Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Do-it-yourself day trips in the land of milk and honey that will capture your heart and also satisfy your stomach.

By Jessica Halfin

Israel is blessed with endless options for interesting day trips. North, south or center, there is always a new hike, nature reserve or historical site to discover, and nothing is ever too far away. But as stomachs start to grumble, you have to consider what you’re going to eat and drink after the main event.

In our opinion, an artisan food-related item is always in order, especially after a difficult hike or long haul. So have fun, support local producers and create your own DIY day trips filled with sights, hikes and gourmet items that will entice you everywhere you roam.

Here are 10 paired suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

  1. Yechiam Fortress National Park and Buza Ice CreamUpper Galilee
Yechiam Fortress photo by Jessica Halfin

Yechiam Fortress photo by Jessica Halfin

Spend time at this preserved Crusader castle and fortress passed down through a series of Holy Land conquerors and used as a strategic battleground by Kibbutz Yechiam members in the 1948 war for Israel’s independence (bullet holes still remain in the stone walls). Watch the movie, wander around the site and take in the incredible 360-degree view overlooking the Upper Galilee coastal plain, more distant Acre and the Carmel Mountains.

Buza ice cream after an Upper Galilee hike. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Buza ice cream after an Upper Galilee hike. Photo by Jessica Halfin

What could be better after sightseeing than a mid-afternoon cone? Even better if it is a handmade cardamom or chocolate gelato treat from Buza’s famous original location in neighboring Maalot-Tarshiha (Buza is on the Tarshiha side). Buza (Arabic for “ice cream”) is a partnership between Jewish ice-cream fanatic Adam Ziv from Kibbutz Sasa and Arab restauranteur Alaa Sweetat of Tarshiha. It won a 2017 United Nations Flourish Prize for promoting coexistence in Israel.

2. Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve and Katlav Winery,Judean Hills

Soreq Stalactite Cave. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Soreq Stalactite Cave. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The 5,000-meter Soreq Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve was discovered in the 1960s purely by accident. A routine quarry explosion exposed the rare cave developing for millennia deep within the mountainous hillside. Soft limestone and rainwater mixed to create stunning geological formations beneath the bedrock. Today it is the only cave of its kind in Israel that can be visited, and it is quite an otherworldly site. The visitors’ center features an explanatory film. A guided tour, from which you are free to deviate, takes you along a planked path with railings. Colorful lights illuminate the natural structures.

Katlav Winery in Nes Harim. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Katlav Winery in Nes Harim. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

A mere 10 minutes’ drive down the road will find you in idyllic Nes Harim at the doorstep of Katlav Winery. The venture was started by Yossef Yitach, who left his own prestigious architectural firm to become a boutique kosher winemaker. The winery was built on biblical-era soil overlooking the Judean hills and Jerusalem in the distance. Yitach has even dug five wine caves to let his wines develop and age with grace. Tasting the different varietals, while admiring the view, is the perfect way to honor the unique land on which the winery was built.

3. Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and Kfar Hanokdim Bedouin Hospitality, Dead Sea/Arad

A hike at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in the Dead Sea area is always a good choice because it is easy enough for the entire family to enjoy, yet close enough to nature that you could find yourself a finger’s length away from an ibex. But don’t be tempted to pet any of the wildlife. Instead, immerse yourself in nature by stopping to dip in the desert waterfalls and springs that line the trail.

Kfar HaNokdim photo by Jessica Halfin

Kfar HaNokdim photo by Jessica Halfin

Following your hike, head west toward the desert city of Arad and continue down the mountainous road past the shores of the Dead Sea, up through the Judean Hills to Kfar HaNokdim. There you can experience the desert in the comfort of a custom-built village that makes the famous hospitality of Bedouin desert-dwellers accessible to the general population. The camp provides various levels of comfortable accommodation, authentic Bedouin-style meals, camel and donkey rides, desert bike and jeep rides, and guided hikes in the surrounding canyons.

4. Lake Ram (Birkat Ram) and The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant, Golan Heights

Follow the witch-shaped signs along the route leading up to the Druze village of Majd El Shams at the southern base of Mount Hermon and eventually you will reach this restaurant in neighboring Nimrod. Even more intriguing than the view and the romantic wood-burning stove in the wintertime is the gaggle of witch dolls and decorations hanging from the ceiling as you dine on fine yet hearty dishes served in sizzling cast-iron skillets. The restaurant celebrates local specialties such as Golan-raised steaks, artisan cheeses, locally pickled olives and area boutique wines.

The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant near Lake Ram. Photo: courtesy

The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant near Lake Ram. Photo: courtesy

Following your meal, drive down toward Lake Ram. Park in the lot and follow the Golan Trail to the water’s edge. Continue on the green trail to circle the lake, which according to Talmudic legend is a remnant from the biblical flood and is the product of an ancient volcanic eruption that caused a 10-meter-deep hole filled with rain and groundwater. Although swimming is not recommended, the lake makes a worthy backdrop for a lovely walk among the fruit trees that dot the area.

5. Snorkeling at Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve and Eilat Wines

This reserve along Israel’s Red Sea Gulf allows people of all ages and abilities to enjoy and help sustain the world’s most northern coral reef. Wading pools allow children to get close to the reef without entering the deeper waters, as do observation bridges, where one can admire the fish while remaining dry. Adventurous souls can rent snorkeling or diving gear on the beach.

Following a refreshing dip, Eilat Wines — the official southern outpost of the Golan Heights and Galil Mountain Wineries — is a must visit. Located in an industrial zone in the northern section of the city, it is a gourmet hotspot for wine and cheese lovers. Wines from all over the world are stocked here. On “free Fridays,” four wine tastings and accompanying gourmet snacks are offered. Any time you come, your purchases are tax-free due to Eilat’s special zoning status.

6. Shivta National Park  and “Path of Knowledge” at Ramat HaNegev Agricultural Research and Development Tour, Negev Highlands

Negev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Negev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Located 20 minutes northwest of Sde Boker, in the middle of the Negev Desert, is the Ramat HaNegev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Call ahead to book a tour of the greenhouses to learn how the center has realized first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s promise to make the desert bloom. During the tour you will pick fruits and veggies fresh from the vine to sample and even receive a whole container to take with!

Also visit the attached memorial to a group of French soldiers who served in the Negev Brigade during Israel’s War of Independence. The hill on which the memorial sits gives a vantage point over the Megalim experimental solar power project across the street.

Shivta National Park photo by Jessica Halfin

Shivta National Park photo by Jessica Halfin

From New Age to ancient, off the road heading further west toward Nitzana, near Israel’s Gaza border, is the ancient Nabatean city of Shivta. Now a national park filled with spectacularly preserved ruins, it was once a largely populated town along the famous Nabatean spice trading route. Taken over by Byzantines and later by Muslim Crusaders, the site also features ancient churches and a mosque, and was a functional town all the way up until the mid-seventh century.

