Category Archives: Travel

Experience of a Lifetime, Part 3


After a leisurely day of sightseeing, it was time for the event we came here for – to attend the wedding of a cousin – a young woman from London, Ontario – to a young man from Jerusalem.

To say this was the most beautiful, incredible wedding I have ever been to is an understatement. The weather was perfect. There are no pretences. Everyone was there to have a wonderful time and parents of the bride and groom, and immediate family, are there to ensure this happens.

Here is your experience: It is just before sundown. The guests begin to arrive outdoors. The weather is absolutely perfect. It is calm, no breeze and the temperature is comfortable. There is a stage covered with a chuppah (also spelled hupah, huppah, chupah, or chuppa) – the canopy under which a Jewish bride and groom stand during their wedding ceremony.

As North Americans, you arrive on time – the time given on the invitation. The Israelis arrive up to two hours late (apparently normal for wedding guests in Israel). But no worries. Food and drink are flowing – wine, hummus, fresh vegetables and so much more.

Bride and her father

The bride and groom come out to greet their guests before the wedding and then leave again until the ceremony. Photographers call for family and friends to come in groups to have their pictures taken.

Then, it’s time for the wedding. As North Americans, you rush to the seats set up on either side of the white-draped walkway. You sit down for a minute, then realize that everyone is standing (and some are even having conversations in the distance, paying little attention to the couple or the ceremony).

The bride, groom, and Rabbi are under the chuppah as well as parents and siblings. Everything is said in Hebrew. Then comes the traditional smashing of the wine cup by the groom (with his foot) and he kisses his bride. You go up on stage to offer congratulations and go inside.

It is beautiful. Gorgeous. Sparkling lights with huge vases of tall, elegant flowers are on every table.

Don’t expect to sit down for long though. Two DJ’s are hovering above the dance floor in front of a screen projecting psychedelic colours and shapes throughout the night. The music is cranked up.  A huge boom goes back and forth allowing guests to see what’s happening on the dance floor via video on the wall. The bridal families dance and are soon joined by many guests. The lights go up, and everyone sits down for the first course. The lights go down, and everyone returns to the dance floor to dance, and so it continues meal course after course, dance after dance, late into the night.

You wander outside later to get fresh air and walk by the bar laden with cakes and sweets and every dessert imaginable. After wine, drinks, dancing and festivities it’s time to call it a night.

Peace in the Middle East


I want to comment on something that happened to me today. It has a link to my current blog about Israel.

I was in getting into my car in a drugstore parking lot and I saw an older gentleman.  He was trying to reach into the passenger side door of the car next to me. The window cracked down a bit but his arm wouldn’t fit in. It looked like he was trying to open up the door. He looked looked exasperated, and I was pretty sure he’d locked his keys inside the car.

I could have moved on and ignored him, but I know what it’s like to be in need of help and I was sure, just by watching him, that he needed someone to assist.

I asked if he needed help and he confirmed that,  yes, he’d locked his keys in the car. He said he was trying to press a button on the inside to unlock the doors. I found a snow brush in my car (mid summer and I haven’t put it in the garage, but maybe that’s a good thing). I was able to reach the button but no luck unlocking the car.

“I live close by,” he said, with a distinct middle eastern accent. “I will just go home and get my other keys.”

I asked where he lived. It was not a close walk, but only a few minutes by car. I said I would take him and then drive him back to his car. He was so gracious and thankful.

On the way back he said, “I have lived here for 30 years and there is always someone nice who will help out.”

I asked where he came from. He said “It’s a long story. I’m originally, from Africa, but I grew up in the Middle East, in Lebanon.”

I said I had just come from a trip to Israel and remarked about how beautiful it was there.

“It is,” he said. “But there is too much trouble. I would go back but not until people stop fighting there. It is not safe.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe in,” he said. “God is God and we all believe in one God. There is no reason for the hate and violence. Everyone should live in peace.”

I knew what he meant of course. And I wished, at that moment, that everyone in the Middle East was like this man. Peace in the Middle East. Is it a dream or will it ever be reality? I wish I could say that in my lifetime it will happen, but I’m not hopeful. What do you think?

Back to our journey through Israel in my next post.

