Israel Travel Tips

Happy Birthday, Israel

Today Israel celebrates independence day. It’s the country’s 72nd birthday. When David Ben Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, he well knew the dangers and threats that lay ahead of the young nation. Then and today, Israel faces multiple challenges. But today, the major challenge on almost everybody’s mind is the corona virus, a challenge that we share with the entire world.

Israel independence day 2020

Israel celebrates 72 years independence

For many of us the COV-19 threat is manifold – physical (health), economic, and mental. Needless to say that as I’m writing this, I’m out of a job – not much work in tourism nowadays. But we have gone through crisis before. I myself can recount hyperinflation, several wars, terrorism, drought, economic depression, and more.

Going back to the early years of the country, the situation was no less difficult. War and the influx of around 900,000 homeless (Jewish) refugees from Arabic/Muslim states put a heavy burden on country and economy. Sometimes brave leaders had to make daring, perhaps unpopular decisions. Take for example the “Wiedergutmachung” or reparations agreement with Germany under David Ben Gurions’ leadership. The late Menahem Begin, then head of the opposition, would rage against David Ben Gurion. But in reality this money was much needed to put roofs above the heads of many new immigrants.

Twenty five years later it was Menahem Begin who made peace with Egypt. Whereas Begin was celebrated a hero at home, president Anwar el-Sadat was brutally murdered three years later.

What unites Menahem Begin and David Ben Gurion is that both saw government not as a popularity contest, but as a great responsibility towards the people. They weren’t afraid to make difficult and unpopular decisions when needed. And they didn’t care about the splendors of the world, living a simple live in every sense.

Today our leaders are presented with a unique opportunity to become immortal. Their wise decisions can save thousands, tens of thousands of lives and help the people to overcome the Corona crisis. Let’s hope they can live up to it.

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Talbiye Restaurant by Assaf Granit

Once again I ventured out, seeking yet another culinary experience. This time I took my wife and son to Talbiye, a restaurant belonging to the MachneYuda Group by founder and chef Assaf Granit. We’ve already tasted MachneYuda – the restaurant where it all started – as well as Yudale and Hasadna (the “Culinary Workshop”), each and every one of which I like and recommend. Unlike the MachneYuda and Yudale restaurants, the Talbiye is open on Shabbat. Needless to say, the restaurant is not kosher. 

Talbiye Restaurant

The polenta is a trademark dish at the MachneYuda group of restaurants

The restaurant is located in the picturesque, upscale Talbiye neighborhood in Jerusalem, right under the Jerusalem Theater and near the Museum of Islamic Art, the President’s residence, and the Hansen House.

When we called around 1:30 p.m. to make a reservation, we had no problem getting a table for three at 5 p.m., but I still recommend to reserve a table well in advance.

As a starter we chose the special of the day, the shrimp carpaccio. The main dishes were gnocchi, baby spare ribs cooked in beer & Granny Smith apples, and I had the Tournedos Rossini. I couldn’t help it but order the polenta, too. As desert we shared an apple strudel.

Each and every course was a culinary treat. The three of us unanimously praised the food we devoured with joy. Even the strudel was a delight, which is highly uncommon in this region of the world.

The Talbiye offers a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, especially when compared to the loud music at MachneYuda. The service is professional, as can be expected. Most if not all of the customers were locals, perhaps because of its location in a more quiet neighborhood.

Verdict: Highly recommended!

Price: $$-$$$

Telephone: +972 2-5811927

Home page:


Address: 5 Chopin St., Jerusalem (underneath the Jerusalem Theater)

#talbiye #jerusalem #israel #israelguide

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Four One Six Vegan Restaurant

Ever since my daughter turned vegan, I’m on the lookout for suitable restaurants. Today we went to the Four One Six vegan restaurant in Tel Aviv, HaArba’a Street, my daughters favorite of all!

