Israel Travel Blog


Easter in Jerusalem

For Christians, there is no doubt that Easter is the most spiritual holiday in their religious calendar - yes, it even trumps Christmas in the sacred stakes! Why? Because this is the time of the year that the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the son of God, is commemorated and celebrated. They last for a period of time known as ‘Holy Week’ commemorating the events before and after the crucifixion.Easter celebration.Photo by freestocks on UnsplashIn late March or early April each year (depending on the calendar), thousands of pilgrims from all denominations descend upon Jerusalem for a period like no other. Taking place within the walls of the Old City, and at the Garden Tomb (which is open for visits throughout Holy Week (8:30 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 5:30 pm) they recreate scenes from the last week of Jesus’s life, culminating in a solemn procession on Good Friday and a great celebration on Easter Sunday. Let’s take a look at how the week unfolds and some of the rituals the make Easter in Jerusalem so special and moving for Christians…Palm SundayPalm Sunday always falls one week before Easter. It is the first day of’ ‘Holy Week’ and is a festival that commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. According to all of the Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by his followers who all waved palm branches to celebrate. Historically, the palm branch may have been a symbol of victory and triumph and the donkey seen as an animal of peace (not war, as would have been a horse).Today, in the Old City, pilgrims recreate this scene as part of the Jerusalem Palm Sunday Procession Tour Beginning at the Mount of Olives, descending into the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane Garden, pilgrims walk solemnly through the Lions' gate and into the Old City. They proceed along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked his last steps before arriving at the cross. All along you hear cries of ‘Hosanna’ from the crowds. The procession is led by leaders of the Catholic Patriarchate (in brown robes), the Latin Patriarch (in purple robes) and the Greek Archbishop (in black robes). All along the way, the route is lined with Christian pilgrims (both local and those who have travelled from across the world) reciting blessings and singing songs. It is a very colourful and interesting ceremony, which culminates at St. Anne’s Church.Palm Sunday Procession. Photo by Brady Leavell on UnsplashMaundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday and its name derives from the Latin ‘mandatum’ which means ‘command’. This ties up with Jesus’ commandment to his disciples “Love one another, as I have loved you.” This day, in essence, commemorates three major events:1. It is the day Jesus and his disciples sat down to eat the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus took bread and wine and shared them with everyone at the table. Today, Christians around the world of all denominations continue to use bread and wine in their services of worship (such as the Eucharist and Mass). 2. Furthermore, on Holy Thursday, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles. This act has different meanings - to show that as an important person, Jesus practised humility and love to others. Some Christians also regard it as a way of seeking reconciliation with someone before taking communion. Today, there is a traditional Washing of the Feet ceremony carried out in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.3. Finally, this is the day in which Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, after being betrayed by Judas. This was, for sure, a pivotal moment in Christianity.Today. In Jerusalem, pilgrims celebrate Maundy Thursday at the Room of the Last Supper (the Upper Room), located on Mount Zion. Some even hold an all-night vigil there, remembering Jesus’ hours in Gethsemane. In terms of the churches themselves, a Pontifical Mass (Supper of the Lord and Mass of the Chrism) is held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre early in the morning. In the afternoon, in and around the Old City, there are pilgrimages from one church to another followed by services of the Washing of the Feet. Typically, the route of procession passes by the Church of All Nations, through the Lions' Gate, into the Old City and along the Via Dolorosa. All along the way, pilgrims sing songs in a number of languages and pray. Room of the Last Supper. Photo credit: © ShutterstockGood FridayGood Friday (also known as Holy Friday and Great Friday) is a very solemn - and incredibly important - day in the Christian calendar, marking the death of Jesus by crucifixion at Calvary (Golgotha). Many members of the various Christian denominations attend church services, abstain from eating meat and even fast. In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican tradition, there is a service held between 12 and 3 pm, called ‘The Three Hour’s Agony’ (alluding to the hours Jesus was on the cross).In Jerusalem, each year, thousands of pilgrims descend on the Old City early in the morning, either to be part of the procession itself (tickets are numbered, limited and much sought after) or to pack the streets for a view. The procession itself is a recreation of the route Christ took, retracing his final steps on his way to the cross.The procession begins at the Mount of Olives, entering through the city walls and tracing its way along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (in Latin, ‘The Path of Sorrows’). Known as ‘the Way of the Cross’ it begins at 11.30 am at Station.1. The Stations of the Cross (14 in all, 8 en route and 6 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) refer to various images relating to Christ’s journey and his suffering as he walked this path.Mount of Olives. Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn the Old City, many pilgrims carry wooden crosses, sing hymns as they walk and often stop to recite prayers at each station. This is to symbolically offer ‘reparations’ for the insults and suffering that Jesus had to endure on his last journey which is estimated to have lasted 1.5 km (from Gethsemane to Calvary). The atmosphere is solemn and charged - many Christians, afterwards, describe it as one of the most moving moments of their lives. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the service is broken down into several parts: the Liturgy of the Word (carried out in silence). The Great Intercessions, the Adoration of the Cross, Communion (or Mass). Within this time, the liturgy will also include readings of the Gospel Passion narrative. After the ‘Three Hour’s Agony’ service - between 12 midday and 3 pm - vespers are read, to commemorate the time Christ’s body was taken down from the cross.Traditionally, on Good Friday, many Christians in Jerusalem will not eat meat or even fast entirely (to show their sorrow), will not perform any work, including washing clothes, breaking ground or playing with children. Since сhurches of the Old City of Jerusalem are open for the entire day, some pilgrims will spend much of the evening or night in contemplative prayer.A pilgrim in Via Dolorosa. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHoly SaturdayFor Orthodox communities, this day is known as Holy Saturday (‘Saturday of Light’) and each year in Jerusalem, it is commemorated with a ceremony named the Holy Fire Ceremony. This is held in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - it is a popular ritual that is well attended by Christians from across the denominations.According to Orthodox tradition, at this time a blue light emanates from the tomb of Jesus and rises up from the marble slab (upon which his body was placed for burial). It is believed that the light forms a column of fire and, as a result, candles can be lit from it, both for the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. It is also thought that this ‘Holy Fire’ will not burn them and can be used to spontaneously light other candles and lamps in the church.In the darkness, the Patriarch kneels in front of the stone, and the crowd waits anxiously. When he emerges, with two candles lit, his audience breaks into applause and cheers with joy. The dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEaster SundayThe final day of the Holy Week culminates in enormous celebrations - commemorating the day that Christ rose from the dead. In Jerusalem, celebrations begin early - at 7 am - with the entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An hour later, the Mass of Resurrection is held and this includes a procession around the Rotunda. The service begins in darkness and one by one candles are lit. The Priest will state ‘ Christ is risen’ and the congregation will respond "He is risen indeed". All heads of the various Churches in Jerusalem will wear their brightest robes, in celebration, and bells will peal out. People pray individually and collectively. Protestants celebrate with an Easter sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.The week following Holy Week the Orthodox Christians (including Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian Orthodox) celebrate Easter with similar ceremonies and services. Without a doubt, if you are thinking of making a trip to Israel, a visit at this time of the year is highly encouraged. Springtime is beautiful in the Mediterranean and, combined with the rituals enacted in this special week, you will have the opportunity to witness something quite unique in Jerusalem - something that is sure to stay with you for the rest of your life.The best wat to visitholy Christian sites in Jerusalemis to join one ofChristian Day Tours.Inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Sarah Mann