7. Amud Stream Nature Reserve and Ein Camonim dairy, Upper Galilee

If there ever was an Israeli hike meant to connect you to the ancient history and nature of the land, Nahal Amud (Pillar River), between Mount Meron and the Sea of Galilee, is it. In this one site you will find antique flour mills, the famous pillar for which the river is named, a blossoming orchard filled with the famous biblical fruit species, caves and freshwater pools and springs. The 4-kilometer trail takes three to four hours, and includes a steep incline or decline, as well as dipping pools, depending on which route you choose.

Fresh cheese at Ein Carmonim dairy. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Fresh cheese at Ein Carmonim dairy. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Found among the breathtaking hills of the Upper Galilee close by, the Ein Camonim goat farm and dairy is a tranquil outpost that produces and sells more than 30 varieties of cheese from the milk of its grass-fed, free-range herd. Step inside the shop to taste more than a few cheeses free of charge, as well as Ein Camonim signature wine produced for the farm by Haifa’s boutique Vortman Winery. Other specialty products include homemade fig and walnut jam, and single serving sorbets. For a more elaborate experience, dine in the outdoor restaurant next to the goats and treat yourself to an all-you-can-eat cheese platter accompanied by gourmet salads.

8. Hula Nature Reserve and Habayit Bektze HaNofUpper Galilee

Walking in the Hula Nature Reserve. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Walking in the Hula Nature Reserve. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Located in the Hula Valley in the Upper Galilee, Hula Lake serves as a natural rest stop for birds migrating to and from Europe, Asia and Africa. But the reserve is much more than just a world-class bird observatory site. A visitors’ center with a movie and museum explains the area’s remarkable ecosystem, and from the wooden plank trail around the lake and the covered wooden bridge you can observe the active wildlife in the water (gigantic catfish, freshwater turtles, frogs and beaver-like rodents) and surrounding wetlands.

Overlooking the Hula Valley, Habayit Bektze HaNof, or House on the Edge of the Landscape, is a rural restaurant at the edge of the Birya Forest. Floor-to-ceiling windows, observation points and a deck make it a prime spot for nestling in and chowing down, while appreciating an unobstructed view. A prime spot for anything from a quick bite to a wedding party, the light and fresh Galilean café fare make it ideal as a lunch stop for day trippers.

9. Mount Tabor Nature Reserve and National Park, Shaked Tavor Visitor’s Center and Tabor Winery, Kfar Tavor, Lower Galilee

Mount Tavor in the Lower Galilee. Photo by Tamir Peled

Mount Tavor in the Lower Galilee. Photo by Tamir Peled

Drive past the agricultural fields of the Jezreel Valley in the Lower Galilee, and you will notice Mount Tabor (Tavor) peeking out of the horizon. The perfectly round mountain is filled with green trees year-round, and can be climbed by foot or vehicle. Whatever path you choose, you will find more than just a beautiful view. The mountain is the location of several significant battles and events from biblical time and so is home to churches including the Church of the Transfiguration Franciscan monastery (open to visitors) and the Church of the Prophet Elijah.

In neighboring Kfar Tavor, you will find the culinary treats and surprises that make up the area’s livelihood — the valley’s much sought-after almonds and wines.

What was once referred to as the Marzipan Museum has since transformed into Shaked Tavor Visitors Center, a store selling the neighboring factory’s flavored marzipan and almond specialty products. The name “shaked” (pronounced shah-ked) is drawn from the almond trees that blossom with delicate pink and white flowers each spring at the mountain’s base. In the same complex, Tabor Winery welcomes visitors for a tasting, tour and other events such as Family Harvest Day each summer.

10. The Big Juba walk and Odem U-Pick fruit picking, Golan Heights

The Big Juba. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The Big Juba. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Drive through the Golan Heights and you may wonder how it came to be a raised platform, and the story behind the many volcanic rocks strewn about. Take an easy walk on the paved pathway through the Odem Forest at the Big Juba, and you will learn about some of the geological oddities of this unique forest habitat. For those looking for more than just a view of the crater, you can venture down into the hole. Expect a run-in with a grazing Golan cow or two, and know that the path is not officially marked.

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy

Continuing down the road into Moshav Odem, you will find a quaint family-run fruit orchard that allows you to pick your own in the summer months. In June it is a prime spot for cherry picking. July ushers in the season of the more rare raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries. Grab a cup of coffee, and buy jams, jellies, locally sourced olive oil and honey in the shop. With other jewels of the moshav such as the Odem Mountain Winery and the Deer Forest Petting Zoo and camping ground, there’s plenty to keep you busy in this historically significant Golan settlement in the off season as well.


    10 Perfect Days Out in Israel

    Mifalot teaches coaches how to use soccer for social inclusion. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    Mifalot teaches coaches how to use soccer for social inclusion. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    Mifalot’s Game of Life program teaches coaches in Israel and in developing countries how to promote self-confidence, trust and education.

    By Abigail Klein Leichman

    Children with special needs are often sidelined in life, and especially in sports. The Israeli nonprofit Mifalot: Sport for Education, Development and Peace trains football (soccer) coaches in Israel — and in developing countries, too — how this very popular sport can be a tool to enhance social inclusion and other values.

    Mifalot’s “Game of Life” program uses sports to promote self-confidence, trust and mutual engagement, and football in particular as a therapeutic mode of education for youth with physical and mental disabilities.

    “We put an emphasis on tolerance, on getting to know the ‘other.’ A kid with physical disabilities can be seen as weird or scary but once you play together you see it doesn’t matter,” says Keren Lavi, international development manager of Mifalot.

    Since 2007, Mifalot has trained coaches in 15 countries, such as Colombia, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana and the Philippines. In 2016 it partnered with MASHAV, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Agency for Development Cooperation.

    “This is a program that’s trying to change mindsets about people with special needs, teaching that they can be useful in society. That’s a new idea in many countries,” says Adam Levene from MASHAV’s department of policy and international relations. “We’ve done three training sessions with Mifalot and are looking to do 10 more in the near future.”

    Coaches in Ghana learned the Israeli method of social inclusion through sports. Photo courtesy of Mifalot

    Coaches in Ghana learned the Israeli method of social inclusion through sports. Photo courtesy of Mifalot

    Tailored to each population

    Each overseas training camp is tailored in partnership with a local organization. Usually, 40 or 50 coaches participate in the weeklong camp, which includes opportunities to practice what they’ve learned with local children.

    Lavi tells ISRAEL21c about Kollie, a participant in a recent training in Liberia.

    “Kollie is a teacher and he loves sports, but he never saw sports as an educational tool. It was interesting to see throughout the week how he slowly got the idea,” Lavi says. “He recently told me that they’re starting the program in schools using our equipment and a social-inclusion game he made up.

    “That’s what we strive for – to have them implement the methodology within their own culture. At the end of the day, football is football and just needs the right adaptation to the local culture.”

    MASHAV and Mifalot did a workshop for soccer coaches in Liberia in 2017. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    MASHAV and Mifalot did a workshop for soccer coaches in Liberia in 2017. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    Mifalot workshops do not always focus on special-needs children. Sometimes the emphasis is how to use sports to educate about peace-building or empowering women, protecting children or preventing drug or alcohol abuse among at-risk youth.

    “For example, we heard that 70 percent of women in Liberia have been sexually abused,” says Lavi. “We want them to think about what they want for their future. If the coaches raise these issues with the kids they coach, they can create a safe environment to talk about these issues outside of school. The coach becomes not only a sports facilitator but also an educator. It’s beautiful to see it happen.”

