Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Sylvester

Happy New Year's? No, not here in Israel. Here, we say Happy Sylvester. And no one is going around asking about each other's New Year's plans because instead they are asking about each other's Sylvester plans. If you are not catching on, the holiday typically known to the Western World as New Year's Eve is known by the name Sylvester here in Israel. Very odd, I know, so I'll explain.

First off, New Year's Eve is not a big holiday here in Israel specifically because the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) actually falls during autumn, a few months previous. So, the western tradition of celebrating the "new year" is specifically a western tradition, a cultural practice. However, I wouldn't say that December 31 and January 1 go completely unnoticed. 

According to various sources, the name Sylvester actually comes from European background where in countries like Germany and Poland, they still also refer to New Year's Eve as Sylvester Night. Now, why do they do this? Allegedly, in the Catholic tradition, all Catholic "Saints" are awarded a day on which Catholics will honor their memory. For the "Saint" named Sylvester, the historic day of celebration for this individual has been celebrated on December 31, thus the moniker "Sylvester Night" has developed over time with wild parties being had for this "Saint".

Ironically, this "Saint" Sylvester is not really a "Saint" at all. What we know about Sylvester is that he was the Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea in about 325 CE. Not only did Sylvester prohibit Jewish people from living in Jerusalem during his reign, but also, he allegedly passed a host of antisemitic legislation during his rule. Thus, to Israelis, Sylvester should not really be someone to celebrate because of obvious reasons. 


Despite the anti-Semitic roots, the tradition of celebrating Sylvester Night became an ingrained practice over time in Europe and the idea is that immigrants brought the tradition with them to Israel since its founding. I would not say that Sylvester Night is the biggest holiday of the year.  I would not even say that the majority of people go out to celebrate. In fact, I believe it's the minority, and predominantly in Tel Aviv. The surrounding days are not public holidays and New Year's simply is not celebrated here in Israel like it is in the western world. So if you find yourself in Israel over New Year's Eve, don't come expecting a booming party scene with fireworks, because that's not what you're going to find. It really makes you realize that holidays and rituals are truly culturally developed. 

Of course, the bars and clubs publicize Sylvester Night in order to attract business, and people do go out if they want to, but it's simply just not the same as what you would expect to experience back home. So, wherever in the world you are celebrating your New Year's Eve, enjoy it and embrace it!


Best of luck to a successful and rewarding 2012!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Coming Soon to a TV Near You

We in Israel get sort of excited about the prospects of popular US TV shows heading our way. We already have the likes of Glee, Oprah and Ellen and Grey's Anatomy, among others, to ensure we're up to date on our transcontinental viewings. In fact, it seems that many Israelis have learned much of their English by virtue of simply watching such shows. It's too bad the reverse is not working as smoothly for my Hebrew.

As it turns out, the Yes satellite company here in Israel is set to launch a new channel next month, called Yes Oh, in order to bring to the holy land even more wonderful American cable television shows from the likes of HBO and Showtime. 


The channel, which is scheduled to go on the air on January 21, will feature new favorites including the upcoming HBO series "Luck," starring Dustin Hoffman; "Veep," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (from "Seinfeld") and the already widely-hyped "Newsroom," created and written by Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing"), with Jane Fonda. 

 Dustin Hoffman - AP - 22122011

Yes Oh will also screen the Golden Globe nominee "Enlightened," with Laura Dern, and Starz' "Boss," a political drama about a corrupt Chicago mayor, starring Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier"). The channel will broadcast daily from 9 P.M. to 7 A.M. In addition to the HBO shows, Yes Oh will also be screening new seasons of ongoing shows such as "Boardwalk Empire," "Game of Thrones," "True Blood," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Treme," as well as "Bored to Death" and "How to Make it in America" (the last two have just been axed by HBO). 


The channel is also expected to run repeated broadcasts of old series no longer on air, such as "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "Entourage," "Rome," "Flight of the Conchords" and "Big Love." The channel will also carry quality series from Showtime and FX, including the new revenge Western drama "Hell on Wheels," the acclaimed Danish crime thriller "The Killing," and the Australian comedy series "Wilfred," with Elijah Wood. 


