Cafe Life

Cafes abound in Israel. Walk down any main street in Jerusalem, and you are likely to see a smattering of cafes – often with both indoor and outdoor seating areas – busy with customers at any time of the day. Popular for breakfast, lunch, dinner, as well as just a coffee or dessert, meals at cafes are often long and leisurely, fitting with the Israeli taboo of bringing the check before bringing directly asked.

In the last few weeks I’ve been to a few cafes (also see posts about The Grand Cafe and Fresh Kitchen). The weekend here is Friday-Saturday, aligning with Shabbat. In Jerusalem, nearly all stores and restaurants close down for Shabbat, so I’ve enjoyed going out for a Friday midday meal at a cafe to enjoy getting out around the city during the weekend before settling in for a restful Shabbat.

Two Fridays ago, I went with friends to Kalo. Kalo is another Baka neighborhood establishment very popular with both Israelis and visitors. While some cafes may be known for a particular dish or inventive menu item, the overall food line-up at each cafe is very similar: shakshuka, an assortment of omelettes, salads, cheese/eggplant/tomato/egg sandwiches, and the classic Israeli breakfast. Ordering an Israeli breakfast is a (deliciously) filling experience, and the meal typically comes with two eggs, cheese, salad, jam/cream cheese, a small serving of tuna, and bread. Something that I’m not used to from the USA is the inclusion of a hot and cold beverage with a breakfast meal. Typically, juices and basic coffee options are included for this option, and if you want to upgrade to a smoothie or shake there’s a small upcharge.

At Kalo, I ordered their version of the traditional Israeli breakfast and chose orange juice and a cappuccino for my beverages:

IMG_4723 IMG_4722 IMG_4721

Other noteworthy items at the table included a fruit smoothie and a ‘green burger’ salad:

IMG_4720 IMG_4724

We enjoyed a relaxing couple hours at the cafe chatting and eating before asking for the check and heading out to do some Shabbat shopping and preparations. We especially got a kick out of watching a very human-like dog at a nearby table:

IMG_4725

This past Friday, I went to Tmol Shilshom for lunch (with my brother, Samuel, who is also here in Jerusalem!). Tmol Shilshom is near Ben Yehuda street. The restaurant is both a cafe and a bookstore and has become somewhat of a cultural establishment due to the fact that many Israeli writers have conducted readings of their work at the cafe. In fact, the cafe was mentioned in my Ulpan book! I also read online that their Shakshuka was voted ‘top 10 breakfasts in the world’ by Lonely Planet Travel Guide – a fact which was reiterated on their menu. 🙂

The cafe itself is on the second floor of a building, and the entrance is tucked away in a back alleyway so we followed a series of signs from the main road to get there:

IMG_4783 IMG_4784 IMG_4787

Eventually, we found our way to the stairs and made our way into the cozy cafe interior:

IMG_4788 IMG_4789

BIG bonus points to them for quoting Joni Mitchell on the placemat!!

IMG_4792

It seemed like the right occasion for a luxurious meal, so my brother and I both got milkshakes…

IMG_4791

… and Noah got a decked out version of the Israeli classic: ice kafe. Unlike iced coffee in the USA, ice kafe in Israel is more like a frappuccino – a blended sweet coffee drink. To get the American version of cold coffee with ice, you would need to order a kafe kar, literally, cold coffee. Noah basically got the super version of ice kafe which added ice cream and whipped cream:

IMG_4790

After all the buzz about it, we obviously all ordered the shakshuka.

IMG_4793

Delicious!

Halva Banana Cake

Today was my first baking experiment in Israel! I think it went pretty well. 🙂

I bought some halva (a Middle Eastern dessert/candy made out of sesame and honey, often sold in large bricks) earlier in the week, and quickly realized that it would be an incredible feat to eat the whole amount of halva straight.

