Going, going — gone!

It’s Sunday, June 13 2021.  16.00 hrs IST and I have a dilemma.  At 4 p.m. Israel time, should I turn the TV on and watch Channel 11 or Channel 61?  There are two programmes that I feel I should see and they are being broadcast simultaneously, so I decide that I will record what’s on on Channel 61 and if needs be, watch it in full later in the evening.  So I switched to Channel 11 and after 10 minutes decided that I would ping-pong between the two channels and still watch Channel 61 later on if I felt like it.

And what were these important events that were bringing about my dilemma?  Well, on Channel 11, there was a live broadcast from the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, at which the members would either vote confidence in the loosely crocheted “national unity coalition” of eight parties, headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid or not, as the case may be, and also elect a new Speaker.  At the same time, Channel 61 was showing a live broadcast of the Men’s Singles Final of the French Open Tennis Championship from Roland Garros between the 34-year-old Serb, Novak Djokovic and the 22-year-old Greek who revels under the wonderful name of Stefanos Tsitsipas.

My heart said Channel 61 whereas my head said that as a not uninterested citizen, I should watch the entertainment about to be provided on Channel 11.  Channel 11 had the usual blah-blah-blah before the show got under way.  Various commentators and reporters, all but a couple of whom seemed to be aged about 25-30 speculating about what we could expect over the next few hours — so I switched back to see how Novak and Stef were getting on and it seemed initially as if the former was being tormented by the latter.  But after some of that, I headed back to Channel 11 and the plenum was filling up with our elected members.

Then proceedings eventually got under way.  The Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett had been allocated 30 minutes to outline the incoming government’s plans.  He had hardly opened his mouth to address the notables at the gathering (which included the State President, Reuven Rivlin, himself a former Speaker of the august body and the President of Supreme Court, Esther Hayuth) that all hell broke loose from the soon-to-be Opposition members of the Knesset.  The Speaker, Yariv Levin, a current stalwart and intimate confidant (these have never lasted too long in the past) of Prime Minister Netanyahu (in fact, the man put in that position to do his master’s bidding and who had managed to postpone this day of reckoning for a week in the forlorn hope that Netanyahu’s Likud could manage to entice any number of “misguided” right-wing members to return to Netanyahu’s fold, thereby preventing the new coalition attaining a majority) attempted to keep order but his erstwhile colleagues from his own party and those to the right of it were having none of that.

What ensued was something that I’d never seen in years of observing politicians behaving and misbehaving.  One correspondent, following the event from the comfort of her Florida home, wrote to me this morning to say “What a disgrace.  I have never witnessed anything like the behavior of the Savages in the Knesset today.”  As soon as I read it, I wrote back to her saying: “You’re too kind to them.  I would have described them as wild animals, and far too wild to have been in the zoo in which they were seated yesterday.  But there you are—Likudniks—salt of the earth.”  These representatives of the “common people”—amkha, in Hebrew—continued their performance throughout Mr. Bennett’s 30 minutes and beyond with the females of the species seemingly making the most noise but maybe that’s because higher frequencies are more piercing.  And it wasn’t just members of Likud and members of the fascist parties who were participating in this debacle but I also observed among the roaring animals several who were wearing large black yarmulkes and had long white beards, too!  Men of God!  OMG!  What has the world come to? Time to Reform!

Heckling is one thing but the ill-mannered and discourteous behaviour and the noise generated by these salts of the earth made the cheering and roaring of the several thousand people on the Philip Chatrier court at Roland Garros seem like a whisper in comparison.  It was literally incredible, demeaning, an acute shame and embarrassment to the State of Israel.  How do you explain that kind of behaviour to children who might have been watching in order to learn our our civilized lawmakers behave in parliament. Mr. Levin was even forced to expel several members of the Knesset from the plenum after each had been given three warnings to shut up, and coming from him, it only illustrated how much hot air and interference has been generated.  Moreover, the attempts of several of the expellees to re-enter the chamber were met with a chilling warning from the Speaker that it was forbidden.

Eventually, Mr. Bennett, a politician who I don’t particularly admire and his politics even less, somehow reached the conclusion of his prepared speech.  He was followed by the “Alternate Prime Minister”, Mr. Lapid, the architect responsible for the construction of this seemingly fragile coalition, who rather than give his prepared piece on the need for national unity, which was to have lasted 15 minutes, simply said the following: “My mother is 86 years old and we don’t ask her to come to Jerusalem lightly, but we did it because I assumed that you would be able to get over yourselves and behave with statesmanship at this moment, and she would see a smooth transition of government, … When she was born, there was no State of Israel, Tel Aviv was a small town of 30,000 people, and we didn’t have a parliament. I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead, she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it is time to replace you,” and with that he left the podium.

