As cyclists competing in the Giro d’Italia rode across the entire country from Haifa to Beersheba last week, Israelis were captivated.
“That they got to Israel, is the peak of success. Wow, Giro in Israel. That’s the best thing that could be,” a bystander told JTA as the race opened in Jerusalem.
Canadian philanthropist, and passionate cyclist Sylvan Adams was a major force responsible for bringing the premier race to the Israel.
“My goal in bringing the Giro to Israel was to allow one billion TV spectators to see the beauty of Israel, and feel the warmth of our people and culture. In other words, to see our ‘normal’ Israel, which is often obscured by persistent, unidimensional media coverage, which ultimately distorts peoples’ perceptions of our country,” Adams told The Jerusalem Post.
“But I must say, I found the reaction by Israelis to bring their spirit and passion to this four-day party truly overwhelming, and I am gratified and moved by this outpouring of positive spirit in the country. Let’s hold onto it for a little while longer and appreciate what we have here,” he added.
While it was the largest sporting event to take place in Israel – and Jerusalem – that powerful image of cyclists from all over the world flying past the capital’s iconic landmarks like the Old City walls and the Israel Museum, is just one of the many examples of how the city has been able to juxtapose the trappings of modernity with its ancient history.
From the bustling Mahaneh Yehuda market, to the First Station which – for now – caters to consumers even on Shabbat, to its lively city center, Jerusalem is rapidly nipping at the heels of Tel Aviv when it comes to the culture scene.
“For me, Jerusalem is unique. I am religious, so that helps, but it’s more than a religious and holy city – there is so much, rich character here. It’s smaller and more intimate in the best way possible. There is so much culture here,” Tatiana Hasson, Director of Engagement and Outreach at The Israel Innovation Fund (TIFF), said.
TIFF’s vision is to highlight cultural initiatives – film, art and wine – and show how they can enhance the Zionist enterprise.
One of the ways they execute their vision is through their flagship initiative, Wine on the Vine. The concept is a simple one – individuals or groups buy a vine in an Israeli vineyard. Wine on the Vine hopes to entice culturally aware pro-Israel Jews, Christians and wine lovers of all backgrounds to invest in the Land of Israel through its booming wine industry.
Some of the wineries they partnered up with originate from the areas just outside of Jerusalem like Psagot and the Gush Etzion winery.
And there is perhaps nothing that signifies a city ready to cut loose than a robust wine scene, which Wine of the Vine is happy to support.
As such, it is planning to have an event in the Jerusalem Village, an organization that enables young adults in the city to connect with their peers, this summer.
“To have the opportunity to live in such a place is incredible. There’s so much richness to this place and I think a reason for that is the complexity the city has – for better or for worse. It’s very intense, but there is so much character,” Hasson, who made aliya through Nefesh B’Nefesh a year ago said.
As for Wine on the Vine, Hasson is grateful for the opportunity to devote her energies to two of her biggest passions: Zionism and wine.
“I love wine. And I love the idea of dedicating my life to contributing to Israeli society and Zionism.
We’re creating something new and different, while also sticking to the roots of what Zionism is at its core and keeping people connected to the land,” she said.
During its recent launch party it also auctioned off paintings by Solomon Souza, a British-Israeli artist whose life-like and colorful street art graces the walls of Mahaneh Yehuda.
That market is just one of the many destinations one can go to for a bite, a cocktail and some good conversation. But nearby, in the city center, is the newly opened Harvey’s Smokehouse.
Co-owned by Harvey Sandler, the restaurant boasts anything a barbecue aficionado could ever want.
Popcorn chicken? Check. Crispy – but not greasy – onion rings? Check? Beef? From tacos, to brisket to a beef rib au jus sandwich, a carnivore will not go hungry at Harvey’s And judging from its packed house night after night, Sandler is on to something.
What is the key to his success? “By bringing American barbecue food scene to Jerusalem, we changed things up a bit,” said Sandler, a native of Vancouver who made aliya with Nefesh B’Nefesh over eight years ago.
However, finding an eclectic variety of food options is a fairly recent phenomenon in Jerusalem.
“It’s grown immensely. When I first got here, I wanted to try everything, so I dragged my wife to dinner all the time and we went to all kinds of places,” he recalled. “There was a lot of food here, but not a lot of good stuff. It seemed like every time you went out, you encountered the same items on the menu.
“We’re getting different tastes and flavors that didn’t exist a short while ago and that’s great,” he said. “Just look at the shuk [Mahaneh Yehuda market].
Things are changing. For example, sushi was a big thing, right? So now, you have Station 9 which is doing a different kind of Asian food,” he said of a pan-Asian restaurant at the First Station.
But whether they choose to make their home in Jerusalem or elsewhere, for these olim (immigrants) know they found their true home in Israel.
“Israel is the homeland of the Jewish People. The purest form of Zionism (though not the only one, to be sure) is living here. That’s why my British-born wife and I, as passionate Zionists, decided to make aliya,” said Adams, who met his wife over 30 years ago while volunteering on a kibbutz.
“I came home in Montreal a couple of years ago and asked her ‘Margaret, what do you think about moving to Israel?’ She answered, ‘Let’s do it, I always thought we’d end up there,’” he recalled. “A month into our aliya, I turned to Margaret and said, ‘This is going to work.’’’
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.