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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 29, 2013 PAGE 17A From sands to skyscrapers: Tel Aviv launches the future By Maxine Dovere JNS.org NEW YORK--Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai recently came to New York City to talk about his city of sun, sand, skyscrapers, and start- ups. With "just two minutes" on a winter afternoon to introduce the city and its entrepreneurs, he began his presentation with a weather report. Noting the damp, cold condi- tions, Huldai teased, "I've left behind thewonderfulweather of TelAviv to talkabout the start-up culture that began on the day the city was born." During this event organized by the Consul- ate General of Israel, New York, he recalled the courage of the 66 families who left old Jaffa in 1909 to start a new community on ehapty Sand dunes. "They began with nothing, exceptavisionmadeintoareality by labor and love. They built the city of the future on the sands of the past," Huldai said. The mayor pointed out that Rothschild Boulevard, one Of Tel Aviv's main thoroughfares, stared as nothing more than an idea. Just more than a century later, Tel Aviv is home to more than 700 start-ups. "Huldai has changed Tel Aviv into a magnet of technology and future growth," said Consul General, Ido Aharoni. Huldai headlined a series of rapid-fire presentations by 10 Tel Aviv-based start-ups, including several joint American-Israeli ventures. In an exclusive interview with JNS.org, Huldai emphasized, "Tel Aviv is the start-up city of the start-up nation. Our goal is to be the start-up city for cities around the world--the best point outside of North America for international entrepreneurs andacademia." He calledTetAviv "a global city, ready to partner with other start-up, cities to exchange ideas and concepts." "We are very proud of Tel Aviv," Huldai said. "Proud of its ongoing development and open character." He admitted he admires New York City, too, but quickly pointed out that the Big Applewill"neverbe sun-filledand ready for the beach in March!" The best measure of Tel Aviv, Huldai told JNS.org, "is its humanity." "Tel Aviv has a multiplicity of atmospheres that create a type of. city that you feel relaxed to live in," he said. "It is friendly, welcoming, and comfortable." Israel is the only country in the Middle East that protects homo- sexualswithanti-discrimination laws, and TelAvivwas named the world's "Best Gay City" of 2011 in an international competition conductedbyAmericanAirlines. JNS.orgasked Huldai to respond to the claim by Israel's critics that the country seeks to "pink-wash" its.problems with the Palestin- ians by touting its acceptance of the gay community. "Those who say anything against TelAviv's policies regard- ing the gay community don't understand reality... We did a lot to embrace the community-- the city sponsors a pride parade and centers for young people," Huldai said. "We are taking care of all of 1he parts of the city, whether it's the haredi community, the Masorti (the equivalent of the Jewish Conservative denomina- tion in the U.S.) group, or foreign workers," he added. "All are fully participating, all are part of Tel Aviv. Pluralism, tolerance, and democracy and human rights are the base of the city's policy... What have they got to complain about?" Tel Aviv is "a city of edges, of extremes," according to Huldai. It is home to the richest and the poorest; Arabs and Jews, Muslimand Christians.TheWaU Street Journal calls Tel Aviv the second-most innovative city in the world, noted the mayor, with understated pride. "[The] Lonely Planet [tourism guide book] says we are the best tourist destination--and the New York Times calls Tel Aviv the capital of Mediterranean cool!" Huldai said. JNS.org asked Huldai where he thought his just more than "100-year-old city would be in another 100 years. "Since the [Second Jewish] Temple was destroyed, there are no prophets," he chuckled. "When you are trying to be a prophet, you are stupid. I would like the city to be developed as a right place to live--part of the real world. I would like TelAviv to continue to be the leader of every aspect of life in Israel. Whether. in culture, science, research, or start- ups, we are proud to be welcoming for every minority. Everyone can live in Tel Aviv." Tel Aviv prides itself not only on being an entrepreneurial center, but Israel's capital of art and culture. - "Seventy percent of Israelis attending theater attend at a performance in TelAviv," Huldai said. The city, he noted, spends 6 percent of its budget on cultural activities, significantly more than the one-third of I percent spentonthatitembythe national government of Israel. Despite its sun and skyscrap- ers, Tel Aviv is not without its problems, according to Huldai. The city lacks a reliable public transportation system, and its first light rail, to be built partially underground, is set to open in Sambach/Wikimedia Commons. Nahalat Bingamin Street in Ron Huldai's city, Tel Aviv. 2018. "In the future, people [in Tel Aviv] will be able to live without cars," Huldai said. There are bike lanes, soon we will even have electrical bikes for rent. We want to establish a 'car-sharing' system and create a better ground transportation system as well." An important issue in TelAviv "is the exorbitant, price of real estate," Huldai said. "The future of the city is in its ability to provide housing, especially for young people," he said. "I don't underestimate this problem." There "have to be changes" in this area, Huldai added. The 2011 "tent city" social justice-themed demonstrations that brought more than 150,000 IsraelisintoTelAvivreflected"the unhappiness of the public with the government handling of the housing crisis and other issues," Huldai said. Asked by JNS.org how he defines his job as mayor, Huldai paused for a moment, and then answered concisely. "Simple," he said. "The job of a mayor is to do good." Unlikely teammates: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his manager on Jewish-black relations Raymond Obstfeld Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his manager Deborah Morales at the podium during the 2013 NAACP Image Awards. relationships. Why have Jews and blacks partnered successfully? What makes them synergistic? Or, is Jewish-black closeness simply an illusion or coincidence? Morales believes those relation- ships are not only quite real, but quite natural. "Our shared history of dis- crimination, enslavement and persecution makes us natural allies," she tells JNS.org. "We [Morales and Abdul-Jabbar] both know that no matter how much we mainstream, we are always at risk as part of a religious, ethnic or cultural minority." "Both cultures know what it's like to face hostile societies in many countries," Abdul- Jabbar-says. "This bond of compassion encourages us to work toward our similar goal of eradicating ethnic bias." Morales, fittingly, began her partnership with the cinematic co-pilot from"Airplane!"at LAX airport in Los Angeles. "I was on my way to my gate," says Morales, who at the time owned and operated a promo- tional merchandise company. "And [Abdul-Jabbar] was on his way to his. As he passed, he smiled." She pauses. "That's the power of a smile. His smile can light up a room." Moments later, while Morales waited for her flight to Las Vega, Abdul-Jabbar came and tapped her on the shoulder. "I think he thought I needed help," says Morales, who was in fact struggling with some deep issues at the time. "Somehow he could tell. He definitely intervened and saved me from some very distressing things going on in my life. He's very "spiritual and sensitive." "Being that tall," she laughs, "is like being a giraffe in the jungle warning the other animals of oncoming danger. Because they can see and hear more than the other animals." Abdul-Jabbar can't remember where he was headed that day. In a seemingly random and fairy godfather sort of way, he became Morales's "knight in rusty armor." The term comes from a book, with the same title, about a knight who cares so much about the plights of those he protects that he neglects his own armor till it rusts. That is Abdul-Jabbar in a nutshell, Morales says. The giant cares more about the people around him than himself, she says, which is likely what brought him to center court in the social justice arena. The hoops legend has experi- encedafairshare of unkindness over the years. "Being black, a Muslim, and 7'2" tall is the hat trick of preju- dice," says Abdul-Jabbar. "My de- cision to become a political activ- ist at the height of my basketball career created another prejudice among sports fans who prefer theirplayers to just grinand play." Morales and Abdul-Jabbar spent the next few years developing their friendship. Fibromyalgia left Morales bedridden for two years. "I wanted to die. But Kareem wouldn't let me," she says, Abdul-Jabbar brought her books like Man's Search for Meaning and The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People to read, and films like Sea.Biscuit to watch. He surrounded her with positive imagery to help her deal with her struggle. Then one day, with no heralding, an idea came to Morales, riding atop a malapropism. Watching Alan Greenspan on TV, search- ing for purpose, she said, "Why can't I be like Alan Greenspan? Why can't I be an iconomist?" The word she had been searching for was, of course, economist. But the misspeak changed her life. She went to Abdul-Jabbar with the idea that she, with a background in motivational speaking and sales and an inherent desire to help people, would help him achieve his goals. She would take him, as her slogan promises, from success to significance. Morales became Abdul-Jabbar's greatest ally. Which is not to say life suddenly became easy for Morales--a Jewish woman daring to step into a man's role in the talent management industry. "Because I had to be a strong- minded woman in an uphill battle in a male-dominated environment, it was like being against a wall in the most vi- cious game of dodge ball ever," she says. "Assertiveness