He was followed in turn by the outgoing Prime Minister who spent 30 minutes or so lauding himself after which had the downright arrogance to say that there was nobody else in the country with sufficient experience to lead it (as if he had nothing to do with that situation).  Looking at and listening to the Likud rump, it was easy to see that anyone in the party with sufficient intelligence to have been groomed to have had that experience had either left or had been forced out of the party. And it was also easy to understand how the thuggery that had erupted in some of Israel’s cities a few weeks ago was able to happen.  Oh, and Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention a simple fact while decrying the emergence of what he continues to call “a dangerous left-wing government” even though about a third of the coalition’s members are further to the right than him, namely, that, yes, the voters in March 2021 indicated that they preferred a right-wing government — but one not led by him — and this is what they got, thanks to him and no-one else.

In the end, a vote was taken and the coalition given a vote of confidence by the narrowest of margins — 60-59 and one abstention.  This was followed by a vote for a new Speaker who then took over proceedings.  After another few minutes, the ministers were asked to leave their seats at the Cabinet table for seats on the back benches.  One of the things that amused me was seeing Mr. Levin, the now ex-Speaker, explaining to Mr. Netanyahu, the now ex-Prime Minister, that, as he was no longer Prime Minister, he, too, would have to vacate the chair he had occupied for the previous 12 years and sit elsewhere while he, Mr. Levin, shepherded him directly to that place. Poor Bibi’s body language indicated that he seems to have been totally gutted by this strange situation in which he found himself.

Israel’s new government. President Rivlin seated center; Bennett to his right, Lapid to his left

TAnd then it was back to the court to see the end. For me, this meant the tennis on Channel 61 but in Bibi’s case, it might well be a different kind of court!

And now for some photographs.

Among the many nuisances these days are electric scooters and rental bikes.  And why are they nuisances, in particular, to pedestrians like myself?  For a start the authorities are busily constructing bicycle lanes everywhere.  More often than not, these lanes run parallel and in the same direction as the automobile lanes but sometimes, as I found out this morning, they run up one-way streets in the opposing direction, which, to say the least can be confusing and dangerous.  Even more dangerous is that the majority of cyclists and scooter maniacs seem to be unaware of these lanes, and especially of the directional arrows painted on them.  In addition, both the rental bicycle and scooter companies seem to offer a pick-them-up-anywhere and drop-them-off-anywhere policy, which seems to be interpreted very literally by the users …

… especially when it always seems that there’s someone else to return them for you.

Parking has always been a problem in Tel Aviv but some people seem as if they have found a solution.

And as summer settles in for the next four months or so and we wallow in 35 degree temperatures and 90% humidity, one begins to see more and more bodies in the park at 7 in the morning (which is actually about an hour too late to be going out).

The Yarqon Park, where I go most mornings is currently undergoing renovations along the river banks,

One of the consequences of all this is that the environment of the park’s mouse population has changed and they’ve emerged from wherever they’d been hiding underground and are showing themselves to the wide, wide world.

However, that doesn’t seem to bother the most active exercisers in the early morning park.

It seems was if new neighbours have moved in down the street and it also seems that when new neighbours move in, they need to make their presence felt by installing new numbers, too, lest someone make a mistake about the address.

28 x 3 = 84

Every now and then, your eye comes across something that appeals not because of what it is but because of what you think you can make of it later, so this …

… becomes this.

And occasionally, I have the privilege of hearing a rehearsal for a concert to be played some time in the future, like last week when the Carmel Quartet worked with the renowned oud player, Tayseer Elias, on a composition by the Israeli composer, Oded Zehavi for a concert in Jerusalem later this week as part of the Festival of Israeli Music.  Makes a nice change when it happens.

L to R: Shuli Waterman (viola), Rachel Ringelstein (violin I), Tayseer Elias (oud), Tali Goldberg (violin II), Tami Waterman (cello), Oded Zehavi (composer)






A true story

Members of a stable government???

Instead of a regular rant about the state of Israeli politics and my views on Israeli politicians and while several of them attempt to form a stable government, let me regale you with a true story that occurred about seven years ago and an account of which I wrote up for the ESRA (English Speaking Residents’ Association) magazine here in Israel and which was published in its May 2015 edition (https://magazine.esra.org.il). (I had forgotten all about it until the other day, when I decided to google myself and discover what other people can find out about me without any input on my part and it turned up among other things.)  It concerned a frustrating week I’d experienced some while previously and the vexation was due entirely to my own recklessness. As the saying might have it, old dogs really shouldn’t try to learn new tricks; indeed, old dogs can be very stupid as I was about to find out. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is very true and the issue in case arose when I nevertheless decided to fix it.

