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Visiting Eilat, Dead Sea & The Negev (South)

The South in Israel conjures up images of the desert – the Negev and the Judean deserts, miles upon miles of desert with Eilat at the end as a modern oasis in the sea of sand.

So to clear up the first misconception, there is very little sand here, it is much more rocky, and although it has many large empty areas there are also significant examples of making the desert bloom  as per Ben Gurion’s vision (the first Prime Minister of Israel and a great visionary of utilising the desert).

There are some significant tourist sites, Dead Sea, Masada, Sede Boker, Ramon Craters, Timna Park and Ein Avdat to mention but a few. Of course there really is Eilat at the end of the road. It does appear as a modern oasis in an ancient desert, and offers a real vacation resort. It also has water sports, desert treks, a Dolphin Reef (where you can view and  swim with the dolphins) and coral reef diving.

It is no longer necessary to travel by camel (although you will still see a few) – there are roads. The most significant is Road 90. Please be careful, although the distances are not large in European terms, the roads are mainly single lane and the combination of heat, long tedious straight sections and some freight lorries make these fairly accident prone roads. You will for the same reason; often see police speed traps and patrol vehicles out and about. After rain sections of the road maybe closed; please do not ignore the closures – the flooding can be very dangerous; in the best case you will be hauled out by a helicopter.

If you happen to be around after significant rain; take a desert trip and see some of the flash floods and how the desert changes colour.

Israeli Wine Update

Israel’s mostly-cooperative climate; new, quality grape varieties; and the expertise of young winemakers who’ve studied abroad, add up to up to a wine revolution.


Noah may have started off on the wrong foot when he planted his vineyard in Israel, but at least his descendants are getting it right. Around the world, Israeli wines are winning prizes and accolades, which is intoxicating news indeed for local winemakers.  Top American wine maven Robert Parker says, “The wines are getting better all the time and some of them are superb.” Wine magazines like Wine Spectator write “…Quality is on the upswing” and leading wine critics – and just plain folks looking for something to drink with dinner – are discovering that Israeli wines aren’t just for Friday night Kiddush (blessing) anymore.


So what’s changed since the average bottle of Israeli wine was a sticky, syrupy non-experience? (Which is an apt description of the wine produced by the Carmel Winery when it was founded by Edmond James de Rothschild in 1882.) Plenty. Both in terms of knowhow and the unbridled Israeli passion for winemaking.  Zichron Yakov was the first location in Israel where Carmel Winery began making wine.


Daniel Rogov, resident wine and restaurant critic at the Hebrew-language Ha’aretz daily says of the industry today: “We have a retinue of winemakers who are internationally trained and internationally experienced, some Israeli-born, some not. We have world class winemakers and that’s very important.  “Second, the wineries have gone really state-of-the-art. The big and medium wineries all have very modern facilities, and all the techniques for making very fine wine. Third, and most important, we are learning more and more and developing our vineyards better in terms of technology,” says Rogov.  Three years ago, he points out, Mark Squires, who writes for Parker, visited Israel and wrote about our wines and gave them a great deal of praise. “Some 13 or 14 wines scored over 90, which [means they are] really outstanding wines,” Rogov says.


From Rothschild to ribbon-winners

Whether it’s on the wind-swept hills of Israel’s Golan Heights or the low-lying lands of the Negev, there’s a branch of a major winery or one of some 200 or more independent, boutique wineries in operation. Carmel Winery‘s wine development director Adam Montefiore notes: “Israel has joined the world of quality wine producers, and added to its history in this area, which is as long as anyone’s.”


A quality wine “…has to have good balance between all its elements – the fruits, the tannins, the woods have to be in fine balance,” Rogov explains. “For it to be a good quality wine, it also has to have what I call a good structure; that it’s built so that it will last for more than just a short period of time – it will cellar nicely for a minimum of five years, in some cases 75-80, but not with kosher wines. And third of all, one of the axioms I subscribe to is: Not all wines have to be great, but all wines have to give the drinker pleasure.”


“It’s in the eye of the beholder,” says Montefiore. “What I consider a quality wine differs from what you or your wife thinks. Wine is like music – everyone can choose what they want. Some people like basic music, some people like Bach. Some like rock or hip hop… So basically a wine that’s tasty to someone is a good wine. And it’s the variety of wine that makes it so interesting.”


Citing success at growing grapes at higher altitudes like in the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights and more recently the Judean Hills; Israel’s mostly-cooperative climate; the planting of new, quality grape varieties; and the expertise of young winemakers who’ve studied abroad, Montefiore isn’t surprised by Israel’s achievements. “Add to that the desire of the wineries themselves to make better wines and the current increase in the pursuit of quality and it adds up to a wine revolution,” says Montefiore.


