Israel for Jewish travelers

Israel is the Jewish Homeland, where Old Testament events took place, and where the Jewish people settled, after centuries wandering in the diaspora. A Jewish tour of Israel should include biblical locations but also modern Israeli culture. The highlight of any Jewish itinerary is the Western Wall that was once part of the Holy Jewish Temple on Temple Mount. Wandering through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, Jewish travelers can encounter 18th-century synagogues and archaeological remains from the Second Temple Era. A Jewish itinerary could include King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion, and the excavated ancient city of King David. Go beyond Jerusalem and visit the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Negev, and Mount Carmel. Travel south to Masada, and north to Safed, the center of Jewish mysticism. In Tel Aviv experience the markets, beaches, street food, graffiti art, café culture, and dynamic nightlife. The Israel Museum, ANU Diaspora Museum, and the Tower of David Museum help shed light on Jewish history, and culture. No trip to Israel is complete without visiting Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. One of the best ways to connect with your roots is on a Jewish heritage tour in Israel. These tours cover top Israel Jewish sites and world-class attractions like the Dead Sea. In this section you will discover Israel from the Jewish perspective. You will find here lists of kosher restaurants and holy sites, practical tips and our recommendations.

Historical Figures in Israel

Whether the connection is religious, literary, biblical or political, many a famous historical figure has come out of the land of Israel - both from the pages of the Bible (thousands of years ago) and more contemporary times. ‘The Jewish People’ - after all - have been around from the time of Abraham, which is some history!David Playing the Harp Before Saul, Mount Zion, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIsrael is particularly astonishing - when you think about it - because the Jews who live there are speaking the same language, living in the same land, and worshipping the same God from thousands of years ago. No wonder then taking a vacation to Israel is so popular - it is a way of seeing for yourself the continuing of a rich cultural tradition that has passed down through endless generations.Here, we look at some well-known characters that every Israeli child learns about in first grade - both from biblical times and in the history of modern-day Israel. Each one of them, in their own exceptional way, played their part in making an enormous contribution to the country that exists today. That’s also why Israel has a tradition of naming streets, squares, highways, bridges, museums, and even scientific institutes after them. Yes, this is very common and it’s something quite extremely noticeable when you’re traveling in Israel, whether on a tour of Jerusalem, exploring Tel Aviv and Jaffa, or even just wandering around small towns in the Galilee or Negev desert. Without further ado, let’s take a look:Tourist at Mount Scopus observation point, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. King David, the legendary great from Israeli historyKing David was the Second King of Israel, who founded the Judean dynasty. Under his rule, all the tribes were united, which is why his rule is often looked back on as a ‘Golden era’. Born to humble origins (a shepherd boy) he killed Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and a stone and, according to the Hebrew Bible, since being anointed by Samuel was protected from harm by God himself.There are numerous references to David today, in Jerusalem, including the Tower of David, King David’s Tomb, and the 3,000-year-old underground City of David. The Bridge of Chords (which you will see, as you drive into Jerusalem) is an architectural masterpiece, deliberately shaped to look like King David’s harp - the cables being the strings. An excellent way to explore King David's Jerusalem is with a City of David Jerusalem Tour.2. King Solomon, the most famous Israeli historical personalityBoth wealthy and wise, King Solomon came to the throne after his father David, in around 970 BCE. According to the Hebrew Bible, he was responsible for the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, which he dedicated to the God Yahweh. After this, he is said to have erected many other important buildings in the city, including a Royal Palace.The First Temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians, razed to the ground in 587/586 BCE. Today, even after archaeological excavations, little remains (it is probably buried under the Western Wall) but the entire area, including Jerusalem Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock (extremely holy both to Jews and Muslims) can be visited in the course of the Jerusalem Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock Tour.Entrance to King David's Tomb, Mount Zion, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Judas MaccabeusJudas Maccabeus (also spelled ‘Judah Maccabee’) was a Jewish Priest who led a revolt against an invasion by King Antioch IV, to prevent the imposition of Hellenism in what was then Judea, therefore reconsecrating the Temple and helping preserve the Jewish religion. This great military deed of his is remembered by Jews each year when celebrating Hanukkah - the ‘Festival of Lights’.Many things today in Israel remind us of him - the football teams named after him, the Maccabi health fund (which ensures millions of Israelis), and the Maccabiah games - a kind of ‘Jewish Olympics.’ To learn more about Judas, and his brave Maccabean followers, it’s really worth taking a tour of Masada the ancient desert fortress at which the Jews made a last, brave stand against the Romans. 4. JosephusTitus Flavius Josephus was born in Jerusalem in 37 CE to a family of noble lineage - his father was descended from Priests and his mother claimed Royal ancestry. Initially fighting against the Romans in the Galilee, the First Jewish-Roman War, he later defected to the Romans and was granted citizenship by them.Josephus’ most famous work was ‘The Jewish War’ where he recounts in brilliant detail the manner in which the Jews revolted. For scholars, these writings are a valuable insight into first-century Judaism and also early Christianity. They give great context for anyone seeking to understand more about the revolt at Masada and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as Jewish customs and life inside the Temple. Masada National Park, Herod's Palace Complex.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Herod the Great King Herod 1 (also known as Herod the Great) was a Roman King who is known for his enormous building projects throughout Judea, in particular the erection of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Details of his life are recorded by Josephus (see above) and in the Gospel of Matthew, in the Christian Bible, it is said that he was directly responsible for the massacre of thousands of baby boys at the time of the birth of Jesus.Herodian architecture is everywhere in Israel, including famous sites such as the Western Wall, the ancient port of Caesarea, Herodion, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Masada, and temples dedicated to Augustus (at Sebastia, Caesarea, and Banias). For any history buff or lover of archaeology, you couldn’t do better than to take out In the Footsteps of Herod Private Tour.6. John the BaptistJohn the Baptist was a Jewish prophet, born in 1 BCE and quite possibly a member of the Essene sect. Said to have lived on wild honey and locusts, he preached widely about the final judgment of God and was responsible for the baptism of many ‘repenters.’ Even though Jesuswas technically sinless (as the Son of God) John baptized him and many Christians believe that this ritual filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit.Today, Christian pilgrims flock to Yardenit - Israel’s most famous baptismal site - located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and next to the River Jordan - to undergo this sacred ritual personally. Bein Harims also offers a tour of Nazareth and Galilee, which is an ideal way to learn more about the life and times of Jesus. There is also the possibility of visiting the more intimate baptismal site of Qasr al-Yahud, as part of a tour of Jericho and the Dead Sea area.The ruins of King Herod's bathrooms in Herodion, West Bank.Photo credit: © Shutterstock7. Jesus of NazarethDoes Jesus really need an introduction? The central figure in the Christian religion, whether you believe he was the Son of God or just a radical preacher who was condemned to death for heresy, he’s a central figure in the Holy Land and reminders of his remarkable life and times surround you, whichever way you turn. Many tourists in Jerusalem choose to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, retracing his steps in the last week before his death, exploring landmarks such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s also possible to take a tour of Bethlehem (his birthplace) or travel north and explore both Nazareth (where he spent his early years) and Galilee, where he found his disciples and ministered to crowds. You don’t have to be religious to be fascinated by this man’s extraordinary life.Gethsemane Garden, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock8. Pontius PilatePontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea, at the time of Jesus’ death. Little is known about his early years, or how he rose to prominence. He is known best for being the official who presided over Jesus’s trial and subsequently ordered that he be put to death, by way of crucifixion. The Christian Bible often represents Pilate as being ambivalent - even reluctant - about his actions in condemning Jesus (pointing to the fact that he asked the crowd their wishes and then washed his hands i.e. absolving himself from his actions). Today, he is venerated by the Ethiopian Church as a saint.The Praetorium (buried underneath an Ottoman prison, the Kishle, next to the Tower of David) is thought by archaeologists to be the place where Pilate made his famous decision and can easily be explored on any private tour of Jerusalem.Kishle, the Possible Site of Jesus’ Trial, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin9. David Ben-GurionDavid Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister after it became an independent state widely regarded as one of its ‘founding fathers’ of the state. It was Ben Gurion who proclaimed the Declaration of Independence, in Tel Aviv, in 1948 and who oversaw the absorption of huge numbers of Jews in the early years of Israel’s existence.Ben Gurion served as Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Israel for many years. During this time, he lived in Tel Aviv, in a small unassuming house, which today is a museum showcasing his life. Filled with books, it gives an indication of just how learned he was. In 1970, he moved to the Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev desert, since he had a deep belief that Zionism entailed settling barren areas. He is buried there and his grave in kibbutz Sde Boker and Ben Gurion's house in Tel Aviv can be easily visited. 