Imagine, We're in Israel!

Shalom / Salaam travelers!

How do you know you're in Israel? (A) the signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, (B) the breakfast buffet is literally 10 miles long, (C) there are 3 sukkot in the dining room,
(D) travelers on your flight are carrying lulavs and etrogs, (E) all of  the above?

If you guessed (E), you are corrrrect! Welcome to Wendy and Emily's Amazing Adventures in Israel! (Wayne has a conflict this time of year and this itinerary was too good to be true, so Emily graciously agreed to accompany mom in his place). We are blessed to be joined by our dear friend Susan McCaffrery as well.

We arrived yesterday and will be traveling with an organization Wendy is involved in -- Hands of Peace ( on a dual narrative trip led by Mejdi Tours ( That said, this is not the official Hands of Peace commentary on the trip-- these are Wendy's and Emily's personal thoughts.

Before we get into the trip per se, some context about the upcoming blog posts for this trip. Typically, our blog can be fun, silly, delicious and even a tad irreverent.  We certainly plan on having fun on this trip and there absolutely will be delicious meals and accounts of those meals. However, this blog will be different. Just as our blog on Central Europe (including memories and experiences concerning where and how our [actual forebears and] Jewish people lived, including the Holocaust) got emotional and serious, so will this blog-- but in an altogether different way. As a Jew, my relationship with Israel is complicated. I kissed the mezuzah when I exited the airplane and entered the hotel room (where else could that happen?) and I have marveled at the buffets laden with Jewish food (among other types) and the crowds of people who kind of look like me and certainly share some of my life experiences. But those who know me well know my Jewish journey and it is anything but typical.  To make matters a tad more complicated, this is a journey in which we will be exposed to a multi-faceted Israel. And I'm the current chair of our sponsoring organization. This will be emotional and not always politically correct. I understand right now if some of our past readers decide not to read this time around. I hope you stay with us, but that's your call and I respect it. So buckle your seat belts, you're in for a different kind of ride!

Our tour officially begins Tuesday evening but we arrived mid-day Monday, allowing time to acclimate and adventure beforehand. I didn't think far enough in advance to expect the cultural components of our trip to begin with the flight to Tel Aviv. This is a heavy travel time of year to Israel, as it's in between Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) and Simchat Torah, so many of the most observant (orthodox) Jews have the week off and travel to Israel now. At least a third of the travelers on our flight (not El Al either) were Orthodox. And many were carrying their own lulav and etrog (symbolic branch of a date palm tree and young citrus fruit to mark Sukkot) on the plane along with top hats and conservative dress. Indeed, after we boarded, the flight attendant announced that if any travelers could not sit next to women, there were several open seats. The menus were in Hebrew and English and so were the announcements. And two hours prior to landing, we noticed several men wrapping themselves in their tallith prior to prayer and, indeed, one gentleman sought out a minyan beforehand.    

We arrived at the hotel, took a nap and then ventured out on the boardwalk across the street (Tel aviv sits on the Mediterranean, strange that earlier this year we were also on it in Greece and Turkey).  There was a huge festival going on with many young families--

 -- kids are the same everywhere!  We wandered a bit longer and then it was time... to eat! Based on several recommendations, we ate at Manta Ray Restaurant right on the beach and our first treat was a gorgeous sunset.

As good as Santorini!

Speaking of treats, the food was outstanding. We started with several mezze (we're on the Mediterranean).
There were three of us but six mezze plus amazing Bulgarian bread (don't ask me to do the math)! We enjoyed roasted cauliflower, tzatiki, eggplant purée, beets with goat cheese fritters, shredded salmon with arugula, nuts and herbs, and shrimp with mango salad. We made a pretty good dent in these delectable appetizer sized salads. For our mains, Em and Susan chose blue bream with red mango rice and I had grilled grouper with gnocchi and carmelized eggplant with cashews in an herbed lemon butter.

Delicious! Run, do not walk, to this restaurant when you are in Tel Aviv. 

And while we're on meals, they say Israeli breakfasts are something to behold but this jaded "Breakfast buffets Around the world" traveler was in a "prove it to me" mode. Well, I'm a believer. There were tables extending the length of a football field containing cheeses, smoked fish (several kinds), salads, blintzes, breads, pastries, cereals, shaksouka (a spicey Israeli egg/ tomato sauce dish), eggs, pancakes, waffles, fruit, Halvah, vegetables, and much much more. There was a coffee bar (our guide made clear that Israeli coffee surpasses Starbucks-- no contest) and even the opportunity to squeeze your own orange juice.

You would think we would have been sated after that breakfast but our next stop was the famous Carmel open air market for fruits, vegetables, bread, pastries, olives, meat, fish, etc., as well as the art market (only on Tuesdays!). This market was terrific and the souk setting made it all the more fascinating. The wares were exquisite.

Next stop: lunch of course. A light lunch at an Israeli family spot-- the Station. We returned to the hotel to freshen up prior to our Tel Aviv architectural tour. Our guide Daniel, recommended by a friend and just secured today, did an excellent job of walking us through the Bauhaus style buildings on Rothschild Boulevard (now the 5th avenue of Tel Aviv-- great shopping, theatre, restaurants, coffee houses--and close to the beach). This architectural style was developed in Germany from 1919-33 but was outlawed  by the Nazis because it was too "free spirit". Developed in response to the ravages of WWI, it was intended to be plain, simple, inexpensive to construct, light, airy, and intended to harness industry to improve people's lives. Among early emigrants from Germany (in the 1930s) were Jewish architects who fled to Israel and promptly began building homes in the Bauhaus style. There are more buildings remaining in this style in Tel Aviv today than anywhere else in the world-- so much so that it is called "The White City".  Daniel also pointed out buildings in the eclectic style-- a blend of Muslim and European influences.

Initial perspectives: it's awesome to be here. It's Jewish.  It's Hebrew  (which I don't read by the way). It's Israeli--bringing out my inner New Yorker to a new level. It's miraculous how this desert became much much more. My people played a huge part in making that happen . The juxtaposition of visiting Auschwitz only two years ago and now Israel is powerful. And therein lies the rub. One of our guides, Husam, is Palestinian and so dear to me.  So we continue... 

Dinner was back at the hotel with the group followed by our orientation session. We begin touring with Husam and Yuval tomorrow. Our group is energized and ready to go. Tomorrow night we will be in Jerusalem, so our next report will be from there.

In the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv.

Peace, shalom, salaam

wendy and emily

1 comment:

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