Archive | February, 2013

Tel Aviv vs. Galilee

23 Feb

Quick!  Name a city in France.  Name one in England, in the U.S.

If you’ve chosen Paris, London and New York, you’re not alone.  Which is to say, in Israel, it’s all about Tel-Aviv.  The city here is nicknamed the “Country of Tel-Aviv,” as if to say, there are two countries in Israel: Tel-Aviv and all the rest.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Urbanization is at an extreme pace in and around Tel-Aviv.  People flock to it in numbers, for jobs, for a way of life.  The young and the restless are willing to put up with rented apartments that are small even for pigeons, put up with leaky plumbing, peeling paint, no elevator, no parking, no privacy.


The city has a buzz.  It’s where you live, work and play.   The city’s not homogeneous; it has its rich sections and poor sections.  Rothschild Blvd is the line in the sand.  To the north of it: cafes, museums, theaters.  To the south: slums.

But you’d be hard pressed to find a place to live, even in the south of Tel-Aviv.  Competition is cut-throat.  Put an online ad for an available apartment and there will be hundreds of applicants at the doorstep willing to bid up the rent.

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

Centralization has gone mad.  Years ago Israel’s main population centers stretched from what was known as “From Gadera to Hadera, ” referring to “border towns” 25 miles south and north of Tel-Aviv.  Today, it’s been reduced to about a 10 mile radius around Tel-Aviv.

Everyone’s climbing over each other’s back to get into Tel-Aviv.  Skyscrapers, 40 and 50 stories high, are going up.  Old, rundown neighborhoods are being gentrified with lots of new and old money.

Forbes Magazine in its Hebrew edition ran a survey of the 10 best cities in Israel.

Number 1?  Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem?  Not a prayer.  Not even in the top 10, somewhere around 15.  Haifa?  Dead in the harbor.Tel Aviv

All the remaining 9 are within spitting distance from Tel Aviv (Herzelia, Givataim, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Rishon Le Zion, Holon, Bat-Yam).

Forbes’ criteria was clear-cut: educational level, ratio of university graduates, centrality vs. the boondocks, access to art, green space, employment opportunities, income, longevity.

Towns and villages in Israel did not see kindly the results of the survey.  “What about the quality of life in the countryside?”

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

In 2011 my wife and I and two of my four daughters moved from Los Angeles to Israel, to Kfar Tavor, to Galilee.  Even then, in the U.S., at the mention of Galilee, more so Kfar Tavor, the common response was: “Wow, what a quality community you’re moving to!  Well done!”

Kfar Tavor evokes positive and emotional feelings far beyond its 4000 residents.  It has history.  It CREATED history, established in 1901 by European Jews who wanted to work the land.

Even here, even now, when I visit family and acquaintances in Bat-Yam ( 2 miles from Tel Aviv! ) — to them  Kfar Tavor sounds romantic, rural, green, pure,  the Old Country that was lost in 21st century Israel.

A national survey of  Israel’s “Non-Metropolitan” communities shared the sentiment: it placed Kfar Tavor near the top of the pile.

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Yet, as a resident and the owner of a nice home that overlooks the fields of Kfar Tavor, I sometimes question their judgment.  And their taste.

Yes, Kfar Tavor is nice if you enjoy going for long walks among olive groves, almond orchards, vineyards.  Kfar Tavor is nice if you want to explore great bike trails.  It’s close to streams and rivers, to the mountains of Galilee.  Around our home there are Jewish communities, kibbutzim, and Arab villages.

Kfar Tavor has celery, onion and parsley fields, olives, almonds, grapes, figs, irrigation pipes and sprinklers, a water treatment facility, a sports center, a soccer field, a swimming pool, a community center for performances, an elementary school, one library, one post-office, kindergartens, senior center, two clinics, two synagogues, a town hall, mini-market, one  butcher, one  kiosk, one gym, one pizza delivery joint, one Chinese Take-Out, one sit-down restaurant, one cafe, one winemaker and cellars, one hair salon for women (men walk bald), one clothing store for women (men walk naked), one-one-one-one, and lots of dogs doing their business wherever the hell they please.

Kfar Tavor IS  the Tel-Aviv of the rural countryside.

Absurd, but true.

Jews and Arabs come to shop here.  Kibbutzniks come to watch a play or a recital.  Junior and adult basketball teams hold their tournaments here.

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

We’re on top of the pile.

Yet I itch for the allure of the big city.  With Pnina, my wife, it’s worse.  Her itch has developed into a skin rash.  She craves the big city.

I want to see colors other than gray, the predominant color in people’s hair in Kfar Tavor.

I want to see styles of clothes that don’t resemble biblical sandals and Kibbutz overalls.

I want to see slick, fast cars, not John Deere tractors.

I want to hear languages other than Hebrew and Arabic.

I want to see summer dresses, bikinis, cleavage; I want to smell bus fumes (?), perfume, aftershave, salt air, the sea.

And I don’t want to drive two hours one-way to Tel-Aviv to get my fill of the big city.  And yet we do.  We book a hotel night once a month, go with the girls, see the city, cringe at the noise, jaywalk, drink a beer at a cafe, savor a great cup of coffee, try the many dishes, run in the sand on the beach.  And when it’s all done, we pile into the car, drive the two-hour ride through coastal highways, through vast meadows and hillsides, through Arab towns and villages until we see the dome of Mt. Tavor.

