Israel was thrilling, exciting and completely spontaneous. The diversity of people living in Jerusalem made for the most incredible people watching-this is a HUB of culture as everyone from Orthodox Jews with the traditional big black hats and curly sideburns, to Muslim people in their beautiful scarves, to Ethiopians, and every culture you can imagine call this home.
Jerusalem is a holy place to three major religions-Jewish, Christian and Islamic. You can sense this city’s significance in the air as church bells ring, mosques call and the candles of the menorahs flicker.
As Skott mentioned in our last post, we completed the tricky border crossing into Israel and arrived in Jerusalem at the Abraham Hostel. Jerusalem is very expensive so we opted to go with a ten-bed dorm to save a little extra cash. Despite the fact that we were once again at the mercy of a few relentless snorers, Abraham ended up being the best hostel we’ve stayed in by far! There were SO many people staying here of all ages from all over the world.
We arrived at Abraham in time to sign up for the group Shabatt Dinner on Friday night. This is the traditional meal that Jewish people enjoy before the Sabbath (Saturday). I have never seen so many people cooking at one time!We all pitched in to create our version of a Shabatt Dinner that included all kinds of fresh salads, hummus, baba ganoush, and the special bread that is broken before the meal begins. We toasted one another with our Israeli wine (quite tasty) and spent a night swapping travel tales with people from all over the world.
Saturday was a heavy day and Skott has done an excellent job describing our tour with the Israeli Commission Against Housing Demolition. Click here to check it out… we spent an entire day trying to get a better understanding of the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians and learned SO much.
5 days certainly wasn’t enough time in Israel but we managed to squeeze a lot in! We toured the Old City Centre and had a chance to meander through each of its four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter (which is the largest), and the Armenian Quarter (I thought this one was definitely the most random).
The Jewish Quarter of the Old City features the West Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. It is located at the foot of the Temple Mount, from the remains of a temple that was built approx. 2000 years ago. Jewish people come here to pray in front of the wall, sometimes with their foreheads against it and it is a destination for pilgrimage. The Jewish Quarter has been massively rebuilt, with a lot of support from Jewish people all over the world.
The Christian Quarter is apparently home to 40 Christian holy places, but the most important is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection.Christians believe this is where Jesus was crucified and later resurrected. It has been a pilgrimage destination since the 4th century and we even witnessed a group coming in with a wooden cross while we were there.
The Muslim Quarter reminded me a little of the narrow alleyways in the Moroccan Medinas. There was beautiful tile work and several small mosques nestled between the tall narrow houses. The most significant of all of the mosques is the Dome of the Rock, a HUGE blue mosque with a golden dome. Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem in his Miraj, his miraculous night journey from Mecca. For this reason, Jerusalem is the third holy city to Islam, the first being Mecca, the second, Medina.
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest part of Jerusalem’s Old City. The first known instance of an Armenian to come anywhere near Jerusalem arrived in 95 BC. It is a very long story as to how they came to have a quarter in Jerusalem so if your curiosity is peaked, check it out here.
With all four quarters covered, we felt we had walked enough to deserve a big dinner so we joined up with Abraham Hostel’s market tour to collect fresh produce for a traditional Israeli meal.
Our guide, Nataniel, walked us through the massive Mahaneh Yehuda Market where we were able to see for ourselves all of the amazing fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs that Israel grows. In between the produce stalls you can also find all kinds of roasted nuts, dried fruits, cheeses (lots of goat cheese), special olive oil mixtures, and small bakeries pumping out all kinds of shapes and varieties of bread.
Nataniel taught us how to make a number of traditional salads and dips that we enjoyed with fresh pita bread. Israeli’s use a lot of raw vegetables in their meals for salads that are garnished with fresh herbs, garlic and a few splashes of olive oil. The dish that I found most different and interesting was a salad created with a base of chopped parsley and mint, topped with pomegranate seeds and pieces of pommelo (a fruit that is like a grapefruit).
The next day was spent entirely at Yad Vashem-World Centre for Holocaust Research, Education, Documentation and Commemoration. We spent nearly 6 hours there and could have used at least another day. The massive museum documents the events that led to this terrible horror, with an emphasis on remembering specific individuals. The photos and memories of the people who lived this tragedy have been donated by their families as a way of commemorating them and educating the public on what happened.
We felt we learned more about the beginning of the Nazis in Germany and how Nazism grew more and more powerful over time. From the initial rules leading to Jewish segregation to ghettos to work camps then finally, gas chambers, the story at Yad Vashem is more thorough than anything we’ve ever seen.
With one more day left in Israel, we decided to bus to Tel Aviv to see a different side of this country. Tel Aviv was described to us as much more cosmopolitan. In fact, Lonely Planet describes the city as such:
“Jerusalem may only be 80km up the road, but culturally, socially and psychologically it may as well be a million miles away. While Jerusalemites flock to the holy sites, Tel Avivans hit the clubs.”
It was a rainy day for us in Tel Aviv so there was no beach partying for us but we still had a good time, touring some of the main streets. Every neighbourhood we went through had a slightly different vibe. Old Jaffa featured quaint cafes on the hilltop with a fabulous ocean view and a huge flea market down below. Shenkin Street housed some lovely boutiques that our $100/day budget simply couldn’t bear. And Dizzengoff, was a busy street of cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Our Tel Avivian day was made complete when we chose to have dinner at Orna and Ella-apparently a pick of Natalie Portman’s. We ordered their famous sweet potatoe pancakes with sour cream and chive dip and chose a butternut squash and sage tortellinito share as well. Both were lick your plate delicious!!
We never once imagined that Israel would be on our itinerary but we are so glad that with the encouragement of my friends Tessa and Aneesha, that we didn’t pass this unique opportunity up.