10. Teddy KollekTeddy Kollek was an Israeli politician who famously served as Mayor of Jerusalem between 1965 and 1993. The old adage about him was that he was ‘the greatest builder in Jerusalem since Herod’ because of his interest in redeveloping and modernizing the city.Kollek dedicated himself to many cultural projects, particularly those relating to the Israel Museum and Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (today, two ofJerusalem’s most visited attractions).Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin11. Theodor HerzlTheodor Herzl was not just a journalist and playwright, but also the father of modern Zionism. Born in Budapest, he moved to Paris at the end of the 19th century, and witnessing the aftermath of the scandalous ‘Dreyfus Affair’ convinced him that the only way for Jews to avoid anti-semitism was to create a Jewish state. From this point on, Herzl devoted himself to this vision, visiting Jerusalem finally in 1898. Herzl never lived to see his dream realized, dying in 1904, but Israel celebrates him annually with ‘Herzl Day’ in the Hebrew month of Iyar. Mount Herzl in Jerusalem whereTheodor Herzl is buried and the town of Herzliya with its beautiful marina are named after him.12. Meir DizengoffMeir Dizengoff was born in Russia in 1881 and was one of the early Zionist leaders of his day. A great advocate of establishing Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly Tel Aviv, he was widely regarded as a great leader at that time and many world leaders (including Winston Churchill) who visited Palestine were impressed by him. He was actually one of the families who founded Tel Aviv, on its sand dunes, in 1909.Dizengoff later became Mayor of the city and kept that office until just before he died. Today, Tel Aviv’s largest street is named after him - running through the heart of the city, Dizengoff Street is famous for its cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and 24/7 activity. His home was the spot at which Ben Gurion made his famous declaration and today is a history museum known as theHall of Independence. It can be visited with some of Tel Aviv tours.The Hall of Independence, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: © Shutterstock13. Yitzhak RabinYitzhak Rabin was a military leader, politician, and statesman, who became famous in Israel as the Labour Leader who signed the Oslo Accords, in conjunction with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, and was, soon after, assassinated by a radical right-wing Jew. Rabin was Chief of the Southern Front in the 1948 War of Independence in 1948, and in 1964 was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army. In 1994, a year before his murder, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.Tel Aviv’s famous central square was afterward renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square and in 2005, ten years after his death, the Yitzhak Rabin Center was inaugurated. Part of this is a museum that explores the history of Israeli society, using Rabin as a connecting theme.14. Yigal AllonYigal Allon was an Israeli military leader who, after a celebrated career, became a Labour politician. He is well-known as the architect of the ‘Allon Plan’ which was a peace initiative formed by him in 1967, after Israeli captured territories in the Six-Day War. The Yigal Allon Museum, at Kibbutz Ginosar in Galilee, is open to visitors and a major highway in Israel is also named after him.15. Chaim WeizmannBorn in Russia, Chaim Weizmann was the President of the Zionist Organisation and then the first President of the State of Israel. It was Weizmann who was widely acknowledged as being the person who persuaded the USA to recognize Israel, after its establishment in 1948. A biochemist by profession, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot - is today, a worldwide leader in scientific research and an excellent tribute to him.Tel Aviv City Hall with rainbow flag projection, Rabin Square. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

On the Road in Israel: a Hebrew-English Dictionary for Visitors

