Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts

Monday, September 3, 2012

Yemen Blues - Toronto - September 2, 2012

Israeli musical group Yemen Blues performed at the Harbourfront Westjet concert stage in Toronto on Sunday September 2, 2012 to a standing room only crowd of more than 2,000.  The concert was presented as part of the Ashkenaz festival in Toronto, though there is very little that is "ashkenaz" about this group.

Yemen Blues is a unique musical experience that combines Yemenite/African and eastern musical styles with contemporary jazz, funk and blues.  The band is made up of musicians playing a variety of different instruments including a cello, violin, trombone, trumpet, flute, guitar, percussion/lute, and standard drum kit. Lead singer Ravid Khalani fronts the band and also plays an eastern version of a bass. 

Khalani sings most of the group's songs in Yemenite (a dialect of Arabic).  Influenced by the Yemenite chants that he learned as a child in his local Synagogue in Israel, Khalani has taken this Yemenite-traditional musical base and mixed it up with a range of other African and eastern influences.

For the uninitiated, Khalani's voice can be rough at times.  For part of the performance, he can alternate between trance-like Yemenite chants in a gravelly voice, mixed with shrieks, and various exuberant calls.  At other times, he veers to falsetto and other vocal styles.  With a little bit of Hebrew thrown in and perhaps some other languages, the singing is mainly Yemenite.  For Yemen Blues, this can mean wide ranging appeal in many places where traditional Israeli groups would be quite unwelcome.  Apparently, Yemen Blues, has a following among many Arab and Muslim listeners.

Of course, this would best suit the spirit and objective of Khalani's music.  Near the end of the concert, he explained to the audience that the music is intended to cross religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries.  "It doesn't matter whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or from some other religious or cultural background - our goal is to bring everyone together through music," he explained.

The audience responded, particularly towards the end of the 75 minute show, as Khalani took off his jacket and implored everyone to get up, clap and dance along.  Khalani himself is quite a spectacle on stage.  He works himself into a frenzied dance, moving along the stage with an obvious passion and infectious enthusiasm.

Overall, the band was fascinating.  The high calibre musicians were well rehearsed and moved into extended jazz interludes that could have fit into any world class blues/jazz festival.  Then they veered back into Yemenite/eastern music that were reminiscent of the sounds of an Israeli/Yemenite Hina (a pre-wedding celebration).

It is exciting and remarkable that such an eclectic sounding ethnic musical group from Israel would develop such a large following in so many places.  Yemen Blues have been peforming around the world and have attracted audiences in Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, the U.S. and of course their home country.  In Toronto, the audience size and welcoming reaction made a case for a larger venue for Yemen Blues' next Canadian peformance.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011 Ice Hockey in Israel at Metulla

Well the 2011-2012 ice hockey eason is underway in Metulla, Israel. As I've explained in earlier blog entries on this site, this is the northernmost point in Israel. From Ra'anana, the drive is 177 km, each way.

Nevertheless, every two weeks, the list is filled with 30 players and 2 goalies - most of whom drive at least 2 hours to come and play ice hockey. They come from Jerusalem, Ra'anana, Tel-Aviv, Modin and many other Israeli cities and towns.

The games are non-contact and are set up with three lines, divided by skill level. This is great for a guy like me. I get to play on the third line with the other shleppers (hacks). The first line is actually quite fast-paced hockey and is fun to watch. Some of the players played Junior hockey in Canada or U.S. College hockey so they are quite good. The 2nd line is in between. Sometimes it is faster than other times, depending on which players have shown up. The lines are changed up fairly evenly and everyone gets to play for about 1/3 of the 1 1/2 hour ice time slot. There are almost always two goalies with full equipment.

On the way to the game, I had to make my way through 1/2 hour or so of Ra'anana traffic, just to get onto the toll road (Route 6) (known as the Yitzhak Rabin Highway). The exit out of Ra'anana to Route 6 is really poorly designed and is especially crazy during rush hour. We had to leave at about 5:30 p.m. to get to the rink on time. Apparently, the traffic problem is being fixed with the development of a new highway next to Ra'anana, due to open over the next couple of years.

