Archive | March, 2011

Neve Tzedek: Where Tel Aviv Began

30 Mar

The Rokach House

The Rokach House

Nana Restaurant

Nana Restaurant

Hataim Metukim Bakery

Hataim Metukim Bakery

Yesterday I visited Neve Tzedek, a fashionable, artsy neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Neve Tzedek, founded in 1886, was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside the walls of Jaffa. Early on, Neve Tzedek, whose architecture incorporates elements of the Art Nouveau and Bauhaus movements, was home to many artists and writers. Tel Aviv, founded 22 years later in 1909, grew up around Neve Tzedek. Eventually residents began to move to newly developed areas in northern Tel Aviv, leaving Neve Tzedek to fall into disrepair and decay. The charismatic streets, restaurants, cafes and shops that we saw today are products of revitalization efforts that began in the 1980s.

I was thoroughly charmed by Neve Tzedek. It has a hip, though unpretentious, atmosphere totally different from its surroundings. I lost count of the jaw-dropping moments I experienced when stepping into one of the many craft shops or restaurants or cafes. And what really made my day even more special is that I drove into Tel Aviv for the very first time. I drove right past the U.S. Embassy to get to Neve Tzedek. It was a piece of cake! I am adding this spot to my must-do list for any visitors we may entertain.

Click on any of the images to view more photos of Neve Tzedek.

A Stroll Along the Beach

27 Mar

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Yesterday, Brad and I took a stroll along a short stretch of the Mediterranean shore. A 15-minute walk from our house brings us to the beach, but we drove to DeShalit Square so we could begin our walk a little bit further north.

Parking at DeShalit Square (for some reason, most expats refer to this square as Sharon Square but the map and street signs say it is DeShalit Square) is usually a challenge as it has a large parking lot very close to the beach and there are no time limits on parking spaces. We were lucky and found a space right away but as we walked towards the beach we witnessed an altercation over a parking space. Apparently, one driver tried to park in a space that was being reserved for another driver by a man standing in the parking space. The driver was so agitated he jumped out of his car and confronted the satnding man. Loud yells soon turned into a shoving match. The passenger of the car, a woman, jumped out and tried to mediate the fight, yelling “Shalom, Shalom!” over and over again. I wanted to stay and watch the outcome, but Brad preferred to pass it by and head for the beach.

It was a beautiful day, the nearly cloudless sky was a brilliant blue while the sea was varying shades of teal and turquoise. A mild wind drove small white-capped waves toward the shore. We entered the beach near a popular spot and saw several sunbathers settled onto beach chairs and blankets. Our destination was further north to Apollonia.

We walked along the narrow beach, the sea to our left and sandy cliffs to our right. The cliffs looked as if they’d been formed by a giant  bulldozer taking bites out of the land. In reality, the rough sides of the cliffs are made up of calcified sand. Up above we could see houses built dangerously close to the cliff’s edge.

At one point we passed some people casually sunbathing near signs warning of the possibility of landslides. A few steps further and we came upon an actual landslide that had occurred only moments earlier. It looked as if a giant sand castle had collapsed.

Further along the beach we came to the Hermit House. I’d seen that designation on the map and always wondered about it. The house was an odd conglomeration of stones and sculptures built into the cliff wall. I wonder if anyone really lives there. As we continued north, the beach became rockier. Just as we approached the site of the ancient port of Apollonia we stopped to sit on the rocks and gaze out to sea.

Time to head back and we began to retrace our steps. As we walked I scanned the shore for Roman glass — bits of sea-polished glass dating from ancient Roman times. Roman glass, in shades of blue, turquoise and green, is said to be plentiful along the shores of the Med in Israel. How they can tell it is Roman and not broken bits of an old Bromoseltzer bottle is beyond me. I did actually find one tiny bit of what could maybe be Roman glass.

Just as we approached the site of the landslide we were stopped by an officer (police?, park ranger? not sure) who told us we could not proceed further because of the landslide. We had to return to the site of Apollonia and climb up what seemed like hundreds of steps to the cliff top. From there we walked through town back to DeShalit Square.

I’ll have to return again soon to see what is done about the site of the landslide and, of course, to search for more Roman glass.

Rainy Day in Ramat Aviv

24 Mar

Indian Chai

An Indian Chai Helps Take the Chill Away

Today I had plans to meet two friends in Ramat Aviv for shopping and lunch at a cafe. The torrential rain that came down as I was getting ready in the morning did not seem to bode well. The torrents didn’t last long but the rain kept coming back between fits of sunshine. And it was a downright chilly 55F! It was turning out to be a typical winter day in Tel Aviv.

Oh well, the three of us donned rain slickers and hats and browsed around Schuster Center. It is a nifty little shopping area, not an indoor mall, nor a strip mall — just a few blocks of small adjoining shops under partial cover. The shops ranged from boutiques to book stores to fresh produce to homemade felafel. In an odd little kitchenware/hardware shop I managed to find some spice jars for storing the fresh spices I’ve been purchasing at markets. We all loaded up on some gorgeous looking produce, then headed to a little cafe for lunch.

