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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.