group of about  30  people.  

After that, it was back home to watch the national Holocaust  memorial  ceremony (we had recorded it) and several Holocaust themed  documentaries and programs.  The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, delivered a moving and thoughtful  speech.  Prime Minister Netanyahu also spoke and delivered what sounded like a campaign speech.   Most unfortunate for a Holocaust event.

I also attended a Toronto event, by Zoom, held by the  Law Society.  This was primarily about how to  fight hate speech, and Holocaust  denial by using various legal means.   It was an interesing and well attended event.

Today at 10 a.m., Israel blared a two minute siren across the country.   Everything stops.  People  get out  of their  cars and stop on the  side of the road for 2 minutes.  I was still  at home but stood up and observed the siren.

Yom Hashoah in Israel is one of the most important days on the calendar and  one of the most powerful.  Numerous speakers have noted that one of the raison d'etre's  for the State itself is to ensure that this could not happen again.  Many have noted that if Israel had been created in the 1920s or the 1930s (or earlier), it is extremely likely that a high number those who were murdered could have been saved.  

For many survivors, and indeed, many Israelis, the notion of seeing their children and grandchildren in the army, as pilots, combat soldiers, members of the intelligence forces - or in other important state positions gives them an incredible sense of pride but also a sense of comfort and security.   The State of Israel is there to protect them in a way that the Jewish people have  not had for more than 2000 years.

This particularist message is somewhat illustrative of the difference between Yad Vashem  (the Israeli Holocaust Museum)  and the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  If you haven't been to one or the other, I would highly recommend  visiting  both.  The emphasis in Washington  is very universalist, in my view.  This could have happened to anyone and we need to fight all forms of racism and discrimination to ensure that it does not reoccur.  I'm not disputing the validity of  this message, though at times I have felt that the U.S.  museum downplays the Jewishness of the victims and history of anti-Semitism.  (I have visited several times).  

Yad Vashem emphasizes the Jewish experience including the history of anti-Semitism, the Jewish communities and culture that were  destroyed in Europe and the need, especially, for the  Jewish people to look after their own safety and defence rather than relying on anyone else to do so.  Yad Vashem  certainly addresses  others who were  targeted - the Roma community and gays and devotes a whole section to those  who went  out of their way to save Jews.  But the message is geared more towards the Israeli experience  rather than the broader multi-cultural messages that one might find in Canada or the U.S.  

Prime Minister Netanyahu took this a few steps  further in his annual Yom  Hashoah speech.  He sought to tie the fight to obtain vaccines from Pfizer to the commemoration of the Holocaust  and he also brought in the ongoing fight to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear  weapons.   So there are certainly those who will, at times, take the Holocaust as an event and use it for political purposes, even on Holocaust Rememberance  Day while we are remembering those who perished.  Fortunately, he did not also tie  it in  to his ongoing  criminal trial though many were expecting that  he might try to do so.

But  cynicism aside,  the notion that Israel in 1948 included a population of  whom approximately 25% were Holocaust survivors - and that these people were  able to build a country in the aftermath of such horrible experiences and turn it into a  successful, democratic, secure country is actually quite  mind boggling.  

We remember those who perished and hope and pray for the days of  world  peace, tolerance and an end to  anti-semitism, racism and  other forms of group  hatred.



  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Chanuka Approaching 2020: Virus Not Leaving Yet: Update from Israel

 

Chanuka is quickly approaching - only two days until the first candle - so I thought it was time to write an update about a few things going on here in Israel - and maybe some other comments, connected or not.

The photo shown is a random store on Ahuza street in Ra'anana with a table display of a variety of  Chanukiot (the 8-candle Menorahs that we light on Chanuka).  This is only one of many stores that has this kind  of display.   Retailers all  over Israel are selling Chanukiot, bakeries are selling sufganyot (jelly filled  donuts, usually) and caterers are offering latke specials.  So you could say that Chanuka is in the air, though it is not the only thing circulating.

To mark the holiday, the Israeli government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided on a two step plan to combat the  spread of Covid-19.  On the one hand, there will be an evening curfew for a period of two weeks.  Just about everything will be  closed, apparently, and  people will  be prohibited from travelling between cities, at night.  Remaining details are still to be announced if the "Corona Cabinet" can agree.  To complement this evening curfew plan, the government has decided to fully reopen all  malls,  across the country, during the daytime.   A few shopping malls in "red zones" will be the exception and will remain closed.  Now I may not be an expert but  I am scratching my head trying to figure out how this plan makes any sense at all.   Infection numbers have been rising in Israel  - and we seem to be in the range of 700 to 1000 new cases per  day.  Some government ministers have stated in interviews that they expect that the numbers will rise significantly by January 1 - and we will then have a full closure (the "3rd closure") for several weeks in January.  Really, I'm not making this stuff up.  That is the plan.  (Added new update - sounds like the Israeli courts have indicated that this plan would not fly so the "night curfew" is now unlikely to come into effect).

Speaking of the Israeli government, you may have heard that it is on  the verge of dissolution - maybe.  The Knesset has passed the first reading of a bill that would dissolve the current government and set an election date.  By law, if an agreement is not reached to stop the dissolution and pass a budget, the Knesset will automatically dissolve on December 23, 2020.  This would lead to Israel's 4th election in a span of 2 years. The dissolution bill would normally require two more  readings before it is passed - but  there could be an automatic dissolution as an alternative.  Or there could still be a last minute compromise.

Netanyahu's Likud party entered into a coalition agreement with Benny Gantz's Blue and White party following the March 2020 election.  One of the terms of the agreement was that the coalition would pass budgets for 2020 and 2021 in the Knesset.  But the coalition agreement also included a term that  stated if the government fell for any reason - other than a disagreement over the budget - Gantz would become the "interim Prime Minister" until after the election.  If the government were to fall because of a disagreement over the budget, then Netanyahu would continue to be the Prime Minister until the next government is formed.

