A Few Final Israel Moments

My last post mentioned some of the meetings and educational tours I had during my last Israel trip, and here are a few of the food and location shots that didn’t make it in…

One of my favorite meals during my recent Israel trip was this outdoor lunch at Cafe Greg at the Old Port in Tel Aviv:

IMG_8718 IMG_8720

Cafe Greg is a chain around Israel, but I actually really love their salads and, especially, their version of Israeli breakfast.

The group also took a spontaneous trip to Cinema City:

IMG_8755 IMG_8756

Besides playing with the new lifesize Star Wars figures, I also snagged lunch at Moshe Burger (see my post here for pictures of their food). The burger was great!

I spent a nice afternoon at the Tahana Rishona – one of my favorite Jerusalem spots!:

IMG_8732 IMG_8734

While it was hard to saw goodbye to Israel at the end of the trip, I was so happy I was able to visit so many favorite spots (and favorite meals!) during my trip. It also helps that I know I’ll be back there again next winter. 🙂

 

Traveling around Israel

After my week of relaxation in Jerusalem, I spent a week and a half traveling around the country with my grad school program. We meet with various organizations and leaders and had many challenging, interesting, wonderful conversations. The trip started in Tel Aviv. I got to the hotel before the rest of the group, so I had a few hours before starting the busy trip itinerary. I checked in at the Hotel Metropolitan – it was comfortable and clean with rooms that slept two comfortably:

IMG_8699 IMG_8700

I love the little things that indicate you’re in Israel…such as every hotel room having a mezuzah on the door:

IMG_8698

After checking into the hotel, I had a few hours to kill so I visited Shuk HaCarmel, Tel Aviv’s primary outdoor shuk (market):

IMG_8701

I also walked along the beach for a bit, enjoying the sights and sounds of the promenade:

IMG_8703 IMG_8704

The Tel Aviv promenade along the beach is one of my all-time favorite places to run, and the next morning I had a great jog, pausing to take in the view towards Jaffa and back towards the Tel Aviv city center:

IMG_8708 IMG_8710

I also loved this Ben Gurion statue along the beach, upside-down in his iconic headstand:

IMG_8715

As for the formal trip itself, some highlights included a visit to the Knesset where we talked with Michael Oren and Ksenia Svetlova:

IMG_8738 IMG_8742

A Tel Aviv walking tour (pictures below were taken in Rabin Square):

IMG_8721 IMG_8722

A tour of the security barrier, talking about the structure itself as well its purpose and challenges:

IMG_8731

A visit to the ruins of Yamit (a town forcibly evacuated of Jewish settlers in 1982) and a tour around the Gaza borders. The shattered tiles below are remains from a bulldozed bathroom wall:

IMG_8765 IMG_8766

A visit to Nitzana, an educational youth village in Southern Israel in the Negev (the Hebrew translation of the phrase pictured below is “If you want to create a change, you need to live the change.”):

IMG_8776

A tour of the Old City in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter on Christmas Day (pictures below are from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre):

IMG_8752 IMG_8751

And – the most memorable part of the trip – a visit to the Holot Detention Center, a manifestation of Israel’s attempts to manage its refugee crisis. From 2004-2012, tens of thousands of refugees entered Israel from Eritrea and Sudan. Most of the refugees do not have work permits and are not legal residents of Israel. Yet, Israel is unwilling to forcibly send them back to their countries of origin given the dangers there. Unprepared to handle the situation, one of Israel’s attempts to manage the crisis is Holot – a refugee detention center in the Negev. Holding thousands of male refugees, residents are expected to be at the camp from 10pm-6am each day (although they can leave outside of those times so long as they are present for twice-daily roll calls). Without work visas, the people at the detention center have very little to do each day, causing additional challenges.

