Israel offers the best of scenic mountains, stunning seas, beautiful beaches, deserts, dense green forests, rich history and culture and an unforgettable night life

Text and photos by NAMITA GUPTA

Travel does many things to many people. But if you were to pick one, then undoubtedly travel can help change your perspective, help you grow and change your life for the better. My trip to Tel Aviv, a small city next to the Mediterranean Sea with a big heart in this beautiful Middle Eastern country regarded by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the biblical Holy Land did just that. As I stepped down the Ethiopian airlines flight at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, there was a natural spring in my step. Despite the long haul, I was raring to go and curious to explore the astounding natural beauty of this mysterious and mystical holy land. There’s far more to Israel, than what meets the eye and that is evident from the many tourists that visited Israel two months back since the establishment of the state on May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv proclaiming the State of Israel. No wonder then that over three and a half lakh foreigners visited during April this year and the numbers are only increasing every month and justifiably so. Contrary to what we are fed by the news hungry media, a sense of harmony, stability and goodwill prevailed across Israel. I couldn’t wait to tap Israel off my bucket list and indulge in yoga in a foreign land, visit some of the most sought after fashion houses, tuck in delicious vegan cuisine and soak in the rich history and culture during my adventure filled days ahead in Israel.

H I G H  O N  H E A LT H
Yoga has arrived in Israel and how. It has become the way of life and yogis can be spotted everywhere. There are thousands of yoga practitioners in Israel and the trend is only seeing an upswing. Over 2,000 yoga enthusiasts gathered at the Rabin Square on the evening of June 21, 2017. There was a carnival like atmosphere with stalls selling coconut water, nut butters, Ayurvedic products, yoga wear and mats.

The Embassy of India celebrated the 3rd International Yoga Day in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tel Aviv Municipality as part of India and Israel’s plans to hold a series of events to celebrate 25 years of their diplomatic ties. Although it had recognised the country in 1950, India established full diplomatic relationship with Israel in 1992. Various yoga organisations Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Tri Yoga, Shivananda Yoga, Yoga for Children, Vinyasa Yoga and Acro Yoga held yoga sessions culminating with Art of Living, Dr. Rohit Sabharwal and his team’s common yoga protocol session. Special messages for the Yoga Day from the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar were screened. Pavan Kapoor, Ambassador of India in Israel, inaugurated the event by lighting the lamp alongside Dr Anju Kumar, Deputy Chief of Mission and Tammy Ben-Haim, diplomat at Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The idea of international Day of Yoga was first proposed by the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi during his speech at the UNGA, in September 2014. His much awaited trip to Israel in the first week of July was the first visit by any Indian Prime Minister.

T U R N I N G  O V E R  A  N E W  L E A F
There’s a delicious approach to healthy eating catching on in a big way. People are turning vegan in the land of milk and honey and showing a great interest in veganism. Israelisare open to trying out new things, which is clear from the number of vegan restaurants that are mushrooming here. Also major coffee chains have introduced a vegan menu. Earlier if one were to order soy milk instead of cow’s milk, they had to shell a couple of shekels extra, but not anymore. I dined at the Meshek Barzilai Restaurant with Ori Shavit, a leading food blogger who blogs at ‘Vegans on top’ in English and ‘Vegan girls have more fun’ in Hebrew. A leading figure in Israel when it comes to Vegan Culinary and food writer, Ori turned from a hedonist eater into a happy vegan by choice. She told me how she has witnessed a change in her health after adopting a vegan lifestyle just like many others. “Infact it’s easier for Israelis to turn vegan as our cuisine usually comprises hummus, falafel, fresh fruits and vegetables. There are already a lot of kosher restaurants here so it’s something we’re used to in our culture. About 5 per cent people are vegans already. Add another 8 per cent vegetarians and it’s clear how veganism is getting to be quite a rage,” shares Ori.

We gorged on some Peppers and Eggplants Terrine, Pizza with cashew and walnut cheese, kalamata olives, roquette and artichoke with smoked seitan, onion rings and green pepper and Lasagna made with lasagna sheets layered with cashew cheese, mushrooms, mangold leaves and kale, in peppers and pine nuts sauce and washed it down with iced tea andmint. We ended the finger-licking meal with an apricot pie, the taste of which still lingers on my palate. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Israel’s bounty with juicy and crunchy veggies and lip smacking dishes made with homemade cashew cheese in the heart of Tel Aviv at the Ahad Ha’Am St. Other vegan restaurants where we dined at included Tenat, an Ethiopian eatery at Chlenov St, which is known for its Ethiopian bread injera, flat bread made from teff flour and is rich in protein, calcium and iron, and 416, an upmarket vegan restaurant at HaArba’a St that whips up lip-smacking vegan dishes in great style. Their breakfast serving freshhummus, tahini, beetroot cheese salad and green shakshuka at the quaint boutique Market House Hotel, where I stayed, is very popular. The icing on the cake is the access to the flea market and the beautiful beaches at a stone’s throw away.

