Israel – A Cultural Melting Pot

By far the most stringent airport security that I’ve ever suffered was on my way in and out of Israel.
On my way in it was a barrage of questions.
Why are you traveling to Israel? Who do you know there? How do you know this person? What is their relationship to you? How long to you plan on staying? Are you a Muslim? Do you know any Muslims? Is the person you are visiting a Muslim? Have you ever been to a Muslim country? And tell me again why you’re traveling to Israel?
These questions were followed by intense stares, head scratching and furrowed brows. Then I would be asked politely but firmly to wait while a superior was summoned to ask me all the exact same questions….again.
It actually happened three times. Its true.
I made it through but if you ever do fly to Israel, give yourself plenty of time to get through this scrutiny and barricade or else you could miss your flight.

I landed in Tel Aviv and the airport was very grand and impressive. Tel Aviv itself was not what I was expecting. I always thought that Israel would be quite…I don’t know….religious.
You know, a church on every corner and not much fun to be had in terms of night life and café’s and bars etc.
I was very wrong. Very wrong indeed. Tel Aviv proved to be one of the most vibrant and sexy cities I’ve ever visited. The beaches were heaving with scantily clad bodies and the bars and night clubs were beating out hip hop. Sharona even told me that heterosexual men in Tel Aviv were a hot commodity.
The restaurants stayed open until late and the food was stupendous. I loved eating in Israel. Jewish people eat well. Very well.

Because I have always been into archeology and history I had to visit Masada. Here, 2000 years ago, perched on top of a mountain plateau was a fortress where 900ish Jewish Men, women and children resisted a Roman siege for weeks (or months, I cant remember) before eventually committing suicide rather than submit to slavery.
The fortress ruins are in great condition and one can still see mosaics, store house, cisterns, palace rooms and most chillingly, the very ramp the Romans built to roll their mighty siege engine up to, to complete the massacre.
To this day, huge round stone ballista balls that were hurled into the fortress by the Romans lie littered about within the fortress walls.
History tells how 10 Jewish men were selected to murder the remaining 900 odd Jews, before turning their swords upon themselves. Eeuw!
Masada is an eerie but awe inspiring place.

At the foot of Masada lies the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is incredible and I urge every man woman and child on Earth to visit it at least once. Did you know, that the surface of the Dead Sea lies 300 meters BELOW sea level?
I found that single fact quiet remarkable. I didn’t think that anywhere on earth was naturally 300 meters below sea level.
And its beautiful. So beautiful. The water is blue and so flat and oily as to appear a pane of glass. The horizon of the water’s surface in the distance and the sky melt into each other so as to create a disturbing mirage that makes one want to walk into it until you die of thirst.
When you wade into the water, the surface is warm and sticky but once you get just a foot or two down it cools wonderfully. The mud at the waters edge is smooth and squidgy and it stinks and I loved the stink. I squeezed big handfuls of pungent, sulfurous mud through my fingers and I massaged it into my hair.
On the banks lie huge mounds of salt. Great big blocks of the stuff.
It was an extraordinary place.

I loved Jerusalem too. I went to the ancient city of David and drank freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for a pittance. I got ripped off buying saffron in the Arab quarter (had to be done) and wore a little Jewish type skull cap (forgive me for not knowing the proper name of those funny little hats that they wear) to the wailing wall.
I didn’t wail but I was surrounded by those who did.

I laughed when Sharona took me to see Jesus’ tomb, crucifixion site and the site where he was apparently laid down to be washed or something.
All three locations were not more than 30 meters from each other and housed in the same building so as to make it easy for pilgrims and tourists alike. I mean really!
The route that Jesus was supposed to have taken through the city when he had a great big cross strapped to his back was marked out at each spot that he fell, and groups of pilgrims would stop off at each spot and sing a hymn.
One funny thing that I did see was a guy in a shop that just sold those funny little skull caps.
I watched him as I drank coffee trying on one after the other and looking at himself in the mirror but having to really drop his head down and train his eyes up or he couldn’t have seen what the thing looked like perched on the back of his head.
I was amazed that one of these….OK I’m going to look up the proper word…. kippah could actually be seen as a fashion statement.
Why not I suppose.

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem one afternoon Sharona and I happened upon a street party. It was quite something. Buxom women with cushions stuffed down their fronts to make them look even more breasty danced on balconies overlooking a busy street and a live band played energetic music. It all kicked off quite suddenly and young and old danced in the streets until, quite suddenly again, it was over.

It was a fitting end to my time there.

I had a fantastic time in Israel.
We did get stopped by the police once and by the army once and as usual was the barrage of questions, but it was OK really.
Sharona got us through with her charm and stunning looks I think.
I found out that in Israel one must take ones ID with you at all times. No big deal.

When I left though, I endured the most thorough bag search ever.
They found EVERYTHING. They unfolded each item of clothing, including my underwear and held it up to the light, perhaps so as better to see if it was freshly laundered or not.
I got quite hot under the collar actually.

Don’t be put off. Israel is terrific.

Ross Waters