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The Jewish Sabbath or Shabaat starts at sundown on Friday and finishes at sundown on Saturday. It's the most important day of the week and as we already saw downtown, shops and businesses closed well in advance of sundown as indeed did public transport. On Friday evening Jewish families sit down to what is definitely the most important meal of the week, the Shabaat dinner.
Via books and movies, I was familiar with the concept of this meal but in Jerusalem, thanks to the hospitality of VT member Gila Brand and her husband Haim, I experienced the real thing. Gila (bravely) extended an open invitation to VT members attending WorldMeet 2008 and eight of us ( including little Fossy ) accepted. So at this VT meet within a VT meet we got to have a truly delicious meal as well as a full explanation of all the rituals and traditions associated with the Shabaat dinner.
Haim began by reciting the blessing over the challah ( bread) and the wine and then we tucked in with Gila explaining the significance of some of the food we were eating. The meal started with apples dipped in honey and another short blessing which hoped for a sweet new year. Before the main course, we also ate figs, dates and pomegranates, all of these belonging to the seven fruits symbolising the land of Israel. Pomegranates are traditional for Rosh Hashanna, which is celebrated at the end of September and having looked for pomegranates to photograph since I'd arrived I was thrilled to finally get to taste one. Later in the meal Haim read a short piece from the bible in Hebrew and Gila gave us the English translation. We even attempted to sing some psalms which was a lot of fun.
This meal is all about family and we were delighted to meet Gila's mother-in law Mala and two of her sons Noah and Hanan. It was just as exhuberant and full of talk and laughter as I'd expected a Shabaat dinner to be. Especially tasty was the Kugel, a pudding made with batter and raisins. If we ask nicely Gila might include the recipe in the local customs section of her excellent Jerusalem page.
I have taken information from several of Gila's tips to write this account of our Shabaat dinner and if you are thinking of visiting Jerusalem or just wanting to get an insider's view of this fascinating city, you will get all the information you need on her keenly observed pages.
Thank you Gila, Haim, Mala, Noah and Hanan for a great meal, great fun and a unique evening and insight into the Jewish and Israeli way of life.
Updated Dec 12, 2008
In Israel, it is not customary to tip taxi drivers. Always ask them to put on the meter when you get in, or settle on some price before you start out. Otherwise they will insist on some outrageous sum at the end of your ride.
Tips are customary only at the hairdressers (you give a few shekels to the person who washes your hair) and at restaurants. I think 10-15% of the bill is about right, if you get decent service.
Updated Jan 5, 2005
Martin S pointed out this to me on Ben Yehuda Street and I was pretty puzzled because at first glance I actually thought this young man was having his blood pressure taken. He is in fact taking part in a religious activity, particular to Jewish males which consists of wrapping straps with small boxes round their arm and head. These tiny boxes contain little strips of parchment with prayers on them and reciting these prayers among other things is hoped to hasten the coming of the Messiah. To the uninitiated it seems slightly bizarre but around central Jerusalem this is quite a common sight. In the Lonely Planet guide to Israel I got the following explanation: 'These (straps) are phylacteries or tefillin - tefillin shel yad is the strap wrapped round the arm and hand and tefillin shel rosh is placed round the head. Ths shel yad binds the arm, therefore the body and the shel rosh binds the mind. The purpose is to remind Jews that the mind, heart and body are to be used for good and not evil. Tefillin are traditionally worn by men during the morning service, except on Shabaat and holidays.' It certainly adds to the local colour on Ben Yehuda Street.
Updated Dec 12, 2008
Martin S and his wife Zohara introduced us to this local delicacy during our time in the Old City. In the paper is a spice or combination of spices which you can buy from any of the spice sellers. Next you buy one of the gorgeous loaves (see photo 2) from the bread seller. Tear off sections of bread, dip in spice, put in mouth and chew vigorously. Hey presto, a delicious snack and something that the other tourists won't know about. Thank you Martin for sharing this insiders knowledge with us. And thank you Avi for emailing me the name of the spice. If you want to try this snack, then ask the spice dealer for Za'atar.
Updated Dec 14, 2008
When you purhcase anything from the shops in the old city of Jerusalem, or any of the tourist shops for that matter, you should bargin. Yes, it is almost a given and expected of you. The prices are jacked up in anticipation of bargining, so if you do not bargin you may be paying twice or more what the item is worth. Here you can see our daughter Tal giving Stacey and Carmen a hand with their bargining on olive wood products. They got about a 40% reduction if I remember correctly.
Written Oct 18, 2003
The Jerusalem Cross is the heraldic symbol of the city. It consists of a large “cross potent” or “crutched cross” (a cross with crossbars at all the four ends) surrounded by four smaller crosses. The one you see in my picture is made of wood, but in the coat of arms of the city the crosses are gold on a silver background.
There are several hypotheses about the symbolism tied to this cross. Most agree in considering the four small crosses as symbols of the four Gospels. Some think that the eight points of the central cross symbolize the eight Beatitudes, some think that the five crosses together represent the five wounds of Jesus.
Updated Sep 27, 2011
Every July hundreds of cinema lovers from all over the world come to Jerusalem for the annual Film Festival.
Most screenings take place in the Jerusalem Cinematheque, a perfect venue for an international film festival. The Cinematheque was built on the slope of Ben-Hinom Valley, opposite Mt. Zion and the Old City walls. It has four modern screening halls, a library, a restaurant and another small cafeteria, a terrace overlooking Mt. Zion and a lawn outside. Other screening venues include the bohemic Lev-Smadar cinema in the beautiful German Colony neighborhood, the historic Ticho House, the Begin Center and other halls in Jerusalem.
The program includes fiction, docemntaries and experimental films, and is a true celebration for film buffs (like myself)!
Written Jul 11, 2009
When arriving to the old city, to the wailing wall and the other places please make sure to be covered, especially Girls of course.
The Arabs in the Arab quarter and the religious Orthodox Jewish people lives and pray there as well as Christians.
When i Rome do as the Romans...
Updated Jul 23, 2006
A custom of many Arab men is to smoke the narghila pipe. This is basically a water pipe with really strong tobacco. If you smoke some, beware that you'll probably enjoy a temporary buzz, only to be followed by a headache.
I guess the Arab men have a strong constitution, because you'll see them clustered together in a cafe smoking their narghila and drinking mint tea or arabic coffee. You might also see them just sitting by the side of the street quietly puffing away as well.
Written Jun 25, 2005
Inside the walls and courtyards of Jerusalem houses you can find a world within a world. History, architectural gems, amazing stories of the past and present, artistic masterpieces and religious icons...
Many of these are hidden from the tourist's eye, but once a year (in September) many closed doors are opened for one weekend, the "Houses from Within" weekend (in Hebrew: "Batim mi-Bifnim"). Public buildings and private houses, religious and secular, in many neighborhoods of the new and the old city, can be visited (for free).
Some require prior registration for the free tours, some open their gates to limited numbers of visitors on a first come, first served basis, and some hold an "open house" event.
The whole event is organized and orchestrated by the Jerusalem Municipality, with many other contibutors. If you are in Israel on the appropriate weekend, this event is highly recommended.
Written Sep 20, 2009
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