is called bitchiness. Reasonable nego- tiation is called stubbornness. And so forth. So the success of our partnership has been very fulfilling." Abdul-Jabbar says his friend:- ship and business partnership with Morales"is kind of a bubble that is impervious" to external influences such as concern within the Jewish community about the relationship between Barack Obama, the first black president, and Israel. "External events do not have any effect on our working relationship, but what it does have an effect on is our ability to accept certain engagements By Dawn Dellasanta-Swann JNS.org Standing behind the podium, of the 2013 NAACP Image Awards is a man in a tux with ared tie whose smooth, dark skin is stretched over a frame so long that it cannot fit through a standard doorway. Behind the same podium, a woman comes up to maybe the bottom of that man's ribcage. She is fair skinned, black haired, ruby lipped, and sheathed in black lace. She looks like a Jewish Snow White. He is the National BasketballAs- sociation's (NBA) all-time lead- ing scorer, an actor, New York Times best-selling author, and official U.S. Cultural Ambassa- dor. She is a New England-bred "iconomist'--a term she coined that combines the duties of an agent, manager, lawyer, and marketing and public relations expert--and an award-winning film producer and director. He is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and she is his Jewish manager, DeborahMorales. Together, this unlikely pair shares a unique passion for Jewish-black part- nerships.. "The individual natures of those relationships is less important than the pattern: people of different backgrounds comingtogether to bringabout a different world,"Abdul-Jabbar says in an interview with JNS. org. "Today's fractured world makes it easier for groups to isolate themselves from others. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media allows those with similar beliefs to confirm each other's beliefs 24 hours a day rather than interact with those who might have different opinions. That's why it's more important than ever that people can see how such relationships from people of different backgrounds can over- come those differences in the service of something greater." Abdul-Jabbar took home two honors at the NAACP Image Awards this February--Best Children's Book for"what Color is My World?: The Lost History of AfricanAmerican Inventors," and Best Documentary for "On the Shoulders of Giants: The Story of the Greatest Team You've Never Ieard Of," which he produced with Morales. Unexpected Jewish-black partnerships run deep through recent history. Nelson Mandela gave the funeral address for his beloved friend and anti- apartheid champion, Joseph Slovo. Stanley Levison helped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. plan the 1963 MarchonWashington. Famed sports broadcaster How- ard Cosell rose to prominence by covering Muhammad AlL Mannie Jackson, born on a train car, was recognized by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein for his prowess on the basketball court. Jackson later went on to buy the Globe- trotters organization, dust it off, and resuscitate it. "These eight men might not have agreed on which day to worship, but they all agreed that all humans should have the same opportunitytobetter their " lives," Abdul-Jabbar says of the abovementioned Jewish-black at certain times," Morales says. "For example, Kareem is Mus- lim and therefore we cannot accept any liquor endorsements because of religious beliefs. We argue over other small things, like the time I introduced him to the owner of a large pretzel chain and the first thing he said upon meeting the gentleman was, 'I really hate pretzels.' Of course the man was taken back. Not knowing what to do, he of- fered Kareem a free card to go and try one of his world-class pretzels." "Small dislikes that are un- known to each other play into our business relationship and sometimes cause conflicts," she added. "We differ in our political and religious beliefs, but overall we get along and look for the common ground." . Abdul-Jabbar says that he "hadalotofconfidence in Debo- rah" when she approached him about a business relationship, but he was initially concerned about leaving his prior talent representation because "she did not have a lot of experience in this industry." But now, he says, he sees clearly how "this relationship has been extremely successful in my post-playing career." The success Of that relation- ship can be attributed to "our ability to overcome the typical relationship dynamics" be- tween blacks and whites, Mus- lims and Jews, and celebrities and businesswomen, according to Morales. "These aren't blockades but rather building blocks that make our foundation stronger," she says. "The person scoring the most points in a game can't do it unless someone passes him the ball and someone else sets a pick and someone else rebounds. People on the outside may think the scorer is the most valuable player, but that sGorer knows he can't do it without the others."