Did you know that Israel fits rather neatly inside the west side of the state of Oregon, between the coast range and the Cascades mountains? Tiny Israel has a huge presence in my life. I live in lush, green Oregon. I travel—back and forth, again and again—to where? Israel, of course. And why Israel countless times? Why not Israel, then Thailand, then Europe, then Latin America? It’s Israel; it’s always Israel, home of my heart.
Sounds, smells, words stay with me.
Yallah, Peg, let’s go swim at Little Kiev! Stella, Ephy, and I drive down to the beach not too far from the old Leonardo in Haifa. It’s the beach where old Russians plop in the cove. They don’t swim; I do. The lifeguard yells at me. Bo! Bo! Come back! He’s not used to swimmers. Tough. I wave to him and continue plunging through the teeny-weeny surf. I resurface and swim in for my usual café kar b’li halav, b’li sukar—iced coffee, no milk, no sugar. The Israelis think I’m weird. They drink hot coffee in the hot summer. I’ve known Stella and Ephy over 35 years. And where did we meet? Corvallis, Oregon. I always stay in Haifa with them. Israeli hospitality—it’s unbeatable. If I were to visit there and not let them know? Well, that’s unthinkable.
I repeatedly visit the Wall Festival murals down at the grungy, always ready to be revitalized port. I see the old and the new: Frieda Khalo, Banksy-ish cartoons, the Damascus Railroad line. Haven’t you seen those? You’re missing something special!
Tel Aviv: my art scene. Eclectic. Avant-garde and traditional. Street art and urban sketching. Political and not!
I hang out in the Florentine with Nofar, my street artist teacher. The smells of cardamom and cumin waft through the air. She tells me where it’s cool to spray paint my elephant stencil and where, if I spray on that one colorful alley wall, the other artists will think I’m starting a turf war. We don’t need more wars.
I have a friend in North Tel Aviv. Met her in Corvallis, too. She hosts a Death Café. What’s that? A small, intimate cohort works through grief and fear together. She doesn’t talk with me about death; she asks me about my family. Like mine, her kids are now adults. Some live in the states; she tries to put on a brave face. We drink coffee at a little hole-in-the-wall, barely a café around the corner. Best strong as mud coffee ever. We drink Israeli style: hot coffee on a hot day. Her friend ambles in: Doreet, manishma? A half-English, half-Hebrew conversation ensues about another friend. I’m used to mixed languages. I hear Hebrew, English, Russian, something else East European-ish, some Arabic thrown into the mix, as is typical. I know more Arabic than I think I know. Yallah.
Be’er Sheva, the pink, purple, and ochre landscape, home of yet another friend, a professional art curator who takes me to visit other artists. I have yet to paint there. This coming October, I will! Bang, thud, go the car tires screeching off the road into the dirt ditch to avoid a traffic jam. I’ll drive almost anywhere in Israel (not Judaea or Samaria), but Be’er Sheva is something unanticipated. Rules don’t count. Go with the flow. In Be’er Sheva, it’s more like go wherever; yallah.
Jerusalem: not in the same galaxy as Tel Aviv!
The murals in Tel Aviv wouldn’t last two minutes in Jerusalem. Two Hasidic guys kissing each other in Tel Aviv would be blacked out in seconds in J’lem. But, what’s in J’lem would not be in Tel Aviv, either. Visit Machane Yehuda! Wait until the market closes. You will find Henrietta Szold and Golda and Ofra Haza! These huge, captivating, spray-painted portraits are the work of a young, British-born artist, Solomon Souza.
I paint there, in Jerusalem. A Shabbat ambiance: not really silence, but no traffic! No horns! No buses! The Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi nigguns flow softly from their various shuls. The light glows differently on Shabbat in Jerusalem; it’s more like auras of golden glows. The dati strollers amble together for a Shabbat walk, many through the German Colony on the old railroad tracks now a promenade, their many prams controlled, but not their toddlers who scream and delightfully gambol across the prophet-named streets that intersect the promenade, the street signs mosaicked with the names and symbols of a particular prophet. I discreetly paint there. After all, it is Shabbat.
