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Amazing Israel - from Tel Aviv to the Negev Desert

© by Mike Keenan

View of Dome of the Rock from Austrian Hospice, photo by Mike Keenan
View of Dome of the Rock from Austrian Hospice, photo by Mike Keenan


On our first evening in Jerusalem, two other writers and I dine at J'oy Meat In, a restaurant in Mamilla, a neighbourhood just outside the Old City and west of the Jaffa Gate. Between 1948-67, Mamilla was situated along the armistice line between the Israeli and Jordanian-held sectors where many buildings were destroyed by Jordanian shelling. Designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, the Mamilla Mall opened in 2007. Safdie is identified most with Habitat, a pavilion for Expo 67 which paved the way for his international career.

The restaurant is intimate and inviting. We start with typical Middle Eastern tapas - fantastic bread, red beets, lentils, various types of humus, babakanoosh - roasted eggplant and garlic dip, eggplant-yogurt dip, goat cheese and fire-roasted pepper dip, imom bayeldi - Middle Eastern ratatouille, olive tapenade and roasted peppers and eggplant - a meal in itself! But fresh salmon with savoury red wine are added to a wonderful dining experience.

The next day busy and blistering hot, we start at the City of David, the original metropolis of Jerusalem, founded 3,000 years ago. We tour the Davidson (educational) Center and the Southern Wall excavations. The Western Wall is a 57 m (187 foot) exposed section of an ancient wall on the flank of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. It faces a large plaza set aside for prayer. The wall is a retaining wall, built to support the extensive renovations that Herod the Great employed in 19 BCE.

Here, we witness joyous celebrations heralded by merry music streaming from clarinets, the horn of a ram, drums and even a saxophone, with parades to honour bar mitzvahs. Bar mitzvah for boys and bat mitzvah for girls are Jewish coming of age rituals. According to Jewish law, when children turn 13, they are accountable for their actions. It's wonderful to see the beaming pride etched on the faces of parents, and some have travelled all the way from the United States for this memorable family ritual.

Next, we tour the Western Wall Tunnels, emerging into the Via Dolorosa. The Austrian Hospice is adjacent to the 3rd Station of the Cross, and we saunter through myriad bazaars to the Damascus Gate and visit the Garden Tomb. Towards the end of the day, we examine the Museum on the Seam, a radical socio-political contemporary art museum, the first of its kind in Israel, depicting human rights abuse, but dangerously situated on a Jewish/Palestinian divide. I notice bullet holes in its facade.

In the morning, we visit Yad Vashem, Israel's incredible memorial to the Holocaust. It is so powerful an experience, that once through it, I must pause to gather myself. We continue to the L. A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art, discover the Germany Colony, Jerusalem's trendy Soho district, and then view a panorama of the city from the promenade of the Hill of Evil Counsel. Dinner is in the Arab village of Abu Ghosh.

Next day, we arrive at the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. We visit Kasr-al-Yahud, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and later tour Masada. Here, Jewish zealots held out against the Roman army and committed group suicide before they were defeated. Afterwards, we continue through the Negev Desert to the Ramon Crater and an exploration by jeep through jagged terrain and rocks of what is the world's largest geological crater. I jokingly ask our young driver how many flat tires per year. He proudly pats his Land Rover and replies, "only two," but at the very end, the number jumps to three and we are delayed 20 minutes! We dine and overnight at Mitzpe Ramon.

Early in the morning as we watch a group of trim cyclists prepare for a desert race, we head to Kibbutz Sde Boqer, where Israel's founding father, David Ben Gurion, retired and where he is buried. We tour his living quarters and view memorabilia. An insomniac and voracious reader, innumerable books are scattered everywhere, and I spot a photo of his purported hero, Mahatma Gandhi. Outside, there is a statue of Ben Gurion performing a headstand, a daily exercise.
The Dead Sea

For more pictures, go to:

https://www.pinterest.com/mustang6648/travel-jerusalem-israel/

https://www.pinterest.com/mustang6648/travel-the-negev-desert-israel/
Ben Gurion Burial Site, photo by Mike Keenan  Entrance, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, photo by Mike Keenan  Kibbutz Sde Boker, Ben Gurion Home, photo by Mike Keenan  Negev Desert, photo by Mike Keenan  Ramon Crater, photo by Mike Keenan

Next, we visit the Carmey Avdat winery, where grapes are grown on terraces built two millennia ago by the Nabateans. We drive on to Rehovot, and visit the Bauhaus home of Chaim and Vera Weizmann. Weizmann was an architect of the Balfour Declaration suggesting a national home for the Jews and first president of Israel. Finally, we arrive at Herods, our Tel Aviv hotel in Israel's largest metropolis.

In the morning, we visit the bustling Carmel and Levinsky Markets, then stroll through trendy Neve Tzedek to ancient Jaffa with its eclectic flea market. We amble through the Jaffa kasbah, with its art galleries and shiny boutiques. The afternoon is leisurely for last minute shopping and exploration or simply a stroll on the beach promenade. After dinner, we transfer to Ben Gurion International Airport for a late evening check-in and a post-midnight departure from Israel.

Israel's Ministry of Tourism prepared me with these facts: there are 10 nonstop flights a day from North America to Israel; with 8 million Israelis, even though Israel is the 'Jewish state,' 25% of Israelis are Christian and Muslim; there are more cell-phones, bookstores, laptops and museums per capita than in any country; Israel is considered 'Silicon Valley East,' the world's second-largest creator of software and systems; the green revolution began in Israel a century ago as more trees per acre than in any other country have been planted here since 1900; Israelis have used solar power for heating water for 60 years; and water-saving drip irrigation was invented here; cherry tomatoes too; almost everyone speaks good English; Israel is considered part of the francophone world because of the large number of French-speaking immigrants from North Africa; because the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, the sun's rays have an additional 1,200 feet to travel before they reach human skin, so you tan, not burn.

The bottom line is that with its ancient history and charm, I would return here in a minute. The food is amazing and so are the people, despite the political strife.

Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.



Agriculture In The Negev Desert



Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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