    Mifalot returns to each country a few times to follow up on the initial training.

    Mifalot teaches coaches how to use soccer for social inclusion. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    Mifalot teaches coaches how to use soccer for social inclusion. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

    Reaching 100,000 in Israel

    Mifalot was founded in 1997 by former Hapoel Tel Aviv football club owners Moshik Teomim, Sami Segol and Moti Orenstein as a social enterprise to use soccer as an educational motivator. Over the years, this model evolved to an emphasis on social values.

    “We reach 100,000 beneficiaries a year. We work with hundreds of teams and coaches in almost every Israeli city and village, as well as the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, all year long,” says Lavi.

    “Our goal is that 50% of beneficiaries are not Jewish so we work with everyone — Bedouins, Druze, Muslims, Circassians and Christians.”

    With support from the Welfare Ministry, Mifalot runs 200 teams for the disabled population and integrates disabled and non-disabled players.

    About 10 years ago, after winning several international awards, Mifalot started to receive requests from abroad.

    “In 2007, we started to export our program through different partners and donors. The first time was in Cameroon,” says Lavi.

    Mifalot tries to change mindsets about people with special needs. Photo: courtesy

    Mifalot tries to change mindsets about people with special needs. Photo: courtesy

    Wherever they went, Mifalot staffers always touched base with the host country’s Israeli embassy. The Israeli ambassadors’ keen interest in the program led to the strategic partnership with MASHAV.

    “MASHAV opens the door for us to developing countries,” says Lavi. “They pay travel costs for our two staff members. We bring all the equipment and educational material, and local partner organizations usually cover the cost of hosting and feeding the coaches for a week. If they can’t afford it, we help them find funding from the UN, MASHAV, or a local business or Israeli business.”

    Levene tells ISRAEL21c that MASHAV sees an added value in involving Israeli civil societies – such as Mifalot, Tevel b’Tzedek, IsraAID and many others — in its development work throughout 100 countries.

    “We build activities that could have an impact overseas and also help strengthen their base in Israel because those who volunteer abroad come back and work in Israel,” says Levene.

    For more information, click here.

    Where Sports Becomes a Tool for Social Inclusion

    Café Levinksy

    Café Levinksy

    Enjoy ISRAEL21c's Bird’s-Eye-View of TelAviv’s Favorite Food Kiosks including Nordau Kiosk, Susu and Sons,  Café Levinksy, Malabi Dajani, Bayern Market,  We Like You, Too,  Ben-Gurion corner kiosk, and  Kiosk Est. 1920.

    Enjoy a Bird’s-Eye-View of TelAviv’s Favorite Food Kiosks


    Manta Ray is a local favorite in Tel Aviv. With its glass-walled interior and tables outside in the sea breezes, it capitalizes fully on its setting, a few yards from the Mediterranean. Manta Ray’s specialty is of course fish: sea bream, croaker, tuna, sea bass, calamari, shrimp, scallops, crab—you name it—served in any number of ways: in a risotto; with a fennel and kohlrabi salad; in a stew of coconut milk, lemongrass, and curry paste. 

    This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

    One item on the menu is called simply “Fish in a black cast-iron pot.” This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

    Owner Ofra Ganor and chef Ronen Skinezes ensure Manta Ray is a “grabber”: it has the beach, the sunset, excellent food, and a comfortable feeling of home.

    But in fact, there are few restaurants in Israel that don’t feel homey—even the most elegant are warm and easy, with a lack of pretension that seems distinctly local. Some customers may dress for dinner, but others, inevitably, will show up in jeans and T-shirts.

    Food is the central focus—often served, it must be said, in huge quantities (we have learned to share portions whenever possible). There is a pervasive air of generosity, and a genuine desire on the part of the restaurant staff for you to sample and appreciate what they have to offer. (Echoes of the classic Jewish mother’s exhortation: “Eat!”)

    Manta Ray >

    Manta Ray restaurant. Photos by and courtesy Avi Ganor

    Enjoy the Best Beachside Dining at Manta Ray Restaurant

    Hikers on the Sanhedrin Trail will have an augmented reality app. Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    Hikers on the Sanhedrin Trail will have an augmented reality app. Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    The 70km trail will cross the Galilee and interface with an innovative augmented reality-based app to bring history alive for hikers of all ages.

    By ISRAEL21c Staff


    Israel’s first “smart” hiking trail, under construction between Tiberias and Beit Sheʽarim National Park in the Lower Galilee, will bring hikers back in history to the Second Temple period more than 2,000 years ago, when the Great Sanhedrin — the supreme Jewish authority of sages – was active in this region.

    Hikers will have access to an innovative augmented reality-based smartphone application that will virtually reconstruct heritage sites, integrate virtual guides for children along the route and bring to life prominent scholars such as the four rabbis mentioned in the Passover Haggadah.

    Due to be completed in spring 2018, the trail marks three important “70s.” It will be inaugurated for the State of Israel’s 70thanniversary, will stretch 70 kilometers, and will pass sites associated with the 70 members of the Great Sanhedrin.

    These scholars recorded the Mishnah and Talmud during their 290 years in the Galilee following the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome in 135 CE. The Great Sanhedrin originally sat on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

    The Sanhedrin Trail will cross the Lower Galilee by way of many historic sites, such as the Roman theater of Tiberias shown here. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

    The Sanhedrin Trail will cross the Lower Galilee by way of many historic sites, such as the Roman theater of Tiberias shown here. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

    “People such Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the members of the Sanhedrin who were active here 2,000 years ago, determined to a great extent much of how our lives are run today. It is according to these religious laws that we marry or conduct funeral ceremonies, and even administer Jewish law,” said Yair Amitzur, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s antiquities inspector for the Eastern Galilee, and one of the initiators of the idea.

    “The establishment of the trail and walking on it will connect those who live here today with the atmosphere and frame of mind of that period,” Amitzur continued. “In walking along the Galilee trails while using the application that will be developed specifically for this project, the trail will afford visitors a learning experience about the Mishnah and Talmud period and connect them to the world of the sages who shaped Judaism in the religious houses of learning.”

    Map of the planned Sanhedrin Trail. Drafting by Anastasia Shapiro and Yair Amitzur/Israel Antiquities Authority

    Map of the planned Sanhedrin Trail. Drafting by Anastasia Shapiro and Yair Amitzur/Israel Antiquities Authority

    The family-friendly Sanhedrin Trail is to be divided into five segments that can be covered during the course of five days of walking, and also will include circular routes.

    Work on the first section of the trail began this March with the help of volunteers and thousands of high school students from the National Religious school system of the Ministry of Education.

    “We learn a lot in the classroom and at school, but in practice the studies only really sink in when you feel it, when you walk it,” said Tal Dothan, one of the students participating in the Sanhedrin Trail work.

    High school students doing archaeological excavations to prepare the Sanhedrin Trail. Photo by Shmuel Magal/Israel Antiquities Authority.

    High school students doing archaeological excavations to prepare the Sanhedrin Trail. Photo by Shmuel Magal/Israel Antiquities Authority.