Tel Aviv is hands down one of the best party capitals of the world. There’s so much said and written about Israel’s night life that one has to experience it to believe it. You can party at some of the world’s best hotspots here. I went on a pub crawl with Eviatar Gover, owner & CEO, Be part of the HEART – TLV night tours. The Rothschild Boulevard bar crawl began at Sputnik, where the hipsters were seen shaking a leg to some of the latest EDM tunes from around the world. It doubles up as an art gallery during daytime. We then moved to Jimmy Who? a few steps away with DJ playing some of the most popular dance tunes. Youngsters were dancing like there’s no tomorrow at the next nightclub called Alphabet. With some of the best club nights Israel has to offer, it’s truly a hotspot for great music, dancing and sheer revelry, where the party never stops.

The Startup Nation title that Israel has gained over the years might come as a surprise for many due to its sheer small size, but it can put many other big nations to shame. Israel’s relatively young economy is promising, takes risks, thrives on improvement, innovation, creativity and is making the right strides in paving the way forward. No wonder then that many Nobel Prize laureates hail from here. Many scientists, engineers, doctors and other professionals strive to lead research trends in their respective fields. It is also a desired location for venture capital investment. Some of the world’s best technological giants are now turning to Israel. I visited the Our Crowd office in Jerusalem to meet Laly David, Director of Business Development, Our Crowd, an equity crowdfunding platform built for accredited investors to provide venture capital funding for early-stage startups. Talking about how Our Crowd is creating headlines, Laly explains, “A serial investor and serial entrepreneur Jon Medved, founder, CEO from California moved to Jerusalem three decades ago and started Our Crowd four and half years back. It is managed by a team of seasoned investment professionals and the turning point was when someone invested online and no one really knew that person. Today we have 20,000 investors from across the world, including India. We have invested 440 million dollars in more than 120 companies where we fund deals and funds across sectors and stages. We recently announced our partnership with Motorola Solutions, Reliance Industries and Yissum, to operate an innovation technology incubator to support growth of early stage startups in Jerusalem. We also support startups at the seed stage as we have our own seed fund, financing them as they grow and work closely with entrepreneurs, facilitate multinationals and make them aware of the various technologies and putting them in touch with different companies. We have in our network companies like GE, Yes Bank, Motorola besides over 25 companies and our portfolio companies include Biocatch, Zoom Cars from Bengaluru who we connected to Mobileye in Israel. The companies that we invest in get access to our own 20,000 investors and that’s what sets us apart. We are looking at strategic business development opportunities for our companies. We see atleast 5-10 companies every week. Israel has core expertise in water and cyber technologies with sub sections for each. Every year we host the Investor Summit in Jerusalem and this year is going to be our fourth year. We have over 2,000 MNCs, 300 different VCs and over 10,000 participants coming up at our next summit on February 1, 2018.”

Jerusalem is a haven for culture lovers; a holy city where the quiet grandeur of the ruins of glorious past remains untarnished. All the buildings, new and old, bear a uniform look owing to the Jerusalem stone that has been used as a standard norm for all the construction here. So even if a building is designed sleek and contemporary from inside, the outside facade has to be carved out of the same Jerusalem stone and is white, yellow and tawny. And just like the old and new construction co exists side by side so beautifully so does its people — on one side there are the orthodox and the other extremely modern. There are two distinct nationalities, the Palestinian and the Jewish. Each nationality is inextricable from its religious identity. Each group identifies as part of a larger, international religious and cultural community, and each has a history in the region that goes back to ancient times.

Jerusalem is known for its three most important monotheistic religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which is evident from a look at the Temple Mount. A trip to Jerusalem would be incomplete without visiting the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall and the Al-Aqsa mosque. On any given day of the week you will find hundreds of people lost in their prayers and placing hand written notes and letters in the cracks and crevices of this Wailing Wall. There is a men’s section of the wall and a separate women’s section at this iconic Jerusalem tourist attraction that was built around 2000 years ago as an outer wall to support Temple Mount, when the temple was destroyed and the Jews were forced to leave and the exact location of the temple was lost. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is like a biblical Calvary – the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, then died and resurrected. I was lucky to have witnessed a bar mitzvah ceremony taking place at the Wailing Wall on my visit. It’s a ceremony to celebrate the coming of age for a Jew. According to Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13 years old, they become accountable for their actions and become a bar mitzvah. A girl becomes a bat mitzvah at the same age. Jerusalem is rich in its history and culture and a must visit for anyone with a wanderlust.

There’s a unique sense of vitality, style and design that puts Israel way ahead on the fashion map. With Motty Reif spearheading the Gindi, Tel Aviv Fashion Week, Leah Peretz at the helm of affairs at Shenkar Design and Engineering College, Sharon and Ruth driving the future of fashion with their label Maskit and other such fine examples, Israel’s fashion industry is spearing ahead for its innovation and design.

