Have you ever been on an adventure so magical that when you tried to tell friends about it, you just can't seem to find the words to express or justify how incredible the experience was? This was our first trip to Israel...
We went there in search of answers to big questions like: How do we build a Jewish home in the US that feels authentic to who we are? Or what is the history and current situation in the Middle East and what can we do to help those who are struggling? And, because we are us: Where's the best place to get falafel? Does elegant, contemporary Judaica exist in Israel? Because besides what's sold in the New York and San Francisco Jewish Museum shops, not much exists in the US.
What we soon discovered was that Israelis have very passionate and wildly different opinions about everything, down to topics as seemingly simple as hummus. There is a constant grappling and wrestling of ideas and concepts, which breeds innovation. Israel is a country of innovators in many sectors- technology, science, food, art, architecture and design. For a couple of designers who love food, Israel was an absolute dream! Here is a list of our favorites:
Israel Museum in Jerusalem- Where to begin. We were lucky visit the Israel Museum while we were on the Honeymoon Israel portion of our trip. There is an incredible archeology wing, and of course the Dead Sea Scrolls and the impressive scaled model of the Old City. There are also works by modern Israeli artists and a museum store that is like the MOMA but with Judaica! Our favorite part of the museum was the Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life, where the interiors of ancient synagogues from Germany, Italy and India, among others, were on view. There were also Judaica artifacts from Jewish communities worldwide. It was so fascinating to see the stylistic influences of other cultures where Jews lived, incorporated into the interior architecture and product design of the times.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art- Though we didn't have time to visit the galleries, the architecture is stunning to explore from the outside. We did peek inside to see the Roy Lichtenstein mural, though.
Neve Schecter- One of the very few Reform synagogues in Israel, Neve Schechter holds egalitarian services. Our friends at Studio Armadillo recommended we stop by, and we're so glad we did! We wouldn't have known about it otherwise- it's truly a hidden gem. It's tucked behind the graffitied walls between the Florentin and Neve Tzedek neighborhoods and opens up to a beautiful little courtyard. There's a charming little cafe, with cement-tiled floors and European decor, which the synagogue is attached to. If we lived in Tel Aviv, I have no doubt this is where we'd be on Shabbat.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Tel Aviv- It's impossible describe Yad Vashem in words. Walking through the campus and hearing story after story and name after name broke my heart a hundred different times. One of the unexpected things that struck me was the architecture. Never have I been in a place designed so thoughtfully and respectfully to the sacred stories and memories held inside. In a country that holds some of the most important religious sites in history, Yad Vashem was, for me, the most powerful place we visited in all of Israel.
Cafe Puua- They don't mess around with breakfast in Israel. Israeli breakfast is now up there with Japanese breakfast in my book. Cafe Puua is a charming, nostalgic, light-filled spot in the old Jaffa Market.
Hakosem- Trendy but absolutely delicious falafel and schwarma spot.
Miznon- The fire-roasted cauliflower is famous and completely blew our minds.
Yafo Tel Aviv- The best meal we had in Israel. Yafo is in the Electra building, where the Google offices are. It's definitely on the higher end of the spectrum, but worth every single penny. Make a reservation.
Anita Gelato- This was our evening ritual in Tel Aviv, where our hotel was dangerously located right across the street. While their gelato is delicious, I loved their frozen yogurt with date honey and rose water.
Machne Yehuda Restaurant in Jerusalem- Great, lively, progressive restaurant with an open kitchen by the Machne Yehuda shuk. This restaurant came highly recommended by our rabbi and we're so glad we knew to go. Make a reservation.
Marzipan in Jerusalem- Because, of course. Be sure to snatch up some rugelach as it's coming out of the oven. We went on Thursday and it was fun to see all the chaos before Shabbat.
*Besides Marzipan, I'm pretty sure none of these restaurants are kosher.
The Carlton- One of the bigger, high end hotels on the marina in Tel Aviv. I would stay here again for the breakfast alone- absolutely phenomenal!
Florentin House- This is actually a hostel, but they have private suites too. The suites are utilitarian and simply designed, but also really clean and contemporary. Besides being in an up-and-coming neighborhood, it's centrally located and the staff was kind and helpful.
Inbal Hotel- Great location and probably the nicest hotel we stayed at in Israel. We especially enjoyed watching all the young Orthodox couples on dates, with their parents chatting over coffee a few tables away.
*Disclaimer: We stayed at The Carlton and The Inbal through the generosity of Honeymoon Israel, which we had the great fortune of traveling with for the first leg of our trip.
Z Jewelry Shop in Tsfat- Tsfat is a mystical little town (the home of Kabbalah) and this fine jewelry shop was one of our favorite finds amid alleys upon alleys of tchotchke shops.
Nachlat Binyamin- Open air craft market next to the Carmel food market in Tel Aviv. Open Tuesdays and Fridays.
8 in Jaffa- This store has stunning contemporary ceramics by local artists and is an excellent spot if you are looking for elegant and unique Judaica.
Asufa- Also in Jaffa, Asufa is an eclectic shop with products made by young Israeli designers. Industrial design, interior design and lots of great graphic design. We picked up their bilingual (English and Hebrew) Hagaddah for Passover.
Saga Gallery- Near the Jaffa market, Saga is a workspace, gallery and residence for artists. Lots of great contemporary home products by young Israeli product designers, like the talented ladies behind Studio Armadillo, who we were fortunate enough to hang out with in person at their studio offices.
Under 1,000 Gallery- We spent hours in here and bought some beautiful paintings, sketches and even a Jerusalem city scene sketched on an iPad. Under 1,000 is an independent gallery in the Florentin. Their mission is to make great art accessible to all (everything is under $1,000). Go here before the developers bulldoze over it in a couple years to build luxury condos.
Papier- A little stationary shop that makes my minimalist, black and white, symmetrical, Japanese heart sing.
Artists' Colony in Jerusalem- We also spent hours here. The Artists' Colony is a cobblestone alley that holds artists' workshops and galleries on the edge of the Old City. Here you can find high end and custom Judaica. We picked up a mezuzah from Sari Srulovitch whose work we fell in love with (we also fell in love with her a little, too) and a delicate, raw silk, hand-embroidered afikomen bag from Adina Gatt.
Photos by Mixer Planet, Hip Paris, Florentin House, Sari Srulovich and W Tel Aviv Residences.