    In preparation for the Tiberias section of the Sanhedrin Trail, the teens have been taking part in archaeological excavations along the cardo, the main street of the ancient Roman city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.

     A visitors’ center will be built here to give the public an opportunity to better understand the project and participate in the excavations while getting to know the city’s ancient heritage.

    Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said he will work with regional councils through which the trail passes to get local residents involved in building “a spectacular and enjoyable interactive trail for tens of thousands of hikers that will connect the hikers to their past.”

    The Sanhedrin Trail was initiated by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the National Religious Education Administration of the Ministry of Education, and is financed by the Landmarks Project of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. Regional councils and towns along the route, as well as environmental organizations, are partnering in the effort as well.



    Sanhedrin Trail to be Israel’s First Interactive Hiking Path

    Israel, the beach nation

    Israel, the beach nation

    21see's Kathy Cohen takes you on an unforgettable trip to Israel's beaches to find out just what makes them so much fun.

    By ISRAEL21c

    With 200 kilometers of beautiful sandy beaches, a warm sea, and year-round sunshine, Israel is the perfect beach destination.

    Whether you like to take it easy or get physical with any of the dozens of beach sports available, from Sup, to windsurfing, matkot, or frisbee, Israel’s beaches are the place to visit.

    21see’s Kathy Cohen takes us on an adventurous trip to the beach to try her hand at many of the activities on offer, including selling Israel’s famous artik, trying out the Hasake –Israel’s very own version of the paddleboard, and visiting the Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Mikhmoret.

    Click on the film below, relax and enjoy a taste of Israel’s summer.

    Executive Producer – Jonathan Baruch
    Producer / Director – Haim Silberstein
    Host – Kathy Cohen
    DP – Eyal Sela
    Editing – Shahar Beeri
    Color Grading – Ari Amit
    Sound – Oren Sharon

    Special thanks to:
    The Israel Sea Turtle Rescue Center
    Supaway Mikhmoret
    Yuval Rei Koren
    Yoga Sup


    Article courtesy  www.Israel21c.org

    Article courtesy www.Israel21c.org

    Welcome to the Beach Nation

    An eclectic mix of old and new. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    An eclectic mix of old and new. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    The small urban neighborhood of Florentin is one of the hippest districts in Israel. Now this old-new community is in the midst of a transformation.

    By Nicky Blackburn

    It’s Thursday morning in Florentin. There are craftsmen trundling by with barrows of bedsteads and wood, old men with thick gray moustaches selling dried fruit and nuts, hipsters with black beards on bikes, and young bohemian women with piercings walking dogs — so many dogs.

    The trendy cafes, vegan kiosks and tattoo parlors are already doing bustling trade. There are shops selling pet toys, and others selling sex toys. And on every wall, every billboard and corner, there is eclectic graffiti, giving the area an exciting and unique energy.

    This tiny neighborhood, sandwiched between Jaffa and the center of Tel Aviv, is all about contrasts. Old and new, traditional and contemporary, rich and poor – this is a community that’s in the midst of gentrification and change.

    Derelict buildings stand next to smart new apartment blocks. Expensive furniture shops jostle alongside ancient wholesale businesses with rotting signs. There are pricey art galleries on one side of a road, and dilapidated warehouses where you can fix your furniture or your car on the other.

    There’s an industrial zone, a wholesale garment district, a thriving food market and a burgeoning art scene. And when day turns to night, Florentin transforms into one of the trendiest areas for pubs and clubs in Tel Aviv.

    It’s all about the dogs in Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    It’s all about the dogs in Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    In 2014, Thrillist voted Florentin the second hippest neighborhood on earth after Williamsburg in New York. The travel website wrote: “In a city already known for its Bauhaus-style architecture, inspired street art, and 24-hour nightlife, Florentin’s the go-to spot for artists, musicians, and people who dress like artists and musicians.”

    Florentin boasts other records, too; it’s got the most vegan restaurants per capita in the world, and Florentin Street has more dog owners per capita than anywhere else.

    A young vibe

    While there are some older families still living in Florentin, 60 percent of residents are under the age of 45, and 55% are under 35, according to Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir. As a whole, Tel Aviv is one of the youngest Western metropolises in the world.

    The unique character of Florentin lies in its roots. The neighborhood was founded in the 1930s and named after David Florentin, a Greek Jew who purchased the land in 1924 for the Salonika-Palestine Investment Company.

    It was originally planned as a simple and pretty neighborhood for working-class immigrants from Greece and Turkey, especially from Salonika. But as the years went on, the immigrants gradually abandoned Florentin, and like much of the rest of southern Tel Aviv, it became increasingly neglected and impoverished.

    It was only in the late 1990s, when an eponymous Israeli TV drama brought attention to this rundown neighborhood, that it began gradually to revive. Students and artists were attracted to the cheap rents, large loft-style apartments and were ready to ignore the grittiness and dirt.

    As they moved in, turning dingy apartments into trendy live-work spaces, so did new cafes, nightclubs, music venues and shops.

    One of the most significant signs of Florentin’s revival is that a new elementary school has opened, currently serving about 150 pupils in first and second grade, and is designed for 600.

    “It’s the first school we have needed in Florentin for decades,” says Zamir. “ In the last five to seven years the population has grown older. It used to be people in their 20s; now people are still living here in their 30s. They are having families and they are staying. The hipster neighborhood is settling down.”

    Florentin food

    Many things make Florentin unique. It has a different feel than the rest of Tel Aviv because the buildings – many of which are Bauhaus – are crammed up against each another. The sidewalks are narrow and there are virtually no green spaces. “This creates a very dense urban atmosphere,” says Zamir.

    The food culture is also unusual. Levinsky Market, founded in the 1930s, is the beating culinary heart of this neighborhood, and it still sells the traditional Turkish, Greek and Romanian specialties that dominated the market when it first opened. Today, it’s a gourmand’s paradise.

    “Levinsky still looks the same as it did 50 or 60 years ago,” says Aaron Gertz, a 32-year-old tour guide who lives in Florentin.

    There are many great shops in the market, some of them unique. Take Yom Tov deli, for instance. The deli was founded in 1947 and named after the founder, Yom Tov, which means “good day” in English. Today the deli still sells items like hibiscus flowers stuffed with cheese, and is run by Yom Tov’s grandson and namesake. The stuffed vine leaves on sale in the shop are still rolled by the original Yom Tov, now 93.

    “This is really traditional Sephardic food,” says Gertz.

    In a sign of the times, Yom Tov has expanded and opened a sandwich bar and a vegan ice cream parlor nearby.

    Other great places to visit in the market include the Har Sinai Nut Shop, founded more than 38 years ago; Baklava Mahrum, which sells Middle Eastern desserts and sweets; and Chaim Raphael, which sells gourmet cheeses, cured olives and meats, all prepared using traditional methods.

    Florentin also abounds with trendy cafes, restaurants and bars, like Bugsy, Café Casbah, Diwan, a Bedouin café, Hoodna and Perla.

    Street-art paradise

    The most obvious thing that stands out in Florentin, however, is the graffiti. You can find graffiti all over Israel, but nowhere does it come to life quite so much as in Florentin, where the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. Here, street art is an active daily dialogue.