These pictures are from a market outside of the detention center’s fences where many of the residents spend their days:

IMG_8782 IMG_8784 IMG_8785

And we also had some views towards the fences of the detention center itself:

IMG_8789 IMG_8790

The last meeting of the trip that I’ll mention was an evening with a leadership youth program for Bedouin teens (the program only exists for boys right now, although they are planning to start one for girls soon). The program is called Stars of the Negev, and we had a fascinating evening meeting with them in a tent, drinking tea, and asking questions about their community:

IMG_8791

The educational part of the trip was fascinating, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of so many interesting conversations. Stay tuned soon for a quick recap of some of the more light-hearted parts of the trip!

Visit to Zichron Yaakov

For the second part of Passover and through the following week, Noah and I had very special visitors:

IMG_7400

Noah’s parents visited for about 10 days, and we had a great visit. It was a lot of fun to have visitors, and it was also a real treat to travel more throughout the country and see some new places. To begin the visit, Noah and I met his parents at the Tel Aviv airport.

Small interjection about one of the “so Israel” things that I love about this country, the man waiting at the arrivals corridor next to us was reading the Talmud Bavli. Oh, Israel. ❤

IMG_7372

When Noah’s parents arrived, we picked up a rental car at the airport, and then drove together to Zichron Yaakov. Zichron Yaakov is at the base of Mt. Carmel, south of Haifa and was founded in 1882 as part of the First Aliyah movement. The settlement was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, a Zionist, French Jew who provided the financial backing for much of the first aliyah movement.

In Zichron Yaakov we stayed at the Purple House, a lovely place that Noah’s mom found on Air BnB.

Adorable, yes?:

IMG_7397 IMG_7395

AND, with a lovely garden:

IMG_7392 IMG_7394

Upon our arrival, we went for dinner at a restaurant called Casa Barone at the Beit Maimon hotel. It was kosher l’pesach and had various meat-y items – I had a burger with fries (the restaurant was dark, so no good pics).

The next morning, we had a nice breakfast at Cafe Kilimanjaro, a coffee shop that Noah’s mom found to have a lot of good reviews on Trip Advisor.

IMG_7398

Breakfast was delicious…

IMG_7404 IMG_7405

…and Noah ordered the cafe’s signature drink – some sort of chocolate/coffee mixture:

IMG_7401

After breakfast, we strolled a bit around Zichron Yaakov’s main pedestrian street, peeking in windows and (of course) posing with statues:

IMG_7406 IMG_7407

The day’s primary activities began with a trip to the gardens of Ramat Hanadiv – beautiful sprawling gardens in the memory of Baron Rothschild.

IMG_7416

At the gardens, we watched a brief movie about the Baron Rothschild and then spent a couple hours walking through the various garden paths and admiring the trees and flowers, as well as visiting the grave of the Baron whose tomb is within the gardens:

IMG_7411 IMG_7415

After the gardens, we drove to Caesarea and explored the ancient ruins there. The ruins included – among other things – a Byzantine fortress wall, Roman theater, and various rooms and storehouses used by the area’s previous inhabitants:

IMG_7417 IMG_7431 IMG_7429 IMG_7418

My favorite part of the ruins was the Herodian amphitheater:

IMG_7439IMG_7441

The ruins were right along the coast which provided some great views of the water:

IMG_7424

The area was quite sprawling and a bit overwhelming to make sense of without a guide, but luckily there were some informational panels smattered throughout the ruins providing information:

IMG_7425

After leaving the ruins, we made a quick stop at the (impressively intact) remains of the Roman aqueduct and then went back to the Purple House for a relaxed evening:

IMG_7446

Other posts about visiting with Noah’s parents:

Ein Hod Artist’s Village and Acre (Akko) – Crusader’s Fortress and market
Exploring in the north and Hamat Gader spa and hot springs

Day trip to Tel Aviv

A couple weeks ago, I took a day trip to Tel Aviv with Pardes. The day focused on understanding the nuances and challenges of creating a secular Jewish city. Tel Aviv was instrumental in the formation of secular Jewish identity – and secular Jewish national identity.

The day started with a visit to the Shalom Meir Tower – Israel’s first skyscraper – where we viewed a replica of  Tel Aviv as well as looked at a small photo exhibit documenting Tel Aviv’s early years. When this tower was build in 1965, it was the tallest building in the Middle East!

