So far Israel is my favorite stop on this world trip. It has everything you could possibly need: great food, warm ocean, clean beaches, and a handsome Prime Minister. Even though its sandwiched between countries that want to see it destroyed, it feels like I’ve landed in an oasis. Imagine traveling through a hot sandy desert and seeing a patch of beautiful palm trees and water supply in the middle. This is what I think of Israel.
Prices are higher here than anywhere in the United States. Our bike rental was $20 (per bike) a day. After three days we could’ve rented a car for the same price.
Being in Tel Aviv during Yom Kippur was one of the most fun things I’ve ever experienced. I felt so privileged to be able to spend and see this day with the locals.
Here is a quick lesson about Yom Kippur:
…In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord. -Leviticus 16:29-30
The name “Yom Kippur” means “Day of Atonement,”. It is a day set aside to apologize for your misbehaviors of the past year. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. This is the day of your last chance to change the judgment, prove your regret and make amends.
Jewish people observing Yom Kippur refrain from eating and drinking (even water) for 25-hours. The fast begins at sunset the night before and ends after dusk on the day of Yom Kippur. Some wear white on the holiday, which expresses purity and the promise that their “sins shall be made as white as snow”.
Most local businesses starting closing around 2 o’clock and we started to see the holiday going into effect. Among the observances are no physical activities, no driving, no businesses open and fasting. Despite the “no physical activities”, riding bikes is very popular on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.
By sundown there wasn’t a car on the road or a business open. It seemed surreal. I didn’t see police anywhere on Yom Kippur either. Strangely, everyone was behaving.
Dogs are normally not allowed on the beach but on Yom Kippur some rules were meant to be broken this day.
Some of the dogs were checking each other out before grouping up in a pack and running full speed in the sand and water.
There were so many beautiful things that I witnessed on Yom Kippur. Grandparents standing in their doorways with open arms as their grandkids came running in with big smiles, dogs running freely and playing with each other on the beach, families riding bikes together and rollerblading in the middle of the streets smiling and enjoying themselves. All this was done without one dime being spent that day. This is the one day where money is no good to anyone and it was beautiful.
It was somewhat depressing starting to see cars back on the road at sundown. A harsh reminder that the fun and freedom on the roads was over. People were starting to leave the synagogue, most of them wearing white (white is a sign of purity for the new year and is worn during Yom Kippur). It was a beautiful sight and there was a feeling of peace and harmony in the air during Yom Kippur those two days.
By now the sun was down and restaurants were getting ready to open later. We noticed a few shawarma places setting up with fresh vegetable salads and large spits of lamb and chicken cooking on the vertical rotisseries. We chose a shawarma place that was packed. I didn’t get the English name because the sign was in Hebrew. This was the BEST shawarma we’ve ever eaten.
Since the heavy traffic resumed we turned in our rental bikes and took city bus #10 to Jaffa for a free walking tour at 2pm. We arrived early and spent an hour walking around the town on our own, before the tour started.
We visited the famous Jaffa Flea Market (Shuk HaPishpushim). There were all kinds of treasures sold here from antiques to Arabic pottery and ceramic items. I bought a small metal Israel pin.
After a few minutes in the hot sun, sifting through old clothing, jewelry and other things we ate at the famous Dr. Shakshuka. This is known as the best shakshuka in Israel and very highly rated on TripAdvisor. Shakshuka is a dish made of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, often spiced with cumin.
Speaking of which, the first 100 restaurants listed on trip advisor are over 4 1/2 stars. So finding a great place to eat here isn’t very hard.
Back to the free walking tour. We met at the clock tower, confirmed our reservation and received two confirmation tickets. The company’s representative told us to return in 30 minutes. When we returned the guide informed us the tour was cancelled.
Jaffa is only a few minutes from Tel Aviv. It is oldest part of Tel Aviv and also a port city. The clock tower was built in 1900 and finished in 1903. Amazing how is still stands today and surviving the test of time.
Thanks to the waiting around we had already completed our own walking tour. The port was a highlight of Jaffa. A beautiful stretch of beach was on one side and a crowded port of fishing boats and small yachts were parked in the port next to the beach. High end condos and nice restaurants were across from the port.
We chose to eat at the most famous hummus place in Israel called Abu Hassan. There are a few locations throughout Israel but this one is known to be the original before the others were built. Once the hummus runs out the restaurant closes. We got there around 2pm, by 3 they were out. Even though we had just ate lunch at Dr. Shakshuka an hour before, we each made room for hummus. It was so good I ate it straight with a spoon. The texture and taste was better than anything I’ve had in America.
