Israeli Culture

Israel is a melting pot of cultures, blending East and West. Israeli culture encompasses the traditions of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other smaller groups. Israel’s artistic, social, and culinary culture is influenced by Jewish immigrants from Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, South and North America, Ethiopia, Europe, and Russia.

Tel Aviv culture includes Habima, the national theater, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Israel’s dance culture spans the full spectrum from internationally renowned Batsheva Dance Company, and the Israel Ballet, to ethnic dance groups like Eskesta (Ethiopian) and Inbal (Yemenite). The culture of Tel Aviv can also be experienced in markets, at street food stalls, annual festivals, or live performances.

Museums in Israel cover all genres, from the Museum of Islamic Art and the Japanese Tikotin Museum to the Cartoon Museum and the Design Museum. Jerusalem is home to Israel’s largest and most important museum, the Israel Museum, as well as the Bible Lands Museum, Museum on the Seam, and the Tower of David Museum.  Jerusalem culture includes many sites related to Jewish history, such as the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum.

Cultural events in Israel occur on a regular basis, from jazz performances, and festivals such as the LGBT Pride Parade, to live performances in Caesarea’s Roman amphitheater or Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park. Plan to include some of the cultural events in your Israel itinerary.

Famous Archaeological Sites in Israel

Israel’s history dates back thousands of years and, all across the land, are magnificent and moving historical sites, giving visitors a taste of life in the Holy Land from across the centuries. Whether Roman, Byzatine, Crusader or Ottoman, ancient artifacts, structures and holy sites are in great supply and tours in Israel are easy to book and an ideal way to get the most out of your time here. Even better, in such a small country, you’re never never far from famous archaeological sites, whether you’re in the north or south, near a city or far from the crowds. So, region by region, let’s take a look at what historical sites this country offers:Cardo, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinJerusalemTemple Mount - holy both to Jews and Muslims, as the site where Abraham offered his son to God and Mohammed flew above the city top en route to Mecca, this is a must-see tour to Jerusalem. Visitors can access this walled compound via the Old City’s Mughrabi Gate - better with a guided Temple Mount tour and view all kinds of ancient structures, save for the Dome of the Rock (which is open only to Muslims).Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnels - the Western Wall (‘Kotel’) is the last remaining wall of the Second Temple and, therefore, incredibly sacred to Jews. Equally magnificent are the tunnels that run 488 meters beneath it, complete with vaulted arches, long corridors, and an aqueduct. Not to be missed!Davidson Archaeological Park - Located next to the Western Wall, here you can find structures from the First and Second Temple, Byzantine and Crusader era. Visitors can walk a street that was trodden by thousands of Jerusalemites, from 2000 years ago, as well as watch presentations at the adjacent museum.City of David - older than the Old City itself (circa the Early Bronze Age) this site is full of surprises, including underground tunnels, the pool of Siloam, the Gihon spring, and walls dating back to 8 BCE. Old Jerusalem at its finest, this is a wonderful and famous archaeological tour and highly recommended.Church of the Holy Sepulchre - site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, this is the holiest of sites for Christians but a fascinating and moving site for any tourist. With its spectacular interior and enormous wooden doors, this is a place that every visitor - whatever their faith - to Jerusalem must see.Cardo- the north-south thoroughfare of Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem.Today you can see the fragment of the excavated Cardo in the Old City - solid columns, beautifully decorated capitals, as well as the flagstones that paved the main street.Tower of David Museum. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe GalileeTsipori National Park - located just outside of Nazareth, Tsipori (meaning ‘Bird’ in Hebrew) offers visitors the chance to view the remains of a Roman theatre, cobblestone streets, mosaic floors, a ritual bath, and synagogue from Byzantine days. A gem of a tour in Galilee.Beit Shean National Park - On the edge of the Jordan river, this often overlooked site boasts magnificent ruins from the old Roman city, stroll down the reconstructed Cardo, explore a bathhouse, central monument, and truncated bridge and, after sunset, enjoy a fabulous audiovisual presentation.Tel Megiddo - Once one of the most important cities in Canaan, today you can find a city gate and palace, temple area, and the “Aegean tomb'' which dates back to Late Bronze/Early Iron Age. White mustard flowers and marjoram herbs grow here too!Beit Shearim - nestled in the Lower Galilee, this ancient site is home to a basilica, olive press, a ‘number of Coffins Cave’, and hiking trails. Known for its famous rabbi Yehuda Ha Nasi, it was also once the seat of the Jewish High Court (the ‘Sanhedrin’).Capernaum - one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Christians, visit the synagogue where Jesus preached sermons and the Church and House of Peter, with a glass floor through which to peer. Any tour of Galilee is not complete without a visit here.Capernaum, Corinthian capital with Menorah. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinCentral IsraelBeit Guvrin - Dating back to the First Temple period, this site boasts Roman mosaics and an amphitheater, as well as a Byzantine church. It also is home to some fantastic underground caves, some of which are linked by underground tunnels. Herodion Park - this marvelous complex is home to the famous King’s summer palace, as well as a labyrinth of underground caves. Built as a fortress, on a historical tour you can find an ancient synagogue, a Jewish ritual bath, and the stones of a mausoleum that may have belonged to Herod himself (though archaeologists aren’t quite sure!)Tel Gezer National Park - Situated halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this city dates back 3000 years and excavated finds include monumental stones and the ‘Gezer Calendar’ (an inscription on a limestone tablet, probably written in the age of Solomon).Tel Jericho - just north of Jericho and the Dead Sea, the Sultan’s Hill, as it is known, holds a huge tower and remains of the world’s oldest city. You can also drink water from the spring nearby and gaze at Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land, before his death.Tel Lachish - Located in the Judean Hills, this ancient, fortified city has a rich past and is an ideal tour for anyone interested in Biblical archaeology. Excavations there have uncovered a palace, two Canaanite temples, and an Assyrian ramp and the panoramic views of the desert are tremendous. Beit Guvrin Caves. Photo credit:© ShutterstockThe Coastal PlainCaesarea National Park - This Herodian city was once a major port and is a “must visit” - it boasts frescoes, sculptures, a Hippodrome, and beautifully preserved mosaic floors. It also contains a magnificent Roman amphitheater, which hosts musical performances by famous Israeli artists, every summer.Acre Crusader City - a tour of Acre is something no visitor to Israel should miss. With its preserved city walls, mosques, citadels, baths, underground tunnels, and views of the Mediterranean, no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tip: Don’t miss the Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress, after lunch at a fish restaurant on the harbor. Apollonia-Arsuf National Park - Situated on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean, this settlement was founded by the Persians in the 5th-6th century. Stroll around the remains of a Roman villa and Crusader castle, and soak up the past, even though Tel Aviv is just 15 km away!Carmel Caves - Just south of Haifa lie these impressive caves, evidence of life in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic Ages. Walk trails - ‘Prehistoric Man’, botanical and geological - then watch a video presentation. Finally, enjoy spectacular views of the Carmel coastal plain at this World Heritage site.Tel Dor - once a Canaanite city and, in Hellenistic times, an impressive fortress, this is another hidden gem to explore on the Carmel coastline. A perfect spot to drink in the wide-open spaces and savor the uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean. Apollonia National Park. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Dead Sea and Southern IsraelMasada National Park - Perched on a steep hill, overlooking the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea, this ancient fortification is a highlight in any tour of Israel. Transport yourself back thousands of years, as you explore the remains of a Herodian palace, storehouse, bathhouse, mosaic floors, and enjoy panoramic views for miles on end. By far and away a must-visit attraction.Ashkelon National Park - this site’s treasures include a wall dating back to the 12th century, a Roman basilica, rampart, and ancient wells. Moreover, you can enjoy natural sand dunes and a beautiful beach (with excellent bathing) at the same time!Mamshit - explore the remains of a Nabatean city here, including a city gate, ancient tower, churches, houses, and even a bathhouse. Mamshit overlooks the beautiful Negev hills. Fun fact: ‘mamshit’ is the name of a drink made from milk, honey, and dates.Ein Avdat National Park - above the Tsin stream in the Negev lies this impressive site. Avdat, an ancient Nabatean city, boasts a Byzantine bathhouse, a Roman burial cave, and two churches. The views of the desert are quite spectacular.Qumran National Park - at the foot of the Judean desert, Qumran is home to ancient buildings that point to a distinctly communal living style, as well as an aqueduct, pottery workshop, and stables! Tip: look out for the ritual purification pools, close to the dining area.Ashkelon National Park.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Golan HeightsGamla - this fortified city is often referred to as the Masada of the Golan! Situated on a high ridge, crossing two gorges, Jewish rebels once bravely fought Roman soldiers here. (Fun fact: Gamla got its name from ‘camel’ since the hill on which it sits is shaped like that very animal!)Nimrod Fortress - dating back to the Middle Ages, and located at the foot of Mount Hermon, this is the largest Crusader castle in Israel. With its steep cliffs, and at 760 meters high, it’s perfect for hiking and exploring, as well as enjoying picturesque sunsets with views all the way to Syria!Katzrin - just 13 km from the Sea of Galilee step back in time and explore this ancient village, complete with the synagogue and excavated houses (inside which you can view agricultural tools and others). Transport yourself to Byzantine times in this veritable time capsule!Tel Dan - nestled in the Hula Valley and close to the Jordan River, this site contains Bronze Age ramparts, tombs, and an intact mud-brick gate. They are all evidence that, historically, ‘Dan’ was a religious center for the Kingdom of Israel.Banias - At the foot of Mount Hermon lies Banias (‘Panias’ in Arabic), historically an important Christian center. Excavations after 1967 have uncovered the remains of a sanctuary complex dedicated to the god Pan. The surrounding area, with cliffs and springs, is also perfect for a nature walk Ruins of Ancient Buildings in the National Park of Gamla. Photo credit:© Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Theatre in Israel

