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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)

Visiting the Sea of Galilee!

Touring Israel

The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km in circumference, about 21 km long, and 13 km wide. Yes, the Sea of Galilee isn’t really a sea; it’s a fresh water lake. The Red Sea was actually the Reed Sea in the ancient world. The lake has a total area of 166 km and a maximum depth of approximately At 211.315 meters below sea level. It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake overall (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake).

The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south. Israel's National Water Carrier, built in 1964, transports water from the lake to the population centers of Israel/Palestine, It is the source of much of the country's drinking water.
The fact that the Sea of Galilee is actually a freshwater lake surprises many visitors and newcomers. I was one of those surprised. It is full of fish but fishing has been banned since 2010 due to fear of exhausting the population of marine life.

It is also a beautiful moderately populated part of northeast Israel that I love to visit.
It is a wonderful area for hiking, swimming and other outdoor activities.The Sea of Galilee is not only Israel’s main water source but it has a huge religious significance and a major touristic value for Israel. It is an area of mountains and beaches and terrific wildlife. I spent much of my life in Colorado and derive great joy from the area. My visits include both hiking, visiting holy sites, and dining in Tiberius.

One of the most marvelous aspects of my life in as a new Israeli citizen is that I can visit religious and historical sites that I only read about in The United States. The bus trip from my home in Haifa is two hours. I can route my trip to include a short stop in Nazareth and Acre and return home on the same day!

Judaism and Christianity trace much of their roots back to this region. I practice Judaism but like many Jewish Israelis thrill to visit the holy sites of other faiths. Many Israelis share my desire to study and understand the faiths of our neighbors. Twenty per cent of Israelis are Christians, Muslims, Druzes and others within the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war. Only Jerusalem is holier to the followers of Judaism and Christians flock to this region to walk the paths taken by Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that many Jews, Christians, and Muslims live together in Harmony in Israel amazes me. I came to this country five years ago unaware of the amazing blends of faiths and cultures that Israel is made of!

The Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) is situated in northeast Israel, near the Golan Heights, in the Jordan Rift Valley. The valley caused by the separation of the African and Arabian Plates. Consequently, the area is subject to earthquakes and, in the past, volcanic activity. The area is also subject to violent storms and torrid summer heat.
I learned the hard way during my first summer trips to always wear a hat and carry a large bottle of water. Public transportation in the area is limited. Therefore, I and my friends hire a private cab for our tours. The costs of such cab rentals are usually negotiable and the driver is often versed in knowledge about the region.

The modern name, Kinneret, comes from the Old Testament or Hebrew Tanakh "sea of Chinnereth".The name Kinneret may originate from the Hebrew word kinnor ("harp" or "lyre")), in view of the shape of the lake.

There are 35 species of fish in the Sea of Galilee today, including sardines and St. Peter’s fish, which I like to eat while we’ are there. Perhaps the “two small fish” Jesus turned into a feast for the 5,000 in John 6 were actually sardines from the lake.!

Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. Fishing was a huge industry. One of Jesus' famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people in Tabatha.

In 135 CE the second Jewish revolt against the Romans was put down. The Romans responded by banning all Jews from Jerusalem. The center of Jewish culture and learning shifted to the region of the Kinneret, particularly the city of Tiberias. It was in this region that the the so-called "Jerusalem Talmud" is thought to have been compiled. It became a great center of study and Jewish legal capital of the time.

Tiberias is the main city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (in Israel called the Kinneret), Established in 20 CE, it was named in honour of the emperor Tiberius. Tiberias is one of the four Jewish holy cities mentioned in the Talmud along with Jerusalem, Tzfat and Hebron.

The city of Tiberias became almost entirely Jewish since 1948. Many Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews settled in the city, following the Jewish exodus from Arab countries in late 1940s and the early 1950s. Over time, government housing was built to accommodate much of the new population, like in many other developing towns. Over time, the city came to rely on tourism, becoming a major Galilean center for Christian pilgrims and internal Israeli tourism. The ancient cemetery of Tiberias and its old synagogues are also drawing religious Jewish pilgrims during religious holidays.

The city was built by Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod, around 20 CE in honour of the Roman emperor, Tiberius. At first, Jews wouldn't live here because the city was built on an ancient burial ground, making it "unclean" according to Jewish religious laws. At the beginning of the 2nd century, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai came here for the healing waters of the hot springs. He performed a purification ceremony to sanctify the city, and it became the centre for Jewish learning and spirituality in Eretz Israel. The Mishnah was completed here and it is traditionally believed that in later years, the Jerusalem Talmud - despite its name - was compiled and edited in Tiberias.