So you’re off to Israel on a long-awaited holiday? Firstly, congratulations, you made a fine choice and, trust us, you’re going to love it. Secondly, a small tip. Whilst this is a country where many people (especially the younger generation) speak English fluently, and everyone connected with the tourist industry will be able to help you out, at least to some degree, it’s always useful to know a few phrases. And more than just being useful, you’ll see how appreciated your words are when you utter them - Israelis are proud of their Hebrew language (‘Ivrit’ as it is known), so if you go to the trouble of learning a few words and expressions, you’ll really reap the rewards!Hebrew signs inJudean Hills.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinBefore we start, a little about the history of modern Hebrew because it's actually a fascinating story. Something that really sets Israel apart from other nations is that it has a revived language as its national tongue and that is definitely thanks to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, a Lithuanian immigrant who was the driving force behind its ‘comeback’. Taking the view that the Jews could not become a united people in their own land unless they had a modern language of their own, from the day he and his family arrived in Jaffa (in 1881) he insisted that they speak only Hebrew - a Hebrew that he was going to ‘recreate’ out of the ancient language of the Bible! Ben Yehuda really took the construction of this new modern language seriously. He would not even respond to his children if they did not use the words he was constructing, even when they cried and told him they did not understand! This story is still recounted to every young school child in Israel. He coined all kinds of new words and even put together a dictionary, to promote the use of the language in the fields of journalism, science, and literature. Today, we see the fruits of his labor - Hebrew isn’t just a language of prayer, but a tongue heard on every street corner. What an achievement!Street name sign in three languages in Jerusalem.Photo credit:© ShutterstockWhilst Ben Yehuda clearly had to improvise in many instances (there were no cars or newspapers in biblical times!) you can trace the etymology (origin) of many words easily, as many are referred to in the Bible as geographical places. Jerusalem literally means ‘City of Peace’ (from ‘shalom’) and Jaffa (‘beautiful’) is derived from Japhfet, the name of one of Noah's sons' who built the city after the Flood. Beit Shemesh (in the east) means ‘House of the Sun’ and Mitzpe Ramon (home to Israel’s astonishing crater, with its panoramic views) is ‘lookout’. Many spots are also named after water (‘Ein Gedi‘ means ‘ Spring of the Kid’) or named after species mentioned in the Bible (‘Ein Tamar’ means ‘Spring of the Date Palm’).Jerusalem literally means "City of Peace" in Hebrew.Photo credit:© ShutterstockBut, for now, back to your trip. You’ll need, at the very least, some basic words and phrases whilst touring in Israel ... words like ‘shalom’ (hello, goodbye, and peace) ‘bevakasha’ (please) ‘todah’ (thank you) ‘lehitraot’ (goodbye) and ‘al lo davar’ (you’re welcome) are always helpful, as are phrases to do with how much something costs, where the bathroom is (always an essential!) and how to order something in a restaurant. Here, let’s take a look of this lovely video by Yaara, one of the sweetest Hebrew teachers on YouTube that we know, with her ‘25 top words’ to get you started.Once you’ve mastered the basics, let’s go onto a few words and phrases that will really come in handy when you’re on a tour of the Dead Sea and Masada, discovering the capital's rich history with a City of David & Underground Jerusalem Tour, or thirsty whilst on a tour in the Golan Heights! ‘Mayim’ is a real essential - it means water and you should be drinking lots of it, especially if you’re here between May and October. ‘Glida’ is another favorite - it refers to ice cream and wherever you go in Israel you’ll see it for sale - especially in boutique parlors where you can find exotic Middle Eastern flavors, such as halvah, saffron, cardamom, and star anise.Sliced halvah cake ("ooga")at the Carmel market shop.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThere’s also ‘yam’ - sea in Hebrew - and ‘tayelet’ - which means promenade (Israel’s beaches have beautiful promenades, perfect for strolling, with the Mediterranean Sea waves lapping nearby) before you head off to sample some Middle Eastern cuisine in a local ‘misadah’ (restaurant). Israel is famous for plenty of dishes besides the ubiquitous falafel (fried chickpea balls served in pita bread) and one word we’d really recommend not forgetting is ‘dag’ (which in Hebrew, means ‘fish’) - because the local catches are wonderful.‘Salatim’ - salads - are also a fine choice and they come in all colors and flavors, using making use of local produce such as ‘hatzilim’ (eggplant) ‘rimonim’ (pomegranates) ‘gvina’ (cheese), and egozim (nuts). Don't forget to drizzle some ‘tahini over your food too - a sesame seed paste that’s delicious and nutritious and which is universally known here. And for dessert, try a couple of ‘sabras’ - they are the Israeli national fruit (spiky on the outside and sweet on the inside - just like the people of the country, as they say).The sea ( ‘yam’) in Acre, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinA few more words for good measure: ‘Tiyul’ means ‘trip, ‘haaretz’ means ‘the land or Israel’ and ‘madrich / madricha’ are your tour guides (depending on whether they are male or female). So once you’ve got the hang of these words, why not try them out on your ‘siyurim madrichim baaretz’ - guided tours in Israel. Fun fact: Israel is a nation of polyglots, and it’s quite likely that your tour guide will speak more than just Hebrew and English (many Israelis grow up in homes where Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish, and even Yiddish are spoken!)Bein Harim guide on an tour to Masada.