Israel, part one

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Kotel in Jerusalem

I’m back from Israel, and feeling completely exhausted and disorientated. A holiday is basically a break from the usual routine of life, and it often feels very alien to get back into that routine. It’s also a bit depressing coming back to the ultra quiet, insular lifestyle of Perth after visiting Israel and my family – especially a city like Tel Aviv, which is really like a mini New York, as it never sleeps and people live their lives on the streets, in cafes, in restaurants; surrounded, packed together like sardines, busy and fast-paced. An altogether polar opposite universe to the spread-out, spacious, enclosed, steady and slow-moving lifestyle of Perth. Even though I’m an introvert, I prefer Tel Aviv; I prefer the theatre of it, and its eclectic nature. And most of Israel is like this, not just Tel Aviv.

I had meant to summarise my trip into one post, but looking through my photos today, it seems impossible. So it’ll be a series of posts instead, starting with this one. Be warned though, these will be long posts, with many photos. I’d also like to record some general personal impressions for my own benefit with each post – things that occurred to me on my travels that I don’t want to forget. So if you’d like to hear about my trip, read more.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

I often forgot to take out my camera on my trip, so there are many gems and cities that I can’t share with you through my own photos. One such city is Jerusalem. I spent most of my time in Jerusalem working, and what I took with me from that city can’t be measured in images, or even words. So I’m not even going to attempt to explain what it was like. I worked in Yad Vashem, and amongst other things, discovered exactly how my family died in the Holocaust. I saw long lists of their names, their ages. All the cold facts. But none of the details that made them my family: who they really were, what they were like, what dreams they had before they were killed, what that terror must have felt like. There were moments when it was all too much, and I would step out of the library for some air and glance at the city of Jerusalem. The photo above captures such a moment. It looks like a pretty scene, but I didn’t take a snapshot of this Jerusalem landscape for its prettiness; I took it to remember my family, if that makes sense.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Like I said, the city that never sleeps. It’s crowded and noisy, and beautiful and interesting. It also has the best food in the world (a grandiose statement, I know). I ate a lot of falafel in Israel, but the best by far was in Tel Aviv. I can’t even remember where I bought it from – it was some dingy looking restaurant, the kind that doesn’t make it into travel guides and such. As is often the case, the places that aren’t swanky or cool enough to be mentioned in guides have the best food. You really can’t go wrong with food in Israel though, anywhere. I didn’t do touristy things in Tel Aviv, I mainly visited family and friends and ate a lot. Which was brilliant. Oh and I also stared at the many handsome waiters who populate this city.

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

Jaffa

I took hundreds of photos in Jaffa, it was hard to narrow them down. I think the reason I went on a snapshot-spree in Jaffa was mainly because I was there during the first few days I arrived in Israel with family I hadn’t seen in ages. I was taking photos of everything to convince myself that this was all real, and I wasn’t dreaming. Plus Jaffa compels photo-taking, it’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and even though I know it so well, and it’s so familiar to me, I’m still surprised by its atmosphere each time I visit. If you ever visit for the first time, make sure to stroll into all the narrow lanes and streets. They may not look like much from the outside, but they hold many treasures and a multitude of artisan shops and galleries. You’ll also find many kitties lounging in artists’ spaces near statues and sculptures. The Ilana Goor Museum is a must, and as an added bonus, it is ‘guarded’ by two affectionate and adorable pooches who will more likely ask for a good scratch from you rather than ‘guard’ the museum. Keep your eye out for all the incredible street art too.

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod

Ein Hod is an artists’ village which, you guessed it, is mainly populated by artists who live and work there. I met some wonderful people there and bought the most stunning pair of gold earrings that were handmade by a local artist. As the daughter of an artist myself, I appreciate the work that goes into these pieces. My mum told me about this artist and her jewellery, and as usual, her taste is impeccable. I’m more than happy to give this artist a plug: her name is Lea Ben-Arye, and she runs her shop with her husband, Dan Ben-Arye. I also bumped into some artists who seemed straight out of a Dickens novel – there were twin sisters whom my mum and I called ‘the Havisham twins’. You’ll have to visit the village to find out why.

: : General Impressions : :

I spent a hell of a lot of time in a car during this trip, as we rented a car rather than using public transportation for the first time. This meant I got to listen to a lot of radio, and I found this interesting. Some of the most fascinating personal impressions I noted in my head throughout this trip came from my reactions to the programs and ads on the radio. I never thought I’d actually say something like this, but it’s true. Here’s why:

Books and authors are everywhere on the radio in Israel – and not on select radio stations, but on commercial and popular ones too. There are long (as in an hour or more) programs devoted to interviews with authors, literary discussions and even a special program on a prominent radio station where listeners call up and ask book and literary experts to find special editions or translations of particular books for them. And there are actual ads for books – countless ads. Yes, that’s right, for books. Who would have thought?