Once on the highway, the speed limit is 110 and there isn't too much traffic so you can make it up north reasonably quickly. In total, the drive to Metulla took about 2 1/2 hours. We made it to the area by about 7:50 p.m. - which gave us enough time to grab a coffee at Aroma at the shopping mall in Kiryat Shemona, the last "big town" before Metulla, about 10 km away.

Getting to play on the same line as my son is quite fun, though I have to say, he is becoming a much better hockey player than me. Nevertheless, I managed to score a goal...which is pretty rare.

Aside from these bi-weekly Thursday night games, the Israeli Hockey Association is running a tournament with the same rule set up from February 6 to 10, 2012. They have been doing this annually and attract players from all over the world. Players can come in teams or can come individually and be placed on teams. The tournament is designed to raise awareness of ice hockey in Israel and to encourage tourists to come and visit Israel, while spending a bit of time playing some hockey. Two years ago, legendary Canadian hockey player Paul Henderson dropped the puck at the opening game of the tournament.

For those who are planning to be in Israel at some point but cannot make the tournament, there are sometimes spots available for casual players who want to come out and play at one of the games on a Thursday night. In fact, the association even lends equipment to players who didn't manage to bring their full gear to Israel.

The Thursday night games are attended by a great group of guys (and sometimes a young woman or two). After the games some of the players go for a swim in the pool, which is part of the ice rink complex (fittingly named the "Canada Centre"). Others head to Kiryat Shemona to have a post-game Shawarma, usually at a small kosher take-out place called "Shlomi's Baguette."

The drive back to Ra'anana, without any traffic can take as little as about 1 1/2 hours, so we were able to make it back by about 1:30 a.m. With the cost of the ice time (about $45 per player) and the crazy prices of gas in Israel, this is a fairly expensive activity. But getting on to the ice for an hour and a half in Israel is really a great time, especially if you are a Canadian.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eilat - Astral Village and Snorkelling

In the middle of the summer, where it is typically 27-32C every day in central Israel, many people like to get away and try something a bit we went down to Eilat. In mid-July, the temperature is consistently in the low to mid-40s Celsius or about 107-110F. But it's "dry heat" as everyone says - with humidity of only about 20-25% and absolutely no chance of rain.

It is about a 4 hour drive through some beautiful desert areas - including areas where you can take a camel ride, see wild mountain goats or visit crater sites and stop at some historical spots like the City of Beersheva or S'de Boker Kibbutz (Israel's first Prime Minister's home). I had to throw in this photo of an Ibex (mountain goat) family, taken along the way.

Eilat is a port and resort town, which is a very popular tourist destination for Israelis and for Europeans (who can arrive at Eilat's small commercial airport or drive about 4 hours from Tel-Aviv).

There are many hotels - ranging from 5 star beachfront big name places to small out of the way hotel suite complexes that are some distance from the beach. The big attraction is the refreshing azure red sea water. Along the coast, there are coral reefs with many colourful fish, corals and other water attractions. From the resorts and hotels, people rent boats, go water skiing, para-skiing, jet-skiing or just enjoy the beach. Along the coast there are many places to scuba dive or snorkel.

We stayed at the Astral Village Hotel - a collection of three-person suites, equipped with fridges and stoves in each of the rooms. The hotel has a large swimming pool and is located about 5 minutes' walk from the beach.

It was reasonably clean and was one of the few hotels available with flexibility as far as the number of nights reserved. Many of the hotels in the area have three to five night minimums, especially during peak tourist season. Astral Village has full dinner and breakfast buffets, neither of which offered particularly tasty food. The biggest drawback of the hotel was that the swimming pool closes at 6 p.m. (some nights 7 p.m.) for the evening. We were told this is common in Eilat. It seems to me that when it is 42C during the day and it is still 28C at night, the evening is probably the best time to swim in the pool - after spending the time earlier in the day at the beach and after dinner. The pool is not even in a shaded area.

