The Shmooze

'Voice' Israel Contestant Comes Out as Transgender

By Yanir Dekel

Tom Atias, whose audition was aired Saturday in the Israeli version of the reality music competition “The Voice,” has caught the media’s attention.

The 18-year-old boy from Jerusalem’s rendition of Aviv Geffen’s “Ulay” (‘Maybe’) had the three judges fighting to be his mentor. But what Tom didn’t say during the audition is that he was born a girl.

Tom’s full life story is set to be published this weekend in Yedioth Ahronot. A teaser excerpt released by the newspaper reveals that as a young child, Tom hated his female body. At 14 his friends, parents and teachers started to refer to him as a boy, at his request. When he reached the point that he had to get an ID card, he changed his name to Tom (and now refuses to reveal his birth name). Nine months ago, when he turned 16, Tom was officially allowed to start getting hormones and started the physical transition to become a man.

During Saturday’s audition, Tom didn’t expose his past as a girl. Three out of four mentors of the Israeli show offered to mentor him, including Aviv Geffen, who wrote and performed the song originally. Not seeing Tom’s face, singer Sarit Hadad said, “this voice is so unique, I never head a voice like this before.” To come full circle, Tom has finally chosen Aviv as his mentor.

“The most dramatic change [since I started taking hormones] was in my voice,” Tom told Yedioth. “It changed and become lower. A year ago, when they called me from the producers of the show, saying that someone recommended me for an audition, I was in a debate whether or not to go to the audition when my voice was about to change. I’m sure that if they air parts from the first selections, the difference will be noticed.”

Watch Tom Atias’ audition video below:

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Justin Timberlake Prays at Western Wall

By JTA

Justin Timberlake landed in Israel and went straight to the Western Wall a day before his scheduled Tel Aviv concert.

Timberlake avoided most of the paparazzi, landing at 3 a.m. on Tuesday and heading straight to the wall with his wife, actress Jessica Biel, and his parents. He posted a photo of himself at the site on Instagram.

“The Holy Land… What an experience. I will never forget this day. #Israel,” he tweeted.

Timberlake is scheduled to perform Wednesday night at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park as part of his 20/20 Experience World Tour.

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(Snow)Woman of the Wall

By Michael Kaplan

Facebook

Jerusalem’s children get to play in snow only about once every 7 years. But when they do get that chance — as they did this past weekend as the country fell under a sheet of white ice — they take to it like pros.

Facebook and Twitter lit up with photos uploaded from millennials from across the Middle East of the historic snowstorm. And the flurry of excitement also opened way for the divided city’s Arabs and Jews, as well as religiously zealous and secularists alike, to come together for some winter fun.

Political and social groups wanted in on the excitement, too.

Women of the Wall, a feminist group that has been pushing for expanded freedoms for Jewish women to pray at the Western Wall, found their own special way to capitalize upon the moment.

On December 11, their Facebook status put out a call:

“It might snow in Jerusalem! Who is volunteering to go build Snow Woman of the Wall #2?! Remember?!?!”

And sure enough, within a day, the call had been heeded. A snow woman — sporting a pink babushka, a tallit, cucumber-eyes, and a carrot-nose — welcomed visitors at the gender-neutral entrance to the wall.

The group, controversial in a city where gender boundaries are stark and defined, told the Jerusalem Post that the tallit-wearing snow woman was shaped only in jest, and was not meant as a provocative political statement.

Backing their statement, the pictures online of prayer-goers posing with the icy lady confirm what many of us already knew: it’s pretty hard to get riled up over a snow woman.

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Amare Stoudemire Goes Shopping in Jerusalem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

renee ghert-zand

Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall was teeming at dusk on Sunday with people out enjoying the cool summer evening. Surprisingly, not many of them seemed to notice an extremely tall celebrity among them. It was New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire doing some souvenir shopping with his wife, Alexis, and some of their kids.

Stoudemire is in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, which opened July 18. As assistant coach for the Canadian basketball team, he is based in Jerusalem, where the various basketball venues are located. This coaching gig has afforded Stoudemire the chance to return to Israel following his first visit to the Holy Land in 2010. That trip was sparked by his interest in learning about and connecting to his Jewish heritage on his mother’s side.

Last Thursday, prior to the Maccabiah Games opening ceremony, Israel’s President Shimon Peres invited Stoudemire to play for Israel’s national basketball team. The meeting also served as a photo op to show off the comical height difference between the 90-year-old Peres and the 6’11” Knicks player. In June, Stoudemire expressed interest not in playing for Israel, but rather in buying a stake in the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team.

On Ben Yehuda Street, Stoudemire, wearing his bright red Canadian team shirt and large knit kippah, entered a Judaica gift shop with his family. This reporter went up to him and asked him if he’d care to comment on the shopping in Jerusalem. Stoudemire politely declined to answer by saying, “No interviews now.”

It appeared that the Knicks player did not purchase anything at that particular shop, but the large shofars (rams’ horns) on display seem to have caught his eye. Before leaving the store, he picked one up and tried to blow it, but no sound came out. It looks like he’ll need some practice—and not only on the court as he recovers from the knee injury that caused him to miss much of the 2012-‘13 NBA season.

