Saturday, October 4, 2008

Beatlemania in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv – A little more than a week later and the Beatle’s invasion can still be felt on Shankin Street, Ibn Gvirol, and along the Ayalon Freeway. From the windows of passing cars and descending from the second and third stories of downtown apartments come the sounds of All You Need is Love and Let it Be.

Last Thursday night, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people converged on Park HaYarkon in the heart of Tel Aviv to hear Sir Paul McCartney in concert. In the days leading up to the concert, the local papers covered the legend’s comings and goings. He visited the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, his entourage spent about $110,000 on hotel rooms, and streets were closing to prepare for the thousands of pedestrians trying to make up for lost time.

In 1965, the Israeli government banned the Beatles from performing in Israel, fearing they would corrupt the morals of the country’s youth. Earlier this year, the “ban” was formally lifted and an apology was issued to McCartney, Ringo, and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison. Forty-three years later, it was Islamic militants who tried to keep McCartney away. A radical preaching from Lebanon threatened McCartney’s life for performing in Israel. To the joy of Israelis, Sir Paul paid the threats no mind.

VIP seats in the open air HaYarkon Park went for about $1500 and the cheapest seats – on the lawn, where I swayed with thousands of others – were about $150 a pop. My wife bought the tickets and I only found out how much they cost the day of the concert. Had I known the bill, I probably would have missed something rare and beautiful. With the U.S. economy melting down and people losing their homes, it is hard to write these words, but Paul McCartney live was worth at least a few nights of pasta at home and the sandwiches I’ll be eating for lunch for a while.

At about half past 8 last Thursday night, he burst on to the stage and sang Hello, Goodbye. Under two towering video screens that projected his image into the night, with a slideshow backdrop of flashing oranges and yellows, he belted out the lyrics and the crowd loved him for it.

Maybe he starts every show that way – I don’t know – but I suddenly realized that I was at a Beatles concert. True, it was just a single Beatle with one of the greatest cover bands ever (honestly, I’m not even sure if they have a name), but it occurred to me that I was watching history. Those clips I’d seen over the years, of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, being chased around the world by hordes of screaming women, and performing against seemingly every possible backdrop, and here they were, right in front of me!

Okay, okay, it was just one Beatle, but I found it overwhelming to think about the people he’d met over the last forty some years, the places he’d been, and the things he saw. In 1965, when he and the others never made their trip here, Israel was a farm-in-the-desert country, its existence threatened by its neighbors. The civil rights movement was ascendant in the U.S. as we sunk into Vietnam. And Paul McCartney was a 23 year-old kid with the world in the palm of his hand.

So much is different, some is very much the same; unquestionably, Paul McCartney held the crowd in the palm of his hand. He started speaking in Hebrew, thanking us and wishing all a happy Jewish new year. Later in the show, in Hebrew, he dedicated songs to his late wife Linda, George Harrison, and John Lennon. As A Day in the Life, the tribute to John Lennon, wound down, McCartney broke into a chorus of All We are Saying is Give Peace a Chance. The crowd erupted, hands in the air, we chanted along not wanting the night or the moment to end.

He thrilled the crowd with “Ahlan, Jude.” Like a pinball bouncing around, McCartney switched instruments between guitars, the piano, and a little mandolin. When he played Live and Let Die the concert was transformed into a pyrotechnic bonanza with fireworks blasting into the sky. My favorite part of the two and a half hour show was when he sent the band offstage and crooned Blackbird. The crowd sang along softly, waiving their cellphones in the air. No longer a farm-in-the-desert country, Israel is a high tech capital and people are just as likely to have a blackberry as they are a lighter, at least with this cost of admission.

On a Thursday night in Tel Aviv, with boundless energy, eyebrows reaching upwards, and his face fixed in a smile, Paul McCartney took 40-some thousand Israelis and assorted expats to another place and another time. And at the end of the show, after a couple of encores, he wished us a Shana Tova and Ramadan Karim, and sent us off humming into the night, a part of history.

Americans Overseas: Register to Vote and Request an Absentee Ballot Here

Tel Aviv - I thought 2004 was going to be the most important American election of my lifetime. The way the last four years have gone, it turns out that this election is more important. Next month, we have a chance to regain our country's future and to deal with the challenges that we face to our national security, civil liberties, and economy.

The road to recovery starts with voting, though. The deadlines to register from overseas are fast approaching. Pennsylvania's deadline is October 6. If you are living overseas and haven't registered yet, please visit the website below. It will only take 10 minutes to fill out the forms. If you need to request an absentee ballot, you can do it there as well.

