Tel Aviv – Saturday, August 24th – Thursday, August 29th
Let me start with this. There are very few places that I visit where I leave feeling like “wow, I could live here.” Tel Aviv is the exception to this and I need to get back as soon as humanly possible. I spent the last 24 hours of our time there begging Bazz to change our flight and extend our stay. I couldn’t get enough and I felt like I needed more time. It was like I was binge watching a Netflix series. Just one more!!!
Tel Aviv is bustling, chic, colorful, cosmopolitan while still being laid back, and as humid as the Amazon rainforest. Hey, nothing’s perfect.
Hitting the high notes in Tel Aviv:
1. The Jaffa Hotel: As with all hotels in Israel, the rooms are tiny, but Israelis are brilliant in maximizing space. The Jaffa Hotel rooms are both beautifully appointed and incredibly efficient. Our stay was perfection. The Jaffa is one of the only hotel Instagram accounts that I follow and every time an image pops up in my Instagram feed I sigh deeply and try my best to conjure up the smell of the hotel lobby and its courtyard views. A modern oasis softly perfumed with jasmine, lavender and honeysuckle, the ancient walls cascade with bougainvillea, and the staff is both warm and “on it” even by the toughest of New York travelers’ standards. They managed to procure nearly impossible to obtain dinner reservations while also working double time to rescue my mother-in-law’s credit cards left behind in her room back in Beresheet. They delivered on all. Beaches are within walking distance of The Jaffa and the night life of Tel Aviv can be captured via “Gett”, Israel’s version of Uber and Lyft.
2. The Culinary Tour of The Lewinsky Market: If I had to choose a favorite day (besides Madden’s Bar Mitzvah, of course) this was, by far, it. The four of us (my in-laws opted out of this one) met up with Yonatan early morning at a local coffee shop where he hand delivered us to Onit (@bon_apponit), our adorable and effusive Israeli tour guide who led us through the marketplace. We meandered in and out of the Eastern Mediterranean spice market for hours, stopping to smell and taste and shop.
The Tavlinsky Spice Shop (@tavlinsky_tlv) is an absolute must. A tiny, perfect jewel of a store run by a mother/daughter dynamic duo, Tavlinsky is the only woman owned and run business in the marketplace. Be prepared to fall in love with these women and their story and make sure you take home their freshly ground spices ground at the shop right in front of you. I cannot wait to get into our new kitchen and cook with the colorful and fragrant spices we hauled back with us from Tel Aviv. Make sure you visit Karin and her beautiful mom Iris at this incredible gem and give them a huge hug from me, please, when you do.
By 9am we are already parched and overheated from the Tel Aviv humidity that covers you like a gravity blanket. Onit promised us that refreshments were on the way. Around the corner we walked, sweating our asses off, to “Cafe Levinsky 41.” Meet Benny. Benny Briga operates a refreshment stand too beautiful to be called a stall, too tiny to be considered a cafe. His freshly made pastries and coffee drinks looked and smelled to die for, but Onit encouraged us to hold out for his fizzy fermented homemade “sodas” that Benny infuses with fresh herbs and fruit. The drink looks more like living art and you’ll have to tilt your head sideways to suck it down through your environmentally friendly straw as the cup is crammed with florals and fruit. Two sips and you feel your entire body start to cool down. We were all quiet as we downed the fragrant effervescent potion.
Afterwards we snaked our way through the marketplace, at each stall a different speciality was presented to us. Olives swimming in pale green olive oil were placed in front of us to be tasted, stacks of golden buttery Bourekas were handed out; they melted on our tongues. With eager fingers we tore apart hot pillowy pita bread fresh from the oven. We greedily dragged the rough, warm pieces through cold creamy Tzatziki, subtly spiced and brilliantly hued red pepper spreads, and hummus as smooth as wet clay on a potter’s wheel.
And then in an instant it was over. We stood huddled together in a slice of shade on the corner of the bustling marketplace. Hugging Onit, we promised to stay in touch over Instagram as she shepherded us into a waiting van that quickly whisked us away to cook and eat more. We could barely move we were all so stuffed, but Onit had promised that once Chef Izzy opened the Israeli wines he had chilling for us and put us to work in his kitchen, we’d be ready to eat again.
Who was I to argue?
