I just re-counted out 58 Israeli Shekels, the amount of cash I have left after my trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at the end of April. This is my incentive to go back to Israel and pay for a tuna salad at LalaLand on Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv. A salad is 58 IS (about £14.50!). But why the enthusiasm, you might ask? It is just a war zone? Or really dangerous? These comments couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I feel safer in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Go figure.
My first trip to Israel was to Eilat when I was a wee nipper. The Eilat sun got the better of me and I looked like a Puffa Fish within 24 hours. I had burnt three layers of skin and spent the next two days covered in Israeli yogurt. It took years for the skin on my face to tan properly again. Israel had literally “got under my skin”. Being obsessed with the sea and fish in general, I was mesmerised by the colour of the Red Sea; the reflection of the copper-laden red desert rock; the jewel-like fish and the ethereal beauty of the Negev Desert. And the yogurt was great – all flavours, from memory.
I can’t remember if I visited Israel during my early teens but I certainly do remember when I rocked up to Kibbutz Kalia, aged 19, full of heartbreak (my own doing, in the main), wearing my uniform of cut off jean shorts and a severe case of ‘North London attitude’. Kalia is situated by The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and right next to The Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I loved Kalia. So much so, I told my late mother I wanted to make Aliyah (move to Israel) and go into the Israeli Army. She blatantly said “no”. That was June… bless her. But I really wanted to do the Army and not just because the men were beautiful (LOL). I was genuinely drawn… maybe I was a Mossad agent in the making.
Kalia made sense to me. Living within a sensibly organised community where you ate well and lived extremely well worked for me. Work hard, play hard – amidst the backdrop of some of the healthiest air on the planet, due to the mineral-rich environment. I had learnt to speak and write Hebrew when I learnt English as a child so blending into an Israeli Kibbutz environment was an extension of my childhood. There was a lot of AHAVA (love) going on back in 1989, by the shores of the Dead Sea…
I went back to Israel numerous times after I left University in 1993: I did a sponsored ‘Walk for Water’ around the Judean Hills in 50 degrees of heat, for charity – breath taking but tough for a non-morning person to get up at 5am; I went back to Kalia on the bus from Jerusalem and travelled the length and breadth of the country (and also Egypt), replenishing my pot of ‘AHAVA’, both literally and metaphorically (AHAVA is a very good natural, internationally known beauty house). And each time I visit(ed), Israel has dug deeper into my layers of skin (no yogurt required, of late) and into my ‘Nefesh’ (Soul).
Tel Aviv, where I have spent most of my last four trips, is a powerhouse for technology (Google, Facebook and Apple have HQ’s there). As well as Tel Aviv being the new vegan capital of the world, it is a vibrant and surprising 24-hour fitness destination and the home of inclusive egalitarianism. Tel Aviv is also the new home of Gay Pride and the men and women are ridiculously beautiful, without the need for artificial enhancement or extensions of any kind. You might even see a Lady Boy or two if you are lucky!
Israeli’s take nothing for granted – they live life to the full. They value every breath as they are fully aware of some of the horrors of life through war and hatred. And whilst many people I know criticize Israel in relation to Gaza, I would urge you all to err on the side of caution. The situation is far more ‘opaque’ than you might imagine and not as easily simplified as oppression or genocide. Unless you have lived in Israel or been to Israel, be open to more than media images. But back to AHAVA.
This most recent trip was a right of passage for me. I discovered family I never knew existed; I honoured a relative who perished in The Holocaust; I connected with friends from both Junior and Senior School as well as from my time on Kibbutz Kalia; I couldn’t eat meat – my body rejected it and I ate cashew nut cream cheese that literally blew my ankle socks off. I cried. I laughed. I felt. I exhaled. I went to a vegan restaurant that is one of the best dining experiences of my life, I ate at my beloved LalaLand on Gordon Beach and I let the icing-sugar-like Tel Aviv sand fall through my toes. I felt like I was home. I wore my Star of David with pride – something I never normally do in London as I was attacked wearing it many years ago. I was bursting with ‘AHAVA’ and my ‘Nefesh’ was full.
Tel Aviv is a force to be reckoned with, for everyone. The City’s energy cannot be ignored – this is not about race, creed or religion, simply about energy. It rocks 24 hours a day: from the top of Tel Aviv Marina to the bottom of Jaffa Port, it is a small City with an enormous personality that will not be ignored. Wherever you go, people talk to you within nano seconds. Now aged 47, I believe that Israel, and particularly Tel Aviv, has penetrated all seven layers of my skin. Right to the bone. I cried when I left… people must have thought I was leaving behind a long-lost lover. I felt like I was. As I posted on Facebook, “… if Tel Aviv was a man, I would marry him tomorrow”. Tel Aviv replenishes my Soul (Nefesh) with overflowing AHAVA (Love). Never goodbye, always ‘Lehitraot’. 58 Shekels are ready and waiting for that salad at LalaLand…