“Revolution” is a word he frequently uses to describe various turning points in Israel’s wine-making history, beginning with Rothschild’s early efforts and culminating with his Carmel and other large wineries that are competing with the production of high-quality wines by the country’s smaller boutique wineries.

It’s a winner’s revolution as well, at least based on Carmel’s September triumph. One of its wines won the Decanter International Trophy, a prize considered the “Oscar” of world wine awards. His company’s Yatir boutique winery was also cited by Parker, “the highest possible third party recommendation,” Montefiore insists. “When someone like Parker tastes Israeli wines and says they are good, then its official.”


Indeed, when Parker first reviewed Israeli wines in 2007, he awarded 14 of them more than 90 out of a maximum 100 points (world-class). Meanwhile, UK wine critic Oz Clarke included two Israeli wineries, Domaine du Castel and Yatir, in his Pocket Wine Book 2010. Clearly, Israeli wine has earned a place at the table alongside other outstanding international wines.

Israelis need “wine education”

That’s pretty amazing in a country where Rogov notes “people still drink Diet Sprite with their meal when they dine out.” So there’s plenty to teach Israelis about the value of good wine. “I’m not saying that we’ve arrived,” says Montefiore. “I’m saying we’re on a journey, and if we look where we were some 20 years ago, and we look where we may be in another 20 years, it’s very exciting.”


Some new trends in Israeli wine-making include planting more vineyards at higher altitudes like the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights and Judean Hills. Old vineyards are being re-used to produce better-quality wine, and Israelis are becoming bigger fans of sparkling wines, both cheap and expensive.


Both in general and specifically, regarding Israel and consumers of kosher wine, Rogov notes three distinct new directions: “Number one is going from low quality to high quality; number two is a move to preferring red wines over white wines. Another direction, in Israel and with consumption of kosher wines in general, is people drinking more wine because they recognize this as part of cultured life,” not necessarily involving ritual, he adds.


Montefiore insists, however, that currently the “most exciting thing is the revolution at Carmel.” With its 40 percent of the industry, “when the biggest winery turns around and starts producing high-quality wine and says: ‘We’re producing quality table wines instead of Kiddush wines, and we’re going to reduce the amount of wine we produce to increase quality, it’s an amazing turnaround for the industry.” It’s also a sequel to the developments that launched the quality Israeli wine-making that’s becoming so widespread.


Golan gold – apples to grapes

Wander around Israel and there’s plenty of evidence of ancient wine-making, even remnants of a production site on the Spice Trail near Avdat built some 2,000 years ago. So it’s no surprise that similar evidence also turned up on the Golan Heights, notes Golan Heights Winery marketing director Arnon Harel. But it was apples, not wine, that Golan farmers were interested in when a professor from the University of California at Davis visited the scene in the 1970s.


“He was brought in to look into apple growing, and he said that we had ideal conditions in the area to raise wine grapes,” says Harel. “It was an experiment and we didn’t know if it would succeed.” So it was that seven Golan Heights communities and one in the Upper Galilee formed the Golan Heights Winery, launching an experiment that transformed the production of Israeli winemaking.


With the help of American-imported technology regarding which barrels and containers to buy and other insider information, Harel and his associates “…were surprised because suddenly we were producing high-quality wine in Israel, where before that, we produced mostly sweet wine.” When the first bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon was opened in 1983, Israel had a prize-winning wine of its own.


“They brought in international experience, which allowed them to tap into new things,” one observer of the Israeli wine scene notes about the winery, located in Katzrin, the largest Israeli town in the Golan Heights. “That started the whole wave in Israel of everybody trying to make better wines, followed by the boutique wines revolution… They were the catalysts. They planted in high altitude areas and decided: ‘We want to make the best wine possible.'”


The Golan Heights Winery now produces four million bottles a year for export and a million that are sold in Israel. Some 60,000 people visit the site annually, as part of the increasing wine tourism in Israel, which naturally ends with tastings.


“We had dreams but we didn’t know if they would work out,” says Harel of the winery’s early days. The key to their success: “You have to love it, and feel connected to the earth you plant in, and be a happy person, because wine is a happy product.”

