It’s the featured story on PolicyMic‘s entrepreneurship page. I must say, it was fascinating to learn how much more Arab women are involved in tech entrepreneurship in the Middle East than women are in the Western world. Check it out!
Two days after writing the post “Why doesn’t Moore, Oklahoma have any public tornado shelters?,” I was quoted in the BBC. (I refrained from posting at the time because 1) I was on vacation and 2) I didn’t want to sound too enthusiastic to the readers coming to the site from the BBC article). In Tara McKelvey’s piece “Why so few storm shelters in Tornado Alley hotspot?,” people in Tornado Alley explain why there are so few storm shelters. Towards the end of the article she quotes my blog post, the only international perspective in the piece:
One Israel-based blogger, Laura Rosbrow, says that she cannot understand why people in Oklahoma do not have more publicly-funded shelters.
In Israel, Rosbrow says, bomb shelters are located “within blocks of every residence”.
“In Israel, you feel like the country is giving you peace of mind,” writes Rosbrow on her blog. “Isn’t that the way it should be?”
Thank you Tara McElvey, whose career I respect enormously.
And dear readers, now that I am back from vacation, expect more regular posts. Getting back into gear!
I just published an in-depth article in The Jerusalem Post Metro section, titled “Cracking the Technion’s Code,” about why the Technion was ranked sixth in the world in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey that evaluated entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education institutions. For anyone interested in understanding the start-up nature of Israel, this article provides a number of insights. Technion’s impact on the Israeli economy is pretty expansive: for example, two-thirds of the 72 Israeli companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange either were founded or are led by Technion graduates.
If you want to learn how Technion graduates have become so successful, you can see the full (non-pay-walled) article below. As always, I’d love your comments and suggestions.
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Cracking the Technion’s code
With a degree for start-ups and a minor in entrepreneurship on offer, the university is in the business of encouraging innovations.
By LAURA ROSBROW
Photo by: LAURA ROSBROW
In an attempt to understand the impact of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, the authors of the 2012 book Technion Nation: Technion’s Contribution to Israel and the World asked graduates of the institution a survey question that verged on the poetic: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote an entire story in only six words. It was ‘Baby shoes. Never used. For sale.’ Please describe your contribution to Israel and to humanity, in six words.”
Many responses touched on the diversity of Technion graduates’ technological accomplishments: “Provide poor countries with appropriate technology… Developed Intel’s 8087 microprocessor… Simulation software for unmanned drone aircraft.”
But one of the best and most straightforward answers was the following: “I came, I studied, I’m rich.”
The entrepreneurial spirit is so strong at the Technion that even MIT has noticed. In early April, the Technion ranked sixth in the world in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey that evaluated entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education institutions. The only universities that beat the Technion were MIT, Stanford, Cambridge, London’s Imperial College, and Oxford – meaning that the Technion scored higher than Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, all of which have top-ranked business programs.
The Technion probably received this ranking in part because of its new partnership with New York’s Cornell University. In late 2011, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a first-time bid to universities around the world to launch an applied sciences graduate school in his city. The Technion partnered with Cornell, and both won the competition. Now Cornell Tech, which is in and of itself an innovation at the university level, will start offering limited programming this fall. The Roosevelt Island campus where Cornell Tech will be based is expected to launch fully in 2017, serving approximately 2,500 graduate students.
Aside from that partnership, though, the Technion’s numbers speak for themselves: Two-thirds of the 72 Israeli companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange either were founded or are led by Technion graduates; graduates of the institute lead nine out of the country’s 10 leading exporting companies; and one quarter of the Technion’s 67,000 alumni have at one time initiated a business.
Technion graduates largely drive the annual output of the country’s electronics and software industry, which is approximately $20 billion – half of the country’s total annual exports.
Long before Israel’s independence in 1948, graduates of the school – which was founded in 1912 – were helping to build the state. They developed much of the industry in the country’s early days, including roads, highways and desalination plants. More recently, they created technologies such as text messaging, drip irrigation, the disk on key, and the Arrow defense system. In the last eight years, three Technion faculty members have won Nobel Prizes.
While the Technion has greatly contributed to Israel’s becoming a “start-up nation,” the school is also a product of Israeli culture.
According to Prof. Miriam Erez, the associate dean of the Technion’s MBA programs and a recipient of the 2005 Israel Prize in management science, “entrepreneurial spirit is very Israeli. Israeli culture has all the ingredients necessary for entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Erez – an organizational psychologist – is the Israeli coinvestigator of the GLOBE Study of Leadership, an international group of social scientists and management scholars from 62 countries that studies cross-cultural leadership. Out of the values that the study compares, she says, Israel ranks well in those pertaining to entrepreneurship and innovation. Significantly, though, it has a moderate ranking in the most important value, collectivism versus individualism.