3. Private cooking experience with Chef Izzy: Onit wasn’t lying. Chef Izzy waited for us outside and ushered us quickly inside to a cavernous warehouse turned cooking facility, where we washed up, donned our aprons and cooled down with glasses of chilled Golan Heights Chardonnay. We chopped parsley so fresh it smelled of newly cut grass in June, smashed and sautéed garlic until it mellowed, and seasoned everything we touched with warm earthy spices. The soft buttery popcorn smell of rice gently cooking soothed our senses while the pungent tang of grape leaves simmering in vinegar woke us up. We cooked, we connected, we laughed, we learned, and then we ate. Best part is my kids can’t wait to do it all over again in our own kitchen when our construction is over. Thanks Chef Izzy!
Believe it or not and I swear we aren’t total pigs, we went to dinner that evening. Thank Gd a later dinner at “Lumina,” which turned out to be a highlight for us. For multiple reasons…
Located on the beach in The Carlton Hotel, “Lumina” is one of the few 5 star Kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. Spacious and airy, our long banquet style table overlooked the Mediterranean at sunset. Chef Meir Adoni presents his Israeli twist on classic brasserie dishes. The food tasted even better that evening as we were surrounded by our extended Israeli family. We sat for hours sipping wine, eating, laughing and learning about their lives in Israel. Instant love. Israelis are passionate and engaged and somehow manage to organically craft meaningful conversations rather than asking as Americans tend to do, “So what do you do for a living?” We literally never spoke of occupations. In Israel people dig deeper without making you feel that you’ve been intruded on. My kids got to hold their twin baby cousins (when I was willing to share) and Madden was gifted for his Bar Mitzvah with a beautiful menorah and shofar. We toasted to Madden, we laid the foundation for deeper connections with far away family and another layer of meaning was infused into our trip.
Monday, August 26th
Madden’s Bar Mitzvah Day
A free morning until we departed the hotel later that afternoon to head back to Jerusalem for the Bar Mitzvah.
Bazz and Madden headed to the beach to enjoy some much needed downtime while Dexie and I explored Tel Aviv and shopped for a gift that he could give to Madden for his Bar Mitzvah. I loved watching the care that Dex took in choosing Madden’s gift. He finally settled on a beautiful bracelet for his brother, a simple silver “chai” (an important symbol and word in the Hebrew language and Jewish faith, the word is made up of two Hebrew letters and means “life”) on a black string bracelet. He beamed with pride as he watched the shop owner slip the bracelet into a pouch and wrap the gift carefully. “You are a very good brother,” he told Dex, “I can tell.” I pulled my youngest son close into my side and wrapped my arms around him “You are,” I whispered, I buried my face into his sweet smelling blond head and kissed the top of it. My eyes filled with tears that I tried not to allow to spill over.
Chai. Life. Alive. Living. I was overcome by the beauty of the moment.
We left The Jaffa at 3pm. Israelis are cool and casual, but always chic. Flat sandals for navigating cobblestone studded streets, light clothing in the oppressive heat, never heavy makeup, they look effortlessly glamorous. We tried our best to keep up. The boys wore matching cream linen shirts decorated with clusters of small pale pink and dusty blue palm trees. I would have never bought these for them to wear back at home, but here they were perfect. They looked so handsome, their legs golden from Israel sun in their khaki shorts and sneakers. Bazz wore linen, too. A snowy white button down with khaki shorts and loafers. I stared at him sitting across the aisle from me on our sprinter. Here we were traveling together to our son’s Bar Mitzvah. It felt surreal. He held my hand tightly in his across the narrow aisle during the hour long ride to Jerusalem. His fingers softly moved across the back of my hand stroking my skin. I looked at him in the fading light of the day. In my long white linen dress dotted with small soft pink flowers, I felt like his bride again.
Chai. Life. Alive. Living. The sprinter pushed on.
Madden’s Bar Mitzvah was everything that HE wanted it to be. And for that reason alone it was perfection. My mother in law later that same evening innocently commented that the Rabbi’s Torah cover that he used was tattered and unsightly. My eyes saw nothing in those moments other than beauty. Under a canopy at Robinson’s Arch Madden was wrapped in the Tallit that he had chosen earlier in the week while shopping for one in the old city. The outline of the skyline of Jerusalem embroidered in delicate silver and gold threads hugged his shoulders as Barry wrapped the traditional shawl around his first born son. Madden read from the Torah, his voice strong and clear in the soft warm Jerusalem air.