A boost from boutiques

Similar words are heard from 200 or more Israeli boutique winemakers, who got a jump on the continuing quest for quality some 20 years ago, during another major change in the industry, and continue to produce outstanding wine.  At about the same time as a food revolution began in Israel in the 1980s, with the opening of higher-class restaurants, young wine-lovers started to make their own wine, resulting in the opening of a number of boutique wineries.   “There was almost a whiff of peace in the air with Oslo… Israelis felt unthreatened for the first time in a long time and started traveling more abroad, seeing the wine and food there and saying: ‘I’d like some of that.’ There was a better economy then, as well. So all these things together meant that there was a kind of wine revolution in Israel, manifested by these boutique wineries springing up all over,” says Montefiore.  Today, there are between 200 to 400 Israeli wineries, depending on how you classify them. Some are one-person outfits just getting by, while others have succeeded to the point where they were bought by larger wineries.  A lucky few wineries have achieved international success by dint of the hard work and vision of winemakers who never dreamed they’d go into the business of producing high-quality wine.



That’s what happened with Eli Ben-Zaken, who planted two grapevines outside his house on Moshav Ramat Raziel opposite the chicken coops back in 1988, never thinking of it as anything more than “a hobby… It was never a dream to become a major winemaker.”


But today, as proprietor of the Domaine du Castel family-owned winery in the Judean Hills – which launched the boutique winery revolution and has always pushed the envelope when it comes to quality – he’s delighted he took the path to producing world-class wines despite having no formal training in winemaking.


Having already headed up a culinary revolution in Israel in the ’80s with the Mama Mia restaurant he started with Sergio Molcho, which produced its own pasta, the Egyptian-born and European-educated restaurateur, who came to Israel in 1970 after first volunteering to fight for Israel during the Six Day War, just couldn’t find an Israeli wine he liked enough to serve.


“I was always curious why there was such a difference in quality between Israeli and European wines,” he says as we sit in a wine barrel converted into a chair in the tasting room of his establishment, which produces 100,000 bottles a year, half for export. “So in 1988 I just decided to make some wine for my friends,” based simply on what European winemakers taught him or what he read in books


Four years later, he and his wife Monique had a hit on their hands: The first 600 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which Ben-Zaken called Castel Grand Vin or “The Big Wine of Castel” were given to enthusiastic friends and some were even sold. Domaine du Castel, with its symbol combining the nearby Castel fortress, the Lion of Judah and three stars representing the three Ben-Zaken children Ilana, Eitan and Ariel who would grow up to work in the winery, was on its way.


“It was a strange feeling – as if someone had just taken me by the hand and shown me the path. I couldn’t just ignore it,” the silver-goateed winemaker recalls. People told him he was crazy and should plant in the north, but he knew otherwise. “This area has produced wine for a few thousand years, I think even before the First Temple period…The Romans took Jewish slaves to work in the vineyards in Rome because they were so skilled.”


Ben-Zaken also likes the feeling of continuing that tradition while competing with the world’s best, declaring: “I’m a Zionist, and I’m very proud to show that we can make wines as good as those in Europe.” And he’s proud to have launched the boutique winery revolution that “raised the quality of wine in Israel and has shown the big guys, the large wineries, that there is a market for this in the Israeli public.”


There were only three boutique wineries when he opened. Now there are some 30 to 35, as well as popular wine tours, comprised of foreigners and locals, who travel on what he notes has become a regional wine route.


While on a visit to the winery recently just after harvest – which came early this year because of the intense heat – the grape leaves still clinging to the vines look like rows of dancers clad in greens, reds and browns, and a red tractor stands ready to travel to any of the 37 acres of vineyards.


Some had already been pruned in advance of the next harvest, looking a little sad but also indicating a new beginning. Planting new vineyards, Ben-Zaken says, “is like having babies, very touching. Its new hopes really, like children – you invest in something you will see the results of only much, much later.”


Ben-Zaken himself admits that in the early days “it was really touch and go – we could have failed easily,” but he received a boost from the woman he refers to as the winery’s godmother, Serena Sutcliffe, Wine Master of Sotheby’s in the UK.  The ubercritic wasn’t very likely to taste a wine from a barely-known Israeli winery, but a journalist friend of Ben-Zaken’s had a colleague who was going to be meeting with Sutcliffe and asked if he’d like to send along a bottle.  “I had nothing to lose, it was my first vintage,” he recalls. “And a month later we got a letter saying: ‘It’s fantastic, a real tour de force, extraordinary and unlike any other Israeli wine…’ The letter for us was a marketing tool, but for me a stamp of approval that good wines can be produced here, in Israel.”