I return to the same national monuments: evergreen and watery Hulah Agamon replete with migratory cranes, ibis and flamingoes. Did you know that in October, the flamingoes flying south to Africa are usually white with a barely pinkish tinge, but when they fly north, they are bright pink, as are the shrimp they feast on in Africa. The rivers flow strongly in November in Banias and Tel Dan. Well, the Israelis call them rivers. To this Oregonian, the Jordan River is a creek.
I find new places: Ein Zivan in the Golan, Ghajar, an Alawite-Arab village on the Hasbani River. I paint at these places, too! The more I go there, the wilder my colors. I see them differently each time, gold, turquoise, red. Wild waterfalls. Who knew? It is true: I could find fabulous art and stunning landscapes and wonderful people anywhere in the world. So, it begs the question: WHY ISRAEL?
Not only is it the home of my friends, but also is the home of my ancestors, my people. Everywhere I go, every step I take, I see my identity, my roots, my culture. In Megiddo, I see the layers revealed by archeologists as they explored the hillside: the stratifications run deep, from black soot to purple soil to ochre shards.
In Neve Tzedek and Yaffo, I see remnants of the very old and 1948 proud testaments of independence. I see Sha’ar Hagai, the fated watch post, now a national memorial site on the road up to Jerusalem. Cobblestones testify to an ancient presence in Jerusalem, Rosh Pina, Safed, home of Rabbi Luria, composer of Lecha Dodi. I touch them all; I touch my people through time.
THAT is Why Israel.
My next trip to Israel?
NOVEMBER 2023! Yes, a mere 12 months after the last trip. Why? Valerie Lowenstein and I are leading a Hadassah tour. JOIN US! What’s the theme? Culture, of course: art, music, and culinary delights. And, you don’t have to be an artist, musician, or fresser to enjoy!
A tiny little sample of our extraordinary tour*, Israeli Cultural Curiosity Music, Art & Cuisine November 5 – 15, 2023:
We begin our journey together with a welcome ceremony at Hadassah’s Meir Shfeyah Youth Aliyah Village. We will join the students and see the farm, winery, and music classes.
We will visit the Druze village of Buq’ata, deep in the Golan near the Syrian border, a deceptively desolate place that is now fertile and vibrant. We will meet Naseeba and hear her story while enjoying a cooking workshop of stuffed vegetables, grape leaves, and a traditional Druze hospitality lunch.
In Safed, we will learn about the special art of drawing in Safed (pictures with words), shop in the artist’s quarter and walk into the studios. We tour the Abuhav Synagogue and enjoy the detailed artwork. Wood-carved, painted turquoise and magenta flowers decorate the poles surrounding the bimah in the center of the shul, Sephardi style.
In Derech HaTavlinim (The Spice Way Farm) we will meet with founder, Avi Zithershpieler, as we take a tour of the agricultural farm that grows over 50 different varieties of spices and learn about their amazing benefits. Even now I catch a scent of Syrian, Lebanese, or Iraqui zaatar mixes, all unique heady, rich aromas. Join me there—a whiff will stay with you for years. Perhaps a few years later, you will catch the scent walking through SoHo in Manhattan; then the farm will flash in your mind. A tranquil, peaceful scene in OUR land.
At Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem we heal; we are a bridge to peace. Experience a special art tour of the hospital’s unique original pieces of art! Of course, that includes the world-famous Chagall Windows! Did you know that when Chagall was asked to create them for Hadassah, he replied that he had been waiting to be asked to contribute his art to the Jewish people.
Struck by the terror of shell attacks, Israeli artist Yaron decided to transform something horrible into something beautiful, and so began his artwork known as “Rockets to Roses.” We will visit his studio in the Negev. The sparse Negev. The Negev that says I dare you to know me. So I go there, every time. I smell her sage. Her dry air desiccates my skin; that’s what lotion is for. Her vast vistas, sometimes hilly, but most often flat, tempt me. I will paint there—quickly, though, so I don’t hold you back!
AND SO MUCH MORE!
THE MEMORIES LAST FOREVER!!
*Itinerary subject to change
Our Israeli Cultural Curiosity Music, Art & Cuisine tour is like no other Hadassah tour. And you know…nobody shows Israel like HADASSAH shows Israel! Learn about the Home of Your Heart.