Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Not Just About Technology

John Lennon famously coined the parlance “Everybody's talking about ministers, sinisters, banisters and canisters” in his renowned song Give Peace a Chance. When folks think about Israeli business successes, that same parlance can be used to claim “Everybody's talking about processors and scanners and lasers and pill cams” which, quite truthfully, reflect the country’s phenomenal, if not otherworldly, achievements as a “Startup Nation”.

Something as amazing as Israel’s tech prowess does not just happen. It has deep roots in the country’s contemporary history and a culture of innovation born of necessity. With few resources, hobbled by embargoes and dubious attitudes by global suppliers, intimidating geopolitics and a hunger for critical self-sufficiency, Israel spawned hundreds of industries whose innovation and creativity drove the country’s economy and supported its defenses for more than fifty years before the “Tech Revolution”.

Before there was Sodastream there was Sypholux, before Better Place – the Susita and Sabra fiberglass shelled cars, before Copaxone there was Dr. Zeinfeld’s Assialgan, and before Iron Dome – the Shavit 2. So in this entry I’d like to talk about what I call Israel’s “Heirloom” industries – hundreds of brick & mortar companies and manufacturers, some of whom attained "Star Brand" international status – which continue to enrich and bolster Israel’s economy and global business stature.

Carmel, Sabra and Sussita Cars at the Autocars Plant in Haifa circa 1964

From Messerschmitt to Toolboxes

On a rainy day in the winter of 1943, Arie Taub, a Hungarian born immigrant who had served in the Royal Navy arrived at Kibbutz Sde Nehemiah in the upper Galilee. Mr Taub’s suitcase contained his most treasured artifact: a piece of window Plexiglas that used to be part of a German Messerschmitt Arie had helped shoot down in Africa’s western desert. Sadly, when asked to display the window fragment, Mr. Taub discovered that heat and pressure had warped the artifact beyond repair.

And that’s when Mr. Taub had an idea. He convinced the kibbutz’s secretariat to approve the purchase of a few sheets of Plexiglas, warmed the material on a kerosene lamp and pressed the pliable plastic between two tin plates from the dining room. He had just manufactured a plastic dinner plate. When the “experiment” was done, Arie Taub had effectively conceived Israel’s plastics industry. Seventy years later, every Stanley toolbox is manufactured in Israel.

Israeli made Toolboxes at Home Depot

Israeli Counter Intelligence in Your Kitchen

In the 1980’s Kibbutz Sdot Yam, located just south of Caesarea, was in serious trouble. Heavily in debt and bleeding members, the community sought to reinvent their outdated marble tile business only to be battered by defective products and ill suited machinery. Enter Professor Moshe Narkis, the Dean of the Technion’s Chemical Engineering department who figured out how to manufacture Quartz slabs that are stronger and easier to maintain than Granite and other types of kitchen counter materials. Thus was born Caesarstone, a leading manufacturer of super high-end Quartz kitchen counters.

A Caesarstone manufacturing plant next to Caesarea's Roman Amphitheatre 

During the mid 2000’s, Caesarstone grew at an amazing annual rate of 30%. Investment funds rushed to invest in the rapidly growing, fast-earning company and two new manufacturing facilities were debuted. In 2012 the kibbutz IPO’d the company on the NASDAQ and Caesarstone became the second best non American IPO performer for 2012. Today, Caesarstone’s high end, maintenance free Quartz surfaces adorn gourmet kitchens across the globe positioning the company and its brand as one of the most recognized names in the building and home improvement industry.

Caesarstone designer kitchen counters

Ben Gurion’s Rice on the Food Network

Beginning in 1949, Israel encountered acute deficiencies in both food and foreign currency. Consequently, for the next ten years, the Israeli government enacted measures to control and oversee distribution of necessary resources to ensure equal and ample rations for all Israeli citizens. One staple, rice, was acutely scarce and David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, asked a local food manufacturer to devise a wheat based substitute for rice. The young company, today the Nestle-owned Osem food conglomerate, quickly developed the rice shaped, pasta based Ptitim (translation: Morsels) which overnight became a local hit. Over the years, Osem developed a round version of the ubiquitous pasta. In the late 1990's, an Israeli sous chef working at a famous New York City restaurant cooked some round Ptitim she had brought from Israel in the restaurant’s kitchen, her famous boss was enchanted and thus was born Israeli Couscous.