Israel’s a land of beaches, mountains, seas and nature trails, endless religious and historical landmarks, archaeological sites and museums that deal with so many different themes. But it’s also a nation of culture lovers - which is why the performing arts are so well-supported. Whether you want music, fine art or theatre, both the big and small cities won’t disappoint. Even better, when it comes to theatre, there are so many choices for the visitor, including performances in Hebrew, Russian, English and even Yiddish!Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinToday we’re going to be looking at the lively and active Israeli theatre scene. Whether it’s contemporary plays, classical productions, performances at the Romantheatre in Caesarea, or under the stars in Jerusalem, there’s an exciting and dynamic ‘scene’ in the country. Israel is also a veritable melting point which means the actors, directors, and playwrights you’ll come across here hail not just from the Levant but all across the globe. From professional repertory and international musicals to regional plays and amateur companies, devoted audiences can expect a treat when they book tickets. Let’s start with a brief history of how it all began...History of the Theatre in IsraelThe first-ever Hebrew theatre in Israel was a group called ‘Lovers of the Hebrew Stage’ who performed actively in the Holy Land between 1904-1914. In the years of the British Mandate, when many Jewish immigrants were arriving in Palestine, many of the plays performed were themed around Jewish history and the trials and tribulations of being involved in ‘building a new country’. Habima,a theatre group founded in Moscow, arrived in Tel Aviv in 1928, delighting audiences with a production of ‘haOtsar’ (‘the Treasure’), a Yiddish to Hebrew translation of Shalom Aleichem’s Der Oytser. Settling in the city in 1931, a theatre was built and opened in 1945.Habima Theatre, Tel Aviv.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinOld and New Themes - from Shakespeare to LevinAfter the creation of the state, theatre in Israel flourished, combining native and international narratives. Playwrights such as Hanoch Levin, Moshe Shamir, and Nissan Aloni began exploring subjects pertinent to the new, fragile state, particularly the impact of the Holocaust and the current state of play between Israel and the Arab world. Over time, international classics also became popular in Israel - Shakespeare, Moliere, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard to name but a few. Today, Israel’s theatres have a reputation that is well-deserved, drawing on eclectic themes and promoting young actors and actresses. With a growing number of students studying acting in high school and the exciting atmosphere that exists on stages across the country, the future indeed looks bright for Israeli theatre. Let’s now have a look at some of the most well-known theatres in Israel:Theatre curtain.Photo by Rob Laughter on UnsplashTop Theatres in JerusalemJerusalem Theater - This landmark structure opened in 1971 and houses a number of open spaces, which perform all kinds of cultural activities. The complex consists of five halls - the Sherover Theatre can seat 970 and the Henry Crown Concert Hall 760! Located in Talbiyeh, it hosts over 600,000 visitors each year.Khan Theater - This theatre is a leading repertory-creator in Jerusalem, producing 4-5 new critically acclaimed plays each season, as well as its repertoire of 10 ongoing productions. They perform classical, modern European, and American plays, as well as Israeli dramas and, are considered by critics as the theatre that has produced the most groundbreaking works in recent years. Without a doubt, it is a real cultural center in the city. The Train Theater - Formed in 1981, this artistic puppet theater for children promotes creation and innovation. Every summer, it puts on the International Festival of Puppet Theater, bringing together puppeteers, viewers, artists, and festival directors from Israel and around the world.Caesarea Roman Theatre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockTop Theatres in Tel AvivHabima - Habima first opened in 1945 but was rebuilt and reopened in 2009 - today, located at the top of Rothschild Boulevard, it is considered a world-class theatre. Most productions are performed in Hebrew but often translated simultaneously into English, making it accessible for thousands of tourists. It has produced many critically acclaimed plays, both classic and independent, and today visitors can also enjoy a number of musicals on offer there, including Les Miserables and Mamma Mia.Gesher - The Gesher Theatre was founded in 1981 by new immigrants who had arrived in Israel from the USSR. It is one of the few bi-lingual theatres in the world, performing with the same troupe in Russian and Hebrew alternately. Today most of the productions are in Hebrew, but it has a very unique and artistic feel to its productions. Many of its plays have been hailed as remarkable and outstanding and today it is regarded as one of the most innovative theatres in Israel.Jaffa Theatre - The Jaffa Theater promotes intercultural dialogue, bringing together people from Jewish and Arab backgrounds, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The theatre is a great advocate of reconciliation and peace and puts on many productions that deal with identity and ‘belonging’.Roman Theatre in Caesarea.Photo by Joshua Sukoff on UnsplashThe Cameri Theatre - The Cameri, founded in 1944, is one of Israel’s leading theatres and, to date, has staged over 600 productions, in front of thousands of people. Based in central Tel Aviv, each year, they present around 15 new plays to Israeli audiences, using an accomplished cast and well-known directors (five of whom have been awarded the Israel Prize for contributions to their field). Suzanne Dellal Center -Established in 1989 in the charming Neve Tzedek neighborhood, the Suzanne Dellal Centre offers a diverse number of performances, festivals, and events that relate to the world of contemporary dance and performing art. Suzanne Dellal is also home to the world-famous Batsheva dance troupe, with Martha Graham hired as its first artistic director, back in 1964. The Stage - This is home to a performing arts community in Tel Aviv that operates in English. They run large and small productions, all on a voluntary basis. Their claim to fame is a production of the notorious ‘Vagina Monologues’ and they also offer writing, directing, acting, and improv workshops as well as stand-up comedy and ‘open mic’ nights. If you are looking for an English-language theatre in Israel with English-speaking actors, this one is not to miss.Students dancing near the entrance to Suzanne Dellal Center.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinImprov Theater Israel - Founded in 2007 by Anna Preminger, this is currently the home of Israeli improvisation theatre. Tmu-Na -This small community theater and performance center, features fringe and avant-garde performances in central Tel Aviv. Yiddishspiel - Yiddishpiel was established in 1987, its aim being to restore and revive the rich language of Yiddish, spoken by millions before World War II and part of a rich, Jewish cultural tradition. They have a rich and diverse repertoire, including classic works by Shalom Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Shai Agnon.Founded by Shmuel Atzmon-Wircer, to date over 100 new productions have been staged and the theatre has also gained international recognition, performing in festivals around the world. Since their beginning, they have traveled to London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and Vienna to perform.Malenky - This company was founded in 1997 by a group of immigrants from the old USSR and its forte is the adaptation of classical literary works. Malenki means ‘small’ in Russian but there’s nothing insignificant about these actors. Currently, they perform both in Russian and Hebrew and their repertoire includes ‘the Bastards Story’ (based on Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’), ‘About the Sin’ (based on Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment), and ‘The Stranger’ (based on the novel by Albert Camus). Market Dance, Carmel Market, Tel Aviv.Photo by Liel Anapolsky on UnsplashTop Theatres in HaifaHaifa Theatre - Founded in 1961, with the support of Abba Hushi - the mayor at that time - this was the first creative urban theatre in Israel. Undoubtedly, it expanded the cultural horizons of Haifa - and today acts as a creative home for young directors and original playwrights. (Fun fact; famous Israel playwrights Hanoch Levin, A B Yehoshua, and Danny Horowitz all began their professional lives here).Al-Midan -Founded in 1994, by a group of Arab-Israelis, this Haifa-based theatre serves as the artistic community for Arabis in Israel. With its two halls, its plays are performed only in Arabic and use both young Arab performers who have just graduated from Israeli drama schools, in collaboration with seasoned actors from the community.Theatre at CaesareaCaesarea isn’t just a magnificent national park, at which you can see extraordinary examples of Herodian architecture. It’s also home to a huge theater where, every summer, theatergoers come to enjoy concerts and plays under the stars. What once was a place where thousands watched Sophocles being performed is now a major venue for international performers. Not to be missed! To visit Caesarea join one of numerous Caesarea tours.Ballerina in Tel Aviv.Photo by Liel Anapolsky on UnsplashIsrael Musicals and Musical Theatre in IsraelThe King and I, Rent, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Sound of Music are some of the many musicals that have proved to be huge hits in Israel. Many Broadway shows make it here, both in large and intimate venues and enjoyed both by Israelis and those whose native language is English!Theatre Festivals in IsraelEach year, Israel holds a number of fantastic theatre festivals, to which thousands of people - both locals and tourists - flock. These include:Musrara Mix Festival - Usually held in February, and held in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara (between the east and west of the city), this runs for three days and hosts a number of Israeli and international artists, as well as students from the Naggar School of Art. All events are free to the public, and visitors love walking through the narrow streets of the area, meeting locals, and enjoying all kinds of artistic performances.Puppets.Photo by Ray Harrington on UnsplashFestigal - Performed annually since 1981, Festigal is a wonderful musical show with many well-known actors and singers in Israel performing across Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. It begins with a musical, then comes a break, in which the audience vote for their favorite song. The second half consists of a concert. Held at Hanukkah time (December), it’s incredibly popular with children and each year it adopts a different theme. Acre Fringe Theatre Festival -Since 1979, the marvelous Crusader City of Acre has been home to an international fringe festival, which is held in the days that fall between the beginning and end of Sukkot (the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles), in the Autumn. Acre, with its ancient port, narrow alleyways, and eclectic architecture, is the perfect place to stage productions.Held at the Knight’s Hall (the Hospitaller Fortress), the stunning archaeological backdrop intrigues and mesmerizes visitors. It is Israel’s biggest theatre festival and is known to be a hub of creativity - it hosts companies from around the world and also boasts street performances and many activities for children. Enjoying theatre in a city like Acre was never this much fun...Acre Port.Photo by Daniel Newman on UnsplashJaffa Fest - Running since 2018 and held in the beautiful city of Jaffa, this festival hosts a number of music and theatre productions. Initiated by the Gesher Theatre, since 2020 it has been including a variety of content created for digital broadcasting in Hebrew, English, and Russian.Masrahid Festival - Held annually, at the Acre Theatre Centre, this festival performs plays in Arabic with simultaneous translation provided in Hebrew, opening the event up to millions of people who want to watch original works and understand more about Arab and Palestinian culture. International Puppet Festival - Taking place each July in Holon (just outside of Tel Aviv), this festival began in 1995 and is organized by the Israeli Puppet Centre. It hosts workshops for professionals and amateurs and gives performances by locals and international artists alike. Even better, most events are free...Bat Yam Festival - This annual festival takes place every August, close to the beach (on the boardwalk) in Bat Yam (a city just south of Tel Aviv-Jaffa). Running since 2005, it’s all about street theatre - and this street theatre is edgy, risky, and happening. The audience is people who happen to be walking there and performers have the job of making them look up and take notice. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see some acrobatics!To be able to visit any particular show or theatre in Israel, please consider joining aprivate tour.The Wandering Israeli Show, Cameri Theatre, Tel Aviv.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Sports in Israel