We had a wonderful lunch at Cafe Gimmel. It was a cozy joint with a rather impressive menu. The presentation of the meals on stylish dishware was matched by the quality of the food. I had a yummy quiche and salad, then, after much conversation with my friends, topped it all off with a delicious Indian chai.

So glad we didn’t let the rain spoil our day.

Kfar Kama

22 Mar

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I went on another trip with the IWC today to a Circassian village in the lower Galilee region. The two-hour bus trip brought us from sunny and hot Herzliya to the chilly and overcast village of Kfar Kama. I learned today that the Circassian peoples orginated in the Caucasus region of Turkey. Driven from their homeland by the Russians many of them resettled in Israel. There are some 4,000 Circassians living in Israel today and Kfar Kama is one of the villages where they settled. We visited the Circassian Heritage Muaeum where we were greeted by our guide, dressed in full Circassian regalia. We were offered some pizza-like treats and unusual but tasty sage tea. We toured the museum while our guide filled us in on Circassian history and culture.

For me, the most interesting tidbit is that the Circassian language is largely onomatopoetic; the words sound like the things they denote. Their original alphabet is one of the most fanciful I’ve ever seen. Eventually the Circassians adopted the Cyrillic alphabet but added a few characters to fully express the sounds of their language.

After our museum tour we watched a charming and energetic folk dance in the courtyard. We then had a most delicious lunch at the only Circassian restaurant in town. (I also learned that the Circassians are known for their pizzas and there are several pizza joints in town.) After lunch, our guide took us for a stroll through the village, recounting tales of the history of the village and the notable black and white mosque designed by a Jewish architect.

Without a doubt, I am finding that there is so much to see and do in this country the size of New Jersey.

Having A Blast At The Purim Parade

18 Mar

Purim Parade

click image for more photos from the parade and the school


Today I attended a Purim parade organized by the Bialik-Rogozin school of Tel Aviv. The school has recently won acclaim as the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary film, Strangers No More. The school’s students are disadvantaged children from various countries, many of whom have escaped the horrors of war and poverty. I was one of several attendees representing the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Our visit began with a short tour of the school where I was impressed by the facilities and resources available to the students. Shortly after our tour the parade began as the students, dressed in a variety of costumes, marched from the front steps of the school bearing signs that proclaimed the parade’s theme “Success Has Many Faces”.

I should explain that Purim is a Jewish holiday based on the Book of Esther in which the Jews living in ancient Persia are saved from annihilation. The celebration of Purim includes readings of the Book of Esther, feasting, giving of gifts to the poor and to one’s friends and wearing of masks and costumes. I believe the costume-wearing is a relatively new addition to the celebration and has grown to include parades such as the one I witnessed today.

It was a thrill to experience the exuberance of the event. The costumes, worn by children and adults alike, were imaginative and fun. Music was blaring from speakers at nearly every corner of the parade route. Now and then blasts of confetti were launched in the air. Impromptu street performances broke out. The mayor of Tel Aviv, decked out in top hat and tux, was in attendance, interacting with parade participants.

I couldn’t help but think that somewhere along the line the Purim festival is related to Mardi Gras, Fasching and Carnevale. All festivals take place around the same time of year and all include parades and costumed revelers. Next year, perhaps, I’ll wear my own costume for the parade.

The Farmer’s Market

17 Mar

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I’ve only recently discovered that every Thursday from 3-8 p.m. there is a farmer’s market in Herzliya Pituach. The market is set up in a park in the southernmost boundary of the industrial zone. The park is ringed by steel and glass buildings housing high tech companies, one of which is Israel’s R&D center for Microsoft. Brightly colored, whimsical statues of fish and reptile-like creatures decorate the park. It’s not a very large market but the offerings are tempting and tasty. Aside from a few green grocers there are vendors selling, among other items, ready-made Middle-Eastern food, fresh-baked bread, pastries and cookies, a nice selection of cheeses, homemade olives and fresh-cut flowers. The vendors are friendly and most speak English. It’s been a pleasure to shop there the last couple of weeks but I wonder how it will go when the heat of summer arrives.

Preparing For The Worst, Expecting The Best

16 Mar

Today I went to a seminar on how to prepare for an unexpected departure. In the light of recent turmoil in the immediate region and the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan the subject of the seminar was particularly topical. Oh, and please don’t worry. This seminar was not held because there is any indication we will be evacuated anytime soon. There have been plans in place for a long time to prepare U.S. diplomatic communities around the world for a possible evacuation. Let’s face it…it is a sign of the times we live in.

So, now that I’ve just about got our house in order (save hanging pictures on the walls), I’ve got to get organized to be able to leave on short notice. We were advised on a number of preparations: Each of us should have a suitcase packed about 3/4 full, leaving space to add a few last-minute items. We should scan in all important documents like medical records and passports and store them on a thumb drive. Alas, the U.S. government does not provide any help at all in transporting pets in an emergency. We could end up paying up to $2,500 to transport our pets or, worst-case scenario, we may have to leave the kitties behind. This means a search for a reputable kennel or a local friend who will be willing to take Baxter and Lulu in.

I really don’t think the situation will ever come to this and I truly believe we will be here for the duration of B’s two-year assignment. I hope these do not become famous last words.