Slideshow

Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We started the day at another one of those hotel buffets. But Israeli buffets are not just ordinary...they tend to be amazing. We had heard about this (and Wendy had experienced them) and the Dan Tel Aviv did not disappoint. Delicious and incredible --salads, smoked fish, cheeses, blintzes, cheese and potato turnovers, cheesecake, halvah, yogurt, fruit, shakshuka, and any possible dairy dish you can imagine.  Luckily, they had small and large plates! And one of us filled both!


Israeli breakfast fare is somewhat familiar to us--the smoked fish (above) from our Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi) roots and the Shakshuka (a spicy tomato egg casserole which is becoming trendy in the States) from our past Israel trip and obsession with Mediterranean and North African recipes. The other items (Israeli salads and assorted breads) are also familiar and very yummy.  What's missing, you may ask? Bagels as we know and love them--not a one to be found! And no donuts at breakfast (but we'll compensate for that later).

Wendy was reunited with Yuval as we met him in the lobby at 8:30. His plan was for us to experience  "the real Tel Aviv" by walking through its various neighborhoods. It was chilly, but the wind had almost completely died down and no rain was in the forecast, so we set out.

Yuval first told us that most tourists see Tel Aviv as a beachfront resort town and venture no farther than the street their hotel is on. But there is much more to see in this vibrant metropolis that is home to people from many different places in the world. While the majority of the residents are Jewish, even within them is a variety of languages, customs, and origins--the diaspora at work.

He then explained that Tel Aviv is a relatively new city, established only 100 years ago on land just north of the ancient city of Jaffa by newly arrived Zionists hoping to create a Jewish homeland / state.
The city does not have that distinctive "Mediterranean" look that we have seen in other places. Part of this is due to the large number of Bauhaus buildings. These were the work of a group of  German immigrants in the 1930s. The goal of this school of architecture was to unite art with technology, and this idea appealed to and was enthusiastically supported by the Zionists for its clean simple lines and modernistic feel.

Hitler outlawed the Bauhaus style, so ironically you will not find many examples in Germany. Thus, Tel Aviv has the largest complement anywhere in the world.

We walked up Dizengoff Street, the main shopping street of the city. It is named for Meir Dizengoff, the city's first Mayor. There we saw the "Fire and Water Fountain" of Yaacov Agam (whose work has been an inspiration for some of Wayne's quilts). It is named accurately, because it is a water fountain during the day and shoots flames of fire at night (we'll have to take Yuval's word for that!).



Next we went down Ben Gurion Street to see the home of Israel's first Prime Minister. Ben Gurion lived in this modest house for many years, even when he held office, and now it is open to the public. It reminded us of our grandparents' apartments in the 50s and 60s.

Then on to see a memorial to another Prime Minister: Rabin Square, where he was shot and killed in 1995. 

Yuval gave us the complete historical context; his dad worked for Rabin so the story was particularly personal.  Speaking of Rabin (the peace-maker), we had decided to travel with Yuval because he shares our political views about Israel.  While many, including Netanyahu, believe the Israelis are destined to be in conflict with the Palestinians into perpetuity, Yuval is hopeful and shared some other more encouraging perspectives.  (Unrelated, we have had one question about our incoming president so far.  No comment!)

Next stop was at the near-by Monument of Holocaust Memorial and Resistance.

It was built with two steel interlocked triangles and was constructed in a way that it looks like a star of David from above. The Israeli artist, Ygal Tumarkin, created it in 1974 when this place was still called Kings of Israel Square. The Memorial now has an ecological water pool on the side and symbolizes life with hundreds of Israelis walking around every day.

Next we walked up Rothschild Boulevard, one of the city's original "upscale" areas, to Independence Hall. This was originally Mayor Dizengoff's home, but after he died additions were made to it, and it eventually became the Tel Aviv Museum. It was here on May 14, 1948, just a few hours before the British Mandate was set to expire (and the Brits would leave), that Ben Gurion convened a meeting of the Provisional State Council and declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Their Declaration of Independence was signed and the new National Anthem, Ha'tikvah, was sung. As part of our tour, we listened to the actual audio tape from that day.  Wendy has sung Ha'tikvahs before, but never in Israel.  Very emotional.

