Chats over good food is an edifying pleasure. While in Israel, our Vibe Israel group shared each meal. This reinforced my view on a favourite way to eat: when there are heaps of different dishes to try and everyone dives in and enjoys the feast over conversation.
The favourite meal I enjoyed while in the country was in a little restaurant set amongst the sea of gold buildings in Jerusalem. There’s something magical about the city; as I gazed over the sun-sparkled buildings during my first glimpse, I marvelled at the tranquil hues. Buildings in this holy city are made from Jerusalem stone (pale limestone, dolomite and dolomite limestone) which gives the city that unique golden glow. Interestingly, the current law in Jerusalem requires buildings to be covered in this particular stone, preserving the magical look and feel of the city, marrying the ancient and the new. The history of Jerusalem is far from tranquil which makes it even more fascinating, and I’ll explore that more deeply in another post. I believe there is a lot to learn from this amazing city about life, and faith, and humanity.
My First Look at Jerusalem.
The golden overtones of my bird’s eye view of Jerusalem were shattered as I made my way into the heart of the city, through the bustling markets. It reminded me of a geode rock; uniform on the outside and full of colour on the inside. Oh my, the markets! The food! The joy of it! I meandered my way through the streets, enjoying the sounds, smells, colours, and the happy hustle of lives full of industry.
Yishay Shavit, our guide from Da’at Educational Expeditions, explained that while the Jerusalem markets are extremely diverse — channeling influences from many cultures — he wouldn’t define them as a ‘melting pot’. The reason being, if you put items into a melting pot you’ll “end up with very boring ‘food'”. And there is nothing boring about Jerusalem. It may be a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them! Everyone has their place in this city, and the best hub to see this in action is the marketplace.
Residents in Jerusalem have a deep connection to the markets. It’s where parents take their children, and when children are grown with a family of their own, they shop here too. It’s about connection and heritage. As such, there’s an authenticity to the food, the market corners and folkish restaurants. I noticed a distinction between being immersed in the markets and the experience of a mall, or even a new restaurant; many restaurants here have been open for over 50 years, so again, there’s a continuance.
Trying halvah, a sweet treat that uses tahini as a base ingredient.
Carbs for days.
Let me take you – a walk through Jerusalem markets in a minute video.
The maze of produce-filled streets led me to a quirky place called Azura, located in the Machne Yehuda markets. Opened since 1952, Azura is a family-run restaurant that serves Middle Eastern inspired delicacies. The food. Was. Incredible. I find myself longing to eat there again. Yes! To tear a piece of bread and swipe it generously through a bowl of hummus. Over lunch I chatted Yishay about being a father, and the challenges parents face in Jerusalem. There’s a beautiful and terrifying complexity to Jerusalem I didn’t anticipate.
Yishay explained the intricate layers of society in Jerusalem do bring real and certain challenges to parenting, and yet those same elements produce an openness in his children, flexibility, resilience and depth of thought. The openness of the people I met in Israel surprised me, because it’s easy to wonder from the outside if the strong bonds of diverse traditions, histories and values held within the country would produce a narrow mindedness. The opposite was reflected to me in the people I met: they embraced discussion and didn’t shy away from the challenges that diversity brings.
It is something I’ve noticed about the people here which I explained further here. Israelis have knack for turning challenges into into assets. Observing how this value permeates throughout the culture made me think more deeply about how I tackle challenges, and particularly how I model this to my children. In a radio interview recently, David from J-AIR in Melbourne asked me why Israel had such a profound impact on me. What was it that imposed such significance? It’s hard to boil down the myriad of thoughts in my head into something concise; however my best attempt is this: Israelies lean into challenges and the consequences of adopting this quality is a strong resilience that I admire.
This idea of embracing challenges, of leaning in as such, has permeated into my conversations and actions now that I’m home. It’s amazing how rich a simple conversation can be over a casual but magnificent meal. You know: discussions over good food that challenge your thinking, leading to pondering threads that stay with you long-long after.
The food at Azura Restaurant.