a southern yankee abroad


Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv: The Old and the New

The view from my hotel room ❤ 

Ezekiel 3:15: “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Aviv, that lived by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.”

Tel Aviv, meaning “hill of spring,” is the second largest metropolitan area in Israel, and encompasses the energy and future of the modern state of Israel. The “hill” represents the old, and the “spring” represents the new, and the Father of Zionism Theodor Herzl wrote about this metaphor in his book Altneuland. Tel Aviv is only 108 years old–brand new compared to the rest of the country.

Our trip began and ended in Tel Aviv, yet I was only truly able to appreciate what Tel Aviv symbolizes after our visit to Jerusalem. The energy of Tel Aviv represents the energy and optimism of the Israeli people, and moving forward into the future with hope. It is also a very fun city, and I throughly enjoyed it despite the sad fact my phone was stolen here on the last night (I am grateful I was able to at least recover my pictures!)

Here’s an overview of our last few days in Tel Aviv:

1- Talk with Gadi Ezra. Gadi is currently Legal Counsel for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, and he is an LLM alum from NYU (!) Gadi spoke with us about his experience serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the difficult decisions he faced while serving in Gaza in 2008. Gadi emphasized how moral obligations to humanity call for higher standards than those laid out by the Geneva Convention rules of armed conflict. After sharing several anecdotes and asking us to think critically and honestly about what we would have done in his shoes, Gadi asked us to 1-question everything,  2-fight the urge to become cynical, and 3- remain hopeful as we continue to learn and engage with these issues as law students and future lawyers.

2-  Visit to Independence Hall. Here, we were able to learn the story of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. On this day, the words of Theodor Herzl, the Father of the Zionist movement, played out– “If you will it, it is no dream.” We also listened to a recording of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (who ironically was Buddhist) declaring independence. Independence Hall is located in the first house in Tel Aviv which had been converted to an art gallery. Celebrations of independence were cut short the very next day, as the brand new state was invaded by its 5 Arab neighbors, marking the beginning of a perpetual state of war and unrest. Sadly, many Holocaust survivors died defending the new state.


David Ben-Gurion

3- Beit Ambousa. In 1991, the state of Israel airlifted over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews who were in danger because of their faith from Africa to safety in Israel. Since that time, the Ethiopian Jews have formed a special part of communities within Israel. We were able to visit an Ethiopian Jewish community outside of Tel Aviv called Beit Ambousa, where we learned about the history of the Ethiopian Jews as well as their modern struggles for racial equality within Israel. My favorite part of this visit was 1-learning about how Judaism came to Ethiopia in the first place (a love affair between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba involving a series of riddles and a son named Menelik, who visited his father back in Jerusalem and returned to Ethiopia to rule) and 2-the delicious Ethiopian lunch we enjoyed inside the home of our gracious host, complete with dabo, teff, and injera.

Dabo and roasted chickpeas on the table…Blessing our host as she roasts coffee beans
Components of injera- teff, cabbage, lentil, potato. So delicious!

4-Graffiti tour of Tel Aviv. As a resident of Bushwick, I have developed an affinity for well-done graffiti, and Tel Aviv is rich with a modern graffiti scene. Below are some of my favorites from our walking tour:

This graffiti is done in braille–those who can see don’t understand it, and those who can understand it can’t see it. So many layers of meaning…
These cartoon figures represent Israeli and Palestinian brothers. They embrace each other out of optimism, yet their backs are turned to represent the conflict.


This graffiti depicts a security camera depiction of the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It has remained in place without being painted over since 1995, a rarity in the graffiti world.
“If I forget Jerusalem, it is because of New York”
Every person in this mural died at the age of 27. (Being 27 myself, this was a bit unsettling…!). Each person also died of drug addictions fueled by depression, and the artist has placed an uncompleted version of himself at the end–signifying his own personal struggles yet alluding to the fact that he has found his way out of the darkness and does not belong in this group.
Zim, our guide, explaining the message directed to us on the wall behind him. He explained there are “no hard feelings,” but Tel Avivians get annoyed with tourists in the same way New Yorkers get annoyed with tourists (haha).


5- My favorite dinner of the entire trip was at Racha, a Georgian (the country not the state!) restaurant in Tel Aviv. The owner explained the tradition of the Georgian blessing to us, which we conducted as a group and involved our NYU leader Mitch drinking an entire horn of wine! She was so fun and hospitable! Dinner ended in a dance party!

