Starting a new Haifa beat

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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!

Screenshot on Metro's page, Monday, March 11: http://www.jpost.com/Metro/Home.aspx

Screenshot on Metro’s page, Monday, March 11: http://www.jpost.com/Metro/Home.aspx

 

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

Haifa: The German Colony Quarter
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.”

‘Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.’

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:

Benji Lovitt PDF-page-001

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.

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Benji Lovitt

‘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.

‘If You Build It, They Will Come’

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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!

Marcy Levin and her son, Robert, dedicated a baseball field in Israel in memory of her late husband.

Before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni

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The feature as it first appeared in the Jerusalem Post Lite.

Well, that was a cute, somewhat misleading hook for an interview I did recently for the Jerusalem Post Lite. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Adi Ezroni, she is one of the lead actresses in Hatufim, the Israeli series that Homeland is based upon. She’s also a serious Hollywood producer: A Late Quartet with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken came out on November 2 in the US and she executive produced it!

If you’re abroad and haven’t seen Hatufim, you’re in luck: the first season is available with English subtitles on Hulu and Sky Arts.

*Warning: There are spoilers for the second season of Hatufim towards the beginning of the interview.

As always, let me know what you think!

 

Interview with Adi Ezroni

Hatufim lead actress, Hollywood producer and huge Princess Bride fan.

By Laura Rosbrow

Hatufim just began its second season. We were thrilled to speak with Adi Ezroni, who plays Yael Ben-Horin, sister of Amiel Ben-Horin (played by Asi Cohen), one of three prisoners of war (POWs) “released” after 17 years in captivity. Amiel was released, but died. Or so we thought.

Now, we know Amiel is alive, he’s a Muslim named Yusuf, and he’s secretly living with Syrian terrorists that tortured him. Meanwhile, Yael is starting to date Noni. What seems simple isn’t: Noni’s father was killed by a terrorist exchanged for the POWs’ release.

In a long afternoon chat at Café Noach, Adi Ezroni talked about playing Yael, how Gilad Shalit’s return changed Hatufim, Homeland, and being a Hollywood producer.

What’s been your greatest challenge playing Yael?

In this season, she’s trying to come out of a shell and put everything away. It’s hard figuring out who she is, because grief is such a part of her. Now she has a relationship, and Noni, as far as she knows, has no connection to her past. This is the most complex thing, because they have a perfect relationship.

It’s true that being alone or getting into emotional places is challenging. I think that acting with Asi Cohen was extremely helpful.

What is it like, acting with Asi Cohen?

A dream. It was easy to miss him, because it’s easy to fall in love with him. I recommend it to all actors. I think he’s doing something that’s extraordinary, to go from total comedy to being able to play Yusuf and speak in Arabic and look honest.

How did Gilad Shalit’s return affect this season?

I don’t think all the differences this season were done consciously because of Shalit’s return. But the fact that he did come back in the middle is interesting, because the second season can move away a little from the sensitivity, and be focused on good television drama.

I think the first season touched on a sacred issue that hasn’t been dealt with before. It was more focused on family drama, on them returning home. I think the first season had this feeling of intimacy with the audience, dealing with the subject with sensitive gloves. Ultimately, that was also an incredible plot.

In the second season there’s a lot more suspense. Now that Shalit’s back, we could also talk about the consequences of that decision. We can look at the prisoners that were exchanged for the deal, as well as families affected by terrorism.

What do you think of Homeland?

I think Gideon Raff did something that’s perfect for an American audience, which is to change the focus from the family drama to the investigation. It’s great re-formatting for TV, because this could go on forever – there could always be new people to investigate.

The Israeli show comes from a different perspective that is extremely intimate. The Israeli series focuses on the family drama because they’re one of us. The issue of kidnapping and being in captivity because of political events is real. It’s a daily thing. Everyone says the Israeli series is more personal, but it’s also more political.

What was it like meeting the cast of Homeland?

