Israel, I’m infatuated

Early last fall, my husband came home with news.  He delivered it casually as he poured juice to accompany our daughter’s pre-dinner snack. “So, they’re sending me to Israel for work.”

A sly smile spread across his face as my eyes widened and my index finger extended to an exaggerated point. Before I could speak, he raised his palms defensively and said, “I already told them you’re coming with me.”

Crisis averted.

12645026_10154014457933755_7228192715664048313_nMy entire adult life, I had wanted to travel to the land of milk and honey to absorb the history, to smell and taste the food (THE FOOD!) and to revel in the beauty that has inspired many of my favorite jewelers.

Thankfully, this was no secret to my sweetie, who happens to be one of the Chosen People.

Despite my long-term idolatry of all things Israeli, I did not seek him out on J-date. (We met on Plenty of Fish.)

Obviously, my spouse was excited to visit the birthplace of his ancestry (his family are Jewish Americans by way of Russia). He did his best to suppress the panic that ensued because he recalls very little of the Hebrew he learned for his Bar Mitzvah.

telavivAfter a series of delays due to technical issues and scheduling snafus, he touched down in Tel Aviv the last week in January; I joined him a week later. With just five days to spend in the country for vacation, our trip was more a mission than leisure. Both of us wanted to experience as much as we could.

We spent our first day walking across Tel Aviv, which has a “cool part of L.A.” vibe. We noshed on goose bacon and the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever eaten. My adoration of the city was instantaneous and consuming. The people and the places are beautiful. (And you’ve never eaten an apricot until you’ve eaten one from Israel. They’re insanely good.)

20160421_081450_resizedMy husband bought me this lovely necklace (right) depicting a stalk of wheat, fronted by a small gold-washed Magen David, at the shopping mall adjacent to our hotel.

We visited Masada, the place where the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion stood. That place and the lots that were drawn there are an incredible testament to the endurance and resilience of the love and faith of the Jewish people.

Inside its gift shop were dozens of beautiful earrings, rings, necklaces and bracelets resembling some among my collection of Israeli jewelry at home, from the likes of Shablool, Or Paz and YAM. The bright, fiery blue opals, deep red garnets and dark turquoise set in Israel’s iconic ribbony sterling silver greeted me like an old friend.

The prices, however, did not. (eBay, Etsy and Amazon have done away with the captive market.) So, the painfully pretty pieces stayed there to be admired and acquired by another.

Our next stop was the Dead Sea before we stayed the night in Jerusalem, crossing the country’s capital on foot the following day. We popped in and out of houses of worship, all of which claim ownership of that holy land.

12642539_10154013438803755_3401927284124268222_nJerusalem is a breathtaking place in every sense of the word. Gazing across the Mount of Olives, it’s difficult to grasp how a city that has been razed and built again 33 separate times and that is a daily victim of violence can still be so beautiful and seemingly peaceful.

After a stop to place prayers in the Western Wall, we wove our way through a sprawling market at the heart of the city, its twists and turns taking us into a variety of faith, ethnicity and culture. Tiny stores peeked out from holes carved into walls, offering spices, meats and grains, toys and clothes and bits of silver and gold. Some vendors sat quietly letting the sale come to them, while others occupied narrow walkways, shouting the availability of their wares to all within (ringing) earshot.

Much of the jewelry offered was similar at each shop – pendants and rings mimicking the stones of the Wailing Wall, vibrant Breastplates of Aaron and delicate filigree Chai charms.

The textiles in that country, not surprisingly, are amazing. The scarves, tapestries and linens we saw were more artwork than tools of cloth. The colors and details are unlike anything the United States has to offer. We came home with hand-sewn table runners dotted with colorful  pomegranates as gifts for family.

12662548_10154016965753755_7409226149486601665_nOur last day was spent back in Tel Aviv, perusing the Nachlat Binyamin artisans market. Israeli artists are rich in talent and inspiration. The crafts for sale capture the ambiance of this country’s piece of the Mediterranean with bright colors and ethereal imagery.

Now after three months back at home, my mind often returns to Israel in moments of quiet. It is no secret why visitors travel there again and again. The next time I get there, many of those artists will also be rich(er) with my money.

I will always be thankful to my husband for sharing with me those days in Israel and a bit of his special heritage. Shalom!