Tales from Tel Aviv

CamelBy Natalie Friedman

The Journey Begins

Birthright is a ten day program for 18-26 year olds in which Israel’s greatest qualities are explored. These quick-paced ten days of the Golan Heights, Eilat, Jerusalem, Sfat and Tel Aviv gave me the opportunity to understand the history and culture beyond what I already knew. The abundance of knowledge from the Birthright tour guide is something I would not have received while traveling on my own.

After ten days of Birthright, without hesitation, I extended my trip in Israel for two months. My time alone was very different from my group experience with Birthright. I learned in unique and important ways during both time periods. In Israel, I kept a journal with one page for each day of travel. A few days before the trip, I excitedly headed each page with the weekday and date, promising myself that I would at least write a few words about each day’s events.

During my travels, I kept a scrapbook of writing, bus tickets, flyers for events I had gone to, logos from restaurant napkins, stickers from the hostel, drawings of friends, quickly-scribbled directions to get home, museum tickets, artists’ business cards, and my plane tickets from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. As the days went on, the tattered journal became an organized mess as quickly as it became more important to me.

Art Market in Tel Aviv

There were handmade journals at the lively artist walk that happened twice a week in Tel Aviv. I would buy more journals than I could fill with the desire and expectation of more adventures. The Art Fair on Nahalat Benyamin Street took place on Tuesdays and Fridays. While many people in the city rushed to the outdoor market known as Shuk Hacarmel, before Shabbat started (most everything closes from late Friday afternoon until Saturday evening), I would rush through the artist market. Artists from all over Israel would sell intricate one-of-a-kind jewelry, ceramic mezuzahs (a symbol of Judiasm placed on the door in a home), tiled challah boards, miniature ceramic statues, and stained glass for the garden (a perfect for gift for my grandmother).

Best of all, I bought a handmade journal coated with turquoise tissue paper that was “the wrong way” because Hebrew books read the opposite direction. On the front, there was a dream catcher with beads, and on the other side, a poem about dreams.  Each page held a string attached to a glass bead. In this journal, I would capture only beautiful places; the first thing I drew was Jaffa.  Much of the art in Jaffa focuses on the exquisiteness of the landscape rather than social issues in Israel. Here, my goal was to merge the beauty of my surroundings with the beauty of the journal.


Jaffa is a quiet, older, port city established in the 19th century next to Tel Aviv. I explored Jaffa several times throughout my stay in Israel. I could never find the same art gallery because of the town’s maze-like features. Walking between the cobblestone walls was an experience in itself. I often saw brides and grooms taking photos there. I would sit at the port, draw the boats, and drink my mint Wissotzky tea. Over the hill, as I sat in an amphitheater drawing in my new journal, a newlywed couple and photographer stood at the stage. As they paused for a photo, I drew the couple swiftly, over and over again.

Later, I walked along the roads in Old Jaffa through the narrow and high walls exploring the unique art galleries. Meeting with the interesting artists were some of my favorite moments. One team of artists in particular stood out to me. This team created felt art with spiked needles. After they wove the yarn into the burlap, 1400 needles compressed the burlap creating a flat texture. The designs include women in vibrant beautiful dresses, colorful birds, and impressionistic martini glasses. The lady at the gallery spoke to me in great length about their process and I was so delighted to hear each detail.

Sfeta, short for Sfetlana

At a bus stop in Tel Aviv near my temporary home, an older Russian woman, who spoke Hebrew, asked me about the bus times. The bus was late, so we began to talk about her family and her work. Next, she invited me to her house to help her make dinner. I walked to her house the next day and she taught me how to make a Russian type of ravioli called Pelmeni.

The whole process was unclear because of both of our broken Hebrew but it became slowly understandable from observation. She repeated “ תסתכל עליי” meaning “watch me.” I observed and drank delicious Wissotzky green tea. From scratch, she made a dough, sliced it up, flattened each piece with a machine, put meat in each piece, pinched the dough together and placed each piece into a pot of boiling water. Amazed with the process, I tried my best to help her.

After, I would be off to Netanya, an hour bus ride away. She prepared me with a yogurt, an apple and cake. She treated me as if I was family. I think this stemmed from her similar feeling as a foreigner. When I asked her about her move from Russia, she explained “בכיתי” meaning “I cried” implying that she was too emotional to speak about it. I think it was comforting for her to help someone like herself, a newcomer to a new place. Because of our Jewish connection, we felt linked.

Now, in the mornings at my house in Santa Cruz, I drink the Wissotzky tea, remembering the beautiful journey that I got to experience.

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