In the pantheon of “must-see destinations” for visitors to Israel, or even residents of Israel, Ramle probably falls somewhere between Kiryat Gat and Ofakim. It doesn’t have major historical attractions (which isn’t to say it’s not historically interesting), it doesn’t have any pre-Zionist Jewish history, it’s more than a little rough around the edges, a bit economically depressed, not much to look at and, as a final injustice, always associated with Lod.
But of course, if you structure your Israeli experience around the places collective opinion deems “must-see,” you’re missing out on what makes Israel truly great. I’ve had much more fun camping in a crude shack surrounded by kilometers of nothingness in the middle of the Arava than I did, say, on the tayelet in Tiberias, but you’ll never find the crude shack option in your Let’s Go guidebook’s list of recommendations.
What I’m trying to say is, Ramle deserves a little bit of time somewhere between eating ice cream at Katzefet on Ben Yehuda and buying overpriced chintz in the Tzfat Old City, or whatever it is tourists are doing these days. One of the few major towns in Israel founded by Arabs (although supposedly on the site of the New Testament locale of Arimathea), Ramle was initially settled in the 8th century by residents of neighboring Lod and quickly became the capital of the region of Palestine, a sub-district of Syria, itself a district of the greater Arab Muslim empire which ruled the Middle East between the Islamic Conquest and the arrival of the Turks and Crusaders in the late 11th century. It passed into Crusader hands and became a major town in the Kingdom of Jerusalem – the Crusaders built the Cathedral of St. John, which was converted into a mosque following the Muslim reoccupation. Ramle was a barely populated backwater during the Ottoman period, until Zionist investment and settlement and the establishment of the British Mandate precipitated an economic boom in Palestine, attracting many new Muslim and Christian residents to Ramle.
Ramle flourished, as it had historically, due to its position near the beginning of the road from the coast to Jerusalem, but, like the other settlements along the Jerusalem road, it became a staging point for foreign and local Arab armies fighting the Jews during the lead-up to the 1948 War. In July 1948, the newly-formed IDF launched Mivtza Dani, an assault on the centers of Arab resistance which had blocked the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, including Lod, Ramle and Latrun. When the IDF overpowered the Arab forces in Ramle, most of the town’s Arabs fled or were expelled. The government saw an opportunity and immediately began settling Ramle with new immigrants.
Which brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to my point in writing this post in the first place. One of the groups of immigrants which wound up in Ramle were the Indian Jews, who arrived in large numbers in the 1960s. And where there are immigrants, eventually one of them is going to open a restaurant. And it was because of this restaurant that Harry and I embarked on a trip to Ramle. Harry turns me on to all the cool shit.
The Indian restaurant in Ramle is called, of course, Maharaja, because there is an unwritten law somewhere that all Indian restaurants, everywhere, have to either be named “Maharaja” or something to do with “Delhi.” It’s a little restaurant on Herzl St. attached to a Indian goods store (the sign advertises “Indian Sweets” and, why yes, you can get parve ghee – but don’t ask me how that works), it’s vegetarian, kosher dairy, affordable (25-35 shekels for a meal, unlike other more expensive Israeli Indian restaurants), and, most importantly, super tasty. It’s all your favorite dishes from American Indian restaurants that you thought you’d have to give up in Israel, except it’s Jewish Indian food, so they give you three times as much. Harry mounted a valiant offense, but in the end, the majority of his combination platter with rice still remained. Athough he did finish his sugar-water-soaked donut ball, or whatever those things are called.
Oh, and as we can both attest, the girl who works there is smoking hot.
So expand your mind, get out of Jerusalem for a day, and head down to Ramle. It only takes 45 minutes by bus. Tell the smoking hot girl that Jewlicious and the View From Here sent you. And pick me up some of those sugar water donut balls.