IMG_4801

So…I decided to incorporate it into a baked good! The result: halva banana cake! *full recipe below

First, I mixed together 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup white flour, a scant 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon:

IMG_4795

Next, in a separate bowl, I mashed 3 small bananas:

IMG_4796 IMG_4797

With the bananas, I mixed two eggs, 1/3 cup applesauce, 1/3 cup greek yogurt, and 1 tsp. baking soda:

IMG_4799

I combined the wet ingredients with the dry ones:

IMG_4800

And then added 3/4 cup crumbled halva to the batter:

IMG_4802

Once the halva was stirred in, I poured the batter into a buttered cake pan and added another 3/4 cup of crumbled halva on top:

IMG_4803 IMG_4804

I baked for 40 minutes at 350º and…

photo (13)

YUM YUM YUM! The little hole is from where I put the knife in to test it before it was quite done…

Ingredients

 - 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

 - 1/4 cup white flour

 - scant 1/2 cup sugar

 - 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

 - 3 small mashed bananas

 - 2 eggs

 - 1/3 cup applesauce

 - 1/3 cup greek yogurt

 - 1 tsp. baking soda

 - 1 1/2 cups halva

 Method

 - Combine flours, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl and
stir to combine

 - Combine bananas, eggs, applesauce, greek yogurt, and
baking soda in a bowl
 and stir thoroughly

 - Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and
stir to combine

 - Stir into the batter 3/4 cup crumbled halva

 - Pour batter into a buttered cake pan

 - Sprinkle another 3/4 cup of crumbled halva on top

 - Bake for 30 minutes at 350º F (175º C - useful temperature
conversion for my Israeli oven!)

Making a Home

IMG_4734

I’m in Jerusalem for a year of Jewish learning at Pardes, but moving to a new home – especially in a new country! – takes some adjustment to make things feel comfortable. Tomorrow, I will have been in Jerusalem for three weeks, and I’ve definitely started to feel at home.

Eating meals at home helps me to feel settled. On vacation, I’m usually eating out all the time, and while I plan to do plenty of eating out in Jerusalem, there’s something that feels comfortable and “I actually live here” about having meals at home. While I’ve gone out for a few meals with friends, I’ve mainly eaten from the comfort of my own kitchen. And the food has still been great!

IMG_4689 IMG_4687

It’s been especially fun to eat at home since there continues to be so many fresh fruits and vegetables that I want to enjoy straight from the fruit stands.

This week: mango and kiwi!

IMG_4730IMG_4690

Taking all of my stuff out of bags and making sure that everything has a place in the apartment also was a big step for making the apartment homey. In some instances, this tooking getting a little creative. For example, I brought all my jewelry here in a ziplop bag (and then spent about 30 minutes getting it all untangled when I got here!). Earring trees don’t travel so well, so I had to find a solution for how to store my earrings while I”m here. The result: egg carton earring stand! 

photo 1 (24)

While I didn’t want to buy a new earring stand here and then feel compelled to fly it across the Atlantic later, there were some things that are worth buying…

…such as a new yoga mat! Having the mat has enabled me to do some yoga at home; I’ve done a few YouTube lessons by Lesley Fightmaster. Her last name might not sound very yogic, but her videos are a good workout and I’ve felt really rejuvenated afterwards.

IMG_4736

I’ve also visited the Pardes building a few times to get my bearings and see where I’m going to be studying for the year…so excited!

IMG_4732

and the most essential part to feeling at home here…

IMG_4741

LOOK WHO ARRIVED ON TUESDAY:

IMG_4742

Yay. 🙂 This is really starting to feel like home.

Tahana Rishona

The Tahana Rishona (First Train Station) is a historical site that has now become a center for culture, music, and socializing in Jerusalem. Service on the train tracks that used the First Station ended in 1998, and after that it stood abandoned until renovation started to open it as a cultural center in 2013. Part of the initiative was also turning the train tracks into the rekevet pedestrian and bike trail. As planned, in 2013, the station – called The Tahana for short – reopened and has since become a great location for both Israelis and tourists to soak up Israeli culture, enjoy a good meal or drink, or even go to the ‘beach’ (there is a sandy area with a volleyball court and wave simulator!).

The Tahana features several full-service restaurants as well as places to get a drink, an ice cream shop, and a smoothie/juice joint. A couple weeks ago after Shabbat ended, I went with some friends to Fresh Kitchen for some coffee drinks and cookies.

