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When in Israel, Shop

Although it is certainly possible to return from Israel with a suitcase full of religious objects, exotic spices and T-shirts happily proclaiming Don't Worry. Be Jewish, it is equally likely that sophisticated shoppers will spend their shekels on one-of-a-kind jewelry, household items, clothing and artwork.

In Tel Aviv and neighbouring Jaffa, designers and artists are rejuvenating older neighbourhoods, opening tiny shops to offer discerning customers the very best of their original work.

Some of it can be had for a song; other pieces are pricey but can be considered investments.

Here's an admittedly incomplete guide to shopping the city:

You can wander for hours down the narrow, winding streets of these old city areas, stopping to admire handmade shoes, unique jewelry and pausing for a cappuccino at one of the many cafs.

Gan Hachasmal, home to the country's first electrical compound, was once overrun with prostitutes and seemed resigned to derelict buildings. Three years ago, the young designers moved in, attracted by inexpensive rents.

Orna Rothman, a fashionable Israeli banker, buys the majority of her clothing in the area.

"The quality is good and I like to support the designers," she says.

Of particular note are Sigal (55 Shabazy St.) for handmade jewelry; Kissim (8 HaHashmal St.) for leather and cloth bags (including one featured in the

Sex and the City

movie); Shanibar (151 Dizengoff St.) for shoes and boots; Ruby Star accessories (28 Levontin St.) for wild, fun jewelry and belts; and Frau Blau (8 Hahasmal) for women's clothing.

Shlush Shloshim Ceramics Gallery (30 Shlush St.) is a co-operative of Israeli ceramics artists filled with vibrant, interesting work.

Not all of the original stores in the area have closed. Kapash Gems, in business for 35 years, still sells beads to designers around the world. Owner Jacob Kapash says he's delighted by the rejuvenation in the area.

If the shopping has you exhausted, book an appointment at Planet Spa (Suzanne Dalal Center, Neve Tzedek). With offerings like a Moroccan Detox and Thai massage, your aching feet and depleted wallet will soon be forgotten.

There are also art galleries galore. One of the most interesting in Jaffa belongs to Ilana Goor, a flamboyant artist and collector. Years ago, she bought the historic building that now houses her collection and where she still lives in a separate apartment.

The 71-year-old has filled the cavernous building with an eclectic collection of contemporary art by young artists, her own work and a truly stunning number of portraits of herself produced by other artists.

Artists are welcome to stay in the guest suite, assuming Goor issues the invitation. Actor Robert De Niro has bunked in the small room.

The view from the rooftop sculpture garden is worth the trip alone.

The gift shop is filled with items Goor has designed.

The open-air market is laden with fruit, pastries, flowers, clothing, spices and candy. It's also chockablock with people, especially if you're shopping on a Friday afternoon before the Sabbath begins.

People pull wheeled shopping bags filled to the brim with fresh food, stopping often to visit in the narrow street.

You don't have to be shopping for anything in particular to enjoy the noise and the smells, but it is almost impossible to resist grabbing a fresh pretzel or a basket of luscious, fresh strawberries.

You're not going to find original designer goods here unless you count the food produced by the people behind the stalls.

This is a nice place for a stroll, especially on Tuesdays and Fridays, when artisans set up tables to peddle their handmade wares.

There are some good deals on unique earrings, necklaces and bracelets.

This is also a good place to shop for Judaica.

As with many places in Israel, expect to stop and have your bags checked by security personnel before you are allowed to wander freely.

Though Jaffa was once its own distinct town, it has essentially been swallowed up by Tel Aviv.

In the past three years, the flea market has been rejuvenated and, to a certain degree, cleaned up. Puaa Ladizinsky, owner of Puaa restaurant, embraces the spirit of the area by offering everything in her place for sale.

"You're eating here, you like the plate, you can take it home," she shrugs.

The market is open to midnight, offering bargain-hunters the chance to bargain for everything from gorgeous antique furniture to busts of Elvis Presley.

It's a surreal place, with many shopkeepers more intent on smoking cigarettes and visiting with each other than making a sale.

Still, the narrow alleys are stuffed with inexpensive jewelry, scarves and clothing, all just a bartering session away.

"This is the last place the shekel has worth," says Ladizinsky.

While it might be possible to find a bad meal in Tel Aviv, you'd have to be spectacularly unlucky.

With fresh ingredients, a devout love of cooking and a determination to feed guests well and more than enough, restaurant and food-stall owners offer up some of the best eating anywhere.

For cheap, on-the-go meals while you're shopping, try any falafel stand or shawarma joint. Shawarma is a pita or flatbread stuffed with meat, hummus, tomato and cucumber, and often tahini. It's messy and wonderful.

For another inexpensive meal in Jaffa, drop by Dr. Shaksuka, where the large and jovial owner, Beno Gabso, whips up a traditional tomato-and-egg stew. His casual restaurant is usually packed with a blend of locals, soldiers and tourists.

But fun places like the Tel Aviv port are also filled with interesting places to eat, often before the area bars start to fill around midnight.

People who want to take a little bit of Israel home so they can do their own cooking will stop by liveO (21 Rotshchild Blvd.) for an olive-oil tasting.

Foodies will be able to tell the difference between the different oils and will be willing to risk packing a bottle or two in their suitcases.

As well, there are scores of upscale restaurants, notably the seaside Comme Il Faut restaurant in Tel Aviv that adjoins a small shopping complex, and the cosy Kimmel Restaurant, where platter upon platter of appetizers feature fresh, local ingredients.

It is also located close to the Nalaga'at Centre, a theatre company comprised of 11 deaf-blind actors whose performance is both riveting and heart-rending.


When in Israel, Shop 1

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