Sarah and me with Lili, the fabulous owner of Racha!

Just as the verse in Ezekiel describes, I was overwhelmed (in every sense) for 7 days by all Israel has to offer. With its vibrant energy and focus on the future, Tel Aviv was the perfect place to begin and end this “mas’a” (Hebrew for trek). I am so grateful to iTrek and our tireless student leaders Mitch and Hannah for allowing me and my fellow law students to experience and learn about the rich culture and history of Israel and Palestine. I am also so grateful for the friendships I am taking away from this trip, which I know will shape the rest of my law school experience in a positive way.


Bhargavi, Shreya, and me with Doron our amazing guide on our last night…I will miss these good people!
I learned an incredible amount from Daniel, an Israeli law student who served in the Gaza war and traveled with us over the week
We visited the Israeli law firm Meitar, where we learned a good deal about private law practice in Israel. Imagine my surprise when I saw this photograph in the conference room…I met this exact same couple while in Hoi An, Vietnam, last summer! The world felt like such a small place to me in this moment.
Independence Hall, Tel Aviv

Shalom Y’all! 

Greetings from Israel! After 13 hours of flying, I arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday just before midnight and made my way through security. Since I arrived a night before the rest of the NYU group, I had booked a night at the Beachfront Hostel–located right on the beach with an amazing rooftop patio. The next day was full of exploring, laying on the beach, and meeting up with the iTrek group from NYU at our hotel, also located on the beach.

ITrek is a program that sponsors trips for law students to visit Israel and become informed about the many complex issues that face the country and region first-hand. I am fortunate enough to be traveling with NYU’s iTrek over my spring break. Our group has 42 students across the JD and LLM program at NYU Law, many from other countries including the USA, China, Chile, Mexico, India, and of course Ireland!


After a late night exploring the bars and beaches in Tel Aviv, we woke up bright and early for our first group meeting at the hotel with Tal Schneider, a political journalist covering Israeli and US politics. Tal explained the complexities of domestic Israeli politics, and discussed how Trump’s unclarity regarding his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may play out in the current global political climate. You can read Tal’s work at Huffington Post and Haaretz, and also here.


Following the talk, we rode down to Old Jaffa, where our guide Doron explained the long, complicated, and detailed history of the land we now call Israel. Old Jaffa is a 4000-year-old town that was swallowed up by the sprawling urban mass of Tel Aviv in 1950. We visited the church at the place where Peter is reported to have had a vision, and we were able to stay for a few minutes of mass. We then explored the market and seaport, before getting on our bus to Nazareth.

Nazareth is located in the northern part of Israel, and is famous for being Jesus’ hometown! It is majority Muslim, and is very modern (complete with an H&M and Zara). We had lunch before visiting the Church of the Anunciation, located at the place where Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus.

Nazareth is a majority Muslim town that draws a significant amount of Christian tourists

The church has different artistic depictions of Mary given from countries around the world to honor her role in the Christian faith.

Depiction of the Virgin Mary from the USA

The church has preserved the very spot where tradition holds the angel visited Mary (below), and visitors are able to file past.

After leaving Nazareth, we stopped at a beautiful lookout point just outside the city, where we soaked in views of Nazareth and the surrounding agriculture. We also were able to see Mt. Tabor, the traditionally held location of Jesus’ transfiguration.

Behind me is Mt. Tabor, the site believed to be where the transfiguration of Jesus occurred

We then drove further north to the Golan Heights region, which was part of Syria until Israel took control during the 1967 war. We stopped for dinner and a wine tasting at Assaf Winery, where we had 6 different wines paired with what seemed like endless courses of food. Golan Heights is like the Napa Valley of Israel, and the Assaf winery is family owned and operated. They were extremely hospitable hosts. I bought a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy later on the trip!


After a delicious dinner and wine-tasting, we continued even further into the Golan Heights to our accommodations for the night–Kibbutz Ein Zivan. I’d always associated the “kibbutz” with a type of utopian hippie commune, and apparently they were collective communities of this sort until the 1970s. Now, kibbutzim is still a part of the Israeli national identity, but they have been privatized and function as vacation getaways. Our kibbutz was cozy, clean, comfortable, and without wifi– a very utopian hippie experience indeed!


Only 2 days into Israel, and we’ve already done so much! Up next… the Syrian border, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.

(A special thank you to my co-author Jack, who is bringing the luck of the Irish to the blog on this trip!)

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