A charming, (well, she sounded charming over the phone), young (well, she sounded young over the phone), woman introduced herself as a representative of HOT, Israel’s cable TV company and she was about to make me an offer that she said I couldn’t refuse. HOT had been around for several years, following the amalgamation of the three cable companies that had dug up Israel’s roads and footpaths in order to be able to compete with Israel’s satellite broadcaster, YES. And as we’d had cable TV for over a decade and there hadn’t been too many problems, I was prepared to listen to the sales pitch, which was, of course, mistake #1.

And what was this hawker (Sorry, sales representative) offering me? HOT Triple. For the princely sum I was paying them to receive a daily dose of depression (Israeli TV has an inordinate amount of current affairs programming alongside quiz shows, wrestling, B and C movies and other rubbish), they would provide me with Internet access and telephone calls to any landline or cellphone in Israel free of charge. And—this was the part of her sales pitch that really appealed to me—we could keep our existing telephone number. (It’s bad enough trying to remember 4-digit passwords at my age but an 8 or 9-digit phone number is more than my aging brain can handle. Even though our landlines and smartphones remember these things for us, ego and pride demand that we prove to ourselves that we CAN remember these things!) So after she’d concluded her part in this drama, I told her that I don’t make instant decisions based on cold calls and asked her to call back.

I looked at my monthly bills from Bezeq (Israel’s leading phone company) and Netvision (the Internet provider) and reckoned that I could save some money. And as we already had the infrastructure in the apartment there would be no need for any drilling. This was a no-brainer! (Little did I know then that “no-brainer” is really a sobriquet for me.) So when the HOT lady called back, I was ready to go with her wherever she wished to lead me.

Having done the deed, another and equally attractive female voice called me to fix a time for installation. Two days later, a young man unloaded his bag of tricks, and got down to the job of connecting our equipment to this super-fast and super-cheap HOTline.

Now, there should have been alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears. Perhaps there were and I just mistook them for my tedious tinnitus, something that I have sort of grown used to. The previous summer, I had made a similar decision in the flat in London about a comparable deal with Virgin, a retail conglomerate which sells everything from flowers to space tourism, who were selling me — you guessed it — TV, telephone and Internet. But more about that later.

Shlomi, the technician, got down to work immediately. Within minutes, I had a new converter box—replete with video recorder capable of recording hours and hours of TV programs that would probably never be watched—sitting under the television. That completed, the easier part of his attack, he set about dismantling the existing telephone and Internet connections, casually casting unwanted routers, plugs and wires aside as he continued on his merry march through my apartment. Within minutes, we had been effectively detached (albeit temporarily, I was assured) from civilization. I breathed easily knowing that the means to re-stimulate our daily dose of depression would be revived shortly.

However, in the course of connecting the telephone, Shlomi noted that there was a button to an emergency call center connected to one of the phone sockets. He informed me that it was forbidden to touch this and that he would have to issue me a new telephone number for the house, leaving the old number connected solely to the emergency buzzer. I misunderstood him, thinking he had told me the opposite, but before I could say Jack Robinson, or its Hebrew equivalent (which is, “Jack Robinson”), Shlomi had done his dastardly deed, informing me en passant that what he had done was irreversible. It goes without saying that I wasn’t too happy, as, amongst other things, it would entail my having to remember a new sequence of digits and not only that, but I would have to inform everyone of the new number, which by now was being posted up in strategic points throughout the flat and recited like a mantra over the table.

Effectively reconnected with the world, (albeit with a new phone number and a new name for the WiFi network), the time had arrived to test the television. Lo and behold, what had been almost perfect reception prior to the installation of the new converter now turned out to be flawed. In fact, it was so defective on the HD channels that there was no picture of anything recognizable to the human eye. Perhaps an insect with multiple eyes or an arthropod with multiple lenses might have been able to make sense of it so I asked Shlomi why this was and received the plausible response that because two functions (phone and Internet) had been added to a connection that had previously only delivered a TV signal, there had to be an amplifier somewhere around. I had no idea what he was talking about so I countered with “And where might that be?” “It must be on the roof,” replied Shlomi. “Ah”, said I — “just a minor problem. The roof belongs to my neighbor and the sole access is through his flat. Why don’t you go down to his office and ask him if you can get up there?” Shlomi returned a few minutes later to tell me that my neighbor was not terribly cooperative and that he’d have to try something else instead. He did, but failed to redress the problem — and then he departed, claiming that he was late for his next appointment. What I learned the following day from my neighbor was that he had accompanied Shlomi on to the roof and showed him that the signal amplifier was located on a pole two ladders’ height above the roof—and Shlomi didn’t have a ladder.