Sports in ancient Israel are mentioned in the Bible although some practised by Egyptians and Greeks were condemned by the sages for involving pagan practises. But others were definitely ‘kosher’ e.g. running. Although sport was not supposed to detract away from the idea of studying the Torah (Jewish Bible), there are dissenting ideas. Rabbi Kook, for instance, argued: "When the holy people will be physically firm and strong, holiness will prevail in the world.” The theatre in Caesarea is also evidence that sports were popular, back in the day.Kitesurfing in the Red Sea, Israel. Photo by Raimond Klavins on UnsplashMajor sports in Modern Day IsraelThe sports tradition in more modern times has continued, particularly with football which first came to the Holy Land under Ottoman rule. In 1928, the Palestinian Football Association was formed and the British Mandate of Palestine national team played Egypt in 1934 in a World Cup qualifying game (they lost - and badly!) After the creation of the State of Israel, they were renamed as the national team of Israel and their first match as an independent nation was against the US Olympic Team. So what are the most popular sports in Israel? Well, we’d have to say football and basketball for starters.Israel’s Premier League was started in 1999, and today is a member of UEFA. The national stadium, first located in Ramat Gan, was where games were originally held but today games are usually played at Bloomfield Stadium, in Tel Aviv. Football (soccer), arguably, is Israel’s national sport today, just edging out basketball in the popularity stakes. ‘Ligat Ha Al’ - the Israeli Basketball Premier League - makes up the top 12 basketball teams in Israel and was set up in 1954. It is well-known in Europe and in recent years they have had more links with the NBA in North America.Surfers at Alma Beach in Tel Aviv.Photo by Zoltan Tasi on UnsplashThere are also many other sports that are popular in Israel - swimming, rowing, tennis, chess, boxing, figure skating, and gymnastics. Golf is a relatively new sport in Israel but there is a full-sized course in Caesarea. Baseball became more popular in the 1990s, and today there’s a very successful ‘Baseball for All’ program running in Israel, which encourages Jewish and Arab Israeli students in 6th grade to play together three times a year. Indeed, Israel was only just pipped to the post (by the Netherlands) in the European Baseball Championship in September 2021.Martial arts are very much enjoyed, particularly Krav Maga (a self-defense and fighting system, developed by the Israel Defence Force). There’s also Kapap - a ‘fusion of different fighting styles like boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu, and knife combat. Extreme sports in Israel are also becoming more popular. Whether you want to rappel down the side of the Ramon Crater, a canyon in the Golan Heights, or sandboard in the dunes of the Negev desert, there’s a tour for it. The bicycle race Giro d'Italia in Israel.Photo by Yoav Aziz on UnsplashWater Sports in IsraelWith its fabulous Mediterranean coastline, the Sea of Galilee, and the beautiful Red Sea besides. Israel is a paradise for anyone who loves water sports. Diving - there’s no better place to dive than Eilat, with its clear waters, stunning coral reef, and shoals of brightly colored tropical fish. For beginners, there are authorized PADI courses available and for more experienced divers Eilat Coral Beach is a great spot to explore. For those nervous about going underwater, it’s also fun to snorkel. Jet skiing - available both in Eilat and the Sea of Galilee, either take a trip out with an instructor or rent your own! Trust us, it’s an extremely exciting experience. Stand Up Paddle Boarding - this sport is growing in popularity - these boards look much like surfboards but are infinitely more stable, so you move around without tipping over precariously. Ideal for exploring on flat water, you’ll see both locals and tourists out on the Mediterranean, enjoying themselves in this way.Sea Kayaking - If you want to go out on open waters such as lakes, bays, or the Mediterranean Sea in Israel, Because they are long and narrow, they’re great for negotiating waters. Sailing - it’s easy to hire a yacht in Israel and spend a few hours on the sea, topped off with a wonderful sunset. Clubs in Tel Aviv and Herzliya rent out vessels from a few hours to a get set!Swimming in the Jordan River, Israel. Photo credit:© Jenny EhrlichBeach Sports in IsraelMatkot - this is, unofficially, Israel’s national beach sport and much loved by the locals. It’s a wooden paddleboard game, where two players smash the ping pong-sized ball back and forth and observers hope they don’t lose an eye when the ball goes astray!Beach Volleyball - also very popular in Tel Aviv.On summer Saturday mornings in particular, at Gordon Beach, you’ll see plenty of young, attractive people (dressed in very little) getting fit, by way of the free courts there.Sports Events and Festivals in IsraelThere are so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin but here are a few we can’t resist mentioning...The Maccabiah Games are held every four years - essentially it’s a quadrennial Jewish Olympics, bringing together the most promising Jewish athletes from around the world. First held in 1932, It is the third-largest sporting event in the world, with 10,000 athletes competing and hosts open, junior, master, and disabled events.The games were named after Judah Maccabee, a Jewish leader who defended his country from King Antiochus. Today, the torch that lights the flame at the opening ceremony takes place in Modiin, his birthplace. The Maccabiah Games recognizes all 28 current Olympic sports, as well as chess, netball, and cricket! Women in Yoga Project, Israel. Photo by Mor Shani on UnsplashTel Aviv MarathonUsually taking place in February, this is a huge event, both for locals in Tel Aviv and runners around Israel. Over 40,000 people have been participating in the last years and because Tel Aviv is quite compact, the marathon passes through many parts of it. Starting in the north, at Yarkon Park and culminating in the south, in Jaffa, it’s a great day out, either as a participant or just a spectator.Jerusalem MarathonTaking place a month after Tel Aviv’s marathon, in March, back in 2013 Women’s Running Magazine this was chosen as one of the top 10 international spring running events worldwide. And whilst Tel Aviv is very flat, Jerusalem is incredibly hilly so this is a very challenging marathon, even for experienced runners. The good news is you can choose the length of your run - and the astonishing views of Jerusalem are to die for. Because it takes place at the beginning of spring, weather conditions are also good. Have a look at this video, to see for yourself.Beach volleyball in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo by Kai Pilger on UnsplashFrom North to South - Marathons Across IsraelThere are also many more marathons in Israel, held in all parts of the country. There’s one in the Dead Sea, where you’re literally running the lowest race on earth! The Sea of Galilee event is the oldest of its kind in Israel (45 years old) and has a flat course. The Crane Race, in the Hula Valley, offers a variety of marathons (half, 19k, 5k, and family events) around Hula Lake, where you can see thousands of cranes migrating. And let’s not forget the ‘Volcano Run’ in the Golan Heights. Beginning in Mount Hermon and ending at the Yarmuk River, you can enjoy running up and down five peaks, past a dormant volcano and breathtaking views. Probably not for the fainthearted! The desert marathon is held in Eilat, beginning in the desert and ending on the shores of the Red Sea. The Bible marathon recreates a run mentioned in the Bible, with its starting point at Rosh Ha’ayin (once Eben Exer) and ending at Shiloh (an ancient Сity of the Tabernacle). And let’s not forget the Arad-Masada race - beginning in the desert and ending at the foot of Masada, it’s renowned for its ‘afterparty rave’. After all, isn’t a dance party the perfect way to end this kind of race!People exercising on sports ground in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichTel Aviv Night RunHeld annually in October, this 10k race is fantastic fun - and unique in Israel because it’s held at night. It’s a tradition for anyone who runs to wear neon clothes (pink, yellow, green), and anyone over 14 can sign up. The route is completely urban and with thousands of people cheering on the runners, it’s a fantastic experience. It begins at Rabin Square, Rothschild Boulevard, down trendy Dizengoff, and into the finish area at Yarkon Park. Oh - and then there’s an all-night celebratory party with music and dancing - Tel Aviv style!Sail Tel AvivSail Tel Aviv is Israel’s largest maritime sports activity, and runs from between two to four days, usually in the spring, celebrating all things to do with the sea. Held next to the beach, it’s free for the public and involves many different kinds of competitions and activities. Come and look at the sand sculptures and the photography exhibitions, grab a bite, listen to some music. If you’re brave, you can even sign up for the open experience day with SUP, kayak rowing, and boat sailing! Israman Eilat and Ironman TiberiasA full & half Iron-Distance Triathlon takes place in Eilat, in January and another arduous one in Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, in November. So if you’re up for swimming, biking, and running, you know where to go!Skaters in Tel Aviv. Photo byYoav AzizonUnsplashSovev Tel Aviv Bike FestivalUsually taking place in October, around the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Sovev Cycle Tel Aviv offers the participant three different routes - the 8km (for beginners and family), the 21 km (for anyone in good shape), the 40 km route (if you’re experienced) and the 60km (for masters of the sport!) Bara Epic IsraelTaking place in northern Israel, between the Crusader city of Acre and the Sea of Galilee, this event is designed for avid mountain bikers! The race routes change annually, to make sure long-term participants never get bored (!) and range from 75 to 100 km per day. It’s all very challenging, with the idea to finish within a designated time limit. If you like spectacular scenery and something to test your stamina, this is an ‘epic’ choice! Here’s a short video, to give you a taste of how exciting it is.Israel RideThis great fundraising ride, where all proceeds benefit environmental charities, takes place in the Arava desert and lasts 5 days. Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or want a more ‘recreational’ experience, there’s a route for you. The crew supporting you organize local accommodation, hearty food, and a chance to learn about the ecology of the area, and the challenges environmentalists there face. Shabbat is a day off too, so you’ll get to spend some quality time with your fellow riders. Old and young are equally welcome too.Skiing in Mount Hermon, Israel.Photo credit: © Evgeny BrizeliWheels of LoveThis charity cycling event takes place in southern Israel, often in the Arava desert, and whether you choose the three or four-day routes (the offroad is a little more challenging) the monies you raise will help an incredible cause - ALYN, which is a Jerusalem Hospital caring for children and adolescents. Mud Run Tel AvivFor those who are looking for a bit of levity, there’s nothing more fun than the Mud Run. Beginning at Ganei Yehoshua in Yarkon Park, you can challenge each other in an obstacle race of either 2, 5, or 10 km, and very few finish in a clean state. As the organizers say ‘Get Ready to get dirty!’Among other major sports in Israel are martial arts, sport fishing, and sky sports.Finally, Bein Harim is happy to help if you want to join a private or group day tour, whilst taking part in a sports event in Israel. Feel free to contact us, by phone or mail, to talk more about your needs. We’ll be delighted to help.
By Sarah Mann