What makes his Blanc du Castel Chardonnay, and two red wines, Domaine de Castel Grand Vin and Petit Castel – the latter two blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec – so special? It’s not just the French method of high density, low yield, or its great terroir – outstanding soil and climate – Ben-Zaken says, but “the way it’s prepared… it’s delicate, there’s finesse to it, an elegance. These are not big blockbusters; they are subtle and release layer after layer.” The winery also uses what a guide refers to as “the Rolls Royce” of French oak barrels, each costing more than $1,200, where the wine sits for up to 24 months, in keeping with the winery’s motto: “We give time to time.”  Ben-Zaken also is delighted with letters from around the world – including Japan – “from people saying: ‘We just opened your wine last night and had to write how much we enjoyed it.’ ” While he believes the nation’s wineries need more government support to improve, he’s pleased to be setting the tone for quality wine in Israel and welcomes any challenge from Carmel or the other “big boys,” adding: “When something succeeds in commerce, others still want a piece of the cake.”  Setting the bar high for quality in Israeli wine, he can also afford to laugh now about the fact that his family almost moved from Egypt to Australia – where wine-making is booming and there’s much more land. As for the future, having set such high standards, “We think with the vineyards aging and us learning more and more, we hope we will be able to make more high-quality wine.”


While he’d still prefer to spend less time behind a desk, when he does get a chance to walk through his vineyards, the feeling is “nothing but pleasure.” His winemaking success also has reminded him that “we pass through our lives…and the question is not only what we’ve taken for us, but what we’ve left behind, and I’m very proud and happy that I have left something behind.”

One of the most fascinating elements of Israel’s boutique winery revolution is the proliferation of boutique wineries opened by people who get the wine bug and leave their previous careers behind.


Zeev Dunia was previously head of the video and television production department at Jerusalem’s Hadassah College of Technology when he was bitten by the winemaking bug while making a film about the process in 1994-95. “I was a filmmaker for 25 years. At first I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject [of wine],” Dunia says as he pauses to check the grapes. “But as the film was done, which took about a year because it followed the process of wine-making from the vineyard to the glass, I started to develop unconsciously some sort of interest that grew.


“This happens to quite a lot of people – they discover wine and without really having any training, it becomes more and more something you get involved with, and that’s really the magic of wine. If we had to describe what’s so special about it, it’s that it’s never the same. Every bottle of wine is slightly different… the more you get into it, the more it surprises you,” he says.


Dunia now owns and runs SeaHorse Winery in Bar Giora in the Judean Hills. This small but outstanding operation produces about 1,500 cases of wine annually.


“There’s a lot of passion involved, whether you are a grower in the vineyards or a winemaker,” says Dunia, who uses the French method of dense planting and low yield and takes pride in “the unique varieties of wine” he produces, particularly his Zinfandel and his latest addition Chenin Blanc.


A few years ago, the visiting wine critic of La Figaro and a Gallery Lafayette representative at an exhibit in Tel Aviv told him that his wine was “the best wine we have ever tasted in Israel.”

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect himself from the sun, he spends time in his vineyards every day, sometimes to shoo away the deer that have a fondness for his grapes. He says that winemaking grants him a deeper connection to the land on which his grapes grow.


“One thing that has happened over these past 10 years is that I really understand the importance of working the land and what it does to us. Before that, I felt I was a citizen of the world, could live anywhere and do my thing. Now, once you have planted something in the soil, you cannot leave… And I think we should be more attentive to the importance of agriculture, not in the sense of business… It’s our future.”


Still, despite the awards and expansion of Israel’s wine scene in recent years, all is not rosy, with the industry struggling with the issue of export vs. local consumption. While Israelis consume between five and seven liters annually, “that’s simply not enough” to maintain the industry, which must count on local sales to survive, says Rogov, noting similar problems in vineyard-saturated California and Australia.


“Twenty years ago, everyone was uprooting apple orchards to plant vineyards; now they’re uprooting vineyards to plant apple trees, and we may face a situation like that in the end.” Too much expansion is to blame, he says, predicting that as many as half of those passion-driven boutique wineries may close.


The other problem is the lack of an Israeli wine culture, he says. “When Israelis started traveling abroad, they began to realize that wine is a part of the cultured place in life, and you would’ve thought that would’ve increased local consumption. It hasn’t. What it has done is that people who really understand wine are drinking better and better wine, but overall, not more people are drinking wine.


“We have to get people to drink more wine,” he adds. “I’m not talking about turning people into alcoholics but…drinking for the pleasure and the company. So I think more and more people have to be made aware of that.”  Wine is culture,” says Montefiore. “In France they have wine on the table like we have ketchup on the table in Israel…If we can get Israelis to drink more wine and less vodka and coffee, then we’d be a quieter place.  “Thucydides, the Greek philosopher, said that man became civilized when he planted the vine and the olive tree. Wine has been a part of our culture for a very long time, and what we’re trying to do is make it a symbol of modern Israel.”

