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My Israel visit: despair, joy and everything in between

Israel will survive as the Jewish homeland. The people are resilient and tough, and the chocolate rugelach are just so good.
Lisa Goldberg
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Release The Hostages Protest – Tel Aviv

Memorial for hostages in Tel Aviv, May 12 (Itai Ron/Middle East Images)

Published: 17 June 2024

Last updated: 17 June 2024

How I wish I could write about food.  I find myself only able to write about one thing at the moment: Israel (and the diaspora Jewish community fallout). I have just returned from Israel and I have lots to say. The contrasts are almost too much. 

Let me set the scene. We’re in Jerusalem and have spent the morning at Mt. Herzl military cemetery followed by a visit to Yad Vashem. Both so sombre, but this time Yad Vashem was particularly so. Revisiting the inception and growth of antisemitism from centuries ago through to the Nazi era was unbelievably devastating to hear. It’s the story of Jews living comfortably and then suddenly not, the story I’ve heard before, many times.

Yet this time, hearing it in the shadow of the virulent antisemitism in the world today, it was almost incomprehensible. Previously it was a story from the past. Is history repeating itself? I stood there shaking my head, over and over. No tears from me, just sheer disbelief.

I needed a drink. For lunch, we had booked at my favourite Jerusalem restaurant, Machneyuda. Always excellent food, a fabulous bar and a unique Israeli ‘loving life’ vibe. We walked in and sat at the bar. There was a hen’s party to our left, a group of young Israelis to our right. The music was super loud, everyone was dancing, singing, drinking.

We booked lunch at my favourite Jerusalem restaurant, Machneyuda. Excellent food, everyone dancing, singing, drinking. I looked around and burst out crying.

I looked around and burst out crying. Not a little tear, I’m talking sobbing. My sister next to me took one look at me and did the same. We were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the contrast, almost a contradiction, of the two sides to life in Israel.

My previous Israel trips were all about the food and the iconic ‘must do’ things.

I loved being in the heaving hungry crowd in Shuk ha Carmel, especially on a Friday, stopping to buy a Druze pita with labne and za’atar straight off the domed iron hot plate. I loved the bustle of Machne Yehuda and the endless array of plump dried apricots and succulent dates, fresh and roasted nuts, candied and salted seeds. I loved lining up at Hakosem for my favourite falafel pita. I loved lining up (it’s Israel after all!) for the mouth-watering schnitzel challah roll at Halla.

I stood at the Kotel and danced with joy in my heart. I cried at every Jerusalem bar mitzvah - our son’s, our nephew’s, our friends’. I floated in the Dead Sea, with the saltiest water and stories of generations past. I climbed Masada at sunrise with the beautiful music of David Broza. I adored and admired the arrogant Israeli attitude to everyone and to life.

My trip last month was different from the outset. Should I go? Would I be safe? Would I be a voyeur? What will the Israelis think? Jewish friends said “good on you!” and non-Jewish friends said “why?”. These questions reflected my own thinking. I was apprehensive but I needed to go, to bear witness, to see and learn, and to come back and share. 

As I set foot in Ben Gurion airport, things were different. It was quiet, eerily so, not the usual balagan. Hostage posters lined the long sloping walkway towards immigration and, from then on, every free wall, shop window, light post and bus stop and even some trees, fences and buildings had a poster, a sign, a sticker, graffiti calling for release of the hostages. “Free Hersh”, “Let them go”, “Bring them Home”.

I was lucky enough to be part of a UIA (Keren Hayesod) solidarity mission with a group from around the world. Our aim? To show our support and love for Israel, and to learn what we could about October 7 and everything that followed. We visited the north, 10 km from the Lebanon border, and the south, one km from Gaza.

We heard from civilians, soldiers, hostage families, politicians, mayors, hi tech gurus, journalists, survivors. Amazing humans, many heroes and so much loss. Loss of loved ones, friends and peers, and loss of security. We visited places where barbaric things actually happened and walked on the ground where people had been chased, attacked, abused, murdered.

Posters of beautiful young, and not so young, music festival revellers now either murdered or taken hostage. We listened to survivors younger than my kids talk about the absolute horrors they witnessed. Did you know there are around 150,000 Israelis who are still unable to return to their homes in the north and the south? 

I walked around in a daze, still shaking my head. It was all so hard for me, a mere observer, to take in; I can’t imagine for one second how hard it was to be there. 

I then went to Tel Aviv. The market was absolutely buzzing on a Friday afternoon. The queues were still there at Hakosem and Halla. The restaurants were full. Bronzed people of all ages were playing racquetball on the beach, arguing over a line call. The usual zumba was happening on the promenade. At the Jaffa end, an Arab bakery cart sold Jerusalem bagels and pretzels. 

On the surface, it appeared nothing had changed. I sensed a little less arrogance and a newfound appreciation for diaspora Jewry. I sensed a renewed commitment, not just to the survival of Israel but also, to an absolute refusal to continue living in fear of terrorists over the borders. Does the world understand that Israel is now fighting a war on seven fronts?

Beyond the palpable pain and trauma often hidden under the surface, there is an incredible unity - people from all parts of society joining together to help, house, feed, clothe, heal, rebuild and strengthen. 

