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No Give Backs! Facing down the Tel Aviv municipality

Three weeks ago, I received one of those hated bill-looking envelopes from the Tel Aviv municipality. It was not time for our hated Arnona bill to arrive, so I was skeptical about what they could possibly want from me. Enclosed were a letter and a bill for over 1,000 shekels. I found this strange.

The letter, which I had to read about twelve times to understand, informed me that I owed the municipality this money to pay back a discount I received four years ago. As an immigrant to the country, newcomers are granted a whole cushy bunch of benefits. One of these is a significant discount in municipal tax, a fee I still find baffling. The conditions I received when I arrived in 2008 stated that I had up to two years to request this discount. So, like a good girl I marched into the Tel Aviv municipal offices in 2009 with all of my documents in hand. My status, as is written clearly in all of my documents, is that of an immigrating citizen (Ezrach Oleh). Because I was born to an Israeli parent but never lived in Israel, I wasn’t considered a regular new immigrant (Oleh Chadash), rather I was given this special title. I was told that I would be treated exactly the same as new immigrants because I had never lived in the country before. On the website of the Ministry of the Interior there is a little blurb that says that these two statuses are identical in the eyes of the government.

On the day I arrived to request my discount, the office was particularly crowded. I hunkered down for a long wait and was pleasantly surprised when my number was called after only a few minutes. The representative of the municipality looked over my documents, photocopied them, asked me where I was from and quickly stamped a few papers. He smiled, handed me back my papers and said that everything was in order. From that point on, for twelve months, my roommate and I received the discount as promised.

The nasty letter attached to the horrifying bill stated that this exchange was “a mistake”. In 2011, a new law was passed making people with my status officially entitled to the discount, it said. This, in the eyes of the municipality, means that I was not entitled in 2009. Therefore, they are demanding the...

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'Us', 'them' and the disconnect between Israelis and Gazans

For the last five days, Gaza has come up in just about every conversation, Facebook status and thought I have encountered. Today, as the fourth daily siren rang out in Tel Aviv, the response of locals seemed much more fluid and far less fear-ridden than that of Thursday’s unexpected alarm. Neighbors ushered each other towards  basements and shelters, wondering aloud about how long it would be before the tell tale “boom” would sound.

As a novice to situations such as these, I am filled with a wash of contradictory emotions.

I feel frightened, not so much by the actual physical presence of danger but by the panicky roil that grips me whenever I think about the sirens. Having spent most of my life far away from the Middle East, the possibility of of these events seemed as far away as an alien invasion.

While I do not generally like to think about sides, these past few days, as one would expect in times of conflict, seemed to sharpen a sense of us versus them. Who that “us” is and who the “them” are are questions that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

At the same time, I am filled with curiosity about life in Gaza. I have never been to Gaza myself and have little clarity about what the place looks, smells and feels like. Obviously, the gaping disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians only contributes to the “us” and “them” notion that keeps the situation rooted in the trenches.

This video by Suroosh Alvi, posted in July by Vice News, is aimed at giving a sense of what life is like under Hamas rule in Gaza. On the way, it also provides images of daily life in the strip.

Click here for more +972 coverage on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

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Not so friendly skies: The fall of in-flight courtesy

It has always been my understanding that competition forces companies to try harder, offer better services and be more creative. In many cases, competition brings prices down. However, in the case of air travel, it seems quite the opposite. The more I travel, the less I seem to be offered on board. So we gave up food, checking bags, free booze on international flights, but have we also given up common courtesy?

Last week, I returned to Israel on a United Airlines flight from Newark. The plane was almost entirely full, with passengers clambering to find spots for their precious carry-ons in the overheard compartments. For the most part, the flight passed without incident. I was served a strange dinner-like substance and slept until just before the beginning of the descent.

As I woke up, an announcement requesting of passengers to return to their seats was being played. “Passengers will be required to remain in their seats until we have reached the gate,” said the voice. This is one of the perks of flying into Israeli air space, being forced to frantically run to the bathroom a full hour before landing.

At this point, I began to feel ill. As I reached for the barf bag, I knew it was already a bit too late. So, for the first time in my traveling life, I made use of the little paper sac usually found between the Duty Free and Atmosphere magazines. At that point, I pressed the call button.

For over twenty minutes, I sat and watched as flight crew members walked back and forth on the other side of the cabin. No one came to my side of the plane. Then, a passing flight attendant walked by me. I stopped her and before I could say anything, she disgustedly looked at the barf bag and said, “I can’t take that. You’re going to have to put that in the lav yourself.”

I said, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t get up.”

She again glanced at the bag and said, “Well, I can’t take it. That’s not my job.”