Confessing to have picked it up from his mother, Motty Reif reveals that his mum was always styling like a pro and it was probably inherent in his nature. “I did some modeling, joined the army and then started the Fashion Week. It’s been seven years now since I’ve been hosting fashion shows. I wanted to pay a tribute to the situation in Israel, so I called the tourism office and our very first fashion week was a massive hit in 2011. We have had Roberto Cavalli, Missoni and other iconic brands on board, but from last year onwards I want to have only Israeli fashion, jewellery and accessory designers, spread over four days, seven shows a day, as there are a lot of talented people here. My main aim was to promote Israeli designers, but now it has grown over the years and we have started to get many buyers as well. Our bridal fashion is very successful and we’re very proud of our designers. Dorit Bar Or, actress and designer from Tel Aviv and an Israeli fashion icon has been making waves across the world for her label Dodo Bar Or. Also, the young designers are very influenced with everything in the world around us today. I’m also getting women above the age of 60 to model for about 25 designers to say that fashion is for everybody and not just for young people. I also did a fashion show with women of size 42 and above as I feel the mindsets of the society needs to change.”

Motty is not just an icon in the world of fashion, but also has a humane side to him. “I own a production company and do a lot of TV shows, and two documentaries and were nominated for the Emmy’s. It’s about Linor Abargil who was abducted, stabbed, and raped by a travel agent in Milan, Italy, just few weeks before she won the Miss World crown in 1998. The 18 year old fought to put the serial rapist behind bars and later we travelled to Los Angeles to find a team of women filmmakers to tell her story. The film is called Brave Miss World,” says Motty who admits that he’s never satisfied.

D E S I G N S  O N  Y O U:
Ranked amongst the Top 10 in the Top 50 Fashion Schools in the World, the Shenkar Design School named after Aryeh Shenkar, founder and first president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel has three faculties: Multidisciplinary Art, Design and Engineering. They offer four-year undergraduate degrees, taught in Hebrew. One of the leading colleges in Israel, its graduates are at the forefront of research and the industry, exhibiting their works,
participating in competitions and winning prestigious awards. During its 45 years of existence, Shenkar produced thousands of engineering, design and art graduates, enjoying incredible success in Israel and worldwide. Leah Peretz, a graduate in the History of Art and History of the Western World and Masters in History of Art from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she went on to study fashion and design in Italy and was the Head of the Fashion Design Department at Shenkar and then went on to serve as cultural attaché of the Israeli Embassy in Bogota, Colombia and came back in 2006 to resume her role as head of the Department of Fashion Design at Shenkar. Leah shares, “I introduced some new programmes and it worked well for us. First year all the streams are obligatory for the students and then they study fashion illustrations, history of costumes, art, how the fashion world works, inspiration boards etc and then from the second year they can specialise in respective streams like swimwear, denim, evening gowns, bridal wear, men’s wear, hand knitting, embroidery, and footwear and handbags in accessories. We have 11 departments and over 3000 students and our selection process is strict.”

M A S K I T:

Israel’s first and only fashion house, Maskit was founded by Ruth in 1954, when immigrants came here. Ruth Dayan (then wife of the political icon Moshe Dayan) used to work for the government and she was asked to go to the villages and teach them Israeli culture. She saw beautiful clothes and jewellery and came back to Tel Aviv and met Fini Laintersdorf, a Hungarian designer, who was making clothes for the high society in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Ruth wanted to create something unique and they opened Maskit and soon hosted a big show at Plaza in New York where the buyer of Bergdorf came and bought the entire collection. That’s when Maskit made history and was soon an international brand that was recognised and sold all over the world. Some of the top notch collaborations with Givenchy, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and other such luxury brands were made. But Ruth had to move out of the city and Maskit shut down. But soon Sharon Tal came back after studying fashion from London. A two-year journey of research and revival has led the team throughout the captivating Israeli landscapes to reconnect with Maskit’s original artists and roots. At the age of 100, Ruth is still working with the extremely gifted designer, Sharon Tal to reestablish the brand and continue its legacy. Together, Ruth and Sharon are driving the future of Maskit, infusing its rich heritage with modern fashion and remaining focused on delivering top quality and exclusive designs. Former head designer for embroideries at Alexander Mcqueen and reviver of legendary Israeli brand Maskit, Sharon, a graduate from Shenkar shares, “We are known for our iconic Desert Coats that are sold worldwide. I was inspired to become a successful fashion entrepreneur and designer when I saw Kate Middleton wearing Alexander Mcqueen when she tied the knot with Prince William in 2011. Nir, my husband, suggested I call Ruth Dayan. I did that and we revived Maskit putting Israel on the fashion map. Embroidery and high quality fabrics and style has been my forte.” She goes to the US once every month and has a long list of clientele there.

You can also spend a day at the Dead Sea also known as the Sea of Salt, which is the lowest point on earth, surrounded by the stunning landscape of the Negev Desert and known for its healing properties. Just float naturally in the Dead Sea for some stunning photographs. One can never get enough of what Israel has to offer in terms of bounteous natural scenic beauty. I’m definitely going back for some more of the stunning sea, sun and sand.



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