Experience of a Lifetime, Part 2


With the help of our tour guide – Tzvi Goldwag (pictured here with a map and my daughter, Jenn, assisting to steady the paper) we had three amazing, full-day tours. With a degree in history, and a Tour Guide designation, Tzvi knows all details about Israel, the country he calls home. A devout Jewish father and husband, he is obliging and happy to take you anywhere you want to go to see the sites of his beloved country.

My most memorable tour day was the Old City of Jerusalem, including the City of David, where Tzvi lives with his family. After touring this part of the world I can’t help but think how lucky he is so lucky to be living in this amazing place.

For me, there was the awe of beauty, historical places and learning. For example, I was under the misconception that Israel is considered a “Jewish state” but the Old City in Jerusalem shows us otherwise. This is the place where religions intersect. It is divided into four quarters – Muslim, Armenian, Jewish and Christian. This is one memory you will never forget.

Here is your experience: There is an old man holding out a cup asking for some money. Instead of looking away, like you do in Toronto or most North American cities, you stop and open your wallet. A single shekel (worth about 25 cents US) is like a fortune to this man and he thanks you “Toda Raba” very much.

There are Arab men with donkeys and so many things that make you wonder if the turn of any modern century has ever touched this place. But look around the corner. You see a truck and cars ambling slowly through the twists and turns of the road meant for feet rather than wheels.

Around another corner there is a vendor with small stuffed camels, batteries for your camera and cold bottled water that you desperately want as the hot sun beats down on you. It is a mixture of past and present, with commerce (of course) intertwined.

It doesn’t matter what faith or religion you may practice, or whether you choose not to. When you walk through holy places – Via Dolorosa, the route that Jesus took between his condemnation, crucifixion and burial; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the room of the last supper, you are awestruck. There are some small whispers inside the church walls but people move slowly and many won’t speak. It doesn’t feel right to talk when you’re surrounded with so much beauty and history.

Later, you go to the Western Wall, where all faiths go to pray – women on one side, men on the other. You tear off a sheet of paper and find a pen and write a quick blessing fold it and put it in a crack overflowing with blessings, then kiss the wall.

The amazing beauty of this part of the world – perhaps the oldest place of recorded history – is overwhelming. And when you look up and back from where you started out, to where you are now, the words recited each year at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder – “Next Year in Jerusalem” – immediately come to mind. And you vow that you will return here again.

Experience of a Lifetime


It was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was on my bucket list. When my cousin announced that his daughter was getting married in Israel I said “Let’s make this happen,” and we did. On May 28, 2010 my daughter, Jenn, 24, my sister (Anita) and her family (husband, Shane and daughters Danielle, 20, and Emma, 15) flew 12 hours to Tel Aviv, boarded a shuttle and took up residence in an apartment in Jerusalem. Over the next 10 days this trip transformed me in what I call “The Experience of a Lifetime.” The next few blogs will take you on my journey in a way that I hope won’t sound like a travel log, except that you will be subjected to having to view some photos (absolutely imperative for any trip “show and tell”). I invite you to come read, watch and listen, close your eyes and smell, taste and experience some of the highlights of this amazing trip.


On our first day we wandered around Jerusalem and discovered the food. I am not a foodie but healthy, savoury and “to die for” are the best words to describe everything we ate in Israel.

We went to the Jerusalem Shuk (Outdoor Market), where vendors sell their wares to tourists, and food and household goods for the locals.

Here is your experience: A vendor behind the counter, where spices of every colour fill a display case, beckons you over and won’t take no for an answer. He tells you to hold out your hand and fills it with a spice then says, “You try.” The aroma is tantalizing. Put it between you lips and it catches you off guard. It’s strong on its own, but in any food you know it will be wonderful.


In North America a gun often symbolizes a random act of violence. In Israel a gun is used for protection and is a necessary part of life. Israeli citizens are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). All eligible men and women are drafted at age 18. Men serve for three years, women for 21 months. There are some exemptions, but most do their service and are proud to tell you what position they held – from international affairs to a host of postings – during their time in IDF.

Here is your experience: As you walk through the market, or anywhere in Israel, it’s not unusual to see young men and women with rifles over their shoulders.  In fact, you actually start feeling safe when you see a young person, generally smiling and joking with friends, carrying guns slung across their shoulders.

I look forward to taking you on the next leg of our journey.