Netanyahu was  not happy with this coalition from the  start, since it was not willing to grant him the retroactive immunity bill that he has been seeking to extricate himself from all of his legal troubles.  So he has been biding his time, waiting for his poll numbers to rise, and looking for an opportunity to call another election when conditions are more favourable in the  hope that he can piece together a right-wing coalition that will  give him  the  immunity that he has long sought.  He has refused to pass budgets either for 2020 or for 2021, since passing a budget would leave him vulnerable to losing his position, even on an interim basis.

Covid-19 has continued to hamper Netanyahu's plans.  His criminal  trial  has been delayed by a month and is scheduled to continue in early February 2021.  So he is really hoping  that an election can be  called before then, that he can delay the trial due to the election and that he can win the election and  pass an immunity bill.

Can he do all of this?   Well, Netanyahu now has a plan.  The Israeli government has  been buying  massive quantities  of vaccine, from Pfizer and Moderna as well as any other company that might have vaccinations to sell.  Okay, maybe not the Russian vaccine though there have apparently been some tests of that  one in Israel. Nyet, thanks.  In any event,  according to some reports, Israel will have more than 4 million vaccines available by late December or  early January, from Pfizer and Moderna, enough to vaccinate almost half of the population.

I read yesterday that Canada was getting ready to roll out  350,000 vaccines for a population of more than 30 million.  That number sounded very low.   Contrast that to Israel's plan to vaccinate a  huge percentage of the population by mid to late winter.  Maybe the numbers were way off. 

If the vaccine has been rolled out before the next Israeli election and it seems to be working - and the economy starts to improve - it is quite imaginable that Netanyahu will get the win he wants and get his "get out of jail free" card.  Of course the opposition is trying to schedule the election as quickly as possible, while the numbers show some possibility that Netanyahu may not win.  But it looks like it will be hard to bet against Netanyahu, especially if the vaccine works and the economy begins to pick up again.

Travel

One of the big accomplishments for the current Israel government has been the establishment of peace deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.  The UAE has indicated that it is very interested in a "warm peace" with wide-ranging cooperation in technological, medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical and military areas as well as  tourism.  Israeli and UAE airlines are now able to overfly Saudi Arabia and get to Dubai in about 3 hours.  To foster this tourism, the UAE has been  designated as a "green" destination, which means that 14 day isolation is not required for returning tourists.   Kosher food is available in Dubai for those who want it and Israelis are being  encouraged to visit and are being welcomed warmly.  I haven't heard of anyone visiting Bahrain or Sudan but thousands of Israelis, even in the  midst of this pandemic, are visiting Dubai.  Some Israeli ultra-religious groups have held weddings in Dubai - bringing the whole entourage there to ensure a restriction-free wedding.  Others are going to the UAE just to be able to go somewhere and get out of Israel for a bit.  

For those of us looking to fly to Canada, that still involves a 14 day quarantine - in both directions - which seems a bit impractical.  Maybe I'll manage to get an early vaccine  and that will help things.  Or maybe we'll go with the herd and visit the UAE.  Not too likely at this point.

TV

Over the past few month, we have watched some excellent TV series.  Most recently, we watched the Israeli-produced series "Valley  of Tears"  ("Sha'at Ne'ilah" in Hebrew) - about the 1973 Yom Kippur war.  The series aired over 8 weeks beginning in mid-October.  It is a 10 part series but double episodes were shown at the beginning and the end.  The final episode was last night.   It was very intense.  Excellent acting and very powerful.   The series follows two particular units, an intelligence unit and a tank unit and delves into the personal stories of many of the combatants, on the Israeli side.  It is a shocking reminder of the horrors of the Yom Kippur war and, really the horrors of any war.  At  times, it is graphic and  difficult to watch and it is quite stressful.  

After each episode, the Israel TV station had a panel discussion with surviving soldiers who had fought in the battle and discussed their experiences, their comments on the series, and the impact on their lives.  These discussions were as moving and emotionally draining as the show itself.  

Although there  were some unrealistic parts, in some of the early episodes in particular, the series has received favourable reviews.  Veterans have commented that the  last two episodes were incredibly realistic and have generally been grateful that the series has raised the consciousness of so many people about the Yom Kippur War.  Valley of Tears is now showing on HBO  Max, though I am not sure how Canadians can watch it.  Sderot.tv is probably an option.

A few months earlier, we watched the Israeli series Tehran about an Israeli agent, sent to disable the Iranian central electrical system to assist Israel with a strike on the Iranian nuclear reactors.   This was also fascinating.  Although much of it seemed much less realistic and believable than other TV series, it did seem reasonably balanced and had many parts that seemed very plausible.   Tehran is showing on Apple TV in North America.

We also watched "The  Queen's Gambit" recently, which is probably less related to this blog - though all three of us thought it was amazing (there were only 3 in the house at the time...).  I think it is on Netflix everywhere.  With its range of themes including gender equality (in the chess world and otherwise), addiction, competition and the power of chess, it is quite an impressive production.

Cooking

My ongoing  quest to make the perfect Humus continues.  I think I have been doing a pretty good job.  Recipe available on request.  For a while we were buying humus from a local humus shop.  While it was quite good and reasonably priced - I felt it had too much cumin in it for my taste.  So I decided to see if I could get my own homemade humus to compete for the hearts and taste buds of our family members.  Last  Friday's humus was probably our best batch yet, made with extra large chick peas, soaked over night - and then peeled individually after boiling.  Sure it was labour intensive  but very creamy and smooth.  

To  go with the humus, I have also been making Zhoug, a  Yemenite-Israeli hot sauce that combines hot peppers with fresh cilantro leaves and a  range of spices in small quantities - ground coriander, cumin, cardamon, cloves, black pepper and  maybe  even  a touch of  cinnamon.   This has also been a big hit - even among the hard to please Yemenite critics who have sampled it.

Next up of course will be latkes for Chanuka though I expect that we will just make the classic traditional type.  It's only once a year - a few latkes can't be that bad, can they?


On  the purely random side, I thought I would  add in this picture that I took in Tel-Aviv last week.  This bird was so close and so interested in posing that I had to oblige.

We were right near Rabin Square.   The nearby park area was filled with people  even in the midst of the pandemic.   Apparently, restaurants are serving "take-out packages" that include a blanket, a basket and everything you need to take the meal and go sit in the park and eat it.  Apparently  you return the blanket  and basket etc., when you are  done.  People are constantly coming up with ways to try and  do "normal" things in these pandemic times.