“The common research says that individualism enhances innovation, and collectivism discourages innovation,” she explains. “Israel is in between – not very individualistic, but also not very collectivistic. I think in today’s global culture, because entrepreneurship is to a large extent based on your network, if you’re a pure individualist, what is the likelihood that you’ll get support for your project, even if you have great ideas? I personally think this moderate level is best, which is exactly what we found here.”
This conclusion helps affirm why collective Israeli experiences, such as the army and university, foster local entrepreneurs’ networks.
Along with strong communities, the Israelis’ individualist side plays out in a value called “power distance,” in which Israel ranks very low. Erez explains that power distance is about hierarchy in society, such as the power distance between managers and employees. In cultures where that distance is higher, employees do not feel they can express their opinions.
That is not the case in Israel.
“People feel very comfortable criticizing their own bosses,” she says, noting that although it can be difficult to manage these kinds of employees, “this is exactly what you need for entrepreneurship and innovation.
[You need] people who feel free to express their own ideas and criticize until they find the best solution.”
Sitting in Erez’s office, one can tell that she nurtures her relationships. Near one of her large windows sits a 30-by-90-cm. paper tree, with the photos of several young people adorning the ends of each white branch. When asked about the tree, she smiles and says her students made it for her last year.
OVER THE years, she has maintained good contact not only with students, but also with industry professionals.
Her interest in creativity and innovation led her to found the Knowledge Center for Innovation, which aims to enhance innovation in Israeli industry.
One of those contacts was Uzi de Haan. Both were PhD students at the Technion at the same time. While Erez went into academia, de Haan went into industry, having been trained as an aeronautical engineer. In his last position, he was the CEO of Philips in Israel, which grew to $350 million in revenues under his management. When he retired from Philips at a relatively young age in 2003, Erez saw it as an opportunity and invited him to become a professor at the Technion. He accepted, wanting to teach entrepreneurship.
In 2004, he helped start the institute’s first entrepreneurship center. The Bronica Entrepreneurship Center, which began with only one course, now offers 17. In the fall, Technion students will be able to select an entrepreneurship minor.
The Technion also offers an international MBA program in English, with a similar program focused specifically on start-ups beginning this fall.
Alongside courses, the center offers assistance to early-stage entrepreneurs in developing business ideas, including to Technion alumni.
According to Keren Rubin, the center’s director, “in the last six years, the center has assisted in establishing more than 40 companies. We help them in the very early stage with the transition to the ecosystem.”
Although the center is of a modest size, with a handful of employee desks and a small conference table, it feels well-placed to grow. The office is located on the top floor of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management. From one of its many windows, there is a bird’s-eye view of the modern, blue-and-beige-paneled Technion, and the industrial yet beautiful Haifa Bay at the bottom of the hill.
Asked why he thinks the Technion received the No. 6 ranking from MIT, de Haan answers, “We’re very much part of the ecosystem. Half of Intel’s engineers [in Israel] are Technion graduates. All those guys in tech companies are Technion graduates. We’re like a main supplier for engineers and innovation in Israel.”
It is no coincidence that Google, Yahoo, Apple, IBM and Intel have offices in Haifa.
They did this largely so they could recruit graduates from the Technion. Many students at the institute also work in industry while they study, applying what they learn in the field to their studies and vice versa.
Tal Goldman, an undergraduate student in computer science, works at the Technion’s Student Union.
He says he gains skills in this position that he would not gain in hi-tech – though he is sure his grade point average would be higher if he did not need to work.
In contrast, Tehila Sabag, an industrial engineering student who works for the Bronica Center, asserts that her studies “were not hurt because of my work. On the contrary, I think that because of my work experience, I am now a better industrial engineer and manager with more of a business perspective, rather than just an engineering one.”
She also values taking entrepreneurship courses, such as a popular one that Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman offers.
“The entrepreneurial activity that takes place here is the flagship of the Technion,” she says.
Goldman, too, sees such activity as a major part of the school’s efforts.
“I see the Technion’s investment in entrepreneurship all the time,” he says. “There are advertisements everywhere, such as in emails, posters, and from lecturers, to take part in entrepreneurial projects.”
