Israel Unveiled: Exploring the Beauty and Complexities

The Magic of Shabbat in Israel

Israel is a fantastic place, a vibrant and dynamic country that is alive and thriving. On my visits, I frequently get the impression that I am in the middle of an active ant colony. People appear to be hard at work, working long hours and continuously on the go. All over the place, notably in Tel-Aviv, where the first subway line is being constructed, high-rise buildings are springing up. Although new roads are constantly being built, cars are increasing far more quickly, causing a high congestion level.

As Shabbat approaches, the bustling and full-of-life atmosphere changes dramatically. On late Friday afternoons, the streets become hushed and still. A special peacefulness descends upon the country as if to signify the start of the twenty-four hours of respite that Shabbat provides. It’s a singular phenomenon that I haven’t seen anyplace else. It’s a singular feeling that is difficult to describe but easy to feel. Regardless of your observant levels of religious practices, it’s a sacred time. The spirit is all around you, and by default, in your own self.

The Timeless Beauty of Jerusalem

“Everywhere I go, I go to Jerusalem” – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

“Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity” – Yehuda Amichai

Jerusalem is a place of sacred significance, a meeting ground between heaven and earth, and the eternal dwelling of God. Here, three major faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – intersect to create a unique and multifaceted culture. Jerusalem is an ancient city believed to have been inhabited for over 5,000 years. It is more than a mere city; it is a holy city full of religious sites, stories, and symbols that have been carefully and lovingly preserved through the generations.

From the old city walls, one can almost feel the weight of the millennia of history, from Abraham’s call to the Temple Mount to modern times. I hope Jerusalem will become the birthplace of a new way of life. One that brings together the various religious traditions of this land and spreads a message of harmony and acceptance to everyone.

It’s a short walk from Mount Olives into the Old City to Jaffa Gate. Every step you take is literally on top of centuries’ worth of historical tales, incidents, heroes, villains, conquests, and—most importantly—the holy spirit.

All three principal monotheistic religions’ most sacred sites are accessible on the route. You move through mostly the vibrant bazaar streets the entire time. It’s fascinating to see how kind and accommodating each place is towards visitors. It’s a revealing statement, in my opinion.

The following are a few carefully chosen quotes about Jerusalem that attempt to encapsulate the essence of this unique city, the city of gold, as it holds a deep symbolism in all three religions.

“Jerusalem has been – and for many, still is – a metaphor for destruction and the vengeance of an offended God. She is the city where believers have killed unbelievers to give life to faith.” – Amos Elon

Tel Aviv is a Rare Blend of Nostalgia and Modernity

“Tel Aviv is a city that moves to the beat of its own drum, a place where the past and present coexist and the future is always within reach.” – Anonymous

Tel Aviv is a city known for its vibrant culture; from the shimmering sea to the buzzing nightlife, Tel Aviv is a rare blend of nostalgia and modernity. It is also a hub for high technology and innovation, with a thriving start-up scene and a reputation as a “Silicon Wadi,” a play on the term “Silicon Valley.” The city is home to many multinational tech companies and has a strong focus on research and development in fields such as cyber security, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. In recent years, Tel Aviv has consistently ranked as one of the top cities in the world for start-ups.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

A Visit to Masada: A Symbol of Resistance

How can you not think about the war in Ukraine when visiting Masada, a symbol of resistance? A fortress mountain in the Judean Desert where about 2000 years ago, over 900 people chose death over surrender to the Roman Empire. And on the topic of resistance, I am also thinking about the lack of mental resistance as it was so disgracefully demonstrated by Will Smith at the recent Oscar ceremony.

It’s always a moving experience to visit a place that is more than just a dot on the map. Masada is a symbol that identifies my nation.

I first climbed Masada at the age of five and many times since. One noteworthy climb was at dawn after a long walk that started the evening before when I was 18 years old. At the top, my platoon received the coveted red beret, the unique Israeli paratroopers’ headdress. On this trip, we climbed Masada leisurely via the cable car. It was amazing again.

