Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taste of Israel: Day 3

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It's day 3 of the Taste of Israel culinary tour! Today we started the day bright and early. We headed from our hotel in Tiberias to the Tabor Winery. Stretching along the foot of Mt. Tabor is a beautiful region of land known as "God's Little Acre." Patches of green, blue, brown and black are blended together on the vista similar to an artist's palette. In the 19th century, the French baron, Edmond de Rothschild, was taken by the unique setting of Mt. Tabor as an ideal place to grow grapes. Since then, for over 120 years, the village's residents have grown top grade grapes for the wine industry and marketed their produce to other wineries. Mt Tabor's summit stands at 562 meters above sea level and rises to a height of 400 meters about its surroundings. The summit stands out and can even be seen from remote places like the Galil and the Golan. Mt. Tabor has a nice history and tradition important to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. For one, it is believed by many Christians that is where the Transfiguration of Jesus took place.

Tabor Winery is considered a quality producer of wines. Its wines were enthusiastically received by the public and by 2005, they produced 300,000 bottles of wine a year, of which 40,000 were exported. Its Kosher Cabernet- Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz wines are all produced from the best vineyards of Kfar Tabor.

Photo courtesy of Zohar Fischer
After visiting the vineyards and the kosher winery where the grapes were crushed, juiced, and barreled, we had a wine tasting of 4 of Tabor Winery wines and a pomegranate sparkling wine. Paired with the wine were some delicious cheeses, crudités and breads. It was pretty early in the morning {before 10am I believe} so I didn't drink very much. However, what I did taste was some wine that had some good potential. Who knew the climate of Israel could make wine making feasible?!

After our wine tasting, we were back on the road to head to our next destination - Jerusalem. The ride was just under 2 hours and it gave us a chance to get some sleep and rest a bit. Millions of people turn towards this city in prayer every day. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, though not internationally recognized as such, and one of the oldest cities in the world. It is located in the Judean Mountains, between the Mediterranean sea and the northern edge of the Dead Sea. If the area and population of east Jerusalem is included, it is Israel's largest city in both population and area, with a population of 801,000 residents sprawled over an area of nearly 49 miles. Jerusalem is also a holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium  BC. In 1538, walls were built around Jerusalem and Suleiman the Magnificent. Today those walls define the Old City, which has been traditionally divided into four quarters - known since the early 19th century as the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel's parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court. Jerusalem is home to the Hebrew University and to the Israel Museum with its Shrine of the Book.

Once we arrived, we made our first stop at the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is the hill facing the old city of Jerusalem, on the eastern side of Kidron valley.  Its name came from the olive trees that once grew on its hillside from ancient times. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will appear here and bring the dead back to life. Therefore, the hillside became the most holiest cemetery, and the hillside is covered by thousands of grave stones, as seen in the lower right corner of the collage. The camel ride has been a famous landmark of this spot for many years, hence why he is so photogenic lol. On the left of the collage is a view of the Basilica of Agony or the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the new testament, this place was the site where Jesus had his last prayer before he was betrayed and arrested by the Romans.

After our panoramic view of Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, it was time to head inside the walls of Old Jerusalem. We entered through the Lions Gate, which is part of the Christian quarter. Here marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. Via Dolorosa ("Way of Grief" in Latin) is a road in the old city of Jerusalem, a path where Jesus was lead in agony, carrying the crucifixion cross. There are a total of 14 stations along this path, based on events that occurred on the way to the Golgotha hill, the site of crucifixion, which is located at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Eight stations are marked along the old city road, while 6 additional stations are places in the compound of the church.


Photo courtesy of Zohar Fischer

After learning more about Via Dolorosa, we got down to business and had a snack. A hidden gem within the Old Jerusalem walls is the Austrian Hospice where they make authentic apple strudel and ice coffee frappés. It was good to sit, take in the moment in the beautiful courtyard and enjoy the company.

Zing Yang & me enjoying the weather & anxious for the treats to come...

Photo courtesy of Zohar Fischer
I'm not sure why I'm laughing in the above pic, but then again, it doesn't take much to get me smiling or laughing....

Now that we had some iced coffee frappés to give us a boost, we headed into the Muslim quarter. There, we hit up a falafel stand that included fries inside your pita. Genius! I personally liked this falafel sandwich (sans pita) because it was more filling and who can say no to french fries?!

Photo courtesy of Zohar Fischer
As we made our way through the Muslim quarter, we went camera crazy with the various things we saw. The sheer amount of sweets and baked goods just out there in the open every few stands was so fun to walk past...
Photo courtesy of Zohar Fischer
And I was impressed with this pyramid of spices, so beautifully done. Definitely picture worthy...

The market within the Muslim quarter was full of sights, smells and sounds. But then, we made our way to a dessert shop for Kanafeh.