Ramping up on exports, one sip at a time

The bottom line, of course, is sales, and Israeli wines – branded in a new campaign with the logo “Mediterranean Inspiration” – are making steady progress abroad, with some $18 million worth of wine exported by the beginning of November, continuing an upswing that was only halted temporarily by the recession last year.


Between bringing journalists to Israel who’d never considered Israel a “wine country” to organizing presentations abroad, Michal Neeman, business development manager in the Food and Beverages department of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, senses the export market is promising.


Wine tastings across the United States are bringing increased interest in Israeli wines


Witness a recent event promoting Israeli vintages held in Houston, where there is “a lot of interest in wine,” she says. A luncheon with VIP guests for people from the trade was followed by a tasting event for wine enthusiasts at a local wine bar. “The response was amazing,” she says. “Over 400 people paid to come and taste the wine. Some of the wineries simply ran out of good wine.”


According to Neeman, more unexpected regions are expressing interest in Israeli wine as well, including Japan, Korea and Taiwan. A Japanese delegation is expected this month as guests of the Foreign Ministry, and as part of its branding efforts to promote Israel’s image, they realized they had to play up local food and the emerging quality wines, says Neeman.


While Israeli wines must still struggle with complaints that they are too expensive, overall “interest and curiosity about Israel wine is growing. Now we’re at a point where some people have heard about it; it’s not totally unknown. They are curious to come over,” she says.


“I did a wine-tasting event in Paris in January and there were three journalists who expressed an interest in coming to Israel. That’s a change because for a while it was difficult to bring people here, and now they’re interested… What’s so impressive to me each time and is really nice is that people are amazed by the quality of the wine they drink.” Middle East politics aside, Neeman and her team, in conjunction with other government and industry bodies, are winning over wine lovers, one sip at a time.

That’s only natural, says Montefiore, who believes Israeli wines can be good ambassadors. “While once it was the Jaffa orange and the kibbutz that symbolized Israel, now its quality wine and high-tech,” he notes. Moreover, Montefiore feels that sending someone wine from a particular place in Israel “is like sending someone a picture of a time capsule from that spot. So that’s why wine is such a beautiful product to represent Israel in giving gifts. It’s of international quality and represents the place, agriculture and industry of the country and its culture, and an industry which started 5,000 years ago.”


As for Noah, if he could see the state of Israeli wine-making today, Montefiore is convinced “he’d be so happy that the area where he first planted is now making world-class wines.”


(c) Your Israel 2011

This article is brought to you by Your Israel Experience– a website dedicated to all the beautiful things in Israel


Travels to Yemen Exhibition at The Museum of Islamic Art Jerusalem

Travel to Yemen Exhibition

The LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is currently hosting a photo exhibition – Travel to Yemem through the lens of Naftali Hilger 1987-2008


Yemen is still a relatively closed country; infrequently visited and not well understood by many of us. It has unique architecture and a rich Jewish heritage. Indeed Yemen is still the host of a small Jewish community until the present day. The Jewish community is believed to have been founded shortly after the destruction of the Temple in 586BCE.


Yemen was well known for its spices and because of its strategic importance it was settled by the Ottoman Empire and later by the British.


The Travels to Yemen exhibition promises to provide a fascinating insight into Yemen.


LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem

The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is one of Jerusalem’s less famous but none the less most impressive museums. It is easilt accessible from many of the hotels (a short walk) around the corner from the official residence of the President of Israel. Well worth a trip. For families there are often workshops (over school vacations and chagim) to keep the children busy. See our entry on the LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem


Opening Times & Information – LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem

The Museum for Islamic Art is at 2 Palmach Street. There is plenty of road side parking in the area. Bus 13 goes along Palmach. Buses 9, 19, 22, 31, 32  travel along Rechov Aza – within easy walking distance. It is also accessible on foot from many of the hotels. Nearby is the President’s Residence & the Jerusalem Theatre.

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Jerusalem Festival of Light

The Jerusalem Festival of Light was held for a week in June – from June 15 to June 22 in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Light Festival ran nightly between 8pm and midnight over different routes inside and outside the Old City walls. There were four colored routes one for each of the quarters in the Old City – along the routes there are street performers, different building and streets were illuminated and there are statues and works of art made from light.   There were many invited artists including 10 from overseas.


The streets of Jerusalem were packed with visitors – locals and foreign tourists and the sights are absolutely beautiful.


Jerusalem Light FestivalThis is the third Jerusalem Festival of Light and in previous years around 250000 people visited the festival. Apart from the light there were performances and tours and a Lighting Fair in the Cardo.