Pesach – The Jewish Pilgrimage

The Jewish religious calendar is full of events and holy days, most of which commemorate historic Biblical events. Each religious holiday comes with its own traditions and religious ceremonies. However only three religious holidays require Jews to make a pilgrimage – Pesach (Passover), Sukkot and Shavuot together they are called Shlosh HaRegalim. Of the three pilgrimages Pesach was the most important as it marks the birth of Israel as a free nation.In ancient times the pilgrimage was to the Temple which stood on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem up until 70CE. Pilgrims would come to the Temple and bring a sacrificial offering. Today, because the Temple no longer stands, prayer has replaced the sacrifices and the pilgrimage is no longer a Torah obligation. However many thousands of Jews choose to make the annual journey to visit the City of Gold during the pilgrimage festivals. As the Temple is no longer standing the pilgrimage is made to the Wailing Wall, the last remaining wall of the Temple where pilgrims come to prey. There is a point within the Wailing Wall Tunnel which is the closest point to where the Holy of Holies of the 2nd Temple once stood. Many pilgrims go to this point to prey. Other less religious Israeli Jews make the pilgrimage during Passover but turn it into a fun day out in the country’s capital without the religious implications.Pesach is a celebration of freedom, from slavery into independence from a foreign land into their own. Pesach lasts for 7 days (8 days outside of Israel) it begins on the 15th Nissan (usually in March and on the eve of 25th March in 2013) with Seder Night, a celebratory meal when the family comes together. At the Seder meal symbolic foods are eaten and the Hagadah, the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, is read. The first and last day of the holiday are observed like a Shabbat so no work is done and most businesses are closed. The intermediate days (Chol-ha-Mo’ed) are like a regular holiday, businesses may open half-day and schools are on vacation. For the entire holiday of 7 days Jews abstain from eating bread or anything containing fermented grain. This is a reminder of the hasty exit from Egypt when the bread didn’t have time to rise.The Pesach Pilgrimage in the New TestamentChristians will recognize the Passover pilgrimage as an event in the life of Christ when Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his parent for the Passover pilgrimage. At the time Jesus was only 12 years old, on this visit his parents lost him and finally found him preaching in the Temple (Luke 4:43). Many years later when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in the days preceding his crucifixion it was also leading up to the Passover pilgrimage.
Por Petal Mashraki

