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  Age on Sunday   12 Mar 2017  A home away from home

A home away from home

Published : Mar 12, 2017, 1:41 am IST
Updated : Mar 12, 2017, 6:39 am IST

A melting pot for distinct cultures and faith, Israel offers a view of the world like few other countries do.

Israelis love India and it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted so warmly abroad by people on the streets.
 Israelis love India and it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted so warmly abroad by people on the streets.

A flight delay in Delhi resulted in the inevitable — we missed our connecting flight in Istanbul. It wasn’t a good start to an international holiday, but hope is a good companion in times like these. A warm reception at the Ben Gurion International Airport by VIP security made a huge difference to my jet lagged body and mind. We were done with immigration in no time and were escorted to a black sedan outside the airport with a young lady cab driver, Rinnat, in waiting. “Namastey,” she greeted us as she drove down to the Don Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. No amount of fatigue could keep us away from getting up early the next morning for a long walk by the Mediterranean Sea, which was right across our hotel. The blue of the sea merged with the blue of the sky in the distant horizon as we walked by the side of the Mediterranean in sheer awe of its majesty and grace. Away from the sea, a tall green minaret of the old Jaffa city beckoned the faithful and the curious travellers. On our way to the old Jaffa City, The Bride of the Sea, late that evening we crossed the Palmach (the army of the Jewish State in the making) museum on the same stretch, Many stories of the Zionist movement are rooted in the Palmach.

The oldest seaport in the world, Jaffa city is a melting pot of the multi-ethnic communities of Muslims, Christians and Jews and reflects the Levantine and European multi-cultural ethos. Though it is linked to Tel Aviv by a common municipal government, the ancient port city is culturally distinct from the mega modern metropolis of TLV, where the party on the road and the discs come alive as the night takes on deeper and merrier shades of colour, music, food and dance with the Jewish Monkeys — the wacky Kleizmer-Rock/pop burlesque band at some places. Our itinerary was packed with back-to-back meetings. Time was scarce so we had to make do with whatever we could. The lunch breaks were time to warm up with our hosts and get an insight into their culture. Israelis love their lemonade and fresh orange juice as much as they love their hummus, tahini, falafel, breads and meats, cheese, fruits/dry fruits and desserts. “The table has to be full, always,” says our host Ron Gerstenfeld from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We dined at some of the best Kosher restaurants, which follow the Kashrus (the Jewish dietary injunction) and do not mix meat with dairy products.


Israelis love India and it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted so warmly abroad by people on the streets. “Military training is a must for boys and girls at the age of 18. Two years for girls and three for boys. When they come home after the training, they want a break and head to India. They come back with stories of colour, love and warmth,” said Ambassador and deputy director general, Head of Economic Affairs Division, Israel, Yaffa Ben-Ari. We drove to Jerusalem for some more meetings and the much-awaited visit to the Old City of Jerusalem, where the three biggest monotheistic religions in the world converge to reclaim faith and land. We hurried down the cobbled roads to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In between, we stopped at an elderly Armenian man’s shop to buy some gifts. The Church stands on a quarry that is believed to encompass the Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried.


From the church we went to the Western Wall, where men and women pray and seek blessings in small hand-written notes, which they tuck inside the crevices of the wall. The other side of the wall is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as Bayt al Muqaddas, which is the third holiest site in Sunni Islam. A few hours before we were to board the flight back home were reserved for Yad Vashem — the official Holocaust Museum. “Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell others, and their children the next generation,” are words etched outside the museum on a stone slab. Inside there are records, films and archives of the historic horror. A chance meeting with 21-year-old Mosher, who had just returned from India, was a warm way to say our byes. “India is chai, chillum and chappati for us. We love you. Come back,” he laughed.

(The writer was in Israel last month on invitation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State of Israel)

Tags: travelling, israel, istanbul