Many Jewish rabbis and tzaddikim (sages) requested to be buried in this holy city. One of them was the great Torah scholar Rabbi Akiva, who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE and taught thousand of students. He was imprisoned and tortured by the Romans for supporting the Bar Kochba rebellion in 132-135 CE and was eventually killed. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (the "Rambam") has his tomb here. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Jews make the pilgrimage to their tombs. The tombs and adjoining sites strikingly simple to me as does the tomb of Elijah the Prophet in Haifa. Perhaps the greatest tribute that we can pay these great scholars is to pay homage to their deeds and acts rather than to the sophisticated surroundings.

Tiberias consists of a small port on the shores of the Galilee lake for both fishing and tourist activities. Since 1990s, the importance of the port for fishing was gradually decreasing, with the decline of the Tiberias lake level, due to continuing droughts and increased pumping of fresh water from the lake. It is expected that the lake of Tiberias will regain its original level (almost 6 meters higher than today), with the full operational capacity of Israeli desalination facilities since 2014. The city has lots of cafes, shops, and of course religious shrines. My friends and I enjoy wandering around the city and "kibbutzim" with the local residents. The city offers some nice hotels and guest houses.

Posted by eshugerman 09:47 Tagged travel israel jesus bible christianity galilee judaism Comments (0)

Brother Can You Spare a Million?

Life in Israel

I am writing this story from the perspective of a five-year American immigrant to Haifa, Israel. Many of my years in America were spent on the beautiful Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. By many people's standards I enjoyed a quiet, idyllic life of peaceful serenity. Many of my thoughts and those of my neighbors-were filled with green surroundings, beautiful lakes, and regional wildlife. My life as an Oleh (immigrant) is certainly far from serene.Why did I make this dramatic change in my life? There are many reasons. The most important is that I firmly believe that the return of the Jewish people to the land of our roots is destiny. It is a destiny with spiritual, religious, social, and political implications that have already proven to have historical implications. Haifa was my choice of city in this incredibly complicated and diverse nation due to the beautiful scenery, balmy weather, and cultural harmony of this glorious metropolis. Haifa is located on the sea and hosts a wonderful tiyelat or boardwalk.

At some point in your first few months as a new immigrant in Israel reality sets in and challenges replace idealism. You realize that, even though your decision was the correct one, you still must overcome some hurdles that you hadn't expected before your sojourn to the holy land. My experience has been that dealing with the differences in culture are the greatest obstacles to overcome for new Olim to Israel. I have also learned that my prejudices are an obstacle for me as well. I brought a series of expectations of life in Israel that turned out to be very different than reality. Israel is a nation of seven million people from numerous social and cultural backgrounds. Twenty per cent of Israelis are Muslim, Christian, Druze and other faiths in addition to the Jewish citizens of this new nation. There are three national languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Russian is widely spoken.

Gossip is a favorite pastime of many Israelis. I learned very quickly upon immigrating to Israel to protect personal information with great diligence. The purchase of a new shirt can often be the subject of great interest in my community. My love life is shared with my closest confidants only, at times to my regret.. Judaism considers gossip spoken without a constructive purpose (known in Hebrew as an evil tongue, lashon hara) as a sin. All the tenants in your building know how much you earn and the size of your monthly payments. What will be the eternal fate of my neighbors!

Even though they teach you the word "savlanut" or patience, no one seems to have any. There is no shame in asking. You can negotiate a parking fine and generally get out of it. No one will refund your money, once you've parted with it, it is gone for good. Refunds, even at many large stores tend to be a difficult battle at best.

My greatest frustration in dealing with some of my new neighbors is the "all Americans are friars" mentality. Friar is the Hebrew word for sucker. The belief is shared by many Israelis is that all Americans are millionaires and easily part with their riches. In my five years in Israel, I've been asked to buy homes by non-owners several times. Strangers have begged me for loans on countless occasions with vows of poverty accompanied such pleas. Much of the time I discovered that my neighbors were far better off than I am financially. There have been many occasions that fellow diners in restaurants tried to stick me with every one's bills. I try to confront these obnoxious behaviors and always get the same response. "Your a rich American, what do you care!" I have come to learn with time that all French, Spanish, and Russians tourists and immigrants are rich also! I should have no difficulty meeting a nice and wealthy Jewish girl in this country.

I have given great thought and received much counseling on the subject of Friarism. I must remember that many of my new neighbors come from the most difficult backgrounds in history. Indeed, the old axiom that money is the root of all evil may also apply in Eretz Canaan. Perhaps the scarcity of natural riches in Israel concerns all of us. Let us blame Moshe or Moses for our errant behavior. Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against our famous forefather. He took us through the desert for forty years to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!

It might seem to the readers that I am frustrated or even angry at the spiritual nature of my new neighbors. I have learned to ignore the gossip and occasionally greed surrounding me. I try to remind myself that many of my new friends come from backgrounds where it was prohibited or even dangerous to speak openly or enjoy opportunities that we all take for granted. I have learned to truly appreciate the freedoms that I enjoyed in The United States and now enjoy in Israel.

"Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here." Thank you Golda Meir!

Posted by eshugerman 07:47 Tagged travel israel haifa hebrew Comments (0)

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