For my last  note,  I couldn't  resist including  this picture of a coffee cup that I saw in a small store.  As you may be able to see, there is a Hebrew blessing written on the mug.

You might be familiar with a blessing called "she'hechyanu"  - which is recited on festive holydays, joyous life cycle events - and other occasions.  It essentially thanks God for "giving us life, sustaining us  and  enabling us to reach this moment."  This coffee  cup changed the blessing a bit to give thanks for "giving us life, sustaining us and  enabling us to reach coffee time."  It is a very applicable blessing for many of my good friends, family members and completely unrelated readers who  love a good cup of coffee.

Here's hoping that the bright lights of the holiday season  - whether the candles we will soon light on Chanukah - or the Christmas lights for those celebrating later this month - will bring us all some real brightness, warmth and joy - and hopefully usher in a much better 2021!

Best of health to everyone.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Lies They Tell by Tuvia Tenenbom: A Review

Tuvia Tenenbom's new book, The Lies They Tell, is a natural follow-up to his 2015 offering, Catch the Jew, which I reviewed at that time.  The writing style is the same but this time the target is the United States, rather than Israel.  Tenenbom sets out for a trip across the United States to meet people, ask difficult questions and gather material for his assessment of the current American condition.  The book was completed before the most recent election but many of Tenenbom's observations and insights were certainly prescient.

Over the course of his six month travels, he manages to visit quite a wide ranging section of the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as a large number of states across the mainland. He meets and speaks with many different types of people including politicians, native American leaders, black and white Americans in all kinds of locations, church leaders and other categories.  He asks them pointed questions, and wittily summarizes the responses he receives with his running commentary.

This certainly makes for interesting reading in a style that is light, irreverent, entertaining and often, quite sarcastic.  Like Tenenbom's account of his trip across Israel, this is ultimately a pessimistic account, at times arrogant and even patronizing.  But it covers a great deal of ground in places where many readers may not have had the chance to visit.

Tenenbom describes his journey in open ended terms.  A curious adventure to meet all different kinds of people from Muslims, Jews and Mormons to rednecks, gang-members, religious conservatives and others.  Some of the book seems to fit the bill.  Daring to go where most people would not, Tenenbom amasses a fairly diverse range of interviewees.

That being said, midway through, I came to view this as more of a Socratic method journey, with questions that were intended to elicit certain responses as opposed to truly open minded discussions.

One of the interesting themes that Tenenbom aims to cover off is to categorize people based on a few select questions.  The obvious and easy first question is whether a person is "blue" or "red," in other words Republican or Democrat.  This type of starting question seems to get many of the people riled up and marks the discussion as a political one.  Some people will only express their opinion if Tenenbom agrees to hide their identity or not record the answers.  Others simply refuse to provide any detailed responses.

From there, many of the discussions proceed to questions about Israel/Palestine and questions about global warming and environmentalism.  It is a fascinating linkage that Tenenbom proposes, aiming to group people with respect to their views on these two issues along with their approach to smoking restrictions.

Although Tenenbom claims that he "hasn't made up his mind" on the question of whether global warming is real (as opposed to a cyclical phenomenon, that has not been specially affected by human beings), he finds a consistent linkage between those who wish to take action against it and those who claim to support "Palestine" when asked questions about the Israel/Palestine conflict.  Splitting these groups on a right/left line, he adds smoking restrictions to the mix.

Tenenbom clearly has little time for those who advocate on the Palestinian side of the spectrum.  He views American leftists as hypocritical on this issue. In his view, they call for action against Israel while ignoring so many other conflicts around the world that are far more devastating and while ignoring so many serious U.S.issues including poverty and race relations.  Some of this scorn is directed towards American Jewish liberal groups, who spend more time worrying about attacking Israel than about supporting and building their own American Jewish communities. Even though Tenenbom purports to be coming at all of this from the left of the political spectrum, much of his derision is aimed at the left.  Quite a bit of it seems aimed at Obama and Kerry in particular.

Tenenbom ties "pro-Palestinians" in with environmentalists and the anti-smoking crowd.  It is a strange leap and one that seems awkward, at best.  While Tenenbom's explanation for his Pro-Israel leaning is cogent and analyzed reasonably, he has no explanation for his leanings towards anti-environmentalism.  His dismissal of global warming concerns seems to be based on gut reaction to the environmentalist crowd rather than any logical discussion of the issues. (And he repeatedly reminds the readers that there is lots of gut...)

But his glorification of smoking is even less compelling.  Since Tenenbom is a self-described chain smoker, his assessment of many of the people he meets and places he visits seems tied to whether not they support or oppose smoking limitations.  So Seattle, a place with a variety of smoking restrictions is very inhospitable for him.  Heck, you can't even smoke in your hotel room, imagine that.  On the other hand, in parts of the southern U.S., you can apparently smoke wherever you like, so Tenenbom is much more at home. 

As is evident in his first book, Tenenbom is somewhat of a narcissist.  His writing about some of his encounters is arrogant and even patronizing.  While he sometimes asks difficult questions out of interest, more often the questions are intended to attract a visceral, angry response.  He can then ridicule the subject simply by presenting the answers provided.

Tenenbom has very high standards for the type of food he is trying to find which goes along with his search for fine spirits, cannabis, places he can freely smoke and his mainly unsuccessful search for good coffee. There is also a great deal of discussion about his relationship with his car and about guns and gun control laws across the U.S.

Along the way, he also manages to visit a wonderful collection of American parks and natural landmarks.  Like in his previous book, these trips to beautiful sites (and to the really good restaurants) seem to be the highlights of his journey rather than the people he actually meets and the interviews he conducts, despite his protestations to the contrary. 

In fairness, Tenenbom does ask some pointed questions of those on right, including the religious right and the very far right.  Even though people on the religious right often claim to be "Pro-Israel," Tenenbom digs deeper to try and see if he can get them to state that only those Jews who accept Jesus are destined to avoid eternal damnation.  He sometimes succeeds. His point is that the veneer of pro-Israel support on the right side of the spectrum often masks a deep rooted anti-Semitism.  He also has some less than favourable things to say about Trump and references his own left-leaning political convictions on several occasions.

