This blog will serve as a means to share experiences and lessons learned with friends and family while abroad in the Holy Land. The title was suggested by my friend Charles after I mentioned to him that my employer in Israel, GSE, jokingly referred to me as “The Oracle” in their anticipation of my arrival. I hope the blog can live up to its name.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Magazine Anashim ("People Magazine")
I’m gonna write as if I haven’t been AWOL for a month.
This past weekend I became a total Israeli celebrity stalker… Now I need to first caveat this with the type of celebrities I am referring to. I have not yet become integrated into Israeli culture to the point where I know the celebrities names or faces – that is with the exception of Guy Penis (see here)… that’s right Guy Penis, the Ryan Seacrest of Israel who hosts Kochav Nolad (“Birth of s Star”). Although I have never seen him on the show, a celebrity with a name like that is memorable. So Guy aside, I don't’ know much about the Israeli media scene.
However, I had the rare honor of meeting two Israeli superstars in the span of 24 hours last week. Last week on Thursday night, I attended a business networking event at IDC, one of the universities in Israel. Presenting at the event was none other than Dr. Stanley Fischer (see here). Dr. Fischer is an economic luminary of our time – and is the Governor of the Bank of Israel. He is largely credited with leading Israel through the financial crisis with only having 2 consecutive quarters of declining GDP (Israel barely had a recession on the technical definition). In his presentation, he discussed the countries monetary policy, exchange rate intervention by the central bank – including the dilemma of having a weak currency as an advanced country (Israel wants the exchange rate to be high for the dollar so exports are cheaper to buyers but at the same time Israel’s economy is strong and investment demand here is high, which drives up demand for the shekel and keeps it strong against the dollar). He spoke about the continually rising housing prices in Israel, something that I have considered often and presented a really interesting slide on the poverty situation in Israel. In short, the poverty statistics for the average Israeli are not high, but the statistics are hugely altered by the ultra-orthodox and Israeli Arabs. In the population of the former group, many men do not work – they learn scriptures in yeshivas. In the later case, most of the Israeli Arabs women don’t work. In Israel most families are two household homes.
After the event, I approached Dr. Fischer and asked him about what I perceive to be a real estate bubble – prices keep rising and Israelis making Israeli income can’t afford the real estate. Dr. Fischer said that prices keep rising because getting a mortgage is too easy – rates are too low and on the supply side, the government has not sold enough land and there is not enough development to meet the demands. As a result there is a supply squeeze. As the head of the Bank, he has been working on making mortgage rates higher and the need for higher down payments – the problem with this is that it keeps people from owning property while also cooling the real estate market. He said that the government is also starting to “get it” and has begun to sell land to create more housing. The opportunity to talk shop with Stanley Fischer was really cool. I thought about asking him for a ride back to Jerusalem (instead of the bus from Tel Aviv), but decided that that was a little too much chutzpa, although it would have made for a great story either way… just imagine – “remember the time I hitched a ride with Ben Bernanke’s professor?” Oh did I mention that? Stanley Fischer was Ben Bernanke’s thesis advisor… take that US Fed.
I should mention that in writing this post, I was surprised to discover that Stanley Fischer has a wikipedia page, while Guy Penis doesn't.
The following morning, I woke up earlier than I wanted to in order to run the Jerusalem Half Marathon. As I had mentioned here, my initial plan was to run the whole marathon, but unfortunately, my aforementioned ulcer restricted my ability to sufficiently train. I also had not time to run in America – I ran around a lot just not for exercise (I know I owe you a post on America as well). Anyhow, with two weeks to “train,” I signed up for the Jerusalem half.
I got back from America on a Wednesday morning. My first run in almost two months was that
Saturday night - I ran a comfortable 5 miles. Later that week, on Tuesday I ran 6 miles. On Friday, I had one week to the half. They say that if you can run 10 you can run 13. So I set out for the first time with my friend Danielle to run 10 miles. Danielle is more responsible than me and she stays in good shape. We set out at around 1:30 pm on a +70° day. It was not long before the heat started to slow us down. By mile 5 Danielle wanted to walk a bit. I told her I was fine walking however long she wanted as long as we hit our 10 miles. We walked a lot – about 3 miles in total. We didn't run the rest of the day. I was a bit worried that without having done a 10, I was not going to be able to run the half marathon. Danielle and I agreed to run together along with her friend Rachel (aka Puffin – actually don't know why). Danielle had run more than ten miles the following week with Puffin so she was set regardless.