Fire Acrobats in the Old City of Jerusalem

Most of the events were free, but there was a special concert on June 9th with the Jerusalem  Symphony Orchestra and a special show (twice nightly) – The Butterfly Effect (acrobatics and video art) in the Gan HaBonim (near the Old City Ramparts) which had admission charges.

The Butterfly Effect - Jerusalem Light Festival

The Butterfly Effect was a stunning acrobatic performance conducted on the side of the Old City Ramparts (they use the wall as the stage) – the acrobats are amazing and the production is boosted by the video effects and live music. The story is a simple one of a long standing war betwen the Empire of Light and the Empire of Darkness and  how it is eventually resolved. The story is narrated during the performance but it probably isn’t needed and the show can certainly be enjoyed without the story. Simply one of the best shows we have seen.


The Jerusalem Festival of Light promises to be a spectacular and popular summer event in the Old City of Jerusalem.


Photos can be seen at Jerusalem Light Festival & the Butterfly Effect




Jerusalem Light Festival Website

Palmachim Beach

Palmachim Beach is one of Israel’s secret treasures, it was recently threatened with development but thankfully that threat seems to have passed.

Sunset at Palmachim













Palmachim is not a large beach, and doesn’t have many facilities beyond a life-guard (in season), a few sun shelters and public toilets. However, it makes up for this by being one of the prettiest beaches in the country. It is bounded by some low cliffs to the south and boasts some great views of Tel Aviv to the north. Like most Israeli Mediterranean beaches it can be a great location for photography especially into the setting sun.


Palmachim is a perfect place to spend the day on the beach relaxing, sun bathing, swimming or paddling and there is plenty of room for beach sports. (Please listen to the life guard or exercise extreme care when they aren’t on duty – there are far too many careless tragedies.)  Stock up before hand on all your drink and food. It is very close to the Palmachim airbase and so the children can enjoy the frequent helicopter fly-bys.


Probably, because it is a bit out of the way and relatively under-developed Palmachim is often far less packed than some of the more central beaches in Tel Aviv and Herzeliya.


For more views – see Palmachim Photos


Getting To Palmachim

The beach is at the end of road 4311. Exit the 431 at Ein Kore junction and head south/west on the 4311 for 7Km or so, past Ikea and under highway 4. Be aware that he road is fairly narrow and windy through the countryside. The end of the road is the beach car park.

Rami’s Israel Cheese Guide – 2

In my first piece about Israeli cheese I gave some historical background about traditional cheese making in Israel and the region. In this article I will take you one step further into some actual cheese tasting and, provide some background about modern Israeli artisan cheese. In the next item I will give you some good pointers for great cheese.


The most typical regional cheese is the Arab spread cheese called “Labane“.  It appears in many levels of humidity, but the most traditional form is the little spheres kept in olive oil for very long preservation time. The cheese is very sour and salty and it shows the efficiency of the traditional method for keeping it intact in the hot climate of the region. It is usually made of sheep milk, but it is tastier if it is made of goat milk. You can find it in any store or restaurant in the Arab towns, but you should prefer the ones in the large supermarkets that buy it from authorized producers. One well known Arab producer is the Galilee Dairy in the Arab town of Tamra on the Lower Galilee.  A very well known Arab dessert called “Kenafe” is made on top of a layer of goat cheese called “Gibne” (The Arabic word for cheese). It is a very sweet desert and the presence of cheese is very surprising and tasty.


The oldest Jewish dairy in Israel is the “Hameiri” dairy in the town of Zefat (Safad). The Hameiri head of the family came to Zefat in the middle of the 19th century from Iran, and his family keeps the old tradition of local cheese making since then.. The dairy produces the cheese called “Zefatit” named after the town of Zefat which is considered the most famous Israeli cheese. The dairy also hosts a very nice visitor center. When in Zefat do not miss a visit to the “Kadosh” dairy, another old (about 100 years) dairy producing basic hard salty cheese from sheep milk.


Artisan cheese making in Israel started only 30 years ago by some pioneers that went to Europe on their own to learn the art of cheese making. Since then, the cheese culture has flourished all around the country, (second only to wine making – in itself an amazing development). Today there are close to 100 small dairies scattered around the country, and additional hundreds of smaller producers in almost any farm, village, Kibbutz, or Moshav (Israeli forms of agricultural communities), most of them enthusiastic about their profession and many of them producing real gourmet Israeli cheeses.

Jerusalem Knights Festival 2011

Jerusalem Knights Festival
The popular Jerusalem Knights Festival (aka The City of Lions Festival) will be returning to Jerusalem in November 2011. The Jerusalem Knights celebrate Jerusalem’s medieval past and is primarily centered on the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.