Lastly, please forward this website to the Americans you know who are living overseas and the Americans you know that have friends overseas. As we saw in 2000, every vote counts.

Here is the website:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Squirrel Hill Native Recognized for Work in Middle East

Tel Aviv - The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a nice article about Live from Jordan and the Linowitz award that I received in September. Given that the Post Gazette is the homepage on my computer and its sports page is the first thing I read in the morning, I'm humbled. Thank you -

Here is the article:

Squirrel Hill native recognized for work in Middle East
Thursday, October 02, 2008

By Dev Meyers
Fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, Benjamin Orbach has traveled around the Middle East. But he admits he often finds himself "talking incessantly" about the Steelers.

A self-appointed, unofficial ambassador, Mr. Orbach is committed to presenting the Arab world with a wholesome and caring picture of Americans.

In September, his accomplishments were recognized in Washington, D.C., when the National Security Education Program presented Mr. Orbach with its 2008 Sol Linowitz Award.

Mr. Linowitz was a diplomat and major supporter of international education and NSEP.

NSEP is a major federal initiative within the Department of Defense and is designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills.

The goal is to strengthen national security and competitiveness by forming a partnership with the U.S. education community through language and cultural initiatives.

Mr. Orbach, 33, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, studied Arabic in Jordan as a Boren Fellow. His experiences as a Boren Fellow formed the basis for a book, "Live from Jordan: Letters Home from My Journey Through the Middle East" (Amacom Books, 2007).

Each year, NSEP honors one Boren Scholar alumnus and one Boren Fellow alumnus for their outstanding federal service and academic achievement.

Boren Scholarships provide funding for U.S. undergraduate students to study in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad. Boren Fellowships provide funding for U.S. graduate students to study and conduct research in these same areas of the world.

Mr. Orbach worked for three years for the State Department in the Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative and for a year as the MEPI coordinator at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. He is currently Creative Associates International's resident country director for the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Orbach, a 1993 graduate of Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Michigan and a master's in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

"In all of my travels to the Middle East, when I was a student and when I was a U.S. government official, I kept in mind that I was from Pittsburgh and representing the people of Pittsburgh," he said.

"I'm very proud of where I'm from and the values that I grew up with, and I've certainly confused more than a handful of people with my incessant talk [in Arabic] about our mighty football team."

Mr. Orbach has traveled to 12 countries.

"I've represented the priorities and programs of the United States to hundreds of people in the region as an Arabic-speaking American who cares about their needs, aspirations and the relationship between our respective countries and people," he said.

"The official awards are excellent achievements, but I am most proud of the positive impression that I've left -- through words and deeds -- with these great people who are the future of the region and whose attitudes and opinions matter greatly to the national security of America."

His mother, Linda, of Squirrel Hill, is "thrilled" that her son has been recognized for his work.

"He has many gifts and has received many opportunities," she said. "But what really matters is he is making the most of them -- and for the greater good."

"Live from Jordan" explores key issues in the Middle East, such as anti-Americanism, the absence of peace, Islamist terrorism and the causes of 9/11.

At the same time, the book puts words to the beauty and color of everyday life in Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- the camel markets, deserts, nightclubs, coffee shops and people.

"While I was living in Jordan and Egypt, and especially after I returned in the late summer of 2003, I was appalled by how the administration took advantage of our country's knowledge gap rather than took the opportunity to educate the public on the issues and engage Americans on solving our problems," he said.

Mr. Orbach encourages Americans to get involved and become unofficial ambassadors.

"People in [the Middle East] make a distinction between U.S. foreign policy -- which they are adamantly against not just for idealistic reasons, but because it has an impact on their everyday lives -- and the American people.

"Mariah Carey, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan, our democratic processes, minimum wage, our rags-to-riches stories -- these are all icons and things that provide hope and are the picture of American people.

"When Americans come and bring our processes, education systems and entertainment icons in the form of the Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, other development work, cultural and educational exchanges and other international volunteer efforts, it not only humanizes America, but empowers our friends to improve their communities and lives."

Mr. Orbach's father, Alexander, a teacher in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Religious Studies, is impressed by "Live From Jordan."

"[It] is not only informative, it is eloquent in its careful and considerate depiction of a world that we too often stereotype in extremely negative and frightening ways," the elder Mr. Orbach said.

"The book also reflects the maturation of an engaging young man who, through the course of these experiences, evolves from a naive observer into a confident commentator on a culture and on communities that, while seemingly distant from his own, still share many similar human aspirations."

For more information about NSEP, go to

For more information about Mr. Orbach, go to or

Dev Meyers is a freelance writer who can be reached at
First published on October 2, 2008 at 6:13 am