THIS DEEP-ROOTED relationship between the Technion and industry is part of what makes the Bronica Center’s BizTEC competition so successful. Now in its eighth year, the student-run BizTEC is a national competition that selects the best student-led technology-based ventures. Winning the competition opens doors for many to connect with venture capitalists and interested funders from the center’s network of professionals.
Life Bond, one of BizTEC’s early winners, created biological sealants to seal bleeding tissue instantly. It has raised over $30 million.
More recently a start-up called Pixtr, which automatically corrects photos taken by mobile phones so that they look professional, accomplished several impressive early-stage goals thanks to the Bronica Center. In a select meeting between the center’s top start-up ventures and top industry mentors, a fairy-tale match was made: Uri Levine, the founder of Waze – which was voted Best Overall Mobile App in the Global Mobile Awards Competition in February – decided to become Pixtr’s mentor and chairman. He and the center helped Pixtr join Microsoft’s Azure Accelerator Program, which is aimed at early-stage start-ups. As part of the program, Microsoft provides office space, training, mentoring and other benefits.
“The most important thing about the center is the people,” says 30-year-old Pixtr cofounder Aviv Gadot, explaining what he feels has made the center a success.
“Uzi has so much experience and a great reputation within the industry, and Keren could move mountains. They are an amazing team.”
But for all the center’s success stories, there are many more start-ups that fail. Rubin asserts that the chances are “90% against you when you start.”
Still, asked if he thinks the start-up bubble has burst, as some leaders are saying, in light of the current budget deficit, de Haan quickly replies in the negative.
“Technology and economic growth are synonymous,” he says. “There’s an exponential growth in new technologies.
There’s no way big companies want to take on these new technologies. You need more and more start-ups to do this first innovation. Big companies don’t want to take the risk. They feel, ‘Why not outsource these crazy innovations to start-ups, and if they don’t fail, we’ll buy them.’” The problem, he notes, is how to fund those start-ups.
“But there are new mechanisms – crowd-sourcing, boutiques, venture capital, etc. There are ways to do it.”
For those that don’t know, every year on Israeli Memorial Day there is a two-minute siren that goes off around the country. People stand in remembrance of those that died defending Israel.
Here is a clip of people standing across the country. (I shot a few seconds of people standing in Haifa, towards 1:20). I hope this video edited by Hadas Parush – The Jerusalem Post‘s video reporter – helps you feel like you were here today.
It looks like my next piece just got published. I think this Jerusalem Post Metro piece, titled “On the Online Front,” will be interesting for those interested in learning about Israel’s PR behind the scenes, both the good, bad, and complicated aspects of it. What is also unique about this piece is that the group, called Ambassadors Online, consists of a number of Arab students, which are usually underrepresented in such public diplomacy activities. Without further ado, here is the article (beyond the paywall). As always, let me know what you think.
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On the online front
Photo by: Ifat Segal
‘I’m an Israeli citizen, and many things are said about Israel that are not true. I want to show a true picture of Israel. It’s not all protests.”
Ayat Rahal does not fit the typical profile of a pro- Israeli hasbara, or public diplomacy, activist. She is a Muslim Beduin student at the University of Haifa from Rumat al-Heib in the Galilee. For her, participating in Ambassadors Online (Shagririm Bareshet), which trains students to represent Israel as unofficial ambassadors in the international arena, is crucial for promoting coexistence. “As a Muslim, I think [doing hasbara] is important for coexistence. People don’t understand that we live together, we study together, and do everything together. I want to show what life is really like here.”
Rahal, several Druse participants, a Polish exchange student, a Jewish new immigrant from Venezuela and 25 Jewish Israelis make up Ambassadors Online’s second cohort. The students were chosen from over 60 applicants, with more applicants in this round than the first group last year.
Ambassadors Online’s goal is to train students in new media skills, such as social media, blogging and filmmaking, so they can defend and represent Israel online. David Gurevich, a PhD candidate in the Department of Archeology at the University of Haifa and the program’s director, founded the program last year with Prof. Eli Avraham, a senior faculty member in the Department of Communications. The project is co-sponsored by the university, its student union and the ISEF Foundation. Although the cohort was supposed to begin in the fall semester, it was delayed to the spring semester because of a lack of funds.
Gurevich says the group’s diversity reflects the range of students that are passionate about representing Israel: “You can see that we have totally various populations here. What unites everyone is they feel connected to this country and want to stand for it.”
He also says that Ambassadors Online does not have a political orientation. “We’re saying, ‘Guys, you can be Left, you can be Right.’ The idea is we have a lot more in common here as Israelis, and that we can represent that common ground for the world.”