IMG_4654

Fresh has a lovely outdoor seating area and a broad menu with lots of appealing dishes – so appealing, in fact, that I went back for a real meal last night.

IMG_4746 IMG_4747

The Tahana also features a rotating schedule of events for people to enjoy fitness, music, and dancing. Every morning there is yoga, Friday mornings there is a running team, on Sunday and Wednesday nights there is dancing, Tuesday nights feature a live Jazz Trio, Thursday nights there is Zumba, and every Friday at 5:00pm there is a musical welcoming of Shabbat!

Last Friday, I went to the Tahana’s musical welcoming of Shabbat to see the prayer/music group, Nava Tehila. The group playing Shabbat music at the Tahana rotates each week, but I assume that – similar to how it was with Nava Tehila – it is generally a lively playing of Shabbat songs with lots of singing along and dancing from the audience. This past week, there was quite a crowd for the welcoming of Shabbat, and it was a lot of fun to see all the people and families there – happy to enjoy the music and excited for Shabbat!

photo 1 (25) photo 3 (21)

Beyond the music and events, the Tahana also features rotating art exhibits…

photo 4 (17)

…stores where you can by Jerusalem gifts, jewelry, and knick-knacks…

photo 1 (26)

…and, during the summer, a daily arts and crafts fair as well as a farmers’ market on Fridays:

photo 5 (13) photo 3 (22) photo 2 (29)

Overall, the Tahana is a great spot for pretty much any activity, and I’m definitely planning on visiting more of the restaurants and taking advantage of more of the cultural activities in the near future!

 

Emek Refaim Food Finds

As mentioned previously, Emek Refaim is the  main road going through the German Colony in Jerusalem. The street is packed with shops, restaurants, cafes, and people from places including – but not limited to – the United States, France, England, Germany, and of course Israel.

Emek Refaim is only about a 10 minute walk from my apartment, and the Ulpan that I’m attending is on Emek, so it’s been easy enough to check out some of the enticing eateries lining the street. Last week, I went to a couple restaurants on Emek with a friend.

Despite the long-standing joke about American Jews loving Chinese food, there are not too many Chinese restaurants here in Jerusalem. There is, however, lots of sushi! An exception to the hard-to-find-Chinese-food rule is Soya, located on the corner of Emek Refaim and Rachel Imenu.

IMG_4661 IMG_4662

Many Israeli restaurants have lunch time specials that include salads or other appetizers free with your meal. So, since we were there for lunch time, our meal started with a small salad. We also shared an order of vegetable eggrolls.

IMG_4663 IMG_4664

For our meals, we ordered mandarin chicken and a house chicken dish served with tomatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and a honeyed date sauce. Both meals were served with rice that seemed to have been cooked in soy sauce.

IMG_4668 IMG_4669

The food was good although there was a lot (especially for lunch!) so we took home leftovers.

At the same intersection of Emek Refaim and Rachel Imenu is also Marvad Haksamim. Marvad Haksamim specializes in traditional Israeli cuisine and soul food: lots of hummus, kubbeh, kebabs, stuffed vegetables, salatim, and pickles (to name a few). After being seated, we were brought a Middle Eastern version of a bread basket:

IMG_4670

Salouf (a Yemenite flat bread) was served warm from the oven with a tomato dip (almost like salsa except not spicy), cucumber pickles, and pickled carrot salad. We also got a side order of hummus because clearly the salouf was in need of a delicious chickpea/tahini mashup…

IMG_4671

For the meal, we ordered chamusta kubbeh soup (ground meat filled dumplings with celery, summer squash, and a flavorful broth) and an appetizer sampler which came with fried kubbeh (balls of dough filled with ground meat and fried), moroccan cigars (ground meat wrapped in phyllo dough), vine leaves stuffed with rice, and something that seemed like a fried wonton but I don’t know exactly what it was! The appetizers were served with a sweet tomato sauce and tahini.

IMG_4672 IMG_4673

Every Friday, Marvad does a take-away buffet for Shabbat where people can buy breads, desserts, and all sorts of prepared appetizers and entrees to have and serve over Shabbat. I recently realized that there’s a coupon book in my apartment which includes a 10%-off coupon for Marvad Haksamim Friday take-away…so maybe I’ll have to try it sometime!