Then she walked away and came back with a big plastic bag. She quickly tossed it in my lap and continued on.

I was left with a large plastic bag, inside which I placed the soiled paper bag, stuck in my seat feeling ill. I should mention that I...

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The next step in the fight for social justice: Jumping off Dizengoff Center

On my walk home from work this afternoon, I happened to pass by Dizengoff Center. There was a mass of people, which steadily grew during the time I spent watching, as police officers attempted to calm the scene. Eight young people stood, as if in some kind of eerie performance, on the bridge connected the two concrete buildings of the shopping mall. They had apparently all written farewell letters, demanding social justice and are currently threatening to jump to their deaths. All traffic was quickly stopped by passersby, and concurrently by police forces. Ambulances swiftly drove in with stretchers, ready to carry off any potential jumpers.

The group of spectators gathering was busy asking one another if they thought anyone would actually take the leap. Though only two stories off the ground, the fall would no doubt cause serious damage. When I walked away, all of them had yet to jump.

And thus, the fight for social justice in Israel rages on.

At 8 P.M. this evening, Haaretz reported that the demonstrators had abandoned their posts at Dizengoff Center. As of right now, there are no injuries reported.

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Snapshot: The looming threat of war in the eyes of a Canadian

By A. Daniel Roth

While I was visiting Canada this summer a postcard arrived to my home in Israel. It was official looking and it explained how to procure my gas mask from the post office. The window of opportunity to do this came and went while I was abroad. In the end, I had to make a special order.

A major reason that I decided to move to Israel last November was to be a part of a movement that works toward justice and peace over here through anti-racist education and organizing with activists from different communities. I also decided to move to Israel because I like the culture of “today” that exists here. I find that I thrive on the urgency of life.

Somewhere in the back of everyone’s minds is the looming potential of war, other forms of violence, and these days we even have to be on the look out for racially motivated street lynches in city centers. Stores here require that you open your bags upon entry in order to check for weapons, racism turns to mob violence easily in my neighbourhood, and the weight of potential violence underlies much of life in Tel Aviv. About an hour from where I live Molotov cocktails are thrown at cabs carrying families, military checkpoints are regular, and gated communities with armed guards are the norm.

The spectre of violence is a part of everyday life here. Palestinians, Jews, and everyone else in this place experience it on a regular basis, but the past few months of speculation about war between Israel and Iran have changed the norm, at least for me. Maybe it’s because I am Canadian. At first I didn’t think much of it. Many have agreed that “wolf” has been cried too often over the last ten years to believe any talk of war with Iran. Rather, war will either come, or not. Only Bibi knows what Bibi is thinking, but recently friends began talking about war with Iran as if it was a probability. It seemed that suddenly everyone knew what Bibi was thinking.

Dinner outings and bar nights in Israel are routinely political roundtable forums. The past few weeks have been different. I have learned how gas masks are given out, and the fact that most people have no idea where the nearest bomb shelters are. I have learned that hipsters in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, and religious Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem all fear war in...

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Israeli choreographers call for strike

This morning, I saw this statement as the opening log in a new group on Facebook called The Choreographers’ Strike.

“Why the hell do we put up with it?

Dance theaters and City municipalities love having festivals of all kinds. It shows how cultural the city is or how central the theater is. It generates economy for the businesses around the theaters creates income for the theaters themselves. The technicians and light designers get paid. And for the past few years even dancers have started earning a meager living somehow.

All these festivals fall directly on the private shoulders of the choreographers. We not only work for free during the artistic process, we also constantly pay out of our own pockets for the losses of putting on a show. Losses that are too much for an individual to bear. Losses which should be finances by either the ministry of culture, or by municipalities or by the theaters themselves.

But since we are each fighting for recognition and since the only way to succeed is to put on as many shows as we can (so that we MIGHT be considered for support), we give in and as individuals – as private citizens we, the choreographers PAY OUT OF OUR OWN POCKETS for the existence of our artistic scene.

THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

A business can afford to go bankrupt. A municipality can afford to be in deficit and it is in the interest of the ministry of culture to culture to export and therefore claim as “Israeli Dance/Performance”.

We are not LTD businesses! (At least most of us). We cannot allow ourselves as private citizens to pay for the upkeep of this artistic scene!

I call for us to organize a strike! See how the theaters like it, when no one is willing to put on a show! See how the festivals like it when no one is willing to create! See how city municipalities like it when they cannot boast the existence of a Tel Aviv dance scene! Or see how the ministry of culture likes it when they have no “Israeli dance” to be proud of or export!

Let’s think of when and how we can go on strike most effectively!
AND THEN DO IT!”