Interestingly enough, Tenenbom visits very few Synagogues or other Jewish institutions but seems to be in a Church just about every Sunday (as well as many days during the week).  He greatly enjoys trips to black churches that he portrays as inspired, spiritually uplifting and meaningful.  He is far more critical of other houses of worship, including the Synagogue or two and the many Evangelical churches that he visit.

Overall, the book is entertaining and, at times, insightful.  There are many other interesting encounters with places and people that this review does not describe.  But there are certainly some nagging concerns about Tenenbom's logic.  The hazy clouds of smoke that constantly surround him probably fog up some of his choices on places to choose, people to meet and conclusions to draw.  For example, visiting a few centrist, pro-Israel Jewish organizations would probably upset his characterization of American Jews as a largely self-hating.

That being said, one of his pessimistic themes is that America is filled with liars - politicians, everyday people disguising their animosity towards others and people who are simply afraid to stand up for their political views.  He warns of an America that has not well integrated its diversity and seems headed towards a boiling point.    Written all prior to November, much of this assessment turns out to be all too accurate and provides yet another reason to consider Tenenbom's escapades.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Major Israeli Storm December 2013

Israel is in the midst of a major storm.  Jerusalem has accumulated more than 30 centimetres of snow since yesterday.  That is a respectable amount even by Canadian standards.  Unfortunately, Jerusalemites and, Israelis in general, are not nearly as well equipped to deal with snow as Canadians.  Many Israelis took their families on car trips to Jerusalem to see the snow.  En route, the snow was so heavy that traffic ground to a standstill and cars became stuck in the snow.  Police and fire crews have indicated that they have rescued more than 1,500 people from stranded cars. 

Schools are closed in Jerusalem and many houses are not heated properly.  There have been power failures across the city and many gas stations are closed, as well as all kinds of other businesses.  Apparently, it's the largest snow storm Israel has had in more than 50 years.  A stalwart few have continued to pray at the Kotel despite the weather conditions...

Meanwhile, there has been snow in other parts of Israel including the Golan Heights.  But most of the rest of the country has been dealing with a major rain and wind storm.

In Ra'anana, the temperatures have hovered around 6-8 degrees, while we have been dealing with a major thunderstorm and blowing winds.  Last night and early this morning, there was sleet but so far, no snow.
After raining on and off for a few days, the rain has continued constantly since last night. 

Even by Canadian standards, this would be a significant storm.  But the major difference is that homes and businesses are simply not set up to deal with it.  For example, we stopped at the supermarket this morning.  There was no heating.  People were dressed in sweaters, jackets and gloves.  The cashiers were wearing gloves and hats.  We asked the customer service manager - who told us that you can't heat a supermarket - it would affect too many of the items in the store, he said.  Just after we paid, the store suffered a power failure and announced (though its emergency back up system) that it would only be accepting cash and no credit cards until the power returned.

Two nearby gas stations were closed due to the spreading power failure and some of the nearby intersections were running on flashing yellow lights.

The storm is expected to last another day or two.  The good news is that once the storm is over, temperatures will probably rise fairly quickly and things will get back to normal for a country not used to dealing with these types of storms. The other good news is that Israel is always happy to accumulate as much rain water as possible, which will hopefully cause the Kinneret, Israel's only fresh water lake, to rise from its low levels.

It looks like we will be eating Shabbat dinner with sweaters - and maybe gloves....but keeping dry inside.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Municipal Elections in Israel 2013: Some Interesting Tidbits...

Municipal elections, no matter where they are held, in my experience, tend to attract more apathy than interest.  Some suggest that is part of a trend of more generalized voter disaffection.  But, it just may be that people simply don't feel it makes a difference who the mayor happens to be, much less the local councilors.  In any case, Israel is no exception from other democracies in this regard.  Voter turnout in Israel's municipal elections on October 22, 2013, according to Haaretz, hit a national average of 32.7%.  The turnout in Tel-Aviv was only 21%.  Contrast that with the 2013 Israeli national elections in which the voter turn out was close to 68%.  Still not a sparkling number, but not nearly as pathetic as the municipal numbers.

As much voter indifference as there may be, municipal elections are probably even less interesting to outsiders.  So to a non-Israeli, in this case, whether a Labour candidate or a Likud candidate happened to be elected in a particular city to oversee garbage collection and local education just does not seem too riveting.  After all, someone's arnona (Israeli property tax) might increase dramatically but as long as it does not affect your property taxes, do you really care?

Nevertheless, since there were municipal elections all across Israel, there had to be some interesting stories.  I thought you would enjoy a few interesting tidbits that emerged from Tuesday's election, some of which are rather amusing, in my view anyways.

1.  Jerusalem

This was probably the most interesting mayoral race.  Moshe Leon was the candidate favoured by the religious parties, backed by Avigdor Lieberman (leader of Yisrael Beitenu) (who is currently awaiting the verdict in a corruption trial) and by Aryeh Deri (a political leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, who was actually convicted of corruption and served his time).  Leon, who is not even a Jerusalem resident, was parachuted into the race to run against secular candidate and incumbent mayor Nir Barkat.  Well, don't we have to say "Thank G-d!" that Barkat won?   For many Jerusalem residents, it must have been a reverse endorsement for Moshe Leon to be backed by such esteemed public officials as Lieberman and Deri.  The race was not a landslide but Barkat managed to win, much to the chagrin of many of the ultra-orthodox.

2.  Ra'anana

Zeev Bielski
Of course I have to write about Ra'anana.  In Ra'anana, Mayor Nahum Hofri was one of the few incumbent mayors, across Israel, to lose an election.  But unlike some other mayors and mayoral candidates (many of whom were facing corruption charges or embroiled in different scandals), nothing of the sort was levelled against Hofri.  Rather, he found himself running against Ze'ev Bielski who had previously been a popular four-term mayor in Ra'anana.  Bielski had left to try his hand, unsuccessfully, in national politics.  Now he returned to Ra'anana politics and picked up 73% of the vote, a ringing endorsement for a returning former mayor.