    “Every day I come out there’s something new,” says Gertz, who often takes people on graffiti tours through the neighborhood. “You never know what to expect. There is so much art all over the place. ”

    Some of the most common graffiti artists include Mr. Leaf, who creates tiny people out of beads; Adi Sened, an architect who creates box people; EPK who paints eggplants – everywhere; Kis-Lev, and Murielle Street Art, who frames her work with window and door frames.

    There’s even vegan graffiti – you’ll see “269” stenciled all over the walls to represent cow number 269, who was released by vegans into the wild and is now happy and free, or so the story goes.

    As a result of all this artistic activity on the street, it’s no surprise that a number of galleries have emerged in the last few years, including Urban Secret Gallery (formerly Street Art Gallery), Under 1000, Tiny Tiny and Meshuna.

    A place where people can be themselves

    The question that bothers many Florentin residents today is how the neighborhood will develop in the years ahead.

    Its near neighbor, Neve Tzedek, was once as rundown as Florentin. Today, it’s one of the most expensive places to live in Tel Aviv. The houses have all been renovated, and the shops sell expensive designer brands. Does the same fate await Florentin, which is already going through a significant building boom?

    Zamir is sanguine. “It will always be different,” he says. “Florentin is the only closed neighborhood in Tel Aviv that involves all four elements of urban life. It’s residential and commercial, it has a lively leisure market – with a good nightlife and lots of restaurants — but it also has a light industrial area. That creates a very interesting mélange of people, with different requirements, but it also creates urban chaos. It’s hard to clear four waste cycles a day, and as a result it can be hard to keep the area clean, and this is what kept rents low for so many years.”

     The municipality does plan, however, to demolish the rundown industrial warehouses of the Volovelsky zone and replace them with buildings like 4 Florentin, a project of four nine-story apartment blocks designed by architect Ilan Pivko. With commercial space, a swimming pool, a gym and a spa, it’s hardly the kind of development that attracts young people or young families.

    Though Volovelsky isn’t expected to disappear any time soon – Zamir says it could take up to 20 years – the new apartment blocks that replace it will transform the character of the neighborhood in a significant way.

    I ask Gertz whether he thinks Florentin will one day become like its rich, yuppy neighbor. He looks alarmed. “I hope not,” he says. “I love it here. It’s really authentic. You never know who or what you will see. This is a place where people can really be themselves.”

    The new development of 4 Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    The new development of 4 Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    Article courtesy of  Israel21c.org

    Article courtesy of Israel21c.org

    Say Hello to TelAviv’s Most Eclectic and Exciting Quarter—Florentin

    A Nabatean watering hole in the Negev. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    A Nabatean watering hole in the Negev. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    The Nabateans traversed the hilly desert by camel, but you can do it by car, jeep or bike and see some spectacular scenery along the way.

    By Abigail Klein Leichman

    Traveling the ancient Incense Route in the #Negev #IsraelClose your eyes and travel back in time 2,000 years. You’re riding the back of a camel laden with frankincense and myrrh from faraway Yemen, navigating 100 kilometers (62 miles) across the harsh, hilly Negev Desert to get your precious cargo to the Mediterranean ports.

    For 700 years, from the third century BCE until the second century CE, this was the hazardous but hugely profitable task of the nomadic Nabatean people.

    Today, the small Israeli portion of the 2,000-kilometer Incense Route – a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a fascinating trail filled with beautiful desert vistas and archeological discoveries.

    The route includes the remains of the Nabatean towns of Halutza, Mamshit, Avdat, Shivta and Nitzana  (another, Rehovot- Ruhaibe, is hidden by sand dunes), four fortresses (Katzra, Nekarot, Mahmal and Grafon) and two khans (Moa and Saharonim). You can see evidence of surprisingly sophisticated watering holes, agriculture and viniculture that the Nabateans innovated.

    A Katzra ruin. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    A Katzra ruin. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    “The Roman and Greek empires controlled a lot of cities around the Mediterranean shores, and in all these cities there were pagan shrines where they sacrificed animals. The smell was terrible, so the Nabateans brought incense for those shrines to cover the smell of the slaughter,” explains tour guide Atar Zehavi, whose Israeli Wild tours specialize in off-the-beaten-track jeeping, cycling, hiking and camel-back trips like the Incense Route.

    “The route is surprisingly difficult because there were easier ways to go across the Negev. But the Nabateans wanted to stay hidden from other Arab tribes that might ambush the caravans, and they wanted to avoid being discovered by the Romans so they could keep their independence,” Zehavi tells ISRAEL21c.

    At Moa you can see an original pressing stone for olive oil. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    At Moa you can see an original pressing stone for olive oil. Photo by Atar Zehavi

    “They knew how to harness the harsh desert conditions to their advantage, building water holes and strongholds others would not find. The Romans conquered Judea pretty easily but it took them another 150 years to conquer the Nabateans.”

    Jeeping and sleeping

    Zehavi recommends a two-day “jeeping and sleeping” excursion along the Incense Route (also called the Spice Route).

    Start in the east, at Moa in the Arava Valley, site of an ancient khan (desert inn). From there, ascend the Katzra mountaintop, a stronghold overlooking the whole region.

    This will give you an appreciation for how hard it was to lead a caravan of camels up a steep slope.

    “They’d travel 30 kilometers a day between khans. One camel carried 350 kilos [771 pounds] of incense and only needed to drink once every 10 days or so,” says Zehavi, who has a master’s degree in environmental studies.

    Even back then, camels wouldn’t have much to drink at the third stop, the Nekarot River, a dry riverbed that once flowed through the Arif mountain range and northern Arava. The Nekarot is part of the Israel National Trail and boasts spectacular landscapes.

    This leads you past Saharonim to the fourth stop, the town of Mitzpeh Ramon with its world-famous Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon), which still has visible Nabatean milestones among its abundant flora and fauna including the Nubian ibex.

    Mitzpeh Ramon

    Mitzpeh Ramon

    Ramon is the world’s largest erosion crater, stretching 40 kilometers (25 miles) and descending to a depth of 400 meters (a quarter mile). It has unique geological structures such as the Hamansera (Prism) of crystallized sandstones and the Ammonite rock wall embedded with fossils.

    Camp out overnight in the crater, if weather and traveler preferences permit. A variety of hotels, from desert lodge to hostel to luxury, are also in the crater area. While in Mitzpeh Ramon, you may want to include the visitors’ center and a nighttime stargazing tour.

    The next morning, you’ll have a choice of trails for walking, jeeping or biking in the crater. A guided jeep tour is always a good option.

    Getting back on the Incense Route, you’ll go up Mahmal Ascent on the northern rim of the crater, a 250- to 300-meter climb to the Mahmal Fortress. Proceed northwest from there to Avdat National Park, site of a flourishing Nabatean city where you can see shrines that were later turned into Byzantine churches.

    Zehavi explains that after the Roman Empire transitioned into Byzantine Christianity around 324 CE, incense was no longer needed so the Nabateans started producing wine and desert agriculture as well as raising Arabian horses.