There are lots of street performers and entertainment – jesters, knights (of course) princes and princesses – dancers and jugglers and the sounds & sights of days from long ago. If the 2010 Jerusalem Knights Festival is a guide there will also be many modern visitors thronging the streets of Medieval Jerusalem.


There is plenty to eat at the local restaurants and cafes and those in the nearby neighborhoods.


Jerusalem Knights Festival
In the meantime make a date in your diary and view last year’s Jerusalem Knights Festival –


Jerusalem Knights Festival 2010 – Video


Jerusalem Knights 2010 Photo Gallery


Jerusalem Knights Timetable

In the Old City of Jerusalem Thursday nights in November. (November 3, 10, 17, 24) from Jaffa Gate to/from Muristan Square in a circular route.


Admission is completely free.

Summer Events in Jerusalem

Hutzot HaYotzer 2011
is organizing an amazingly busy summer; packed with many different events. The Jerusalem scene has something to offer almost everybody. Jerusalem is definitely the place to be – so whether you are visiting Israel or live locally and are just planning a few days away come and spend some time in Jerusalem.


Here are some of IsraelInsideOut’s favorite events – come back and check frequently as we update with more Jerusalem Summer Events.


Hutzot Hayotzer – Jerusalem International Arts & Crafts Fair

Hutzot Hayotzer has become a regular feature of the Jerusalem summer scene for over 30 years. The main focus is on the Hutzot Hayotzer area just down from Jaffa Gate and below the Old City Ramparts. This is a beautiful corner of Jerusalem that is often sadly missed in the hustle and bustle of a tourist’s day, but comes to the front during the last two weeks of August.

There are many different exhibitions and performances (for adults and children) and the international pavilion is playing host to almost artists from almost 40 different countries. There will also be a substantial Israeli artist representation at the Hutzot Hayotzer, working in a variety of different medium and techniques.

Check out our Hutzot Hayotzer Guest Blog Review


Hutzot Hayotzer – When & Where?

August 15-27 – nightly (except Friday) 1800-2300, Saturday night (1 hour after Shabbat – 2300)


Hutzot Hayotzer – Sultan’s Pool area


See also the Chutzot HaYozer – Jerusalem International Arts & Crafts Fair 2011 Website



Jerusalem International Young People’s Parties

Over the course of the summer there will be a series of major concerts, street parties and even a mass dinner in the center of Jerusalem. At IsraelInsideOut we are most curious about the beach parties that will be held on an artificial beach built with 80 tons of imported sand by the Old City. The artificial beach idea has been successful elsewhere in the world – notably Paris and we look forward to Jerusalem’s version.


Unfortunately the website is only available in Hebrew but there is probably enough information with pictures and English slogans to allow you to check out the basics. See Jerusalem Young People’s Website



Safra Square Summer

Safra Square (Kikar Safra) is the large concourse in front of the Jerusalem Municipality. Over the past few years it has also turned into one of the main places for events in Jerusalem – frequently hosting some trendy temporary event. This summer Safra Square will host some local and international musicians in free Thursday night concerts.


Coming up in August in Safra Square

18 August – The well known singer Shlomo Gronich together with the Jerusalem Marche Dandorme Orchestra

25 August – A Spanish evening

The events start at 2100 and are free.


The Tower of David Night Spectacular

The Tower of David Museum is one of our favorite sites in Jerusalem – packed with great views, lots of history and surprises – there is something for almost everybody at the Tower of David.

This summer, the Tower of David is running their popular sound and light shows – a unique multi-media experience for all the family, covering 4000 years of Jerusalem’s history in only 45 minutes. The technology employed is new and the Tower of David Night Spectacular is one of the largest light shows in the world projecting in 3D on the actual walls of David’s Citadel.

Tower of David Night Spectacular Schedule & Tickets

Monday Wednesday & Thursday – 2030 2130 2245
Saturday 2100 2200 2315

Tickets from Night Spectacular Tickets


Concerts at Sultan’s Pool

Sultan’s Pool below the Old City Ramparts is one of Jerusalem’s most magical spots. The views are amazing – the air cool (sometimes even chilly) and it makes for a magical atmosphere for evening concerts. As this is at the edge of the Hinom Valley (Gei Ben Hinon in Hebrew or Gehenom) it is not every day that you can go to a concert by the entrance to hell.

This summer there is a series of concerts by some of the leading names in contemporary Jewish & Israeli music. There is a concert almost every night in the last 2 weeks of August. Check out Sultan’s Pool Concerts

If you have a spare evening in Jerusalem and want to try something different – go to a Sultan’s Pool Concert.


