The Norman Tel Aviv (thenorman.com), a luxurious boutique hotel, has restored two buildings on Nachmani Street, at the heart of the Tel Aviv UNESCO heritage site for historic Bauhaus architecture. The newly renovated hotel’s management are also dedicated patrons of the arts, seeking to support contemporary artistic expression in Israel. When complete, the complex will be a travel destination that houses and showcases many avant-garde cultural treasures.
“Tremendous care has been taken to restore these buildings to their original grandeur, preserving the eclectic style, Renaissance and oriental influences that characterize the edifice at #23 Nachmani, as well as the striking modernist architecture of the adjacent building at #25,” said Olivier Heuchenne, managing director of the Norman.
The hotel – whose grand opening is planned for this summer – will sport an interior design echoing the luxury and style of the grand hotels of the early 20th century, featuring top restaurants, an extraordinary collection of Israeli artwork, an elegant library bar and the Norman’s signature world-class amenities.
The art collection, comprised of more than 100 works, stands at the centre of this accomplishment, uniting design themes and creating an interactive experience for guests. Featured are works by Ilit Azoulay, Sigalit Landau, Klone, Dana Levy, Assaf Shaham and Tsibi Geva, among others, celebrating a class of leading contemporary Israeli artists whose work is exhibited worldwide.
For Tamar Dresdner, the in-house art curator and consultant tasked with selecting works for display, the opportunity to partake in the restoration is a dream come true. “I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for years,” she said in an interview. “I remember walking past these buildings when they were residential properties and then entering them when they housed offices for businesses and lawyers. I always fantasized about what could be done with the space.”
Holon Children’s Museum is a children’s museum unlike any other. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Take small kids with you to Israel and one thing is for sure: you’ll want to have more on your itinerary than holy sites and 2,000-year-old ruins. Fortunately, this small country has a diverse range of fun family attractions that appeal to toddlers, kids and preteens. From a biblical zoo to a chocolate factory and science museum, here are some highlights that will keep your kids smiling in the Holy Land.
Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (jerusalemzoo.org.il). This 100-acre zoo started as a petting zoo in the 1940s and now includes more than 300 species, a quarter of them animals that were mentioned in the Bible, such as Syrian brown bears, Persian fallow deer, Asian lions, Nile crocodile and the Asian leopard. There are also many non-biblical animals in this expansive zoo, which easily takes a half-day to explore. Look out for Sumatran tigers, a rhino and a hippo, giraffes, kangaroos, wolves and fruit bats. Many of the animals are under threat of extinction. Israel is the only country in the Middle East offering protection to wolves, for example, and the wolf exhibit tries to raise awareness on how wolves and people can live in harmony. Open year round, the zoo charges $28 for admission for adults and $11 for kids.
Bloomfield Science Museum (mada.org.il). When it first opened 21 years ago, the Jerusalem museum was the only one in the country: today, it’s one of four. Its interior is far from fancy, but it more than compensates in its wide range of innovative exhibits, a selection geared to entertain and engage all age groups, from 3 through 83. “Hands-on” is the theme here and, in every exhibit, visitors are encouraged to touch, play and explore. We visited during Chanukah, when the museum had set up a station for kids to build their own unique spinning tops using recycled materials. We loved the light and shadow exhibit, a labyrinth of rooms that combine art with the science of how light and shadow interact. Other exhibits explain the connection between physics and how amusement parks work, how electricity is distributed, and how science and technology play out in some of Israel’s favorite children’s stories. Free for kids under five, the museum charges $12 for kids and adults or $45 for families.
Galita Chocolate Factory (galita.co.il). Combine kids and chocolate and the result is delight, especially if the experience includes making your own treats. The chocolate factory at Kibbutz Degania on the Sea of Galilee offers a selection of kid-focused workshops with various candy-making projects, from building and decorating a miniature chocolate candy house to creating chocolate lollipops, truffles and more. Kids play with mixtures of white and brown chocolate and carefully decorate their creations before the finished versions are refrigerated and taken home. An on-site chocolate shop sells the creations of Galit Alpert, the Belgium-trained Israeli owner whose delicacies are irresistible. Prices range from $11-$22 per person, depending on the project, and reservations are recommended.
Holon Children’s Museum (childrensmuseum.org.il or 03-6503000, ext. 3). Don’t be fooled by its name – this is a children’s museum unlike any other you’ll ever set foot in. Its four segments cater to vastly different age groups. Kids age nine and up will love Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibit wherein visitors get to experience what it is like to have no vision by taking a tour in complete darkness, in the company of blind guides. Along the way, they experience the various rooms they enter by relying on their other senses. Likewise, in Invitation to Silence, adults and kids age 10 and up get immersed in a tour of silence, one wherein they need to use other methods of communication – hands, face and body – to communicate emotions and reactions. In Dialogue with Time, visitors explore the concept of aging through experiences and games. They’re invited to identify various songs and objects that crisscross the generation gap, and to experience what it feels like to lose dexterity in the hands and feet by donning special gloves and shoes. Talking figurines reflect on their different experiences of aging and the entire experience invites discussion, dialogue and contemplation on what it means to age gracefully. Finally, in the only segment of the museum that remotely resembles a typical children’s museum, children ages 4-8 get to explore the making of music and art using unconventional instruments and objects, led by actor guides. Each tour lasts between 90 minutes and 1.5 hours and costs $15 per segment. Reservations are essential.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Inside Bordeaux’s Grand Synagogue of the Gironde. (photo by Karen Ginsberg)
On a recent trip to the Basque, my husband and I learned a great deal about the strong Jewish presence that formerly existed in the region.