Several Jewish students wanted to participate because they feel Israel is misunderstood abroad. Maya Zaliuk- Sharabany says, “I wanted to be in this project because whenever I go abroad, it is hard for me to talk about Israel, to answer people’s questions. I’m glad to take a course that prepares me to do that.”
For Maya Beinin, the rationale behind Israel’s actions is obvious. But she does not think this understanding translates to foreign audiences. “Israel’s hasbara is really bad. The world doesn’t understand us.”
Perhaps Adam Asad, a master’s student in international relations who wants to become a diplomat, will improve Israeli hasbara in the future. Like Rahal, he also does hasbara in part to promote coexistence. “I really want to represent Israel from my point of view as Arab, as Druse, from Israel. I want to show the Israeli side. It’s not understood in the world that there are Arabs in Israel and they can represent Israel… I believe in coexistence.
I believe in interfaith dialogue inside and outside of Israel. That’s why I attended this program.”
To familiarize participants with the central issues that make up headlines about Israel, Gurevich leads a tour called “Jerusalem behind the headlines.” In the tour, the group visits controversial places in the Jerusalem area – such as the Temple Mount and Ma’aleh Adumim – as well as the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Gurevich hopes the tour shows “how complicated the situation is, and some information about the solutions so each one can go home and decide for himself.” This reporter had the privilege to join the tour.
On the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Haifa to Jerusalem, Gurevich lectures almost the entire time.
He covers many of the main aspects of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, providing facts that defend Israel or complicate one’s views towards solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For most of the participants on the tour, it is their first time visiting the Temple Mount. Many smile, rush to take pictures of the golden dome and pose with friends as Gurevich guides.
Later in the tour, the group visits the intersection where Ma’aleh Adumim borders E1, a hotly contested territory adjacent to east Jerusalem. Although Gurevich says that E1 “does create a territorial sequence for Israel,” which some claim threatens the feasibility of a contiguous future Palestinian state, “that it prevents territorial continuity in the Palestinian state, that is just not true factually… What it does is prevent connecting east Jerusalem to that future Palestinian state… Right, not right, smart, not smart, that’s the situation. But it’s important to know the facts. The fact is that building in E1 does not prevent a two-state solution.”
Gurevich first statement that it is important to know “the facts,” and his further statement that building in E1 does not prevent a two-state solution illustrates part of the tour’s perspective.
The next stop is the Foreign Ministry, where officials present Israel’s hasbara strategy to Ambassadors Online. Ilana Stein, ministry vice spokeswoman, discusses hasbara’s “creative energy” strategy, which focuses on topics such as start-ups, the arts, and “cool” events taking place in Israel. The goal is for more people to engage with Israel through positive, non-political channels. She also encourages Ambassadors Online participants to write about fun experiences on social media sites so that peers can relate to Israel. Her motto for participants is, “Be truthful, authentic, say things that are fun.”
Although Stein’s advice is helpful, this reporter wanted to hear from the ministry about how it deals with the most difficult arguments against Israel.
When Eliya Rubinstein Benditovich, the ministry’s head of new media, is asked what the hardest question she ever found on the Internet was, she says, “The hardest questions are about delegitimization.
‘Why are you doing this?’ And it’s hard to answer because sometimes, yes, we’re doing this.” She then talks about what the office does during times of conflict.
This makes her reflect on Israel’s most recent operation, Pillar of Defense, which ended after a week of strikes between Gaza and Israel in November. “If the state had decided to continue with [the operation], our duty is to go along with it, to represent it.”
Therein lies hasbara’s greatest challenge: to make the case for all of Israel’s actions to audiences abroad.
Already, Ambassadors Online participants have organized a hasbara conference and created videos, blogs and pro-Israeli Facebook groups. Only time will tell if these students are up to the tough task of representing Israel. •
I published a piece in The Jerusalem Post‘s Metro section about Masada street, the vibrant, bohemian center of Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood. The piece, titled “Haifa’s Florentin,” (which references a hip neighborhood called Florentin in Tel Aviv), profiles the neighborhood and describes some grassroots efforts being made here. It also examines what coexistence means for people living in this mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood.
Since the article is pay-walled, I have copied the article below. As always, let me know what you think.
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While the municipality could do more to renovate the ill-kempt Hadar neighborhood – one of the country’s most diverse – grassroots efforts are being made to promote coexistence and encourage community activism.
