A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Zichron Ya'akov Israel: Romance and Restaurants

Seeking Romance in Israel

I am still seeking true love in Israel. It is a challenge but also fun and interesting. My latest adventure involved a woman from Zichron Ya'kov. "Zichron" is a small town about thirty minutes by bus from my home in Haifa. There are roughly thirty thousand residents, of whom many native English speaking olim or immigrants. It is a quaint community known for its great restaurants, rustic scenery, and historic sites. There are also wineries in the region which were established in the 1880s by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. Zichron was the first Moshav or cooperative community founded in Israel.

I tried my luck with one of Israel's dating services. My first referral from the dating service was last month. Her name was Anat, a woman in her fifties from Zichron.

I contacted my new friend Anat by phone who suggested that our first meeting be for coffee at Mol Zichron which is an outlet mall about six miles from the town itself. Anat was from New York originally but has lived in Israel for thirty years. She turned out to be a pleasant looking sort in with bright red hair. We discussed her career as a social worker and her six grandchildren, I told her a bit about myself and suggested that we tour her community. The city has a famous Midrachov or founders street that houses many highly respected restaurants, small gift shops, wineries, and museums. It was late September therefore the weather was fairly cool. The Mediterranean skies were clear and blue. It was a great day for a Tiyul or tour and my quest for romance.

Anat hesitated for several minutes started to stutter and added that we have a problem. I could feel my sense of rejection arising again. Had I failed once more in my search for true love?

"I am in a relationship" stated Anat. "That is why that I suggested that we meet at the Mul." Anat explained to me that she was in a six year relationship with a wonderful man from Tel Aviv. "I wanted to meet you at the Mul as I am very well known in the community," added Anat. She explained to me that she cared for David but that the relationship was stale and seemed to offer little future. She was also terrified at her age to try someone else. Economic security was her main concern. David helps her with her bills and really is a friend. Life is difficult anywhere for those over fifty especially women in Israel. Sadly, age and gender discrimination are facts of life in the Jewish homeland. Women are expected to serve in the military in Israel but often receive less pay than men for the same job in the workplace. Women also face the other traditional forms of harassment at work that are common in many societies.

Anat and I talked for several hours about her six wonderful grandchildren, all residents of Zichron, her experiences as citizen of Israel, and about my favorite topic, food. She gave me a list of restaurants to try for dinner in the town and a referral to a wonderful single British immigrant named Jane. I have met with Jane three times since then and I have two new friends.

I went on to eat a great dinner and to tour the town. Two of the moshav's original buildings have been turned into history museums: Beit Aharonson - dedicated to the history of the pre-state NILI underground resistance organization - and the Museum of the First Aliya (wave of immigration to Israel). All these and more make the "Midrachov" an interesting and charming place to visit.

From its early days, Zikhron Ya’akov was a center of Israel's wine industry. The moshav's founding farmers cultivated vineyards and the large winery built here in 1889 became the area’s most important industry. The winery (now owned by Carmel Mizrahi wineries), has a visitors center with free guided tours. The restaurants are my favorite part of the community, which I plan to visit often.

Posted by eshugerman 12:07 Tagged travel dining israel haifa wineries romance zichron ya'akov Comments (0)

The Haifa International Film Festival

films in Israel

The Haifa International Film Festival is an internationally known event that is held annually. Each year, contestants from all over the world present their films. The event is hosted by the city of Haifa, and screenings are distributed throughout different civic centers in the city. Nearly two hundred films are presented. Many of them are by Israeli film makers.

The festival has originally started in 1983, and was the first film festival in Israel; It is is held prior to the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is also considered Haifa's primary social and cultural event, and draws visitors from throughout the world.

The event is held at the Haifa auditorium, which is located in the Carmel Center of Haifa. The Center is both a residential and upscale business area that has many of the cities' top grade hotels including the world famous Dan Panorama Hotel. One of the area's main parks is Gan Ha'em in Haifa, which is a zoo, a city park, and a well known place for socializing. The park has a big stage upon which musical concerts are performed. There are also lectures and activities associated with various holidays, political activists also use the park for their forums. The Bahai Gardens are just a walking distance from the center and there is a wonderful view of the sea from the area. I live in the "Mercaz" five minutes by foot from the Auditorium, two minutes from the Gardens and across the street from my beloved zoo. Transportation is excellent in Israel, therefore I as well as many Israelis do not own cars.