Farming in Israel

Israel is a land of beaches, mountains and holy sites, but it’s also a land of lush green fields, vineyards and olive groves. And since the turn of the 19th century, when immigrants began arriving from Europe, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge about farming techniques, the agricultural system in Israel has gone from strength to strength.Sweeties growing in Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinOstensibly, you wouldn’t be surprised - after all, Israel has a typically Mediterranean climate and fertile soil, making it ideal for the establishment of farms. But when you bear in mind that over 50% of the country is desert terrain, and only 20% of the land is naturally arable, you then begin to realize how remarkable Israel’s farming achievements are.World-Class Agriculture and Cutting Edge Farming Techniques in IsraelFrom hydroponic farming (think cherry tomatoes - an Israeli invention!) to koi farming, from avocado, oranges, grapefruit, and apples to date palms, olive groves, antelopes, and alpacas, and even snails, Israeli farming is today, a highly developed industry. Below, we’ll be taking a look at how farms took shape in the land, over the centuries, how farming techniques have evolved, and some of the products they yield today. We’ll also take a look at some of the numerous farms you can visit across Israel - from high up in the Galilee down to the Arava and Negev deserts, and not just learn about the products (and even taste them) but to stay overnight in guest accommodation.Israeli farm.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsFarming in Israel - From Ancient to Modern TimesWhen did agriculture begin in Israel? Well, some archaeologists think as long ago as 23,000 years! Evidence points to the development of rural settlements - hamlets, villages, and farms - some with fields and some with terraces, many having access routes to markets. Archaeologists have also excavated digging tools and stone objects, as well as olive and wine presses. From as long ago as the Bronze Age, it is clear that every aspect of the inhabitants’ lives revolved around the cycles of nature. In fact, the Gezer Calendar, written on a limestone tablet in the 10th century, actually records the annual schedule of agricultural work. In the Bible, of course, Israel is famously referred to as the land of ‘milk and honey’ and compared to Egypt (beyond the Nile) and the Arabian desert, it truly was. The ancient Israelites feasted on wheat, olives, grapes, barley, pomegranates, and figs, not to mention melons, lentils, cucumbers, and chickpeas. Barley was harvested in May, grapes were picked in August, and olives were harvested in the Fall. A relatively dry climate and hilly terrain provided valleys for growing (Jezreel in the north and the Sharon in the South) and springs close to Jericho made it possible to plant around the Jordan.A lychee farm in Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsThe Kibbutz and MoshavIsrael is also known across the world for its kibbutzim and moshavim. The kibbutz is a collective community, where all wealth is jointly owned and was traditionally agrarian. Today, many have privatized and are highly successful - Ein Gev, in the Galilee, has banana plantations, an Israel-type model dairy farm, and an ostrich breeding program. Yotvata, in the Arava desert, has a huge milk products factory, supplying millions of Israeli children with their much-loved ‘choco’ (fabled chocolate milk).The moshav in Israel is also an agricultural settlement, but here all of the members are individual farmers who live together. Historically, the farmers would share equipment and avoid hired labor but today many Israelis who are not farmers buy land there and build their own private homes.Built on land owned by the Jewish National Fund, the moshavim historically represented a middle ground between privately owned settlements and the communal kibbutzim. Today, many are still involved in Israeli farming ventures including grape cultivation, chicken rearing, dairy production, and beekeeping.A ripe harvest in one of the Israeli kibbutzim.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsModern-Day Farming Techniques in IsraelToday, Israel is hailed as a global leader when it comes to advanced farming techniques - think hydroponic, vertical, and robotic farming practices. In its most simple form, hydroponics ‘skips’ the soil, finding different materials to support the plant roots and grow the crop directly, in water-rich with nutrients. This means farmers can grow and produce food anywhere in the world, at any time of the year, as well as netting higher yields using fewer resources. You also don’t have to wait for ‘the season’ or worry that your crop will be lost due to bad weather! Smart Design that Improves Productivity in the Midst of a Pandemic!The Israeli farmer is also becoming adept with the techniques of vertical and robotic farming. Vertical farming in Israel allows farmers to grow crops in vertically stacked layers. One Israeli agri-tech start-up in Raanana (about 40 minutes drive from Tel Aviv) - VerticalField - created these farms in urban areas, using technical expertise and smart design geoponic technology. Equally innovative is Israel’s robotic system that automates greenhouse tasks, at the same time gathering data (to improve quality). In the pandemic, for instance, many Israeli farmers worked with robots, operating the software from their homes. This meant the number of staff at greenhouses could be kept to a minimum and social distance maintained!Equally fascinating are the start-ups that have revolutionized milk production in Israel, using robots that will completely automate the production, at a much lower cost than normal. This kind of technology and scientific know-how is being exported all over the world so that farms in South East Asia and South America can improve their own practices when it comes to feeding and milking cows. Blossoming almond grove, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinUrban Farming and Revolutionary Restaurants!This is also a growing trend in Israel, particularly in the big cities. ‘Green in the City’ is at the forefront of all kinds of aquaponic and hydroponic solutions, including hothouses on the roof of the Dizengoff Mall shopping center in central Tel Aviv! Cucumbers, mint, lettuce, kale, and green onions are amongst the many things people can pick up from baskets (there are no sellers, it works on an honor system).Tel Aviv Restaurant L28 even took it one step further - the produce they use actually comes from their rooftop kitchen. Urban agronomy involves sunlight, insects, and chemistry but it really can work, as they’ve proved. They also have a ‘wet well’ using hydroponics) to grow greens on the menu! What Kind of Farms Can You Find in Israel?Where do we begin? Fruits and vegetables? Animals? Spices? Delectable cheeses? Here are a few of the farms that have really made a name for themselves in the last few years, and have become popular both with locals and people coming on a trip to Israel. Antelope Ranch, Arava Desert - this farm/ranch is great for kids, as they have a ‘Noah’s Ark’ and a mini-safari. The place is full of antelopes and zebras, different birds, and surrounded by desert hills. You can camp here or take a private ‘zimmer’. A real African experience in Israel!Olive grove in Latrun, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinHerb and Spice farm, Kibbutz Hulata, Galilee - here you can buy over 200 types of herbs, spices, and medicinal plants, all grown locally in Upper Galilee. With over 50 years of experience, this family knows all about growing, drying, and blending herbs, using traditional methods. Desert Olive Farm, Sde Boker - this is more of a getaway than a farming experience! Here, you can experience the Negev desert, either by staying in an Indian tent, an African ecological cabin, or a luxurious suite, as you enjoy the peace of the desert by day and the bright starry skies at night.Kornmehl Farm, Negev desert - located in the Negev Hills, this is a great place to come if you love goat’s cheese, a new variation of a French classic. Anat and Daniel rear goats who roam freely and are not fed antibiotics and their artisanal cheeses are to die for! Alpaca Farm, Mitzpe Ramon - overlooking the Ramon Crater in Mitzpe Ramon, in the Negev, this farm is guaranteed to be a hit with the kids, who love to pet these South American animals. This is a working farm, with the wool from these furry creatures used to create unique items of clothing, and as you walk around you are even welcome to feed the alpacas and llamas! There are also 20 horses available for riding…!Antelope ranch in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo by Dennis van Lith on UnsplashEin Camonim - in Israel’s Upper Galilee, this is another goat farm in Israel that’s been going since the late 1970s and boasts an excellent restaurant, where you can try all kinds of classic cheese. They also make their own olive oil using ancient stone presses. Try their all-you-can-eat vegetarian gourmet buffet, which includes freshly baked bread. The kids are also welcome to pet the goats…Shvil Hasalat, Negev - located down south in Israel’s Negev desert at moshav Talmei Yosef, here you can take a 3-hour tour, led by Uri Alon, an international agronomist). You’ll stop at places such as strawberry and tomato greenhouses, orchards of Chinese oranges, and a herb section and after an explanation of how it all works, you’ll get to pop some of the fruits in your mouth!Hava and Adam Farm - equidistant between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this farm gives young adults the chance to learn more about sustainable living and permaculture, by volunteering on their organic farm. They put an emphasis on personal development too and provide long-term programs for those who are interested in working on the land long-term. Mandankoi, Kibbutz Magan Michael - up on the coast, less than an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, you can tour this Israeli fish farm, which is a leader in koi breeding. A great place to learn about - and purchase - all kinds of tropical fish.Crocoloco Crocodile Farm, Arava - Located 140 km north of Eilat, in the barren desert, this farm is run by a South African couple who are crazy about a certain kind of reptile. They offer guided tours and lots of fun facts for kids about these amazing creatures and if you’re lucky you’ll even get to hold a baby one in your hand! Educational and fun.Vineyard in Israel.Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on UnsplashChampignon Farm, Western Galilee - founded in 1982 as a family business, today this farm employs a wide range of workers including agronomists, growers, maintenance workers, and exchange students. They’re growing all kinds of edible mushrooms using unique methods that yield high-quality crops, and the produce tastes amazing!Vered HaGalil, Western Galilee - lovely farm accommodation in charming, rustic cabins, with beautiful views looking down on the Sea of Galilee. Guests can enjoy horseback riding at sunset too. This unique farm stay in Israel has 120 dunams of greenery and orchards, so you’ll really be able to relax in peace and quiet.Kurlander Farm, Moshav Beit Hillel - up in the Golan Heights, this fantastic state-of-the-art dairy farm is run by three generations of the Kurlander family. Take a tour and learn all about newborn calves, learn about the secrets of milk production and enjoy some tasty chocolate milk. Kids can pet and feed the animals and you can take home fruits and olive oil too. If you call ahead, you can arrange a visit to their orchards and olive groves. Tours are held each day at midday. Davida Animal Farm, Yish’i - not too far a drive from Jerusalem, this charming farm is a great place to bring young children, with admission price including a petting corner and horse riding and bouncy houses. Kids can also have a ‘tractor experience’ and watch goats being milked. A good place to bring a picnic - they have tables in the shade!The Camel Ranch, Dimona - not too far from Beer Sheva, this is a chance for kids to learn more about can actually take a trip out into the desert on them. The owners are kind and serve you mint tea too! Our tip - try the ice cream - it’s made from camel milk! For those that want to make a weekend out of it, they offer simple clean accommodation, with kitchen facilities and you can sit out by a bonfire at night, after dinner.If you are interested in visiting some Israeli farms, consider joining Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley Farm Private Tour.Old-fashioned farming in the Biblical Garden in Yad HaShmona, Israel. Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash
By Sarah Mann