IMG_6729

After the tower, we went to Trumpledor Cemetary and visited the graves of some of Israel’s most important historical figures.

IMG_6731

Some of the more significant figures included Hayim Nahman Bialik, a pioneer of Hebrew poetry who is now recognized as Israel’s national poet…

IMG_6733

…and Ahad Ha’am – arguably the most influential cultural Zionist. Even if you don’t know anything about Ahad Ha’am or cultural Zionism, you may know his most famous quote, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” (particularly interesting and thought-provoking when you consider that Ha’am was not, in fact, a Shabbat observant Jew himself)

IMG_6734

After the cemetery we had some free time at Shuk haCarmel (Carmel Market) to walk around and get lunch.

IMG_6739

Noah and I grabbed lunch in the nearby Yemenite Quarter at a hummus eatery. The only thing on the menu: hummus with pita. There was a choice if you wanted hard-boiled egg on top (we said yes)! The Yemenite Quarter is full of authentic and filling hummus shops – some hole-in-the-wall style and others more of an established restaurant.

IMG_6737

After lunch, the group reconvened to head to Habima Theater for a private tour of the building (previous visit to Habima Square documented here). On the tour, we talked about the theater’s pre-statehood beginnings, pre-statehood. The theater officially started in Poland, but began touring in Israel on funds from the Soviet Union. Habima was the world’s first Hebrew-language theater, and many of their first tours in Israel consisted of performing on make-shift stages at kibbutzim. Now, the theater puts on all sorts of plays (still all in Hebrew). Here is the theater set up for a performance later in the day:

IMG_6741 IMG_6747

While at the theater, we also got some backstage looks at the costume department and storage room:

IMG_6743 IMG_6744

The tour made me really want to see a play at Habima…if only I could understand Hebrew well enough to know what was going on!!

The final stop of the trip was a much anticipated visit to Google Israel Headquarters:

IMG_6750

This place was seriously swanky.

IMG_6751

Naturally, everyone was wowed by the unlimited free drinks, espresso, and snacks in the lobby. After snack/drink time was over, we met with a couple of Google employees where they talked to us about the company, what it’s like working for Google in Israel, some of Google’s latest initiatives, and answered our questions. I asked if the emphasis on high tech in Israel leads to a more equal representation of women to men in tech fields than in the US. The response: yes, definitely.

Goodbye Google, maybe we’ll meet again…

IMG_6753

Baha’i Gardens and Dr. Shakshuka

During my parents’ visit, we spent a day in Haifa. Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city, and it’s located in about one-hour north of Tel Aviv, resting below Mt. Carmel. The primary cultural highlight of Haifa is the Baha’i Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Haifa is the world center of the Baha’i faith – one of the world’s newest religion. Baha’ism was founded in Iran in the 19th century, and its primary tenet is the unity of all mankind. Baha’is believe that prophets have appeared throughout history (Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, etc.), and religious truth is comprised of progressive revelations regarding a universal faith.

The Baha’i Gardens are built around the Shrine of the Bab. The Bab foretold of the revelation of the new faith to Baha’u’llah, the religion’s founder. In addition to the shrine, the gardens are filled with perfectly manicured trees, hedges, and plants. Gravel pathways and steps wind throughout the garden, which is open to visitors year round. One of the most unique features about the garden is that it is built along a hill and has 19 terraces!

From the bottom, the stairs can look quite imposing:

IMG_6051 IMG_6048 IMG_6049

A big part of the garden’s magnificence is how impeccable everything appears:

IMG_6050 IMG_6053

We didn’t climb all 19 terraces (that’s a lot of stairs!), but we did spend about 45 minutes walking around the garden and enjoying the views out onto on the town.

