A City that Never Sleeps

As some of you may already know, one of my internships will be at Taste TLV (check out their site at: http://www.tastetlv.com/).  Taste TLV provides English reviews for restaurants in Tel Aviv.  From first-hand experience eating at a restaurant featured on the site (more on this in a later post), I can say that the selection of reviewed restaurants is amazing.

This is my first post for the Taste TLV Blog, which will chronicle some of my experiences with Tel Aviv’s culture, lifestyle, food, etc! Here’s the link to the blog: http://tastetlv.blogspot.com/.


During a recent family dinner, my uncle said, “Tel Aviv is the city that never sleeps.”  Having spent the last four years in Manhattan, I couldn’t help but object.  “New York is the city that never sleeps.”   He scoffed, saying there was no other city in the world like Tel Aviv.  My love for New York aside, my uncle had a point.

While New York may never shut down, with stores that stay open 24-7, a lively nightlife scene in various neighborhoods, and a public transportation system that always runs, the city does sleep.  The Financial District, which is overwhelmingly bustling during the daytime, becomes eerily calm and quiet after business hours.  The Upper East Side bar scene is tame on weekday evenings.  When there is bad weather, people quickly opt to stay in rather than go out.  While New York may be called the city that never sleeps, New Yorkers certainly do.

I think part of the difference between New York and Tel Aviv is weather-induced.  The climate in Tel Aviv is such that people want to (and can) enjoy spending time outside.  While it can get quite hot during the day in the summer months, the weather in Tel Aviv is pretty wonderful. Plans to go out are practically never hindered by rainstorms or snow.  Taking a walk or run on the tayelet (the boardwalk along the beach that runs from Yafo to Hatzok Beach) during the sunset, feeling the cool breeze against your skin, hearing nearby street musicians—it’s addictive in a way strolls along the Hudson River never were.

Tel Aviv is not just awake 24-7, but it’s also alive.  People go out every night of the week, whether to restaurants, bars, cafes, or the beach.  That’s not to say New Yorkers don’t go out—they most certainly do.  But Tel Aviv has something New York doesn’t… and I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly what the distinction is.

In the two weeks since I’ve arrived in Israel, I know I’ve only started to experience the Israeli lifestyle.  While I am Israeli (I was raised in America by Israeli emigrants) I’ve never visited Israel for more than a month at a time.  So far, I’m thrilled with life in Tel Aviv, despite constantly wishing I were better oriented with the city structure and geography as I was in New York.  I know such knowledge and familiarity comes with time. I’m looking forward to getting to know Tel Aviv better, even if it means continuously debunking the notion that my beloved New York is not the city that never sleeps, but only a city that never sleeps.


Our Journey to the Land and Milk and Honey

As they would say in Hebrew, ברוכים הבאים (welcome)! Doug and I (and whatever lovely readers may be living vicariously through us) are finally in Israel.  What an adventure it was to get here—a long, arduous, and frankly unenjoyable adventure.

It all started at John F. Kennedy Airport.  We arrived about seven hours before our flight (for a number of unimportant reasons) and had to wait until ElAl strung together enough stanchions to create a labyrinth-like maze leading to the check-in counter.  The lines were set up in such a manner that a wall of ElAl representatives stood in front of the check-in line, waiting to question each traveler before they passed along their luggage.

After waiting for about two hours, Doug and I got into the check-in line. When our turn arrived, we approached an ElAl representative we now call “Miri the Inquisitor.”  I expected the normal gambit of questions, which usually includes such inquiries as: “who packed your luggage,” “did anyone give you anything to pack,” and “have you left your luggage unattended anywhere but your home.”  The answers to these questions are obvious; I’ve always wondered if anyone ever responds, “I paid a random sketchy stranger to pack my bag. He asked me to place some ticking item into my suitcase at the last moment—said something about delivering it to a distant relative who would pass it along to a friend in Libya. I put it in my suitcase, but maybe someone took it when I left my luggage open and unattended at that rundown café at the rest-stop at Exit 20X on the turnpike…”

In any case, Doug and I were asked those questions, but only after we received a different sort of interrogation first.  Miri the Inquisitor seemed skeptical about our relationship. She kept asking when we met, where we met, how long we had been together, why we were traveling to Israel (telling her about Career Israel wasn’t sufficient since she had never heard of the program—or, for that matter, the Jewish Agency and/or Masa, it seemed).  She was so skeptical that she brought over a fellow inquisitor, whose name I didn’t catch during my mini-panic/confusion attack, to question us further.  He asked similar questions about our relationship and, after a few minutes, determined that Miri the Inquisitor raised an unnecessary red flag over a cute and innocuous couple traveling to Israel to participate in a long-term program.

The experience left both Doug and me quite paranoid, though.  When an Israeli wearing a Ben Gurion University jacket began talking to Doug and me at the gate about Israel, America, and (here’s the significant part) Doug and my relationship, we couldn’t help but feel he was sent to check up on us.  Nevertheless, by 7pm we made it onto our plane at long last.

To start the long, generally unenjoyable flight off was an hour delay.  My exhaustion had me dozing in and out while we waited for take off… but it also had me getting increasingly frustrated as, each time I woke up hoping I had slept a couple of hours, I found we were still on the ground waiting for take off.  Eventually, the moment of glory arrived and we were finally in the air with the fasten seatbelt signs off.

