Having accompanied me on my academic visits to several countries, my wife, Mrs. Amar Upasana Yakhmi had no doubt that next to her own country, she liked Israel best. She enjoyed her four trips to Israel immensely, the last one in 2015. Despite our advancing age, she was hopeful to visit Israel, just once again. Unfortunately, she died of a cardiac arrest in Mumbai on Oct. 8, 2022, at age 74.
My first visit to Israel was for two months in April-May 2009. I was a visiting Professor under the Lady Davis Fellowship scheme at Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, located at Haifa. My wife, Mrs. Amar Upasana Yakhmi, also accompanied me. First ten days of this trip were spent by us as the guests of the Weizmann Institute of Science, at Rehovot, and the remaining period at the Technion, Haifa.
Subsequently, there were three more visits by us to Israel, lasting 20 days to one month each, in 2010, 2013 and 2015, all hosted by the Weizmann Institute. One thing that stood out during these visits was that Upasana liked Israel immensely. Even though she had visited several countries like France, UK, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Japan, Dubai and Singapore with me, either before or after these visits to Israel, she had no hesitation in stating that she had the best of times in Israel.
I have often wondered what were the things that fascinated Upasana in a small country like Israel, which has a population of half of Mumbai city, where we live. I believe these were as stated below:
Upasana liked the ambience of the places that we stayed at, or visited in Israel. There were no crowds, unlike we have in Mumbai city. Flower plants beckoned us along pavements. Walking around was so relaxing.
Upasana loved the location of our apartment, shown above, because the city bus stopped just a few meters down the slope, and so she could watch young research students boarding or alighting, and would even communicate with them. Drip-agriculture has been adopted in the whole of Israel, as shown by the long plastic tubing in front of our apartment, and it was fun for Upasana to turn the water ON, and OFF, once done.
We were nostalgic about Haifa and about this apartment where we lived for 50 days. On a visit to Haifa during our 2013 trip to Weizmann, we were shocked to see that this dream apartment of ours no longer existed. It had been demolished to make way for construction of some more hostels for students.
On-campus ambience was good, and relaxing. Families could move about in the lawns of the institutes. Quite often a family or two, with children could be seen having a picnic-like lunch there. Upasana, too, brought packed lunch for both of us on two occasions, which we shared under the cool shades of trees at Weizmann campus.
At heart, Upasana was a home-maker. She was impressed to find that the apartments allotted to us, whether at Reisfeld Residence, American House complex, or Europe House complex at Rehovot; or at Technion campus in Haifa, or at Belgium Guest House at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, were all very well-furnished and comfortable.
Kitchens at all these apartments were also well-equipped with all gadgets for cooking, at hand. A graduate in Home Science from Lady Irwin College, Delhi, a prestigious institution, Upasana had a penchant for cooking and was delighted to indulge in that during our trips to Israel.
Culturally, Israel is close to India. It can be seen when one goes to the markets, or on a bus-ride, or to ancient monuments. In fact, just after finishing school and military service, several young Israeli boys/girls are known to make vacation trips to India to visit Uttarakhand, Varanasi, etc. to learn about India, Hinduism and the ancient culture of India, a country they admire.
Ease of Communication while shopping, etc.
Most people in Israel can and do speak English language. Upasana had fun going for shopping in Israel.
Most Indian groceries and vegetables could be bought in Israel. Upasana felt satisfied that her kind of vegetable dishes could be made while staying in Israel. She went alone, often for purchase of grocery items, when I was at the labs.
We had very hospitable hosts who made us feel at home, and took us out for dinners or sightseeing tours. That included visits to key monuments in Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa and Nazareth, and a visit to the Dead Sea.
Our host from Hebrew University, Prof. Israel Felner, took us on a whirlwind one-day tour of several historic monuments and relics of Jerusalem.
An ‘Angelic friend’, Mr. Angel H., drove us one morning to Tel Aviv, and then all the way to the Dead Sea, and delivering us back at our apartment in Technion, a trip lasting 10 hours! Upasana was delighted when he could convince the owner of the restaurant close to Dead Sea to make a vegetarian dish, specially for her.
During our visit to Israel in 2010, Dr. Ayelet Vilan, a research scientist from Weizmann Institute, took us on a visit to Negba, the Kibbutz, where she grew up as a child. We learnt about how a kibbutz works and is sustained successfully in Israel. We also visited the war memorial there, and a school .
We visited a very unique monument – the residence of the first President of Israel, Prof. Chaim Weizmann, after whom the Weizmann Institute of Science is named. He was a Zionist leader and an Israeli statesman. He continued as President of Israel until his death in November 1952.
The Weizmann House, as it is called, is located in a corner of the Institute, and retains all his belongings as they were at the time of his death. A guide takes the visitors around to explain about things.
It speaks volumes for the ongoing bilateral friendship and co-operation between the two countries, India and Israel, that the first President of Israel, Prof. Chaim Weizmann had kept only two photographs facing him in his study at his home, one of his wife, and the other of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President. Upasana was very impressed with this gesture.
1. J.V. Yakhmi, ‘Negba, a kibbutz with a war memorial’, Times of Israel Blog, April 3, 2022. [https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/negba-a-kibbutz-with-a-war-memorial/]