The Haifa International Film Festival attracts a wide audience of film-goers and media professionals from Israel and abroad. Throughout the week special screenings are held of 150 new films. Apart from movies screened around the clock at seven theaters, the festival features open-air screenings. Film categories include feature films, documentaries, animation, short films, retrospectives and tributes.

The Board of Directors is composed of film and culture professionals and public figures. The festival is underwritten by the City of Haifa, the Ministry of Education, the Israeli Film Council, and the European Union, as well as commercial companies.
It is not really an old tradition – the first stars with the names of outstanding Israeli actors were embed into the pavement in front of the Haifa Cinemateque in 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the Haifa Film Festival. Whether the obvious analogy of the ceremony with the Hollywood Walk of Fame is cute or embarrassing is for you to decide, yet it has taken place each year since, and became somewhat of a link between the international Film Festival and the city which hosts it.

Haifa Cinémathèque - Cinema in Haifa is not just a major entertainment of the city, but it is sincerely practiced as a form of art. Hence, apart from the commercial flicks that are popular everywhere, the people of Haifa actually appreciate well made movies or even art films. A major platform for showcasing this kind of cinema is the Haifa Cinémathèque of Haifa. This one of a kind establishment is a major center of art and culture in the city and is surely a must visit.

Located in the James de Rothschild Cultural and Community Center, the Haifa Cinémathèque of Haifa, has been providing the Haifa audience as well as the tourists with opportunities to view some great movies since 1975. Adding to this is the absolutely laid back ambiance of the movie hall, which creates just the atmosphere for some good viewing. Another wonderful thing about the Haifa Cinémathèque is the variety of movies it screens. In just a day you can see about three movies, all from different parts of the world. It is thus the ideal place for viewing the best of international film making also. You would not also have to worry if the movie is in some other language because most of them come with English subtitles. Moreover, the Haifa Cinémathèque showcases several classics and even remakes of classics. Making an interesting compilation with it are also the various modern works.

This year I saw several films but the one that stood out was Student a remake of Crime and Punishment. Based on the classic novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Student unfolds in modern Kazakhstan. The film's protagonist is The Student whose major at the university is philosophy. He rents a basement room from an old woman living in the suburbs and suffers from loneliness and a permanent lack of funds. The atmosphere of poverty and the teaching of social Darwinism begin to affect him. He decides to commit an act of random murder, to kill the owner of a shop, and has to learn the influence of conscience. When he falls in love with a girl he has to take responsibility for his actions. I remembered the foolish things that I did as a youth to prove my courage and during. The actors in this film were amateurs which was an interesting twist.

The film's director Darezhan Omirbaev was born in Dzhambul, Kazakhstan in 1958. In 1980 Omirbaev graduated from Kazakh State University with a degree in Math and in 1987 from VGIK in Moscow with a degree in Film History. He's worked as an editor at New Film magazine, and currently lectures at the Kazakh Academy of Arts. Omirbaev's new feature, Student, was presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Festival and marks the third participation for the Kazakh master. In 1998, his film Killer won the Prix of the Un Certain Regard and in 2001 he again participated in this section with his The Road.

I attended the film with a wonderful friend named Eugena, She was born in Moscow but lived in Kazakhstan for several years as a youth. Eugena and her family immigrated to Israel in 1970. She still has relatives in Kazakhstan. She and I went to coffee after the film and discovered that two of the servers are immigrants from the same country. The international flavor of live in Israel is still exciting to me. We heard fellow patrons speaking several languages which is a common occurrence in Israel. Some may have been visitors to the festival but I am sure that many are local residents.

One of my fellow diners asked us in perfect English if the cafe had wireless connections. Eugena and I were speaking Hebrew but my American accent is hard to miss. The young man proceeded to inform us that he was a visitor to the festival from Moscow, and whose profession is producing Jewish film festivals in Russia!

Posted by eshugerman 04:53 Tagged travel festival israel film haifa Comments (0)

Burgers But Not Fried Chicken in Haifa

Food in Israel

Visitors to the modern Jewish state no longer need to ponder the old question: "will we eat well during our trip"

The limited choice of restaurants in the early years of austerity and struggle in the land of Canaan have long since given way to the selection of hundreds of top quality restaurants ranging from American fast food mainstays such as McDonald's to finer quality restaurants that offer culinary choices from all over the world. The Baal HaBayit or owner of my apartment building also owns a wonderful Chinese Restaurant in Haifa that can be compared with any in which I have eaten. I have a deal worked out with them to get quality dining as part of our rental agreement. The cook is from Moscow and many of the servers are native Arabic speakers from our region. There is a Japanese restaurant and several mid-priced cafes with three blocks of my home in the "Mercaz" section of Haifa.