This resulted in another call to HOT and two days later, a different technician arrived. He turned up late afternoon—almost night would be more apt—and announced that without access to the roof there was nothing he could do. On the basis of his tight-fitting white full skullcap and long ringlets, this young man seemed to be a strictly Orthodox Jew and my good lady asked him prior to his swift exit whether or not he had a TV at home. Though my tinnitus must have been working overtime, I still didn’t hear the alarm bells that were obviously ringing at full volume. He responded in the affirmative, but added that he doesn’t have anything to do with HOT, his own employer.

So the next day I spoke to yet another HOT lady to whom I explained the sad situation. She announced with some authority that we needed the ‘B-team’, i.e. the lads who look after HOT’s access to a whole house rather than just an individual flat, and I was told to be on standby from 09.00 until 11.30 two days later. That day came and my watch began. 11.30 came but the B-team didn’t. So I allowed them half an hour’s grace and called HOT again—just to enquire, you understand. The HOT lady was sympathy personified and undertook to uncover the reason for the B-team’s non-appearance. And indeed she called me back to tell me that they had been delayed but that they had attempted several times to contact me. Upon enquiring after the number the B-team had been trying to reach and on hearing the number of my cellphone being uttered across the airwaves, I checked said cellphone, which had been in my pocket all morning and I had neither heard it ring nor felt a vibration. (Vibrations in the pocket are important for an older man with tinnitus!) Accordingly, I arrived at the only conclusion a long-suffering HOT client (by now just tepid) could arrive at: somebody in that torrid region which is HOT must be telling an untruth or fabricating a story.

My own reaction surprised me for I called HOT to cancel my contract. After all, had not the vendor a week earlier told me—as part of her sales pitch—that there was now a law in the State of Israel preventing companies like hers from tying their clients into a long-term contract from which there was redemption only by paying an exorbitant ransom? At this juncture, I discovered that signing out is distinctly more difficult than signing up. The company may no longer have a hold over you but that doesn’t stop them from pestering you into desperation to find out whether there is anything they can do “to help you”—a euphemism for encouraging you to change your already fragmented mind. Six different HOT employees phoned over 48 hours to ask the same question. Finally, I encountered another young-sounding female who admitted defeat by informing me that the HOT equipment would be picked up within a week.

During this hectic week I discovered several other things. I now had an active phone connection to the HOT exchange with a new number as well as the two Bezeq lines (one for phone, one for Internet — but that’s another other story). I called Bezeq to cancel the Internet line (the other one was still needed until I worked out a solution for the emergency button on the former (and soon to be reinstated) home line. A nice young Bezeqnik, obviously used to dealing with sullen overheated ex-Hotniks, suggested that instead of cancelling the line I should “freeze” it for three months at no cost—just in case things don’t work out. I followed this advice, which was my first sane decision in a week. At the same time, I discovered that without my Bezeq phone line I couldn’t open the gate from the street from within the flat! I also called the organization that supplied the emergency button on how to proceed. Their answer floored me—”There isn’t a problem”, they said. “We have lots of customers throughout the country who are connected to a HOT phone line!”

So … Shlomi, where are you, I thought? Please come back so I can wring your neck! But I have to find a solution to the gate — oh yes, and call Netvision, the Internet provider, because when I signed up with HOT, they informed me that they had an arrangement with Netvision to provide Internet services at a reduced rate through the monthly HOT bill. So … I called someone to come and see if there was a solution to the gate—there wasn’t unless I could locate a Bezeq junction box in the flat. But we couldn’t find it. (A year later, I discovered that it was in a cabinet in my neighbor’s office!)

And—at Netvision, while trying to reinstate the arrangement I had had with them prior to my HOT trip into outer space, I uncovered yet another gaffe. The pleasant lady with the soothing voice on the other end of the phone (she, too, was obviously used to talking with soon-to-be-ex-Hotniks) mentioned that I really should be using not the line through which I had always connected with Netvision but another number that flagged up on her screen. She then read out a number that meant nothing to me until I eventually remembered that about a year previously, responding to a Netvision sales pitch, I had agreed to switch from Bezeq to a Netvision line—but on learning that this required a physical installation (holes in walls, a new set of wires), I cancelled before anybody arrived. Nonetheless, someone had allocated me a number for which I had been billed with the itemized bills being sent to an email address that I had also been allocated but about the existence of which I had not had an inkling. A full refund was eventually paid.