After our visit to Independence Hall (the name of the museum was changed in 1948),  we journeyed out of Tel Aviv to Jaffa and Abu Hassan's Hummus restaurant. Yuval said that he never takes groups there; it is small, authentic, and a real experience (made easier by being with a local).  The menu listing on the wall is all in Hebrew and there were only a half dozen dishes listed. The main feature is Palestinian-style hummus. On each table is a plate full of pita, raw onion segments and dishes of garlicky oil to mix into your hummus (if you wish). They also have French fries for dipping. Yuval ordered for us, and within 30 seconds we each had a larger than life-sized bowl of the most delicious hummus ever.

It had a lot of cumin, and one third was covered with mashed fava beans (think Mexican refried beans). Yuval explained that hummus originated here. (and don't even ask if it is Palestinian or Israeli in origin, although Yuval's fiancée is researching that very question!). And, no, we were not in the clean plate club! Unlike some cafes (i.e., coffee shops), the mantra here is order, eat, and leave.

Speaking of coffee shops, Yuval told us that there was a Starbuck's in town, but that it had to close because it did not create the atmosphere of the real cafes. In those, one can eat breakfast, sit and talk with friends, eat lunch, sit, eat dinner, and then dance to music at night! This is a hold-over from the European café culture.

Next we walked through Jaffa. As it is an ancient city, there are many narrow, winding streets. We walked through the flea market section....street stalls plus shops selling all kinds of items, from large appliances to the oddest of miscellany. The epitome of this was a store that sold only items from when the British were here (70 years ago!). Tools, instruments, toys, photographs....you've never seen such an inventory!

And this was the sign outside the door:

The city is built on a hill ("tel" in Hebrew), and offers a great view of the sea and Tel Aviv just to the north. As it was a clear day, we were able to see all the way to Caesarea, about 30 miles farther on.

Around the edge of the hill are synagogues, a monastery, and several large churches; these reflect the variety of faiths of the people who have lived here over the centuries. In fact, the hill is not natural. It is the result of building and rebuilding on top of ruins from previous inhabitants.

Finally, back to south Tel Aviv. Yuval lives in this area, so he was able to give us his unique perspective. He told us that there are many immigrant groups (from Europe, Arica, etc.), that all live in harmony, though still somewhat separately. The area is being gentrified as people from the north side of the city ("the rich side") are moving in to take advantage of cheaper housing costs....which in turn makes this area desirable, which raises the housing costs!

He then took us to see his mother's studio. She is a world famous artist, Orna Ben-Ami, who works in iron! One of her pieces is called "Open House". It is a bench with a person sleeping on it under an iron quilt! She actually cut and then welded each square!!  Here is that work, in place.

Orna has upcoming exhibits at the U.N. (depicting the refugee crisis) and at a private gallery elsewhere in Manhattan.  Coincidentally Wendy will be in Manhattan  at the same time so she will be able to see it.

That was the end of touring for the day. We had planned to have dinner at a chi-chi Asian restaurant, but after getting back to the hotel we realized how tired we were (perhaps some jet lag plus the Fitbit showed we walked 6.5 miles!). So we decided just to eat in the hotel.  No worries, foodie fans, plenty of blog-worthy meals to come! Once again, it was a huge buffet with a lot of choices (this time including meat!). There were a lot of families in the dining room....each seemingly with at least 3 children. And very strange: at breakfast, each and every dish was clearly labeled in Hebrew and English. At dinner, nothing was labeled! The best part was dessert. There was a fantastic chocolate mousse, and mun cake just like grandma used to make! Yum!!!

Tomorrow we leave Tel Aviv and head north to Caesaria, Haifa, Akko, and the Galilee--including lunch with our friend, Rana Haddad!

love, w&w.........

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