Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EPOS International Art Film Festival

There's nothing I love more than a great film festival. I was aware of the big film festival events during the summer months that take place in Jerusalem (I must have seen about 10 films, I kid you not) and then also up in Haifa. There is something so exciting about the gathering of movie producers, major executives and big movie buffs who join together for movie viewings, fascinating lectures and artistic stimulation galore.

What I didn't know was that Tel Aviv also partook in the action. And you will be happy to hear that your wait won't be long. The EPOS International Art Film Festival begins tomorrow February 1, 2012 in Tel Aviv and lasts just a few days through February 4, 2012. 

This film festival specifically focuses on the interrelation being cinema and the arts, hosting films and lectures in categories such as literature and poetry, visual arts, dance, theater, art cinema and a special Tribute to Majewski, just to name a few.

Although I have not heard any news about which films look like the best ones to see (feel free to provide your input), I was immediately intrigued by the film Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. There's just something I love about those classic Bollywood films, perhaps stemming from an amazing seminar course that I took in college on the history of film. Think Slumdog Millionaire or any other Indian inspired film for that matter. I guess there's a reason Jhumpa Lahiri is my favorite author, a classic Indian writer who writes psychologically charged books based out of the Indian culture. You will find a full list for yourself to see at the film festival's website, see here.

I was also intrigued by the film entitled Book Smugglers which looks into how Lithuania's national language survived and was preserved after being banned and outlawed by Tsar Alexander II in 1863. For someone like me whose study of language has centered around Latin and Hebrew, two language which were both completely extinct at one time in history, a have a keen fascination for this topic.


There are many, may more films from which to choose, about 50 in all; and also lectures on top of that. Because the films will be from producers all over the world, you can expect most of the films to have English subtitles. So that is appealing for foreign visitors. If film festival's are your thing, you've got to go check this out while in town. Time is limited but you've still got a jump start! As a final incentive, the festival's website says that each of Israel's major cities will be airing the films in their local theaters and Cinematheques during the course of the film festival, so be sure to check out your local listings.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

I've made it a point over the last year to showcase the fact that portions of Jerusalem are beginning to turn into a modern, trendy city that leave you never knowing you're in the Middle East. A large part of this transformation is the accumulation of fine hotels dotting the city's landscape, including the Kind David Hotel, The David Citadel Hotel and the Mamilla Hotel, all withing walking distance of the Old City. Since I moved here, I have seen construction make its slow progress on the latest addition to the Jerusalem hotel scene with the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.

Located just across the street from The David Citadel Hotel (which I would argue is Jerusalem's finest hotel at the moment) and the trendy Mamilla Mall, the Waldorf Astoria is getting closer and closer to completion day by day. Every time I pass by the construction area by foot or on the bus, I am amazed to see how the work has progressed. The hotel's facade is now up and you can really see the hotel taking shape. 

Included in this post are artist's images (from the hotel's future website) of what the completed Waldorf Astoria will look like by the time of its opening. Judging on what I've seen in person, it looks like 2012 might just be the year for the Waldorf Astoria project to come to completion. It's been a project years in the making, having taken over the former Palace Hotel in Jerusalem on Agron Street several years ago.


It's going to be a beauty! Will you be one of the first ones to stay at the completed Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem? Perhaps if you're a Hilton Honors guest, you will be. Your hotel points will work here. I can't wait to see when the project will be completed in full - each and every day I continue to be surprised and amazed at the progress. I have a feeling that sooner rather than later, the finished hotel will be opening its highly anticipated doors here in Jerusalem.

Friday, January 27, 2012

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The topic is terribly depressing, I know. But it's also one that cannot be ignored. Today, January 27, is known officially as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day of remembrance was designated into history in 2005 by the UN General Assembly due to the fact that this date falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

Thus, on this annual day of commemoration, every member state of the UN has an obligation to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides. I won't torment you with pictures and images of the suffering and the terror that ensued; I'm sure you've all seen enough of those images to last a lifetime. Each and every one has been imprinted into my memory.

To education yourself, you can read Elie Wiesel's heart-wrenching novel Night, or I'm sure you've already read Anne Frank's classic The Diary of a Young Girl. Also particularly moving and one of my favorite reads from graduate school was Viktor Frankl's existential masterpiece which reflects greatly on his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and how he found the psychological will to live in what I believe is his greatest work, Man's Search for Meaning. 

There are various Holocaust museums throughout the world that are certainly worth a visit and there are many more than you might think. Click on this link for a worldwide directory of Holocaust museums. You will be surprised to find over 50 museums around the world, and likely one not too far from your neighborhood. Of course, the most famous include Washington D.C.'s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Jerusalem's Yad Vashem, which is perhaps the most touching of them all. 


And you really don't even need to go to a museum to capture the meaning of this day. So long as the victims are remembered and so long as the history is passed down to future generations, then you have done your part in preserving the memory of the 6 million generations of people who will never be. Who knows how many Mozarts and Bachs were lost, how many doctors with possible cures there could have been, and how many mothers to future generations of children never came to be. I think that's what gets me most of all, is imagining the sheer number of people - which would amount to 32 million today (instead of the current 13 million) - that would never come into existence. 