Christmas in Jerusalem

After the holiday of Easter in Israel, which for Christians is the most important festival in their calendar, Christmas is an incredibly popular time to visit Jerusalem. With dozens of churches in the Old City, near to the Old City and in the neighbourhood of Ein Kerem, there’s no shortage of places to spend this special time of year. And let’s not forget that - located just six kilometres from this holy city - is Bethlehem. Without a doubt, it’s an unforgettable place to celebrate the Christmas holidays.Nativity scene. Photo by Ben White on UnsplashFor sure, Christmas in Jerusalem is a truly unique time of year. Whilst it can be chilly (don’t forget to bring some warm clothes, since it is high in the hills) it’s Old City's Christian and Armenian quarters are filled with beautiful decorations and have a truly festive atmosphere. Other landmarks in the newer part of the city, such as the YMCA, are also fine places to visit since they hold carol concerts and services.And for a little luxury, you can always pop across the way to the elegant King David hotel for a drink at their elegant bar, or a meal in their famed fine-dining restaurant. Nevertheless, most pilgrims tend to congregate inside the walls of the Old City, so let’s take a look at what goes on there.Old City CelebrationsOn Christmas Eve, many Christian pilgrims follow in the footsteps of Jesus, from the spot at which he was tried to the site of his crucifixion and burial (Calvary), located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If you are within the walls, you will see them walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem and whilst this is something often associated with Easter in Jerusalem (and Good Friday services), it is still very moving procession to watch.Midnight Mass is always held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most sacred site for millions of Christians around the world. Dedicated in 336 CE, its lavish interior and extraordinary ambience make it a unique place to attend services. Whether of an Orthodox denomination - Greek, Coptic, Armenian & Syriac - or Roman Catholic - there will be chapels open for prayer and you will be astonished at a large number of candles lit there, only adding to the atmosphere.Christmas tree. Photo by Joanna Kosinska on UnsplashMidnight Mass and the Annual Procession to BethlehemAfter Midnight Mass at the Holy Sepulchre, many pilgrims decide to participate in the Procession led by the Latin Patriarch, which winds its way through Jerusalem’s Old City. Latin Patriarchs are the Catholic episcopal see of Jerusalem and stretch back to the time of Arnulf of Chocques in 1099. After a period of time where they sat in Rome, Pius IX reinstated a Resident Patriarch in Jerusalem in 1847.The procession passes by the Mar Elias Monastery, located in the south of Jerusalem and overlooking Herodion and Bethlehem. Maintained today by the Greek Orthodox church, it is decorated with Byzantine-style paintings depicting biblical scenes and worth a visit in its own right. The procession finally arrives in Bethlehem at around 1 am, passing by Palestinian scouts marching bands parading through Manger Square, bagpipe players, choirs that are carol-singing and an enormous Christmas tree. Pilgrims finally arrive at the Church of Nativity, the spot where Jesus was born in a stable.A fine way to mark this special holiday could also be with a ‘Christmas Eve in Jerusalem and Bethlehem’ tour that culminates with a festive dinner and midnight mass outside the Church of Nativity. Not only will you be able to see landmarks in the city, but you will also eat with your group, close to Manger Square, before partaking in the Midnight Mass.Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockAlternative Services in JerusalemFor those who are less inclined to travel on foot to Bethlehem, there are a number of services at other churches in the city. At midnight, you could attend the Benedectine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion and sing Christmas carols. Located at the highest point in Jerusalem, it commemorates the spot where Mary died (‘fell asleep’ as the name suggests). Look out for the dome above the statue of Mary - it shows pictures of six women from the Old Testament - Eve, Miriam, Yael, Judith, Ruth and Esther.For protestants, the Christ Church offers fantastic hospitality, beginning around 7 pm with coffee, biscuits and carol singing. After prayer and discussion, there is a Christmas service that begins at around 10.30 pm and lasts until after midnight. The Episcopal St. Anne’s Church, just 200 metres from the Jaffa Gate, also offers services and a popular concert, which tourists love. The Armenian Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Spasm (also known as the Church of Sorrows of Mary) also welcomes visitors.Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Sofia EmeliyanovaNotre Dame Centre and the YMCAAnother highly recommended spot to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem is the Notre Dame Centre. This beautiful French cathedral is located opposite the Lions' Gate and was built in the 1880s, to accommodate pilgrims wanting to travel from France to the Holy Land. Constructed on land purchased by the Count of Piellat, its architecture is a fusion of classical and modern - and after decades of construction, a beautiful nave was put in place. (Our tip: arrive early and visit their lovely rooftop restaurant, to enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese plate whilst watching the sunset over the Old City walls).The annual Christmas Eve concert and singalong at Jerusalem’s famous YMCA is always a lovely (and multicultural!) affair, including classical music as well as Christmas carols. Built in 1933 by the American architect Arthur Harmon (who actually designed the Empire State Building) it runs educational and cultural programmes throughout the year and its Youth Choir and tree-lighting ceremony are always a lovely thing to see. (Indeed, even at the height of the COVID pandemic, virtual services took place with a rendition of Ava Maria by the famed Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, as well as songs from the Nutcracker Ballet (accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra).Christmas-inspired concerts can also be heard at the Lutheran Church of Augusta Victoria. Located in the east of the city, on the northern side of the Mount of Olives, it was built at the turn of the century for the city’s German Protestant community who lived, at that time, in Ottoman Palestine.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Garden Tomb and Ein KeremThe Garden Tomb (always particularly popular with Protestants) is not the first place you might think of visiting in Jerusalem, at this time of the year, but it’s not just a spot of worship for Easter. Located close to the Damascus Gate and believed by some to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, every year they hold an evening of Christmas carols that are sung in English, Hebrew and Arabic! Finally, for those who care to venture out to Ein Kerem (which means ’Spring of the Vineyard’ in Hebrew) is a charming, lush hillside village, located in the southwest area of the city and famous for its ancient holy sites. These include the Church of the Visitation and the Church of John the Baptist.Christ Church Courtyard in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Por Sarah Mann