Israeli Couscous

Other world famous, non-tech Israeli innovations and brands:

Netafim – the originator of drip irrigation equipment, Sodastream – the NASDAQ traded retail leader of seltzer making equipment, Plasan – maker of blast protection kits for American armored personnel carriers in Iraq and Afghanistan, Max Brenner – world renowned chocolatier and boutique delicacy establishments world-wide.

Interested in exploring Israel's Industry and Technology? 

Click below:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Richard the Lionheart - Ten Minutes from Tel Aviv

Places Less Traveled in Israel - Part 1
Arsuf Appolonia on the Beach in Herzelia

When I was in ninth grade one of my best friends decided to build a metal detector. When he finished his project and the gadget actually worked, we formed a Beachcomber Club and spent the summer of 1971 scouring the pristine beaches of northern Herzelia for "valuable finds". The beach was locally known as "Appolonia".

Ruins of the ancient Port of Appolonia

To our dismay we found no hidden treasures - but we did find ourselves transformed into amateur archaeologists. Surprisingly the sandy beaches yielded an unusually large trove of round metal objects which, although worn beyond recognition, were obviously ancient coins of unknown origins.

As kids, we focused on the beach, oblivious to the fact that rising from the ocean were steep sandstone cliffs capped by remnants of what seemed to be segments of an ancient wall.

Wall and building remnants

As the summer faded into fall and our attention refocused on schoolwork, we found ourselves retreating more and more to the now familiar beach. There was something mysterious and awe inspiring in that particular segment between ocean and precipice and our curiosity increased exponentially.

The Appolonia Cliffs

Ascending a winding trail to the clifftop we found ourselves on a plateau overlooking the ocean, dotted with construction debris and charred bonfire remnants among which were dispersed irregular outcroppings of disjointed, dismantled, wind-scoured segments of limestone walls. We stood there and watched the vista, allowing our minds to sweep away the superficial sediment and reconnect the puzzle work of broken walls. As we walked through this virgin landscape we began to envision, and reconstruct, the outlines of an ancient fort. The surrounding trench, filled with overgrown brush and piles of stone, was more than obviously - a moat. At the top of a small hill, at the very apex of this unsightly parcel, a tall wall segment protruded from surrounding sand and pigface flower patches. That wall must have been a part of an ancient tower.

The now cleared and cleaned Moat

We spent many more days in the coming years at this forgotten relic of history. We discovered a wonderfully bright mosaic floor (and promptly had it cataloged by the National Antiquities Agency), cleared out mysterious nooks and mapped out territory. In time our childhood ended and we left this forlorn tract of history to the ravages of dumpsters and nature.

Flash forward forty years. Relics of Israel's ancient history are no longer forgotten and ignored tracts of untended landscape. Archaeology is "Big Business". Information is prevalent. History is scientific. Israel's Parks Authority avidly develops once forlorn places of interest. And so it has done at Appolonia - the ancient city of Arsuf.

A model of  Arsuf at the Appolonia National Park

Where we once meandered among unspecified ruins, today stands a fully excavated fortress from the days of the Crusades and an official Parks Authority attraction just minutes north of Tel Aviv.

But most astonishing for me is the knowledge. When we were were kids, only the most academic archaeologists knew about Appolonia, leaving us mortals to only speculate about what this place was all about. Little did I know that on the same soil we goofed around as daydreaming teens, Richard the Lionheart battled Saladin on September 7th, 1191. Today Appolonia National Park is an amazing window into Israel's ancient history dating from its initial Phoenician settlers five hundred years before Christ, who named the city Resheff (a Canaanite deity), through Greek residents who named the place after Apollo, the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders (naming the city Arsur...) and finally the Turks.

