Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.
Israel is a pretty incredible destination year-round. But, I’ve come to believe, there’s nothing like summer in Tel Aviv.
Which is why, after my trip to the British Isles for a wedding and a peek at a new city and a Spice Girls concert and a big reunion of my closest friends, I was thrilled to find myself with a week there.
I came to Tel Aviv for three reasons: to develop a set of Wander Women Retreats here in spring of 2020, to experience one of the greatest Pride celebrations in the world, and, well, to bask in the ethereal magnetism that has been drawing me back so often, lately.
The year had been a crushing one, in so many ways, and I’d without question held the Middle East up on a pedestal. This, my brain would say, holding the memories up on a rotating show case silver platter like something out of the home shopping network, this was where you were last happy. Where you were last carefree. Where you felt sexy and young and silly. Where you felt inspired and successful and passionate. Where you felt the weight of zero worlds on your shoulder.
It was, in retrospect, a lot to live up to. But looking over the wing of the plane at the city of Tel Aviv that warm Monday night, I felt that electric spark go off in my chest. This week was going to be just what I needed, I just knew it. I had exactly one week before my partners for my retreat in Egypt returned from their holidays and I had to hop over the border to meet them. I couldn’t wait to make the most of it.
In true Israeli hospitality style, I was picked up at the airport — with a bag of post-travel snacks, natch — by my friend Or.
Or’s Givatayim apartment is straight out of a design magazine — which is exactly where it’s been featured, more than once! It was the perfect, comforting place to land late at night, and start the next morning with a yoga flow, a healthy homemade breakfast, and a coworking session. It felt so good to be back in Tel Aviv and surrounded by the creative souls who call it home.
Soon, I was beach-bound. While Or would have generously hosted me this entire trip, I was craving the sea, and some solitude, something fierce. I’d booked an oceanfront room at Beachfront Hostel, and couldn’t wait to wake up every morning, walk across the sand, and put my toes in the Mediterranean Sea.
While Beachfront is a bit ramshackle and isn’t as slick or well-organized as the stellar chain of Abraham Hostels in Israel (which I am using for my High Flying Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat), the setting is incredible — especially for Pride (more on that in a separate post.) They put out a beach shade on the sand in front of the hostel, have regular organized activities like a rooftop yoga class that I joined for, and are well-situated in a pretty central location. For this trip, I couldn’t have asked for better digs.
The beach culture in Israel is unlike anywhere I’ve experienced in the world, outside of Brazil. It’s like for a few months of the year, all the city’s socializing and society moves to the sea. And I’m all about that life.
I spent so many hours here happily writing on the balcony, reading on the beach, and enjoying a freedom that once felt so familiar and suddenly seemed quite foreign.
Pride festivities-aside, I spent a lot of the week hitting the pavement, walking between meetings, accommodation tours, and scouting trips. Headphones on my ears, map in my hands, lost in my thoughts — my favorite way to move. I saw so many new corners of the city, and started to put the pieces of how the familiar bits fit together. It felt so good to already start to feel at home in a city I’d loved since my first glimpse.
And of course, I met with friends, who wanted to introduce me to friends, who wanted to point me in the direction of other friends. Israel is not just a country where someone will gladly pick you up at the airport; it’s also a country where people love bringing people together — they will stop at nothing to connect you to the person you need to be connected to, which is a joy in terms of travel and retreat planning.
Casually mention you’re looking to arrange a glamping experience in the desert, next thing ya know everyone is on the phone shouting about tents in Hebrew and putting you in touch with their cousin whose hairdresser knows just the guy. It’s the best.
I was lucky to reunite both with friends at Vibe Israel, the organization that first brought me to the country, and with Israeli friends I’ve made in my travels both here and afar. Sometimes those reunions even led to raging nights out — one of Tel Aviv’s specialities!
Retreat planning, which at this point was in such early stages I was kind of just groping around in the dark, brought me to so many amazing places. Israel is complicated and has so many unique cultural challenges, I can’t tell you how much I have learned from the countless hours I’ve poured into planning my two upcoming trips here.
Sometimes it was blissful, like when villa hunting brought me for the first time to Neve Tzedek, which made me feel like I’d just stumbled onto a cobblestone block in Malta.
Sometimes it was frustrating, like when I fell in love with the place, asked to put down a deposit, and was told the owners wouldn’t commit to a booking more than a month or two ahead. Okay then. Back to the drawing board. But now, knowing Israel a little better. (And the space I ultimately landed on for the Tel Aviv digs of my Wander Women Israel trip? Better than anything I dreamed of.)