Rami’s Israel Cheese Guide – 1

Cheese Shop - Mahane Yehuda Market JerusalemBeing the cradle of humanity the Middle East is considered to be the place of origin of cheese. However, the warm weather did not allow the development of gourmet cheese; and for years the regional cheeses were either very fresh or very salty like the Arab Labane (sour spread cheese made of goat and sheep milks), the Greek Feta or the Halumi of Cyprus.

The main valley in Jerusalem in around 0 CE was called “Valley of the Cheese Makers”, but, hard evidence for cheese making and commerce starts only on the 16th century around the city of Zefat.

None of the Israeli cheeses have a protected commercial name, but with no doubt the first that is likely to have such protection is the cheese called “Zefatit” after the name of the city of Zefat which was one of the four Jewish centers that were never abandoned during the 2000 years of the Jewish Diaspora outside of Israel.

The “Zefatit” cheese is a salted fresh cheese made from pasteurized sheep milk in Zefat for over a hundred years. Some say that it originates from an Arab cheese made in Acre, but, now days you will find only unsalted similar cheese called “Gibne” (“Cheese in Arabic) in Arab farms.

The Israeli market is dominated by one huge dairy called Tnuva that produces most of the local dairy products, but, 2 specialized manufacturers have arised as the main competitors in specialized cheese (Gad and Yakobs). In recent years hundreds of little farms started producing quality cheese (mainly of goat milk), and you may find some fine producers when driving along the country.

One cheese that you must not skip is the Israeli Cottage cheese. It is a very fresh cheese (even in best conditions it will not last more than a few days) made of low fat particles mixed in milk fat. Although found all over the world, Tnuva has succeeded were many other manufacturers failed and produces it without artificial processes. Take a treat and do not miss the 9% fat version, you are on vacation, and can start the diet when back home.


Rami is an accomplished amateur cheese maker.

Saslove Winery Visitor Center – A Boutique Israeli Winery

Saslove Winery – A Boutique Israeli Winery

saslove winery barrels (kibbutz eyal isreal)
There are dozens of Israeli boutique wineries, one of the first Israeli boutique wineries is the Saslove Winery.


The Saslove Winery was founded by Barry Saslove back in 1998 and since then became one of the leading boutique wineries in Israel.  


kadita organic vineyard - Saslove Winery Galilee
The Saslove Winery vineyards are located on the Galilee Mountains. The vineyards are organic, the grapes are harvested by hand and the Galilean climate is ideal for growing wine grapes.


The Saslove Winery and Visitor Center are on Kibbutz Eyal. A short drive from Tel-Aviv (35 minutes) and you are enter a different world, from the big city to the pastoral setting of the Kibbutz.   The winery is located at the heart of the kibbutz (near the cowshed).   The winery stores the barrels whilst the wine is ages.


At the entrance to the Saslove Winery there is a display of art works of local artists from the Kibbutz.   The highlight of the visit is of course tasting the wines.   The “La Revue du Vin” a leading French wine magazine chose the winery as one of the top 100 wineries around the Mediterranean Sea. It includes wineries from France, Spain and Italy and as such it is a token of the excellence of the Saslove Winery.


Wine making is of course an ancient industry in Israel and over recent years it has enjoyed a strong revival, both from well established companies and from an ever increasing number of specialized Israeli Boutique Wineries. See this recent In Israel Blog – An Insider’s Israel Blog – April 28 about a prestigious prize. The achievements of the Saslove Winery should help to drive the Israel Boutique Wineries to increased international recognition and quality wine.


Saslove Winery Visiting Hours

Friday 10:00-14:00
Saturday 11:00-16:00
Weekdays 9:00-14:00
Tel. 09-7492697

How to get to Saslove Winery

Traveling to the Winery is simple. You need to get to Road 6, the main road from the south to the north of Israel. From Tel-Aviv you follow either Road 1 or Road 5 to the east until the junction with Road 6. On Road 6 you need to travel to the Eyal Interchange and there travel to the east on Road 531. On the first light take a left and then the first right to Kibbutz Eyal. After entering the kibbutz drive until the road ends, take a right and you will see the winery on your left.


Things to visit near the Saslove Winery

The winery is in the Kibbutz Eyal. While visiting the winery you can take a walk around the paths of the Kibbutz. Just across from the winery there is the cowshed, if you are lucky you can also watch the calves. In the Kibbutz there is a swimming pool you can enjoy in the summer time and also Limpopo, a playground for kids with attractions and animals.