When I entered the Nalaga’at Center, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly the evening had in store. I was told that we would be dining in the dark, which was something that I was a bit nervous about to be honest, and after dinner we would be seeing a play in the theater. A good dinner and show always sounds like fun, but I had no idea how exceptionally moving everything would be. I have not stopped thinking about my evening at the Nalaga’at Center since it happened and I would love to tell you all about it.
The center is located in one of the best areas of Tel Aviv, at Jaffa Port, and the Nalaga’at Center building is completely wheelchair accessible. It was opened back in 2007, but has grown to be one of the most innovative culture and arts centers in the world. It is described as being “a space that enables an equal dialogue that promotes the needs and aspirations of every person, in the belief that all human beings are equal and every person has the right to make his or her contribution to society”. Specifically, the center focuses on showing the world what deaf, blind, and deaf-blind individuals can do, and it allows the public to experience what these disabilities are like, even if just for a short while.
My visit to the center started by meeting Roey Yamin, the International Relations Director for the Nalaga’at Center. He explained what the center does, and told us what all the evening had in store. First up was dining at the signature restaurant, Blackout. As the name suggests, it is pitch black inside the restaurant and all of the waiters are blind. He gave us menus and told us to choose an entree and a dessert before entering the restaurant. There were many choices including a variety of fish, pasta, and more, but Roey suggested ordering the surprise dishes. The surprise dishes are items not featured on the menu and they are the chef’s choice. If you opt for the surprise dish, you can choose either the fish or vegetarian option. After contemplating what to order for a bit, I chose the surprise fish dish and the surprise dessert. I thought that if I was going to dine in complete darkness, I might as well go all out.
A short while later, a lady named Ruth, who was blind and our waitress for dinner, came over and said hello. She told me that she would be guiding me with her voice through the restaurant and to our table. As soon as I went inside the door of the restaurant I couldn’t see a thing, but Ruth was right behind me and telling me “make a left, go forward just a little, now a sharp right” and so on until I reached the table. I was driving my wheelchair slower than I’ve ever driven it before because I didn’t want to put a hole in the wall or knock a table over. It was quite tricky to drive in the dark, but I eventually made it to the table with Ruth’s assistance.
At our table, we had a pitcher of water and my mom tried to pour it into glasses for me and our tour guide, Eli of Israel4All. She did a good job and didn’t even spill any. Next, some bread and olive oil came out. The bread was soft and delicious, but I did manage to dip my entire hand into the olive oil when I first tried it. When you can’t see what’s in front of you, it really makes it difficult to judge where things are located, but that was all part of the experience.
Just a short while later, my surprise fish entree came out. I tried to use a fork to eat it at first, but since I couldn’t see if I was getting anything with the fork, that didn’t seem to be the best option. Instead, I turned my dish into finger food. It was much easier to eat with my fingers. The word “Nalaga’at” means “please touch” in Hebrew and that’s exactly what I did. The food was exceptional and tasted like food that you would find from a fine dining restaurant in Tel Aviv. It was also kind of fun not really knowing what I was eating. What kind of fish is this? What vegetable did I just eat? Those questions were going through my mind and Ruth eventually told me what type of fish it was, but I don’t want to tell you because I want you to be surprised as well if you try it.
While we were eating, Ruth told us that if we had any questions about what it’s like to be blind, just ask her. She was incredibly nice and basically said that she just has to trust other people for many aspects of her life. When it comes to money, or shopping, she has to trust that they will tell her the correct price and take the correct amount of money. I’ve never really thought about what the simplest tasks would be like for blind people until this experience.
Our desserts were soon brought out and as expected, my surprise dessert was wonderful. Eating in the dark really enhanced my other senses. It allowed me to completely focus on the taste, hear the sounds of people around me, and smell the foods. Usually when I eat, I’m so distracted by my surroundings or my phone that I forget to actually enjoy the food. However, when you are in complete darkness, it elevates the food to another level and gives you a new appreciation for it.
After dessert, we exited the restaurant with Ruth’s assistance again and I was nervous to see how much food I had all over me. I expected for my shirt to be covered in food, but surprisingly I didn’t have anything on me. It was a miracle! We thanked Ruth for her kindness and hugged her, and then went to the theater at the Nalaga’at Center for the second half of our evening.
The play that we saw was called “Not By Bread Alone”, but there are a few other shows as well and depending on which day you go to the theater, you may see a different one. I would love to see every show that the Nalaga’at Center offers because “Not By Bread Alone” was amazing. It is made up of a cast of 11 deaf-blind actors and actresses and the rehearsal process took two years. It opened in 2007 and has been going strong ever since, even touring around the world.
In the show, the actors tell the audience about their lives and their dreams, showing that just because they are blind, they still have ambitions. I loved this message because I believe that many people don’t realize that people with disabilities can still have incredible lives. I’ve seen that first-hand as a wheelchair user, and often when I tell others for the first time that I run a website devoted to accessible travel and have been to 18+ countries, they’re shocked. I guess they think that I should just be laying in bed all day. This play shows others that just because you have a disability, no matter what it is, you still have hopes and dreams. The cast also shares memories from their past.
During the show, bread is actually baking in the ovens on stage. It smelled great and after the show, you can even go on stage and eat the bread. The bread is completely made by the deaf-blind actors and the bread is meant to be a symbol of our longing for a home.
This was hands down the best, and most moving, play that I have ever seen… and as a huge theater nerd, I’ve seen a lot. I laughed, I cried, and I left with a greater appreciation and knowledge of not only the cast of the Nalaga’at Center, but all deaf or blind people. From dining in the dark to seeing the incredible play, this was a life-changing experience for me. It ended up being the most memorable experience that I had in the city of Tel Aviv, and possibly in all of Israel. If you will be in the area, do not skip the Nalaga’at Center.
To learn more about the Nalaga’at Center, visit their website by clicking here.