    “It’s amazing to see the way the harsh desert was colonized for agriculture through the use of highly sophisticated irrigation systems,” says Zehavi.

    End your tour of the Incense Route at Avdat or go northwest to Shivta National Park  and Halutza, or northeast to Mashit National Park  near Dimona.


      Article courtesy of  www.Israel21c.org

      Article courtesy of www.Israel21c.org

      Traveling the Ancient Incense Route in the Negev

      Coastal Yoga with Omer Hagai. Photo by Tamar Hagai

      Coastal Yoga with Omer Hagai. Photo by Tamar Hagai

      Preschool yoga, prenatal yoga, workplace yoga, yoga for soldiers… yoga in its many forms has found its way into virtually every area of Israeli life.

      By Ayo Oppenheimer-Abitbol    

      Today’s Israeli kindergartners know the downward dog and the sun salutation poses just as well as they know their nursery rhymes.

      Preschool yoga, prenatal yoga, workplace yoga, yoga for soldiers… yoga in its many forms has found its way into virtually every area of Israeli life. Even government ministries and the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office offer weekly yoga sessions to workers.

      While those familiar with the fast-paced, tough image of the Sabra might have a hard time visualizing the average Israeli enjoying yoga or meditation, these practices have received a warm welcome amongst Israelis, who deal with stressful and often chaotic realities.

      There’s a three-day Yoga Arava festival every September, and yoga classes year-round in Israeli cities and in desert retreats such as Ashram BaMidbar.

      Rooftop Yoga in Jerusalem with instructor Ayo Oppenheimer-Abitbol, overlooking the Israeli Parliament and Judean Hills. Photo by David Abitbol/Jewlicious

      Rooftop Yoga in Jerusalem with instructor Ayo Oppenheimer-Abitbol, overlooking the Israeli Parliament and Judean Hills. Photo by David Abitbol/Jewlicious

      Most classes are instructed in Hebrew, English and Sanskrit, so visitors – including those on the newly inaugurated Birthright Yoga and Mindfulness trip — can easily partake in the Israeli yoga environment.

      Styles span the dynamic and therapeutic traditions, including Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Vinyasa and more.

      Israeli soldiers learning yoga in the Masa L’Koach Elite Army Program. Photo: courtesy

      Israeli soldiers learning yoga in the Masa L’Koach Elite Army Program. Photo: courtesy

      “The two most popular styles of yoga in Israel seem to be Ashtanga and Iyengar, which are very regimented and even militaristic without much room for modification,” says Ingrid Aria of the Yoga HomeSchool. “I wonder if this is due to the military background of Israelis.”

      In fact, Israel may be one of the few countries with a yoga training program for soldiers. Israeli immigrant Karen Zivan founded Masa L’Koach (Journey to Power) in 2012 to teach the tools and life skills of meditation, mindfulness and asanas (postures).

      “Elite soldiers train to be strong, but protecting yourself from stress is just as important… and, to the soldier’s surprise, they found yoga to be quite challenging,” says Zivan.

      Spiritual practices

      Generally, however, Israelis like incorporating a multitude of yoga influences, says Jerusalem yoga instructor Omer Hagai.

      “We are not a nation where Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway or other international chains have thrived, as Israelis prefer the local to the mass-produced global. Israeli yogis are the same way and tend to reject the more modern, branded, capitalistic and ‘chain’ yoga experiences like in Yin Yoga and Shadow Yoga,” Hagai observes.

      Many Israelis embrace spiritual practices such as Kundalini yoga, which according to certified yoga instructor Ourit Ben-Haim “gives you a fresh perspective of all spiritual paths.”

      Some yoga practices incorporate Judaic wisdom and philosophy, such as Dekelyah Winer’s Alef Bet Stretch, Ophanim Alef Bet Yoga pioneered by Zvi Zavidowsky, and Otiyot Hayyot (Living Letters) founded by Yehudit Goldfarb in 1979 as a hybrid of tai chi, yoga and Kabbalah based on the block letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

      “The simple movement patterns of Otiyot Hayyot promote relaxation, integration and renewed vitality as they reveal the spiritual light and life force within each letter,” Goldfarb says.

      Rachel Solberg, 90, a yoga pioneer in Israel since 1957, says many Israeli yogis choose to end their practice with the chanting of “shalom,” a modification of the yoga chant “om.”

      This adaptation, she says, was used and encouraged by Swami Venkatesananda in one of his first visits to Israel as a way to honor the Hebrew tradition and infuse the Sanskrit with added local meaning.

      Otiyot Hayyot in Safed (Tzfat), Israel. Photo by Maya Wallach courtesy of Yehudit Goldfarb

      Otiyot Hayyot in Safed (Tzfat), Israel. Photo by Maya Wallach courtesy of Yehudit Goldfarb

      Solberg founded the Israeli Yoga Teachers’ Association, which now boasts several hundred registered instructors, as well as the yoga program at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports in Netanya. She still teaches weekly classes at Wingate and in Ramat Aviv.


      The Israeli scene also is rich with spin-offs and fusions such as yoga dance, yoga barre and acroyoga.

      Acroyoga is a partner-based practice that combines yogic breathing, mindfulness and postures with elementary acrobatic technique. Last year, more than 150 practitioners came together for a synchronized acroyoga flashmob ahead of the Purim holiday.

      Yanai Levor, a founder of the Israel acroyoga community, organizes the annual Israel Acrobatics Convention featuring yoga, acrobatics, hoop dance and more. This event has become the third largest acroyoga gathering in the world.

      Doing acroyoga in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. Photos by David Abitbol/Jewlicious

      Doing acroyoga in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. Photos by David Abitbol/Jewlicious

      Perhaps due to the intensity of the Israeli personality, Israelis tend to push themselves to achieve the most challenging poses possible. Almost every dynamic yoga class in Israel will end with a series of inverted postures including back bridges, headstands, handstands and forearm stands. The highest number of Israeli yoga teachers instruct in Ashtanga, or power yoga.

      At the same time, Vijnana yoga (a therapeutic and gentle yoga form) was founded in Israel by Orit Sen Gupta and marks one of many Israeli contributions to the global yoga community.

      Ingrid Aria of the Yoga HomeSchool sees room for Israeli yogis to learn from immigrants, who often incorporate music and inspirational quotes into their classes, and vice versa.

      “If we can blend the full Israeli system with the Western openness for lightness and play, a new approach to yoga may be born out of Israel,” she predicts.

      Solberg thinks yoga could even provide a key to peace. “Have patience, don’t take your yoga too fast and it may just bring you to a place of happiness where you no longer have any enemies at all.”

      Ayo Oppenheimer-Abitbol is a certified yoga instructor teaching Vinyasa yoga and acroyoga in Israel. She leads classes out of her home studio (StudioAYO) in Jerusalem.

      ARTICLE COURTESY OF  www.Israel21c.org

      ARTICLE COURTESY OF www.Israel21c.org

      Om in the Land of Shalom

      HaNamal 24's Instagram feed

      HaNamal 24's Instagram feed

      HaNamal 24 is located on Haifa’s hopping street of the same name. Chef Ran Rosh, a graduate of Paul Bocuse’s culinary institute in Lyon, brings a classic French approach to many of his dishes here, with bold dashes of “molecular cuisine” techniques and a healthy reliance on local ingredients. His rich and generously portioned dishes offer unexpected combinations of flavors: scallops with olive polenta and a creamy sauce with just a touch of vanilla; beef carpaccio with sea salt and a whiff of violet balsamic; a mullet fillet with slightly sweet risotto and a pear stuffed with goat cheese, cardamom, and saffron.