The Fortress Tower at Appolonia National Park

Most importantly Appolonia is beautiful. A short drive north from Tel Aviv, adjacent to Herzelia's Technology Corridor and a short walk from the city's celebrity studded Ritz Carlton marina and beachfront, Appolonia overlooks the Mediterranean ocean from a precipitous outlook from which Israel's coastline extends from north to south. For anyone with a free afternoon to spend around Tel Aviv's environs this is certainly a less traveled, intellectually revealing, visually rewarding spot to visit.

For more information see:
Israel National Parks - Appolonia
Arsuf by Wikipedia
Academic Archaeological Report

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Quick & Tasty Hummus and Fool

Years ago Hummus was just Hummus, a rather plain and boring method to quickly and thoughtlessly quench a bout of sudden hunger. There was one place, however, at least for me as a Tel Avivian, that served up Hummus that was more than just a bowl of creamed chick peas. That was years ago, the place was named Abu Hassan, a hole-in-the-wall off of Jaffa's Yehuda Hayamit Street that served a concoction called Hummus and Fool.

Fast forward twenty years and that concoction has mutated into a much analyzed dish that is as varied and fought-about as the Barbecue recipes that fuel great battles between America's famous Pit Masters. Experts move between various Hummus and Fool proprietors savoring their offerings with judgmental fervor as if those bowls of  processed legumes were glasses of fine French wine. 


With all that in mind I hereby offer a rather quick way to achieve a tasty and colorful rendition of this ubiquitous dish.

Ok...So this is what you need for 4 servings.

For the Fool (The hard part is buying the right Fool...)
1 cup Egyptian Fool (See picture) - 
1/3 cup cracked Fool (See picture too)
Tip: Buy these items + Tahini paste at your local Mediterranean Foods Store
A pinch of Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

Make sure you buy the round/small/dark brown Fool (not the larger flatter kidney shaped Fava Bean variant). The cracked fool is light tan in color and comes in small shards and irregular pieces.

For the Hummus
1 can of Chick Peas - Reserve the liquid.
1/3 cup of Tahini Paste
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
4 Garlic cloves (can be less if you prefer less of a bold taste...)
3 tbs Lemon Juice

For the "Sauce"
The liquid from the Chickpea can
A few sprigs of fresh Cilantro
3 Garlic Cloves
1/3 cup of good quality Vinegar
1 fresh Jalapeno Pepper - cored and seeded.
1/4 tsp Cumin Powder
Salt to taste

For garnish
Chopped fresh Parsley
Good quality / tangy EVOO

The only real cooking you'll need to do is the Fool:
Soak the "whole" Fool in water for a few hours - it's best overnight.
Wash and drain after the soak, place in 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
Just before boiling, add the Baking Soda, Salt and the Cracked Fool.
Reach a boil, do some skimming and then reduce heat to a simmer and let it cook for a really long time - the more the better - 3 to 4 hours or until the Fool is very very soft. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. The resulting liquid should be a little "mushy" and thick. If it's not - mash some of the beans in the pot and mix around. Correct the saltiness to your desired palate.

Now make the Hummus:
Use a hand/stick blender and a big deep bowl. Drain the Chickpeas, put in the bowl and reserve the liquid in a separate bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Process with the stick blender until you get a thick creamy paste. If it's too thick to process - add just a little bit of the Chickpea liquid. Correct the saltiness -  for good Hummus you need it to be a little salty.

Almost done....Make the Sauce:
In a blender, blend all the sauce ingredients until you get a nice, smooth green sauce.

Time to plate and serve:
Use shallow soup bowls if available. Swirl-spread a 1/2 inch layer of Hummus. Ladle a cup of Fool on the Hummus and then drench with another 1/2 cup of sauce. Sprinkle good Paprika and fresh cut Parsley and douse with a generous amount of really good EVOO. Finally zap in the Micro for 20 seconds.