My favorite part of retreat planning is checking out possible activity vendors.
Why? Because it’s basically just me doing the things I love and figuring out if I think y’all will love them, too. Enter Bascula Circus School, an urban circus space in the heart of Tel Aviv. I’d signed up for a private lyra and silks class with Tal Asher, a friend of a friend of a friend (you’re starting to get a picture of how Israel works, right?) and couldn’t wait to see the studio.
It reminded me greatly of New York’s own The Muse studio in Brooklyn, which made sense when I ended up chatting to the owner, who helped open up, you guessed it, The Muse. New York and Tel Aviv are sister cities in countless ways, and it’s rare to make it through a day without making a connection of some sort between the two.
Next up, I’d managed to nab a private class with one of Israel’s top pole instructors, Niv Gradus. My friend Jannah had recommended him as a must both for my growing personal aerial arts obsession and as another potential vendor for the aerial trip I was in the very early planning stages of, at the time.
(Spoiler alert: I couldn’t be prouder of what I created.)
Or joined me, last minute, and I’m so glad he did. We had the best time with Niv and I really loved seeing how much progress I made in a private class over a group one — it’s something I need to invest in more frequently. Niv was an absolute blast and I could see why he was such a hit on Israel’s Got Talent.
Pole is huge in Israel, and it’s something I wish I had more access to on a regular basis. It’s so much fun and such a great workout.
Finally, I’d saved the best for last. Life is just better on a paddleboard, and I was excited to take a class with Sunshine SUP, a female-owned paddlesport company that offers SUP yoga, SUP fitness, paddleboard tours and more, out of a charming studio in Jaffa.
I signed up for SUP yoga, and spent the hour flowing atop my board, beaming with gratitude for everything my body was doing and my eyes were seeing. I’ve taken SUP yoga classes all over the world but this one, with the gates of Old Jaffa in one direction, the skyscrapers of modern Tel Aviv in another, and the vast stretch of the Mediterranean in all others, might just be the best setting I’d ever practiced in.
I’m thrilled that we’re including Sunshine SUP in both my Israel retreats — in our High Flying Aerial Retreat, a fitness conditioning class, in my Wander Women Yoga + Adventure Retreat, a vinyasa one.
I can not wait to be back here.
While I tried to squeeze in a surfing lesson at a female-owned surf school in the area as well, I quite simply ran out of time. Luckily, I love leaving something to come back for.
On my way home from this second trip to Israel, a close friend asked me so, why Israel? I paused and thought about the vibrant Red Sea, the hauntingly beautiful Negev desert, the surreal Dead Sea, and my obsession with Tel Aviv, a pulsing city along the Mediterranean. I thought about lazy days on the sand and crazy nights on the dance floor. I thought about skies full of sunshine and plates overflowing with fresh gorgeous food.
But the answer that came out was none of those things (okay, fine, the beach was mentioned.)
I’m just beginning to understand the intricacies of Israel, but it feels like this is a culture where joy and suffering live side by side, comfortably. If there is a heaviness hanging over you, you don’t need to either tuck it away or let it define you; it can just exist, one piece of who you are.
Here, you can sit on the beach with friends and have a shockingly raw conversation about a challenge you’re facing or a heartache you’re experiencing. And they will listen, really listen, and grieve with you. And then, you can get up and jump in the water and laugh at something joyful, and it’s effortless and natural to move between them. Because everyone is diving right in, all the time, to life here, with passion and intensity.
My mom’s cancer diagnosis almost immediately followed my last trip to Israel. Work-wise, I owed a lot to a lot of people, all across the world, but the messages I got from my partners in Israel stood out for the fact that they mentioned outstanding deliverables almost as an afterthought; like oh, needless to say, you owe us nothing. Instead they were messages of compassion and understanding — no platitudes, no uncomfortable squirms. Almost every Israeli person I’d ever met reached out.
It stayed with me.
And it felt right to be back.
I’d come back to Israel desperate to feel that same carefree feeling, that magic, that weightlessness that I hadn’t felt in over a year.
And as I left, I promised myself I’d be back again, anytime I needed to feel a rush, perhaps not the heady carefree one of a life that felt further away every day, but a rush of something that made me feel alive.
Thank you, Tel Aviv.