Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



What Would You Call a City’s Achievement in Education?

Last night I attended the graduation ceremony of the 1,420 8th graders in my city of Ramat-Gan, my son was one of them. It’s a big ceremony as graduating 8th grade marks the move from elementary to high school.
Some statistics they pointed out very proudly in the many speaches they had there was that there are no drop-outs in Ramat Gan. Strangely enough, I didn’t think the possibility of a dropout even exists, since the law in Israel defines education till the age of 15 “mandatory”. It goes to force both the parents and the local supplier of education to put the kids in a school.
But still, it sounds pretty.
I have a lot of criticism on education and education systems. There aren’t real alternatives to public education in Israel (only semi-private systems, that are still, in most cases, controlled by the cities/local councils).
There’s still a very long way to go before the many problems of education will actually be solved, but if there’s something I can be proud of in my city is their constant effort to innovate and change in education. Next year, for example, they are going to open up registration zones. This means that kids going to elementary school and their parents can choose the school that most fits the childs interests and won’t be forced to send their kids automatically to the closest school. To make the choice of schools interesting most elementaru schools in the city defined a “specialization”: arts, sciences, games, nature and environment, design, technology, leadership and more.

The other thing that makes me proud of this city’s education is the kids. They are actually good kids. Schools are safe and provide a friendly environment, at least in the social context. If you could see the 1420 students perform spontaneous group hugs on the stadium’s field at the end of the ceremony, you’ll know what I mean. This, which happened when most of the audience – families of the young graduates – was on the way out, was actually the height of the event in my view.

Ramat-Gan, by the way, is the city right next to Tel-Aviv, on the east. About 150,000 live here. The city is marking its 90th anniversary this year. That’s about a decade younger than Tel-Aviv and about 30 years older than our country. The population here is very mixed, socially, financially and anthropologically. It’s an interesting city to live in, with a mentality of a small town, really. Everybody knows everybody.

A little more about my town:



It’s the promise of young life, unfulfilled dreams, hopes and aspirations. It’s that loss. The memorial day is the toughest day of the year.

I’ve been re-reading the web page about my friend and classmate, who got killed in a fight with terrorists, near Kibbutz Manara, in the Galilee, when we were 21 years old.

He was such a talented boy. Full of life and humor. Full of promises. He got killed less than 6 months before his release from the military service. I met him only a couple months before he got killed, invited him to visit me in London after his release. He never made it.


What are we left with?

Memories. Some memories are of those lives we shared until taken abruptly. Some are memories of the pain, of the lost hopes, of what could have been.

Thoughts. Thoughts about what will be. Thoughts about new hopes, new lives, and peace. There is nothing our nation wants more.

Reflections on a democracy

Following the results of yesterday’s general elections in Israel, I have some reflections on democracy. Especially our own democracy.

Israel is a young state. Only 60 years old, it is not surprising that it is still searching for the right method of political order, or governance. Very clear on the fact that it is this version or another of a democracy, a rule of the people, I keep hearing the voice of my high-school history teacher reminding us, in a lesson on 20th century in Europe, that the democracy has what it takes to destroy itself.

If you legislate rules to prevent democracy from destroying itself – you will probably destroy democracy with these rules. Free will of the people is a core of democracy, which is probably why some people in Israel find it difficult to understand the Republic version of governance.

Israel is indeed a democracy when is comes to allowing all of its citizens to voice their will. It seems like we have a political party for every 30 citizens. Which is why this democracy, for years now, has not practiced a real rule of the majority, but rather the rule of the minorities. No party in the history of Israel was big enough to become the ruling party, without the participation of the smaller, minor parties. Those small parties, faithful to their voters, exercised their power as the balancing factor to extract as much as they could in return for supporting the bigger party as the leader of the country.

Yesterday’s elections generated, again, a talk about the need to change the method of governance in Israel. If we are going to be a democracy it should be a rule of the majority. But perhaps the type of a republic will function better. Whichever way you look at it, it seems like the threshold for registering a political party in Israel is way too low. This creates a weak government again and again, which in turn weakens the country and generates a chaos of opinions, instead of a clear targeted government.

The results of the elections yesterday are puzzling: who will lead the country? Is it the party who won the largest number of seats, as it traditionally is? Or is it the party who is the largest, among the group of parties who won the majority of seats? I believe, that most Israeli citizens who voted for the 4 larger parties, would have preferred a “unity” government of those large parties or at least 3 of them, without the minority parties extortion, usually representing the extreme wings of the people. But the thirst for power may blind the leaders of these parties.

The party who received most of the voice is the young centre party “Kadima” (freely translated ‘forward’). But the second largest party, only one seat less than Kadima, is the “Likud” party, the right side of the centre. They claim they should be the ruling party because the collection of right-winged parties, including the many small parties, representing various minority groups, makes a majority of right-winged people in Israel. So, being a democracy, the majority should rule. The Kadima people are saying, obviously, that if they won the largest number of seats, they should be the governing party. A republic might have worked better for Kadima this time.