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

We got our lungs full with Tel-Aviv oxygen.  Until next month.

It’s nighttime in Kfar Tavor.

Black sky.

Millions of stars.


I sleep.

Chirp.  Chirp-Chirp.

Crickets, any one?


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at or

How good (bad) is Arab Work?

9 Feb

Put on your space suit and helmet and get into my time-travel  machine to the year 1972, to Israel.  I was a teenager then.  During the summer months I worked with my father as a bricklayer’s assistant.  Up at dawn, sleepy-eyed, I joined my father at construction sites.  I carried bucketfuls of mortar, sand, cement, rock.  I hauled hundreds of bricks.

Sweat was my middle name.

It was then that I first encountered Arab labor.  Times were different.  The Arabs from Gaza and from the West Bank did not blow up buses in Tel Aviv.  Every Sunday morning hundreds of taxis dropped off Arabs in factories, farms, and construction sites throughout Israel.  By Friday morning, their pockets full with a week’s pay, they hopped into taxis again, to Gaza, to Nablus, to Ramallah, to be with their families.

Arabs in Construction

Arabs in Construction

My father’s “crew” included 6 Arab men, ages 20 to 50.  I knew them all by name.  I worked with them side by side, on and off, for three summers.  I picked up Arabic in no time.  We broke bread together at breakfast.  I watched them kneel and pray to Allah, didn’t think much of it.  I gave little thought to how and where they slept at night.  As the apartment buildings rose from ground to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th level, they too moved their makeshift “home” — a pile of flat cardboard as their bed, pots and pans as their kitchen, Arab tea and coffee to while away the nights.

It was during those years that I first encountered the term “ARAB WORK.”  It was a derogatory remark used to characterize the Arab’s shoddy workmanship.  Arab work was deemed inferior.  At first I thought the term was a product of the 70s, to poke fun at the Arabs who had come to “take work” from the Jews.

I was wrong.

The term was coined at the turn of the twentieth century, in 1904, in Palestine, under the Turkish Empire  The “Second Aliyah,” a wave of Jews who had come to Israel from Russia, were pissed off at the “First Aliyah” Jews.  The early Zionist pioneers of the 1880s had learned by then to till the land, to plant, to  harvest.  They didn’t want to employ Russian city-slickers Jews who had just gotten off boats, who had no experience in farming.  The First Aliyah Jews naturally preferred Arabs.  The Arabs had worked the land for generations, were reliable, and came at a good price.

Arab Farmer

Arab Farmer

The “Second Aliya” Jews were outraged that their own brothers had sold them short, gave the work to Arabs.    “What about Hebrew labor?” they insisted.  It was then that “Arab Work” got its twist to mean sloppy, bad work.

Now get back into my time-travel machine and let’s return to 2013.  So is it still true today that Arab labor is considered substandard?

Old habits die hard.  “Arab work” still connotes negative associations.  That doesn’t keep Jews from employing an Arab electrician,  plumber, tile man, auto mechanic,  gardener.  It’s common to hear: “You get what you pay for.”  The Arabs do the work, but there’s something lacking.

What I hear most often in Galilee, where I live, is that Arabs lack the final touch.  They start out Gung-Ho, make claims and promises, then they fizzle and don’t deliver the goods.

There’s a bitter aftertaste.  They can’t seem to see a job to completion.

An electrician I hired to hang lamps and chandeliers in our house did a great job, technically.  There remained a few openings in the plaster.  I asked him to seal them.  That hasn’t happened.

The painter who had painted our house left streaks of paint on the walls.  It looked terrible.  When we asked he fix it, he became offended.

Yet the Arab mason who’d laid the puzzle-like tile in our house was a master craftsman.

In the past, Arab-Israelis lived and worked in their own villages, away from the spotlight and away from the criticizing eyes of the Jews.  That’s no longer the case.  Arabs have entered the general job market in large numbers.  They’re part of the mainstream in law firms, schools, colleges, hospitals.

Yet the stigma remains.

It’s something about the final touch.

I’m sure Arabs have their own opinions about Jews in Israel.

TV Sitcom characters "Arab Work"

TV Sitcom characters “Arab Work”

Arab Work might be a serious subject but it makes for great comedy.

‘Arab Work” — it’s no coincidence —  is the name of the number 1 sitcom in Israel.  The show is into its 4th season and it has won multiple awards.  It’s the Jerry Seinfeld of the Middle East.  The show’s premise centers on the main character, Amjad, an Arab-Israeli from East Jerusalem who’s a journalist for a Jewish newspaper.  Amjad, 35, wants desperately to shed his Arab identity in the hope of fitting in with the Jews.  Yet no matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake off the stereotype.  His wife Bushra has no such aspirations; she’s true to her Arab roots and wants to pull her husband back into the fold.  The newspaper’s photographer, Meir, a Jew and a friend of Amjad, falls in love with Bushra’s friend, Amal, a very attractive Arab woman.  It turns out that the Jews fall short too; they too mess up; they too do substandard work.  Dare I say “Jewish Work?”

There’s enough material for the next ten years.


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at or