It was really nice. Now, the same production working on Homeland is the same one working on Hatufim. They were here shooting, and we screened the first episode of Hatufim, so they got to see us. They responded well to the screening of the second season premiere, and enjoyed being in Tel Aviv.

But the real climax was meeting Mandy Patinkin. I couldn’t believe I actually spoke with Inigo Montoya! I’m the biggest Princess Bride fan. He has an incredible career besides that movie. But Inigo Montoya’s such a person in and of himself.

I just recently went to see Princess Bride again after many years. I think that it’s the most perfect movie ever created. Every moment there are twists, turns, and punch lines. Wallace Shawn was also in one of the movies I produced recently.

Many people don’t know you’re an accomplished producer. Some of your films coming out soon have huge Hollywood stars.

I have a production company called Spring Pictures that I run with Mandy Tagger. Our first film, A Late Quartet, is coming out on November 2nd in the U.S. and November 29th in Israel. It’s director Yaron Zilberman’s first narrative film and stars an amazing cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Wallace Shawn, Mark Ivanir, Liraz Charhi, and Imogen Poots, who was just listed by Variety as one of “10 actors to watch in 2012.” I’m really excited.

Last, can you tell us juicy details about this season?

Yael will get much more than she asked for.

That’s no surprise. But during this season, Yael will have many surprises. Maybe Adi Ezroni will have some pleasant surprises in Hollywood.

‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’

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In this month’s edition of D”ash, the Jerusalem Post youth magazine that I edit, I introduced a fun new feature to the magazine. It’s a single-page feature called “So Random!” where we interview every day Israelis. No one famous: just regular people. Each interview will include the same random, personal questions. In 15 minutes, we want to capture the essence of the interviewee as best we can.

This first one was really amusing. To give you a taste the headline of this post, as well as the article itself, is a direct quote from the interview: ‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’

Let me know what you think, as well as questions you’d like to include in this feature.

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Music Interview with The Young Professionals (TYP)

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This month we decided to do a special music edition of D”ash, the international youth magazine that I edit for the Jerusalem Post. We figured August is usually a slow time for news, so why not make it pop (quite literally)? Below is the cover story/interview I did with TYP, a great Israeli up-and-coming electropop group. In fact, they’re so up-and-coming that Universal signed them for a three-album record deal. To boot, for those of you that don’t speak Hebrew, no problem: all their lyrics are in English!

I am pretty proud of this interview, also because it was one of the first interviews I’ve done in Hebrew (another step towards acculturation; check!). As always, let me know what you think.

Cover of D”ash’s August Issue

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The Young Professionals

D”ash interviews the most hyped Israeli band of 2012.

By Laura Rosbrow

Last year, The Young Professionals (or TYP for short) won Best Israeli Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. This year, they signed a three-album deal with Universal. What makes this electropop duo, formed by veteran Israeli music scenesters Ivri Lider and Johnny Goldstein, such an international success? Besides their infectious melodies, catchy beats, and English lyrics, it probably has something to do with men in heels, campy dancing, and multi-layered videos.

Part of TYP’s tagline is “We create something new, always based on something old.” “D.I.S.C.O.”, their hit single, is a great demonstration of this concept. The song is an obvious homage to the Disco era, but the music video has various visual and musical influences. The girls that dance in the beginning are a colorful, hipster take on Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”, also known to some as “that 80s video with models that look bored and fake play the guitar.” The girls here play keytars, and the song itself has a mix of 80s and indie electronic beats. So in one seemingly simple pop song, TYP takes us all the way from Disco, to the 80s, to today!

And here’s the clip:

Despite their impressive musical mastery, their real secret weapon is Uriel Yekutiel, their dancer. Extremely flamboyant, he is usually dressed in women’s clothing and heels, and often leads cheesy, choreographed group dances. His enthusiasm really brings the group to another level. First, he strengthens TYP’s connection to the LGBT community; Ivri Lider, himself openly gay, also sings frequently about relationships with men. But I also imagine that his energy makes their dance hits even catchier, helping TYP cement itself as a powerhouse on the electronic dance floor. This catchiness is also a large part of what has made them an international sensation.

