Tu Bishavt Is Here!

All around Israel people are celebrating the "New Year of the Trees." Akko is no exception.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a community event in one of the growing groups of Akko. Yeshivat Hesder Akko, Ruach Zfonit. The members of the Yeshiva and their families created a community Seder to celebrate together with music, food and the get-acquainted activities that make an event memorable. For example we learned one couple was quite accident prone dring their courtship, and that another's first night in Akko was greeted by a midnight fire that allowed them to meet their neighbors while standing in pajamas outside their new home.

Small children of the families had a great time running amuck and coloring pictures of flowering trees.

Kol HaKavod to the Yeshiva for creating an enjoyable evening to get to know the community of Akko.

Here's a tutorial on a Seder for Tu Bishvat.

Green Living is Easy (if you're already poor)

I recently stumbled across a blog that expounds the joys of Green Living by living bellow the poverty line. This is what caught my attention. Not that sustainable living is possible on a pioneer-fashioned lifestyle. Rather, that by plunging yourself (and Family) below the poverty line you can still surprisingly survive.

This is based on assumptions; you live in a city, can leave your home for several acres off in the country-side, til the soil, bake your bread, brave the weather, join a co-op that wants your homegrown products, and eek out a nature-based living without the cellphones, WiFi, Wii's and whatnot.

It really does sound euphoric. I don't deny that, but what about people who live below the poverty line, and not for novelty's sake?

Let's try quick comparison, although I am not an economist, I like to think of myself as savvy. The Israeli minimum wage is about $4.80. The Federal rate in the USA, $7.25.

Suffice it to say, Israel's poverty line is significantly lower, thusly the average family income is lower, incomes tend to be lower within larger families.

What does this all mean? People that exist closer to the poverty line tend to know "Green Trends" far before a cultural icon has time to publish a book about it.

When there are less resources available, you truly exemplify two of the three ecological R's a younger generation learned about in grade school.



I'm going to look for some good examples around here.

Computers for All

Much like the acclaimed "One Laptop Per Child" program that seeks to lessen the gap between technologically advanced nation's youth with those in developing nations, Akko too has been hard at work leveling the technological playing field.

In it's fourth year, Akko's City Hall and Department of Education intend to distribute 300 computers to children in need. See Akkonet's story.

The only problem as I see it, Israel is one of the most advanced nations in the world as far as computer related innovation, technology and general development in these fields. More scientific patents are filed in Israel than any other nation per capita. Hi-Tech start-ups are kind of "our thing."

So why are there school children crowding around computers, and sharing time just to type up reports or utilize online resources to advance in schools?

Simple facts: Akko is overall a poor city. The residents are overall poor. Unemployment is high. The average age of residents is high. All of these things together add up to kids who need every possible advantage to be successful against the rest of the nation's youth.

A Computer for Every Child in Akko seems like the best way to help Akko's youths stay ahead in a rapidly dichotomizing society.

Who Discovered Glass Anyway?

I was in the Old City's Shuk some time ago and happened upon something small, blue and beautiful. The label read Phoenician Glassworks and I quickly marked in my mind that this was some sort of tourist trap item piggybacking on the success of other seaside Mediterranean hubs of culture.

I was a little surprised that with a bit of research I turned up the following. Yes, Akko was a Phoenician city of some significance (this I knew already). This is true partially because Akko held the secret to Phoenicia's glassmaking trade.

The folktale version of the Phoenician discovery of glass goes something like this by Pliny the Elder…

…Phoenician Sailors brought natrum, a subcarbonate of soda to the area of Acre (Akko). Seeking shore leave from their journey, the sailors found dry land to cook themselves supper. Finding no stones to set their pots on for cooking, these seafaring men brought out a bit of their ship's stock of natrum. Heated by the fire and mixing with the beaches sand created glass streams.

As Phoenicia.org suggests "There is nothing impossible or even very improbable in this story."

So not only was Akko a hub of Phoenician glassmaking, but perhaps the home to the Phoenician discovery of glass manipulation.


Israel can be surprising in the way that even old decrepit housing complexes from the peripheries produce beautiful life.

Shop for Meaning

11:02 by SarainAkko 0 comments

We came across a fantastic fair-trade shop within the Old City the other day. Aside from functioning as an occupational training center for adults with special needs there are some pretty neat things like artwork and wares by other fair-trade practicing craftsmen and artists with a variety of disabilities or impairments . Unlike other rehabilitation centers that are just "simulating" work experiences "Shop for Meaning" teaches the participants to manage the store with help and guidance where needed.(I'll link the store when their site goes up fully)

The idea of dignified work for all and assisting people to provide for themselves reminded me of Yad LaKashish or Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem that now employs 300 elderly poor and mostly immigrants in supporting themselves with dignity well into their old age. The thing that I have always loved about visiting the workshops of Lifeline is that they find a use, a purpose, for every member of the organization even as age advances, motor skills diminish, disability overcomes youth and vigor… these people arrive every morning happy to be of use when they would otherwise be overlooked and marginalized by society.

In a country that is well known for its lack of tact, being chronically un-PC, I get really excited to see Israelis working together in innovative ways with a savvy business slant that allows me to take home a small piece of the meaning from the gift shop at the end of the tour.

There should always be a gift shop at the end of the tour!

Saving the Stones

10:28 by SarainAkko 0 comments
Living in a city with several thousand years of history it is easy to see the impact of a modern city living within ancient spaces. Right now the Old City is under constant construction. Building cranes and hard hats abound. It can be a bit difficult to navigate the streets with normal excavations uncovering Templar tunnels every time the city repaves roads anywhere in town but progress is good, or is it?

UNESCO threatened to remove World Heritage Site classification for Akko if the development became distracting or destructive to the nature of the city (Ynet article), but it would seem plans have been scaled back to an amicable compromise between all parties.

Israel's Antiquities Authority can be seen all over the city digging up, cataloging, photographic, and recovering with dirt until the next excavation but apparently they are receiving help from students from Israel and abroad. Save the Stones is a program that takes aspiring amateur archeologists to unearth and care for the treasures of the ancient city buried by centuries of semi-urban sprawl and the decay of time, sea water, and society on the time weathered constructions.

This is what road constrction looks like when yur city is built on a Crusader's fortress.

Old City Arabs Racist?

10:18 by SarainAkko 0 comments
AkkoNet reports that of the 6,000 Arab residents of the Old City an overwhelming 40% survive on social security benefits from the State. Wouldn't it seem reasonable to take vacant properties within the Old City to sell to investors that want to refurbish these eyesores and bring a bit of money to the area? We're not talking gentrification but conservation of an ancient city, decaying with neglect.

No, say Arab residents of the Old City. Well, not if they're Jewish at least.

Arab residents claim that the sale of properties to investors is "Judaization." Residents claim a vast conspiracy of Jewish settlers coming into Akko. I won't debate the ridiculousness of the claim that Akko is somehow not a part of the State of Israel which grants all residents the right to live and grow where they choose or that the ethnic makeup of certain residents precludes the existence of residence of other ethnicities but I will say this; a mixed city with a split population has no room for racist housing policies. Dictating that Jews or Arabs may not live in one area or another because of the surrounding population of the city is ludicrous.

Here's the Hebrew from Haaretz.