By LAURA ROSBROW
Photos by Laura Rosbrow
Approaching Masada Street in Haifa, a small bakery kiosk with “Masada” written in orange and blue graffiti welcomes you. The kiosk offers the usual fare: burekas, chocolate and cheese baked goods, and of course, pita. But on a large plate next to the cashier, the bakery displays a food combination this reporter had never seen before in Israel: halla with za’atar.
This unusual fusion symbolizes a lot about Masada Street. It is one of the few places in the country where Jews and Arabs live side by side. This street is the bohemian heart of Hadar Hacarmel, which is one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods: Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Russian immigrants, students and foreigners all reside here.
Many of the street’s buildings are adorned with graffiti art reminiscent of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, and a good number of store names are written in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian.
The street has an alternative, grassroots vibe. A poster hung on the door of MishMash, a new vegan café and restaurant, presents an intriguing invitation: “In March, a group was created for men that will engage in a wide range of issues: sexuality, politics, emotions, ecology, and more.”
At Café Masada, the street’s signature neighborhood café, one often hears snippets of political, left-wing conversations.
One person exclaims, “I’m not an extremist! I’m just.…”
Similar to Florentin, many of Hadar’s buildings look ill-kempt, and one can tell that the neighborhood, although colorful, could use a face-lift. Nestled between Arab neighborhoods Wadi Nisnas and Wadi Salib, Hadar has historically been characterized as a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. The peak periods of the neighborhood, created at the beginning of the 20th century, coincide with the largest waves of Jewish immigration: in 1948 when many Holocaust survivors settled in the area, and in the early 1990s when many newcomers from the former Soviet Union were first absorbed there.
However, both groups treated Hadar more like a launching pad than an ideal destination. Some Russians have stayed in the area, largely because of economic constraints. Most of the neighborhood’s residents are lower income, and many of the neighborhood’s buildings have suffered from years of neglect.
When asked about the city planning department’s strategy for Hadar, a top official (who asked not to be named) says, “The city is in the midst of renovating Yerushalayim and Pevsner streets. That is what the city is investing in Hadar. This construction is the only project specific to Hadar.”
Although this is a solid effort, it seems more could be done to improve the neighborhood’s infrastructure so that it can become a desired, long-term place of residence. Instead, the city has focused more attention on bringing young people to the neighborhood. In partnership with the Haifa Municipality, the University of Haifa and the Jewish Agency, a student village – Kfar Hastudentim – was created in Hadar in 2007, shortly after the Second Lebanon War. Students participating in the project move to Hadar and receive a NIS 14,500 scholarship. In exchange, they do community work with Hadar residents, such as facilitating youth groups, community organizing, assisting the elderly population and coexistence projects.
Inbal Levy-Leibovits, the director of Kfar Hastudentim, explains that the project’s main goal is to “stimulate a process of urban renewal.” In the long term, she hopes that the students that “have gone through this program will be dedicated to society and the country later on in their lives.” She also hopes “that some of them might choose to manifest this dedication within the neighborhood.”
So far, around 200 people have participated in the program, 50 of whom have remained in the neighborhood.
Noam Fonia, a 27-year-old Technion student, moved to Hadar a year ago and has been active in the student village.
He thinks the neighborhood is “fascinating… There are a lot of groups, communities, activities and good people.
I’m always recommending it to other students.”
He is involved with a project that helps teenagers in the neighborhood, and he likes it a lot. When asked if he plans to stay in Haifa after he graduates, he says, “Yes, I would like to stay in Hadar if I can. That’s the plan.” But he will need to find work in order to stay in the area.
Perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of activists such as 32-year-old Shai Nir, who manages Hadar’s Community Center. Nir moved to Hadar seven years ago from Jaffa. He says he moved from that mixed Arab-Jewish area because “Hadar is more mixed. It’s more like Israeli society: Arabs and Jews, immigrants and veterans, religious and secular.
Everyone is here.”
At the Elika Art Bar Café, where an Arab artist’s paintings, a Che Guevara poster and Banksy prints line the walls, an amusing cross-cultural interaction is taking place. Two older Americans are sitting with a Jewish Israeli man in his 60s. One of the Americans proudly tells the manager, who is Arab, that they are all attending their first Arabic lesson tonight. The manager smiles, says that’s great, and then continues to talk to his co-worker in Arabic.
When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence in Hadar, Fonia reflects, “On Masada Street, you see students, Jews and Arabs all sitting in one place. It’s not exactly a rosy picture; it’s more a feeling of openness.”
In fact, whenever this question is asked, the term “coexistence” feels a bit like a dirty word. Var Kevenbrov, the cofounder of MishMash, flatly states, “Yes, there’s coexistence because everyone is living here together.” She then laughs, not knowing what else to say.