3.  Beersheva
Ruvik Danilovich

I couldn't help but notice that the incumbent mayor Ruvik Danilovich won 92% of the vote.  Wow!  Either the candidate was immensely popular - or there was some funny water in the well somewhere....This is an incredible margin of victory in a contemporary democracy.  Okay, I guess it helped that he presented voters with a popular 10 year plan to turn Beersheva into a major Israeli metropolis...It is currently Israel's seventh largest city, with a population of just over 200,000.


4.  Kiryat Eqron

I have to mention the mayoral race in Kiryat Eqron, the small town located just outside of Rehovot (population 9,800).  Here, no one won.  That's right, there was no winner.  The incumbent, Arik Hadad, garnered just over 25% of the vote.  But there were a number of other other candidates with more than 10% each.  Sounds like there were almost as many candidates as voters!  So there will be a run-off election in Kiryat Eqron.  This is not surprising given that Kiryat Eqron, a small town, has more than 48 separate synagogues.  In some cases, there are two such shuls, right next to each other, on the same street, with different members of the same family attending different shuls.  With that type of community structure in place, it is not surprising that there would be large number of candidates.  We will eagerly await the results...

5.  Messy Bet Shemesh

Oops, I almost forgot Bet Shemesh.  How could I?  Incumbent ultra-orthodox mayor Moshe Abutbul apparently won the election in Bet Shemesh by less than 1,000 votes.  The problem is that, according to the Jerusalem Post, more than 800 ballots were declared "invalid."  As well, on election day, police raided two apartments owned by ultra-orthodox residents and confiscated more than 200 I.D. cards.  Let's see...800 plus 200...

Challenger Eli Cohen has indicated that he is considering a legal challenge to the results based on reports of possible electoral fraud and "irregularities."  According to the Post, more than 4,000 Bet Shemesh residents have signed a petition demanding that the results be suspended until a proper investigation is conducted.

6.   Corruption? Pshaw.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that corruption charges were no barrier to re-election in Israel.  This is illustrated by the results in Bat-Yam, Ramat Hasharon and Upper Nazareth all of which re-elected mayors facing corruption allegations or charges.  Only in the city of Hadera, voters ousted a candidate who had been accused of taking bribes.  In other jurisdictions these types of allegations seem to have enhanced electability or at least not impeded it.

None of the candidates, to my knowledge, were photographed smoking crack, talking on their cell phones while driving or accused of pinching other candidates in the buttocks at public events.  These are all accusations that have been leveled against the current incumbent mayor of Toronto, Canada - Rob Ford.  However, some of the allegations facing the Israeli mayoral candidates, some of whom were elected, - included bribery, corruption and racism.  These charges were on par with the Toronto municipal scene and were no impediment to re-election in Israel. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Punctured Tire? Moshe Lis Tire Repair at Tzomet Ra'anana

We realized that we had a punctured tire this morning though the tire was only partially deflated.  Of course this ruined our mid-day plans.  But more importantly, we started worrying about the potential costs of replacing the tire or getting it repaired.  This was not the first time this has happened to us so we had a rapair shop in mind.

We drove over to Moshe Lis tires, located at the southeast corner of Tsommet Ra'anana (the Ra'anana-K'far Saba junction (09)7431395).  We were met quite promptly by one of the staff.  With a quick glance at the tire, he let us know that we had a nail in the tire and that he could fix it in no time.

He pulled the tire off, pulled out the nail, fixed the tire and filled the air in all four tires - in less than 10 minutes, which included, of course, a mandatory water immersion diagnostic test to ensure that the tire had been properly repaired.

The bill?  45 N.I.S. or about $12.50 including the tax.  I'm not sure I could have even bought a coffee at a Toronto area tire repair shop while waiting to have a tire repaired - at that price.  The service was quick, efficient and, most importantly, accurate.   This was really, probably, the least painful car repair I can remember going through in many years.

I am told by a very close personal source (who has used Moshe Lis several times) that they will come within 10 minutes to just about any location in the Hasharon region of Israel and fix a tire at the same price.

I have no relationship with these folks - other than as an arm's length customer - but I have to say I was quite impressed with the service, the process and the value.  In fact, we even felt that we had to provide a tip to the guy who did all the work.  I'm not totally sure whether this was appropriate or not but he didn't seem to mind.

Unfortunately, if you are stuck with a flat tire elsewhere in the country, the general expectation is that you will change the tire and get it repaired yourself, even if you are driving a vehicle that you have rented from one of Israel's major rental companies.  If you are here as a tourist, you certainly would not expect to dail a 1-800 number and have a CAA equivalent show up within 15 minutes.

But that is all a digression for visitors.  Moshe Lis is really for those who live in or are staying in the Ra'anana-Herzliah-Hod Hasharon area and find themselves needing a quick tire repair.  Based on the few times that we have used their services, it is difficult to see how another shop would do a better job.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Israeli High School Graduation



We attended our first high school graduation last night.  Our daughter graduated from Ostrosvky High School in Ra’anana, Israel.  Ostrovsky is a secular, public Israeli high school.  It is considered one of Israel’s best high schools with a matriculation (successful grade 12 graduation) rate close to 100%.  The school places a significant emphasis on academic excellence and features very strong specialized high school programs in math, physics, robotics and computers.  Ostrovsky is also the home of the best high school women’s basketball team in the country, which won the national championship once again this year for the fourth consecutive year.

This year’s high school graduation was held outdoors at Park Ra’anana, which is Ra’anana’s version of Central Park, a beautiful park that includes an amphitheatre, basketball court, roller hockey pad, mini-zoo, free outdoor exercise equipment and many other amenities.

The evening was divided into two parts, formal and informal.  The “informalities” began at about 6:30 p.m.  There were eight graduating classes, each with approximately 35 students.  The eight classes assembled in different areas of the park for the first part of the evening.  At these class ceremonies, the home room teachers presented awards to the students including excellence awards.  The home room teacher and some other teachers had the chance to speak to the students and some of the students made presentations and provided appreciation gifts to some of the teachers.