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinFor anyone whose Hebrew is a bit better than basic, we’d really recommend listening to ‘Streetwise Hebrew’ by Guy Sharett. What makes this podcast really special is that Guy takes an innovative approach to learn words and phrases, by using Israeli music (old songs and new), graffiti, and a bit of slang too! Fun fact: Guy’s native tongue is Hebrew, but apart from being fluent in English, he is also familiar with Arabic, Aramaic, Latin, Italian, Dutch, and Indonesian. This podcast is so much fun that you might even be tempted to learn more Hebrew once you’re back home. Go on - have a listen! After learning Hebrew with this original technique, you might also be interested in a Tel Aviv graffiti and street art tour which is certainly a must for all contemporary art lovers.Tourist taking pictures of Tel Aviv graffiti.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAnd how could we talk about Hebrew words without throwing in a few phrases for when you’re in the local markets, looking for unusual foods, local crafts, and souvenirs for your friends back home. The ‘shuk’ (‘market’ in Hebrew) is a central feature of any town or city and is a must-visit, and if you take a tour you’ll get a lot of history thrown in for good measure. Jerusalem has the fabled Mahane Yehuda, Tel Aviv has the Carmel market, Jaffa has the vintage ‘Shuk Hapishpishim’ (Jaffa flea market, an organized tour recommended), and the Crusader city of Acre has a vibrant Old City market. In all of them, you can wander for hours, and soak up the exotic atmosphere, better with a guided market tour.Spice stall at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIn terms of what to buy, you’re completely spoilt for choice - spices are always a good choice, not to mention halva, Medjool dates, and Dead Sea mud packs for your face, which are guaranteed to leave your skin invigorated. There are also all kinds of religious artifacts on offer - Judaica (menorahs and Hannukiahs, for placing candles), Shabbat tablecloths and silver mezuzahs (which religious Jews affix to their doorposts) and, for pilgrims on Christian tours of Israel olive wood crucifixes, rosary beads, and even bottles of water from the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Vintage posters from the 1920s, depicting travel to the Holy Land, Armenian pottery, and olive oil are also fun buys. And the good news is that in these markets, you can always haggle (it’s actually expected). So, for starters, try: “Kama ze oleh?” That’s “What’s the cost?” in Hebrew, and is always a good opening gambit. With any luck, you’ll grab yourself a bargain as well as improving your vocabulary. Enjoy your trip to Israel and, as we say in Hebrew, “B'hatzlacha!” (“Good luck!”)Olivesstall at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Purim in Israel

If you’re lucky enough to be in Israel during Purim you will enjoy the festive atmosphere, parties, fancy dress and parades. Purim is perhaps the most joyous Jewish holiday. Purim in Israel occurs in March or April – the date changes each year as it is determined by the Hebrew lunar calendar and not the Gregorian calendar. Although Purim is a Jewish holiday it is not observed like a Shabbat in Israel and businesses and attractions have regular open hours. Purim is a normal working day in Israel although it is a school holiday. Purim in Israel is celebrated by secular and religious Jews alike.What is Purim?Purim Purim celebrates an event in Jewish history which is told in the Biblical Book of Esther. In about 357 BC the king of Persia, Ahasuerus scoured the land for the most beautiful women to make his wife. The woman chosen was Esther, cousin and ward of Mordechai. Esther was forced to marry the king but she hid the fact that she was Jewish. Shortly afterwards Mordechai heard of a plot to assassinate the king and he had it reported and stopped.Meanwhile the villain of this story, Haman was appointed Prime Minister and he undertook to get rid of all the Jews. He had them draw “lots” (Pur in Hebrew, hence the name of the holiday) to decide the day of their annihilation. Hearing of Haman’s plansMordechai sent a message to Esther asking her to appeal to the king for mercy for the Jewish people.That night the king could not sleep and so he sat up reading from the Royal Chronicles. Here he read of the time Mordechai saved him from an assassination attempt. In the meantime Haman had decided to haveMordechai hung for not bowing before him. So Haman had gallows erected and went to the king to ask permission to hang Mordechai. The king asked Haman how such a loyal man should be honored. Haman, thinking the king was referring to him said the man should be dressed in fine clothes and led on horseback through the streets. The king ordered Haman to give Mordachai this honor. Although furious Haman had no choice but to follow the king’s orders.How is Purim Celebrated in Israel?Next Ester appealed to the king, told him of Haman’s plan and asked for mercy on her nation. The king ordered Haman hung from the gallows that had been built for Mordechai and Mordechai was made Prime Minister. Although the king’s decree could not be rescinded he gave the Jews permission to defend themselves. The Jews killed their enemies on the 14th