Lastly, Yes Oh will also broadcast live concerts performed in Israel, starring high-profile musicians such as conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, violinists Gil Shaham, Shlomo Mintz and Guy Braunstein, and jazz bassist Avishai Cohen. 

If any of those shows sound like they are your cup of tea, then it looks like you've got a new channel to add to your favorites on your remote. Locals, happy channel surfing!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Israel

Christmas Eve has come and gone and now we've arrived at Christmas Day here in Israel. Largely, you won't see a single memento around town that notifies you that the Christmas holiday is here. Students are at school, employees are at work and there is no holiday break to be had. 

However, just minutes away in Bethlehem, you will find quite the opposite scene. It's Christmas at its epitome. Every year, some 90,000 people travel to Bethlehem locally and from around the world for the Christmas holiday and in particular for the Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity. Where can you get a more authentic Christmas experience than right there in Bethlehem?

Unfortunately for holders of Israeli passports, Bethlehem is off limits. It all has to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, looks like I will never get to see Bethlehem in my lifetime. However, the images are worth 1,000 words.

Up north in Nazareth, Israel you will also find a Christmas scene taking place. Nazareth, believed to be the childhood home of Jesus, has more Christians per capita than any other city in Israel. I have been to Nazareth just once before and it was a very enriching cultural experience to see so many important sights in one small city. I can only imagine what it looks like during Christmastime. 

I can tell you that during the month of December, the city happenings in Nazareth are geared entirely toward Christmas. Beginning on December 15, 2011 they had the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Mary's Well Square, right in the center of town. 


Following this main event,  Nazareth hosted a Christmas Market in town between December 15-18, 2011. This festive market included Christmas carolers, music, food and gifts. 



Next, a Christmas Concert hosted jointly by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the mayor of Nazareth is put on annually. 


Finally, on Christmas Eve you will find a parade taking over the streets of Nazareth with thousands of attendees, followed by fireworks and ending with Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation. Today, on Christmas Day, you will find a plethora of different mass services to attend in honor of today's date.



And so now you know, if you ever find yourself in Israel for Christmas time, there is no shortage of authentic Christmas experiences for you to take part in from perhaps the very places where Christmas allegedly once began. One last option is in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City in the Christian Quarter where Christmas is celebrated every year in the Christian Quarter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The options go on and on. After all, Israel is not only a place for Jewish people, it is also home to a handful of other religions all of which have roots of their religion right here in the small borders of Israel. Wherever you are celebrating, I wish to you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 

* The majority of pictures and images from Nazareth are courtesy of Nazareth, The Magical City's facebook page, found here (click on this link) To see more beautiful images of Nazareth, please visit the above website!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apple in Israel

No, I'm not referring to my young sister, who I've affectionately nicknamed 'Apple' ever since we were kids (even pre-Gwyneth days). I am talking about the news that has been all over Israeli newspapers this week and that the fact that Apple, the Silicon Valley technology giant built by Steve Jobs, is making its way to Israel.

View of Haifa from atop Baha'i Gardens
Apple, a US-born institution, is planning on opening up its first development center outside the United States right here in Israel. I've mentioned before how Israel is really the up-and-coming Silicon Valley of the world, and this proves my case in point. Allegedly, the new research and development home will be situated somewhere in Haifa, where many other high-tech companies have also made a home for themselves. 

Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, California
Technion Campus in Haifa, Israel
My husband, who spent the current week up in Haifa working out of the Intel office up there, was excited to learn that Apple employees were on site visiting the Intel grounds and neighboring research circles to examine a nice new home for the Apple research and development headquarters. Apple is showing interest in that location due to its proximity to the Technion, one of the world's leading institutions of technology, as well as the slew of global technology levithans who have made the area home in recent years, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Qualcomm. 

According to recent news, the new Apple center will focus on developing flash storage technologies for the company's cellular and iPad devices as well as the A5 CPUs (I have no idea what this is either, it's all computer talk to me).

I can't help but wonder how Steve Jobs would feel about this move, having recently passed away. At this point, it is not clear whether or not he was involved in this decision to move Apple outside of the US for the first time, or whether this is a brand new development post-Steve Jobs. Regardless, the people of Israel, who are mighty tech-savvy, could not be more excited.