This is an Arabic pastry dessert made in a huge round, shallow pan. Thin buttered noodles (resembling shreds of phyllo dough) are placed in the pan and topped with a soft and creamy cheese. It's then top with more buttered noodles and garnished with a sweet breadcrumb topping. It's baked until the cheese melts perfectly and then just before serving, a sweet rosewater syrup is poured over the serving and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Yum.
Just when we had our fill of Kanafeh (and a little baklava too), there was more eating to be done. Next up, hummus. You can never have too much hummus while in Israel, especially because the hummus found here in the United States just doesn't compare. At all. Lina Restaurant provided us with a hummus tasting of three varieties - topped with toasted pine nuts, beans, and garlic. All of them were outstanding but of the three, my favorite was the toasted pine nuts. I loved the added texture the nuts provided. Now, there's an art involved in eating hummus. Dunking dippers into hummus is a faux pas. Instead, the proper way is to swipe the side of the bowl using your wrist to gather hummus onto your dipper. Have you ever noticed that authentic places serving hummus will spread the hummus on the sides of the bowl versus just placing the hummus in the bowl? The reason is because you must swipe your hummus! Need a video? Our friend Micha Jesselson demonstrates...

   

After all the delicious fun we had getting through the Muslim quarter, we found ourselves back in the Christian quarter. It was here where I had the most memorable and powerful moments of my entire trip... something I really wasn't prepared for and had nothing to do with food. We arrived at the entrance of the Church of Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most Holy sites in the Christian world because it is said to be the burial place of Jesus Christ. The 12th C structure is located on the traditional site of Golgotha (Calvary), the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus.

I grew up Roman Catholic and was extremely involved in my church at a very young age. I attended Catechism/CCD (religious education classes) regularly; served my church through music worship (singing in the church choir, playing the piano, violin and hand bells); and was a reader for weekend masses. I was baptized and confirmed through the Roman Catholic church. As I got older, my involvement in the church decreased but I remained very spiritual and faithful to my personal beliefs which I adapted from my upbringing. So when I entered the church, I had such a moment of reflection. It was so powerful for me that it brought me to tears. Thoughts of my upbringing, my faith, my life experiences and the unexpected journey that lead me to that very place at that very moment really moved me like nothing before. I have never felts so blessed until I stepped foot into the church and saw the beautiful history surrounding me. For whatever reason, I was meant to be there and I still get choked up thinking about it {like right now as I type this.}

On the left is the main entrance to the Church of Holy Sepulchre. After entering the doors, the hall opens to the southern hall. On the floor near the entrance lays the stone of anointing. According to tradition, the body of Jesus was laid on this stone after it was removed from the cross. The stone of anointing (unction) greets the visitors, who kneel, pray and kiss the stone. Above the stone are lamps, each donated by one of the denominations. And a beautiful wall mosaic is just above the entrance depicting the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.
 Reaching the place of crucifixion, the hill called Golgotha (Calvary), Jesus is nailed to the cross. The picture on the left is the Latin (Franciscan) altar on Calvary (place of the skull - Golgotha). Jesus is then crucified and dies on the cross. The four bottom pictures in the collage above is of the Greek Orthodox crucifixion altar. A silver disk with a central hole, underneath the altar, marks the spot where the Cross stood, and people kneel and kiss the spot, as seen in one of the photos. The silver icons of Virgin Mary and St John are on Jesus side.

The heart of the Holy Sepulchre is a round hall ("Rotunda"). Here, in the center of the circle, the tomb of Jesus is located in a smaller structure. The entrance to the tomb is through a narrow door. There is normally a queue to the enter the inner chamber. Thankfully the line wasn't very long and went quickly.  Once through the narrow door, the first chamber is called the Chapel of the Angel. A fragment of the blocking stone of the Sepulchre is stored here that folks touch, kiss, and/or pray on in passing. Behind the Chapel of the Angel is another narrow door which leads to a smaller chamber - the tomb of Jesus. A marble lid covers the tomb.The tomb fits about 4-5 people tightly but there is enough room to kneel and pray.

After such a moving moment for me, we went on to check out the Judaism quarter. There, we went to the Western Wall. The Western Wall, or the Kotel, is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. It is the last remnant of their Temple and Jews from around the world gather here to pray. The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount.  Known in recent centuries as the "Wailing Wall," this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. Three times a day the Jewish people pray (morning, afternoon, evening) and they do so with phylacteries tied around their forehead and wrist and with the white and blue prayer shawls. It was a beautiful, wide open place and you can't help but feel at peace.
 After such a full day of drinking, eating, walking and spiritual enlightenment, we were ready to enjoy a special dinner. Machneyuhda Restaurant was one of my favorite restaurants during the trip, simply because the food was amazing and the energy of the restaurant was fun and vibrant! Machneyuda is an authentic Mediterranean market restaurant owned and managed by three Jerusalem chefs. The meal we had was outstanding. I loved that they were able to accommodate my gluten intolerance too.

They have an open kitchen where guests can see the chefs in action. We were lucky in that one of the head chefs came out to dance for our group. That got us all up and dancing {as did the Ha'arak, an anise liqueur, that we took several shots of.} Just when we thought we were having fun, the kitchen staff caught our attention. Before we knew it, the music in the restaurant turned up and a kitchen concert started in full force! So to end this full day 3 in Israel, here's a clip of the concert we received. It was such a fun {yet exhausting day}, I was happy to enjoy the comforts of the hotel to gear up for another day exploring Jerusalem. Taste of Israel: Day 4 is coming up!...

2 comments:

Dinner at Six Thirty said...

Beautiful photos! Looks like you had lots of fun!

Jennifer said...

Israel is so beautiful. I wish I got to see Jerusalem when I was there, but the people I stayed with wouldn't go there due to the fighting...this was in 2000. Oh how I miss some of the foods there...the best cous cous and hummus you can imagine!

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