of Adar and on the 15th they rested and celebrated. A holiday was established in memory of this historic victory.The religious community fasts on the day before Purim. At the end of the fast, after nightfall Jews gather in synagogues to hear the reading of the Book of Ester. After synagogue and the following day there are celebrations, parties and parades. The parades take place in almost all Israeli cities and are often before the actual day of Purim or a few days later, depending on the weather and day of the week.Purim Traditions in Israel Purim Foods- Hamantaschen (also called oznei Haman or the ears of Haman in Hebrew) are triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, jam or chocolate. In Israel you will see these delicious cookies on sale at every bakery and supermarket.Gift Giving- It is traditional to give food hampers (mishloach manot) to friends, family and those less privileged than ourselves. These hampers usually hold wine, cookies, chocolate, nuts and other goodies.Fancy Dress- Kids and adults in Israel dress up in fancy dress during Purim. There are Purim fancy dress parties in bars, pubs, night clubs and private venues. The symbolism of the costumes is to show that God was behind the Purim miracle but his involvement was masked.Getting Drunk- Believe it or not it is even a Purim tradition to get drunk! This originates from a passage in the Talmud which states:” A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “cursed by Haman” and “blessed by Mordechai.” So it is a “mitzvah” or good deed when you drink too much during Purim!Things to See and Do in Israel during PurimThere are many special events in Israel during Purim. Purim is one of the most exciting holidays for nightclub. There are many fancy dress parties held in top nightclubs across the country. The main attraction during Purim is the Adloyada or Purim Parade. Parades are held in most cities but the most famous Purim parade takes place in Holon, a short drive from Tel Aviv. The parades include parade floats, costumed performers, dancing and music. Be’er Sheva also holds a great Purim event in the streets of the Old City.Purim in Tel AvivThe main Purim event in Tel Aviv is a street party held in Kikar HaMedina. It is a huge event with live musical performances, market stalls, dancing , singing and great food. Tel Aviv is also the site of the Purim Zombie Walk. Locals (and visitor) dress up as zombies and walk through the streets starting on the corner of Ben-Zion Blvd and King George Street.Purim in JerusalemPurim is celebrated a day early in Jerusalem and other “walled” cities but the celebrations continue throughout the Purim week. To enjoy Purim in Jerusalem head for Safra Square for family-friendly events like circus acts, a costume competition and arts and crafts workshops. There will be performances by top Israeli musicians and TV stars. In Jerusalem’s Sacher Park there will be a fun event with food stalls, music and live shows from 10am. Special Purim events are held at a number of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv museums including the Israel Museum, Bloomfield Science Museum and the Tower of David Museum. Although most of the Purim parties have yet to be announced you will probably find Purim fun at Jerusalem’s Nachalot Street Party. This street party is on Nisim Bachar Street, Jerusalem and entrance is free.
By 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.
By Petal Mashraki

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.Seder Pesach, aritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.Photo byPhil GoodwinonUnsplashIn 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 pray. 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 days 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.
By Petal Mashraki

Top 8 Things to see and do in Safed [2023 Update]

center;">If you want to be transported back to another time, then making a trip to Israel is the way to do it. And after you’ve walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, sunned yourself on white sandy Tel Aviv beaches, explored ancient fortresses in the Judean desert and floated in the Dead Sea, then it’s time to head north.High up in the Galilee is where you’ll find Safed - perched on a hill, this ancient city is breathtakingly pretty, with a mystical air that is noticeable the moment you arrive. Historically, it was one of the four most sacred cities in the Holy Land (along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias) and after you’ve spent a day exploring it you’ll understand why.The lovely views of SafedSafed is famous for many things - an ancient Citadel, a charming Artist's Quarter, cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, medieval synagogues but also an air of spirituality - which is intrinsically tied up with kabbalah - an old, esoteric Jewish school of thought, concerning mysticism, the divine realms, and metaphysics.Even the rooftops of the city are imbued with this ancient tradition - they are blue, which in Kabbalistic philosophy is a color that symbolizes water, and tricks evil spirits into thinking they cannot pass. And the air in Safed - well, some say it’s the purest in the entire land, which is reason enough to make a trip here.1. The Safed CitadelThe highest point in the highest city in Israel (about 1,000 meters above sea level) the