"Dependable" is the reassuring thought for those teenagers or adults who can't afford the high-priced choices at the better quality restaurants. Immediately next door to us is our local McDonald's -- there are now half a dozen or so in our community. Therefore visitors to our community from America can enjoy the same high-cholesterol junk foods and feel like they never left home. While McDonald's operates several Kosher and non-Kosher restaurants, all the meat served in the restaurants is 100% kosher beef. The difference is that the non-Kosher branches open on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, in addition to serving dairy products. A kosher McDonald's was also opened in Argentina, at the Abasto de Buenos Aires shopping mall. Argentina and Israel are the only branches in the world that barbecue their burgers on charcoal. I do not taste the difference and nobody else seems to notice as well. The menu is the same as big Mac in America without including native cuisine. Prices are higher due to local food costs. The service is great at my neighboring McDonald's even though two of the cashiers admonish me to eat healthier: "This type of food is not for people your age, sir". That hurts, but they mean well. Israelis are very outspoken especially about health issues.

Most Israelis preferred Burger Ranch even before McDonald's and Burger King entered Israel. There are also higher priced burgers available at local cafes and restaurants. My two favorites in Haifa are The Sinta Bar and Habank. Both are mid priced and great places for burgers and other delicacies.

Burger Ranch (Hebrew: בּורגראנץ׳‎) is an Israeli fast-food chain. In 2010, the Burger Ranch chain included 107 restaurants with over 1500 employees, competing primarily with McDonald's Israel. They have a branch at our central bus station and therefore I am a fairly frequent visitor. Burger King has a location in Haifa. I do dream of my beloved Wendy's, especially their Chill, and of course Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Chili and American style fried chicken are not often found in Haifa. KFC locations do exist in other parts of Israel and many Palestinians adore the cuisine as well. That brings us to my favorite experience in my five years as a newcomer to the land of Canaan.

I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith activities in Israel.
Run4Unity was held here in the Holy Land on May 13, 2012 in the natural landscape and archeology of Caesarea Maritime. There were more than 400 boys and girls between the ages of 12 to 17, from the Palestinian territories and cities of Israel. The participants were Christians, Muslims and Jews.

This event is organized by the Focolare. The Focolare Movement which is an international organization that promotes the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood. Founded in 1943 in Trento, northern Italy by Chiara Lubich as a religious movement, the Focolare Movement, though primarily Roman Catholic, now has strong links to the major Christian denominations and other religions, or in some cases, with the non-religious. It is also called the "Opera di Maria," or "Work of Mary". The Focolare Movement operates in 182 nations and has five million members. It is the largest Catholic outreach movement in the world.

Run4Unity, last held in 2008, involved more than 100,000 young people from 9 to 17 from all over the world. Participants were young people of different ethnicity, cultures, and religions, all running to give witness to their commitment to peace and unity by crossing many of the planet’s significant places.

I volunteered to be one of the security guards during the period of time prior to the beginning of the organized events. I happened to hear three of the young people communicating with each other in perfect English. They were dressed in the uniforms of the activity. Participation from English speaking countries is rare in this region. I asked them where they were from and they answered in unison and with great pride that "We are Palestinians from Ramallah." Then they proceeded to tell me that they had lived in Indiana for many years, which explained their wonderful grasp of English. We discussed in length my favorite topic, which of course is food. We all reminisced about Mexican Food, Wendy's, barbecue spare ribs, and of course burgers.

They proceeded to add this statement; "We have visited Haifa which is a primitive place". I hesitated and thought it best not to respond. The rules of these activities strongly admonish political discussions. They quickly added to my relief that "You do not have KFC in Haifa", with great glee, KFC opened a branch in Ramallah in February becoming the first American fast food chain to directly open a location in the Palestinian territories. We proceeded to eat Pizza, drink Coca Cola, and enjoy the wonderful event. Food is indeed the universal language.

Posted by eshugerman 01:01 Archived in Israel Tagged travel king israel kfc haifa burgers palestinians mcdonald's burger focolare Comments (0)

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