 And for coffee…The Coffee Mill is a welcome sight for anyone who likes a plain old cup of coffee. While espresso beverages and cafe culture are in top form, a plain cup of coffee seems to have been left behind in Israel. If you want just a regular, non-espresso coffee beverage, then you’re generally faced with either instant Nescafe of Turkish Coffee which – despite having gone through a more complex roasting process – is extremely similar to Nescafe except with smaller grounds.

The Coffee Mill, however, offers a wide selection of espresso AND coffee beverages. An entire wall of the shop is devoted to beans in multiple flavors and from all across the world for people to buy by the kilo and take home.

photo 3 (20)

But don’t worry – lest you think plain coffee makes things boring – The Coffee Mill still has a wide selection of exciting espresso beverages and yummy treats.

photo 4 (16) photo 2 (27)

And the final stop on the Emek food tour…

photo (12)

…an impromtu lemonade and popcorn stand set up by some kids in front of a supermarket! I got a lemonade (with mint leaves!) for 2 shekels. Totally worth it. 🙂

Tiyul to the Shuk

For my first month in Israel, I am doing an ulpan. An ulpan is an intensive Hebrew-learning program, designed to help olim (new immigrants to Israel) learn the national language quickly and practically. There are many places to do ulpan in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, and in addition to multi-month classes for new olim, there are week-long and month-long classes that are popular with students and tourists. Traditional ulpan is a huge time commitment, with participants being in class for 4-8 hours each day. I am doing ulpan through Ulpan-Or, and I am in class for 3.5 hours every day (besides Friday and Saturday – the Israeli weekend).

In addition to the daily classes, once a week I go on a tiyul (trip) with the ulpan. The idea of the tiyul is to familiarize ulpan students with an important area of Jerusalem as well as to give them the opportunity to use their Hebrew out on the street. This week, we went on an incredible tiyul to the shukShuk means market in Hebrew, and a visit to the shuk is an absolute must-do for any visitor to Jerusalem. The shuk is heaven on earth for any foodie, cook, bargain shopper, people watcher, or human being with a decent appreciation for fun. Most of the food is sold by weight, and the colors at every fruit and vegetable stand are enough to make you stop and stare:

IMG_4708 IMG_4704

salatim

salatim

Nuts and dried fruit also make a strong appearance:

IMG_4694 IMG_4706

As do tea and spices:

IMG_4707

And things that used to be alive:

IMG_4701 IMG_4705

The shuk is full of amazing bakeries, featuring bread, pita, bourekas (baked phyllo dough pastries), and many other types of gluten-filled goodness.

IMG_4698 IMG_4699 IMG_4709

A trip to the shuk also necessitates a visit to Marzipan – Jerusalem’s most loved rugelach shop:

IMG_4696 IMG_4697

With all the fabulous ingredients available, it would be easy to overlook the amazing eating to be done in the shuk itself…but this would be a great mistake! Ima is a Jerusalem restaurants with a few locations that specializes in kibbeh soup (seasoned ground meat dumplings served in a rich broth).

IMG_4702 IMG_4703

Uzi Eli’s juice bar offers a remedy for everything, and if you go in to say ‘hi,’ Uzi is likely to tell you about his family whose Yemenite secrets he inherited as the key to his profession. Oh, and that if you are optimistic between the ages of 9 and 17 you will have a longer life. And that you should laugh for no reason.

IMG_4714 IMG_4715 IMG_4716

Mousseline is an ice cream shop offering homemade and unusual flavors – and featuring ingredients bought in the shuk! Flavor highlights include Grapefruit with Basil, Masala, Cinnamon, and Tonka (a South American vanilla bean).

IMG_4713

Visiting the shuk got me excited to make a regular routine of finding new and fresh ingredients to use in cooking; I definitely want to make it a habit to buy food there each week.

In closing…

SPOTTED: A GIANT GOURD!