Once dark, the wall was illuminated and bathed in lights, strangers stopped and watched with respect and kindness. Yonatan sang the Hebrew prayers and songs so beautifully that I found myself holding my breath. He has the voice of an angel and he sang for our son that night. It was the perfect addition to an already perfect moment in time. The air radiated with energy and in the Jewish faith, Madden, took one large meaningful step closer towards becoming a man. When Barry spoke that evening and started to cry, Madden wept too. I don’t think I have ever been as proud of my family as I was that night. And like magic, once situated back on the sprinter and leaving the old city, Barry’s cell phone rang. Our Rabbi back in Bedford, NY had timed a call to us perfectly. His familiar and warm Australian accent carried through the phone; we could feel him beaming as he wished Madden “Mazel Tov!” from back home. Exhausted and happy, we headed out of Jerusalem for a celebratory dinner and to raise a glass to Madden Sawyer Osherow who had kicked ass at his Bar Mitzvah!
Tuesday, August 27th
My husband has endless energy. Bazz is the pied piper with his boys. There is nothing he loves more than adventuring with them. Off they went at 7:45 am on an archeological dig (more fun laundry back home) while I lazed in bed reliving the night before and then headed down to the courtyard to luxuriate in a quiet breakfast alone. Iced coffees in Tel Aviv are something to behold. My Israeli cousin Noa had told me about her addiction to them and now I understood why. I sat and sipped and looked at our itinerary for the day….
Caliber 3 Shooting Seminar:
Hours later my mother in-law and I met the boys post dig at “Caliber 3” for an Israeli military shooting experience, a truly one of a kind anti terror interactive activity run and taught by active members of The Israeli Defense Forces. Upon seeing our head instructor Moishe, one of Israel’s most decorated members of the IDF, Bazz leaned into me and whispered, “I am not a man. THAT is a man.”
For the next few hours we participated in operational shooting drills.
With semi automatic weapons.
Guess who rocked her 22 Caliber Rifle and shot every mutha fckin target?
BAD ASS BEE.
Cleaned up and ready for a night out in Tel Aviv we headed out to dinner at “Toto.” Located in downtown Tel Aviv, “Toto” is sleek, modern and absolutely delicious. Add it to your list! No need to thank me. Just lift a glass of your ice cold Laurent-Perrier and think of me, ok?
Wednesday, August 28th
Our last day….
9:00 am: We toured the “Ayalon Institute.” Now a museum, it was once a secretly run underground ammunition factory run by Israelis and hidden from the British in WWII. Our tour was both fascinating, short and sweet.
Back on the sprinter we headed to Caesarea for lunch by the sea and snorkeling along the Mediterranean coastline.
A few things you should know. Caesarea is magnificent. The sweeping views of the sea have stayed with me and are as clear in my mind as the day spent there. So is the memory of the heat. And if you read part one and two of this travel blog you know the heat and I are not friends.
Even by the sea that day it was so oppressively hot that I made the bold and brave decision to go snorkeling that afternoon with Bazz and the boys. I say bold and brave because I am absolutely terrified of the water. Like Natalie Woods kind of terror. If I can see the bottom I might join you for a dip. If I can’t see below the surface, it’s not happening. My husband knows this. My children know this. And while no one is happy about it I generally don’t give a f*ck. But the heat won out today and the sparkling Mediterranean beckoned. “I can do this. I can do this,” I whispered to myself as I changed into a bathing suit. The air was so thick and humid, I tugged on my bathing suit, my skin sticky and damp with sweat. Our snorkeling guide (another Israeli supermodel in a wetsuit) looked at me in confusion as I strapped myself into a life jacket and pulled on scuba fins onto my feet. I waddled across the blazingly hot wooden deck towards the water. “No no, I’m fine,” I told him. “I’m not really snorkeling, I just want to float and keep up with my kids.” He furrowed his brow.
“Jule, if you wear the vest you can’t put your face in and see the fish. There are thousands of fish to see.”
I stared at him. “David, I want to float. Do not talk to me about the fish. I don’t want to know if a fish is near me, and I don’t want my kids to know that I am afraid. I don’t do birds and I don’t do fish. Ok?”
I continued my walk to the edge of the water. FCK it was hot. David followed me. He seemed genuinely upset.
“I can hold your hand, Jule. There’s no need to be afraid.” I held up my palm stopping him.