 

As the day progresses, more and more messages are added to the list of gripes. Well-known choreographers have...

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Experimental dance on display at 13th annual Intimadance Festival

Tonight (Thursday), the 13th annual Intimadance Festival will open at Tmuna Theater in south Tel Aviv. The program includes premiers by the local fringe elite and offers a good forecast of what’s to come in Israeli dance. Curated by Nava Zuckerman and Irad Mazliach, the festival invited choreographers to consider the theme In Between Memory and Forgetfulness during their creative processes.

I’m really excited about this festival. The local dance market becomes more varied every year. We now have festivals like Madridanza at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Flamenco fans and Hot Dance, which presents Indian, African and Irish dance as well as contemporary performance. While all of these flavors make our local dance scene more rich and colorful, I’m looking forward to taking a moment to watch the grassroots, indie choreographers trying things out and hitting sweet and sometimes sour notes.

All told, Intimadance will consist of four main events: two programs filled with sixteen premiers and two guest evenings. The two Intima programs may possible offer a crystal ball type of prediction of the near future in Israeli dance. The pieces are sharp, short, witty, gutsy and full of unusual moments. While I am certain that the viewer experience will be varied, and perhaps not seamlessly positive, from what I have seen, this festival is full of promise.

What struck me as I watched a presentation of a handful of the pieces that are currently in the wings, awaiting their premiers, is that there are many interesting uses of the dance medium on display in this festival. The pieces all employ movement, however, these choreographers are clearly testing out all kinds of methods of expressing their visions through physicality. There are props, text, songs supporting and enriching the dancing.

If Intimadance is the future of Israeli dance, then there will be a good helping of performance art tactics mixed with aggressive movement and strong stage presence.

Jason Danino Holt’s The Woman I Could Have Been rings, at first glance, as more of a theater piece than a dance. However, amidst Holt’s delivery of text, there are moments of pure, joyous choreography. His choice of minimalist movements is clear and precise.

Sharon Vazanna’s Red Fields, which I wrote about in The Jerusalem Post, is a clever and insightful piece. For those of us who may have tired of those dance pieces that have no dance in them,...

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Interview: Actor, singer Mandy Patinkin on the world of performing

It’s not every day that I encounter a person as inspiring as Mandy Patinkin. The clarity with which he speaks about performance is incredible. In the days since our meeting, I have found myself musing over the things he said.

Throughout his career, Patinkin has maintained an on-screen presence while actively pursuing the stage. In 1980, Patinkin won a Tony Award for his role as Che Guevara in the original production of Evita. It was Patinkin’s first role of many on Broadway. He went on to play in Sunday in the Park with George, The Secret Garden, and The Wild Party among others. At present, Patinkin gives regular performances of Yiddish songs and has released an album called Mamoloshen, or mother tongue.

While many actors find the transition between stage and screen challenging, Patinkin sees a deep connection between the two outlets.

“They say that the stage lights are blinding. It’s the opposite of being blind. In my opinion, it opens up the whole world. In that darkness you can see anything that you imagine. You can have anyone come visit you that you imagine. All those souls who you knew or didn’t can be sitting in those seats. I often believe, when I sing my Yiddish concert, that there are six million souls sitting on each other’s laps in those seats, listening to these songs that I’m just in the line of passing down to people. In television I think the same way I do when I’m on stage. The camera is capturing us talking to each other but my mind is imagining an audience of people that I wish to be there. I invite everyone into the room while we’re filming,” said Patinkin.

Patinkin explained that it was musical theater that first drew him into the world of acting. Raised in Chicago, Patinkin’s mother sent him to the Young Men’s Jewish Council Youth Center to take part in a play they were working on.

“The second play I was in was ‘Carousel.’ I remember the man who ran the program was a wonderful fellow who is responsible for my passion in this field and essentially in my life. His name is Robert Kondor, and one day he asked us what the play was about so everybody gave his answers. Then he said, ‘I think it’s about if you love someone tell them.’ I don’t know why, but it hit me like the sun. I thought, ‘I like...

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Jay Z and Kanye West's picture of violence

 

Watching the new Jay Z and Kanye West video, this quote from one of my favorite teen movies, Clueless, popped into my head.

“So, okay,” chirps Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, “the attorney general says that there’s too much violence on TV and that should stop. But even if you took out all the violence on shows, you could still see the news. So until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.”

Romain Gavras’ video for No Church In The Wild certainly employs violence for entertainment. In fact, the last time I had as strong a reaction to a video was when I saw Born Free by MIA, which was also directed by Favras. While the MIA video portrayed a bizarre system of racist profiling against redheads, No Church shows angry mobs in various tackles with the authorities.