Vegetarian and vegan food is very trendy. But the traditional Middle Eastern kitchen has always offered plenty of choices for vegetarians and vegans – humus, falafel, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, fresh salads to name a few. Many meat places have vegan options, too. And then there is a growing list of all-round vegan restaurants, especially when you come to Tel Aviv.

four one six vegan restaurant
Vegan skewer at the Four One Six (416) vegan restaurant

Some of these restaurants display an obvious distaste for meat and anything that looks like it. Not so at 416 – this totally vegan restaurant manages to create dishes that can easily fool die hard carnivores. A peek at the menu reveals “shawarma”, “skewer”, “steak”, “calamari” and more. All of these dishes are 100% plant based, created from plant protein that has been specially prepared and treated by chef David Barzilai.

Talking about home-made: nothing in this restaurant is mass produced, everything is prepared in the restaurant, including the many sauces that make these dishes so delightful.

The FourOneSix features a cocktail bar with a variety of delightful drinks. Aside from the delicious food we also enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere and excellent service.

Will my non-vegan friends enjoy this vegan restaurant?

Most likely yes. The vegan “meat” dishes have a rich, almost meat-like flavor. And the many positive reviews speak for themselves.

Price: $$-$$$

Warning: The servings are very generous.

Telephone: +972 3-775-5060

Home page:


Address: 16 HaArba’a St., Tel Aviv

#416tlv #telaviv #israel #israelguide

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Tel Aviv Lifeguard Stand Hotel

Bored with your ordinary choice of hotels? Don’t mind getting your feet wet on the way to your room? Check out this beach front venue: Tel Aviv Lifeguard Stand Hotel

This hotel is located on Frishman beach, Tel Aviv, right next to the water. However, the booking procedure is a bit of a challenge, as you need to enter a contest to win one of only 15 opportunities to stay at the Tel Aviv Lifeguard Stand Hotel.

But don’t worry, Tel Aviv has a fine selection of “ordinary” and boutique hotels if you don’t win the challenge. Or perhaps you do mind wet feet or sand in your bed?

#TelAviv #Israel #FrishmanBeach

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Seasons Greetings from Jerusalem

This year Christmas and Hanukkah fall on the very same day. Curiously Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is not mentioned in any book of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). But the story that led to Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is told in the first and second book of the Maccabees, which is part of the Old Testament of the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

Hanukkah menorah

Hanukkah menorah

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

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Museum of Italian Jewish Art

The U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art is a small but beautiful boutique museum, highlighting objects made in Italy by Jewish artists and artisans. The museum is currently installing a new exhibition on the Ghetto of Venice and will reopen on October 18, 2016.

Italian Synagogue

Italian Synagogue at the Museum of Italian Jewish Art

One of the highlights of the museum is the Italian Synagogue, originally from Conegliano Veneto, a village located between Padua and Venice, where Jews had been living from the 16th century on. The synagogue and its contents had been transferred to Israel in 1951.

Marble basin

Marble basin for ritual hand-washing before prayer

Museum of Italian Jewish Art

Entrance to Museum of Italian Jewish Art

Moses hit the rock

Wall painting depicting Moses hitting the rock (Exodus 17:5)

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Hidden Treasures at the Avshalom Stalactite Cave

The Avshalom stalactite cave is considered one of the most beautiful stalactite caves in the world. Small in size compared to others such as the Postojna Caves in Slowenia, but huge in its variety and abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, drapery, flowstone, shelfstone, helictites, and more. Following a short movie about the discovery of the cave and the riches it holds, visitors enter in groups together with a guide (sometimes you may even be guided by myself).

Scientists have done extensive research in this cave, from climate changes through the millennia to “what’s the chance you get hit by a stalactite?” (well, the title of the research is different, but my title keeps people attentive to the end 🙂 ). The Avshalom cave, also named Soreq cave because of the vicinity to the Soreq stream, is one of many nature reserves in Israel operated by the Nature and Parks Authority. The cave is located near Beit Shemesh, about 30-40 minutes drive from Jerusalem. More information about the cave and the opening hours can be found here.