“David, you are lovely (and insanely hot, I did not say this part, I did think it loudly). No mask. No face in water. No fish. Just gonna float. I’m good.”
“Ok, he sighed.”
I eased into the water. It was as delicious as it looked. Ahhhh. Madden swam past me, he gave me a thumbs up as he passed. Bazza swam past me after Madden and I said a silent prayer. “Please don’t let my family be eaten by a shark, G-d.”
David swam past and lifted his mask as he treaded water next to me. “You’re sure, Jule? The fish are really playing with us.”
I was starting not to care how hot he was and how his eyes were bluer than the sea that I bobbed in. I was starting to fantasize about David being eaten by a shark. He was getting on my nerves with his positivity.
“No fish David, remember the rules? Carry on, I’m good!”
Dexie swam by. “Mommy you’re doing great!”
“F*ck off Dexie,” I thought, and that’s when it happened. I saw it out of the corner of my right eye first. A ripple in the surface of the water, the sun came out from behind a large cloud and the water glinted and shimmered. So did the massive brown leathery fish as it jumped out of the water near my son’s slicked back blond head. I lifted my right fist and punched it. Hard. And then I screamed. Shrill loud, “I’ve been eaten by a shark” kind of screams. I was done. I swam furiously for shore cursing loudly. Dexie didn’t speak to me for the next two hours. “You scared me mommy and you scared away all the fish.”
F*ck off Dex. I birthed you and I just saved your life (I didn’t say this out loud, I did think it, EXTRA loudly).
You can f*ck off too, David. I went back to sweating and climbed aboard the sprinter.
No one spoke to me much as we drove the 5 minute drive to Ceasarea’s Aqueduct and gathered together on the beach. As a final gift to Madden, Bazz had arranged for an Israeli musician to come play guitar with him. Madden has always loved music and at age 7 he declared “I want to pay the electric guitar.” Turns out he kind of already knew how. “School of Rock” was the only program that would allow a 7 year old to learn how to play an instrument larger than him. And he’s been there ever since. And he’s good. Am I allowed to say that? I may be his mother, but it’s true. Music is in his blood. It’s a language that he intuitively speaks fluently. He sat on the beach and played with Avi Armozza, a gifted and talented guitar player. And they sang and taught one another as Yonatan sang alongside them (of course he was with us) and it was perfection. Even the heat died down a bit. By the time we headed back to Tel Aviv my family was speaking to me again. Almost as good was the fact that Yonatan had snagged us a coveted reservation at “HaSalon”. It was to be our last dinner in Israel and while I didn’t know it as I stood in the shower letting the cool water wash away The Mediterranean from my skin, we were about to experience a dinner at a restaurant like no other.
To call “HaSalon” a restaurant is an understatement. Dining at “HaSalon” is more than just eating. It is theater. Yes, it is about the food and the food is extraordinary. But really, it is more like performance art. The restaurant is unmarked and easy to miss. The loft-like space houses clusters of tables throughout, but the focus of the room is a massive bar that runs the length of the dining room. The open kitchen is center stage and backs up directly to the bar. So close are the two to one another that they actually touch. Massive bowls and platters spilling over with Israel’s freshest produce overflow from the kitchen onto the bar. Grab a stool, sip your champagne, and watch Chef Eyal Shani and his inspired cooking. There is little room for conversation. Like “Machneyuda” in Jerusalem, music plays a major role in the experience here. At “HaSalon,” swells of classical music fill the restaurant adding another layer to the culinary drama that unfolds. Experiencing “HaSalon” is so involved, so personalized, so infused with flavor, sound, sight, and emotion that the restaurant is only open two nights a week. There is no menu. Instead, there is the culmination of Chef Eyal Shani’s daily search for the freshest of Israel’s offerings that he can bring to his tables. I fell in love with the restaurant a little bit more deeply knowing this. To be a good chef requires a deep level of passion, energy, and talent.
Chef Eyal Shani puts his entire being into the experience of dining at “HaSalon,” and in offering this up only two nights a week, you feel as if you are tasting a piece of his soul.
That night we raised our glasses and toasted to Israel. We had experienced so much in the past two weeks. Fell in love with a country and its people in a way that we weren’t expecting to. We boarded the plane to go home feeling like we were leaving home. It was confusing, disorienting and humbling. I cannot wait to go back. I hope in some way I made you feel that you were right there with us.
P.S. Next week I’m going to share my must haves for the trip, so BEE sure to check back!