I personally appreciate seeing personalized and specific examples of the more hopeful cases of the Holocaust and one such example is the film Nicky's Family, which I viewed last summer here at the Jerusalem Film Festival and which recently won Best Documentary Film at the Montreal Film Festival as well as the Audience Choice Award at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. I'm not quite sure how you can get a copy of the film presently, but you can see a trailer on the film's website, click here. This is one of the best films I have ever seen, and though you will find yourself weeping throughout the film, it's also lined with the kind of inspiration and hope that makes you look eagerly towards the future.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Know You Live in Israel When....

....you receive a notice in the mail that it's time to pick up your gas mask at your local distribution center or post office. Yes, you read that correctly. The threat of biological warfare in this part of the world became a pressing reality in recent weeks due to the slew of headlines highlighting Syria's possession of biological and chemical weapons, which if were to get into the wrong hands could pose a serious threat to Israel and its people.

Before you get completely freaked out by the notion that we must collect gas masks here, think to yourself just for a second that every single place on Earth has some sort of concern to deal with. Earthquakes in southern California, blizzards and ice storms back east, tornadoes in the midwest, hurricanes in the southeast and the threat of terrorist attacks in major cities throughout the world. In Israel, the possibility of a biological war is a threat that they have had to deal with and thus, the preparation of gas masks is a natural response which will - fingers crossed - never need to be used. It's a safety net, just like someone's earthquake or tornado kit. 

Something else every house has here is a bomb shelter. And yes, our house has one too. There is always one bedroom, by law, that is impermeable to a bomb's blast and has a special metal closing that shuts tightly over a deeply set window so as to truly enclose you inside. Scary, yes; but, it's all a part of living here in Israel. Just know, though, that for the most part, we don't have to use these things. Sure, we have occasional practice drills for a hypothetical bomb, but don't they do the very same drills for earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes in other parts of the world? Yes, they do. 


Most people get freaked out by the notion of bomb shelters and gas masks, but it's more of a precaution than a reality that locals need to face. Thus, the main purpose of this post is for local Israelis who I would encourage to run out get their gas masks because I've read there's a limited supply and that nearly 45% of Israelis will be without their supply. First come, first served. Be safe out there!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Perfect Time to Visit Eilat

To me, Israel is really a place to visit in the summer. It is a desert, after all. These cold, rainy winter days (which yes, I know, are nothing when compared to the bitter winters in let's say New York or Russia) leave you wanting to stay indoors all day and hibernate until the summer sun makes its first appearance. In the meantime, there's still one place to go in Israel where you will be assured to find beautiful skies and perfect temperatures. It's all the way in the south, a 5 hour drive from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv straight through the Negev desert. Your long journey through the barren Israeli desert will leave you here in beautiful Eilat at Israel's southernmost tip:

A water lover's paradise, in Eilat you will find long stretches of beach, coral reefs galore and abundant sun to keep you warm. Eilat is sort of like Israel's "Palm Springs", a desert oasis lined with hotels where the people of Israel come for a quick, relaxing getaway. Because nowhere in Europe is warm enough for a proper visit at the moment and because the Mexican Riviera is thousands of miles away, Eilat is the closest you will come at this time of year to a much needed sunny soiree:

No matter where you're staying on the Gulf of Eilat, you'll be sure to find a nearby stretch of beach close to your hotel. Even I haven't seen all the beaches there are to see in Eilat, having been once as a kid, once with Birthright Israel and twice on quick overnights in the past few years before visiting nearby Petra in Jordan. 

Water lovers, aren't you enticed to take a dip inside the warm Red Sea waters when you look at these images below? Experienced divers almost always have this spot on their wish list of places in the world where they would like to dive. Colorful fish, dolphins and plentiful coral will dot your underwater experience.



And I have to say, there's not much that's better than lounging by the pool on a warm, breezy day, taking in the sun and ordering some poolside food. Your options for hotels are limitless and you will find great deals this time of year.

Maybe opt for a hot stone massage while on vacation? I know I would love to. I can tell you that I've seen some great deals for couples massages on the Facebook page of Eilat Today. Something to check out and add to your list if you're planning a visit down there anytime soon.

As we make our way through the chilly days of winter, knowing that there is a sunny paradise just 5 hours south is a comforting thought. I might just have to add a revisit to Eilat to my list of things to do in the near future.

An insider's tip: nearby Aqaba, which is just across the border into Jordan just so happens to be a hip, trendy city that is on its way to becoming a resort paradise of its own. Loads of 5 star hotels are in the process of being built along what will be a beautiful beach promenade. Perfectly safe and incredibly hospitable, it's another option to add to your list of things to do and see while on a visit to Eilat. Here's a little glimpse at the type of luxury you might find:

* Aqaba images courtesy of Kempinski Hotel Aqaba and Moevenpick Tala Bay Spa Aqaba