This part of the evening was very moving.  Teachers in Israel are on a first name basis with their students.  They connect via email and Facebook and take an active role in their students’ success.  Over the three years of high school, the students of each home room class remained together.  The class group went on trips together including trips across Israel and a trip to Poland to visit concentration and death camps and other sites.  The relationships between the teachers and the students – as well as the relationships among many of the parents and among the students themselves are often very close relationships – a tight knit community, if not a family. 

In our case, our daughter was fortunate to have had an outstanding home room teacher, whose sense of dedication to his students’ well-being was constantly evident.  He addressed the students and then provided them each with a few special gifts – a copy of his address, a small gift – and a DVD of all of the photos that he had assembled over the three years with the class group. 

The teachers did not all speak at this meeting.  However, one of the math teachers was the subject of a powerful presentation.  The teacher of the “5-unit” math course – the highest level of high school math in Israel – was called up for a presentation.  This math teacher, a PhD. in math, is known for being extremely demanding, rigorous and for running a highly disciplined class environment.  But his dedication to math and his commitment to excellence are contagious.  He pushed the students (including our daughter) for three years and produced tremendous results.  The students realized how fortunate they were to have this type of teacher and two of these students had special words to present.

After about two hours, we moved from the less formal part of the evening to the school-wide graduation ceremony with all of the students and their family members and friends in the Ra’anana Amphitheatre. 

The first part of this ceremony consisted of a number of speeches, which were probably similar to the speeches given at many different graduations around the world.  There were quite a number of speakers including the school principal, the guidance counselor, the mayor of Ra’anana, the head of the parent-teacher association and a few others.  In total, this went on for close to 1 ½ hours.

Some of the speeches were particularly poignant, especially the principal’s address.  A high school graduation in Israel is a very emotional evening.  Whereas in Canada or the U.S., or many other countries, most of the students are planning to continue their academic studies in September (or, perhaps, one year later), in Israel most of the students will be enlisted into the army (the Israel Defence Forces).  Since Ostrovsky has such a strong academic program, many of its students are recruited to serve in prestigious, high level units, including intelligence units, the air force, and some elite combat units.  A principal addressing these students knows that many of them may well face significant, dangerous challenges during their mandatory military service. 

The principal called upon these “students of the millennium generation” to continue to work to change society.  She highlighted the many positive ways that students have used technology in Israel (and worldwide) to help recruit more voters, to organize rallies and political campaigns and to push for social change.  She called on the students to take responsibility for helping make Israel a better place by working to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the poor in society, by working to support political candidates of their choice actively and peacefully (as so many did in Israel’s recent national election), by helping to promote tolerance in society, and by helping Israel to find a way to reach peace deals with its Arab neighbours. 

One of the speakers, I believe it was the head of the PTA, also had a very interesting message.  She recounted that when her son was young, he would climb up a neighbourhood tree and people would tell him to come down before he gets hurt.  Although he fell from the tree and was injured, it was not particularly serious.  She now urged him and the other students to “continue to climb as high you can, don’t be afraid of the heights and don’t let anyone tell you to come down from the tree.”  It is a message that resonates throughout Israeli society, in a country which must constantly cope with existential threats, even though the country may enjoy intermittent periods of relative quiet.

The school faculty then distributed awards of high excellence to students with averages exceeding 95%. Various other awards and certificates were handed out, recognizing a wide range of student volunteer activities and dedication to the school, the community and many different causes. 

Once the formal part of the evening was over – one and half hours later, the fun part of the evening began. The grade 12 graduating class presented a revue show entitled “Ostrovsky’s 51st graduating class in 60 minutes.”  The show included various dances, some with more than 80 students on the stage at the same time, short skits, video clips that the students had prepared, one or two video clips prepared by the faculty, and a number of songs.  It was entertaining and fun.  One of the comedic highlights was a group of males students, dressed in tutus, singing Carly-Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” – with accompanying dance moves and gestures.  In another skit, A group of teachers produced a video clip of a mock classroom scheme – in which the students are doing a whole bunch of inappropriate things in the class – wearing sunglasses, talking on their cell phones, texting each other, putting on nail polish – and my favourite – one “student” asks if he can eat a snack in class – he then pulls out a chopping board and starts cutting up a cucumber and tomato to make a salad…it was quite funny.

The finale featured most of the students dancing and singing on stage.  And the students all headed out to a post-grad party – which I know very little about…

Most students have not yet completed all of their grade 12 exams and may still be writing them until mid-July, depending on which courses they took.  So the year is not yet over for everyone.  But some students have completed their exams and may enter the army as soon as early July.

 Students planning to continue on with their education will need to complete Israel’s “psychometric exams” – an SAT-type standardized test.  But first, they will need to complete their mandatory military service, which could range from twenty months to just under three years.  Some will choose to become career military personnel and may continue with their education under the auspices of the IDF.  Others will attend university as soon as they are able to do so after completing their service. 

For now, the students still have more exams to write and an upcoming prom (which is becoming more and more of a tradition in Israel, of late).  Then, for most of them, it is off to the “real world” in a way that is quite different from what 18 and 19 year-olds around the world experience. 

We can only dream for a day when Israel will be at peace with its neighbours and universal, mandatory service will not be necessary.  But looking at events taking place in Syria, Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Turkey and Israel’s other neighbouring countries it is difficult to be optimistic that this will occur anytime soon. 

We wish the students of the 2013 graduating class of Ostrovsky (as well all the other graduating students in Israel) success in all they do.  May they serve proudly and return home safely.  To all the 18 and 19 year-olds we know in other countries, who will be entering university or college in September, we wish them the best of success.  They should constantly remember how fortunate they are to be living in countries that are not facing these types of existential threats and they should take full advantage of their opportunities.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Yom Haatzmaut 2013 - Chag Sameach

I was fortunate to be able to get back to Israel for Yom Haatzmaut - Israel Independence Day - in time to celebrate Israel's 65th anniversary.  I was away for an extended period to have the chance to celebrate Pesach in Toronto - so it is nice to be back for such a great occasion.