IMG_4711

The Grand Cafe and Shakshuka

Running at 7:30am in Jerusalem is much better than running at 10:30am in Jerusalem. Holy cow, it’s hot!

photo (10)

But…sleeping until 9:00 is much nicer than sleeping until 7:00. What’s a girl to do?!

In other news, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first week and a half of exploration through my area of Jerusalem. I am living in the Baka neighborhood – southeast of the old city.

IMG_4603

There are a lot of French and American immigrants in Baka, and it is neighbor to another Anglo-area, HaMoshavah HaGermanit (the German Colony). The German Colony has a lot of Americans, Germans, and Europeans in general, and the cafes and languages heard on the street in both areas reflect peoples’ roots.

IMG_4642

Bagel Cafe in the German Colony

Both neighborhoods are fairly upscale and trendy, and the two areas are connected across a pedestrian walking and biking path called the rekevetRekevet means train in Hebrew, and the path is a tracks-to-trails project.

IMG_4640 IMG_4641

Derech Beit Lechem is the main road in Baka while Emek Refaim is the primary thoroughfare cutting through the German Colony.

IMG_4645

While both are lined with cafes, restaurants, shops, and falafel joints, Emek Refaim is more bustling and has more establishments lining the road.

IMG_4644

This week, I went for lunch with a couple friends at The Grand Cafe – a lovely spot for any meal of the day. The cafe is right on Derech Beit Lechem in the middle of Baka, only a couple of blocks from my apartment.

photo 1 (23)

My friends both ordered the green shakshuka.

photo (11)

Shakshuka is a popular food in Israel and throughout the Middle East. Traditionally, shakshuka is made by poaching eggs in a tomato sauce, often with onions, spices, and perhaps a little cheese on top. There are several variations, however, and this green shakshuka included spinach, leeks, and roasted tomatoes. The meal also came with a heaping basket of bread:

photo 2 (26)

Everything on the menu looked good, but I went with a fruits and vegetable salad that came with fresh fruit, roasted nuts, fried gnocchi, cheese, and a balsamic drizzle:

photo 3 (19)

The real reason I didn’t get shakshuka though was because I had plans to cook shakshuka with a friend later that night!

photo 1 (22) photo 2 (25)

We made a more traditional version with tomatoes, yellow pepper, and onion. Good food, good friends…yeah, I can get used to living here. 🙂

CIMG1887

Pirot v’yerakot: adventures in Israeli Dining

Oh Israel, your food is a splendor.

IMG_4633

Here’s the breakdown…

Foods that are better in the USA: pizza, yogurt, plain black coffee

Foods that are better in Israel: everything else

No, I am definitely not using hyperbole. Just look at this banana:

IMG_4656

I rest my case. 

One of my great Israeli adventures so far is venturing to pirot v’yerakot (fruit and vegetable) stands, selecting a few things I’m unfamiliar with, taking them home, putting them in my mouth, and consulting google to learn what I’m eating.

Last week I shared my encounter with prickly pears. This week, I mystery grabbed these:

IMG_4637 IMG_4639

Turns out this is what a passionfruit looks like! I had only ever had passionfruit as part of a juice or smoothie – not on its own. You can eat it by scooping out the insides with a spoon (don’t lose the precious juice!). The outside shell is hard and relatively easy to separate the fruit from:

IMG_4638

Salatim (salads) are also a great part of Israeli cuisine. Salatim doesn’t refer to simply the mix of lettuce that we Americans refer to as salad. In Israel, salatim refers to a wide array of appetizer-like spreads, dips, pickled vegetables, and overall deliciousness. Nearly every Supersal (a large grocery store chain), mikolets (smaller grocery stores – almost like convenient stores), and small specialty shops (cheese, meat, bread, etc.) sells a selection of salatim that you can buy in various sizes. This week, I picked up a few salatim to try:

Matbuha (a spicy tomato dip, also sometimes called Turkish Salad):

IMG_4649

Eggplant with tahini:

IMG_4650

And I am now on my first second third tub of hummus (also considered a type of salatim). In defense of my hummus consumption, however, I will point out that one entire tub was consumed by Shabbat guests on Friday night. I had a group over for Shabbat dinner where I got to break out my kiddush fountain (you pour wine from the main kiddush cup into the ‘fountain’ which distributes the wine into several smaller cups):

IMG_4647

And purchased challot from the popular Jerusalem bakery, Marzipan:

IMG_4648

Also before Shabbat, I popped into a shop near my apartment that sells prepared meats, salatim, and side dishes. Observant families don’t cook on Shabbat, which requires a lot of preparation in advance for the weekly holiday. As a result, it’s common for many families to buy some prepared food to lighten the amount of preparation that’s required.