The Basque country comprises southwestern France and northeastern Spain. Our journey started in Bordeaux, France, which, strictly speaking, is not part of the Basque. Rather, Bordeaux is the capital of the neighboring Aquitaine region. Our sightseeing there included a visit to the Grand Synagogue of the Gironde, located in central Bordeaux, serving a Jewish population of 1,100. A 2007 brochure given to us on our visit, History of the Jewish Population of Bordeaux, dates the synagogue back to the 1880s, the land for it having been a gift from the city. On the morning of our visit, a young man, soon to be a bar mitzvah, was just finishing his practise session on the bimah, which gave life to the building.
From Bordeaux, we traveled by train two hours southwest to St. Jean de Luz, a mid-size town on the Atlantic coast that is part of the French Basque, where we had rented an apartment. We found our most substantive Jewish Basque connection on a day trip to nearby Bayonne.
Musée Basque et de l’histoire de Bayonne is a modernized space housing the history and culture of the people of the region. Within, there is a special exhibit that celebrates the presence of Jews in the Basque since the 1600s. The roots of the Jewish community there stem from the migration that took place when the Jews were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.
Among the collection of artifacts is a beautiful portrait of Augusta Furtado, who, in the 17th century, was a merchant and president of the Israelite Consistory of Bayonne, as well as twice serving as Bayonne’s mayor. The collection also includes furniture and religious objects from a private synagogue in the 19th century, including an ark, menorah and pulpit, a child’s temple presentation dress, circa 1885, a shofar, an 18th-century mezuzah and a sabbatical lamp from a Portuguese ceremony that was used in Bordeaux and Bayonne. One of the most interesting items is a document dated Jan. 19, 1753, entitled The Statues of the Jewish Nation of Saint Esprit, a reiteration of the royal protective orders of 1550 in which the title Jew is used for the first time instead of the term New Christian or Portuguese.
A further Jewish connection in the region has to do with one of the sources of Bayonne’s current fame as a world centre for the manufacture of high-quality chocolate. The chocolate-making skills of the exiled Spanish Jews who settled in the area were put to use. Their contribution to the industry is told at some length in the self-guided tour of the city’s delightful l’Atelier du chocolat. Both my husband and I felt compelled to enjoy a generous chocolate-tasting at the atelier out of respect for our ancestors!
Bayonne has a beautiful synagogue in the core of city, but it is locked behind steel gates with no one available to provide any information on whether and how the building is being used, if at all. Nevertheless, an inscription carved onto the exterior of the synagogue speaks volumes about the vision the community had for this holy place: “Ma maison sera denommée une maison de prières pour toutes les nations.” (“My house will be marked as a house of prayer for all nations.”)
Signage outside the synagogue gates draws further attention to the pride that the community had in being able to build its own shul: “This place of worship for the Bayonne Jewish community was built in the 19th century by architect Capdeville. The monumental neo-classical-style building illustrates the wish of the community’s leaders to assert the presence of Judaism in the heart of the district and also to provide a single place of worship for the faithful, replacing the private synagogues used previously.”
Our last daylong outing – to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France – metaphorically closed a circle for us with respect to early Jewish life in the Basque region.
These days, it seems, almost everyone knows someone who has undertaken the six-week walk referred to as the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James). This medieval pilgrimage runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near the Spanish border, more than 750 kilometres northwest of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. There is generally a degree of wonderment and respect accorded to anyone who has retraced those steps. One has only to walk the steep main street of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to understand that there is a hardship to be endured no matter how solid one’s walking shoes or how well-organized is today’s network of rest places along the route. Being in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port surrounded by modern-day pilgrims at the start of their journey brought to my mind how different their trek would be to that of the expelled Spanish Jews. I could not help thinking what it must be like to have to flee one’s home under threat of death, travel on foot, by cart and, for some, partially by boat, to hopefully reach the safety of new lands. These Jewish travelers had no fancy walking shoes, no “service centres” along their route and they most certainly traveled with fear in their hearts.
My husband and I left the Basque knowing that there were likely many other remnants of a Jewish presence in the area yet to be discovered. Our curiosity peaked, it’s a challenge we will hopefully be able to take up on a future visit.
Karen Ginsberg is a travel writer living in Ottawa.
Steven Finkleman in front of the restored Chennamangalam Synagogue. (photo by Steven Finkleman)
I had bought my airline ticket to Mumbai in the fall, aiming to track down the remains of the Jewish community in India. I set out with my backpack on Jan. 9 and, after several days, arrived. I had pre-booked a stay at Sassoon House, which is a residence for Jewish travelers at Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai.
