1. Be a friend and be a muse: Israeli president Shimon Peres inspired a lot of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him in June, offering a momentary thaw in American-Israel relations in an election year when the vibes between Obama and Bibi were colder than usual. And back home Peres became the latest muse of Israeli DJ Noy Alooshe, known for his music videos starring unlikely suspects like Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Netanyahu. For Peres, Alooshe sampled a speech in which the peace-loving president invited citizens of the world to "be my friend". The techno remix went viral, turning the unassuming Peres into something of a late-blooming pop star and reminding all of us to try just a bit harder to extend the olive branch.
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2. Pick a sideor pick both sides or pick every side: Twittering beauties Bar Refaeli and Kim Kardashian were excoriated this year when they tried to express solidarity with victims of the developing Operation Pillar of Defense, the clash between Israel and Gaza. Refaeli made enemies at home for wishing for the safety of civilians “on both sides” and Kardashian came under fire for writing that she was “Praying for everyone in Israel” and, shortly thereafter, when the outrage started rolling in, “Praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world.” In her apology, to make sure she left no one out, Kardashian wrote: “I also pray for all the other people around the world who are caught in similar crossfires."
3. Keep it real, because divine lightning doesn’t strike twice: When Rama Burstein’s Haredi-themed “Fill the Void” swept this year’s Ophir Awards as Israel’s most honored picture of the year, it seemed a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination. But it didn’t even make the shortlist. Maybe Academy voters had their fill of religious school in last year’s nominated “Footnote,” a story of multi-generational Talmud scholars. This year they evidently opted to take the veil off the Holy Land, sending two revealing films critical of government policies into the short-list for Best Documentary: “5 Broken Cameras” about non-violent resistance in the West Bank, and “The Gatekeepers,” featuring six former agents of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency). While one would never accuse the Academy of dabbling in politics, the recognized films seemed to fit in the wake of international condemnation of the post-Gaza war settlement building frenzy.
4. Illustrate your point: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed us that red is in for fall and pictures are worth a thousand headlines when he introduced his minimalist rendition of an Iranian bomb to the UN in September. Marking a thick, red line across the top of the cartoonish drawing to indicate the point of no return for the Iranian nuclear program, "King Bibi," as Time Magazine crowned him in May, confirmed that he is, in fact, the most melodramatic world leader around. Let’s hand it to him: the guy knows how to drive home his point.
5. Let your inner diva out: It was a big gay year for Israel, starting when Tel Aviv was crowned the Best Gay City in the world by an American Airlines survey in January and ending with the country being designated the cover model for Out Magazine’s annual travel issue. In between, the IDF discovered its untapped pride when it posted a photo of two male soldiers holding hands during the annual Pride festivities (and earned a fair dose of criticism when it turned out the alleged lovers were actually straight stand-ins), and the civil courts celebrated gay marriage by, ironically, granting its first gay divorce. Meanwhile, ten years after the breakthrough film “Yossi & Jagger” helped make gay mainstream in Israel, the sequel, “Yossi’s Story” hit theaters and one of the biggest new TV dramas of the year is “Mom and Dads,” a look at a gay couple and a single straight woman who decide to have, and raise, a kid together. We’re choking on glitter.
6. Don’t let the stitching show: What do you remember about Tel Aviv Fashion Week in 2012? That there were two. Why were their two? Because the organizers of last year’s Fashion Week, the first in Tel Aviv in 20 years, couldn’t get along. The split fashion weeks were held a month apart, on either end of Operation Pillar of Defense, each presenting a roster of designers as if Tel Aviv was in fact two different cities. Resources, energy, publicity and the patience of fashionistas were divvied up by the competing spectacles. Sure, there were double the fetes but the drama came close to overshadowing the clothes. Lesson learned: Catfights on catwalks only hurt the collective cause. Let’s hope they can patch things up and put forth a unified show next year.
7. If at first you don’t succeed, embrace the Diaspora: It was a poor showing for Israeli athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Our best medal hopes came up short, including Arik Ze'evi in judo and Lee Korzits in windsurfing. So Israelis took solace in the success of the extended family. Despite often demonstrating indifference to those Jews who live in the Diaspora, Israeli media celebrated the accomplishments of Australia's Jessica Fox, who took silver in kayaking, America's Aly Raisman, the golden gymnast who proudly danced her floor routine to Hava Nagila, and Israeli coach David Blatt who earned a bronze with the Russian men's basketball team but, hey, he's still Israeli so it counts. When convenient, we're all one big family.
8. If you're going to tell the same story, find a new audience: Most Israelis have experienced the army’s numbing mix of the surreal and the mundane firsthand. Shani Boianjiu just had the stroke of genius to describe it in English to a foreign audience. The 25-year-old Israeli’s debut novel “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,” in which three female friends fulfill their military service at checkpoints, made a splash this year when it was snapped up by a major American publishing house and sold for translation in 22 languages, with a chapter thrown into The New Yorker for good measure. Israeli critics think the familiar tale won’t appeal here but abroad, it was received as a fresh and provocative angle on an always-relevant news story.
9. Brush up on your English: At this year’s Emmy Awards, the hit TV-drama Homeland scored some of the top trophies of the night. Up there on stage was Gideon Raff, who migrated the story from his hit Israeli drama “Hatufim” (known in English as “Prisoners of War”), which is now in its second season. The successful Americanization, which follows in the footsteps of “In Treatment” a few years ago and the less-successful “Traffic Light” (after Israel’s “Ramzor”) is sure to fan the flames of Hollywood fever for Israeli writers who recognize that the real money comes in dollars. Will Israeli TV increasingly be geared toward international tastes and developed for its prospects for acquisition, a la Israeli start-ups? 2013 will tell if this is a singular sensation or a trend.
10. Dance your defense The Batsheva Dance Company is Israel's premiere contemporary dance troupe and has a pretty hectic itinerary of worldwide tours. But increasingly, they’re welcomed with organized boycotts and loud protests both in and out of the theater. During the Edinburgh Festival in September, performances were regularly interrupted. The company receives about a third of its budget from the government and it's this money trail that's spurring the protestors. Choreographer Ohad Naharin has repeatedly stated his opposition to the government and sympathy for the Palestinian cause, insisting on being both proudly Israeli and independent of Israeli policy. Meanwhile, without saying a word, the company's corps of ferocious dancers continued to dance gracefully through it all.
11. and find your own voice: Speaking of Batsheva, longtime dancer Sharon Eyal has been creating work for the company for years now in her signature blend of crazy/sexy/cool. At the end of this year, she broke away to form her own company with partner Gui Behar, grabbing a number of Batsheva dancers on her way out. It's always scary to step out from under the wings of a mentor and the structure, support and funding of a large, established institution but Eyal is ready and the time is now.
Here's to a bold 2013 filled with risk and big payoffs for us all.
12. Stand by your Madge: UN debacles, mini-Gaza Wars, endless settlement construction. As the rest of the world became increasingly critical and vocal, 2012 proved Israel still has an ally in Madonna, who launched her world tour in Tel Aviv and insisted on focusing on the positive. For her loyalty, the Material Girl will always have our love.
Want to stay up-to-date with the cultural happenings around town? Follow Brian Schaefer on Twitter: @MyTwoLeftFeet. Share your own cultural adventures in Israel with hashtag #CultureFop.