Nir explains, “We do not live outside Israeli society.”
Addressing racist incidents that are reported in the media, he adds, “Of course it influences us. But we deal with this. We work in collaboration. We work together. Of course, we have a lot of work to do.”
Waheed Asakli, who manages the Elika Art Bar Café, says that racism in the Arab community has been on the rise: “Life for Arabs is not easy. Racism is increasing all the time; the economic climate is difficult.”
When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence at Elika, he simply replies, “For me, it’s not exactly true. I would say that everyone speaks his truth, but I wouldn’t call it coexistence. That’s what we’re trying to do here…Your truth is different from my truth. But if you say, ‘That’s okay’ and it’s not okay, then you’re not being real with me. We want everyone to be real.”
It appears that the words “coexistence” and “reality” do not mix.
Coexistence perhaps connotes a state of utopia where people live in harmony.
Although folks who frequent Masada Street do interact with each other, often forming close bonds, the mere word “coexistence” seems to gloss over the challenges each community faces: discrimination felt within the Arab community, economic hardships and challenges integrating the Russian community.
Even though the student village and other social groups work with Russians, their presence can hardly be felt in hip, younger areas such as Masada.
Instead of lofty ideals, Asakli hopes that Elika provides a space where “many different kinds of people are more free, true, human and democratic.”
Everything is done in the three main languages of its clientele – Hebrew, Arabic and English – so that everyone can be understood. He hopes this open atmosphere – where films and music are played, art and books are discussed, and alternative thinking is constructed – encourages people to create change.
Not surprisingly, Masada’s peak hours are in the evening. When choosing what to eat for dinner, one is likely to order street food – hamburgers, empanadas, chorizos, pizza, felafel and the like. Music is playing, people are conversing, but there’s one big thing missing: foot traffic.
Masada Street’s multicultural bohemian epicenter is only two blocks long. It is hard to believe this because there is so much activity in these two blocks.
While sitting at any café in the area, one could not see a passerby for a span of five minutes. Many of the smaller cafés have only half a dozen customers in an hour.
However, the solution to this lack of activity is complex. As Inbal Levy- Leibovits notes, “On the one hand, you want to help the local population living here and bring them up. But on the other hand, you want to re-brand the neighborhood to the outside, and make it attractive to people from different backgrounds.”
As I’ve been scouring the news the last few days, eagerly anticipating Obama’s visit, I’ve been affected by the photos. They show how differently Obama is perceived in Israel in comparison to the West Bank.
Here are photos of Obama flags in Israel before the visit:
And here are the first photos of Obama in Israel. Around 1,000 people came to greet him at the airport, including a military band, politicians, and a whole lot of journalists:
Meanwhile, this is what has been going on in the West Bank.
Obviously, many Palestinians are not pleased with Obama coming.
Obama’s already done quite a charm offensive to Israel, saying some words in Hebrew and describing the Jewish people’s 3,000-year-old connection to the land.
What will Obama do when he meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? It’s hard to imagine Obama being able to sweet talk his way out of these hostilities. Honestly, I have no idea what that kind of charm offensive could look like.
As some of you know, I have started to write about the Haifa area. I can do this now that I am working from home and have the 4 hours of my day back that I used to spend commuting. Yipee.
Here is my first piece, titled, “The allure of the city by the bay,” which I published in the Jerusalem Post‘s weekly metro section. It’s their top story this week!
If you have ideas for pieces I can write about Haifa, the North, or about whatever, let me know. I’m looking to develop my portfolio considerably, so any ideas would be appreciated.
Without further ado, here’s the piece, texted below so that you can read it beyond the paywall (sshh).
The allure of the city by the bay
A small immigrant shift is taking place in Haifa. What does the city have to offer Anglos that other urban areas do not?
By LAURA ROSBROW
Photo by: Itamar Grinberg
Many would say it is hard to find English-speakers in Haifa – that although one can hear English spoken occasionally in public, it does not happen often. So it may come as a surprise that there are over 700 members of the “Haifa Young English Speakers” Facebook group.
At an HYES pub night recently – an event held once or twice a month – several dozen people crowded into the dimly lit, cozy student bar and restaurant Nola Socks, located near the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. It was a diverse and well educated group. Many studied at the Technion.
Several were postdoctoral students. Quite a few were new immigrants, only one or two of whom wore kippot, though there were some Israelis there as well.
According to statistics from Nefesh B’Nefesh, there is an immigrant shift taking place: More Anglos are coming to Haifa. Since 2008, the number of North American and British immigrants who have moved to the northern city has tripled. In the same period, the number of olim from those countries has not even doubled.