Music of Israel

Israel is a long way from its 100th birthday but in the last century, all kinds of influences have combined to create a very diverse and unique musical culture in the country. From enthusiastic amateur singers, cabarets, and small choral societies in the 1920s, to the establishment of the Israeli Philharmonic after the state was created, stretching onto the 1990s, when almost a million Russians emigrated to Israel, many of them excellent musicians, the music scene has been popular!Amusician playing bass guitar at a concert, Israel.Photo by Anton Mislawsky on UnsplashToday, Israeli opera, jazz, and pop music are also forces to be reckoned with, so if you’re traveling to Israel, you can be sure of finding a ticket to something very exciting. Moreover, not just Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa but many other cities and small towns sponsor their own choirs and hold annual music festivals in Israel. Whether it’s a small recital, a full-scale symphony performance, Madonna performing in Yarkon Park,an Israeli folk singer giving a concert in the restored Roman theater at Caesarea, you can be sure of finding incredible musical performances the length and breadth of the country.What Defines Israeli Music?So, what are the characteristics of Israeli music? That’s a hard question to answer! There are all kinds of global influences, for sure - including Russian folk songs, Eastern European Klezmer band traditions, Yemenite ballads, Hasidic melodies, and, of course, the enormous influence that Arabic music has had. And that’s before you even begin to factor in Greek, Ethiopian, central European, and Latin American influences. Of course, that’s to be expected - after all, if Israel is the ultimate melting pot, then why should its musical heritage be any different? Since immigrants began arriving in the Holy Land at the turn of the 20th century, they have been looking for ways not just to express themselves but also to define the ‘national spirit’. This has resulted in a wealth of talent - whether it’s classical, jazz, folk ballads, or pop and rock, the music scene in Israel is incredibly diverse.Beautiful old violin on a red tablecloth, Israel. Photo by Leonid Portnoy on UnsplashNational Musical Instruments of Israel:The history of musical instruments in Israel is a long and rich one. It is fair to say that music played an integral part in the local culture - cymbals and tambourines were used to celebrate joyful occasions, lyres and harps were played at royal concerts, and trumpets were sounded to remind people of momentous events and to celebrate victories.Several musical instruments in ancient Israel are specifically mentioned in the Bible, whilst others are referenced in historical manuscripts. These include: kinnor - this ancient Jewish lyre is also known as King David’s harp since it is the instrument the famous Israelite played. It is Israel’s national instrument and a spiritual instrument for Christians. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus describes the kinnor as having 10 strings, constructed out of a sheep's small intestine, and played with a plectrum (pick). However, the book of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible states that David played the kinnor "with his hand".Shofar - shaped like a horn, this Hebrew trumpet was blown to summon people to prayer, war, or solemn ceremonies. It was also blown by the Cohen priests to mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the tradition continues in synagogues around the world today, each Rosh HaShanah.David Playing the Harp Before Saul, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe shofar is mentioned several times in the Bible. These include the book of Joshua, where the blowing of the shofar was part of the battle to capture the city of Jericho, and in the book of Judges, where it was sounded by Gideon and his warriors in order to terrify the opposing army. Shofars are made out of ram’s horns and, indeed, make a powerful sound (almost like a blast) when blown.Oud - this stringed musical instrument was played regularly in medieval times and is still popular today, in Islamic culture. It is the parent of the European lute, usually with 11 strings grouped in six courses. It has a deep, pear-shaped body, a relatively short neck, and a fretless fingerboard. In Arabic, it means something close to ‘wood stick’ or ‘flexible stick’. It is still played today at traditional music concerts in Israel and the Middle East.Kanun - this stringed instrument can be played either solo or as part of an ensemble and its origins go back to before the birth of Christ. Also part of the lute family. Arabic kanuns are usually made with five skin insets that support a single long bridge, resting on five arching pillars. They have ornamental sound holes called kafes and are played sitting or squatting, plucking the strings with tortoiseshell picks.Darbuka - this goblet-shaped percussion instrument is still widely played in Islamic classical and folk music throughout North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Lutes, flutes, and bells were also commonly used in biblical times. Daniel, the prophet of Jehovah, wrote of the orchestra of King Nebuchadnezzar - their instruments actually included the pipe, the zither, and the bagpipe!Oud, the traditional musical instrument of Israel, similar to modern lutes. Photo by Youssef Abdelwahab on UnsplashThe History of Music in IsraelMusic has always been an integral part of the country, beginning with the pioneers who arrived from Russia and Europe. As they built the land, they were encouraged to sing - and in groups. Public ‘sing-a-longs were a popular pastime, especially in the kibbutz, because many of the leaders of the day thought it would promote the ‘national spirit.’Today, Israelis young and old still love to sing these songs - particularly out on hikes and sitting around bonfires. This mixture of patriotism and nostalgia for the early days of the state is something many visitors to the country really do find fascinating and touching.Musical cabarets in the 1920s and Aliyah in the 1930sCabarets became popular in British Mandate Palestine in the 1920s and were responsible for the fame of quite a few artists, including Shoshana Damari (a famous Yemenite singer who began her career at ‘Li La Lo’ in Tel Aviv - a cabaret that revolved around drama and satire.By the 1930s, the political tide was turning and the rise of fascism meant Jews were no longer safe in Germany and wider Europe. Many fled and some of them arrived in Palestine - and the country gained an orchestra as a result. In 1936, the Israeli Palestine Philharmonic made its debut, under the leadership of Arthur Toscanini. (Shortly after, a radio orchestra was set up (today it is known as the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra) and the concerts it broadcasted were soon attracting tens of thousands of listeners).Since 1948, the Israeli Philharmonic has gone from strength to strength and is now recognized on the global stage. It even rises above politics from time to time - in the 1980s it performed on the Israel-Lebanon border, playing to audiences on both sides of the fence, who had come to enjoy the concert!Evgeny Zlatin, an Israeli pianist, Jerusalem Academy of Music. Сourtesy photoThe Israeli Conservatory of MusicOne of the oldest and most prestigious institutions in Israel, this Tel Aviv Conservatory was founded in 1943 and serves today as a center to nurture the talent of young musicians in Israel. It boasts a music library, a state-of-the-art concert hall, and a separate wing for opera and chamber music classes.The Jerusalem Academy of Music and DanceThe Conservatory is one of three institutions that make up the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. It offers all kinds of educational programs in music for students from preschool through to graduate level in Israel.What Kind of Music Will I Hear in Israel?If you travel around Israel, you’ll hear all types of music - in the open-air markets, in restaurants, on the local and intercity buses (Israeli drivers love to sing and play music whilst they’re on the road!), in religious services, national ceremonies and just on the streets in different neighborhoods.These musical genres range from ‘Eastern’ (meaning that which originated in Arab-speaking societies), Hasidic (religious music which has its origins in Eastern Europe, especially Poland), Iraqi Jewish music, Ladino songs (which began in Spanish-speaking societies), Yiddish (secular in origin, and often part of ‘Klezmer’ bands) Israeli-Arab (with an emphasis on long, melodic notes) and modern-day Israeli pop.Daria Zlatina, an Israeli pianist, Jerusalem Academy of Music. Сourtesy photoMizrahi - in Hebrew ‘mizrach’ means ‘east’ and this kind, of music, is associated with Sephardic Jews. The movement began in the 1950s, with performances by locals in neighborhoods in which Jews from Arab countries mainly lived. They performed songs in Hebrew but in an Arabic style (on traditional instruments). By the 1970s, Mizrahi musicians like Avihu Medina and Zohar Argov had become very popular and, today, Mizrahi pop is the most common and prominent form of pop music in Israel.Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish music - the Hasidic movement began in the second half of the 18th century in Eastern Europe and placed a great emphasis on expressing joy through song and dance. Today, Hasidic music can be heard at simchas (celebrations) such as weddings and bat mitzvahs, as well as at the Rabbi’s table {the ‘tisch’).Hasidic music has a number of genres including niggunim - religious Jewish songs (or tune) sung in groups, often quite repetitive, using sounds such as “lai, lai, lai”, “bim-bim-bam” or “ai, ai, ai” instead of actual lyrics. Some can be woeful and others very joyful. Niggunim are central to worship in Hasidic Jews life, and a soulful reflection of how mystical intense prayer can be.Iraqi Jewish musicin Israel - in the 1930s, Iraqi musical groups were almost always Jewish! Today, in Israel, this continues in the form of beautiful Arab music, including love songs, folk chants, and traditional music.Tamar Eisenman, Israeli rock and folk singer and songwriter. Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinLadino music in Israel- Ladino was the language of the Spanish-speaking Jews, throughout medieval times, with music in the form of ballads sung by women in a dramatic style, either in private or during celebrations. Yiddish music in Israel - this kind of music is sung in the language of the Jews from the tiny villages of Eastern Europe - Yiddish, It includes songs from Yiddish theatre, Klezmer bands, and songs modeled on French melodies and German lieder. Klezmer dance tunes, ritual melodies, and virtuosic improvisations were often played at weddings. Today, Klezmer is making somewhat of a comeback and, in fact, an international Klezmer festival is due to be held in August 2022 in Jerusalem, featuring musicians from around the globe.Israeli Arab music - these melodious songs have become increasingly popular in the country in the last 20 years. One of the most popular on the scene is Ziv Yehezkel, who seems to have captured the hearts of Arabs in Israel. Now, after Israel’s signing of the Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the UAE, it’s quite likely to mean new inspiration for Arab music singers in Israel. Sarit Hadad, an Israeli mizrahi singer.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinSecular music in Israel - in recent years, many modern artists and pop singers from Israel have broken onto the scene, not just within the country but the wider international stage. Some of the more famous include: Etti Ankri - Born of Tunisian parents, this singer has become famous for her moving and emotional songs and is also called the ’contemporary voice of Israel’. Ofra Haza - an icon in Israel and known in the west as ‘the Israeli Madonna’ Haza became famous for her Yemenite songs and after representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, her song ‘Im Nin'Alu’ itself became a Top 20 hit in the UK.Dana International - after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1988 with her hit song ‘Diva’, this once Drag Queen and proud transexual singer shot to fame and her songs were soon being played at every dance venue in Israel and every gay bar across Tel Aviv! Netta Barzilai - well known simply as ‘ Netta’ this singer shot to fame after winning an Israeli tv competition - her prize was to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon. There, in May 2018, she won the contest with her song ‘Toy.’Musicians performing atJerusalem Knights Festival, Israel. Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