Eilat night life is varied with lots of clubs, pubs, shops, restaurants and an outdoor market. The prices, particularly of the hotels, are wildly expensive and the whole area can get very crowded during peak times. There are a few great attractions, like the coral reef aquarium and Dolphin Beach, where you can swim with dolphins. But for many, the biggest attraction is just putting your face into the water, with a mask and snorkel and getting the feeling that you are inside a giant salt water aquarium.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ice Hockey in Jerusalem, Israel

I played ice hockey again in Israel – but this time in Jerusalem! Sounds impossible? After all, there is no ice rink in Jerusalem. While that’s generally true, this year the city tried something a bit different. It opened an outdoor ice rink at Kikar Safra – Jerusalem city hall square – from March 10 to April 14, 2011.

The ice is a stated size of about 200 square metres – much smaller than an official hockey rink. Because it is makeshift – there are low boards – which are rather flimsy. The surface can’t support a Zamboni – so everyone has to pitch in – scraping snow off the ice before and after usage.

But despite the limitations – the Israeli Recreational Ice Hockey association organized a series of shinny games – over the time span – on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

You have to book in advance to play – a total of about 8 players per team – 3 and a “goalie” on each shift. This is shinny hockey – so no raising the puck – and most players came with only a stick and skates – a few with gloves. The City has skates available for rental for pleasure skating during the day.

The whole ice area was enclosed in a giant tent – which has kept it quite cool – and usable – though somewhat choppy and uneven. Despite its limitations – it gave the players the chance to come play ice hockey somewhere much closer than Metullah for players from central Israel and Jerusalem. The choppy ice and the pick-up type game gave the players a feeling of old fashioned outdoor ice – which is a very rare experience here in Israel.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

David Broza in Ra'anana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Company Men - Better Off in Canada...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Ice Hockey in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For More information - visit

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ice Hockey in Israel

Well - I finally did it. Laced up some skates and equipment (that I had brought from Toronto) to play Ice Hockey in Israel. There is only one real ice arena - in Metullah - the northernmost point of Israel - right at the border with Lebanon.

My son and I drove 2 1/2-3 hours to the arena last night. We put on our equipment and joined the Israel Recreational Ice Hockey Association - a group of guys who play every second Thursday night.

I hadn't played in 27 years. I've been wanting to play - but have been pretty out of shape - something I have been working on over the past few months. Fortunately for me - they divide the shifts into three different skill levels - so I was able to play on the third line which was somewhere near my level. My son even scored a goal. Me - well maybe an assist or two.

It seemed like a great bunch of guys - who have been playing twice a month for years now. Most were Canadians - now living in Israel - though there were some Americans - a few native Israelis and a few Russians. The main thing is the commitment. The players drive from distances of at least 2 or 3 hours to get to the arena every second week!

The goalies were well equipped and were quite solid. There were a few very high calibre players - particulary on the 1st line - which made for some entertaining, fast paced hockey.

After the game, most players stopped in Kiryat Shmona - a northern Israeli town for a shawarma. Then we had a 3 hour drive back - including areas of construction that we had to pass through.

My son and I both hope to play some more. (He was the only 12 year old playing...even though he had to wake up and go to school the next day after getting home at 2:30 a.m.)

I'll have to work on my skating though..I probably looked like a pylon even on the third line...

For anyone coming to Israel - who feels the need to play while here - players can email athe association and try to book a spot.

Overall - as Canadians well know - no matter how far you drive - you realize how great it is to be on the ice. Even though many of these players have been living in Israel for years - you can't take that part of Canada away from them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New Museum of Yemenite Culture in Old Jaffa

Museum of Yemenite Culture in Old Jaffa – Worth the Trip

Although Israel already has many fine museums, this past Thursday marked the addition of a small but fascinating collection in the old city of Jaffa. Ben-Zion David, an eighth generation silversmith, opened a museum of Yemenite culture and silversmith work. The museum is housed as an adjunct to Ben-Zion’s gallery, which has been a landmark in Old Jaffa for more than 25 years.

