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A Family Road Trip in Israel

My father is Middle Eastern. I have been to Israel a few times, but never with him, and never through the eyes of a local and native. There was something magical about seeing where my father grew up. There was something so lovely about imagining him, young, unwrinkled, touching the shores of the Mediterranean Ocean. It was all so dreamlike. My husband and I are both the children of immigrant fathers – his from Morocco and mine from Israel. We first bonded over having fathers that did not quite understand America’s love of baseball, fathers that prepared strange foods (Shakshuka, Albondigas), and fathers that still saw America as a land of great hope and social change.

When I was married in August, 2013, my father had one wish. He really wanted to bring his new son (my husband, Michael) to his native homeland. The three of us embarked on an epic journey to Haifa, Megiddo, Gamla, Tiberias, Caesarea, Bethlehem, the Mount Beatitudes, Capernaum, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Golan Heights. Oh my!

Jaffa Old Port, Israel 2014 via The Walkup

The ancient port city of Jaffa is famous for its a lighthouse, known as Jaffa Light, that is located above the port. From its base one can look at multiple synagogues, mosques and stone-streets in one direction, and the modern city of Tel Aviv, with its looming skyscrapers, in the other direction.

TheShuk, Tiberias and Tel Aviv via The Walkup

The beaches of Israel are world famous.  This small country is blessed with three seas — the Mediterranean, the Dead and the Red (the Sea of Galilee, also known as The Kinneret, is really a lake, though it does have beaches too).  The Shuks, the word for an outdoor marketplace, can be found in every major city throughout the country. My favorite Shuk was in Acre (Acco). These strawberries were so juicy, and the fresh pomegranate, pomelo and orange juices are a huge (and cheap) treat.

Rosh HaNikra and Ancient Aqueducts via The Walkup

Driving towards the tip of the country in the north, we casually passed ancient Roman aqueducts! These connect to Caesarea, a marina from antiquity named by King Herod in honor of Augustus Caesar. For some time, this bustling port was considered a center of early Christianity. It was also conquered by the Byzantine empire, the crusaders, and more. On the site exists a hippodrome, an amphitheater and many old bathing houses.

On the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra,  a geologic formation in located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Western Galilee, we found white chalk cliffs face opening into beautiful grottoes. We took a small, red cable-car to the site on the Lebanese border. The mode of transport claimed to be the steepest cable car in the world, with a 60 degrees gradient!

Bahai Temple in Haifa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by The Walkup

The Bahai Temples in Haifa are a practice in perfect symmetry. The gardens boast identical stairways, lights, balustrades, fountains, shrubbery and lawns. These gorgeous gardens are on the World Heritage List. Known as the Shrine of the Báb, this magnificent hanging garden sits atop Mount Carmel, one of the highest vantage points in all of Haifa, Israel. They are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel.

A encountered a small boy lighting candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old City, Jerusalem. He kindled the flames at an altar steps from where Jesus was buried. Outside, the market continued at its busy pace and men were selling halva, nuts and Turkish delights.

Haifa at night, Bethlehem, Acco by The Walkup

A well needed cup of morning coffee came from Lavazza, one of the only companies that seems to believe in “to-go” cups throughout Israel. People tend to enjoy their coffee while seated with friends, over a paper, or in the retreat of a cafe seat. The day entailed a visit into Bethlehem, but ended with a gorgeous nightscape over the Mediterranean.

Fishing in the North, Jachnun and Shabbat in Tel Aviv

On Saturday, or Shabbat, most people are sleepily relaxing. Storefronts were closed, and family were taking days at the beach. A specific dish known as Jachnun, a slow-cooked Yemenite Jewish pastry, could be found at many brunch spots around Tel Aviv.

Old City Jerusalem by The Walkup

In many ways, this country is both ancient and modern. It boasts a booming tech culture, and yet retains its footing in history. Its richness of art and culture expertly blend new and old.

What will you discover when you explore your father’s hometown?

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Tour de Tel Aviv

Known lovingly as The White City, all of Tel Aviv was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The happening city in Israel is filled with gorgeous historic buildings from the Ottoman empire to the Bauhaus era. Filled with clever fusion eateries, killer coffee, amazing street art and more museums per capita than most cities in the world, this city should be on the bucket-list.  Aside from the famous beaches, and all night clubs, I highly recommend perusing boutiques in the indie fashion district, the revitalized twenties-era Gan Ha’Hashmal.

Gabrielle Toledano in Tel Aviv by The Walkup

From its weather to music to its attitude, Tel Aviv is a modern, pleasure-seeker’s paradise with unexpected treasures around every corner of the mediterranean haven. What’s also in the second-city-that-never-sleeps? My cousin through marriage, Gabrielle! Say Bonjour…errr…Shalom!

Gabrielle Toledano in Tel Aviv by The Walkup

Gabrielle is an architect, although upon first glance one might think she’s a fashion model (credits include  shots for DE GRIS by Alexandre Silberstein and Kopito). She recently moved to Tel Aviv, Israel from Paris, France by way of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Quite the jet-setter, she’s fluent in French, Spanish and English. Apparently, she’s also fluent in the sparse Scandinavian meets Moroccan Shuk design aesthetic.

Gabrielle Toledano in Tel Aviv by The Walkup

Her apartment is located in the “Kerem Hatemanim”, a lovely, artsy and picturesque neighborhood in the heart of Tel Aviv.  It’s the perfect spot to start exploring the city while feeling like a local – especially since the space is only a 1 minute walk from the open-air Carmel marketplace filled with  fresh fruits, spices and veggies.

Gabrielle Toledano in Tel Aviv by The Walkup

The apartment is full of light and it features its own private closed entrance from the street, private staircase and private rooftop. That sort of privacy can lead one to sunbathe naked all day. Interested in visiting? Travel to this exact home! You’ll be licking your lips in no time enjoying the delights of Eser 10, the hummus at Abu Hasan, or sipping an espresso among other bohemian types at Cafe NOACH (which makes its home in a converted artisan lampshade store).

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Feta, Watermelon and Tomato (End of) Summer Salad

Recipes with watermelon, tomato and feta

The summer I was living in Israel, I ate watermelon sprinkled with tangy, Bulgarian Feta cheese every day. The refreshing summertime combination is a salty, sweet, healthy and re-fueling snack. The dish sometimes gets spiced up with Zaatar, mint, special olive oils, seeds and more. However, the base of feta and watermelon remains the same.

In the USA, particularly in NYC, I find myself a bit more beholden to the whims of a seasonal market. We do not have (fresh) watermelon year round – our peak season is May through September. The savory super-fruit, Pomegranate (which also has roots in the Middle East), tends to have a harvest season that extends from October until December.

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

Pining for the warmth of the summer months, and craving a cuisine based in desert terrain, I found myself at a cross-roads between time-of-year and availability of produce. Therefore, I bring you the End of Summer Salad – a mix of middle eastern loves, autumn output, and Mediterranean influences.

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

Ingredients: 

  • 1 Large Watermelon
  • 1 Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese – preferable brined
  • 2 Pints grape tomatoes 
  • ¼ Cup Yuzu Citrus Marinade
  • 2 Tablespoons Oil Oil – I used Round Pond, Italian Varietal, which has a very ripe, slightly spicy and green taste
  • Lemon Flake, flavored sea salt from The Meadow
  • Pomegranate Seeds for sprinkling

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

 Bon Appétit OR as they say in Israel – (be’te-avon) בתיאבון!