The walking path through the cave allows visitors to view about 80% of the cave. However, there are some treasures that are partly or entirely hidden to the public. Below you can discover some of the hidden secrets. (Please understand that these areas are not accessible to the public for a good reason – to preserve nature and the fragile ecosystem inside the cave.)

Avshalom stalactite cave

The colorful lighting system inside the Avshalom stalactite cave not only adds to its beauty, it also helps reduce damage caused by exposure to light.

Stalactite cave

Mushroom shaped stalactites and stalagmites are only two kinds of the many speleothems found in the Avshalom cave

Mushroom shaped stalactites and stalagmites

Reflections in the pool. The brown color is from iron oxide. You’ll need to come by and visit to find out where the iron originally comes from – you’ll never guess.

Where are the snakes? Here they are - snake fossils in the Avshalom cave

Here they are – snake fossils in the stalactite cave

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Museum of Islamic Art

Located in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood, the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art features an impressive collection of Islamic art as well as a one-of-a-kind collection of antique timepieces. The museum was founded by the late Mrs. Vera Bryce Salomons who had the wish to display the achievements of Israel’s Muslim artists and artisans. For more information and opening hours, visit the Museum for Islamic Art website.

Illustration of Mohamed in early Islamic book

Illustration of Mohamed in early Islamic book

Museum of Islamic Art

Qibla indicator and compass

Museum of Islamic Art

Chess figures

Inclined plane clock

17th century inclined plane clock

Museum of Islamic Art

Antique watch

Marie Antoinette watch

The most valuable timepiece: the Marie Antoinette watch made by the famous French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet

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Book Review: Beyond the Mountains of Darkness, by Eliezer Ya’ari

About two years ago I met Eliezer Ya’ari at a cafe in Jerusalems Baka neighborhood. Eliezer Yaari is a known TV journalist and news broadcaster in Israel. He drew my curiosity when he talked about his new book on Sur Baher (or Sur Bahar), an Arab (Palestinian) village east of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel.

Beyond the mountains of darkness by eliezer yaari

“Beyond the mountains of darkness” by Eliezer Ya’ari

I had been to Sur Baher once, with a bus driver who lived there. Until recently I used to live in the nearby Arnona neighborhood, the same place where Eliezer Yaari is living. Both Arnona and Kibbutz Ramat Rahel are within walking distance to Sur Baher, but the Jewish neighborhoods and the Arab village are worlds apart.

The above mentioned Jewish neighborhoods are part of the State of Israel since 1948, yet Sur Baher – only a few hundred meters further east – was under Jordanian occupation until the Six Day War in 1967. Under the Jerusalem Law many East Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Sur Baher, were annexed and became part of Jerusalem. So far history.

Anyone living in Jerusalem will notice the marked difference between Israeli Arabs who have been part of the state since 1948, and Arabs whose neighborhoods and villages have been annexed by Israel following the Six Day War. By and large Israeli Arabs see themselves as Israeli citizens, whereas most of the Arabs in East Jerusalem, that is the parts of Jerusalem that have been annexed in the Jerusalem Law, see themselves as Palestinians. At least so it seems. Now to the book.

By mere coincidence Eliezer Yaari walks into Sur Baher. He talks to people and takes pictures. One new acquaintance leads to another, and visit by visit he discovers a world that has been so close yet so far. In his book each person is given a short biography. But he also talks about education, terror, the high school exams, the Jewish Agency, and Wadi Humus. Chapter by chapter Ya’ari brings us closer to this – for most Israelis let alone foreigners – unknown world. In his book the people of Sur Baher share the story of their life, their aspirations and frustrations, their struggle and their hope.

At first sight the stories may be of “ordinary” people, but they are everything but ordinary! When telling a story, Ya’ari also provides the context so the reader may understand.

Beyond the Mountains of Darkness by Eliezer Yaari provides a fascinating insight into the life of East Jerusalem Palestinians in particular and on the relationship between Arabs and Jews in general. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Arabs and Palestinians in Israel, and the Arab-Jewish conflict.

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