A Day in Kibbutz Ein Gedi

Kibbutz Ein Gedi is a corner of paradise situated on the Dead Sea coast in the Judean Desert. When its first settlers set it up, it was an arid hill whose salt-saturated soil grew nothing. Today, over 60 years later, the Kibutz is transformed. A beautiful Botanical Garden with various warm-climate plants and trees resides between the residents’ houses. It was in full bloom during our visit in the spring. As it often goes, the ultimate beauty is in the people you meet along the way.

On our morning walk, we encountered a white-bearded man talking and feeding the birds that flew in and out of his second-floor balcony. I thought, this is the kind of guy I would like to connect with. Lo and behold, once his wife and Danna got into the picture, we ended up spending half the day with this incredible couple – Tova and Zaboo. We adopted them, so deep was the connection. I felt incredibly grateful.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net Paintings, Tel Aviv Museum

Yayoi Kusama began making Infinity Net paintings in the late 1950s. Repetitive, semi-circular brushstrokes create lace-like patterns that cover the canvas, suggesting a potential expansion into infinity and expressing the notion of endlessness. These paintings allude to Kusama’s hallucinations, which began when she was around ten years old and have continued ever since. Seeing flashes of light, fields of dots, and auras, she sensed patterns “bleeding” from her mind into the world around her.

She became interested in the concept of self-obliteration, whereby her body would dissolve into the surrounding environment. As Kusama described it, she produced her paintings in obsessive episodes: “I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. … the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me.”

The Scorpion and the Frog: Hopes for Peace in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

In most social encounters, the Arab-Israeli conflict comes up. My impression is that the hope for peace might still be alive, but it’s very slim. The wings of “peaceful coexistence” have been trimmed, and certain disbelief prevails. On a couple of occasions, friends mentioned the tale of the scorpion and the frog. The lesson is obvious and often overlooked: people rarely change their fundamental nature. Yet too often, we make the mistake of ignoring this truth.

It’s sad to hear it from people who were big peace advocates in the past. Like it or not, this is the reality Israelis experience.

At Passover meal, a 20-year-old relative told us of her ordeal during the Dizzengof attack. She was sitting at a bar with a friend when they heard the shots. Immediately they were ordered to clear the area so that the security forces could go about the search and chase. She spent the next four hours at the bar’s basement bunker. Thankfully, it was a bar, and the drinks and food followed, but this is one of many examples of how the terror is close to home.  

And then we met my legendary uncle Moshe Gal at Kibbutz Kabri. A man who is the “salt of the earth” – a warrior and a farmer. He is in complete acceptance of his Parkinsons and partial blindness. He is still vibrant and makes the best beer I have ever had. He is also one of the only Israelis I met on this visit that still holds hope and faith in a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has always been a source of inspiration for me.

The Transformative Power of Water Management in the Golan Heights

For most of history, the Golan Heights has been a desolate region in the middle of nowhere. Over 30 years ago, my dear friends Avi and Anat were among the first settlers in Had Nes village. They built luxurious guest houses, which is now thriving business in this popular tourist destination.

It is impressive to see how water management has transformed this area into an agricultural success, particularly in the wine industry and many apple and cherry orchards.

Considering how Israel would have navigated the last decade’s events in Syria without this buffer zone is to think the unthinkable.

We feasted on Druze home cooking at Naseeba Samara restaurant in Buq’ata village. Ms. Naseeba is an emancipated Druze woman, a rarity in her traditional, conservative society.

Walking the Streets of Zefat: A Journey Into the Past

We walked the narrow streets of what used to be an artists’ colony. My memories of this unconventional neighborhood are a world apart from its present-day atmosphere.  

Zefat is a sleepy and dilapidated town with an aura of historical holiness because, in the 16th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the father of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, lived here. We saw many orthodox Jews in their traditional black outfits and a few eccentric clairvoyants. In one respect, I felt related, as all of us are seeking an answer. But my urge to end the tour speedily was strong. But I had a strong urge to end the tour speedily.