In the process two other phenomena happened. The party which was the ruling party for most of Israel’s existence, the Labor party, has lost its power and became only fourth in the number of seats it achieved.
The party that became the third in its power is the party called “Israel Beitenu” (translated – “Israel is our home”). This party established in 1999, has now won two more seats than the Labor party and people are wondering about the changes in the political scenery and what it means for the future of the country.

L’État c’est Moi ??

Can’t end this blog post without my observation on the web scenery of the 4 large parties.
If  I have to rate them – Israel-Beitenu gets the highest rate. It’s a clear, no nonsense site, easy to find your way in it. All relevant information is accessible from the homepage. A link to the party’s platform is available on the first page. The site offers information in Hebrew, Russian and English. Not surprising, though disappointing, that they offer no information in Arabic, which is the second official language of the state of Israel and is relevant to about 20% of its residents.

The Likud party’s web site could have received a better score, had it not been on the url

What is it? L’État c’est Moi ?? Where is the party??

They also offer information in Hebrew, Russian and English only, ignoring the need for Arabic.


The Labor party’s web site must be the worst – with the figure of the candidate to prime minister walking over the screen – I don’t know whether it’s humor or misuse of the medium. Either way, the web site is in Hebrew only, which is amazing considering the fact that a million Jewish citizens are speaking and reading Russian, and even more are Israeli Arab citizens, whose first language is Arabic, a public that the labor party claims to address too.

Competing for the worst web site is also the Kadima web site. No English, no Arabic. A modest link in Russian – hardly enough, considering who they are up against. I don’t believe in the flash animation on the homepage of the party. I’d rather have a straight forward information. And here they make it even harder for me to know what their platform is – since I am required to download PDF files to my computer, if I want to know what they propose on the 9 topics listed at the bottom of an inner page. This information should have been put forward. This is what the party is about. At least in a democracy.

Friends Under Online Fire

Some people say you can see who your true friends are at a time of crisis. Well, I never put it to test. But strangely enough, the current situation has created some odd tests. Me getting whole hearted birthday congratulations from teenagers I have never met is just an example.

If we could run all of the fighting online – it would be great. First of all, no life casualties. Second – reading and writing is one of the best ways to manage a dialog: You get to finish a sentence. Believing in the true power of web 2.0 – the power of reason should win, since moderate tones are the ones we are generally comfortable with. While some bloggers like to annoy and provoke, even them don’t like to be annoyed or provoked. And anyone can choose what to read or what to say and how.

So here we are, 12 days into the current IDF operation in Gaza, and the online war gets warmer by the minute. Unlike in previous wars, this time the many Israeli Internet experts, ages 12 years and up, have joined in the effort to bring the Israeli message to the world and fight off the criticism.

The effort runs on various levels. Social media marketing professionals monitor media all over the world and assign comment tasks. Media experts are busy creating media files and uploading them to the various networks, such as YouTube. Kids and teens are writing blogs and taking photos to document their lives. Everyone with an email can chip in by distributing links that deliver a message, to friends, family or colleagues, spread all over the world. It’s a kind of effort Israel hasn’t experienced before, surprisingly enough. Even official Israeli entities are using social media tools, like twitter, to deliver a message and converse with the public.

While the delivery of messages and participation in discussions is legitimate and even blessed, some criminal activity is also happening online, in the name of the war. It started when Muslim hackers broke into Israeli servers, hacked Israeli web pages and “stole” Israeli domains, directing these web sites to their own pro-Palestinian pages. This is another arena of the online war, requiring the assistance of Israeli web security professionals.

Early on I have decided not to voice an opinion on a “right and wrong” on this war. I am not a judge. However when my country is under attack, and most of the community I live and work with is busy in this online war effort, it’s slightly problematic to keep ignoring messages and threads. A couple of days ago I decided to reply to one specific post. I thought this one is someone I can talk with. I developed a conversation and though we sort of “agreed on not agreeing” it was still a very civil discussion, where I remain appreciating her feelings and thoughts, and she could see the humanity of the other side too. That’s fine by me.

I also accepted a request to help translating to English blog posts, written in Hebrew by kids under missiles. Those amazing kids thought they could actually change things, affect all adults, by inviting Palestinian kids under fire to write with them. The invitation was rejected by the contact person, who shortly explained they will be risking their life if they cooperate with anything from the other side. Any thoughts of creating a bi-national group of mothers were canceled for similar reasons. I certainly wouldn’t like to put anyone at any extra risk now.

Sadly, the fighting goes on as I write these lines. I keep wishing we could keep it online. Still waiting for the fighting to be over, so I can truly celebrate my birthday.


Yom Kippur is one of the most elegant days of the year in my view. It has a unique holiness all over it. I get excited every year after the New Year day when Yom Kippur approaches, looking forward to the people interaction, neighborhood networking, on this day.

What enables this unique interaction is the silence. It is the quietest day in the year. On this day even in the busiest cities one can hear the birds and the leaves and listen to the waves and the wind. Not only do you not hear any music, but also engines, motors, cars. No TV, almost no Internet.