IMG_6052

After our day in Haifa, we headed to Tel Aviv for a couple days. While in Tel Aviv, we went to Jaffa for an evening. Jaffa is an ancient port city that was once separate from Tel Aviv, but urban sprawl has made the two cities essentially connected today. It is told that Jonah (of Jonah and the whale) set off from Jaffa, and many historians believe it to be the oldest port in the world. In Jaffa, we walked along the waterfront and strolled through the town center where there were shops, restaurants, and street entertainment. We got dinner at a restaurant called Dr. Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a North African dish that is quite popular in Israel as a breakfast any-time-of-day food. Traditional shakshuka is comprised essentially of tomato and eggs, but variations include adding eggplant or other vegetables as well as a ‘green shakshuka’ version that is typically based around spinach.

Dr. Shakshuka had about 25 different shakshuka variations as well as some other North African dishes like couscous and kebabs. From some reason, I don’t have a photo of the actual shakshuka, but here are a few shots of the couscous, meat, and salad we ordered:

IMG_6055 IMG_6056 IMG_6058

If you’re a shakshuka fan, I would definitely recommend paying this place a visit if you’re in the area!

 

48 hours is Tel Aviv: Day 2

After a full day walking and biking around in Tel Aviv, I was ready for a relaxing dinner and a good night’s sleep! After looking around a bit for a dinner spot, Noah and I decided to go to Piazza, an Italian-style restaurant, that had good reviews on Trip Advisor.

IMG_5491

We sat outside underneath a clementine tree:

IMG_5493

For the meal, we ordered a small focaccia with egg and tahini spread, pea/zucchini/artichoke risotto, and a tomato and cheese salad:

IMG_5494 IMG_5496 IMG_5495

After the meal, we were stuffed and completely crashed at the hotel.

The next day, we did a lot more walking around. We stopped by the Bauhaus Center for some shopping and reading about architecture in Israel, and we also visited the contemporary art building of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art which was featuring a series of short films. The main stop of the day was the Tel Aviv Tahana.

IMG_5498

Tel Aviv’s Tahana (station) is extremely similar to Jerusalem’s Tahana Rishona – which is not surprising considering these were the first two stations between which the first Israeli trains traveled. Tel Aviv’s Tahana had a lot of open square space, several shops and restaurants, and a couple old train cars for people to look at:

IMG_5502 IMG_5499

We considered getting lunch at the tahana, but all of the restaurants were packed, so we decided to find a place to eat in the Nave Tzedek neighborhood that was next to the station. We went to a restaurant called Cafe Suzana and shared a delicious lunch of kubbe (basically dumplings filled with ground beef) and a chicken roll:

IMG_5507 IMG_5508

We also tried a local drink that was listed on the menu simply as ‘almond drink:’

IMG_5509

The drink was sweet and served with mint. I really liked it!

After lunch, it was already after 3:00pm and we had expended most of our energies getting to and from the tahana (it was about an hour walk each way), so we gathered our stuff and headed back to Jerusalem on a sherut (shared taxi). Overall, it was a great weekend away! There are about a dozen museums in Tel Aviv that I really want to visit, so I’m already itching to go back. 🙂

48 hours in Tel Aviv: Day 1

Last weekend, Noah and I took a lovely two-day trip to Tel Aviv. A mere 45 minute drive from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv feels like an eternity of difference. While by no means are all of the people living in Jerusalem religious, the city definitely has a certain feeling of piety about it, and there’s a sense of holiness and connection to the past that seems to linger here. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is by every measure a modern city, complete with sky scrapers, clubs, a beach where tzniut (modesty) can be completely forsaken, and trefe (food that is categorically unkosher, ie, pig or shellfish) can be easily be found on menus.

While in Tel Aviv, we stayed at The Cinema Hotel, in Dizengoff Square. The Cinema Hotel used to be a movie theater, and old movie posters and video cameras comprise the bulk of the hotel’s decor:

IMG_5403 IMG_5405 IMG_5406

Our room was comfortable and clean with a view looking out to the city:

IMG_5407 IMG_5409

Dizengoff Square, where the hotel is located, is an elevated square above a busy road crossing. The highlight of the square is the Dizengoff fountain which, four times a day, puts on a fabulous fire/water/music show. I thought the show wouldn’t be that cool (it’s a fountain, right??), but in the end it turned out to be AWESOME (in my humble opinion). Spoiler alert: there is FIRE in the fountain. YES, REAL FIRE!