When I say prepared food, I’m not talking frozen meals or processed faux-meats. There are freshly cooked meats, vegetables, appetizers, and soups. I decided to buy a mystery foil-wrapped cylinder because for once in my life I don’t have to worry about what sort of meat could be inside (halleluyah for kosher everywhere!!).

When I got home, I opened up the foil and discovered this:

IMG_4634

It was some sort of phyllo dough encased ground meat/potato/onion dish. I cooked it in the oven for about 30 minutes and this is what came out inside…

IMG_4635

Yum! I had it with some very delicious (and long) green beans as well as the aforementioned salatim.

IMG_4636

And…what is more appropriate to close out my Israel food rave than Tim Tams?

IMG_4657

Okay, so they come in a package. And they’re actually made in Australia. And they are a far cry from any semblance of healthy. But ask anyone who has participated in an Israel summer program, Birthright, or school trip, and you will quickly learn that Tim Tams are an essential part of the Israel experience. The double-layered wafers with a chocolate cream center can be found on the front shelf of each Supersal, mikolet, and every other food-selling establishment. But, the magic of Tim Tams goes far beyond chocolate or cookie. The true love of a relationship with a Tim Tam comes in the consumption.

There is really only one right way to eat a Tim Tam.

Step 1: Get a glass of milk. Coffee is also acceptable and tea might do in a pinch.

IMG_4658

Step 2: Take a small bite from one corner of the Tim Tam:

IMG_4659

Step 3: Take a small bite from the opposite corner of the Tim Tam:

IMG_4660

Step 4: Dip one open corner into the milk/coffee, and put the other open corner into your mouth. Use the Tim Tam as a straw and suck until you taste the milk.

Step 5: Eat the Tim Tam – whose chocolately wafer has now absorbed the milk and become oh-so-juicy-and-delicious.

Step 6: Ecstasy

And, because I am not completely oblivious to the state of the world, some brief comments about life in Israel over the last week.

The mood was very heavy at the beginning of last week. Last Tuesday was Tisha B’av, an annual Jewish fast day that is described in the Torah as a day of crying and misfortune for all generations. This damnation is in response to the report of 12 spies who were sent to take a peek at the promised land and report back to the newly-freed-from-Egypt Israelites. While the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, the spies came back with a negative report, saying that the people in the land were great and fierce and the Israelites should just turn back now since they would surely never be able to truly enter the land. Furious that the Israelites would so easily fall into grief and despair when the land had, in fact, been promised to them, God decreed that the Israelites would not enter the promised land until that generation died out, leading to the subsequent 40-year wander in the desert. The tragedy of the day – the 9th (tesha) day of the Hebrew month of Av – would also continue indefinitely through all generations. Hence, Tisha B’av. 

Interestingly enough, the day truly has been one of great sorrow for the Jewish people throughout history. It is on this day that both the first and second temples were destroyed in Jerusalem (some 657 years apart), Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and Spain in 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue…no? different theme?), Germany entered WWI in 1914, formal approval was received for the Nazi “Final Solution” in 1941, and mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began in 1942.

Clearly, it’s not a good day. The mourning of the day is also intensified because of safety concerns resulting from the day being used as a target for terrorist attacks in recent years. This past Monday, just before the start of the fast, there were two attacks in Jerusalem including one that involved a stolen tractor plowing over a bus and killing one person. Monday also marked the day that Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel, breaking yet another ceasefire and resuming the war that many Israelis had hoped and believed was coming to an end. Beginning tonight at midnight, another ceasefire is supposed to go into effect…hopefully this will last.

