A year after 19-year-old Reut Bernard from Rishon Lezion volunteered to serve in the army, copies of the army newspaper Bamahane are scattered around her room, and she can smile.
At age 14, Bernard’s situation was completely different – she suffering from cancer, and undergoing difficult treatments, hurt feelings from friends who were avoiding her, and the pain of other youngsters hospitalized with her. Despite everything, she didn’t lose hope. “They didn’t allow me to cry more than two minutes a day,” is how she explains her eternal optimism.
Bernard was born, raised, and educated in Rishon Lezion. Her parents are divorced and she has a sister three years her junior. If you were wondering, she also has a boyfriend. At first glance, she looks like any soldier – the only remaining evidence of her illness is a deep scar on her thigh.
“At the end of 9th grade, I began to feel pain in my leg; it felt like a sore muscle. For four months they got worse,” Bernard says.
Her mother, Orit, recalls that at first the pain would occur after physical exertion, but later seemed to have no cause. She says that the first X-rays showed nothing except a mass on her daughter’s leg. After an MRI and a biopsy, things were clearer.
“During Passover in 2008 the doctor asked me if I knew what I had, and I said I had no idea. He said ‘You have cancer.’ I cried hysterically because half of my family has died of cancer. At the time, the word meant one thing – death,” Bernard recalls.
The doctor told her that if she had been diagnosed 10 years earlier, he wouldn’t have given her much of a chance, but that technology had developed and there was hope. Luckily, the tumor wasn’t metastasizing.
In July 2008, Bernard underwent an operation in which doctors cut out her muscle and scraped the bone. She describes her disappointment at not being able to walk after the operation. She progressed from a wheelchair to a walker, and from a walker to crutches to the cane with which she walks today.
As she began the treatments, Bernard was forced to deal not only with cancer, but also with loneliness. Her young friends couldn’t take in what was happening to her. “I dealt with everything alone,” she says. “No one wants to hear about cancer, it’s horrible for them. As far as they know, it’s a death sentence. I would have run away, too, if I could.”
As Bernard was undergoing her long rehabilitation at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, she received her first draft notice. She appeared in the draft office with everyone else, only to be told – after multiple exams, paperwork, and authorizations – that she couldn’t be drafted, but that if she wanted she could volunteer for military service.
“I was surprised, because I was already healthy. I thought that my limp would just drop my medical profile. I had hair and wasn’t taking pills,” she says.
Bernard says that at first, she debated whether to do national service with the Larger Than Life organization, which helps children who have cancer, or join the IDF like everyone else. In the end, she decided to volunteer for military service and was put in charge of subscriptions and education at Bamahane. “When I got to the newspaper, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one from my department there.”
“I like to take pictures and hike, so sometimes they let me join photo shoots,” Bernard says. “When I can, I still take part in activities with Larger Than Life, and this summer I’ll be a counselor at their camp.”
Knowing how hard it is to face comments about a bald head, Bernard also recently donated hair to the Zichron Menachem charity.
“It was hard for me to face the fact that I’m challenged, but they only let me cry two minutes a day, so that’s how I got through it – with a smile.”
Girls are sashaying past to the welcoming bellows of the lifeguard’s Tannoy, others are running barefoot, and plenty more are reading serious tomes. The sun is out, there are acres of sand to relax into and the sea ruffles away.
This is as far east as the Mediterranean will stretch, so there’s enough swell to surf – just – and a dedicated line of boys in wetsuits wait for the smallest riff.
The clean and tidy beach is lined with cafes and rows of red plastic chairs. Here young couples, friends, families spanning the generations gather, sporting everything from woolly jumpers to bikinis. Planes criss-cross the skyline and the Israeli coastguard chugs up and down day and night.
Security is understandably tight in Israel, and in the airport particularly, though the staff are helpful and efficient. On the way out, you absolutely must leave plenty of time to get through all the checks.
Ben Gurion airport’s new terminal (opened in 2004) is of extraordinary design – clad in the same stone as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem – but you still won’t want to spend the night there.
I am staying in the Dan Panorama, which has a Seventies business-like feel, but is brilliantly placed for the beach and Jaffa.
The lighthouse belonging to this ancient port, which dates from Biblical times, is visible from my bedroom window. The oldest part the city dates from 1909 and is almost directly behind the hotel.
Breakfast in the Dan Panorama is an event of epic portions. The buffet begins at one end with cakes, pastries, puddings, and ends with Nile perch, salads and shakshuka (an Israeli dish of tomatoes and eggs). Portions are enormous – troughs of hummus, giant herby salads and the crispest falafel.
As our waiter puts it: ‘We like to think big.’
But people aren’t, as you might assume, fat, but fit. They seem to take lots of exercise. The weekend I am here, Tel Aviv is hosting a marathon, half-marathon and in-line skating event.