Having reinstated my home phone lines (in other words, rescued my phones from HOT) and reverted to the old Wi-Fi router, I still needed to see to the TV. In this land of make-believe, the had just two options at that time, one of which I had just banished. So I called YES, the satellite TV company. Having signed me up, the YESman told me that another YESman with technical skills would connect me to outer space by 10.00 the following morning. This young man arrived on cue and I then discovered a basic difference between HOT and YES. HOT technicians come without ladders; YES technicians come without digital converter boxes! YES, this saxophone-playing technician, whose sole job is to connect people’s TV sets to digital converter boxes had actually arrived without one, causing my level of disbelief to rise in tandem with my blood pressure. But, nil desperandum, a man of infinite resourcefulness, the technician stole away in his car to a warehouse and returned an hour later, this time with box in tow. Within a short time we were reconnected and could receive the daily doses of depression without which we cannot survive.

Now, not only have you been reminded that old dogs do not learn new tricks but you’ve perhaps also heard the one about “once bitten, twice shy”. I mentioned that I had been in contact before all this nonsense with Virgin in London. In retrospect, I should have been able to learn a lesson from that but failed miserably when Virgin supplied us with their version of HOT’s Triple pack. Although the Virgin TV and the phone worked wonderfully, their internet connection gave problems. Put simply, the Virgin technician who wired us up (in my absence, after I’d returned to Israel, my son who had graciously become my proxy and wasted a day to be around) had simply used an outlet that some previous occupant of the flat had had installed. He didn’t ask questions; as far as he was concerned he simply chose an option easier than installing a connection de novo. Consequently, by the time the Wi-Fi signal reached the corner where my computer was located, it was breathing its last breath, moving in and out of cyber-consciousness and in need of some computer equivalent of a defibrillator. (The London flat is not a mansion but a small 2-bedroom apartment with a maximum internal distance of 12 meters.)

So I called the Virgin client helpline and the empire struck back. As all good Brits know, what materializes when you phone a helpline to what is ostensibly a UK number is that most phone calls for help are directed in the first instance through the Subcontinent. Bookings for “engineers”, as the local British technicians are called, are made via Bangalore, Hyderabad or Mumbai. To cut a long story very short, I made a booking to have them move the digital converter and left my long-suffering and loving son to deal with the physical side of things. In the event, the Virgin man came. The upshot was a series of SMSs in which my dear son told me, asked me, pleaded with me (while I was trying to comprehend yet another sales pitch, this time for a collective health insurance policy through the university—yet another Israeli story):

“He can only run a cable INSIDE the house. Can’t do it from the outside. … would have to drill holes in walls and attach the cable through the living room. … ugly … what do you think? … There would be a white cable going across the top or bottom of the corridor and then drilled into your room … My personal opinion — it’s a very messy job… is it REALLY necessary to go through ALL this?”.

At this point, I raised my hands and surrendered. But I had not learned my lesson—hence my foolhardiness and imprudence over 10 days in Tel Aviv some time later and this story.  My misery eventually came to an end and I returned to the really important issues of the day, like pondering which corrupt and potentially corrupt politicians should run the country as part of a stable government.

Since this incident that I have just recounted, I have ceased to listen to sales pitches over the phone and make a request for them to send it to me in writing, something the cold callers usually seem reluctant to do.  So there is a moral to this whole sad story:

When a HOT Virgin calls you out of the blue and attempts to sell you her wares, making you an offer you can’t refuse, keep your cool, old man, and think long before you respond with a YES.

And yes, there are some photographs as well.

People sometimes ask me what I see on my [almost] daily early morning walks through the Yarqon Park and streets of North Tel Aviv.  What can be so interesting?  And I always respond that there’s always something new or something I hadn’t actually noticed before.

It’s not just the birds …

… or the flowers …

… that attract the eye.

It’s also people and their activities.

Time to catch up with the news




He’s exercising —  so keep away!


Not so cold compression!

And then there are the still lifes you come across, like this set of cutlery all ready to provide breakfast for someone …


… and which can be turned into something even more dynamic in black and white!


And then, of course, there are the really dynamic scenes, as captured in the sequence of four images below …


… and then yet again, from a different angle …

And there was still time to go there Alexander Calder exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts, an artist whose mobile and wire moving sculptures that so fascinated me at the Tate Modern in London over five years ago.