Uriel doing signature campy dance in a TYP music video.

D”ash was thrilled to chat with this emerging pop duo. Similar to their videos, where Ivri sings while Johnny stares into the screen and occasionally taps his foot, Ivri was the bigger talker.

What led you to form TYP in the first place?

Ivri: The connection started about a project that featured many different artists but eventually, it didn’t come out. Then we played one year together for fun. And we didn’t plan all this, but we started to develop what we did together, and we found out that there was something tangible and wished to do something with it. Then we came up with TYP, which in its concept, is more than a band.

What is the importance of multi-media collaboration in TYP’s concept?

Ivri: It’s of huge importance. We don’t view it as mixing multi-media, but as one thing. And our band is a part of it. There are two musicians, a graphic designer, and a stylist as well. It’s more than the music. Music is an experience that combines all your senses. It’s not only what you hear, but also what you see. It’s about everything – what you wear, what you see on stage. It’s a total experience.

What impact has signing with Universal Music Group/ Polydor Records had on your lives? 

Ivri: I think that when you get connected to a huge body like Universal, it’s a very powerful bond because it allows us to do a lot of things. They have thoughtful and creative feedback that is really fun to accept. They have a great understanding of the market and it feels really good to collaborate with them. Basically, it enlarges our abilities – it allows us to do more.

Part of Universal’s feedback was to first release TYP’s debut album 9:00 to 17:00, 17:00 to Whenever in France (it was released in June). Why did they choose France first? 

Ivri: I think that France is a center for electronic music. The scene and especially the live music scene are very developed. They are very intelligent and stylish. They like things that are chic and special.

You said in an interview recently that, “We like opposites… we feel all those opposites is something in our everyday life.” This is reflected in different styles mixing within your music and videos. How much of this attitude comes from being Israeli?

Ivri: Yes, I think it’s a lot about being Israeli. There are all these extreme opposites that exist within Israel. You can find almost any opposites: within the economy, the music, that there’s liberal women walking down the beach in Tel Aviv and at the same time you have a woman walking down the street in Beit Shemesh that’s getting spat on. The fact that there’s also a war two hours from here, and clubs in Tel Aviv.

Part of it is also feeling like we live in a world where we have so many things. It’s part of also being Western people.

That’s interesting to hear your examples because they’re all parts of why living in Israel is stressful. But your music is really fun. Do you think that’s also part of being Israeli?

Ivri: We live in such a stressful environment that we don’t even notice it anymore. I definitely think the whole “party party” thing, especially in places like Tel Aviv, is a response to that stress. You know better than anyone (referring to said reporter) because you’re an olah chadasha (new immigrant) how stressful life can be in Israel. My boyfriend’s also an oleh, from Germany, and I see it through him how stressful life is here.

What do you want us to remember from this interview? 

Ivri: The fact that this is such a unique idea that is going to conquer the world!

TYP may not be conquering the world yet, but they will be performing in Paris and a few summer festivals in Europe. After that, we’ll see what Universal has up its sleeve: D”ash hopes this fun, thoughtful, artistic duo will go far.

Sivan Azulay and Tal Lado contributed reporting.

‘Israelis in Vietnam’ on JPost.com front page!

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Israelis in Vietnam: From drug addicts to fakers, and in the middle, the heroic truth,” is my first article published directly to the Jerusalem Post’s website! No need to pay for it! And it made it to the front page of the website…so that’s cool.

Front page of the Jerusalem Post's website, 1.22.11

The piece is about Vietnam War veterans that later immigrated to Israel. I did interviews with two of them and their stories are very moving, especially regarding trauma. They are both interviewed for a new documentary in Israel about Israeli-Americans that fought in Vietnam, which airs tonight on Israel’s History Channel.

Arthur Regev, Interviewee

Dr. Jack Pastor, Interviewee

Let me know what you think.