The Faces of Israel
Israel - a Small Multi-Faced Land
A frequent headliner presented in so many different ways by the international media, Israel is a fascinating country to discover. So many paradoxes, so many cultures and traditions co-existing on the same piece of land...
Indeed, the Land of Milk and Honey as the Bible refers to it, Israel has so many faces waiting to be discovered by all those who come to visit it: from the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv to the industrial scenery of Haifa's harbor, from the city of Jerusalem with its holy landmarks to the modern business centers dotting the White City, going through the flavored traditional markets, the country's exquisite museums and art galleries as well as through its restaurants and fast food eateries... Israel is a melting pot of ethnicities and influences.
All photos used in this lens are personal.
The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land
Have you ever wondered how such a small country can have so many faces? Have you ever asked yourself why a country by the size of an American city features so many headlines?
Filled with actual information and written in an easy to read style, this book will provide you with a comprehensive view over some of the hottest typically Israeli issues.
I highly recommend this reading to anyone who wants to know the truth about this "ordinary people" living on an "extraordinary land.
Religious Landmarks of Israel
Wherever you turn in this small, yet fascinating country, you will bump into all sorts of religious landmarks and symbols. Here are some of them:
Israel is by definition a Jewish country and their national symbol – the menorah can be seen in various locations such as Jerusalem’s old town (the golden one) or in front of the Israeli Parliament.
No matter if you are a Jew, a Muslim of a Christian, a tour of Jerusalem's landmarks is a must. The Wailing Wall (the only remaining wall surrounding the Second Temple) is the most sacred place in the Jewish religion:
While touring Jerusalem's Old Town (especially the Western Wall's area) you might bump into a Bar Mitzva celebration - a religious ceremony held on the occasion of each Jewish boy's 13th birthday (the age he is considered to become a man).
The Dome of the Rock is the Muslims' second important holy place as according to their beliefs this is the place from where Muhammad jumped towards the sky.
Christian believers will certainly head to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where they believe Jesus' tomb and the Stone of Unction/Anointing (the stone he was laid on after his crucifixion) are located.
Haifa is also home to another significant religious landmark within Jewish and Christian beliefs: the Carmelite Monastery Stella Maris - home to Eliahu's cave.
The world center of the Bahai religion, the hanging gardens of Bahai (known as the eighth wonder of the world) centered around the dome of the Bab, provide visitors with a unique aesthetic experience - a mixture of lights, color and water. The gardens cascade down the slopes of Mount Carmel, through the German colony towards the sea, adorning the Millenium avenue - main tourist area of the city - and turning the city into a relaxing place.
The Bahai gardens are also a popular venue for beautiful wedding pictures:
The Arab community being Israel's most important religious minority, their religious landmarks are scattered all around the country. Thus, you will find historical mosques in various towns such as Akko, where the Mosque of Jezzar Pash (named after the Bosniak Ottoman governor Ahmed al-Jezzar Pasha) dominates the old town:
While walking along Jaffa's seashore, you will certainly notice the Mahmoudiya Mosque overlooking the sea:
The Modern Face of Israel
Tucked between historically rooted traditions and modernity, Israel is indeed a land of contrasts. While visiting Jerusalem and touring iconic religious landmarks you feel like traveling back in time. If instead, you go to Tel Aviv, you will get to meet one of the most modern metropolises of the world. This is one of the images welcoming you when entering the city by taxi from Ben Gurion Airport:
According to Tel Aviv's mayor Ron Huldai, innovation is one of the city's genes as it was founded by innovative thinking and pioneering. "Alongside the city being home to many diverse technological ventures, the municipality is investing great efforts in cultivating entrepreneurialism and innovation. Already we are seeing the clear results, in terms of economic growth and increased investments coming into the city."
In the above image, you can admire one of Tel Aviv's symbols - the Azrieli Towers, with their geometrical shapes (a square, a round and a triangular one). Besides being the architectural icon of modern Israel, they are home to many offices, a dynamic shopping center and a panoramic restaurant.
Tel Aviv's image as a high-tech metropolis received a boost once the good news spread back in 2012: the city was ranked second in an innovation contest organized by Urban Land Institute, in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal. Sponsored by Citybank, the competition gathered 200 cities and the results were somehow surprising: the Colombian town Medellin (till then more for being the drug dealer Pablo Escobar's birth place) was the race's winner, followed by Tel Aviv and New York.
Indeed, during the last years, Tel Aviv became one of the world's greatest hubs of technological innovation and is home to thousands of startups and multinationals. The city is dotted with modern business centers that house the branches of many multinational companies (including Google and Microsoft) as well as the start-ups managed by the enthusiastic Israeli entrepreneurs. Located just North of Tel Aviv, the town of Hertzelya is home to the largest such high tech hubs nicknamed the "Silicon Wadi" (a pun using the Arabic equivalent for Valley).