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Bono: 'Hope Springs Eternal'

By Haaretz

getty images
Bono

U2 front man Bono surprised Israeli passers-by earlier this month with his sudden visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, BuzzFeed published the note Bono left behind at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which consists of a poem about how “hope is like a faithful dog,” and his sketch of “a dog called Hope.”

“In Jerusalem, hope springs eternal,” the poem read.

“Hope is like a faithful dog, sometimes she runs ahead of me to check the future, to sniff it out and then I call to her: Hope, Hope, come here, and she comes to me. I pet her, she eats out of my hand and sometimes she stays behind, near some other hope maybe to sniff out whatever was. Then I call her my Despair. I call out to her. Here, my little Despair, come here and she comes and snuggles up, and again I call her Hope.”

He signed, “With great thanks for great room in great hotel in great city, Bono.”

For more, go to Haaretz.com

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Natalie Shows Off Aleph to Israeli Relatives

By Renee Ghert-Zand

She may be an Academy Award-winning actress and many men’s dream Jewish woman. But she is also a new mother, and like all new moms, Natalie Portman, wants to show off her baby to friends and family.

That is just what Portman did last week on a trip to Israel. Ynet reports that the actress made an under-the-radar trip to the Holy Land with fiancé ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied and six-month-old son Aleph to visit with friends and family. The 30-year-old Portman, whose birth name is Natalie Hershlag, was born in Jerusalem and has many relatives living in Israel.

Portman, Millepied and little Aleph stayed at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel (where Portman checked in under an assumed name) and visited (accompanied by two body guards) tourist sites such as the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, and the Dead Sea. Portman was also spotted sitting in cafes greeting friends and relatives, as well as graciously posing for photographs with fans who had recognized her.

The family departed Israel Monday, but knowing Portman’s strong attachment to Israel, it can be assumed that they will be back again with little Aleph soon.

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‘Kosher’ Clothing Crackdown in Jerusalem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

In another sign that the Holy City is also the holier-than-thou one, Jerusalem’s chief rabbinate is going to begin a kashrut certification program for clothing stores.

According to the Srugim website (the portal for Israeli news from the national religious perspective — not for the popular Israeli television series of the same name), this has nothing to do with people eating while clothes shopping. Rather, it is a way to allow consumers to rest assured that they are not buying items containing shatnez (the biblically forbidden mixture of wool and linen).

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Jerusalem Judge to Jews: Don't Spit On Christians

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wikimedia Commons

Some Christian clergymen in the Old City of Jerusalem have taken matters into their own hands after being spat at by Haredi Jews, and they are finding sympathy among Israeli judges.

Last week the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court threw out an indictment against an Armenian seminarian who punched an ultra-Orthodox man who spit on him. Siding with the spitting victim rather than the punching one, Judge Dov Pollock wrote in his verdict that “putting the defendant on trial for a single blow at a man who spat at his face, after suffering the degradation of being spat on for years while walking around in his church robes is a fundamental contravention of the principles of justice and decency.” The judge also emphasized that the spitting, in the first place, was a criminal offense.

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Making a Case for the ‘Sabbath Elevator’

By Nathan Jeffay

iStockphoto

Secular-religious tensions in Israel have reached new heights — literally.

After three years of controversy among residents, homeowners at 14 Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood have voted to use the building’s elevator every Sabbath as a “Shabbat elevator.” In a nod to the religious prohibition against pressing buttons on the Sabbath, the elevator will be programmed to stop automatically at each floor. This means no more walking up the stairs for religious residents who were previously unable to use the elevator on the Sabbath, but also longer lift journeys for secular residents.

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Glenn Beck Gears Up For Big Jerusalem Show

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Glenn Beck’s back in Israel this week, in a trip that will conclude tomorrow with a program held at Jerusalem’s Davidson Center, not far from the Western Wall. This is the second visit by Beck since the end of his inflammatory run as a host at Fox News, and the first since July, when he was warmly greeted by right-wing members of the Knesset.

Struggling for relevancy in the U.S. since the end of his Fox News show in June, Beck hasn’t drawn significant attention from regular Israelis — despite effusive expressions of support for the country, and his decision to weigh in last week on ongoing social protests across the country. (Ready as usual to employ polarizing, highly questionable language, he compared the mostly middle-class demonstrators to communists.)

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After Delay, Jerusalem's New Light Rail System Opens With Many Kinks

By Renee Ghert-Zand

For those of you who drive in Jerusalem, you know that pedestrians just stepping out into the street without looking can be a big problem. Well now it could end up being an even bigger problem as the city’s new light rail system finally starts running today, after years of delay.

The system, which is opening years behind schedule, still has many kinks to work out. They include air conditioning issues, electrical and communications glitches and the operation of the ticketing system — the latter leading to the declaration that passengers will ride free for the first two weeks.