Christmas in Israel

Whether you’re a practicing Christian, an amateur historian, a theology student or simply a curious tourist, we think it’s fair to say that there’s nowhere like Israel to spend Christmas. Actually, the fact is that Israel is probably the ultimate place to spend this time of the year, with cultural and religious events held throughout the country, both in the larger centres and smaller towns.Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockNow if you’re coming from North America, or Western Europe, the chances are that you’ll associate Christmas with the date 25th December, the date that many believe commemorates the birth of Jesus. However, in Israel, Christmas is actually celebrated on three different dates - December 25th, January 7th, and January 19th. This, of course, is because different denominations follow different calendars - the Roman Catholic church follows the Gregorian calendar whilst the Armenian Church (in Jerusalem) and the Greek Orthodox Church follow what is known as the Julian calendar. Which Calendar?What does that mean in practice? Well, essentially that Roman Catholics (as well as Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans, celebrate on December 25th, and actually the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates on this day too. However, according to the Julian calendar, which is about 13 days out of sync with the Gregorian calendar. December 25th actually falls on January 7th!To make things even more complicated, the Armenian Church in Jerusalem celebrates Christmas on January 6th (according to the Julian calendar) which - in real terms - ends up being January 19th according to Gregorian calculations.Surprised Santa. Photo by krakenimages on UnsplashA Unique Experience in a Holy LandOver the years, in practice, Christmas celebrations in Israel have slowly become more aligned with Western celebrations - including the putting up of Christmas trees. Decorations of light and even Christmas markets. However, let us not forget that this is the Holy Land, and prayers, worship, celebrations, and the reciting of beautiful liturgies always take center stage, both in Bethlehem (famous for being the birthplace of Jesus) and many a communal feast!Ultimately, spending Christmas in the Holy Land has to be on many a bucket list and few come away from this kind of experience disappointed. So for those of you lucky to be arriving in a few months (and, sorry, as you know there are no guarantees, thanks to COVID-19), we thought we’d fill you in. It’s been a mad 18 months and having something to look forward to always helps so here’s our complete guide to the hows, wheres, and whys of Christmas events and services all over Israel. Happy Holidays everyone! Christmas in JerusalemThere’s no more atmospheric place to be than Jerusalem at Christmas time. The festival is really quite visible in the streets - with decorations and lights on many corners - more than anywhere else in Israel - which means you can really soak up the atmosphere. Whether you want to wander from church to church in the Old Cityor enjoy something a bit more modern around the Mamilla Mall or the YMCA, you won’t be short of activities to enjoy in a city that combines old with new.There are quite a few Christmas markets, the most popular of which seem to be the one at the New Gate that runs from Saturday to Tuesday in the week before Christmas Day (free entrance). For something more young and fun, head to the Abraham Hostel for their annual party, or walk over to the YMCA which holds a lovely evening each year, complete with carols, musical performances, and sometimes even dancing. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Church of the Holy SepulchreWithin the walls of the Old City, the most popular church to visit at this time of year is usually the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, each year it holds a solemn Midnight Mass and the atmosphere inside the church - lit with hundreds of candles - is nothing short of spectacular.There are also many other places to enjoy liturgy - both in the Christian and Armenian quarters and also at the Church of All Nations and also Dominus Flevit) with its famous and evocative glass window) on the nearby Mount of Olives. For a more detailed look at what to do in this extraordinary city, over December, take a look at our Christmas in Jerusalem article.Christmas in BethlehemAt this time of year, this small town just a few kilometers from Jerusalem comes to life, with Christians, Jews, and Muslims all celebrating together at the city’s central area, aptly named Manger Square. There’s a huge tree lit up for Christmas in Bethlehem, and you’ll no doubt hear carols being sung and have a chance to enjoy performances. Midnight Mass is held at the Church of the Nativity but, because of its popularity, entrance is by ticket only. But fear not - the mass is live screened around the world and you can watch it happening inside the church from a huge screen installed outside, in Manger Square. This really is an astonishing experience, and many visitors enjoy a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem Tour, which includes a festive meal in the area.Church of Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Nazareth - Market Stalls and Firework DisplaysNazareth might be a small city in comparison to Jerusalem, but it’s definitely worth a visit at this time of the year. Home to Israel’s largest Christian population, historically it was the place Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel (announcing to her that she would bear