One of my earliest childhood memories is of preparing a school project about a country that we’d love to visit, which, for me, was Sri Lanka.
Although life there seemed far removed from the Manchester Jewish bubble in which I lived, to me, Sri Lanka represented paradise.
I was fascinated by this teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean with its rich history, dating back 3,000 years, its tropical climate, and its wonderfully varied wildlife.
Sadly, the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka never arose. Not for me the globe-trotting gap year that many of my contemporaries enjoyed, during which a trip to Sri Lanka was the highlight. I watched with envy as they went off on their adventures, instead, having to make do with a postcard, which of course only heightened my desire to go there.
As the years wore on and I started work as a lawyer, before marrying and having children, travel became something that others enjoyed. I’d happily spend an hour or so in my lunch break, flicking through friends’ holiday snaps, but for me, that was the extent of it.
Having made aliyah some years ago, and settled on the shores of the Mediterranean in Netanya, my travel bug dissipated somewhat. But Sri Lanka always held a special place in my heart. This is why I was delighted to be included on the guest list for a dinner at the Sri Lanka Ambassador Nimal Bandara’s home in Herzliya a couple of weeks ago.
Sri Lanka's history of ties with Israel
SRI LANKA has long enjoyed fruitful, productive relations with Israel, with its embassy being established in Tel Aviv in 2000.
Under an agreement between the two governments, Israel provides job opportunities for Sri Lankan caregivers of whom there are around 7,000 working in Israel at present. Conversely, Israel has given technical support to aid the establishment of a modern agricultural center in Sri Lanka. In addition, training opportunities for Sri Lankan government officials under MASHAV - Israel’s Agency for International Development - have been proposed.
As a further sign of the strengthening of relations between the two countries, Arkia Airlines is scheduled to operate direct flights from Israel to Sri Lanka from October 31. Opening up this direct route between the two countries will, of course, further enhance this well-established relationship from all perspectives.
It will facilitate travel between the two countries for the thousands of Sri Lankan carers who work in Israel, and Israelis, well-known for their love of travel, especially around South Asia, will have easy, affordable, direct access to this beautiful country for the first time.
One of Sri Lanka’s most famous destinations to which surfers from all countries, including Israel, flock in their thousands, is Arugam Bay on the southeast coast of the island. Rated as one of the top 10 surf destinations in the world, Arugam Kudah, as it is known locally, has also hosted most of the international surfing competitions in Sri Lanka since 2004.
A number of Israeli organizations are also promoting surfing trips to this tropical island for people with special needs.
As well as surfing, visitors to Sri Lanka will have the opportunity to experience firsthand some of the country’s rich cultural and historical values, including astrology, meditation, ayurveda (alternative medicine), dancing, painting, and more.
The highlight of any trip, however, will doubtless be the fabulous food, and those who keep kosher need not feel excluded. Kosher restaurants are available in Arugam Bay and the Gandara area.
HAPPILY, SOME of Sri Lanka’s finest cuisine was served to guests by the ambassador at his recent dinner. Thirty-two mouthwatering dishes – in all – graced the table, some of which were prepared by the ambassador himself. These delicious dishes included: chicken biryani; string hoppers (Idiyappam); kottu roti; coconut roti; mango curry; butter prawn curry; Pathola (snake gourd); Cancun devil curry; cashew curry; potato and green bean curry; coconut sambal; Moringa (drumstick) curry; potato curry with coconut cream; and chili chicken curry.
Sweet treats, including caramel pudding and a selection of fruits, were also served after the meal.
This carefully arranged, beautiful array of dishes was a sight to behold.
As the ambassador, who was on hand to assist his guests as they helped themselves to the food explained: “It is important not only to cook the food but also to place it correctly on the table, to prepare colorful and matching tablecloths, as well as to place the food according to the colors.”
This spectacle was not lost on my fellow guests, whose number included: Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce President Anat Bernstein-Reich; Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce vice president Ron Doron; Federation of Israel Chamber of Commerce’s Or Nehushtan; Michal Weiler-Tal, director of the South-East Asia Department, Foreign Affairs Ministry; Nadav Ben Yehuda, Nepal Embassy; Israel Airport Authorities director Shmuel Amsalem; and Inga Michaeli, travel writer.
WHEN THE ambassador himself and the embassy staff aren’t busy preparing sumptuous dinners, they all work hard to support the thousands of Sri Lankans who live and work in Israel, often going over and above what is expected of them. Round-the-clock help is provided, including hospital visits, prison visits, participating in police interrogations and court hearings (translating), and so on.
One woman from the embassy, who works closely with the Sri Lankan community here in Israel, told me, “I was on a hospital visit not long ago and the doctor asked me who I was and where from. When I said the embassy, he stated: ‘This is the first time any embassy [worker] has visited a foreign worker.’”
In keeping with the warm hospitality for which Sri Lanka is renowned, its embassy also has a warm, welcoming atmosphere – a place where visitors can pop in and help themselves to drinks and snacks. There’s even a designated kids’ corner that opened last week. This provides a child-friendly area where youngsters can read, draw, and paint, while their parents seek the help they need from the staff. Chocolate, sweets, and fruit are also available for whoever wants.
My recent taste of Sri Lanka has not only stirred up some happy childhood memories but also reignited my desire to visit this magnificent country.
As my good fortune would have it, my wish may soon be granted, thanks to His Excellency Nimal Bandara, who has invited me to join his party on the inaugural direct flight to Sri Lanka next month.
At long last, my childhood dream will become a reality.
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.