      Our idea was to position ourselves at the peak of fine dining in Haifa and the North.
      — Guy Avital

      HaNamal 24’s interior, a labyrinth of rooms big and small, was designed by architect Nathan Faibish to recall rustic Tuscany—indeed, Faibish imported wooden flooring and window frames from Italy and repurposed them here as part of the restaurant’s furnishings. The décor and the food at HaNamal 24 add up to a truly extraordinary experience. As co-owner Guy Avital puts it: “Our idea was to position ourselves at the peak of fine dining in Haifa and the North.” They seem to be well on their way.

      HaNamal 24 > 


      HaNamal 24’s Molecular Cuisine

      Updated . Photo by and courtesy Avi Ganor

      Respected restaurateur Ofra Ganor is the brain behind Manta Ray, the venerable and hugely successful bastion of beachside dining in Tel Aviv. With Ofra at its helm, Manta Ray is sunny, gorgeous, runs like clockwork, and serves superb food (under the watch of head chef Ronen Skinezes).

      From the start, my motto was: no deep-fried fish, no hummus. And no fries. I wanted another kind of restaurant.
      — Ofra Ganor

      While she is not a professional cook herself, Ofra has over the years opened several other well-respected eateries in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and she says: “I’ve done my homework.” She understands food extremely well, as does everyone who works at her restaurants. Ofra notes: “From the start, my motto was: no deep-fried fish, no hummus. And no fries. I wanted another kind of restaurant.”

      Manta Ray > 

      Manta Ray restaurant. Photos courtesy Avi Ganor.


      Restaurateur and Locavore Ofra Ganor

      Morning on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv–Yafo. Photo by and © Vision Studio

      We are on well-cushioned bicycles, rented from Tel Aviv–Yafo’s new bike-share system, heading south on the sleek boardwalk that lines the Namal, or waterfront, from Tel Aviv into Jaffa. Although it’s pretty early, the sun beams down on the water—as ever—and we pedal along, rarely picking up much speed, but occasionally stopping to catch our breath and look out at the sparkling shifts of the sea. It is early morning, and the water is dotted with swimmers of all shapes and sizes, out for their daily ablutions.

      As ever in Israel, the old and the new, myth, faith, and contemporary reality are mingled together.

      We will ride for miles here, on the sturdy wooden boardwalk that dips and rises, mimicking the swelling of beach dunes. Designed by husband-and-wife architect team Udi Kassif and Ganit Mayslits Kassif, the handsome wide walkway won them the award for outstanding landscape architecture at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in 2010. It meanders through the Tel Aviv Port, which is packed with boutiques, cafés, and food markets; already visitors are heading here for their morning coffee, enjoying the proximity of the water. At night, the port glitters with the lights of restaurants, nightclubs, and performance spaces, and hums with the chatter of crowds and the jangle of street music.

      Our ride takes us through upscale neighborhoods of stark white hotels and stylish beachside cafés shaded with gigantic, colorful parasols, an area where refreshing arak-and-grapefruit-juice cocktails are delivered by natty waiters to your place on a rented beach chair. Here, if you close your eyes, you can try to count the languages being spoken within earshot: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and a few others that you might not be able to identify.

      We pass funkier areas where beachgoers bring their own sandwiches and umbrellas, where children flop into shallow waves followed by slightly worried mothers, and elderly men are not shy to reveal ample naked bellies, bronzed from decades of basking in the Mediterranean sun. Out beyond the shore, a group of youngsters is trying to catch enough wave-swell to surf. We see a group of schoolgirls, buttoned up in traditional Orthodox tzniut outfits—elbows and knees modestly covered by their simple uniforms—as a gazelle-like male jogger, sporting only a black Speedo, sneakers, and reflective sunglasses, hurtles by them.

      We ride by the Tel Aviv Port’s farmers’ market, already beginning to pulse with curious tourists, knowledgeable foodies, businesslike housewives. Inside this warehouse-sized space are vendors selling meats, fish, cheeses, wines, olive-oil products, cooking accessories, and more, as well as coffee shops where you can enjoy an espresso in the midst of the throng. This morning, happy shoppers are exiting the building with bags filled with fresh, ripe strawberries and savory bourekas, which many will tote down to the beach for snacking.

      As ever in Israel, the old and the new, myth, faith, and contemporary reality are mingled together. As we continue toward Jaffa, our path winds through more harbor-like terrain. Fishermen lean on a wall above the plashing waves, waiting for their dinner to tug at the lines: fish that live nowhere else, with exotic nicknames like spinefoot and guitarfish. Against the old walls opposite sit ancient street monarchs, fully focused on games of backgammon and chess. Some distance into the water, a boulder juts upward: Andromeda’s Rock, named for the princess of Greek mythology who, it is said, was chained here as an offering to a sea monster, but was saved from its jaws by Perseus. A shapely rollerblader in a top hat weaves through the crowd, adroitly sipping pomegranate juice through a straw as she sails by. Buskers play a Middle Eastern hybrid of klezmer and bluegrass, a battered banjo case on the sidewalk filling up with shekels from appreciative passersby.

      As we ride into Jaffa, we pass old warehouses now spiffed up into chic, cavernous restaurants, gallery spaces, organic-coffee shops, and bookstores. It’s almost impossible to imagine that just a few decades ago this area was so dilapidated that major parts of it were an environmental hazard. What was once a fifty-acre landfill of rubble by the shore has recently been cleaned out, smoothed, and made green and useable as Midron Yafo Park, or Jaffa Seaside Park (also known, less poetically, as Jaffa Landfill Park). The shoreline was reclaimed by the Municipality of Tel Aviv–Yafo, which removed and recycled the detritus and built a promenade along the shore with links to the port, the Givat Aliyah Beach, and the Bat-Yam area. The park, designed by Tel Aviv’s Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture, rolls with green lawns (irrigated with desalinated seawater) and neat paths, and is studded with playgrounds, shaded benches facing the sea, an amphitheater, and the bike lane along which we are riding. Its success is clear: on this beautiful day, the park is thronged with visitors from the city’s full spectrum of people.

      Nearby, down Kedem Street, is the stunning striated box of a building that is the Peres Center for Peace, founded by Shimon Peres as headquarters for peace-building initiatives between Israel and its neighbors, and between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Here, we veer inland, onto the cobbled lanes of Jaffa’s alleyways, in search of hummus. As the streets narrow, we gingerly disembark, return our bicycles to their rental spot, and walk, slowly regaining our land legs after ten or so kilometers of riding, which have taken us in one morning through so many layers of history and the vivid reality of the present.