I am here with two friends to run the marathon. We line up at 6.30am (to avoid the heat) and the city’s mayor is there to welcome visitors from 38 countries. The mood is as buoyant as runners in springy trainers limber up. The finish line is only a stumble from the beach. Thank goodness.
A friend described Tel Aviv as New York on sea. I wouldn’t go that far, but it has some of that city’s energy. Tel Aviv is known for its bars, clubs and ad-hoc roof parties. High-rise hotels, experimental in design, line the coast, Miami-style. This is one of the great Bauhaus cities of the world.
It’s also full of museums and galleries – and this year is dedicated to art. The new Tel Aviv Musuem of Art, which hosts the world’s largest collection of Israeli art, makes a statement in a smart airy square.
The angular gallery is currently hosting an exhibition by German artist Anselm Kiefer on Jewish tradition, faith, mysticism and literature. Designed specifically for the space and exploring the themes through large and muted canvasses, it’s as challenging as it sounds.
But there are more accessible offerings. The gallery is within walking distance of Rothschild Boulevard, a wide, expensive-looking street known for its Bauhaus architecture, it’s tree-lined central boulevard just made for strolling and sipping. A group of grannies in their wheelchairs are playing an intense game of cards, their grandchildren messing about with balloons at their feet.
For a grungier feel, try the Gan Hahashmal area, home to artist’s collectives, cool cafes and basement clubs. This area is tipped to be the next big thing.
Saturdays – the Sabbath in Tel Aviv – have the feel of our lost Sundays. They are carefree. No shops are open, and few cafes. We find one in old Tel Aviv, which is scruffy – with hectic power cables and yawning building sites, but still attractive and quiet. Most people head to the beach. And in the evening the promenade buzzes. Groups of teens hang out on the rocks.
The nightclub, Dolphinarium, which was bombed in June 2001, sits sad and empty on the front. There’s a memorial to the 21 youngsters who died there that evening and a scattering of flowers with an old jacket and a candle.
But life carries on briskly around it. On the way to Jaffa is the wonderful restaurant, Manta Ray, considered to be one of the best in Israel. Here, fish is cooked so beautifully you almost forget to enjoy the view. It’s right on the edge, and has big windows that let in the sight and sound of the sea.
Across the busy main road is The Old Railway Station, which is exactly what the name suggests, complete with now-defunct track and carriages, but with the addition of restaurants and cocktail bars where you can drink sitting beneath a lantern-lit tree. We even find a bar serving prawns wrapped in parma ham. ‘That would be a problem in Jerusalem,’ the barman tells us.
But if you’d prefer to be cossetted by the warmth of ancient bricks, Jaffa has several restaurants and lots of pretty, arched walkways that lead you into shops selling crafty earrings and oil paintings. This part of town feels more like a Greek island.
People say that Tel Aviv and Israel are like two separate countries. Some might find that reassuring; others will welcome travelling to a place that offers so extraordinarily varied and unusual a holiday.
A special police force recently conducted a nightly raid in the West Bank city of Jericho as part of a rescue mission of a special nature.
The victims – two dogs that were stolen from their Israeli owners and smuggled into Palestinian Authority territory.
The operation was headed by a special unit of the Judea and Samaria Police, which handles property crimes.
“We received intelligence indicating that there is a gang in Jericho that specializes in property thefts in the Dead Sea area,” Advanced-Staff-Sergeant-Major Motti Tal of the Adumim Police told Yedioth Ahronoth.
The information led to a location in Jericho, a city under the PA’s full jurisdiction.
Police officers, backed by IDF and Border Guard forces, conducted the raid, which – much like full-blown IDF operations – was met with local resistance in the form of a hail of stones and Molotov cocktails.
Upon searching the premises, the force found the ill-gotten gains of several heists, including cash and jewelry. The thieves, unfortunately, managed to flee.
The dogs were eventually found safe, albeit anxious, chained in the house’s backyard. They were whisked away under armed guard and brought to the Adumim Police, ahead of reuniting with their relieved owners.
“We’re grateful,” one of the owners told Yedioth Ahronoth. “We know that the officers were stoned and that (the Palestinians) threw firebombs at them, all so they can rescue our dog. This goes above and beyond and we are truly grateful,” she said.
One of Europe’s strongest economies takes advice from Israelis
A crowd of some 400 Swedish entrepreneurs, managers and venture capitalists gathered in a small conference hall in the town of Kista, near Stockholm. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of entrepreneurial incubator STING, one of the biggest in Sweden. Erel Margalit, veteran Israeli entrepreneur and founder of the JVP Fund, got up to speak.