At the gala opening on October 28, 2010, guests were treated to an array of Yemenite delicacies including Jahnun, Hawaij infused coffee, homemade Arak, and of course, a Gat punch. They were entertained by the Kiryat Eqron based “Heritage Band of North Yemen Jews,” which provided a Hina-like atmosphere for the festivities. Groups of traditionally dressed Yemenites danced on stage. A special handcrafted silver filigree Mezuzah was affixed to the gallery entrance. But most importantly, the invited guests were given the first opportunity to view the collection.

The museum features original video footage of the Jewish community in Yemen and its mass Aliyah, through Operation Magic Carpet to Israel in 1949. It also exhibits a collection of photographs taken from the Israel National Treasury. The scenes portrayed include Yemenite women involved in traditional food preparation and religious study for the young boys and men. There are pictures of Ben-Zion’s parents and other family members at work. Detailed information and tool samples relating to the process of producing handmade filigree jewellery from one wire are the display highlights. The exhibits show how generations of silversmiths, with a very limited range of basic tools, were able to produce beautiful and intricate jewellery. The work is time consuming and painstakingly difficult. But Ben-Zion proudly claims that learned all about the benefits of hard work from his family.

Ben-Zion explained at the gala opening that it was a privilege for him to have been able to learn the art of silversmithing from his late father, Shlomo David z”l, who passed away just over a year ago. From a young age, Ben-Zion would sit for hours with his father, learning how to use the various tools to melt, mould and process raw silver into valuable pieces of jewellery. Though Ben-Zion initially completed an engineering degree and considered working in that field, the jewellery making that he had learned from his father tugged at his heart. Shortly after becoming an engineer, Ben-Zion opted to try to make a living as a silversmith.

Over the course of his 25 year career, which began with a small gallery in Old Jaffa, Ben-Zion has sold pieces from his collection throughout the world. He has attended exhibitions and festivals in Israel and continues to attend regularly at exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. His jewellery has even won two design competitions from Accent Magazine. This past summer, Ben-Zion travelled around the world displaying his designs. He was featured for his detailed demonstrations at a renaissance festival of Jewish culture and heritage in Krakow, Poland as well as an exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the International Folk Art Festival.

One of Ben-Zion’s personal career highlights was having a pair of his candlesticks chosen by President Shimon Peres to be presented as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II after she granted the President knighthood in Buckingham Palace.

Yet despite Ben-Zion’s personal success, he notes that there are only a handful of Yemenite silversmiths in Israel continuing to carry on these traditions. His motivation in creating the museum was to preserve the art of Yemenite filigree, an art which is slowly fading away. The museum, according to Ben-Zion, is designed to explain the history of this work and the cultural lens through which it was created. It provides visitors with a snapshot of Yemenite life as it was in Yemen before the Aliyah – and as it continued in its early days as the community was transplanted to Israel. It is also intended to inspire others to pass along the artistry to the next generation. On a personal level, Ben-Zion hopes that this inspiration may even reach one or more of his three children.

The adjoining gallery includes Judaica pieces, some of which have been specially commissioned and are presented for display only. Some of the pieces that Ben-Zion has designed are on display in museums in Israel and other parts of the world. After viewing his museum, visitors develop a much deeper understanding of the history and process of the type of work that can be seen in the gallery – as well as an understanding of the cultural milieu which helped define the art.

The museum will feature interactive displays with opportunities for children to help create their own unique pieces. Ben-Zion is also available by reservation to demonstrate the art of Yemenite filigree where participants can witness the magic of the creation of a piece of jewellery made from one wire before their very eyes. There is a coffee bar serving Yemenite coffee and Jahnun. The museum, workshop and the adjunct gallery can be toured in less than an hour and are centrally located on Mazal Dagim Street in Old Jaffa. The museum is free of charge and is open Sunday to Thursday 9 to 9. It is open on Fridays up to Shabbat and one hour after Shabbat. 3 Mazal Dagim Street. 03-6812503.