Yet there is also a division, a crack, in that same society when it comes to opinions on politics (ongoing for some time), the war (particularly priorities of rescuing hostages versus just going in hard to demilitarise Hamas) and a ‘day after’ plan, all exacerbated by the economic fallout. So many more challenges ahead.

Beyond the palpable pain, there is an incredible unity. Yet there is also a division, a crack, in that same society.

Coming home, all I see are hard-to-rationalise contrasts. An understandably broken and traumatised people rising in strength and unity. Seeing Israel hugely committed to its security and safety and then returning to Australia to see people screaming in the streets, dehumanising that same Israel.

Speaking to the beautiful young soldiers who are so full of courage and commitment fighting for their country’s survival and then reading the vile ant-IDF rhetoric circulating on socials. The hope from the recent rescue of Noa, Shlomi, Andrey and Almog and then the expected but devastating wave of “massacre in Gaza” headlines.

What is going on in Israel is truly painful to see. Yet the parroted antisemitic rhetoric and the hateful anti-Zionist slogans on our streets and in the media here (and around the world) are more disheartening and overwhelming, as they are so disconnected from the realities on the ground in Israel that I saw with my own eyes. Coming home was harder than being there. It is depressing to consider the contrast between fighting a military war against Hamas in Gaza that Israel will eventually “win”, albeit at an extraordinarily high price, and fighting a propaganda war in the diaspora that we could lose.

The contrasts there, and the contrasts between Israel and the diaspora, make it worse, sometimes unbearable. 

Israel will survive, it has to, as the homeland for the Jewish people. The people are resilient and tough, and the chocolate rugelach are just so good. They will never give up, and we must, drawing on their strength and courage, never give up standing right by their side. I live in hope that one day Israel can live in peace and perhaps without neighbours who want it not to exist, although that may be asking too much.

I also hope that next month I can write a simple piece about how to make a poppy seed strudel.

Photo gallery by Lisa Goldberg

About the author

Lisa Goldberg

As part of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, Lisa Goldberg has co-authored four best-selling cookbooks which document and preserve recipes from Jewish kitchens across Australia and the world. Lisa has also hosted and co-produced Walking up an Appetite, a food series on YouTube sharing all the things she loves to do - eat, walk, talk and cook.


  • Avatar of Merle Mosse

    Merle Mosse29 June at 11:34 am

    Thank you for your beautiful, evocative article. The attempt by Hamas to commit genocide on 7th October and the subsequent antisemitism expressed by so many people who should know better, only reinforces how imperative it is for Jews to have a homeland. As Bob Hawke said when the light goes out for the Jews, the light will go out all over the world. Please don’t listen to people telling you that the world hates Israel, we don’t.

  • Avatar of Myra Degen

    Myra Degen20 June at 09:18 am

    Hi Lisa, beautifully written article,our sentiments exactly. We arrived home last week(bodily that is)our thoughts still in Israel. We are so very grateful for the privilege of being there & the strongest message we bought home”don’t not go to Israel through fear of war.”we didn’t realise how much they need our presence & the isolation they feel,continually being thanked for coming. During our voluntary work at 2 different bases we were approached many times by young(they’re all young)soldiers thanking us for coming to help which always resulted in more of our tears,each time I turned it around & thanked them for putting their lives on the line for us & our beloved country we’d go back tomorrow if we could – Regards Myra ❤️🇮🇱
    I look forward to your new cook book😊

  • Avatar of Ruth Armitage

    Ruth Armitage19 June at 10:43 pm

    This article is a good illustration of one reason why there is so much anger against Israel at the moment. If only Lisa and her followers could read and try to absorb Rabbi Goodman’s message in the TJI article “Empathy is a muscle”.

  • Avatar of Helen Labi

    Helen Labi19 June at 12:06 pm

    I have just left Israel after visiting family and I’m crying reading your beautifully written words on Israel today I felt exactly the same and we were across the road from Tel-Aviv beach when the lifeguard made the announcement that 4 hostages had been rescued y the IDF the clapping and elation from everyone on the beach and the street enforced to me the solidarity of the people it was a “goosebump” moment in between the tears. There’s no other country like it and I actually felt safer in Israel than I now do in Sydney as a first generation of Holocaust survivors I never thought I would feel the wrath of antisemitism in Sydney
    Thank you for your heartfelt summation and I too look forward to reading your just about food posts again.Sorry to waffle on we must stay united.

  • Avatar of Bec Abraham

    Bec Abraham19 June at 12:14 am

    I wish you were still “just” someone I followed because I wanted to drool at your recipes. I wish I didn’t know what an incredible advocate or writer you were and I just knew you as a good cook.

    Thank you for using your strong voice, even though I wish you didn’t have to use it.

  • Avatar of Michelle Kornberg

    Michelle Kornberg18 June at 12:44 pm

    Lisa, thank you so much for this open, raw, and incredibly heart-wrenching article. We are certainly living in such uncomfortable and confusing times. You managed to weave in the all-important hope that we all must have in order for Israel and world Jewry to survive. I join you in looking forward to you once again sharing your wonderful recipes!

  • Avatar of Sheila Benjamin

    Sheila Benjamin18 June at 08:42 am

    Dear Lisa, I so enjoyed our morning at COA where you spoke with so much love about your cookbooks.
    And now I read your article and feel your pain but also reminisce of our beautiful visits to Israel. May we all return to better times in the world. Sheila Benjamin

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