Margalit came to Sweden for a quick two-day visit to try to help fix or at least improve the Swedish startup industry. In some respects this seems to make little sense – how come Sweden, one of the strongest and wealthiest economies in Europe that has produced giant enterprises like IKEA, Ericsson, H&M and Skype, is turning of all places to Israel for advice on developing successful startups? But this is exactly what happened.
“Israel has created a large quantity of technology in relation to its size,” says Margalit. “It’s wonderful to see that the world is very interested to learn from us. When I visited Spain they practically tied me up to prevent me from leaving. They are simply astonished by Israel’s success.”
The JVP Fund, which is based in Jerusalem, was founded by Margalit in 1993 and manages eight venture capital funds totaling more than $900 dollars. JVP’s strong connection with Sweden began with an investment in t Swedish company Qlik Tech. After the stock was issued successfully on NASDAQ the Swedes realized that Israeli know-how and experience in establishing startup companies and encouraging entrepreneurs could be of benefit to them.
In his recent visit, Margalit met with local high-tech business leaders, venture capital managers, government officials, economists and top advisors of large Swedish corporations. “We came out of the meeting with many new ideas,” one Swedish business leader told Margalit.
The Swedes explain that one of the main problems they confront is how to expand into the international market. Swedish entrepreneurs are skilled and creative, but with a population of nine million people, the local market is small and limiting. Sweden has created many international companies, but the startups that have developed there in recent years have had difficulty breaking out of the country’s borders.
Another interesting problem is that Swedish high-tech workers are reluctant to leave secure and stable positions in a large company and are anxious about taking a chance on a small startup.
To cope with these problems Margalit recommends that the Swedes give incentives to entrepreneurs and investors in the way that Israel has done for the last 20 years, including the Initiative Program of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Employment and the Chief Scientist, which in the 1990s aided in establishing Israeli venture capital funds.
Margalit also recommends lowering taxes that prevent companies from giving employees options. “When a person risks his career and moves to a small company you must give him a way to make a profit,” he says. The Swedes agree, but it is also clear to them that this will be difficult because such measures contradict the social democratic, equality-for-all tradition that also demands collecting high taxes.
In one of the meetings, a local venture capitalist asked Margalit how Israel has succeeded in attracting so many international companies to establish development centers in Israel – from Intel and Google to Apple. “American companies understand that Israelis love to invent”, Margalit replied. “And this is contagious.”
In his speech to the participants of the STING incubator conference, Margalit stressed the principles on the basis of which startups succeed. “You need to join technology experts with artists, writers and authors, and understand that we are in a cultural revolution that also integrates technology. Art schools are as strategically significant as engineering schools,” he said.
Per Hedberg, STING’s director, says that Sweden and Israel are essentially very similar. “Israel is a small country without a local market that tries to focus on innovation, just like Sweden. The focus on creating international companies attracts me to Israel.”
Margalit adds that Israel can also learn from the Swedes. “The combination between Swedish equality and the state’s readiness to invest in the private sector, and the innovation and creativity of Israel can conquer the world,” he says.
Swedish-Israeli relations were tense in recent years. There were tendentious stories and coverage about Israel in the Swedish media – like a 2009 report that Israeli soldiers harvested the organs of dead Palestinians – and this created strong negative feelings about Sweden in Israel.
“Most Swedes people do not have a position about Israel, positive or negative,” says Joseph Ackerman, the economic attaché of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Employment in Stockholm who accompanied Margalit on his visit. “There are anti-Israel extremists, but there are also extremists who love Israel very much. The media is relatively unified in its views against Israel – but this is true also in Israel. Everyone goes beyond sound proportions.”
However, Ackerman stresses that visits by Israeli high-tech experts like Margalit and trade agreements between Swedish and Israeli companies increase the possibility of talking about what is positive in Israel. “Indeed, when political events happen, it also influences business relations. Why will companies go to Israel with all the security problems? It means we must be better and more innovative, and bring added value that will attract them to do business in Israel.”
Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, the stars of the Showtime series Homeland, arrived in Israel on Wednesday, where the hit show will film parts of its second season.
The Showtime series is based on an Israeli television series called “Hatufim” (Kidnapped), which chronicles the lives of IDF soldiers held in enemy captivity.
In it, Claire Danes plays a CIA operations officer who follows a U.S. Marine suspected of spying for al-Qaida.
The show’s first season earned glowing reviews from critics. The second season is slated to be aired in the U.S. in the fall.
Following her last visit to Israel, Claire Danes told late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien that Tel Aviv was the “most intense party town” she had ever been to.
“I realize, because it is very stressful there, you know, it’s rather fraught and people are kind of tense and they need to blow off some steam – and they do,” she added.
Referring to her experience filming parts of the series in Israel, Danes said: “It was wonderful, I loved it.”