a child) as well as being the place where Jesus spent his childhood. Nazareth is also within a short driving distance of the Sea of Galilee (if you’re in the mood for an outing and want to enjoy pastoral views, the famous baptismal site of Yardenit,and beautiful churches, including those where Jesus performed miracles and gave his famous Sermon on the Mount).Within Nazareth itself, there are beautiful churches to visit, including the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of St. Joseph. The city begins celebrating Christmas in the early part of December, with the lighting of a large Christmas tree in the city center. Trees are put up in many streets and there are also outdoor markets with stalls, where you can enjoy both Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations (Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights). On Christmas Eve, which is December 24th, why not join the afternoon parade which proceeds through streets towards the Church of the Annunciation, where you can afterwards enjoy a lovely firework display? Christmas mass is then held inside, at the Basilica, at 7 pm.Inside the Church of Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Jaffa -Music, Lights, Artwork and MassJaffa, which sits just south of Tel Aviv is another beautiful place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived peacefully side by side for years now. In December, the vibrant Jaffa Flea Market (which is always good if you’re looking for vintage finds, cheap clothes, or just some ‘treasure’) is adorned with Christmas lights. After you’ve wandered the area, you can enjoy a light bite, some traditional hummus, or a local mint tea in one of the many cafes there, before taking a walk down to the historic Jaffa Port.On the way, stop on Yefet Street and admire the huge Christmas tree that stands by the Clock Tower. There are often Hanukkah celebrations at the same time (last year, there were illuminated dreidels - the toys that children spin on this fun Jewish festival). There’s lots of artwork to see and several musical performances, as well as lots of cultural and communal activities. You can attend Midnight Mass and other Christmas services at one of the Catholic and Protestant churches around the city:St. Peter's Church - this Franciscan church in the historical part of Jaffa is where St. Peter performed numerous miracles and, perched at the top of a hill, has been a Christian center for thousands of years.Immanuel Church - built in 1904, to accommodate the area’s German Evangelical community, this Lutheran church is always happy to greet new faces and stands on the foundation of Judaism and the Jewish People.St. Nicholas’s Monastery at the Jaffa Port - built in 1 CE, and today hosting an Armenian church, this is one of the oldest structures in Jaffa and Napoleon even visited his soldiers here in 1799!St. Anthony's Church - opened in 1932 and named after the monk Franciscan Mafdobe, a Franciscan patron, this church is very popular with Catholics. It offers beautiful interiors and a serene atmosphere. At its front, there is a unique clock.And just to make it clear, the doors of all of these churches are open for everyone - so whether you’re a local or tourist, a Christian, Muslim, or Jew you’re are welcome to pop in and experience some traditional Jaffa hospitality!Old City of Jaffa, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Haifa - The ‘Holiday of Holidays’Haifa is one of the few cities in Israel where Arabs and Jews actually live side by side, in relative harmony (and we say ‘Hallelujah’ to that!) A real Mediterranean city, situated on a hill and offering picturesque views of the surrounding Mount Carmel, it’s a wonderful place to walk around, with lovely architecture, small stores, and the famous Bahai Gardens.If you’re here in December, start with a walk around the traditional Wadi Nisnas neighborhood (a traditional and somewhat mixed area of Arabs and Jews). ‘Nisnas’ in Arabic means ‘mongoose’ and is a maze of old streets and alleyways, filled with small stores, bakeries, and artisan workshops.From there, you can head off into the German Colony, an area that has been beautifully restored in the last two decades. Look out for the famous Templar houses, built in the 1860’s - they have distinctive roofs - and stop for a coffee in one of the many bars and restaurants that line the main street.In the weeks before Christmas, Haifa loves to enjoy the 'Holiday of Holidays' with a series of events that mix up Christmas, Hanukkah, and Eid-al Adha! These include arts and crafts for kids, an antique fair, food prepared by the locals in Wadi Nisnas, music by local artists, and even a circus. And, naturally, there’s also a beautifully lit tree.Christmas tree.Photo by Kieran White on UnsplashTogether, this ‘Holiday of Holidays’ represents a marvelous idea - that of coexistence. It’s all about a group of residents that live together harmoniously, each showing respect for the other’s religious and cultural values, and understanding that their lives and destinies are truly interwoven. It represents all that is good in Haifa.You may also want to visit the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery in Haifa and participate in carol singing and Midnight Mass or Christmas morning mass. It is a beautiful and historic church, dating back to Crusader times and actually associated with the prophet Elijah.So wherever you end up traveling in Israel over this special time of year, drink in the atmosphere, enjoy the lights, music, and festivities, and happy holidays to you!
Por Sarah Mann