Saturday night began the Purim celebrations which took me out of exercise condition through Monday night. I decided at that point that between my schedule of working the next three days in Tel Aviv and the event Thursday night, I was not going to run until the race – I reasoned that it would be better to not run anymore than risk being tight or sore before the race.
This year was the first running of the Jerusalem marathon and the event went from being a 2,000 runner half marathon day to a 10,000 runner marathon, half marathon, 10k and 4.2k day. As a result, packet pickup – where you get your race number, t-shirt, etc was held at the convention center – across the street from where last week’s terrorist attack was committed. The convention was very well organized and was actually really nice – there was a live band playing music, nice vendor displays set up and it really had a nice classy feel to it that was reminiscent of the New York Marathon’s convention.
On Friday when Danielle, Puffin and I got to the park to drop our bags I had my second celebrity citing… We saw Nir Barkat (see here), the mayor of Jerusalem. Seeing Nir Barkat was not such a surprise since he does after all run the city… literally. He was running in the half marathon. Although he is a marathon runner (I think he’s done 5), the Mayor decided to run the half – I suspect it’s because after he ran the race he had mayoral duties that required him to be on his game – it’s hard to be smiles and joy after running 26 miles.
I wanted to take a picture with Nir, but Danielle and Puffin weren’t into the idea. I bid him farewell and figured that’d be the end of my seeing him. To my delight, we kept running into him (pun intended) on the course – mostly on the parts where the course doubled back on itself… that’s right I ran faster the Nir Barkat (a +50 year old politician… man I need to raise my standards). As we ran ahead of Nir, we kept hearing the delayed cheers of the observers – they were all clapping a few minutes after we passed them. I reasoned that we were running so fast that it took them a while to figure out we had passed them. An alternative theory was that people were in fact cheering for the Mayor.
When we saw Nir Barkat, he was not running alone, or with just his two body guard security guys that he rolls with (refer to Street Fair post). Rather Nir was the star of the run. He had a huge following (pun intended again… A’Zing). Many of the people running with him were wearing the same race day shirt that he was wearing – a bright yellow Adidas sports shirt. I dubbed the Mayor the Forrest Gump of Jerusalem.
Right before the race started, I tried to turn on my running watch to record the race for you all (and because I love running with all the statistics), but to my dismay, the watch would not turn on. I was sure I have charged it just last night. When I got home I plugged it in again only to discover that it is not working! I am not sure if the charging cradle is broken or the watch is the issue – I am working on finding someone who had a Garmin Forerunner 305 who can see if my watch will charge on their cradle (hopefully) or if my watch is truly broken.
The course was awesome but was also a killer – there were four major hills as well as a long (I’m guessing 2K or more) continual hill. Here is a link to the course. We ran through many areas that I like to cover on my usual runs. This time though, I was able to run in the streets and was not afraid of getting run over by crazt Israeli drivers. We ran through the Old City, down Emek Refaim (a popular street near my apartment lined with cafes and restaurants), past the President’s house and the Jerusalem theater, the Supreme Court and the Parliament. The scenery was great; as was the weather and the company. Danielle turned out to be a beast of a running partner. On the third long hill, which I think was the hardest, I desperately wanted to walk. For some reason, I thought I had to ask Danielle for permission. She promptly shot me down. “We can walk at the top” she said. It was a harsh rule but I am glad we pushed through. By the end of the race, I was in pain – my feet were hurting, my legs were hurting and my shoulders were hurting, but I was not going to stop… Danielle wouldn't approve. When we finally finished the race, my hands were tingling I did not feel great, but that passed in a few minutes. All in all, we only walked twice the whole run for short periods of time. Danielle totally kept me pushing myself. Thanks Danielle (that's a shout out right there).
Thankfully I wasn't so sore after the race and am looking forward to going rock climbing on Tuesday with Itay.