I realised during those long trips in the car that literature and reading are part of everyday life in Israel – part of the culture and the texture of normalcy. This is so different to Australia, especially Perth. What we have here is an anti-intellectual culture where I regularly get told with pride by people that they don’t read books. We rarely interview our authors or academics on a popular mainstream public forum (that is not a literary festival), and I personally have never seen or heard an ad for a book on TV or on the radio. Words like ‘postmodern’, ‘modern’, ‘dada’, etc. don’t make it onto the radio here. And our bookstores aren’t packed like the ones I saw in Israel. I can’t help feeling like we’re missing out on so much in Australia by not encouraging this kind of literary culture alongside sport culture. Sport, for example, is very popular in Israel too. There are equally long programs on the radio devoted to it (and politics too, of course). But it’s taken for granted that books and art are important too.

More to come soon ...

14 comments:

s said...

Great to hear from you again.
I really enjoyed reading your post, as I've never been to Israel, but I really want to go!
All the best, S.

Kelly said...

Hila! So glad to see you're back. I agree, even on our short vacations, it's hard & a little depressing to ease back into daily life. I imagine it's even harder after leaving your family.

I loved your post -- all your thoughts and photos. Jaffa is a world away, but the sky, the light, the palms -- it reminds me a lot of Southern California.

helen tilston said...

Hello Hila

I loved this report and the images. Jaffa looks like a fascinating city. I know I will love Israel and thank you for showing us your Israel

Helenxx

rooth said...

Glad that you're back and had such a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing your pictures and your stories about it all. I'd love to go someday

GRACIA AND LOUISE said...

Hey Hila,
Welcome back. Thanks for part one. I'm very much looking forward to part two and its friends. Sounds like you had an inspiring, amazing, life changing time. I'm fascinated by your view of Israel. Not having been lucky enough to visit that part of the world, my only view has been from news, documentaries and film festivals.
xoxolj

Unknown said...

Thank you for your insightful post. As an Israeli writer who lives in Tel Aviv, I definitely got to look at Israel, literature and the city from an interesting new point of view.
By the way, thanks to you I'm trying to translate Uses for Boys to Hebrew. It really is a wonderful book.

Danielle P. said...

Learning about your family's fate must have been so overwhelming... I hope that spending time with relatives and friends helped to heal your heart a little.

Such beautiful photos! Thank you, Hila, for letting me see through your eyes for the space of a moment.

Jane Flanagan said...

Welcome back, Hila! It sounds like such an emotional and inspiring trip. Your images are beautiful and so personal too - thank you for sharing them!

Jean Hannah Edelstein said...

Oh, this makes me want to go back!

Mariella said...

Welcome back Hila! I have been looking forward to read about your trip to Israel and wasn't disappointed. I know myself these places very well and I have to say although this is not really my country, I love it, I really do. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are wonderful places, so different but so representative of the "dual" nature and the complexity of the country. And I have always been amazed at how much art there is all around and how accessible it is. I don't speak Hebrew so it was interesting for me to read about radio programs talking about literature and books.I can see and breathe art everywhere when I visit there and many times I found art in real humble and down to earth settings rather than in exclusive or fancy art galleries, which makes me appreciate it even more. It's so nice and refreshing to read something about Israel from somebody who actually "saw" things and didn't really only read the usual , sad news.

Rambling Tart said...

I'm so glad you're back, Hila. :-) I've sorely missed you and your words and images and thoughts. :-) I love these pictures. I can only imagine how gutting yet moving it was for you to read and learn about your family. I'm so deeply sorry for what they suffered, for what you suffer in the loss of them and the knowledge of their pain. I am thankful that my family members in Denmark were part of the Resistance during WWII, doing whatever they could to rescue, save, and restore. I wish they could've been there for your family members. I'm glad you had such a beautiful time with your Alive Family, and hope those memories nourish you as you return to a much quieter life in Perth. xo

Odessa said...

You have been missed, Hila. Welcome back.

Thank you for sharing snippets of your trip with us. I can only imagine how incredibly moving it must have been to learn about your family's history. *hugs*

Bethany said...

Lovely to see all the photos and hear about your trip. Can't wait to read more! And thank you for the sweet postcard! :)

Hila said...

S.: I really hope you get the chance to visit.

Kelly: Ha! Yes, I imagine Jaffa must be similar to Southern California.

Helen: My pleasure, I hope you enjoy Israel.

Rooth: Someday soon I hope.

Louise: Yes, the view from the news is bleak and one-dimensional. As are most countries on the news I suppose. I did have an inspiring and emotional trip.

Unknown: It's a brilliant book, I'm so happy you're translating it. And yes, I was jealous of the vibrant literary culture in Israel, it's something that's missing here in Australia.

Danielle: It was just so odd feeling that emotional and hurt for people I've never actually met.

Jane: Thank you Jane! I hope you are enjoying your visit to Ireland.

Jean: I think we should go back together.

Mariella: Yeah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are such opposites - and such extremes. I love both cities, but in different ways. And yes, it's just amazing how art is everywhere and is so accessible, as you say - it's not viewed as some distanced, 'elitist' thing.

Krista: Thank you :) It is difficult to return to that 'quieter life', especially with much-loved family on the other side of the world.

Odessa: Thanks, and hugs are appreciated.

Bethany: My pleasure! I'm glad it arrived.