Visiting Israel during Shavuot

This year Shavuot will be celebrated from sundown on Tuesday 3rd to sundown on Thursday 5th of June. Shavuot is also called the Festival of Weeks, First Fruits, Harvest Holiday or Pentecost. This religious and traditional Jewish holiday is a celebration of the first harvest. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem this would have been the time when the first fruits were brought as an offering to the Temple. This agricultural holiday is one of three major Jewish holidays which requires religious Jews to make a journey to Jerusalem. In ancient times the Jewish people would make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Passover, Sukkoth (Feast of Booths), and Shavuot. Shavuot also marks the end of the Counting of the Omer, a 50 day period starting on the first day of Passover. An Omer was the Biblical measure of a quantity of grain and at the end of the counting of the Omer, an offering would be made from the first wheat harvest of the year. Because of the holiday’s association with agriculture, the symbols of Shavuot are the seven species of Israel – wheat, grapes, barley, pomegranates, dates, olives, and figs. The holiday also marks the day when the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.What to Expect When Visiting Israel during ShavuotYour trip to Israel will only be slightly affected if you are here during Shavuot. On the one hand, there are many fun events, parties, and a holiday atmosphere and on the other hand, Shavuot is a national religious holiday and you may find some sites closed for two days. During Shavuot Israelis traditionally wear white clothes, young children often are asked to wear flower wreaths in their hair to school and the stores are overflowing with an abundance of fruit.It is traditional to study Torah throughout the night during Shavuot so the Western Wall will be alive with visitors and worshipers night and day. Religious Jews attend synagogue on Shavuot and hear the reading of the Book of Ruth which is associated with the holiday. It is traditional to eat dairy products on Shavuot so you’ll find restaurants offering delicious meals made with Israel’s wonderful dairy products. Religious and non-religious alike tend to keep the tradition of dressing in white and enjoying delicious dairy meals. If you have the opportunity to visit a moshav or kibbutz on Shavuot you could attend the Shavuot ceremony of Bikkurim (first fruits) when the harvest fruits and grains are displayed in festive parades. In Jerusalem, you will find special happenings at many museums, malls and lots of activity, and a festive atmosphere in the Old City.
Por Petal Mashraki

Tu B’Av – Israel’s Valentine’s Day and How it’s Celebrated

Tu B’Av is the Jewish alternative to St. Valentine’s Day. As orthodox Jews don’t commemorate Christian holidays like Valentine’s Day and as it is too good a holiday to miss the Jews have their own day for celebrating love. In Hebrew numbers are marked by letters so “15” is the Hebrew letters?’‘? or Tu and this holiday is celebrated on the 15th of the Jewish month of Av, hence Tu B’Av. In 2016 Tu b’Av starts at sundown on 18th August and continues through the 19th August until sundown (7th August 2017; 26th July 2018; 15th August 2019).Religious Significance of Tu B’AvAccording to the Mishna the Jewish holiday of love has been celebrated by Jews since the 1st century days of the ancient Temple. Tu B’Av marks the first day of the grape harvest season. Traditionally young girls would borrow white clothes and go out dancing in the vineyards to attract a man. The Holy Jewish text, the Talmud, sites several reasons why Tu b’Av should be celebrated but today the main reason observant Jews celebrate Tu B’Av is to mark the end of The Three Week (Bein ha-Metzarim) morning period commemorating the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple. Tu Tu B’Av should not be confused with Tisha b’Av (9th of Av) which starts The Three Week morning period and is one of the saddest days in the Jewish calendar when orthodox Jews fast to commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple. There are no specific religious rituals or ceremonies associated with Tu B’Av except that the day should be one of joy. It is also a very popular day to get married.How is Tu B’Av Celebrated in Israel Today?Today Tu B’Av is mainly a secular celebration when romantics pull out all the stops and propose, wed, go on romantic dates or simply party.Starting off the Tu B’Av celebrations on the 18th August with a bang is the TuTu-Temple Party presented by Temple of Reflection, a spiritual temple project which is part of the Burn global community. A temple structure is built in the desert each year and stands for three weeks before being burnt. The party is a fundraising event and proceeds will go towards Temple of Reflection expenses. The party kicks off at 9am and will continue until 4am at Bascula, HaRakevet 72, Tel Aviv. Admission 40ILS-60ILS.Thursdays @Tel Aviv Art Museum hosts events every Thursday but on the 18th of August this year the events will be even more exciting to celebrate Tu B’Av. Entrance is free and there will be live music performances, guided tours, pop-up stores and garments inspired by works of art.At the Zappa Club Herzlia there will be a special performance by the Sixties Band who will perform the best hits of the 1960s and 70s. The doors open at 8:15pm and the show starts at 10pm; tickets cost 105ILS.Many restaurants in Israel offer special deals on Tu B’Av and the restaurants are usually decorated with hearts, cupids and lots of red and white balloons. Mel and Michelle at 155 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv; Frame at 2 Raoul Wallenburg, Tel Aviv and the Brown Hotel pop-up restaurant Salva Vida at 25 Kalisher, Tel Aviv will all be offering special deals for couples on Tu B’Av. Chocolate lovers should have the special Tu B’Av menu at any of the Max Brener restaurants.If you want to go out and dance you’ll find dance bars and clubs all decked out in red hearts and ready to party. At HaOmen 17, Tel Aviv Moldavian DJ Andrew Rayel will be making the music; At the Cat and Dog you can hear Infected Mushroom playing live and the Toy Bar in Jerusalem will be having a special party event.
Por Petal Mashraki

