Exploring in the north and Hamat Gader

As mentioned in my previous post, the Shavit Family Guest House is both a lodge and a restaurant, and we were fortunate to be able to enjoy some of their delicious food during our stay there. The first night, we ate dinner at the family restaurant, ordering the signature dish of lamb casserole – cooked all day and stewed with potatoes and various vegetables. We also had breakfast at the restaurant both days and it was delicious! Like any good Israeli breakfast, there was an abundance of dips, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and beverages.

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After breakfast, we made a stop at Capernaum (where Noah and I have now been three times!) and looked at the ruins of a synagogue from approximately the 4th century (don’t mind the fact that the men in the photo below are actually looking at another camera…):


After Capernaum, we began to drive north further into the Golan region, stopping at a lookout point along the road for some incredible views of and around Lake Kinneret. The area is called Offir lookout, and it is off of Rt 789:

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The lookout was a great find – we weren’t planning to go there and only happened to notice it off the road. In fact, we had to drive along a long, muddy trail to get there, and we almost turned back, thinking the path didn’t lead to anything. I’m glad we forged ahead!

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Given the slightly cold and rainy weather during the trip thus far (as you may have noticed from the photos), the group decided that this would be a great day for a refreshing activity. So, we headed to Hamat Gader, a hot springs spa located right by the Jordanian border and only a few miles from the point where Jordan, Israel, and Syria meet. Despite its slightly suspect location (and the fact that this is an Israeli spa, read: you need VERY different expectations than what you would expect from an American spa), visiting Hamat Gader was a lot of fun. When we arrived, we ate a quick lunch of salatim at a casual family eatery within the park and then headed to the main attraction: the hot springs!

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The hot springs basically look like a big public pool, but it is filled with thermal hot springs. Also, the natural sulfur in the water is said to have a healing and renewing effect. I am not so much of a water person, so I was content to sit by the side and watch the fun:


After the hot springs, the rest of the day included more driving, gazing at lookout points, and a dinner on Mt. Gilboa before heading back to the Shavit Guest House for one more night (and breakfast!). Naturally, there was more rain – this time with a bit of hail!


And I thought there wasn’t supposed to be rain after Pesach?!?!

The following day was again busy with exploration, visiting the Yigal Alon Museum at Kibbutz Ginnosar, more ruins, and a very rainy trip to Tzfat (sound familiar?!).

The day ended with a drive back home to Jerusalem, where Noah’s parents would spend the rest of their visit. We went for dinner at one of Noah’s and my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Kalo. Noah and I shared a camembert cheese sandwich and salmon/cream pasta, both of which were delicious:

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Noah’s parents stayed only a few blocks from us at the Little House in Baka – a small and casual hotel that has been very popular with the visiting parents of students in my program this year. Be careful, though, not to confuse it with the building next door: NOT little house in Baka:


I guess those people have had one too many tourists try to come into their living room…. 🙂

Although Noah’s parents spent another 5 or so days in Israel after coming with us to Jerusalem, I could only spend one more day with the group because classes at Pardes were resuming. During my last day with the family, we went to the Israel Museum. Although Noah and I had been to the Israel museum before, it is a HUGE place and there were a lot of exhibits we didn’t get a close look at the first time. In particular, I wanted to look at the archaeology exhibit and the sculpture garden. I really enjoyed walking through the sculpture garden and, in particular, seeing a piece called Space that Sees by James Turrell. The piece is a large box of sorts that you enter through a walkway…


Inside, it is a large square where you can sit and look up at the sky through the open ceiling:

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Very neat! I imagine it could be quite beautiful to see in the nighttime:

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Other posts about visiting with Noah’s parents:

Zichron Yaakov – visiting Ramat Hanadiv gardens and Caesarea
Ein Hod Artist’s Village and Acre (Akko) – Crusader’s Fortress and market



Jerusalem Cafes: Round 2

A couple weeks ago, I posted about cafe culture in Jerusalem and a few of the nearby cafes I visited during my first couple weeks in Jerusalem (see that post here).

As my weeks in Jerusalem have increased, the list of cafes I want to try grows longer and longer. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to try a couple more cafes in the last few weeks…

First up, I went to Shosh Cafe with a group of friends about two weeks ago. I went with a group of friends from college (oddly, there are a lot of us here in Jerusalem this year)! While the cafe was supposed to be yummy, a big motivating factor for choosing it was the comedic effect that it shared a name with our college Rabbi.


The signature ‘Shosh breakfast’ was quite a sight to behold:

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I opted out of the namesake breakfast, however, and instead had a frittata with sweet potatoes, cheese, veggies, and all the typical Israeli breakfast accoutrements (bread, spreads, salad):


Shosh Cafe was delicious and I would definitely go there again. As mentioned previously though, my list of places to try is long enough it might be a while before I’m going on a ‘second round’ anywhere. 🙂

My official first day of classes at Pardes was two Sundays ago, and after my first day ‘back to school,’ Noah and I went out to dinner at RoladinRoladin is near our apartment in the Baka neighborhood in a small shopping center. The cafe is both a bakery (with desserts, pastries, and coffee drinks) and a sit-down restaurant:


I ordered a salad with eggplant, tahini, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, radish and onions:


Noah ordered a pizza:


The meal was good, but I preferred the other cafes we’ve been to. I think I would be more interested to grab a coffee or dessert at Roladin than to go back for a full meal.

Lastly, at the end of last week we went out with some friends to a nearby Baka neighborhood cafe called Hamakom Shel Itzik (Itzik’s Place). As mentioned in some of my previous posts, essentially all restaurants in Jerusalem in kosher. What this typically means is that the restaurant pays a fee to hold a kosher contract with the chief rabbinate of Jerusalem. After paying the contract fee, a restaurant can receive a certificate of kashrut on their wall, confirming that they meet the standards of kashrut as set forth by the chief rabbinate. If, however, a restaurant meets all of the standards of kashrut but doesn’t pay the fee to the chief rabbinate, they cannot receive a certificate and, therefore, are prevented from being publicly recognized as kosher.

As you might imagine, this system leads to some frustration and the feeling that the fee to the chief rabbinate is, at best, unfair and, at worst, corrupt. In response, a small group of Jerusalem restaurants have challenged the chief rabbinate’s authority, refusing to pay the kashrut fee but still calling themselves kosher. No, there’s no certificate on the wall, but the kitchen is kept strictly kosher and all business stops on Shabbat. If you are uncomfortable eating at the restaurant for lack of certainty about their level of kashrut, they are even happy to give you a peek into their kitchen!

Hamakom Shel Itzik is one of these restaurants, and I really enjoyed my meal there. Around the table, there was lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant/egg/tahini salad, and a cheese-filled boureka.


The food was excellent, and our server was also particularly friendly (something not so common in Israel where the waiters often seem less-than-interested in chatting with their table).

Stay tuned for more cafe recaps soon…and if you are interested in reading more about the situation regarding Jerusalem restaurants holding their own kashrut and challenging the chief rabbinate, read this article!


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:

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

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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:


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:

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

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


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


… 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:


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



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!

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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.


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.


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.

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


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


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.

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My friends both ordered the green shakshuka.

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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:

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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:

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

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


City of Gold

I made it!


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:


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


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


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.


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!


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:


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


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

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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.

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


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


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:

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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