The Druze in Israel

Israel is home to all kinds of religious and ethnic groups - Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of the Baha'i faith. But one group isn’t talked about as much - and that is the Druze. Indeed, even in Israel, many of its citizens don’t know much about this small minority who have lived in the religion for thousands of years.Druze man in his car. Photo by Marquise de Photographie on UnsplashThe Druze community is, within the Levant, not a small group - in fact, it numbers between 800,000 and a million followers. Based mainly in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel (and a small number in Jordan) there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding them since many of their practices are kept secret not just from ‘outsiders’ but even from members of their own community.Indeed, even today, only a small privileged number of Druze known as ‘Uqqal’ (followers) participate fully in Druze religious rituals and are given access to the teachings of their secret scriptures. Moreover, since Druze have historically been forbidden from marrying outside their own faith (and intermarriage today is still unusual) it is hard for those outside their society to fully grasp the inner workings of their community.So what do we know about the Druze, particularly those in Israel? Is it possible to visit them and experience their hospitality? Can one convert to the Druze faith or pray with Druze? And how do they seem themselves, as a minority in the state? Let’s take a closer look at some of their beliefs and practices, and find out more about these fascinating people...Druze guard in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashHistory of the DruzeThe history of the Druze is indeed a fascinating one with historians, anthropologists, and geneticists still arguing about their origins today. There remains much dispute as to whether the Druze are of Turkish, Arabian, Persian, or Caucasus descent. No one is entirely sure but recent findings point to them hailing from a region somewhere between northeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and southwest Armenia, bordering the Ararat and Zagros mountains. The Druze are first mentioned by a 12th-century traveler named Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote of them as being ‘fearless mountain-dwelling warriors who favored the Jews.’ Historians now believe the first Druze worshippers lived in Cairo, under the protection of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the ruler of Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. After his rule, however, the Druze were persecuted terribly and many fled to other parts of the Levant. (This persecution may, in part, account for the fact that their faith soon became ‘closed’ to outsiders).Pyramids of Giza, near Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Simon Berger on UnsplashDruze ReligionWithout a doubt, the Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group. With a tradition dating back to the 11th century, their faith incorporates elements of different traditions including Islam, Hinduism, and even classical philosophy. The Druze place a great emphasis on spiritual purity and religious philosophy and their faith has many mentors, including John the Baptist, Moses, Jesus, and the Prophet Mohammed. However, unlike Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, the Druze have no clear holy days, pilgrimage obligations, or even a clear liturgy. Druze people are also admirers of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle! What is interesting about the Druze religion is that although the faith originally developed out of the Ismaili Shia branch of Islam, the Druze certainly do not identify as Muslims. In fact, Druze's philosophy supports the idea of reincarnation and believes that at the end of the cycle of rebirth (after many reincarnations) the soul will be united with the Cosmic Mind. This is a much more Hindu-like approach! The Druze do adhere to the idea of ‘theophany’ i.e. the appearance of a Deity (or even a personal encounter with a Deity), as well as their belief in the oneness of God. However, their holy book - known as the Book of Wisdom - is not known to many (it is not accessible or even comprehensible to those outside the faith).Aristotle's Metaphysics translated by Joe Sachs.Photo byTbel AbuseridzeonUnsplashThe Druze comunity in IsraelThe Druze population in Israel, according to the most current census carried out in 2019, stands at approximately 145,000. This is a dramatic increase since the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 when the Druze community numbered just 14,500. This means that the Druze account for 1.6% of the total population of the country.Druze communities can be found in the north of Israel, predominantly in Galilee, the Carmel, and parts of the Golan Heights. Whilst it is certainly possible to visit Druze villages in Israel and experience great hospitality, it should be noted that in many respects they are a tight-knit and secretive spiritual community.One of the largest and most interesting Druze villages in Israel is Daliat-el-Carmel, around 20 kms southeast of Haifa. It has a bustling Saturday market (which is closed on Friday, the Druze sabbath) where you can buy handcrafted items and Druze souvenirs from Israel (don’t forget to bargain!) as well as local Druze restaurants and cafes at which you can sample excellent hummus. The Druze holiday of Nabi Shuʿayb atDaliat-el-Carmel, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockOlder residents will be wearing long flowing gowns; younger residents dress in more Western-style clothing. Within the oldest part of town, look out for the shrine of Abu Ibrahim, whom the Druze consider a prophet, as well as the Oliphant House, home to Lawrence Oliphant, a British diplomat, mystic, and Christian Zionist of the 19th century.Just outside of the village (a few minutes' drive away) is the Carmelite Monastery of St. Elijah (also known as the ‘Muhraka monastery’). It is believed to be the place where Elijah offered a sacrifice to God, which in turn, was answered by God who sent down fire from the heavens. Inside the catholic chapel is a small sanctuary but it is the gardens that are really lovely, offering visitors the chance to engage in some peaceful contemplation or take the walking trail. For spectacular panoramic views of the Carmel, climb up to the roof. Daliat el-Carmel makes for an excellent day trip, which lets you also visit the charming artist’s village of Ein Hod, nearby.The Carmel Mount, Israel.Photo byYoav NironUnsplashDruze ZionismThe Druze community in Israel is extremely patriotic and their loyalty to the state is without question. The cultivation of a ‘special relationship’ between Jews and Druze began in the 1930s, in the form of a paramilitary alliance (which may have gone some way to alienate Druze Palestinians from their Sunni Muslim neighbors). Since the establishment of Israel, the general consensus has been that the Druze are natural allies of the Israeli state since they are loyal to the point of being prepared to fight in combat units. Israel has also recognized them as a separate Arab community since 1957. ||Druze IdentityAccording to recent research, 90$% of Israeli Druze feel very connected to their community and say they have a strong sense of belonging. The Druze in Israel are overwhelmingly proud of their identity and also believe (like many Jews and Muslims) that they have a special responsibility to take care of other members of their community around the world.What is also interesting is how they define themselves - what being Druze means to them. Is it culture, faith, or history? Here there is no clear consensus. Again, because no one can convert to the faith or technically leave the faith, outside accounts of Druze culture that exist are quite limited. A street in Daliat-el-Carmel, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn terms of the ‘rules’ that they must follow, these include a prohibition on alcohol, tobacco, and pork. Polygamy is forbidden and men and women are technically viewed as equals, although whilst the role of women in Druze society is slowly changing, the Druze women are still seen, primarily, as mothers and daughters within the social hierarchy. Marriage is encouraged, but no Druze couple is permitted to marry until the prospective husband has built them a home. In terms of their economic contribution, historically Druze worked on the land but many have now entered the mainstream workforce, and are represented in all sections of society. Even Druze women, who traditionally worked in fields of teaching and education, are breaking into the world of finance and high tech. Indeed, spearheaded by fintech company Finastra in Kfar Saba (just 45 minutes drive from Tel Aviv), Druze women are being actively recruited into computer programming careers.The Druze FlagThere are variations of the Druze flag but the one thing all versions contain is five specific colors - green, red, yellow, blue, and white. Each color has different symbolic meanings: Red - the moon, the soul, and the ‘feminine’; green - the sun, the mind, and the ‘masculine’; blue - mental power and ‘the will’; yellow - ‘the word’ (i.e. the purest form of God’s truth); white - ‘the realization’ (i.e. the fulfillment of the word).The Druze Flag.By © Verdy pRelations with the Jews from 1948 to Present DayOn the eve of the War of Independence, the Druze had no hesitation in allying themselves with Israel, unlike most of the Palestinian Arabs. Historically, in 1942, after the Sunni leadership in Jerusalem threatened in 1942 to take control of the tomb of Jethro (‘Shuʿayb’’ to the Druze) in Tiberias, the Druze sided with the Jews and this has continued since - indeed, Druze soldiers have fought for Israel in every war since 1948. Today, not only are they well represented in the IDF but they also work in Israel’s diplomatic Corps and the Border Police. Military service and public officeThe Druze are very active in public life and not just subject to the military draft (the Israel Defence Force) but willing participants. Actually, for more than 40 years, there was a military unit composed primarily of Druze Infantry, called the ‘Herev’ (in Hebrew ‘Sword Battalion’). Distinguishing itself, it was awarded with two citations over the years (one for its operational activities in Lebanon, in the second war, and the other for infiltrating an Egyptian intelligence unit in the Negev).The Heruv battalion was dismantled in 2015 although, today, 80% of the Druze population in Israel is still drafted into the IDF and their soldiers have a stellar reputation for excelling in combat units.The Golan Heights.Photo byAviv Ben OronUnsplashStatus and position of the Druze in the Golan HeightsThe Druze who live in the Golan (as opposed to around the Carmel and the Galilee) in general have a more complicated relationship with Israel. In general, they refuse citizenship of Israel and in Majdal Shams, many still have relatives on the Syrian side of the border. Madjal Shams overlooks the divide between the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan and the plateau controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Indeed, after the Golan was first annexed, the local Druze went on strike for some weeks until the Israeli government promised not to issue them with identity cards.To sum up then, if you’re visiting Israel, and especially if you’re planning on spending some time in the north of the country, particularly around the Galilee and Nazareth, why not visit one of the Druze villages - including Isfaya, Beit Jann, Pe’kin, Kasra, and Julis. With their tradition of warm hospitality and excellent cooking, you can see for yourself what makes them such a unique and extraordinary part of Israeli society.If you wish to explore the Druze culture and to distill the Druze secrets, feel free to book aHaifa and the Carmel Private TourThe destination sign at the Golan Heights.Photo byKarima AonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Jerusalem and the Crusades

