Sunday, June 1, 2014

Israel so far: Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Israel so far: Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Though we have only been in Israel for five days now I have already had so many wonderful experiences! Thursday was the first full day in Tel Aviv and as a group we went on a guided tour of the old city of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Our tour guide, Clara, was extremely nice and knowledgeable and did a fabulous job of seamlessly weaving history and legend into her tour.
Clara and another student, Eliza, helping us orient ourselves on top of the hill in Jaffa that overlooks the old port and Tel Aviv.

While many students in our group preferred Tel Aviv, I was enamored by the old city of Jaffa. The city dates back to biblical times and was the main port for Israel centuries before Tel Aviv was established in 1909. Every building seems to have a story behind it and every corridor takes you on a journey through history. While the promenade along the ocean can be very busy, you can always find a quiet alley to stroll through that allows you to connect with the city and its history. Though Jaffa has now been incorporated into Tel Aviv, the two cities are extremely different. The buildings in Jaffa are made of large sandstone blocks with the traditional arches and cobblestone walkways.

The stairway that takes you from the old port in Jaffa into the old city.

Strolling through the corridors in the old city.

On top of the hill in Jaffa.

A museum on top of the hill in Jaffa.

As I mentioned, one of the best aspects of Jaffa is its history. Therefore, I would like to share one of my favorite discoveries with you now: the House of Simon the Tanner. In this house, Simon the Tanner hosted the Apostle Peter and it was here that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and had his famous vision in which he was commanded to eat animals previously regarded as unclean in the Jewish tradition. When he refused, he heard a voice saying, "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (Acts 10:15). Peter interpreted this vision as divine permission to forgo the Jewish commandments and preach Christianity to Jews and pagans alike. This was a pivotal turning point where Christianity evolved from what was considered an esoteric sect of Judaism to a worldwide religion. The House of Simon the Tanner is considered one of the most important places for Christians in Jaffa.

Corridor leading to the House of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa.

The House of Simon the Tanner.

I enjoyed Jaffa so much that during our free day on Saturday while everyone else was at the beach I walked alone along the promenade from Tel Aviv to Jaffa. The promenade follows the shoreline and takes around 30-45 min. to get to Jaffa. I went about an hour before sunset and I was able to stop in Jaffa and watch the sun sink into the ocean while the street lights and music began to fill the old city. It was amazing how different Jaffa became at night. It was full of life, lights, music, and laughter. All together I walked about 6-7 miles and though I was exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel it was the most amazing experience of the trip so far. Being alone helped me to connect to my surroundings in a way that I had not been able to with the group. I felt very safe and experienced no problems even though I was alone and didn't speak any Hebrew or Arabic.

Beginning of the promenade in Tel Aviv near our hotel.

The promenade along the shoreline with Jaffa in the background.

Stopping to watch the sunset on the shore.

A busy square in Jaffa where children were playing, people were eating, and music filled the air.

A monastery on the hill in Jaffa with street lights that adorned each walkway.

Lastly, I would like to share with you my experience at the Carmel St. market (the Shuk) and some of the amazing food we have experienced so far. The Shuk Ha'Carmel is a large, open-street market a short 15 min. walk from our hotel. The Shuk had everything from small trinkets and souvenirs to fresh produce and clothes. The prices were pretty reasonable, especially compared to the normal tourist stores near the beach, and if you enjoy haggling you will love the Shuk! While the market can feel a bit overwhelming due to the number of people and the heat, it is definitely worth the trip. 

The entrance to Shuk Ha'Carmel.

Some of amazing produce being offered in the Shuk.

Amazing marinated olives! A must try!

Dried fruits and spices, the scents of which filled the streets. 
Baklava and other delicious desserts being offered.

Fresh breads and pitas made right in front of you!

In short, my experience in Tel Aviv and Jaffa has exceeded all of my expectations! Each day and each neighborhood has offered a new and unique experience. Today we arrived in Jerusalem and I am excited to discover the secrets of this city as I did in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Just by looking at the campus and the views of the city down below us I know I will not be disappointed!


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