Let me start by saying I wasn’t enthused about going to Israel. I know, I know; I feel guilty just writing that, but it’s true. And let’s be honest, Jews do guilt pretty well, and I’m no exception. But our son Madden had wanted nothing else for his Bar Mitzvah. No party, no grand entrance into an overly decorated room filled with 300 of our closest friends and family carried into the room on the shoulders of the Knick City Dancers. He wanted the holy land. It was calling his name. Shit.
Long plane ride
Tons of logistics
Hit the ground running
(With my in-laws)
Don’t stop running ‘til you board the plane back home.
I needed a Xanax just thinking about it.
Washed down with wine.
So how did I go from dread to dreading going back home?
I’m still not quite sure actually. Israel is sprinkled with magic. That I know fo sho.
It’s a country bathed in golden light. Like white washed in gold. And in the midst of that light and shimmer are people who shimmer, and some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, and some of the best wine I’ve ever drank. It is an overload on the senses. It’s loud and bustling and yet also serene and grounding. It is an explosion of colors and tastes and smells that still linger somewhere on my palate of memories. There is nothing subtle about it. Except for the change that takes place on your heart and across your face as you drink it all in.
I look back on our videos and photos taken in that two week period and we were all beautiful. We glowed, we shimmered. We were white washed in gold just like the hills of Jerusalem. I wasn’t my thinnest, or my most fit. I never once touched a hair dryer, most of the time there was little to no makeup worn, and yet, for those two weeks, I glowed.
So how do you take a 2 week activity jammed, emotionally charged trip of a lifetime and blog about it? Beats the f*ck out of me, but I’m sure gonna try.
Jerusalem: Monday, August 19th – Wednesday, August 21st
Israel is hot. I was warned again and again and again as we planned our August trip. Xanax thoughts everywhere. I hate the heat. I loathe sweating and feeling sticky and dirty. A happy day in my mind is one that includes two showers. Ahhh there’s nothing better, unless of course it’s a day with three showers. My idea of heaven. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find the heat manageable (and this stuff was a must for the bust!) Yes, Israel is hot. Balls hot at times. But so is Italy. And Turks and Caicos, and New York City for Gd’s sake. Have you ever stood in Pompeii in August? No? Well, don’t. You’ll look at your husband and want to kill him. You’ll wish for death; it’s an angry kind of heat.
So if you’re planning your own trip to Israel right about now and someone tells you that Israel is hot, tell them to stop being such a f*cking baby and just pay attention to the biggest baby of them all, ME! Stop worrying cause I have you covered. Like covered in loose gauzy fabric because that’s what you’ll need. At least in August.
Here’s the delicious truth, though: Jerusalem is dry heat. Cool in the morning, hot as f*ck in the afternoon, and breezy and cool in the evenings. Tour in the morning, sink into a body of water in the afternoon while gripping a cold Golan Heights Chardonnay in your perfectly manicured hand and then head out to dinner when the sun goes down. Israelis do it like Europeans. Dinner late. Oh, did I mention I didn’t gain a flipping pound? Ok, I gained two. But I ate (and drank) like I was going to the electric chair. Gd I miss it.
Hitting the high notes in Jerusalem –
1. We stayed at The David Citadel Hotel. If you’re planning on doing the same, ask for a room that faces the pool and overlooks the old city of Jerusalem. Israel for me is all about the light. A wedge of pale piercing blue against that golden dome. Sweet Jesus. Can I say that? It’s meant with the deepest respect. Sweet Jesus that view, that light. Old meets new. Modern nestled against ancient. A slice of turquoise set in a ring of white gold.
2. Machane Yehuda Market. Hit it. And go with an Israeli, please. In and out of the candy stalls, fishmongers, falafel to go, pastries dripping in honey and dusted with freshly ground cinnamon, Orthodox housewives shop for Shabbat, gaggles of children in tow. It’s not for the faint of heart. Raucous. Frenetic. Colorful. Loud. It’s rare that I go quiet, but here I was. There’s no room for your own noise. You have to succumb to the energy that swirls around you while trying to preserve your own. Bazz must have asked me a dozen times why I was so quiet. Was I ok? I am an introverted extrovert by nature. I can be the life of the party, but I can also go into total shutdown mode. I went into shutdown mode here and let it move around me, quietly drowning in the happy chaos.
