Israel has long been a country that we have wanted to visit. If you have any interest in the history of religion, then it will be a life goal to come to the “holy” land to see ancient biblical sites and learn about the people (Muslim, Jewish and Christian) who call this place home. However, making the decision to visit Israel or Palestine does not come easy, with the constant fear that violence can erupt anytime and anywhere. As we planned our trip to the Middle East, Israel was always listed with a question mark. We waited until the last minute to buy a plane ticket to Tel Aviv, gauging the risk we were taking by bringing our family to a high tension destination.
Despite all of our legitimate concerns, I refuse to live life in fear. As we drove into Tel Aviv, I felt a deep excitement and exhilaration for finally being here. We had a brief period of time to explore the primarily “secular” city of Tel Aviv, and had to strategically plan a walking tour that would allow us to visit the neighborhoods we were most interested in. We were staying in Neve Tzedek, a trendy, hipster neighborhood that was undergoing a major facelift. The main street had recently been re-cobbled, and many of the vintage Bauhaus homes were being renovated to their original beauty, although currently standing side by side homes that were crumbling and in significant disrepair. Within a couple of years, we predict that this neighborhood will be completely gentrified, as the real estate prices already signify its’ desirability.
From here we headed to Old Jaffa, eating shakshuka (eggs fried in a stew of heavily spiced paprika tomatoes), and then took in all the eye candy of the flea market, full of bohemian boutiques, colorful antique stores, and stalls of general-store goods for all. I was coming to understand the Israeli chutzpah and drive to live life fully, whether surrounded by fine shops or sipping Arabic coffee amidst the rubble of war-damaged buildings. We continued to the port of Jaffa to see fishing boats, watch fishermen cast their rods, sell live crabs, or mend their nets. Gabriel was enthralled.
The beach soon beckoned (as it always does!) and we joined the rest of the Israeli beachgoers who see the coast as the most joyous part of their culture. The beaches are beautiful, and obviously play a major part in the backdrop of Tel Aviv life. I was most surprised by how warm and clear the water was, and how regulated the surfing vs. swimming areas are.
After sunning and playing in the waves long enough to satisfy Stella and Gabriel, we headed to Carmel Market, to drink a beer at Beer Bazaar, a place with a wide selection of Israeli micro brews. After a near crushing stroll through the packed food and “everything else” market, we gorged on the best falafel of our lives for $2.
My final desire was to walk down Rothschild Avenue to study the Bauhaus architecture that is more concentrated on this main artery and gives this area the moniker – “White City”. Our second night ended with a delicious home cooked meal featuring a Yemeni style chicken soup in the home of Alik and Mihal (cousins to my best friend in L.A., Julie). This was a wonderful opportunity for us – to meet a family with children (Na’ama, Ofre, and Itamar), who lived near Tel Aviv and could teach us a little about their lifestyle. We were up talking until past 1 AM, and wish that we could have spent more time together.
The next day began our drive along the coast, heading North. Our first stop was at the beach Beit Yannai, considered one of the most beautiful in Israel. Then we headed to Caesarea, an ancient Roman port town that had its’ glory days during the time of Herod the Great, but played a significant role in Maritime trade from 22 BCE to 1261, under the rulership of Romans, Muslims, Crusaders and French. We continued our drive with quick detours via Zichron Ya’akov and Ein Hod, small hill towns with winemakers and artists. Our final stop that night was in the home of lovely Portia (a friend from SF), and her two sons, Roey and Ittai, in Haifa. The gracious hospitality we were experiencing in Israel continued under her care, with another amazing dinner of couscous, stewed vegetables, baked chicken and salad – a phenomenal meal.
The next morning we were able to walk to the very beautiful Baha’i Gardens from Portia’s home. Stella and Gabriel insisted that we leave them behind with Portia’s son, Roey. They were starved for the companionship of other children and preferred to play “zombies”, X-box, and dress up in SWAT gear – obviously! Although this was a destination that we had been looking forward to teaching the children about, it was for the best that we could admire these luscious grounds on our own. The gardens consist of symmetrical landscaping in a large terraced strip down a very steep hillside, and involve a lot of stairs! What a serene place to meditate under the shade of a palm or under the warmth of the sun, with Haifa Bay and the Mediterranean Sea on the horizon, surrounded by bright flowers in meticulously manicured gardens, adorned with sculptures, fountains, and the shrine of the Bab.
After saying our goodbyes, we headed to Akko, an Arab town where we enjoyed one of the best seafood meals of our trip at Uri Buri, thanks to Gavin’s recommendation. Our last stop, all the way at the border with Lebanon, was Rosh Hanikra. We took a cable car down a white chalk cliff to visit its’ grottoes of deep turquoise water. Once again we had not made any hotel reservations and found ourselves on a desperate search for accommodation during the Sukkot holiday, eventually finding ourselves on a Christian kibbutz!
The adventure continues…