Muslim Holidays in Israel

As Muslim holidays are not officially part of the Israeli national calendar the observers of these holidays can take personal days off work and Muslim owned businesses can choose to close or close early. You can best feel the Muslim holidays in East Jerusalem and Arab villages, towns and cities where there is a large Muslim population. In Jerusalem’s Old City the Muslim Quarter and the Temple Mount are the focus of Muslim holiday celebrations. Muslims observe Friday as their weekly holy day. Muslim holidays begin at sundown on the day preceding the date listed below. As the Muslim calendar is lunar the dates can vary so here are the predicted dates for the main Muslim holidays in Israel for 2014.Mawlid al-Nabi (January 13th 2014) The Prophet’s birthday is celebrated with family gatherings and special prayers.Laylat al-Miraj (May th 2014) This holiday celebrates Muhammad’s Night Journey to Heaven from the Dome of the Rock as described in the Quran. Many Muslim families visit the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock on this day. Families come to mosques where there are special prayers and the story of the Night Journey is told to the kids. The prayers are often followed by a feast.Ramadan (June 28th – July 27th; June 18th-July 17th 2015) During the month-long period where Muslims fast during sunlight hours the visiting times at Muslim sites in Israel are often shorter. In Jerusalem, the beginning of Ramadan and each sundown during the month is signaled by cannons being fired from the Eastern Jerusalem Armory. The gates of the Old City are strung with festive lights. This is a great time to visit certain Arab villages in the evening after sundown. At Umm al-Fahem the streets come alive at night with people strolling through the streets and eating delicacies from the bakeries which sell traditional sweets and desserts.Eid-ul-Fitr (July 28th 2014) Eid-ul-Fitr is a three day celebration marking the end of Ramadan; it involves dressing in your best clothes, prayer, celebrating and feasting. The holiday can be best shared with the Muslim community in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and East Jerusalem although there will be crowds at the main sites and some businesses may be closed. Muslims in Israel often decorate their homes with lights, gather together to prepare traditional foods and have a festive time. Families also like to visit the beach during this holiday.Eid-ul-Adha (October 4th 2014; September 24th 2015) This holiday celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God; it also marks the end of the annual Hajj to Mecca. It is traditional to eat mutton, dates, nuts and where possible a lamb is slaughtered as part of the festivities and feast.Al-Hijira (October 15th 2014) The Islamic New Year marks the move by Muhammad and his followers to Medina (622BC). This holiday is not celebrated with loud parties and fireworks as in the Christian culture.
Por Petal Mashraki

Hanukkah in Israel

Each year Jews celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah which is often called the “Jewish Christmas” because it occurs in December. If you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah you will be lucky enough to share in this special celebration. Unlike Christian holidays the date of Hanukkah changes each year because of the Jewish lunar calendar. In Israel Hanukkah is a week-long school holiday but there are no days observed like Shabbat so all top attractions in Jerusalem and other cities as well as stores remain open as usual. There are many special events put on to keep Israeli school kids busy and to entertain locals and visitors alike.Hanukkah menorah against the background of Tanach page. Photo byDiana PolekhinaonUnsplashWhat is Hanukkah?The Hanukkah holiday celebrates an event that took place in the 160 SBC. During that time Palestine was ruled by Greek-Syrians and Jews were persecuted. Jews were forbidden to worship, many were murdered, scrolls were burnt and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. A small group of Jews rose up against their oppressors and fought back in the “Maccabean Revolt.” The Jews were victorious and proceeded to restore the Temple and rededicate it. Part of rededicating the Temple was lighting the Menorah (a seven-lamped candelabra which had to remain lit eternally. When the Maccabees came to light the Temple’s Menorah they found that only a small jug of the required pure olive oil remained. The oil should have been sufficient only to light the lamp for one day. However, a miracle occurred and it remained lit for eight days by which time more oil had been found.To commemorate the events of Hanukkah Jews light candles on an eight-armed candelabra (called a Hanukkia). On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit and each successive night an additional candle is lit until all eight are lit. In addition, there is the 9th candle in the middle of the Hanukkiah which is used to light the others. The symbols of Hanukkah are light, oil, the hanukiah, and the dreidel – a spinning top.Two Hanukkah menoras with lit candles. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashHow is Hanukkah Celebrated in Israel?Bearing in mind the symbols of Hanukkah you will see a lot of fried foods (commemorating the miraculous oil) in Israel during Hanukkah. The most famous Hanukkah food is the doughnut or sufgania. This is a round doughnut with no hole in the middle but instead, it is filled with jam. Every café, restaurant, and kiosk will be selling sufganiot. These days there are many different kinds of sufganiot, from chocolate to alcohol flavored! An estimated 24 million sufganiot are eaten in Israel each Hanukkah. The symbol of light and the hanukkiah can be seen in Israel during Hanukkah. Each Israeli household displays a hanukkiah on the windowsill.Special Events in Israel during HanukkahHanukkah ShowsDuring the Hanukkah holiday in Israel, there is a plethora of theatrical productions, musical shows, concerts, and dance productions geared towards families. The most famous of these Hanukkah shows is the Festigal, a spectacular extravaganza of bright costumes, comedy, music, and dance. Top Israeli performers often appear in the Festigal. The Festigal is held annually in Tel Aviv. A more recent addition is Motek Shel Festival which is the same idea but geared towards a younger audience.Hanukkiah with 5 lit candles. Photo byRobert ThiemannonUnsplashHanukkah ToursSpecial walking tours of Jerusalem and the religious city of Bnei Brak are organized so that you can see the many hanukkiot displayed in the windows of private homes. This kind of Hanukkah tour takes place at night and includes walking through neighborhoods where many hanukkiot are displayed.The lighting of the HanukkiahEach city has a large hanukkiah set up in a public square. The hanukkiah is ceremoniously lit on the first night of Hanukkah. On the subsequent nights of Hanukkah, the city’s hanukkiah is often lit automatically. The most famous candle lighting ceremonies you can see take place next to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year on the first night of Hanukkah a torch Relay starts in the city of Modi’in and travels to the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the giant hanukkiah is lit.Museums during HanukkahMost museums hold special themed exhibits or workshops during Hanukkah. Science museums often hold demonstrations of light experiments. Other museums display artistic variations on the hanukkiah or hold kids' workshops where they can create their own hanukkiah, spinning top, or candles. Savivon, or dreidel. Photo byTetiana SHYSHKINAonUnsplashYou will definitely find special events and activities relating to Hanukkah at the Children’s Museum in Holon; the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv; the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Bloomfield Science Museum holds an annual MakeLight exhibition.In addition, there is the Museum of Edible Oil Products in Haifa which naturally ties in with the Hanukkah theme. The Hasmonean Village recreates the Hanukkah story each year; the Ein Yael Oil Festival is held in Jerusalem.Hanukkah Parties in IsraelOf course, the Israelis party whenever there is a good excuse! And Hanukkah is no exception. You will find bars, pubs, and clubs across the country holding Hanukkah parties throughout the holiday.Holiday of Holidays HaifaThe Haifa municipality holds special events on weekends throughout December. The Holiday of Holidays activities and shows celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Eid al-Fitr.
Por Petal Mashraki

Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Israel can be magical and a truly spiritual experience. There are services in local churches (mainly in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem) as well as services held at the locations where Christmas events took place. Many tour buses leave Jerusalem on Christmas Eve to services in Shepherds' Field where an angel appeared to the shepherds on Christmas Eve. The tours continue to the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and end off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the Midnight Mass.Christmas tree in Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockOf all the Christmas celebrations in Israel, perhaps the largest and most moving is at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, where gather in Manger Square to be a part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth on the spot where the events unfolded.Christmas in Bethlehem includes processions through the streets, carol singing, and religious services which can all be an extremely spiritual experience.Roman Catholics celebrate on the 24th of December at Saint Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem, as well as on the 5th and 6th of January when the Epiphany is commemorated. Greek, Coptic, Romanian, and Syriac Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January in Bethlehem. For those belonging to Orthodox denominations, it is customary to join into one of the many religious processions that are held in Bethlehem. Armenians tend to hold their services at the Basilica of the Nativity, although this falls a few weeks later than Protestant/Catholic times (usually the third week of January). These processions always pass through Manger Square, close to the site where it is believed that Jesus was born. For Protestants, it is a different matter.Some of them, of course, will attend evening services in their local churches whilst others will make the trip to the Church of the Nativity or Shepherd’s Field. For Protestants who want to travel to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, the YMCA organizes an evening trip. In Jerusalem, popular Protestant and Anglican churches include the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and St. George’s.Nativity scene, stained glass, Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas traditions in Bethlehem tend to be in the same vein as those in Europe and North America. A week or two before 25th December lights will be put up, as well as other decorations, and flags will fly. Christians often paint crosses on the doors of their home and traditional Christmas markets are held, selling all kinds of fare associated with the holiday. If you look in the windows of peoples’ houses, you may also see miniature Nativity scenes on display.On 24th December - Christmas Eve - an afternoon parade is held in the center of the town and all of the residents, not to mention pilgrims and tourists, crowd the streets in an attempt to get a bird’s eye view of the celebrations. At the head of the Parade are officers on horses and behind them a man - also on a black horse - carrying a cross. Following him are government and church officials. Once the parade has arrived at the Church of Nativity followed by a man riding over a black steed and carrying a cross. After him comes the churchmen and government officials. After the parade has entered the Church of the Nativity, a statue of the ‘Holy Child’ is placed inside. The honored guests then descend down a long flight of stairs which leads them into a grotto. There can be seen a silver star - this is the place that marks Christ’s birth.In Nazareth, there are Christmas Eve parades and firework displays as well as church services. In all over 90,000 foreign visitors arrive in Israel annually to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is celebrated also in Haifa and in Jaffa. It is important to remember that throughout the rest of Israel you could probably not even notice that it is Christmas in Israel as unlike America and Europe the streets and stores are not decorated, there is no Santa ringing a bell outside shops, and Christmas music cannot be heard in the streets. Book a tour to the Christmas Eve in Jerusalem & midnight mass in BethlehemInside the Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Petal Mashraki
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