IMG_5402IMG_5488

Can’t get over that one. In addition to the fountain, there was also an antiques market at the square on Friday selling clothes, books, and basically every knick-knack you can think of:

IMG_5416 IMG_5417

We were also right next to the Dizengoff shopping area (essentially like any American shopping mall) and the Dizengoff tower:

IMG_5467 IMG_5468

Breakfast was included with our room, and the hotel offered a fairly typical Israeli breakfast spread – eggs, cheese, bread, vegetables, fish, fruit, coffee, juice, yogurts:

IMG_5411 IMG_5413 IMG_5414 IMG_5415

In addition to breakfast, we also got a free happy hour at the hotel which included snacks, wine, and great views off of the hotel’s terrace:

IMG_5473 IMG_5474 IMG_5471IMG_5475

We saw this fun sculpture on a neighboring building:

IMG_5478

On our first day there, we rented bikes through Tel Aviv’s bike-sharing program, Tel-O-Fun:

IMG_5418 IMG_5419

We biked about an hour north of the city center, primarily on protected bike paths along the beach promenade:

IMG_5425 IMG_5420 IMG_5422

Along the way, we got some great views of people heading out for a beach day, and we also saw a portable beach library!

IMG_5424 IMG_5423

Originally, our plan was to bike to the Yitzhak Rabin Center and view their exhibits, but we ended up getting to the museum too late (it closed early on Fridays), so we had to satisfy ourselves with looking around some of the HUGE (and, oddly, empty) rooms of the building:

IMG_5429 IMG_5430

Instead of more biking, we decided to walk back to the city center…which turned into quite a journey!

We meandered our way along the Yarkon River for a bit…

IMG_5426

…taking us through a park with a Coffee Bar (non-stop!!!)…I had a laugh about the name

IMG_5431

and, SURPRISE, a zoo!

IMG_5433

We were extremely surprised to find this mini-zoo in the middle of the park. And it was way more than just a petting zoo! There were ibexes, deer, turkeys, emu, and – somewhat strangely – a single white bunny rabbit:

IMG_5432 IMG_5434 IMG_5435 IMG_5436

In the words of Noah, this was, “the best zoo ever.” He has the gift of being easily entertained.

By the time we were out of the park and back in the thick of the city, it was late afternoon and we were ready for lunch. We stopped at a cafe called The Streets and ordered a cocktail and cold coffee while we waited for our food:

IMG_5447 IMG_5441 IMG_5440

For the meal, I ordered an Israeli breakfast and Noah ordered a roast beef sandwich:

IMG_5442 IMG_5443 IMG_5444 IMG_5445

Continuing after lunch on our walk back to the hotel, we passed by Habima, the Israel National Theater, and the surrounding Habima Square:

IMG_5463 IMG_5465

The square included some interesting artwork including this sculpture called “Ascension,”

IMG_5464

And a small garden that moves from, on one end, desert plants to, on the other end, beautiful and abundant flowers. Clearly a metaphor for the land of Israel itself!

IMG_5459 IMG_5462

Finally, our last stop for the day was Rabin Square, so named after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated there in 1995. The spot were Rabin was shot is now marked by a memorial and some preserved messages in response to his death:

IMG_5448 IMG_5449

Rabin was shot by an Israeli terrorist who opposed Rabin’s peace initiatives. Sadly, Rabin’s efforts and progress towards establishing peace for Israel and Palestine has not been replicated since his death. Visiting the square, it was somewhat tragic to think what things might be like today if he had remained alive and continued the process of peace negotiations at that time.

Besides the memorial, the square also offers a lot of open space, an artificial pond (where there were lots of people laying out on chairs, sunning and reading), and a memorial sculpture commemorating the Holocaust:

IMG_5451 IMG_5453 IMG_5454 IMG_5455

After a long day of walking and exploring, it was seriously time for some down time!

IMG_5466

Check back soon for a post about the rest of the Tel Aviv trip!