Lufthansa pulled in at 2:30 a.m. Perfect time for arrival into a strange city of 18,000,000 people. Somehow, I found a taxi and a Western traveler who wanted to share the ride with me. And, somehow, I managed to give some direction to the synagogue, which is currently situated in the predominantly Muslim district of Byculla. It does take a bit of guts.
We pulled into the synagogue compound around 3:30 a.m. under the watchful eyes of Mumbai’s finest, accompanied by huge spotlights, army tanks and AK47s (all in response to the terrorist attack at a Mumbai synagogue five years ago). I was as cool as a cucumber. My taxi partner at this point was in apoplectic shock.
Fortunately, Mr. David, the caretaker of Sassoon House did answer the phone and let me in for four hours of rest, prior to attending the Shacharit service for Shabbat at 8:45 a.m. Interesting service. I was #11 in attendance, so was superfluous to the congregation. (I often have been #10 in these circumstances, serving as the final man needed to allow the service to proceed.) The service was rapid, Sephardi Orthodox, and the accent of the Baghdadi congregation made following along somewhat challenging. The familiar tunes of the Barchu, the Shma, the Amidah, the Aleinu, were absent and keeping up with the service required heavy concentration on my part after a 36-hour flight and four hours of sleep.
I received an aliyah to the Torah and, when I gave my name as Zalman ben Yaacov, Zalman being a Yiddish name and, therefore, totally unheard of in Mumbai, they interpreted my name as Solomon, and called me up as Shlomo ben Yaacov. Lunch at the rabbi’s home followed. Considerable gin was flowing (considering it was a former British colony) accompanied by lots of traditional Judeo-Marathi songs. I was forced to sing a representative Canadian song and led them all in a rousing version of “Allouette.” The luncheon ended with everyone sharing some snuff! As they all snorted away, I was sure to ask, “Are you certain that this is only tobacco?” before trying some myself.
The Indian community goes back about 2,000 years. Some date it to the expulsion after the destruction of the First Temple, others to after the destruction of the Second Temple. The community has four components.
The Bene Israel and Cochin communities came both around the same time. The Cochin community was likely from seafarers and merchants, possibly dating back to King Solomon’s time. The Bene Israel community around Mumbai dates from a shipwreck 2,000 years ago where seven men and seven women survived. Their holy books were lost, but they remembered to keep the Shabbat, kashrut and brit milah. Generations later, they were tutored by the Cochini community to improve their knowledge of Judaism.
The third community to arrive was the Paradesi community. Paradesi means foreigner, and this group was basically Sephardim who arrived from Spain or via Amsterdam in the 16th century, and headed to Cochin. The fourth group, led by David Sassoon, emigrated from Baghdad, and came in the 18th century, setting up congregations in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. The Sassoon dynasty was very dynamic both for the Jewish community and the Mumbai community at large.
There are several residual synagogues in Mumbai, with some still in use, such as the Baghdadi community’s Magen David (where I stayed) and Keneseth Eliyahoo, along with the original Bene Israel community’s Tiferet Israel synagogue. Five thousand Jews remain in Mumbai, and three or four synagogues hold services on Shabbat. Tiferet Israel has a strong component of younger men.
I was lucky to travel to Cochin (now called Kochi) in Kerala state and, besides spending a wonderful day in Jewtown, Cochin, and visiting the Paradesi synagogue, I also rented a taxi and went to search out the remnants of the Jewish community in more remote areas. I visited two restored synagogues at Parur (or Paravoor) and Chennamangalam (or Chendamangalam), and I visited the Kadavumbagan synagogue in Ernakulum, which was closed 40-50 years ago and remains unrestored.
There are about 12 Jews left in Kerala. I spent two days visiting Sarah Cohen. Sarah, 91, is the matriarch of the Cochin Jewish community. She reminded me totally of my Baba Sarah. On my first visit, I asked her if I could bring her anything that she needed. She asked for chocolate and beer, and I returned the next day with some Cadbury. Sarah has an embroidery shop on Jew Street in Jewtown, in the city’s Mattanchery neighborhood, two blocks from the Paradesi synagogue, which is spectacular – it is a national historic landmark, expertly renovated and with excellent historical information.
I was also able to meet Elias Josephi at the Kadavumbagan synagogue. About 50 years ago, the synagogue disbanded because of lack of membership and Josephi purchased it. He currently runs a plant nursery and an aquarium/fish shop in the antechamber of the synagogue. Behind his desk, the closed door leads to the treasure of the sanctuary, exactly as it was left 40-50 years ago.
At the peak, there may have been about 100,000 Jews in India. Eighty percent of them emigrated to Israel in the 1950s/60s. It is interesting that they remained separate. The Cochinis went to Nevatim and the Bene Israel went to Dimona, Ashdod, etc. Fifteen percent of the Indian Jews went to English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and five percent remain in India today.
What a fascinating Diaspora story. How intriguing that at all ends of the earth, one can find Jewish communities. I believe it was one of our sages who once said, “If there is oxygen, there are Jews.” Or, perhaps, it was me who made up that line!
Steven Finkleman, originally from Winnipeg, is a retired pediatrician living in Kelowna. He travels extensively and often researches and visits remote Diaspora communities on his adventures.