The images of riots and mass violence in this video bear striking resemblance to the footage we all sat watching last summer as demonstrations took hold of the streets of Cairo. I have watched the video many times. I am drawn to it in some voyeuristic way. It’s not often that we are privy to images as wild and unhinged as these.

While there is something incredibly satisfying about the slow motion shots of police cars burning, isn’t this a bit irresponsible? Maybe it’s the timing of the release of this video, or maybe it’s just the extreme nature of the shots that gives me a moment’s pause.

In some way I feel that Jay Z and Kanye West, two incredibly talented and rich artists, have capitalized on some serious distress. By using these images in this way, they de-contextualize them, using them only for their impact while subtracting their purpose.

Who are these riots against? Who are they for? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The thing that counts here is that the video has tapped into an international rage that seems to grow fierier every day.

It is true that this violence exists in the news. And maybe because of that, it shouldn’t just be copied to give meaning to a catchy tune.

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Four great upcoming cultural events around town

This afternoon, I was meant to be at the Israeli Knesset for Culture Day. As a member of the Israel Union of Performing Artists, I was asked to be present as part of a delegation of active artists. And then, well… the government did a little hocus-pocus and there was no more time for culture. While the Knesset and Facebook are ablaze with political activity, I want to point out a few things to be culturally excited about in the coming weeks.

 

  • The Flying Karamazov Brothers tour to Israel. If you haven’t seen them or have never heard of them, check them out. Lead by founding member Paul David Magid, The Flying Karamazov Brothers are going to bring a lot of crazy good times to the country. Their wacky antics include juggling, comedy, freaky tricks and music. In fact, all four of the so-called brothers are apt musicians. They have rigged their bowling pins to make percussive sounds so that their juggling is actually a kind of musical instrument. They will be here from June 10-17 with performances in Jerusalem, Modi’in and Holon.
  • Fresh Paint. Now in its fifth year, Fresh Paint is a nomadic contemporary arts festival. Each year, the organizers choose a new, off-the-beaten-path location to showcase the works of local artists. Art buff or not, this is one of those not-to-miss events that is full of good vibes, handsome folks and lots of inspirational materials. Fresh Paint 5 will take place from May 15-19 at the New High School on Shoshana Persits Street in Tel Aviv. This is the clip from Fresh Paint 4:
  • The Talooy Bamakom Festival. Part of Tel Aviv Art Year, this festival is all about site-specific performance. Events will overtake public buses, a storefront, the municipal building, an elevator or a coffee shop during the three days of this festival. All performances are free and open to all audiences. The festival will take place on May 17, 18 and 19.
  • Oyster by Inbal Pinto Dance Company. As a kid, like many ballet-practicing little ones, I fell in love with The Nutcracker. The ballet was full of magical creatures wearing these beautiful costumes. It swept me away to a different world. Though I will never again experience that first performance, the closest I have come was the first time I...
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Urban Outfitters' yellow tee causes stir over Holocaust association

Urban Outfitters, as my brilliant sister very articulately put it, is a fashion emporium based on the notion that the store is really frickin’ cool. The music, the down-home furniture, the hipster wannabe salespeople are all systematically placed to make you feel that the $42 jean cut-offs you are buying are part of some underground, edgy, young stream of awesomeness.

There are many elements that contribute to the ephemeral sheen that magically powders a grey t-shirt into being an integral part of street culture in UO. One is a weird kind of nostalgia for whatever childhood memories you may have. At present, those include cassette tapes of the Clash and plastic novelty cameras. Tomorrow, who knows? Flip phones and Bjork, maybe.

Another aspect is the rebel chic energy given off by UO’s graphic department. What other store offers the opportunity to buy a shirt that says “Don’t Mess With Texas” right next to “Pugs not Drugs” on top of a stack of Biggie Smalls tops? Just about everything in the world has been either ripped on or gratuitously loved in Urban Outfitter’s t-shirt section. No one is safe.

Not even the Holocaust.

 

Recently, the store updated its website to include a particularly questionable garment designed by Danish label Wood Wood. The vintage yellow color wouldn’t have caused a stir on its own, but embossed with a hand-sewn Jewish star on the breast pocket, well, that turned some heads. The release of this t-shirt comes almost perfectly in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day. The website was immediately barraged with a slew of comments like: “Is this what I think it is? WTF?” and “This is mind-blowingly offensive!”

 

The shoppers were outraged. The newspapers got involved. Fred Dardick, of the Canada Free Press wrote:

This isn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters has run into trouble for something it decided to smack on a t-shirt. The Navajo Nation actually took the company to court over a line of items with names like Navajo Hipster Panty and Navajo Flask. The Irish have also had their turn at bat against UO. Seamus Boyle of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America accused UO of defaming the Irish people. The Irish case was supported by a group of Congresspeople, who wrote a letter to protest the St. Patrick’s Day paraphernalia.

