Four years ago I embarked on an expedition through the complex cultural mosaic that is Israel to introduce readers to aspects of the country that never appear in the media - the curious, the moving and the dramatic.
I was introduced to places that few know about, fossilized trees in the Negev dating back 120 million years and a leopard shrine from a mere 10,000 years ago. I marveled at magnificent pure white chalk hills near the Egyptian border and discovered sculptural rock forms near Timna, the remains of copper mining. I was delighted by a derelict Mandate era spa by the Dead Sea where hand painted murals depicting regional topography adorn the walls, and fascinated by the history of perfume production at Ein Gedi and the efforts to recreate the scent that so captivated our ancestors.
I encountered some unforgettable individuals - Gershon, a poet, runs a boxing club in Jerusalem, Sheikh Suleiman entertained me in the Negev as did Mariam, a Bedouin who established her own organic cosmetics factory. I spent time with Emahoy, a Ethiopian nonagenarian nun and world renowned composer of piano music, and met Amnon who houses a unique Matcot Museum in his apartment in Neve Zedek. Eid offered me herb tea and 10 year old cheese at Ein Feschka and I made special friends of the Bau sisters who run a museum devoted to their father, a Holocaust survivor whose wedding featured in Spielberg’s’ ‘Schindler’s List’.
I met devoted volunteers who redistribute surplus food, donate hair to make wigs for cancer patients, sell soup-filled bowls to raise money for African refugees, organise sporting events for peace and work for emergency services that save lives.
My lens focused on cameos of everyday life - Israeli driving, communal singing. dancing, backgammon, felafel, sunflower seeds, standing on line, the ‘Israeli Breakfast’ and even the manner in which Israelis cross roads and clean their floors.
As humour is an essential part of life, many stories are imbued with whimsy and wit. ‘Unexpected Israel’ brings people and places to life, ranging from caviar to camels, owls to oranges, pomegranates to pilgrims and fossils to friendship as well as some unimaginable tales of heroism. It has been without doubt a memorable and wholly ‘unexpected’ journey.