Jaffa, the old city in Tel Aviv was as magical as when I visited thirty-three years ago. The small, narrow streets lead you to unique boutiques, restaurants and cafes but what I love most of all is walking along the ancient cobblestones as I spot cats wandering. Neve Tzedek and Tel Aviv have their own unique flavors but the history of Jaffa as the main entry point to the land of Israel until the late 19th century when Jews were returning to Israel, makes it astonishing for me.
The ability to meet people from around the world is at my fingertips with the power of social media, which although can have a loaded connotation, is actually meant to be friendly, useful and genuine. A photographer followed me on Twitter, and I followed him. I checked out his site and saw his sensitivity, ability to understand light and use shadows to evoke feeling and emotion. Check out his site on RedBubble; an incredibly diverse, creative community on the internet.
I wrote to him that I would be visiting Israel and asked if we could meet. Having only one evening in Tel Aviv before I left for Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, Vicktor not only met me but helped make my experience filled with memories of Jaffa and a new, kind friend.
Vicktor drove us to Jaffa, where we walked around the ancient city, looking at the ocean and settling into a local restaurant where we enjoyed a glass of Syrah, ate appetizers of hummus and eggplant with olive oil, while discussing photography and life. I eschew groups even more so when I travel and adore one on ones so it was a perfect evening.
For my stay in Tel Aviv, I choose the ArtPlus; a brand new, sixty-two room hotel which supports the arts. The overall design mimics the ambience of art galleries and exhibition spaces. Five famous local artists were commissioned to create the murals that distinguish the décor on each floor and my favorite; a mezuzah, reminding us of our connection to G-d, and protection, on each door. In the morning, I left early for Eilat before having the delicious breakfast that is found all over Israel; fresh salads and hummus yumminess.
I’ve read that the truest beauty can be found in the harshest land, that G-d can be found by keeping your eyes open. As I pulled my luggage along the cobblestone streets in Eilat, feeling the sun and shedding a layer of clothing, a taxi driver slowed down, called out to me in Hebrew, and stopped his cab, to hand me the lock that had fallen off my luggage in the bus station when I arrived. I offered my hand, a smile and todah rabah, thank you very much. I was so tired from schlepping, that I hadn’t noticed the lock missing.
The warm, balmy air feels good and I hear seagulls calling out to their friends. The breeze of this oasis reminds me I am on the coast of the Red Sea and I am grateful for my breath. I spent the late part of the day on the beach, reading “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman, a novel a friend had given me two years ago that is set during and after the fall of Jerusalem. I promised myself I would read this book when I was in Israel and that is precisely what I am doing. The Dovekeepers takes on an added layer when traveling through this holy land. I am free and not in bondage as my father was in Nazi labor camps. As I look out to the sea, where the calming, transparent waters remind me the animals live by the rhythm of the sun and sea, of the desert, of G-d, of life itself. The earth, and sea and desert will live on forever. I will not. I am blissful from this quiet time in the desert.