      Tel Aviv Port >

       Tel Aviv Port Farmers’ Market >

      Tel-o-Fun Bicycle Rentals > 

      Peres Center for Peace >

      Bicycling Tel Aviv to Jaffa

      The lobby of the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem. Photo © and courtesy Cookie West

      Nearly at the mouth of the Old City’s Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem is the stylish Mamilla Hotel, revamped in the early 2000s by the architect/designer team Moshe Safdie and Piero Lissoni. The hotel’s immediate neighborhood is extremely toney—an interesting contrast to a tumultuous history.

      A rooftop lounge and restaurant offer guests a sweeping view of the Old City.

      The hotel has a very contemporary feel: a massive glass entryway leads into a stunning front lobby, populated with solicitous concierges and well-turned-out guests. The Mamilla’s rooms, modern and angular, are appointed with smart and understated furnishings and subdued lighting, and (fascinatingly) the wall dividing the room from the bath is clear as glass—but at the touch of a button becomes magically opaque. The hotel’s Akasha spa (or “well-being center”) provides a perfect place to soak, swim, and otherwise unwind after a long day of exploring the city. An especially nice touch at the Mamilla is the wall of bookshelves in the glamorous hotel lobby, filled with handsome tomes on the arts and design—in a variety of languages—ranging from the merely tasteful to the downright edgy. The hotel also features several fine eating and drinking spots, including the Mirror Bar, a couple of cafés, and a rooftop lounge and restaurant from which guests can look out over the sweep of the Old City as they enjoy their meal.

      Mamilla Hotel >

      Mamilla Hotel: A Tony Retreat in Jerusalem

      Shoppers wandering Mamilla Mall. Photo by Sharon VanderKaay, courtesy Creative Commons 

      Established in the late nineteenth century, the Mamilla area was for many years a mixed Jewish-Arab business district. Its recent urban-renewal has been a resounding success: the fashionable Mamilla pedestrian mall opened in 2007, and the Mamilla Hotel shortly thereafter.

      Established in the late nineteenth century, the Mamilla area was for many years a mixed Jewish-Arab business district.

      Across the street from the Mamilla Hotel is a sumptuous new branch of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently opened, establishing the Mamilla area as the new where-to-stay destination for travelers with a taste for luxury. Adjacent to the two hotels, the stylish Alrov Mamilla Mall)—functions, perhaps somewhat incongruously, as a “bridge” between the Old City and new Jerusalem. The hotel, and this neighborhood in general, is obviously catapulting into the future at an almost dizzying pace.         

      For visitors interested in seeing a different, far more ascetic, side of Jerusalem, there is the Austrian Hospice, at the very heart of the Old City on the Via Dolorosa. Established in the mid-nineteenth century by the Austrian government as a lodging place for pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Hospice’s interior was designed in the elegant style of the buildings on Vienna’s Ringstrasse (although its street entrance is so nondescript that it might be missed in the throng of the packed Muslim Quarter). Within easy walking distance of three essential holy sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall—the Hospice offers a charming, very Northern European contrast to its Middle Eastern setting. (Where else can you sit on a sunny rooftop overlooking the Temple Mount and the Church of the Redeemer, then head downstairs for a perfectly crisp and authentic Apfelstrudel?) The Hospice still provides lodgings to Christian pilgrims, but no religious affiliation is required to stay here. The guest rooms are pleasingly spartan (though not monkish), with gleaming tile floors, simple, immaculate linens, and comfortable beds. The vibe at the Austrian Hospice is welcoming yet otherworldly, and somehow this mood seems appropriate for the Old City of Jerusalem—a place thoroughly charged with spiritual fervor—no matter what your beliefs.

      Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem >

      Alrov Mamilla Mall >

      Austrian Hospice >


      Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall: A Bridge Between Old and New

       Israeli & Arab Soccer Coaches from  Peres Center for Peace Soccer. Photo by WrenB, courtesy Creative Commons 

      If matkot is Israel’s unofficial national sport, soccer is the game that gets the most prime-time attention. In Israel as in many other countries, it’s a hugely popular activity across communities and ethnicities; Jews, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else grows up watching soccer, knowing the rules, and likely playing the game at some point or another.

      In Israel as in many other countries, soccer is a hugely popular activity across communities and ethnicities.

      It is a popular notion that soccer transcends politics—certainly it brings people together on a field to play—but in fact passions run high, and hotheadedness in this notoriously dramatic sport can quickly lead to skirmishes both on the field and in the stands. (This is as true in Manchester as in Tel Aviv, but in Israel the subject of debate can move from a foul play to foul politics in no time.) Still, fans of most Israeli teams cut through all sectors of society, and many club teams include both Jewish and Muslim players such as those at Peres Center For Peace. And, as in the rest of the world, in Israel this is no longer a sport for men only: professional women’s soccer is growing quickly. 

      Although the scores are low in soccer, the action doesn’t let up. Stop into any wharf bar in Jaffa or Tel Aviv during soccer season and you’ll find a crowd of fans, riveted to the television screen, hoping that their team—whichever team that may be—will get a goal.

      Peres Center for Peace > 

      Israeli Soccer: Creating a Level Playing Field @perescenter4peace

      Matkot on the beach. Photo by Lina Nagano, courtesy Creative Commons

      Tok-tik tok-tik tok-tik. At a certain spot on the boardwalk between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the tok-tiks cannot be ignored: a crowd of people in pairs—all ages, mostly men, a few women—whacking small rubber balls back and forth with wooden paddles.  Matkot is this onomatopoetically named activity, played lazily on some American beaches, but in Israel approached with all the passion and intensity of an Olympic game (it is often referred to as Israel’s national sport).

      There are no winners and no losers. Which is good because no one likes to lose.
      — Matkot player

      What sets matkot somewhat apart from other games, however, is that it has no official rules; as one player notes: “There are no winners and no losers. Which is good because no one likes to lose.” The principal objectives are absolutely basic: move fast and keep the ball in the air. Play hard. Have fun.

      The Israeli National Sport

      The approach to the King David Hotel. Photo by Noam Chen for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, courtesy Creative Commons

      Jerusalem’s venerable King David Hotel, which opened in 1930, reflects several decades of the city’s complicated past. To stay here is to experience a chunk of history. The hotel played an important role in Israel’s struggle for statehood, through the War of Independence, the division of Jerusalem and the reunification, and onward.

      The mot juste for the King David Hotel is grand.

      The King David has hosted many a royal guest and head of state, from King Abdullah of Jordan to Barack Obama. (The hotel’s website boasts that past visitors to the hotel include “248 Prime Ministers, 53 Kings, and 102 Presidents”—and that royal head count doesn’t count the Queen of Pop, Madonna, who has stayed here multiple times.) One section of the King David served as military headquarters during the British Mandate, and its south wing was bombed by the Zionist extremist Irgun faction in 1946. The hotel’s TV channel plays a looped documentary about its remarkable history.

      The mot juste for the King David Hotel is grand: from the massive lobby spaces with tiled floors, leather and gilt furnishings, and high ceilings painted in colorful Levantine patterns to its lavish sixth-floor rooms overlooking the walls of the Old City, it speaks of opulence and longstanding glories. Any visitor to Jerusalem should at least walk that august red carpet, in the footsteps of fifty-three kings (and one Queen of Pop).

       King David Hotel >


      Jerusalem’s Magnificent King David Hotel