Yom Haatzmaut, of course, is always the day after Yom Hazikaron - Israeli Rememberance Day.  For Israelis, the cost of building and maintaining a state has been tremendous.  More than 22,000 solidiers have been killed in defending the State and some 4,000 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks.  Of course, the line between soldier and civilian in Israel is very much blurred since most Israelis are conscripted to serve in the army for some period of time and then become available as reserves for years afterwards.  It is fitting that Israel remembers its fallen so poignantly the day before celebrating Independence Day.  It is reminder of the bittersweet essence of life.  It also undescores the level of honour, respect and dignity shown to those who have lost their lives or been injured fighting for the freedom of rest of us.  In Israel, on Yom Hazikaron, a siren sounds at 11 a.m. and everyone stops for a moment of silence.  Cars pull over on the highway and drivers get out of their cars.  Buses pull over and all of the passengers get out of the bus and stand for a moment of silence.  Everything comes to a complete halt.  Radio stations play sombre music all day.
 
As the sun sets, Yom Haatzmaut begins and the country shifts from commemoration to celebration.

In the evening, Erev Yom Haatzmaut, (the holiday begins the night before as with every other Jewish holiday), there are concerts and events across the country.   We attended the Ra'anana celebrations, which this year featured Rami Kleinstein and Harel Skat. 

Ra'anana has close to 80,000 residents.  I wouldn't want to try to guess how many were in the park but it was quite a signficant number.  There were food vendors selling everything from pizza to hamburgers, bourekas to ice cream - and other vendors selling all kinds of must have items for kids ranging from glow in the dark watches and blow-up hammers to helium balloons and all kinds of crazy hats and headgear.

At one end of the park was the main stage.  It featured various kids' dance troupes for the first couple of hours, accompanied by recorded music.  Some of the dance groups were elementary school students and others were semi-professional dancers from some of the city's sophisticated high school dance programs.  Of course, this was hardly religious or even Israeli music.  Most of the dancing was accompanied by current pop, rap, hip-hop or other North American and British influenced music.  All of the groups were well rehearsed and some were quite entertaining.

At about 10 p.m., the City ran a 10-15 minute fireworks display.  After that, Israeli singer Harel Skat performed on the main stage.  He is quite young, having been a runner-up in the Israeli version of American Idol.  He was quite entertaining and the audience enjoyed his music.  His set was only about a half hour long but it was really good.  Most well known Israeli performers go from city to city playing at a number of venues on Yom Haatzmaut - and earning huge fees.  I don't know what Skat's schedule was like - but the Israeli papers reported that singer Eyal Golan was performing at five venues and earning about 120,000 shequels per performance (each of which were probably about a half hour long).

After Skat's peformance ended, the next performer due up was Rami Kleinstein.  He was nowhere to be found at 10:30 p.m. - probably at some other performance - so the crowd was subjected to a tortorous DJ using a stage name of "Brian's Freak Show."  He hurled obscenities at the crowd and played atrociously vulgar music, mostly uncensored rap and house music.  It is little wonder that Ra'anana's religious community runs a second stage at the other end of the park, which features, primarily, religious music.  At the main stage, which included many young children, this DJ's performance was simply obscene.  (And of course, many of you know that MY threshold is reasonably high...).  I actually found it shocking that the city of Ra'anana would celebrate its Independence Day with such a vulguar performance.  I think many agreed with me.  Even those who were waiting to see Rami Kleinstein began to lose patience as this assault continued for about 1 1/2 hours.  The audience thinned noticeably though that was also due to the fact that it was getting quite late.  Even the intended target audience did not seem totally thrilled with this filler D.J. 

So by the time Rami Kleinstein showed up, and Brian's "freak show" mercifully ended, many of the people who would have enjoyed Kleinstein had left.  He performed for about a half hour and it was a great show - but it was not his ideal crowd.  Where in his live peformances, people all sing along and dance to his music, the reception here was much more subdued.

We left the park around midnight, even though the party was continuing on until 4 or 5 a.m.  My son tells me that there was a DJ called "Eazy" playing predominantly "dub step" starting at about 12:30 a.m.  It Sounds like it was even worse than "Brian's Freak Show."  I suppose each generation complains about the musical tastes of the younger generation.  But there is lots of great new music out there today, much of it popular with young crowds. So it is puzzling to me why the biggest public celebrations would feature the trashiest type of entertainment.

On Yom Haatzmaut itself, we slept in and missed morning tefilloth.  Many observant Israelis include a special Hallel prayer on Yom Haatzmaut, a prayer that is reservered for the most important holy days on the Jewish calendar.  But when we finally woke up, we performed the Israeli duty of having a barbecue on Independence Day...which was followed by a really nice, festive Birkat Hamazon to make up for the service that we had missed in the morning.

Israelis also celebrate by Independence Day by holding an International Bible Contest in Jerusalem (the finals of an event that takes place all over the world).  As well, Israeli President Shimon Peres hosted a musical event at the President's residence.

Overall, there are many opportunities to enjoy wonderful music, to celebrate with people everywhere and to contemplate Israel's future and past accomplishments.  Maybe next year, we will find a different venue for the evening event with more tasteful entertainment (not that I'm complaining about either Rami Kleinstein or Harel Skat, both of whom were great). 

Chag Sameach from Israel!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Israel's "Makolet" (Corner Store) Culture

When I was younger, my aunt and uncle ran a corner store in Montreal.  Neighbourhood residents would come by and pick up most of their staples - fresh bread, cheese, meat, fruits and vegetables and dry goods.  The neighbours would spend some time talking to my aunt and uncle, who learned to speak a number of different languages - at least enough to have animated street conversations.  Over time, in Montreal, as with many other North American cities, these small, family run corner stores gave way to the spread of 24 hour supermarkets. and convenience stores.  While there are still "convenience stores" across North America, few people would think of making a full shopping order in one of these places.  Even fewer probably spend much time speaking to the proprietors.  There is a social disconnect in these modern convenience stores which engenders very little neighbourly communication.   Sometimes, this might be due to a language barrier.  Convenience store owners and workers in North America are often immigrants who have little facility with the English language.  Other times, there is simply a class or social gap that serves a communciation barrier.  In any event, there are few big cities left in which there is a culture of widespread family run corner stores with socially engaged clientele.

That reality is quite different from the situation in many Israeli towns and cities, where the family run corner store - the "makolet" is still ubiquitous.