Another problem not completely solved is

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Underground Speed Dating for Tu B’Av

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Léon Bazille Perrault's "Cupid's Arrows," via Wikimedia Commons

There was romance in the air in — or, rather, below — Jerusalem earlier this week on Tu B’Av, often referred to as the Israeli Valentine’s Day. Youth for Jerusalem, an organization encouraging young, secular Israelis to stay in or move to Jerusalem, hosted a speed dating event last Sunday evening in Zedekiah’s Cave, an ancient quarry site underneath the Old City.

Many of the 60 or so attendees were game to meet successive dates for only a few minutes each, in the hope that the timeless atmosphere would lend them luck for this very contemporary mating ritual.

Famous early dwellers of the city, like King David and King Solomon for instance, were not lacking for (multiple) wives (or concubines), so shouldn’t a young Israeli today be able to find at least one soul mate in the same location?

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Young Israelis Camp Out for Housing Reform

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Israelis traditionally fill their city squares during warm summer nights. This week, young Israelis in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities are doing just that — but they’re not going home at the end of the night.

Israel’s “cottage cheese revolution,” having spurred a number of economic protests, has now led to a young people’s revolt against the high cost of housing. The National Students Union has joined with other young citizens’ groups and individuals in a mass camp-out demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard begun by a young woman named Daphni Leef.

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Four-Legged Chicken: Kosher or Not?

By Nathan Burstein

Wikimedia

Turkey? Kosher. Pig? Not kosher. Four-legged chicken? We’ll get back to you.

That’s the discussion currently under way at a Jerusalem butchery, where experts in kashrut are gathering to decide the fate of a four-legged bird slated to make a nice schnitzel or roast. The chicken, raised in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, may avoid a bloody end because of its extra appendages, with rabbis deciding its destiny based on the structure of its legs.

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Shakira To Speak at Israeli Presidential Conference

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Pop star Shakira is on her way to Jerusalem — not to perform, but to speak about childhood education at a summit organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The “Hips Don’t Lie” singer will participate in the Israeli Presidential Conference this month with an eclectic set of guests, who range from Dr. Ruth and Sarah Silverman to Nobel Prize winners Israel Aumann and Eric Maskin.

A goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, the Colombian singer has family ties to the region: she was born Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, and comes partly from Lebanese Christian roots. She has regularly incorporated Middle Eastern sounds and even a bit of Arabic into her performances, and she knows a thing or two about belly dancing. Shakira has made childhood education a focus of her charity, the Barefoot Foundation.

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In Jerusalem, Proposed Bill Would Replace Arabic Place Names With Hebrew

By Nathan Jeffay

No doubt you’ve heard about the ongoing protests in Sheikh Jarrah and the famous hummus of Abu Gosh. Soon, mentioning these place names on Israeli state television and radio could become illegal.

The right-wing firebrand Tzipi Hotovely, the youngest lawmaker in Knesset, has initiated a bill that would rename these Jerusalem districts with Hebrew appellations. In areas for which a Hebrew name already exists, this would be used instead.

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House Prices Soar in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

Remember when American Jews viewed an apartment in Jerusalem as a cheap investment? New figures underscore just how much times have changed. While the property market in America is still sluggish, Israel had the third-fastest-growing prices in the world last year, Global Property Guide reports.

Israeli house pricess rose on average by 16.23% last year, or if you take inflation in to account, 13.43%. Either way, Israel comes in after Latvia, where the previously-fragile market made an unbelievable recovery, and Singapore.

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Why the Cool Reception in Israel for the Chilean Miners?

By Roy Arad

Crossposted from Haaretz

After surviving 69 harrowing days in the belly of the earth, the Chilean miners who arrived this week in Israel as guests of the Tourism Ministry thought they’d already been through the worst of it. But they were welcomed here with harsh comments posted online: “We are tired of you” and “What a waste of our money,” among others. The press was critical of their being housed in a high-end hotel.

Israeli cynicism has reached such levels that even extraordinary people such as the miners have no effect on them anymore.

Read more at Haaretz.com

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Jerusalem Family Welcomes 18th Child

By Nathan Burstein

Talk about being fruitful and multiplying!

A Jerusalem family has just greeted its 18th child, the Jewish Chronicle reported today. The arrival of the Hasidic baby boy brings the family total to nine sons and nine daughters, and should provide yet one more reason for the clan’s two washing machines to continue working “non-stop.”

The London-based Chronicle didn’t identify the family, other than to give the first name and age of the mother, 44-year-old Rivka. Rivka described her household as loud and messy, but said her husband helps out by making sandwiches for the children each morning - a task that takes nearly an hour. (Making sandwiches strikes The Shmooze as the least he could do, but then, The Shmooze has never attempted to raise 18 kids.)

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Putting Israel's UFO Frenzy Into Historical Perspective

By Nathan Burstein

What was that bright white light that descended on Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock early last Friday? An alien spaceship? Proof of a “regional galactic governance council”? An Israeli drone?

The Internet is still abuzz with speculation about the mysterious object, which separate video clips captured as it traveled downward toward the Dome of the Rock, paused, then rapidly shot back into the sky before dawn. Hundreds of thousands have viewed the images on YouTube (see below) and elsewhere, offering theories about the light that range from the skeptical to the extraterrestrial.

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