A Cultural Awakening At The Crucible Of Faith Jerusalem, Israel

24th October 2018

With the focus firmly on religion and conflict in the media, you might question whether Jerusalem is an ideal tourism destination for your next holiday. I would arguably say it is a more alluring destination than any of the nearby Middle Eastern destinations with its unique history married with a growing modernity and a vibrant culinary and art scene.

Accommodation is both varied and plentiful in the holy city from the boutique variety at Villa Brown Hotel, which evokes a sense of colonial nostalgia in this former 19th-century villa to the extravagant and historic, King David Hotel, which has hosted countless presidents and historic events. To this day, they still have the exact table where the Israeli-Jordanian peace accord was signed. For those who enjoy contemporary and sleek designs, there is the Mamilla Hotel with a lobby filled with impressive artwork and a rooftop terrace that is the place to be seen in Jerusalem and to enjoy top of the range cocktails which can be made to order.

With the popularity of Palomar in London, Jewish food has been very much in vogue in recent years, so a visit to Mahane Yehuda Market “The Shuk” should be your first port of call and ideally coupled with a cookery class with the talented team from Tali Friedman. She is a legendary chef that has helped to build the area's reputation since the old days of terrorist attacks and really helps to form a strong bond with the community over their mutual love for great food irrespective of your nationality, race or religious beliefs.

They offer a guided tour of the market where you can sample the best tahinis in town (including chocolate-flavoured ones) and the best burekas in the whole of Israel in the form of “The Wisdom of Burekas from Haifa”; their burekas are baked in-house daily using canola oil and an extra special dough.

The cookery class is in a spacious building including a rooftop terrace overlooking the hustle and bustle of the market where you can enjoy a glass of sparkling wine after your hard efforts in the kitchen. The ingredients don't get any fresher than coming directly from the market, as witnessed by dishes like sea bass ceviche with fresh mango. A lot of the ingredients aren't necessarily local to the area, but they've shown a real panache at combining the best of different cultures.

This was also in evidence when we visited Biratenu for a beer tasting tour. The craft brewery scene is thriving in Israel led by entrepreneurs from the likes of Biratenu. Essential ingredients for the beer like hops, grains, and water are not in abundance in Israel but they've shown real ingenuity to create some popular brands and the biggest beer festival takes place in Jerusalem.

Throughout the city, you can see many signs of how food, art, and culture are bringing people together. If you take a visit to Hutzot Hayotzer, an arts and craft lane to the west of the old city walls, you will see an area that has been transformed. Between 1948 and 1967, the area was a no-mans land between the Jordanian-held Old City and the Israeli-held West Jerusalem. Nowadays, it has the best vegetarian restaurant in town as well as many boutique shops. Sadly, Segways are still not legal on public roads in the UK, but forward-thinking Jerusalem has embraced this new mode of transport which is perfect for sightseeing. You can visit the first Jewish neighbourhood outside of the old city walls as well as many scenic green spaces.

Tradition and religion do still play a key role in this historic city and tours can be arranged to visit Ultra-Orthodox communities such as Mea Shearim to see what life is like for the locals.

Although, you should reserve at least 2 days to pay homage to the iconic sights of humanity, whether you are a religious person or not. Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been a major site for pilgrims as it is regarded as the site where Jesus was crucified along with the tomb of Jesus. Whilst the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock are sacred to the Jewish and Muslim communities respectively. What is so remarkable, is the fact all these sites are literally metres away from each other and nowadays seems to have found a peaceful coexistence.

If you want to have an Indiana Jones-style adventure, then head to the City of David tunnel tours, where you can walk through narrow caves in knee-high water, as this was reputedly where the water supplies were back to the time of the prophets. Although, this isn't one for those who suffer from claustrophobia. There are no documents quite as sacred as the dead sea scrolls and they are on permanent display at the Israel Museum along with other valuable art and archaeological relics. They also have sections devoted to modern art as well as temporary exhibitions that cover topics like Israeli fashion over the years.

The people of Jerusalem have shown a real talent for preserving the rich history of the city whilst bringing a distinct sense of modernity to Jerusalem. This is very much in evidence at the Night Spectacular Sound & Light Show; as 4,000 years of Jerusalem history is projected onto the historic walls of The Tower of David. You almost fear they are trying to ‘Disneyfy' the experience during the 45-minute show, but it is a life-changing experience, which is educational, entertaining and deeply moving. The message of peace at the end did strike a chord with me and you have to think they are achieving ever-lasting peace by bringing people together through a mutual love of food, art, and culture. The multi-faceted city of Jerusalem is a must-visit city for people of all race, religion, and beliefs.

The best way to reach Jerusalem is via Wizz Air. They started UK flights over 12 years ago and now operates 80 routes at 9 UK airports. The airline offers several flights on a daily basis from London Luton to Ben Gurion International Airport, with fares starting at £64.99 (one way, including all taxes, non-optional charges, and one small cabin bag). For more information about Wizz Air’s routes or to book, visit wizzair.com.
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