The situation in Israel and Gaza is so difficult and painful right now. In solidarity with and support of Israel, I decided to dedicate a Thursday Thirteen post to the State and People of Israel.
13 Things I Love about Israel:
- Landing at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, walking off of the El Al airplane, and knowing that I am standing on holy ground. There is nothing like that first moment back in the country.
- My first falafel sandwich in Jerusalem. Yes, I eat Middle Eastern food the rest of the time, but nothing ever tastes quite as good as the falafel in Jerusalem.
- A visit to the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City. I walk up to the wall, knowing that myriads have stood there before me, and I gently lay my forehead onto the cool bricks. I feel closer to God there, and I feel that my prayers reach God differently as I stand at the holy site.
- Laying on the beach in Tel Aviv. You rent a lounge chair, set up an umbrella, and soak in the rays on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There is nothing like the feeling of the sun in the Middle East - I got freckles there for the first time (I know, not necessarily a good thing).
- Visiting the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. The Israel Museum contains a beautiful mix of antiquities, art, sculpture, history, and fun. I try to visit every time I am in the country.
- I love putting on my sandals and my bathing-suit, then slowly walking into the healing waters of the Dead Sea. The deepest part of the Dead Sea is over 2300 feet below sea level! Why is it called the Dead Sea? Well, the water is so high in salt and minerals that virtually nothing can survive in it. It is not deadly to us, though, if we want to float in it and enjoy the minerals and mud!
- There are few places as incredible as Masada, a desert fortress atop a mountain near the Dead Sea. According to legend, a Jewish community fled from Roman conquerors around the year 70 CE to the top of the mountain, survived for a short time, then decided to commit suicide rather than be captured. Though the story is bleak, the site now represents survival and bravery. Many Jewish teens climb the mountain in the middle of the night, and then watch the sunrise from the top.
- There is a great water park (yeah, I love these things) in Tiberias, right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Hof Gai, as the park is called, is one of many fun places to visit in the city of Tiberias. Tiberias is a holy site to both Jews and Christians, and there is much to do there. But, yes, I love the water park!
- I love taking my time on Saturday afternoons, part of the Jewish sabbath. In Israel, for some reason, I am able to observe Shabbat more easily. I find it easier to take the time I need for myself, for friends and family, and for a closer connection with the Divine all around me. My friends and I used to go to a park, bring a picnic and a frisbee, and we would spend the whole day playing, resting, and chatting. What could be better?
- Wanna have the best milkshake in your life? Visit Yotvata, a restaurant in Tel Aviv that carries, by far, the best dairy products you will ever taste. Kibbutz Yotvata, in the Negev Desert, sells its dairy all over the country, but dining at the restaurant provides a fun way to enjoy it. Once seated, everyone gets a free taste of the fruit smoothie of your choice. Once you taste it, there is no going back! Ice cream, milkshakes, cheese - nothing compares anywhere else in the world.
- As difficult as a visit is, I find it crucial to visit Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum. Nearly every step is gut-wrenching, and you find yourself near tears throughout, but you are also inspired by tales of bravery, courage, and endurance. Somehow, the Jewish people survived, and visitors to Yad Vashem exit the museum and find themselves standing overlooking a lush, green Jerusalem forest. There are, indeed, miracles.
- Deep in the Old City, in Jerusalem, is one of my most favorite sites: the Arab Shuk. Through twisting sidewalks and alleys, you wander through shops and storefronts of every shape, size, and scent. You can find pretty much anything on these streets, you can make new friends, eat delicious foods, get invited for tea, or get a GREAT bargain. Some of my most beloved scarves and jewelry pieces are from my excursions to the Arab Shuk.
- Last, but certainly not least, I love that Israel is my home. I knew it the very first moment I landed there - my soul was returning to its source. There are parts of my heart that are forever in the East, in Jerusalem, with my Israeli brothers and sisters.