Note before you begin: There are a lot more photos to be seen after the jump, simply click "Read More" below...
There's a quote from Gustave Flaubert (hello, Madame Bovary) that goes a little something like this:
"It always sad to leave a place to which one knows one will never return. Such are the melancolies du voyage: perhaps they are one of the most rewarding things about traveling."
There are few moments when I'm traveling that I get this exact feeling. Granted. while I firmly believe that each trip, big or small, is unique unto itself, I don't necessarily get overcome with a feeling of finality when I visit, say Los Angeles or Seattle. And I'm not starting this post about Israel with this quote to say that I don't think I'll ever return to this pocket of the world. Quite the opposite actually. I know, in my heart of hearts, I will return back to Israel someday. The people, the history and the culture are just too rich, too kind and too fascinating not to.
No, this quote carries a lot of weight for me because it sums up, quite brilliantly, that feeling when you realize the exact moment you're in, that very second, is so incredibly unlike any other moment you could ever hope to recreate, that it leaves you simultaneously amazed and overjoyed by the fact you get to experience it, and also saddened by how fleeting it all is. It's that half second that you have to humbly appreciate what you're about to experience can only be described as once in a lifetime. They don't come around often. And, considering this is also a very contested part of the world, for a large number of reasons too lengthy to do justice in one blog post by someone who openly admits she is but a novice in these matters, it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge, that these particular moments may not easily present themselves again. Due to ever changing circumstances of the world we live in. But that's life and seize those moments, you must!
Does any of that make sense? I may be rambling, but perhaps by sharing some of these exact moments I had in Israel, I can better illustrate what I mean. Simple click "Read More" below to hear about the moments that have changed me for forever (10 to be exact!)...
1. Visiting the Western Wall: It should be noted, walking anywhere within the gated walls of the Old City in Jerusalem is a humbling experience. Every cobblestone, every statute, every corner bears witness to times that world religions to this day put great emphasis on. And to be able to walk amongst it? To say I felt incredibly small in the best way possible would be a sore understatement. In particular though, visiting the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, was perhaps one of my top highlights of the trip. Situated atop the hill known as Temple Mount to Jews and Christians or the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, it is considered one of the holiest sites and places to pray. A common practice, which I'm sure many of you have heard of, is to leave a written prayer note nestled between the large stone blocks you see in the photo above here. A whopping estimated one million notes get left every year by visitors alone. I wrote one for myself and my mom, before sitting back down to take in the wall quietly by myself for a few moments.
2. The Church of the Holy Sepelchur: Another thing that I should note, is that I don't consider myself an overly religious person, but rather someone who is fascinated by religion in general, and it's ability to unite us and, unfortunately at times, even divide us. Also situated in the Old City, this time in the Christian Quarter, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is said to contain two of the holiest sites in Christendom -- the site where Jesus was crucified and the site of his empty tomb, where he was both buried and resurrected. Without getting into personal religious beliefs (because I assure you, that is not the point of this post), I do think there's something fundamentally amazing about getting to experience something like that first hand -- to touch, to feel, to see what many people in the world for thousands of years have revered and held close to their hearts -- it's a feeling of awe I've never quite experienced before.
3. The Dead Sea: A short drive from Jerusalem (probably no more than an hour by car), is the Dead Sea and I cannot recommend this enough. Given our short time in Jerusalem, this originally wasn't on our itinerary, but after some quick discussions and shuffling around of activities, we set out on the descent out of Jerusalem. I say descent literally because you're leaving Jerusalem, a city situated on a series of hills, to the absolute lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea, measuring in at 1,400 feet below sea level. It's highly salty waters make it, yep, you guessed it, extremely easy to float and let me tell you, it was the craziest feeling ever resisting the temptation to swim, because there was absolutely no need to. We rubbed the mud all over our bodies and couldn't get over how soft our skin felt for days afterward.
4. Tel Aviv Fashion Week: The second half of our trip was spent in Tel Aviv, where we joined the incredible team behind Tel Aviv Fashion Week for a few days of back to back Israeli designs and shows. While I've been to New York Fashion Week numerous times before, there's something about experiencing one so far from home that makes you appreciate the universal beauty of design that pushes boundaries. Some of my favorite designers? Hands down would have to be Sample, Gadi Elimelech and Shani Zimmerman.
5. Tel Aviv Nightlife: I've read enough about Tel Aviv to know that their nightlife is second to none -- after all, they are dubbed the "Miami of the Middle East." So, while I definitely do not consider myself a "clubber" per se, I was excited to try out a few of their notable watering holes. Luckily, I had my friend Beca with me, who was down for the challenge. Some of our favorites included a cozy little bourbon bar, Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which we both agreed would be the ideal spot to take a cute, bearded date to, and Bellboy, a speakeasy style joint, with a flair for imaginative cocktails (some of them come in mini bath tubs and their oysters are delivered in a baby carriage).
6. Receiving a Kabbalah at the Western Wall: Beca tipped me off to this tradition as we made our way to the Western Wall. A Kabbalah is a red string or yarn bracelet believed to ward off evil. We received ours specifically at the Western Wall, where a rabbi tied them on us, blessing the string as he tied. The idea is that you make a wish while it's being put on you and when the string falls off, either days or, in my case, perhaps months later, your wish comes true. As of today, my string hasn't fallen off yet (and you can see it in many of my photos on my right wrist).
7. Shopping at the flea market in Old Jaffa: I love flea markets. So when I found out the old city of Jaffa (right next door to Tel Aviv) is known for their flea market district, we spent a good half day just roaming around, mulling through vendors shops and sipping on many of the juices that are available at every corner.
8. The food: I think I know why Israeli women are said to be so beautiful -- the food is both so good and incredibly healthy! We ate our weight in hummus, cous cous, fresh veggies, pita bread and the occasional lamb. My favorites included Vicky Cristina (situated in an old train station) in Tel Aviv, Mona (situated in an old art university) in Jerusalem and Puaa in Jaffa.
9. The beaches of Tel Aviv: We visited back in October, which was technically the end of their summer season, but it was still in the high 70s, low 80s (which the New Yorkers in the group soaked up happily). Their beaches are gorgeous and made for the perfect downtime spot between fashion shows.
10. Experiencing a Shabbat for the first time: Oddly enough, this wasn't something that was particularly planned for us to experience. It just so happened we flew in and landed on a late Friday afternoon. For those unfamiliar, as I was when we landed, Shabbat is Judaism's day of rest, in which work activities or activities that require great rigor are refrained from, starting at sunset on Friday until sunset the following day. For most of Friday evening and all of Saturday, very few cars were seen out on the road, a lot of businesses were closed and the Old City was buzzing with families walking around together and joining together for large group meals.
Huge thanks again to the Israel Tourism Board for inviting me to your beautiful country. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience and I hope to come back soon!