With no operating entertainment elements what you are left with is people – and bicycles. The kids have a one time (per year) opportunity to ride their bike on the wide roads, which are normally filled with traffic, but are empty on Yom Kippur. The people have a chance to sit on a bench or even on the pavement and get to know their neighbors.

I am not a religious Jew. Yet there is no way to appreciate the godly feeling that fills the streets on this day. After 24 hours of silence complete neighborhoods, religious or not, walk to the nearest synagogue to hear the Shofar – the Ram’s horn- blown, announcing the end of the fast.

On the way back home first cars start their engines and a silent longing is locked until next year.

Is entrepreneurship hereditary?

A tribute to my grandmother, who past away last night, 3 months away from her 101 birthday.

My grandmother, Sara Sorkin was a born entrepreneur and a vibrant doer. Startupseeds would have loved to recruit ladies like her. But they came nearly 100 years too late.

I am not sure I know all her stories or that my knowledge is accurate. But I know that she established her first venture at the age of 14. Young Sara loved to read and discovered “the pain” very easily when there was no accessible library anywhere near her small town in Poland. So she began traveling, touring and collecting books and opened a town’s library, to the joy and happiness of the youth and the whole community.

At the age of 19 she was busy with her second entrepreneurship, hiring assistant dressmakers to help supply the demands for cloths of the town.

The biggest entrepreneurship move was coming to Israel as a pioneer and helping to build towns and villages.

She settled in joyful Tel-Aviv during the 40’s of the 20th century. A party girl, very much like the young entrepreneurs I am meeting daily. “Oh, the beach parties,” she sighed longingly when she told her history to my daughter, only 2 years ago, “the movies, and the dance halls…”


That’s when she met my grandfather and married him. In Tel-Aviv she continued her sewing business, on Nahalat-Binyamin Street.

Always working, always managing, she continued to supervise the family’s cloths and affairs for ages… An active, strong willed women, who loved to laugh and gave us a lot to grow on.

We are saying goodbye now. You will always live within us.

The “Israel is 60” Brand

Israel marked its 60th independence day yesterday. The celebration actually began on May 7th, at 19:45, when the Memorial Day ended.

barely 60Israel has marked 60 years of existence accenting its younger generation, with the slogan “today and tomorrow”. Some cynics were quick enough to produce the poster where the “60” is shown like a grade on a test page, supported by the verbal description of the grade: Translated freely from Hebrew it reads “barely enough”… I liked the double meaning here. However the official 60th Independence Day brand was not that smart or brave.

In fact, what bothered me the most was, that while 60 is a nice round number, and people tend to make a big deal out of it, the brand of this year’s Independence Day was no different than previous celebrations.

We are still celebrating our independence day closely to 2 memorial days: the Holocaust day and the Memorial Day dedicated to soldiers killed in the wars and to victims of hatred. It’s like a Jewish state cannot be simply happy. A sad, melancholic, streak must always be present. Look at our national anthem for example. Slow, difficult to sing, with words that are totally irrelevant to the present day 60 year old Israel, not to mention about quarter of its citizens.

There are many definitions to branding. There are those who perceive branding as a name or symbol. Walter Landor said “a brand is a promise”. David Aaker defines looks at the brand equity and suggests it is “a set of assets… linked to the value of…”. But the more general definition looks at a brand as “a collection of perceptions in the minds of the consumers”.

So if when you say Coka-Cola your mouth waters and you want to quench your thirst, and when you have a head ache you think Advil, that’s brand for you.

I am a consumer of the brand of Israel. For me Israel is first and foremost – home. But when I am thinking about its 60th independence day it is a unique brand, separate from the national or political or geographical brand of the country. What I really would have expected from that brand is feelings of joy and pride, festivity, hope and unity. This brand never delivered it for me. We just went through one more Independence Day.

Third time first grader

About a month ago I took my youngest son, five years and a half, to register him to school. Come September this little child, with his wide round eyes and soft, long, golden curls, will enter the school gates for the first time as a student.

The boy, very happy and confident about it, is looking forward to it. As for his mother, that’s me, well… that’s a totally different story.
I am trying to recreate the first grade experience I went through with my two eldest children. Both seem to have survived the first grades pretty well. But nothing helps. This one is my eternal baby.

Last year this smart kid said he didn’t want to “move up to the older group” of the nursery school. “Why should I?”, he asked me, “They are facing too many demands and assignments. I prefer to stay with the younger children and play most of the time”. I was the happiest proudest mom when I heard that. “If he isn’t ready for school”, I said to his nursery teacher, “I will be more than glad to let him play for another year. That’s a passing opportunity”. Of course the nursery teacher was surprised. She then said OK, but knew better. Shortly after the beginning of this year it was clear that Yonatan is ready for school.
That doesn’t mean that his mother is ready for him going to school. I cannot imagine him spending 5 hours a day in a classroom without games and toys. It’s hard to think of him going out to play in that horrible, dry, concrete yard. It is impossible to picture him with a school bag on his back, let alone a full school bag. It seems to me that walking him to school and back won’t be enough. Does thinking it make me that nagging, over protective, ridiculed mother?

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