However, this movement is small. According to Smadar Stoller Porat, the city’s project director of immigration for olim from English-speaking countries, the total number of English-speaking olim living in Haifa is around 2,600.
What is Haifa starting to offer Anglos that other urban areas cannot? Put simply, it’s cheap and beautiful.
Rental apartments cost around half what they do in Tel Aviv, and unlike in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many apartments in Haifa have views. If you want a San Francisco-like view from your apartment and a more affordable quality of life, Haifa delivers.
MOLLY MULLIGAN, a 30-year-old American postdoctoral student in biomedical engineering at the Technion, is HYES’s social activities coordinator.
Raised Christian but now secular, she came to Israel because a doctoral mentor urged her to work with his colleague at the Technion. Asked if she plans to stay in Israel after her postdoc is done, she says she wants to if she can.
“I would like to stay, but I have to see if I can get a work visa. The level of work being done at the Technion and the companies I’ve had interactions with is just very high,” she says.
Aside from sometimes being mistaken for a Russian, Mulligan barely mentions encountering any difficulties.
In contrast, Diana Polansky, who made aliya five months ago from New York, seems less certain she will stay in Haifa. The 33-year-old Polansky says she doesn’t know if she was sold the truth about the city as an ideal launching pad.
“It’s hard to survive here. People come to Haifa for the lower cost of living, but then can’t find a job,” she says. “You’re not saving anyone any money if you can’t work.”
Indeed, this is the key reason Haifa is cheap: Beyond the Technion, the University of Haifa and the hi-tech industry there are fewer lucrative job opportunities than in the Center.
And even though Kevin Mayer – a 33-year-old Australian immigrant to Haifa – is an engineer, he thinks he will probably move to the Center of the country. “I’m looking both in the Center and in Haifa.
A lot more jobs in engineering are in the Center, so I’m more likely to be in the Center.”
FOR THOSE newcomers unanchored by institutions like the Technion, the critical support they need to stay in the city seems to be a partner. Tellingly, Stoller Porat asserts that “Haifa is great for young families and young couples who want a good quality of life that’s not too difficult.”
She has less to say about what benefits the city may have for singles.
This family-friendly atmosphere was one of the factors that motivated 39-year-old Josh Turner, his wife, Revital, and their two children to make aliya a little over two years ago from Canada to Kiryat Bialik, a short drive away from Haifa.
The Turners’ greatest challenge in moving to Kiryat Bialik was finding work, as it is for most olim. But “I got around that by starting my own business,” says Josh. “I do international PR for companies. I’m a bigger fish in a small pond in the North, as opposed to a small fish in a big pond in the Center.”
He says he appreciates what the area has to offer and thinks it’s a pleasant, affordable place to raise a family.
Australian immigrant Tanya Ford, meanwhile, lived in Tel Aviv for more than four years before recently moving to Haifa to live with her Israeli boyfriend, and she feels there have been many benefits to the move.
“It’s a lot cheaper than living in Tel Aviv in terms of rent. In my field, which is engineering, there is a lot of work available here. And it’s beautiful – it reminds me of Sydney,” she says.
However, she cannot see Haifa becoming a hub for new immigrants, as there simply aren’t the numbers for it.
“Anglos and olim are attracted to places where there’s a bunch of olim,” she points out. “Haifa isn’t an ideal starting point for olim, but I think it offers a lot to people who are more settled down and established in the country. I think it was a really good move at this point in my aliya life.”
Annette Cohen, a religious woman who made aliya from the US in the early 1960s and has lived in Haifa ever since, sums up what is good about Haifa for Anglos: more interaction with Israelis and with nature.
“Haifa is good for people not interested in living in an English-speaking community,” she says. “And after all these years, I still stop to stare at the view.”
That was one of stand-up comedian Benji Lovitt’s better quotes from an interview I did with him recently for D”ash Magazine by the Jerusalem Post.
This is what the original article looked like:
But I don’t expect you to read the image above. Thankfully, the full text is below. As always, let me know what you think.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
‘The capital of your mom,’ and other Jewy things.
By Laura Rosbrow
Benji Lovitt is an American immigrant and the principal English-language stand-up comedian and writer in Israel. He has written for many Israeli media outlets, such as The Jerusalem Post, and has his own blog on The Times of Israel. This year his annual “Yom Hatzmaut List,” where he lists X number of reasons he loves Israel according to how old Israel is (this year, it was 64, and aptly titled, “Sixty-four things I love about Israel”) received 9,000 likes on Facebook. Things seem to be only getting better for this breath of fresh Texan air.