3. Dinner at Piccolino. Another embarrassing truth. I had been dreading the “K” word. Kosher. By reputation, and certainly in America, Kosher food is not exactly what foodie dreams are made of. We as a family are not particularly religious and by no means are we kosher. But in Jerusalem, the holiest of holy places, all hotels are kosher and many of the restaurants as well. Kosher is far more prevalent in Jerusalem than, say, in Tel Aviv where the vast majority of restaurants are actually not kosher nor are the hotels. But Israel is a completely different country than the last time I was there when I was 18 years old and the culinary scene has changed drastically. A tiny country the size of New Jersey everything is grown and sourced locally. The concept of “farm to table” which is just now sweeping the states is a given in Israel. Everything truly is farm to table. Every restaurant, every home kitchen. At Piccolino we sat under a sky of upside down pastel umbrellas that decorate the outdoor courtyard. Here I sipped my first taste of Golan Heights Chardonnay. Mind blown. I avoid Chardonnay back in NY like the stomach flu. Here it went down like liquid golden silk. At Piccolino there is an onion soup that will make you see angels and a menu crammed with the freshest salads and dense homemade pastas all Kosher, all served with a smile by waitresses who vaguely resemble Giselle Bundchen. Oh yes, did I forget to mention that Israelis are f*cking drop dead gorgeous? Uh huh. WHAT THE FCK was happening? I was utterly captivated.
4. Must Dos…Hezekiah’s Tunnel – Walk through the underground water tunnels of the old city. Not for the crazy claustrophobic, (which I am), but our guide Yonatan (more info on this gem of a human below) was incredible and very protective of me and I’m so glad that I did it. Think “Indiana Jones” style adventure minus the gigantic boulder chasing after you. No glamour here, you’ll be wearing water shoes and a headlamp. Yep. Do not bring the grandparents or the little ones for this one. Do enjoy the cool water sloshing around your overheated body as you trek through the darkened tunnels.
5. Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. This wasn’t our children’s first exposure to the horrors of the Holocaust, but it was the first time we pulled back the bubble wrap that they have been swaddled in and forced them to take a deeper look. Given Madden’s Bar Mitzvah and the significance of this milestone it felt not just appropriate, but like we shared a responsibility as a family to be there, to acknowledge, to bow our heads and to remember those who perished all because they were Jews. At the end of our tour, we stood as a family in the Hall of Rememberance and watched as Madden was paired with his Bar Mitzvah “twin,” a 13 year old boy from the Holocaust who was murdered by the Nazis and didn’t live to see his Bar Mitzvah. It was an emotionally charged moment that I will never forget. I doubt Madden will either. To see my son stand in the place of, and honor the soul of this boy who never got to experience his own Bar Mitzvah brought us all to tears.
6. Dinner at Machneyuda. NOT TO BE MISSED. There’s no room for dinner conversation here, so don’t go unless you’re ok with loud pumping music, game for doing a shot, and getting up on a table and shaking your ass. One of the best nights we had in Israel, Machneyuda is a party that happens to serve some of the best innovative Israeli food you’ll taste. It’s not just a restaurant, it’s a culinary celebration. Eat, dance, drink, and throw your head back with laughter at the expression on your children’s faces as you witness them, witnessing you as people who can get down and dirty. And in our case, I watched them watch me enter the open kitchen to assist the sous chef for a few moments of pure bliss that brought me just for a moment back to my days in culinary school. See you little f*ckers, we are fun!
A little bit about our delicious tour guide Yonatan Weiss: We hit the mother f*cking jackpot. Let me put it to you this way. Our 11-year-old Dexton is now starting to talk about his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Unlike Madden, he ONLY wants a party and while the thought of that makes me sigh deeply and roll my eyes, there is one request amongst the frivolous ones that makes my eyes fill with tears every time he mentions it. “Mommy, can we please invite Yonatan?” Israel is such an intimate exploration. It forces you to examine your beliefs, your religion, even the way you’re raising your children. It makes you dig deeper than those underground tunnels we walked through, and your guide becomes an integral part of that. Yonatan brought Israel to life for us and in doing so we fell in love with him. You know how I mentioned Israelis are drop dead gorgeous? Yonatan is no exception. But more than that, for two weeks, he gave us his heart and soul, even attending and happy crying with us at Madden’s Bar Mitzvah. He is and will be forever stamped on our hearts.
Planning an upcoming trip to Israel? You can find Yonatan on Instagram @yonatan.weiss or through Eden Boutique Travel, the agency that mapped out every last detail of our trip, from every restaurant reservation made, to our driver who was with us our entire trip, to the Rabbi who Bar Mitzvah’d Madden, and every detail in between.
*What I’d do differently next time*
One more night in Jerusalem, for sure. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t my favorite part of Israel, but we definitely could have used another night there to soak in more of the city.
Wanna hear more? Check back tomorrow for the next stop on our trip through Israel.