Liat Market, Ra'anana
Take as one example, our neighbourhood in Ra'anana.  Just around the corner, the "Liat Market" is packed with patrons early in the morning and again towards the end of the day.  Many local residents come by every day to pick up fresh bread, milk, eggs and other products.  The proprietors are on a first name basis with most of the customers.  It is not unusual to hear Eli, one of the co-owners, chatting with different people about soccer games, politics, recent news events or other topics including their personal family situations.  Like in many of the other corner stores across Israel, the owners run a credit system for the customers and keep track of purchases made by any members of the family (including their young children) on index cards.  They collect at the end of the month, if they can...But even if some customers require credit extensions every now and then, there is a certain trust to the relationship and a confidence that they will get paid eventually.  I am sure that most customers reciprocate this trust by paying in timely fashion, even though there are certainly exceptions.

Until relatively recently, the options were credit or cash, though now the owners moved to a computerized system and began accepting credit cards.  Like with the old style corner stores, such as the one that my aunt and uncle used to run, the owners get to know quite a number of the customers well.  There is a definite sense of a common social fabric.  This is partially due to the general Israeli openness and the way in which people interact across the country.  But it is also a product of a culture that still values the local corner store and its benefits, including the close personal relationship with the owners.  Baked goods, the daily newspapers and the dairy products are all delivered, fresh, early in the morning and many people use these really fresh goods for their breakfast or their packed lunches for themselves or for their kids' school lunches.

These makolets are so popular, that they are everywhere.  Within a five minute walk, there are at least of three of them in our Ra'anana neighbourhood and many more nearby.  Things can even become quite competitive between the different owners.  So while the Liat Market, nearest to our place, does not sell fresh fruits and vegetables, there is a competing makolet just just down the street.  Yitzhak Hen's Minimarket has a wide range of fresh produce.  He also opens up at 6 a.m., an hour before Eli to get that competitive edge.  Like the owners of Liat Market, Yitzhak and his wife are friendly, outgoing, personable and helpful.  They joke around with their customers and they won't shy away from a discussion of just about any topic.  Some people in the neighbourhood are fiercely loyal to one owner or the other.  But by and large, the owners of both makolets have wide ranging social connections with many of the neighbourhood residents, many of whom walk over in the morning from nearby their nearby condominium,  apartment buildings or private homes.

While these are only two examples, I have seen these makolets all over the country, in large and small cities and towns.  This "makolet culture" is a reflection of a number of aspects of life in Israel.  It captures the warm and close social interaction that often takes place between retailers and customers, when they are not angrily negotiating over the appropriate price of an item.  It also captures the lack of a hard social barrier than can often exist in North America between store owners and their patrons.  And while watching people pay for goods in the makolet, often by way of credit, with payments for larger orders divided up over a number of installments, you get the sense that the makolet is also represenative of the way in which many retail transactions are conducted.

Overall, these makolets are throwbacks to the corner stores of years ago in many large North American cities, like the one that my aunt and uncle ran for so many years.  But unlike the situation in North America, there seems to be little likelihood that these makolets will vansih anytime soon.  They are far too ingrained in the social fabric of the country.






  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Israel: National Robotics Competition

This is a scene from the national high school robotics championship that was held earlier today at Metrowest High School in Ra'anana, Israel.

The competition winners advance to participate in the annual Trinity College Firefighting Home Robot Contest in Hartford, Connecticut.  This international robotics contest (the "TCFFHRC") is open to entrants from around the world.  This will be the 20th year of the contest.  The finals will be held in Hartford on April 6 and 7, 2013.  Past winners have included teams from China, Israel, Canada and the United States.

Contestants are required to build self propelled robots that move through a maze to find and extinguish a burning candle.  Along the way, the robots may face an obstacle (a stuffed toy dog) that is placed in the maze at one of several random locations based on the roll of a die.  The candle is placed in one of four locations, also randomly.  The robot is built and programmed ahead of time.  Contestants are only allowed to place their robots at the starting position and turn them on.  The judge preses the "start button."  Robots are awarded points for checking each of the rooms, finding the candle and extinguishing it.  They lose points for touching or bumping into the walls or bumping into the dog.  Of course, the robots are also timed and speed is a very important part of the competition and the scoring.

Students work very hard for months building and programming these robots.  On the day of the competition, it all comes down to three chances.  The atmosphere is quite tense.  This year, there were more than 60 teams competing.  This is a very difficult competition and historically, only about 30% of the teams succeed in having their robot complete the course and extinguish the candle at least once.

This a view of one of the mazes, with a robot at starting position.  We watched as quite a number of robots set off quite hopefully and then...faced disaster.  Some moved only a few metres and then suddenly stopped.  Others crashed into walls, became stuck trying to turn corners or faced other unexpected difficulties.  One robot started spinning around repeatedly.  Another arrived at the candle but could not blow it out.  By the end of the first round, approximately ten robots had succeeded in putting out the candles and completing the mazes.

After the second round, four or five additional teams succeeded in putting out their candles and completing the mazes.  All of the teams that failed in their first two attempts were eliminated from the competition, leaving of about 15 teams to participate in the final round.

By the end of the competition, three teams had succeeded in completing the course successfully and extinguishing the candle on all three tries.  All three of these teams, which finished in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place were from Misgav High School in Israel, a school which took the 1st, 3rd and 5th places at the 2012 world competition. 

5th Place in Israeli National Robotics Championship
Three teams from Ostrovsky High School in Ra'anana finished 4th, 5th, and 7th in this year's Israeli competition.  This photo features the 5th place team.  You might recognize the student in the middle...

Although Israel has generally sent the first three teams to the international competition, at which they have performed quite well, Israel has sometimes sent additional teams to participate in these exciting events.  It remains to be seen whether Ra'anana will be represented at this year's   TCFFHRC in Hartford.  That will likely be decided with input from Ra'anana's Mayor, Ostrovsky High School, and perhaps Ministry of Education officials.

Needless to say, we are thrilled and excited for all of the participants, the winning teams and the students of Ostrovsky in Ra'anana who performed so well....especially the students in the photo who came in 5th place...one of whom happens to be a family member...