Places of commerce, but also tourist attractions, Israel’s traditional markets are really captivating. The merchandise ranges from the products of local crafts to the worldwide traded “made in China” typical bazaar staff, from religious symbolic objects to clothes and kitschy souvenirs, from spices and traditional food items to Dead Sea beauty products. However, what fascinated any traveler is the typically Middle Eastern atmosphere featured by loud voice advertising and heavy bargaining.
I took these pictures in Shouk Hacarmel – one of Tel Aviv’s traditional markets, where you can find about anything you might be looking for or simply have a stroll and soak up the atmosphere. Located in the heart of the city and in the shore’s proximity, this market gathers all the essences and flavors of the Israeli ethnic mixture.
If you are looking for some fresh dietary products or special spices, head to Levitsky market – south of Tel Aviv. For a special treat, combine your sightseeing experience of Jerusalem’s Old City with a stroll (and some shopping) in the Arab market that spreads throughout its cobbled streets.
Israel - the Country along the Sea
Many countries of the world boast their beaches and seaside scenery. What makes Israel so special? Maybe the fact that almost anywhere you go in this country you are close enough to the sea? From the crowded beaches of Tel Aviv to the quiet shores of smaller towns like Rishon Letzion, Bat Yam, Natanya, Hedera, Ashkelon, Hashdod, Akko or Naharia, you will certainly find one that suits your taste. In the above image you can admire a very romantic sunset on a beach in Naharia - a town located in the North of the country, perfect for a couple getaway.
Stretching on 6 km, Tel Aviv's coastline is dotted by hotels, restaurants and cafes. If you choose to have a beach holiday in Tel Aviv, you will be able to enjoy the sun and the sea without missing any of the urban attractions. For the evenings, or early mornings, there is nothing more enjoyable than a walk along the beautiful promenade that goes from Tel Aviv's harbor (another popular place where to have a coffee by the sea) to Old Jaffa (a charming old fishing harbor).
Planning a beach vacation in a modern resort? Then the Southern pearl of the Israeli coast (on the Red Sea), Eilat is the answer to all your searches. Home to modern hotels and family attractions, Eilat is a magnet for tourists from all the corners of the Earth who come here to enjoy top class services, splendid beaches and breathtaking scenery.
A vibrant industrial and urban center, Haifa has its share of beaches as well. This picture taken from the upper side of the town (from a street named, not without a reason, Iefe Nof - beautiful landscape) certainly gives you an idea of what Haifa has to offer in point of marine scenery.
Another town by the sea that I find simply charming - Akko has an old fishing port that is now used only by small boats. A launching spot for the local children's jumps into the sea, Akko's cliffy shoreline is also a great venue for a walk. Don't miss the opportunity to admire the various religious landmarks (old mosques with their green roofs and churches built by the Crusaders) raising on the seashore.
Another scenic harbor, but a much more modern setting you will find in Hertzelia. While the promenade is dotted by pubs, restaurants and shops, the harbor is home to private yachts. A special feeling of glamour and exclusive style can be sensed in the area.
Another face Israel proudly shows to its visitors is its inhabitants' creativity and artistic genius. The local authorities did not ignore this aspect. As a result, many of the historical areas have been recently renovated and they are currently home to art galleries and workshops. Located in a scenic mountainous area, the historical town of Tsfat has a vibrant quarter where you can admire interesting pieces - the result of contemporary Israeli artists' work.
Another such charming location lies in Tel Aviv's outskirts - the cobbled streets of the old Jaffa neighborhood are dotted with shops and galleries where you can even admire the artists at work. While having a stroll in Jaffa, I discovered this Israeli craftswoman who makes paper dolls. I simply love her vision of the human body.
During another walk on Tel Aviv's streets, I ran into these street mural exhibits by Rami Meiri - an Israeli artist whose reputation has long ago crossed the country's boarders, traveling to Europe as well as to the US, South America and Far East.
Israel - the Land of All Culinary Flavors
A land with such a diverse population, Israel is also a melting pot of culinary influences. As a result of numerous waves of immigration, lots of cultures from all around the world have been embraced by the modern state of Israel.
Despite the common stereotypes which reduce the Israeli cuisine to humus (mashed chickpeas) and falafel, this dynamic food culture goes much beyond these two dishes. While the concept of appetizers usually revolves around a wide range of dips and salads served with pita (flat bread), when it comes to main dishes and deserts, we can speak about two main influences: the Eastern European one and the Oriental one.
While the Romanian, Hungarian, Polish and Russian waves brought along the Gefilte fish, the ikre (fish egg salad), the bagle, the latke (potato pancakes), the schnitzel and the varenikes (stuffed dumplings), the immigrants of Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, Yemenite, Iraqi, Persian and Egyptian origins spiced up the Israeli cuisine. They enriched the culinary landscape with iconic dishes like couscous and falafel as well as with delicious sweets like the baklava and the halva.
The typically Israeli version of fast food, falafel is actually a sort of vegetarian balls fried in deep oil and served in a pita, together with chips, humus, tehina (mashed sesame seeds) and all sorts of salads. This dish finds its origins in the Arabic cuisine. Nowadays you can see falafel booths at all street corners. The proteins rich falafel balls are also served in some popular restaurants.