This month I was fortunate to attend a Women Leader’s Trade Mission to Israel, with 40 diverse and fabulous Australian women, organised by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; our group spent four days in Jerusalem and four days in Tel Aviv. There to examine and try and understand all things innovation, it was a wonderful opportunity to experience such a complex and fascinating country. I’ve written on the business aspects of the trip elsewhere, so here I’ll share with you some of the meals (in our 16-18 hour days we had to eat!) and our lightening fast version of sightseeing in between meetings.
With little time to waste, after our early morning flight arrival and a quick freshen up we headed to the Israel Museum. It’s a fabulous building, and regarded as one of world’s best museums after extensive renovations in 2010. A must for archaeology fans, as it houses some of the world’s oldest pieces. The 5,000 year old butter churner had me intrigued. (Is dairy allowed in Paleo? We’ve been eating it for a while it seems, Pete Evans). Set on 20 acres, I loved the large corridors and spaciousness and surrounding gardens. Our tour guide, Elana Ben Chaim, was just charming and delightful – grab her if you can!
That evening for dinner we headed to Kedma, which you arrive at after a stroll through the very pleasant outdoor Mamila Mall.
The food was delicious, and here we got a taste of the mezze style of dining we would see a lot of over the next eight days. Vegetables and dairy feature heavily in the diet here, and very little processed or deep fried food. Every eggplant dish we tried throughout the trip was fantastic – I’m not sure if it is the variety of eggplant, the soil, the water, or the cooking technique! The focus also seems to be more on savoury rather than sweet, with desserts taking a back seat. I did find that in general red meat tended to be overcooked compared to what we are used to in Australia, though that may be due to kosher style of butchering, so after trying it at a couple of meals I generally skipped it. Besides there were just too many fabulous vegetable dishes to try. The Marito would have a field day in this country.
From Kedma there is also a great view of the city and the night light show against the Western Wall.
By far the most confronting part of the trip and of life in general was our visit to the Yad Va’shem Holocaust Memorial the following morning. An imposing and stark building, what you see inside will leave your heart heavy, your face solemn, and make you drag your feet. You can’t take photos inside but what you see will stay with you.
The capacity for unnecessary human evil is fully on display here, and walking on the pavers of the Warsaw Ghetto, seeing the abandoned shoes, the house keys that people took with them thinking that they would return home one day, touching the carriage that took children to Auschwitz, leaves you silent and rather distraught. There are lots of displays and videos but the sensitive and learned guide we had made clear enormity of the suffering of the six million lives lost. One and a half million of them were children, amongst them newborns, who are honoured and remembered in the separate Children’s Terrace.
At Yad Va’Shem you will also see Schindler’s List, the list of all the Jewish people Oskar Schindler saved. Number 123 is man who now lives in Melbourne, who told our guide that his first stop whenever he visits Israel is the Catholic Cemetery to pay his respects at Schindler’s grave.
One fact our guide shared of which I was unaware, as were most of our group, was the heroism of Denmark. They refused to accede to Hitler’s demands and brand people with stars or treat them differently, and then organised for their safe removal to Sweden. Denmark is the only country that appears in the Avenue of the Righteous. This is a path that circles the museum which has the names of people from all around the world who risked their lives to save others from Nazi hands. One of those is a man who now lives in Melbourne, who was honoured in 1991. Another who is honoured is Irena Sendler, a Polish Social worker who saved over 2,000 children.
We stopped at Nafour Restaurant to recover and for a mezze refuel. It has a nice outdoor courtyard at the back.
From here we went for an unfortunately too short visit of the Old City of Jerusalem. I would have loved more time wandering the cobbled streets, so do leave yourself a good amount of time if you find yourself here. There were some very interesting looking market stalls and an endless selection of spices.
The Old City, a UNESCO World heritage site, is divided into quarters – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. In the Christian quarter you’ll come across the Holy Sepulchre. Inside is the site of the crucifixion of Jesus, where his body was laid to be shrouded, and the site of his tomb. I sent some photos to the Small People as I walked through and one of them replied “surely that’s not real?”. You have to make up your own mind.
If you’re walking through the Old City, particularly in the evening, it is also hard to miss The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic Temple and holy site and one of the world’s oldest examples of Islamic architecture. At the moment, visitors are not allowed inside, so you can only wander the outer square.
We also did a breakneck speed stop at the Dead Sea. It was one on my bucket list! The Earth’s lowest elevation, it is about ten times saltier than your average ocean. Doesn’t smell the best either and avoid splashing, apparently it tastes even worse. But yes you do float straight away, it’s a really weird feeling! Girlies no shaving beforehand, you’ll feel the sting of all that salt! We did give ourselves a good body scrub though, it was a good laugh.
One for ancient history lovers is Masada, the site of Herod the Great’s Fortress. How on earth did they do that 2,000 years ago? For the fit and those ready to brave the heat, you can climb to the top via stairs, otherwise there is a cable car.
We had a traditional Sabbath Dinner and heard from Rabbi Yael Kari, a female Rabbi from the Israel Movement for Reform, a modern form of Judaism. She was so lovely and serene. And I’m not sure if all Sabbath dinners are like this, but there was a crazy amount of food, including good old Jewish Penicillin, chicken soup.
One evening after a geopolitical briefing (the geopolitics of Israel will make your head spin) we headed to the Western Wall, a very holy place of prayer for Judaism. At 9.30pm it was very busy. There are separate sides for men and women; the male side looked quite social, with many men sitting and having a chat, whereas the female side was definitely less so and pure prayer was the order of the day.
You can wall the full length of the Western Wall in the underground tunnels, very cool, and not one for the claustrophobic.
Oh I must mention the breakfast at the King David Hotel where we stayed. One of the best hotel breakfasts ever! Just loved the salads and the vegetable tarts and pies in particular.
It is a very grand old style hotel, and also a very busy one, I have never seen so many families and children running about in a luxury hotel. I shot took this picture of the foyer early one morning in a rare moment of quiet.
A few more snaps of Jerusalem below, some from my fantastic fellow travellers. A truly interesting city and would love to go back and spend more time there.
Next stop – Tel Aviv.