The Crusades are an extraordinary and fascinating period for anyone intrigued by history, particularly in the context of Israel (or what was then referred to as ‘the Holy Land’). Some scholars argue they were a pilgrimage whilst others see them as a Holy War. Much has been written, and can still be written, about these military expeditions but for those who want the basics, this article is an attempt to explain some of the major events that occurred over these centuries, and how they impacted Jerusalem.A Crusader in the Army Museum, Paris.Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashWe don’t promise here to give you all the answers (we couldn’t, even if we wanted to!)...rather look at a few of the important questions dealing with the long and arduous journeys undertaken by nobles and knights, all the way from northern Europe to Jerusalem....and what transpired when they finally reached the Levant. Today, we’re going to focus primarily on the First Crusade (scholars are still arguing about exactly how many there were) and the impact it had on Europe and the Levant.So what exactly were the Crusades?Essentially, from the perspective of the Christian history timeline, the Crusades were a series of religious wars/military expeditions that took place between Christians and Muslims. They began in the 11th century and were instigated by Western European Christians who were angered by centuries of Muslim rule. Supported, and often directed, by the Latin Church, the best known of them are the ones directed towards Jerusalem, between the period of 1095 and 1281.Sunset in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byDavid HolifieldonUnsplashIn 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre needed to be rebuilt, after being destroyed by the Caliph of Egypt, Al-Hakim. Subsequently, Christian pilgrims were free to visit the church. Around 1077, Muslim Seljuk Turks took control of the Holy Land, and it became harder for Christian pilgrims to visit there and rumors of pilgrims’ mistreatment spread. Soon, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius, who feared that the Seljuks might soon invade his land (and reach the Christian city of Constantinople) reached out to the Pope, appealing for help. The call to arms by Pope Urban II was heard by tens of thousands of men, young and old, across Western Europe, and apparently, his words resonated with them. “May you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which he died for us” he told them. Thousands cut out red Crusader crosses and sewed them into their white tunics before setting off. For them, the die was cast - they would fight for Jerusalem, at whatever personal cost. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashWho took part in the Crusades?The popular response across all social classes was enormous - both the People’s Crusade and the Princes’ Crusade attracted no end of participants. The Crusader's journey to Jerusalem was certainly seen as a ‘worthy’ penitential privilege and a willingness to accept Papal commands was common. What we do know is that the ‘call to arms’ was spearheaded by Pope Urban II at the 10-day Council of Clermont. There he gave a rousing and impassioned speech, designed to recruit men.As a result, many noblemen from France and England also signed up for the Crusades. Knights were particularly well represented, particularly a mysterious Order named the Knights Templar. Originally, their purpose was to protect pilgrims from danger but, over time, they ‘expanded’ their duties and became known as defenders of the Crusader states in the Holy Land. These knights were certainly brave, skilled warriors, and even today, tales of their military prowess are told to schoolchildren.Сrusader armor. Photo byNik ShuliahinonUnsplashWhat were the motives behind the Crusades?There were all kinds of reasons behind the Crusades in fact. Some individuals felt the need to obey the Pope, who had decreed that the Holy City of Jerusalem should be freed from Muslim infidels, in order to grant Christian pilgrims free access to worship. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Oh men of war, oh mighty soldier, you now have something to fight for. If you win, it will be glorious. If you die fighting for Jerusalem, you will win a place in heaven.”Others were anxious to be forgiven for their sins since the Pope offered automatic forgiveness for anyone who signed up. Particularly for Knights, who had killed many in battle, this was an opportunity to have their soul cleansed. Serfs signed up because they were promised freedom from indentured labor. And then there were some troublesome young men who were ‘packed off’ abroad by their families. Obviously, there were other more materialistic reasons too - if victorious, the spoils of war would be theirs, particularly in the form of land (which could always tempt knights who were not destined to inherit their father’s lands). Finally, let us not forget the question of ‘honor’. Participating in a Crusade was an opportunity to prove one’s bravery, as well as see the world and have an adventure into the bargain.Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo byGary ChapmanonUnsplashWhy was Jerusalem important in the Crusades?To medieval Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Holy Land was not a mere geographical entity in the Middle East. Rather it symbolized purity and spirituality. All three faiths revered Jerusalem - for Christians, it was where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. For Jews, it was where the city of King David was once captured and then made the capital of the ancient Jewish people.For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount was the place where Mohammed the Prophet was said to have flown over, on his fateful journey to Mecca. The enormous significance of Jerusalem to all three faiths in the time of the Crusades could not be underrated.The First CrusadeThe Crusaders marched across Europe, from France, Germany, and Italy, to Constantinople. After crossing into Asia Minor, they split up and began pillaging the countryside. There was an orgy of killing, in which citizens and enemy soldiers alike were massacred and even the arrival of a large Turkish army could not stop them. The Antioch fortress surrendered to the Europeans.The Crusaders rested and reorganized for some months but their eyes were still on the great prize - Jerusalem. Although they had lost many men in previous battles, they still numbered 1,200 cavalries and around 12,000-foot soldiers. On reaching Jerusalem, they found the city to be heavily fortified and so began building three huge siege towers. A week later they were complete. The Gate of St. Stephen was first to be penetrated and, once opened, the Crusaders flooded in.Knight's armor, the Army Museum, Paris. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashIn this battle, thousands of its Muslim defenders were massacred without mercy. The attack was so brutal that a Christan from that time actually claimed: “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.’ Another eyewitness, Ralph of Caen, watched the battle from the Mount of Olives and reported, “the scurrying people, the fortified towers, the roused garrison, the men rushing to arms, the women in tears, the priests turned to their prayers, the streets ringing with cries, crashing, clanging and neighing.”For sure, having to surrender Jerusalem to the Crusaders was an enormous blow to the Muslims. Christians quickly took control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Many Jews fared just as badly - thousands hid in their synagogues but were found and killed. Soon after, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established under the rule of Godfrey of Bouillon. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount. Photo byToa HeftibaonUnsplashThe Crusader StatesOnce they had fulfilled their vows of pilgrimage, many of the Crusaders left the Holy Land to return to Europe. This, of course, left the problem of who would govern these now conquered territories. At first, there was some disagreement about what kind of government should be established. Godfrey of Bouillon refused to take on the title of ‘King’ since he wished Jerusalem to be a secular state. Eventually, he took on the title of ‘Defender of the Holy Sepulcher‘.After Godfrey of Bouillon died suddenly of typhus (there was great mourning, and his body lay in state for several days, before being buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) the throne passed to his brother Baldwin I, also known as Baldwin of Boulogne. His Latin Kingdom eventually boasted 15 cathedral churches including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Four large western settlements, or Crusader states, were eventually established, in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli By 1112, Caesarea, Arsuf (Apollonia), Acre, Beirut, and Sidon had been captured. Crusader castles were built in Galilee.In the meantime, all around the city of Jerusalem, you could see arts and crafts from different traditions - Latin gold workers on one side of the market, and Syrian goldsmiths on the other. Some pieces that you can see today even bear inscriptions, showing that they were made by an Islamic craftsman for a Christian purchaser!Muslim people near Herod's Gate, next to the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashThe French Influence of the CrusadesThe vast majority of the Crusaders in the Jerusalem Kingdom were from France, not to mention the soldiers and knights who arrived in the next 200 years to act as reinforcements. Of course, with them they brought the French language, thus making Old French the lingua franca of the Levant. Without a doubt, King Baldwin was able to take advantage of the rivalries that existed between his Muslim enemies and soon extended his control along the Mediterranean coast.The states were ruled very successfully for the next 20 or so years. But by 1131, the rule of the early Crusaders had come to an end. There was no more a policy of expansion, rather a consolidation of what had been captured. Unfortunately, the northern Crusader states were now endangered, since the Byzantines were preparing to go to war. In 1133, Edessa was captured and this would set the scene for the next chapter - the Second Crusade.Analyzing the CrusadesSo what was it all about? Some historians argue today that whilst the overriding initial motive for the Crusades was religious, many pilgrims succumbed to their darker impulses i.e. greed and a lust for power. What we do know is that the dead number is millions. Ultimately, the Crusades never did manage to create a ‘Holy Land’ that they envisaged would be part of Christendom but with their actions, they certainly changed history forever. Montfort, the principal Crusader castle of the Teutonic Order, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWhat was the Impact of the Crusades?The Crusades, over time, did not have the impact they had hoped insofar that Islam was not defeated - in fact, the actions of the Crusaders in what is now Israel eventually produced a backlash. When Saladin famously conquered Jerusalem in 1189, his plan was to avenge the slaughter of Muslims in Jerusalem by killing all of the Christians he found in the city. Luckily for them, he eventually agreed to let them ‘purchase’ their freedom, as long as they gave assurances that Jerusalem’s Muslim citizens be left unharmed.Who controlled Jerusalem after the Crusades? Without a doubt, Saladin’s achievements were astonishing - he unified the Muslim Near East, using a clever mixture of diplomacy and warfare. At the height of his power, his sultanate spanned Egypt, Syria, the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia), the Hejaz (western Arabia), Yemen, parts of western North Africa, and Nubia. After defeating the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, he regained control over the city after 90 years of Christian occupation. Muslims across the world still consider this liberation of Jerusalem a great incident, particularly because Saladin restored the city’s religious, political, and social balance. Arsur of Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Apollonia National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinIn the meantime, Europeans learned a great deal from this period of history too. They became better warriors - more adept at designing castles and using gunpowder. They learned a great deal from Muslim scholars about medicine and science, and eventually adopted their numbers system (1, 2, 3) which they found more straightforward than Roman numerals.The Crusaders also learned that the world was vast, and that beyond Jerusalem were India and China, places where they could buy and sell. Over the years, trade flourished and many goods were brought to Western Europe, including silk, spices, cotton, and lemons. Much was also learned about agriculture, the breeding of animals and flora, and fauna.Today, of course, the argument still reigns about the Crusades and whether they were a legitimate reaction to Muslim aggression or simple colonial aggression. What we do know, however, is that the battle for Jerusalem was far from over - and that centuries of war would lie ahead, as armies wrestled for control of this extraordinary city.If you are interested in Christian day toursfeel free to contact us. If you are willing to visit some Crusader castles in Israel, let us know and we will elaborate a customized private tour for you.Belvoir Crusader Castle,Jordan Star National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Sculpture in Israel

