407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

What a day!  

Waking up whenever (not setting an alarm has been truly amazing) and going down for a delicious Israeli breakfast with real lattes (for those of you who know Israel, this was not instant coffee with creamer but a real espresso machine with a barista!) is such a treat.  Sitting outside on the patio, enjoying the fresh air and birds chirping was simply wonderful.  I had planned on going to the beach, but the weather just didn’t quite seem beach-worthy, so instead I headed out to Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market) to enjoy the sounds, sights, and smells. 

Somehow, I managed not to spend any money in the market – I’m still not sure how that happened.  I messaged with some friends in Tel Aviv and set up coffee for tomorrow with Leor Sinai and met with Daniel Milstein for lunch.  We walked and talked and found a wonderful place to eat and catch up.  The hours flew by, and I had to rush back to my hotel to change and get ready to meet my friend Adam Scott Bellos who invited me to a Mimouna in Jerusalem hosted by Vice-Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.  Adam runs The Israel Innovation Fund and Wine on the Vine, which are things I will talk about another time.

For those that don’t know what a Mimouna is, you are missing out.  Mimouna is a celebration based on the Moroccan Jewish community’s way of celebrating the end of Passover.  I was introduced to it years ago in Gainesville by a co-worker at UF Hillel who was Moroccan and created this event for us.  We held them in Orlando before COVID and I can’t wait to have it return next year.

At the Mimouna with friends.

Up close with some of the delicacies.

We took a cab from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem along with Adam’s co-worker and friend, Hallel Silverman, and enjoyed a fantastic conversation.  When we arrived, Fleur’s home was already packed, the food was ridiculous in appearance (being gluten-free, I only had the fruit), and people were having fun.  I met so many great people there, and there are so many opportunities that are beginning for our Orlando Jewish community just from this one encounter.  The Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon, showed up, as did many other high-profile people.  I even ran into somebody I knew from Seattle there (that is what happens in Israel, you meet people who are just there).  We had a fantastic time—the house got so packed, I ended up spending half the time on the front porch or in the street because of the overflow!

We left to return to Tel Aviv and continued to laugh and have fun on the ride.  Adam told me about Chef Ayal Shani, one of Israel’s top chefs, who happens to have a restaurant (Abraxas) half a block from my hotel.  So even though it was late, we went for dinner.  Of course, the restaurant was full of reservations, but somehow they managed to find us a table with just a 30-minute wait.  As we sat at our table, we ran into people Adam knew.  Of course, they were from St. Pete and the dad has driven past the Roth Family JCC many times!  Both daughters had made Aliyah, and one is a major foodie in Israel and plans special food related tours!   Guess what will be on agenda in 2023? 

This is the essence of Israel: you see and meet people everywhere with a close connection.  It was amazing to talk with them and play ‘Jewish geography’ with all the people we knew in common.  I didn’t even know them until I walked to our table, yet suddenly we were connected.

For dinner, we got the broccoli and shwarma to share—both were amazing—and continued to have fun talking about Israel, America, the Jewish community, and much more.  Suddenly, it was midnight.  As I returned to my hotel, I thought about the full day I had.  The many experiences that filled the day and filled my soul.  How accessible the leadership of the country truly is.  How friendly the Israeli people are and how wonderful it is to be in Israel experiencing Israel itself.

Tomorrow, my friend Irit Geva is picking me up to visit their Moshav.  We have discussed this for over a decade and are finally making it happen.  And then the formal part of my trip begins.  It marks a shift from just wandering and experiencing Israel to something just as wonderful but also very different.  It’s a bittersweet transition, as most are.