Like any good comedian, he performs for the people he most understands: other Jewish English speakers. Lovitt’s typical audience in Israel is Birthrighters, young people on long term programs in Israel, and of course, other English-speaking immigrants that made the plunge to make aliyah, or become Israeli. When I asked Lovitt what the rudest reaction he ever received from an audience member was, his response portrayed what his typical audience looks like. “I’m not really performing in comedy clubs in front of drunk rednecks. Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.”
Although Lovitt first performed stand-up in 1997 in New York City, he did not make comedy a full time gig until he moved to Israel in 2006. When I asked what motivated him to do stand up more seriously here, he answered, “You’re a big fish in a small pond here. Maybe it’s intimidating to do it in NYC. It’s rewarding here, and you can’t exactly do jokes about pushing your way onto an Egged bus [outside of Israel], and people really appreciated it here. There was a community that really connected.”
Lovitt always had a strong connection to Israel. He grew up attending Jewish summer camps, spent a gap-year in Israel on Young Judea, and worked in Jewish organizations before he made aliyah. When asked what prompted his decision to move to Israel, he said the same thing many idealistic Zionist immigrants tend to say. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life asking ‘what if?’ I wanted to give it a shot.” This brave, soul-searching attitude also helped give him the courage to plunge more seriously into comedy. As he put it, “I never thought in a million years I’d be a self-employed freelancer. One interesting thing about making aliyah is once you immigrate, everything else you could ever do is less scary; you’ve already immigrated to another country. No one comes to not do a meaningful job. Once you’ve broken down that barrier, the other things are much less imposing.
“I have a joke about how I can never shock my parents again: ‘Mom and Dad, I’m making aliyah.’ ‘What?!’ ‘Mom and Dad, I’m doing stand-up.’ ‘Oh. At least you’re happy.’”
One impressive aspect of Benji’s writings and performances is that he manages to make “Jewish” humor funny and not corny. His jokes are offensive enough that his audience is amused without being so offensive that they are put off by him. This is a challenging task in approaching material about Israel, which tends to make Jews (as well as everybody else) feel polarized.
A great example of this PG-13 brand of Israeli humor was a Facebook status Lovitt wrote during Operation Pillar of Defense in November. As rockets were pounding the South of Israel, many Israelis in central and northern Israel offered their homes to Israelis living in the South. Lovitt, a 37-year-old Tel Avivian, took this kind offer a step further: “Anyone in Southern Israel need refuge this weekend? Let me know if you need a place to crash. Especially if you are female, single, and between the ages of 29 and 37.
I am here for you.”
In fact, Lovitt hesitantly exclaimed, “Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook.” For Lovitt, frustration breeds humor. “I wrote a lot of statuses, but one in particular was quoted by The LA Times, how when the siren goes off and you’re on the crapper, you just gotta laugh. I was saying something that a lot of people were thinking, being caught in a “sh**ty” position (no pun intended), and people laughed.
“I feel weird saying that Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook. Some people said ‘I wouldn’t have made it through this week without Benji.’ That’s how I know I’m doing a good thing. Is the best word for how I felt ‘perverse’? I had a duty to rise up and make my fellow Jews laugh and bear this week.”
However, when I praised this “not-too-offensive” aspect of Lovitt’s work, he wasn’t as comfortable with the compliment. “I don’t really talk about politics. I probably should. I want to write more about social commentary. If I’m not offending enough people, I’m probably doing something wrong.”
One of Lovitt’s current goals is to move away from typical new immigrant humor towards more social commentary. As Lovitt explained, “there are only so many times you can make fun of bad English on menus.” The best proof of this new approach is a blog post titled, “BBC, I’m the Capital of Your Mom,” where he criticizes the BBC for not listing any capital city in Israel (every other country had a capital) days before the Summer Olympics took place in 2012.
What’s next for Lovitt? In April, he will be performing for various Jewish groups in the American Northeast. Perhaps some of you D”ash readers will see him there.
Contact Benji Lovitt at www.benjilovitt.com if you want to book a show, book a youth leadership workshop, or rent his room in Jerusalem.
This is a sweet story I just published about a baseball field in Israel that was opened recently in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. It’s called “If You Build It, They Will Come,” and was published in Philadelphia’s Jewish paper, Jewish Exponent. For all you folks that like baseball, Philly, kids, Jews, philanthropy, or Israel, this might be up your alley.
As always, let me know what you think!