Citadel is at the hub of the city and, in some ways, takes center stage in Safed. A historical landmark, fortresses across Israel (including this) date back to the Second Temple era but the remains today are from Crusader, Mamluk, and Ottoman times.Archaeologists believe that it once sat on an area of 40 dunams, had seven defensive towers, and fortresses, and survived until 1837 when an earthquake struck and was plundered by locals. Today, it will afford you tremendous views over the Sea of Galilee (the ‘Kinneret’ in Hebrew).The Safed Citadel2. Artists' QuarterThere are few things more charming in Israel than a wander through the Artists’ Quarter of Safed. Make sure you have comfy shoes before you set off because you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking - there are plenty of steps, and narrow, winding paths, and do expect to get lost!The main street itself is always busy, but if you wander off the beaten track, you’ll have an amazing experience. Between the blue doors and nooks and crannies of tiny streets, you’ll find many artists’ studios. Many of them are well-known in Israel and if you’re lucky you’ll actually meet one or two of them, at work inside.This part of the country is also an excellent place to shop for gifts, and if you’re looking for souvenirs from Israel, there are all kinds of art, sculptures, and Judaica (seder plates, mezuzot, menorot, etc). You really can spend hours watching artists paint, weave and give calligraphy demonstrations. And then, of course, purchase something!Everything you'll see is an authentic, hand-made creation3. Hameiri House MuseumDating back to the 16th century, this beautifully-restored stone house is home to clothing, furniture, tools, and a photo archive, all which tell the story of the last 200 years of Jewish history here. Built by Yehezkel Hameiri (1934-1989), a Safed resident, it’s a museum well worth visiting - don’t forget to go outside either, where within the courtyard you’ll find ancient grapevines and old water wells.The streets of old Safed4. Safed Candle FactoryEstablished almost two decades ago, Safed Candles (located in the Old City) was the brainchild of a local resident who wanted to set up a small business that would help provide employment for locals. Along with fellow workers, he began making candles, which are an integral part of Jewish festivals such as the Sabbath, Hanukkah, etc.The shop became so popular that today it also sells sculptures in all kinds of designs - including Jewish Stars of David, and the ‘good luck hand’ Hamsa sign - all made of beeswax. Brightly colored and beautifully decorated, it’s the kind of place where everywhere you look, there’s something you want to purchase.See how candles are made5.Memorial Museum of the Hungarian-Speaking JewryFounded in 1986, the Memorial Museum of the Hungarian Speaking Jerwy is devoted to showcasing the past of Jewish communities in Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia, Carpathian-Russia, and Backa and looks at the enormous contribution they made to Jewish culture and history.Jews actually lived in Hungary for more than 1,000 years until the Nazis destroyed their community in 1944. The museum has all kinds of artifacts relating to life pre-war including video and audio recordings, photographs, Judaica, personal memorabilia, and even a model of the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest.6.Safed’s Old CemeteryLocated below the old city, graves in the ancient Safed cemetery can be traced back to the BCE (Before the Common Era) and as far as 2,800 years ago, to the time of Hosea the Prophet. This alone gives you an indication of how important this city was, historically, for the Jewish people, over the centuries.Today, people come here from across the world to pray and contemplate, in front of the tombs of famous Rabbis such as Isaac Luria and Rabbi Yosef Caro, who is famous for penning the famous ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (basically the ultimate code of Jewish Law to which orthodox Jews refer).Safed's old cemetery7. Ha'Ari SynagogueBuilt in the 16th century, this synagogue was founded by Spanish exiles who first moved to Greece and then journeyed onto the Holy Land. By 1560, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as ‘Ari’ in Hebrew - initials of "our master rabbi Issac") arrived in Safed and began a tradition of welcoming Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) by praying there and then continuing with his followers to a nearby field, where they sang. This, it is said, is where the famous melody ‘Leha Dodi (‘Come my beloved’) was dreamt up.Ha'Ari Synagogue8. Abuhav SynagogueThis 15th-century synagogue is named after the Spanish rabbi and kabbalist, Isaac Abuhav. Interestingly, legend states that the Spanish authorities wanted the original synagogue (in Spain) to be converted into a church, but Abuhav clicked his fingers, and - as if by magic - the entire structure appeared in this tiny town.Abuhav SynagoguePlanning a trip to the Holy Land? check out these tour packages in northern Israel, and Israel Day Tours (and to Petra, in Jordan) that we offer. Feel free to take a look at our blog, which takes deep dives into every imaginable aspect of Israeli life: from food & drink, sandy beaches, and national parks to ancient fortresses, hiking trails, and galleries & museums.