Phew, I thought.  I reclined my chair back and began to settle in more comfortably.  I got my headphones out, shifted some bags by my feet around, sat back up and reclined my chair back to settle in.  But… wait a second… hadn’t I just reclined my chair back a moment ago? Hm, I thought, I must be really tired and forgetful.  Alas, exhaustion was not to blame.  What was to blame was my broken chair, which insisted on remaining in the upright position.  It occasionally reclined a little when no one in my row moved much, only gradually moving forward on its own.  Unfortunately, the continuous movement of the person sitting next to me in the window seat only helped my chair along in its forward-moving progression throughout the flight.  I swear, the kid did not sit still for more than 5 minutes… and if he leaned forward, he was apparently obliged to slam himself back against his seat, moving the entire row in the process.

Needless to say, it was not a pleasant flight.  This was further augmented by the fact that the ElAl staff almost forgot to feed us dinner.  Only about 15 minutes after serving everyone else food did a flight attendant notice that we didn’t have any.  This realization prompted her to say “Oh, did you guys want to eat too?”  Well, I thought, I will be stuck on this plane for 12 hours and… I did pay a small fortune for this flight so… I think I will take one of those dinky trays of airplane food, thank you.  So she gave us trays of chicken, the default meal.  When we asked for the vegetarian meals we had ordered when we purchased our plane tickets, she informed us that we had not ordered them in advance and consequently could only have the default meal.

For all the praise ElAl has received for stellar service, I cannot help but be incredibly dissatisfied with our recent flight.

Complaints aside, Doug and I arrived in Israel safe and sound.  We got through passport control and proceeded to get our suitcases without incident.  Per the instructions we received from our program, we followed signs to get to the taxi-pick-up area and search for the Sherut (shuttle) to Jerusalem.  It wasn’t too hard to find—we just had to run into the mass of unorganized people waiting in a cluster that defied all notions of potentially orderly lines.  Israel, eh? So we joined the mass and waited for the next shuttle to arrive.

A few minutes into our wait, we were suddenly cleared from the area by airport security.  Everyone in the taxi and shuttle lines was herded away without explanation as security personnel quickly surrounded the area.  Eventually, as we learned from a Northwestern-hailing woman who saw my Powell’s Bookstore T-shirt and began speaking with me, someone on a train from Jerusalem had thrown a suitcase onto the platform at the airport station.  Talk about suspicious.

A few little explosions later (the good, disarming-bomb kind of explosions), we were allowed to re-mass up for the taxi and shuttle services.  Only now the masses were much, much larger as the people needing such services accumulated during the bomb-disarmament process.  After much chaos and frustration, yelling and pushing, Doug and I managed to get on a Sherut to Jerusalem.  The ride from Tel Aviv to our hostel in Jerusalem, which should usually take about 45 minutes, took far, far longer.  We arrived at our hostel about 3 hours after getting onto our Sherut.  Unfortunately, our Sherut driver determined it would be best to drop us off last.

All of these circumstances contributed to our late arrival on Thursday, causing Doug and me to miss the program’s tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.

C’est la vie.

Thankfully, none of these things has influenced our trip negatively.  We met the group on Thursday evening, after being served a mini-feast at the hostel’s dining hall by the fantastically friendly kitchen staff chief.  After filling out some paperwork and socializing as much as our exhaustion allowed us, we passed out, knowing that we would wake up the next morning for our first Friday together in Israel.

As an Israeli would say: sababa (meaning “cool” or “great”).

Shalom from Israel!

Dear Everyone,

Shalom from Israel!

We arrived safe and sound last week (if a little cramped from the airplane seats), and we have hit the ground running.  For our first few days we stayed at Beit Yehuda hostel in Jerusalem while we got to know the other Career Israel participants, saw some of Jerusalem’s sights, and generally acclimated to Israel.

One of Jerusalem's many winding streets.

Part of my acclimatization process: my first Israeli falafel.

Last Sunday we moved to Tel Aviv and officially took up residence in our apartment on King George Street in Tel Aviv.  We couldn’t have asked, or found, a better place to stay in Tel Aviv.  We are a short stroll from Shuk HaCarmel (the open air market), Dizengoff Center (Tel Aviv’s main shopping mall), a host of bars and restaurants, and the beach.

Tel Aviv’s beaches aren’t like any beach I have ever spent time at.  Taly frequently told me I’d never seen a real beach since I’d never been to a Mediterranean beach, and now I know she was right!  Cape Cod beaches are stony and cold while the Pacific is freezing and windy across the Western coast.  Where the Mediterranean’s waters lap Israel’s shores, however, is warm and sunny with gentle waves and sand like spun gold.  I have only been in the water once so far, but I have run along the beach from Tel Aviv to Yaffo almost every evening.  Watching the sunset over the sea, feeling the pleasant evening breezes, and seeing all of the people out enjoying the beach makes the miles fly by.   I’ll be truly spoiled when the time comes for us to return to the U.S.

Besides relaxing under the Mediterranean sun and exploring Tel Aviv, we’ve been busy with Ulpan (Hebrew classes) and preparation for our internships, which we start in October.  We’ll write more about these later.  In the meantime, I am steadily, albeit slowly, improving my Hebrew, and I am very excited to start work at the Institute for National Security Studies.