Israel is a country of contrasts wrapped in controversy with a twist of ancient history and tied up in incredible new architecture.
Where does one begin with a country the size of New Jersey yet provokes enough air time to fill many hours of news.
Although I’ve walked through the maze of Jerusalem many times before and been to the most religious of sites, this time my guide Ron, decided we should see this Holy city from another vista. Up narrow, dark slippery stoned ancient stairs, we viewed this incredibly beautiful city of Jerusalem from the rooftops of buildings and residences where people still live. And when the sun shines, the stones turn as golden as the Dome. However, some of the houses which I stood atop looked as though a great gust of wind would blow them down.
It was as astonishing as it sounds, being able to see the lanes below from open windows and various tin covered roofs yet view the entire city from this vantage point, was like seeing a three dimensional Technicolor film.
After we descended to the maze of lanes, Ron seemed to know most of the shop/stall vendors and after, cheeks kisses, hand shakes and nods,these shop owners kept offering our group cakes, drinks, prayer beads, and anything that they thought would make us happy travellers. Far from any obvious hostility, Arabs, Christians and Jews seem to live peacefully.
In the midst of all this antiquity which records show, goes back 5000 years, is the Jerusalem Museum that is without parallel, with its strong angles, extremely high ceilings, massive wall space for many of first rate gifted modern art, stands as one of the great museums in the world.
Also, what looks like something out of a kids doodling book is the new Chord Bridge. Designed by Spanish architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, some locals see it as David’s Harp (Lyre) since the mast, 118 metres high and now the tallest structure in Jerusalem, looks out of place with the ‘strings’ of the harp going nowhere. But perhaps because it’s such a religious city, it may have been Calatrava’s version of getting closer to heaven? Another major aspect is that this bridge connects Kiryat Moshe to Jerusalem’s bus terminal. This masterpiece is a cantilevered spar cable-style bridge with a glass sided pedestrian walkway.
In the famous open, some areas covered, is the Machane Yehuda food market. Every city seems to have a meeting point and here it is “ the Aroma”, a coffee chain that managed to outdo Starbucks since business for them was so bad that they left the country and the locals are loyal to their own “java”.
Right on time, we meet Chef Tali Friedman. Young and entrepreneurial, this 36 year old mother has started a cooking school. But before we donned our aprons, she took us to taste food…. halva from the famed Halva Kingdom, David the fish monger, a nameless butcher, a spice shop, fruit merchant and as the grand finale,Basher, The King of Cheese with 800 varieties from around the world and known universally for the vast variety and quality.
Within the ‘shuk’, is Tali’s studio where a narrow stair case takes you to a very up- to- the- minute, state- of -the -art kitchen. The 14 of us were given our duties to chop, slice, roll, sauté, boil and whatever else was needed for all this locally grown produce. Overseeing all this were three very capable helpers. While all was cooking , we ascended to the enclosed rooftop where bottles of Israeli red and white from the Golan Heights Winery, waiting to be tasted and we did our duty to the very last drop.
When we returned to the kitchen, all the pots and pans were washed by hand (no dish washers) and put away and the table was set. Dinner included the freshest salad where even the tomatoes were so sweet and the lettuce so crisp, brought daily to the marketplace.
This was served with a delicate fruity tasting dressing followed by green garlic soup, fish balls on couscous, perfectly done beef albeit a bit too salty for the American taste and ended with diced caramelized apples wrapped in a paper -thin dough but not filo which, Tali said, just tears too easily.
If you’re in the Yigal Alon Center, Kibbutz Ginosar, it’s a must to take the time to see The Ancient Galilee Boat purported to be Jesus’ boat.
Only an hour away from the capital city on a perfectly paved highway is Tel Aviv. Every thing old is new again. An aged train station still with existing parts of tracks and an ancient freight train, were like public sculptures. The area, HataChana is now one of the trendiest places to shop for wonderfully designed Israeli items from dresses and shoes to kitchenware and art. Even the nearby Arab Flea market has been gentrified.
As with most cities in Israel, food is the topic of conversation after politics. Just choose your venue.. an outdoor seaside table, on a plaza near the opera house or in HataChana? The plethora of cafes and sophisticated restaurants gave options for any price point and international taste.
The newly opened Tel Aviv Museum of Art is equal to the grand edifice in the capital city, Jerusalem. Except, this building is rounded with sumptuous curves and a most exciting exhibit of German artist,Anselm Kiefer, on exhibit while I was there.
Known as The White City, Tel Aviv has the largest amount of Bauhaus buildings in the world and is now an UNESCO Heritage listed site.White? All have ecru stucco exteriors and all the defined Bauhaus features. The greatest sampling is a walk down Rothschild Boulevard with true architectural wonders.
In Nazareth, where Jesus lived during his formative years, is Tishreen, a terrific restaurant where our extremely knowledgeable guide, Ariel, was friendly with the two Arab owners.
The magical meal just kept on coming with sumptuous food.
Winning groans was for the chicken breasts with plum sauce and coffee (see the recipe here). We begged for mercy…, “no more please”.
The Golan Heights Wineries was a surprise since we expected sweet, undrinkable kosher wine. Instead, each bottle we tasted proved otherwise. Reservations can be made for any visitor.
The most interesting part of this trip, and there were many to choose from, is that whatever we may read, about the disharmony between Christians, Arabs and Jews, they all seem to manage to live and work together and some even become friends.
Israel is a ‘must see’ miracle that is just about 63 years old.