By Sarah Mann

Safed Klezmer Festival

Klezmer: a Yiddish word meaning musical instruments; it is an Ashkenazi and Eastern European Jewish musical tradition which originated in the 18th century among Hasidic Jews.saxophoneEach August the hilltop city of Safed welcomes thousands of local and international visitors to the biggest Jewish soul music festival in the world. This is one of Israel’s largest and most important festivals. At the festival there will be performances by numerous Klezmer groups and solo artists.The Klezmer musicians are mainly from Israel but there are also several international groups. Throughout the historic alleys and streets of Safed temporary stages are set up each year so that the festival can take place outdoors, on the streets for all to enjoy. Some of the performances will be given in Safed’s historic public buildings like the Red Khan. All of the performances at the festival are free.In addition to the musical performances of Klezmer music there will be other festival activities including “Klezmerim for kids” a workshop where kids can get involved creating and learning more about the Klezmer tradition. There will be workshops for professional musicians and Klezmer master classes conducted by leading artists in this field. There will also be tours of the city and workshops for those interested in Kabala, the mystical Jewish tradition which originated in Safed. Local artists will be selling their creations at market stalls and there will be food stands to provide delicious local delicacies. Visitors to Safed can come for one night or for all three of the festival days as there will be constant events, activities and performances. This festival is intended for both secular and religious visitors – so long as they like music!Practical Information: When: mid-August, annuallyWhere: Throughout the old city of Safed. If driving to Safed for the festival park your car at the designated parking lot outside the city and take the free shuttle.Admission: Free
By Petal Mashraki

Places to Join Kabbalat Shabbat Friday Prayer Services

Israel is a very spiritual place for several religions but the Jewish faith is definitely the one which you will encounter more readily in Israel. If you want to learn more about Judaism or get a taste of how Judaism is practiced in Israel it is not a problem. You can walk into any synagogue at any time of the day and pray or ask the people there about their faith. If you would like to join in and pray with them that is also not a problem but perhaps the most interesting and moving pray time is the one right before sunset on a Friday night. The Friday evening prayer service is called “Kabbalat Shabbat.”What is Kabbalat ShabbatKabbalat Shabbat means receiving or welcoming the Sabbath. The Kabbalat Shabbat prayers take place just before sundown on a Friday in synagogues across the country. Shabbat is the Jewish holy day; a day of rest, prayer and contemplation. You can attend the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers in any synagogues or try one of these ideas where the prayers are specifically for new comers, secular and religious Jews, visitors and locals alike.Kabbalat Shabbat at Tel Aviv PortAttend the Kabbalat Shabbat service as you sit opposite the sea on the Northern Deck promenade of Tel Aviv Port. The services take place every Friday at around 6:30 pm from June 27th to August 28th. The service includes prayers, music, poetry reading and even dancing. The standard prayers are interspersed with modern Hebrew poetry and both traditional and classic tunes. Each Friday 800-1,000 people attend from all walks of life and religious traditions. There are visitors from all over the world, locals who enjoy the outdoor service with the sunset as a backdrop and others who have not found a welcoming place in conventional synagogues. The service is run by the Tel Aviv congregation of Beit Tefilah, a pluralistic and diverse group which includes both religious Jews and secular Jews who want a little Jewish tradition in their lives and to be part of a community.Kabbalat Shabbat at the Port of JaffaThe Kabbalat Shabbat services in the Port of Jaffa are run by the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism. The Daniel Centers focus on bringing Israelis and Jews together from different walks of life, traditions, sexual orientations and cultures. They spearhead egalitarian efforts to create an alternative to Orthodox Judaism while recognizing the Jewish values which tie them to their heritage. The services in Jaffa are held throughout the year at 6 pm in summer and 5:30 pm in winter. They also have a Saturday morning service at 9:30 am. The service is conducted by one of the Daniel Centers Rabbis and Cantor Freddie Peer.Kabbalat Shabbat at the First Station JerusalemThe Kabbalat Shabbat program at Jerusalem’s First Station (New Jerusalem City Square, 4 David Remez St.) is a pluralistic fun, family event with lots of music and dancing. This Kabbalat Shabbat is organized by the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council. While here you can enjoy the restaurants and stores at the First Station.Kabbalat Shabbat at the Western WallJerusalem old cityThe Western Wall is the holiest Jewish site in Israel; it is the site of daily prayers by devoted locals and visitors to Israel. On Friday nights there are evening prayers according to the Orthodox traditional. The service consists of silent prayers, singing, prayers said out loud by all the worshipers and the occasional spontaneous dancing. These are the same prayers which have been said by Jews across the globe for thousands of years. Men and women are invited to join in but unlike the other Kabbalat Shabbat options mentioned above at the Western Wall men and women pray separately. You will notice different groups praying in their own way, to their own melodies and dressed in different traditional Shabbat attire. It is also necessary to respect local religious traditions of modesty by covering your shoulders and legs. Women should bring along a head covering. There are yamakas and shawls available for those who do not bring their own.
By Petal Mashraki
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