In closing, I recommend this op-ed by the always brilliant and ever insightful Thomas Friedman.

“3,000 years with no place to be and they want me to give up my milk and honey. Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea, not the country but the dwelling of his majesty. Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from me tongue. Jerusalem if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.”
– Matisyahu

City of Gold

I made it!

IMG_4591

My travel to Jerusalem went pretty smoothly. I had some time to kill in the international terminal at JFK, but a delay there meant I was running to catch my connection in Moscow. Hence, I had no time to see what a Russian airport has to offer. cry me a river. 

At JFK, the international terminal is pretty swanky. Although I cannot for the life of me understand who does serious shopping while at an airport:

IMG_4580

Duty free is another phenomenon that I haven’t really caught onto, but it sort of reminds me of Costco.

IMG_4581

The other interesting thing about the international terminal was that alcohol was served from the cooler cases just like juice or water!

IMG_4582

I did not partake…but I wonder what ID rules are about how old you have to be.

I flew a Russian airline, Aeroflot. The flight was comfortable and all the flight attendants wore bright orange. Even their shoes! The best thing about the flight – which I haven’t seen before – was that they gave you a ‘do not disturb’ sign for your seat.

IMG_4586

You were supposed to put one of the stickers on top of your seat, and then the flight attendants would know whether or not to wake you when they came around with food. I put in a special meal request for vegetarian meals on the flight, and it was actually edible – although definitely not good compared to anything besides typical airline food.

After a solid day and a half of travel, I finally arrived to Israel!

IMG_4613

Even though it’s been a while since Jerusalem was thought to be the literal center of the world, it seems like all eyes are often still on it today. The current matzav (situation) has placed Israel in a spot of global focus, and the conflict certainly is visible in the general atmosphere here. All men and women have compulsory army service for three years here, meaning that essentially everyone has family or close family friends in the military. Many of the men are stationed in Gaza. The news is constantly playing, and overheard pieces of conversation often contain reference to the matzav.

That said, Jerusalem has been able to maintain a level of normalcy that other areas of Israel have not. While the conflicts weighs heavy on the minds and hearts of all here, the schedule of daily life is largely uninterrupted. Since being here, I’ve settled into my apartment in the beautiful neighborhood of Baka:

IMG_4603

Visited Pardes, where I will be studying for the next year:

IMG_4597

Enjoyed coffee and Israeli breakfast at the ubiquitous Israeli version of Starbucks (but way better!!!!), Aroma:

IMG_4598 IMG_4600

And that’s not to mention that Jerusalem is, quite simply, the most breathtaking city in all the world. 🙂 Jerusalem is often referred to as ‘the city of gold.’ Obviously, it’s a treasure, but the nickname is also attributed to the unique Jerusalem Stone (a white limestone) that has been used for buildings here since ancient times. The bright sun on the white stone causes a beautiful brightness – almost a reflection – that can often make the city look as if it has a golden tint.

IMG_4602 IMG_4594

If that doesn’t convince you, imagine seeing this splendor on your walk home:

CIMG1990

Like any city, Jerusalem has little quirks that anyone visiting gets used to. For example, Jerusalem is full of stray cats.

IMG_4616

They’re completely docile but are best not approached – basically like squirrels in the US.

Israel also grows incredible fruits and vegetables; some familiar and some unfamiliar to westerners. Produce is best bought at small fruit and vegetable stands were you can get everything from avocados to Jaffa oranges to prickly pears!

Speaking of…I tried prickly pears for the first time:

IMG_4617 IMG_4618

They are soft but full of hard seeds which, technically, can be eaten, but I preferred to spit them out. Now I know what the Jungle Book‘s been talking about all these years!

And…one final note on the matzav. I don’t want to get very political or focus too much on the conflict (and, God willing, the current ceasefire will lead to a more permanent one!), but if you are interested to read more, here are two articles that have done the best job from what I’ve read of fairly and sensitively analyzing the conflict. Both articles are from The New Republic (thanks, Papa Bear).

From a couple weeks ago – about questions of morality within the war

From a few days ago – about the difficulty of asymmetrical warfare, as seen in the Gaza-Israel conflict