(Read: Anger Over St. Patrick’s Day Items: MyFoxNY.com)

Looking...

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Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival opens Thurs.

The annual Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival officially begins on Thursday night.  The opening performance will be given by the super sassy British troupe Ballet Boyz at the Ramallah Cultural Palace. This is the seventh year of the festival and marks the continued growth of the range and scope of its activities. This year, performances will be held in Nablus, Hebron, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Big names in this year’s program include Nawel Skandrani Dance Company of Tunisia, The Royal Flemish Theater, Suzanne Miller and Allan Paivio Productions and Francesco Scavetta.

 

 

For the past several days, international dance artists have taught workshops in the facilities of Sarayyet Ramallah- First Ramallah Group, the festival’s host organization. These workshops will continue throughout the festival. Sarayyet Ramallah is responsible for a wide range of activities both in Ramallah and beyond. The organization initiated the Masahat Network for Contemporary Dance, which includes Maqamat Dance Theater in Lebanon, Tanween Dance Theater in Syria and the National Center for Culture and Performing Arts in Jordan. Sarayyet Ramallah also runs the Sarayyet Ramallah Dance Troupe, the youth company, Danadeesh Dance Group and the Ramallah Dance School.

Sarayyet Ramallah’s mission statement:

Over the course of the coming three weeks, companies from Europe, North America and Asia will make their way to Palestine to perform, mingle and most importantly, be present in this event. A number of studio showings and presentations of local choreographers’ work will be held throughout the festival. Another anticipated event is the second annual Dance and Society Conference, which will host leading dance presenters and company managers from around the world such as Farooq Chaudry of Akram Khan Company, Annie Bozzini, founder and director of the Choreographic Development Centre Toulouse in France and Murille Perritaz, director of Reso-Dance Network in Switzerland. Workshops on production, dance photography and dance film will be hosted during the conference. The festival’s program also boasts screenings of major dance films such as Wim Wenders’ Pina. 

While looking over the Facebook page for the 2012 RCDF, I thought of something that German choreographer and teacher Peter Pleyer said to me in an interview. “Dance is international, multicultural integrational. In Berlin, where I work, nobody talks about nationality or borders. People talk about cultural differences but you can have those within a nation. There is something about the physical meeting. It’s a very big tool for integration. If that’s what we’re...

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Big Brother is drugging you: Knesset meets reality show scandal

The Israeli parliament has a lot on its plate. Homeland security, the potential threat from Iran, an occupation and a smorgasbord of domestic issues. However, that doesn’t mean that local politicians don’t have time to consider what’s going on on television. That is, they make time for TV in the daily agenda when a story like the one that erupted last week bubbles up.

On Monday morning of this week, a special committee was called in to discuss the recent turmoil surrounding Israel’s most successful reality television show: “Big Brother.”

It began two weeks ago with a letter drafted by lawyer and runner-up of season two of Israeli “Big Brother,” Saar Sheinfain. Two years after leaving the house, Sheinfain decided that he had a score to settle with the production staff to the tune of NIS 2.5 million. He demanded payment within days and assured Keshet Broadcasting that failure to dole out would prompt immediate release of sensitive details about their show.

When Keshet refused to comply, Sheinfain kept his promise, publishing a huge spread in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper about the psychiatric medication he was urged to take while taking part in the second season of Big Brother. Keshet responded publicly during their broadcast of the current Big Brother season the following day, saying that the contestants of the show are treated by medical professionals including psychologists and psychiatrists when the need arises. These meetings are fully confidential, as all patient-doctor encounters are by law, and are in the interest of both the individuals and the production.

This outburst has brought to light the longtime rivalry between Yedioth Ahronoth and Keshet. For years, Yedioth’s Noni Mozes and Keshet’s Avi Nir have been at each other’s throats in a communications battle.

Over the course of the weekend, following the printing of Yedioth’s article, another former contestant came forward with similar claims about Dr. Ilan Rabinowich and his pills.

Meanwhile, Sheinfain has continued to pursue the issue. He has filed a lawsuit, suing Keshet for handicapping him with psychiatric medication.

The debate quickly took over Internet forums, evoking harsh criticism of Rabinowich and the production. The culmination of the query took place on Monday morning in the Israeli Knesset.

Controversial as the story is, it was surprising to see politicians mix with celebrities in the Knesset’s meeting.

The first thing that caught my attention was the pride with which the Knesset members...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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