I am so in love with this city. During a visit to the Levinsky market I had the privilege of trying Iranian food at a restaurant called Gorme Sabzi. This is also the name of the national Iranian dish. The waitress was kind enough to explain each dish displayed and give us samples. One of the dishes that stood out was the Gorme Sabzi. It’s a stew made from kale, parsley, dill and herbs served with rice. It had a pickled taste but the harmony of the herbs was perfect.
The Levinsky market is a street of different stores that sell spices, olives, fresh breads, cheese, fish and meat. It’s great for local residents but as a visitor I couldn’t buy much here only staying a few days. Just because the word market is behind a shopping area doesn’t mean the prices are lower. Everything in Tel Aviv is expensive – comparable to midtown Manhattan prices. Real estate is extremely expensive no matter what area you’re living in here.
One of the days we took another free walking tour. This time the guide showed up. Our guide Puala gave us information on the development and beginning of Tel Aviv as a city and the architecture.
My favorite was the Nachum Gutman mosaic wall at Shalom Tower. The detail and small pieces of tile are scenes from the early days of Tel Aviv and biblical stories connected to Jaffa.
Over 2,000 houses have been registered as historical buildings in Tel Aviv. This makes contracted and/or cosmetic work very difficult to get approved and if approved the funding is very expensive. To get around this problem new high rise buildings are allowed to be built as long as they are attached to the historical house or building. I know it sounds crazy but this process provides funding for the historical building.
The oldest buildings are built with bricks made from shells. To create this, lime is mixed with water, sand, ash and broken shells. Some the buildings still have the brick exposed and the sea shells are visible but most of the buildings have thick layers of paint over them hiding the bricks.
Even though the buildings look run down and some even in ruins on the outside, the insides are very nice. There is a huge contrast of style from the old and new. High rises are popping up everywhere around the historical eclectic original structures.
Graffiti is a real problem in Tel Aviv. Most if not all of the buildings have been tagged and spray painted by vandals. It’s sad to see such historical buildings that have survived the test of time be ruined with spray paint. Some of the buildings had artwork sprayed on them but most were just letters and ugly nonsense.
I really admire the people of Israel for keeping the tradition of resting on Shabbat. This Shabbat was the holiday of Sukkoth. Sukkoth is celebrated on the 15th day of the month and marks the end of the harvest time. The story of Sukkoth is very interesting and has a double meaning. One is the end of the harvest and the other is a remembrance of the exodus from slavery in Egypt. Part of the holiday is spending time in a sukkah during the 7 day holiday. A sukkah is a temporary hut topped with branches and decorated inside. The sukkah symbolizes the frailty and conciseness of life and its dependence on God.
We visited the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv on Friday before Shabbat began. I noticed the huge cement barriers around the synagogue to ensure the safety of the building itself. This has been in Tel Aviv since 1922 and it looks like it’s built to last another several hundred years.
Outside of the synagogue were long palm leaves (also known as lulav), leaves from a myrtle tree, leaves from a willow tree and lemons. These are the “four species” in Judaism. Jewish worshippers take the three branches in one hand and a lemon in the other, hold them together close to the heart and shake them in different directions. This is a special blessing ceremony during the Sukkoth holiday. We didn’t get to see the ceremony itself but learned a lot from being present in Tel Aviv during this special holiday.
Spending a whole day on Tel Aviv beach was relaxing. The ocean is warm and the sand feels like silk. For eight dollars we rented an umbrella with two lounge beach chairs for the entire day. Shockingly this was more affordable than two orders of hummus. Men and women of all ages were playing Matkot along the shoreline. Matkot is a paddle ball game like beach tennis. Everyone playing knew how to play really well. The sounds of the ball hitting the paddle radiated the entire beach.
One of the cool things about Israel is both men and women must serve in the military during their lives. Its referred to as conscription. It’s mandatory if you are over the age of 18 and of the Jewish, Druze or Circassian religion. Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted. There are exceptions and exemptions for the people that do qualify (religious, criminal record, health problems, mental health problems, etc.). The length of service is two years, eight months for men and two years for women.
Tel Aviv is a really exciting city with an energetic vibe. I honestly didn’t think I would like it but as it turns out, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Not to mention this is home to some of the best looking men I’ve seen in the world.