Israel is a country packed with culture - and for art lovers, there’s an incredible amount to see, and not just in the endless museums scattered all across the country. Sculpture is not what often springs to mind when you say ‘art’ in Israel but it is a medium that’s becoming more and more prevalent.Sculpture in Ilana Goor Museum, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinWhether you’re walking in Israeli sculpture gardens in the big museums of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, exploring kibbutzim and moshavim (small settlements) in the countryside, or just traveling from place to place and stopping off randomly along the way, you’re going to see sculptures. There’s even one at Ben Gurion airport, at the arrivals gate - a figure reading a book (well, Jews are said to be the people of the book!) Let’s have a look at some of the most popular installations you can see when visiting Israel...From when can we chart the beginnings of Israeli sculpture?It’s fair to say that we can trace the beginnings of Israeli sculpture back to the founding of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 1906. (Bezalel, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the most important artisan of his time, and, appointed by Moses, led the project to build the Ark of the Covenant). Bezalel is situated in Jerusalem, on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. It was founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz, a Jewish painter, and sculptor, and is Israel’s oldest educational institution. Schatz had a vision of a ‘national style’ of art that would blend traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern works with a European tradition.What is interesting is that even though Schatz himself was a sculptor, sculpture was not really considered a priority, and much more emphasis was placed on the art of painting, as well as design. Of course, at that time, there were not many sculptors in Israel. The majority of them were immigrants from Europe and their work was often a fusion of European styles with a national artistic trend that was developing in the land of Israel (and, after 1948, the State of Israel).Palmahim Beach sculptures, Israel. Photo byChen MizrachonUnsplashBoris Schatz - The Father of Israeli ArtSchatz himself was considered the Father of Israeli Art. Before arriving in Jerusalem he had studied in Paris and had learned his skill from teachers who took quite a classical approach, so unsurprisingly his own work was very much influenced by this training. Nevertheless, because he was a Zionist, his subjects were primarily Jewish. He took figures from the Bible such as Mattathias ben Johanan and created them in sculptures as a way of representing good over evil. Still, for decades to come sculpture was very much on the periphery of the curriculum. Commemorative SculptureIsrael is filled with monuments commemorating events in the history of the state - both from 1948 (when it was established) until today and before 1948. Many of these are sculptures and have been designed specifically to invoke the notion of remembrance. These sculptures are a form of visual art but what makes them different is that they have been designed to commemorate historical events - and in Israel’s case, tragic events, the most important one being the Holocaust. Sculptures exist all over the country, commemorating what was probably the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people. Fountain "Zodiac Signs", Jaffa.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinSculpture at Yad VashemPerhaps one of the most moving places to witness these is at Yad Vashem, Israel’s museum to the murdered six million. Located at Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, visitors can explore the extensive museum and walk through the grounds, where there are 20 outdoor sculptures that relate to remembrance and the Holocaust. These works include The Warsaw Ghetto Square, the Pillar of Heroism, and the Yad Vashem Candelabra.The Warsaw Ghetto Square - designed by Nathan Rapaport, this monument is made of two bronze reliefs on a red brick wall (symbolizing the wall of the ghetto). On the right, the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps is depicted - young, old, healthy, and sick. On the left, there is a portrayal of the Ghetto Uprising, where men and women, with rifles, stones, and guns, fought heroically against the Nazis.The Pillar of Heroism - this is a three-sided pillar, made of shining stainless steel conclave panels, the front of which bears the inscription: “To the martyrs...the ghetto fighters...the those who rebelled in the the fighters of the the soldiers in the those who saved their the courageous people who took part in the clandestine the heroes of valor and revolt …”The Yad Vashem Candelabra - this symbolic menorah was designed in 1985 by the sculptor Zohara Schatz, the first woman to ever win the Israel Prize. The six-branched aluminium candelabra represents the six million Jews killed and the piece, considered to be one of the museum’s great emblems, is at its entrance.Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem. Photo bySnowscatonUnsplashSculpture at the Weizmann Institute, RehovotIn 1972, Danny Caravan created the monument “To the Holocaust” at the Weizmann Institute, Israel’s leading scientific institute in Rehovot, a city close to Tel Aviv. Inside a rectangular plaza (which is sunken) is a large bronze sculpture of a broken Torah scroll, balanced in a very unsound way (as if it could fall at any moment) on a white stone basis. A stream of water that flows constantly drips down a crack in the center of the base. The dripping water symbolizes the tears of those who were sent to their death. A Star of David is engraved on the Torah as well as a series of numbers - these are carved to represent the numbers tattooed onto the arms of victims of the camps. There is also an inscription of the first line of the Shema - a central prayer in the Hebrew liturgy and one said traditionally by Jews before death draws close. Sculpture at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’EmekThe only Holocaust monument established in Israel before the creation of the state in 1948, this is a monument to the children who perished in this terrible time. Located at Kibbutz Ha’Emek, it is nestled in the Jezreel Valley, a beautiful part of northern Israel. A stone wall surrounds a small plaza and carved into the wall are four alcoves, each with sculptured figures. They movingly depict the tiny spaces in which children hid and the ways in which their parents tried to protect them.The Gate of Faithby Daniel Kafri, Jaffa, Israel. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashThe Billy Rose Sculpture Garden at Jerusalem’s Israel MuseumThe Billy Rose Art Garden, named after the New York theatrical producer and designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, is considered to be one of the most wonderful sculpture gardens of the 20th century. Located in Jerusalem’s world-famous Israel Museum, Noguchi began planning the garden in the early 1960s on the steep slopes of the grounds of the museum and divided it up into different sections, using walls of fieldstones. Noguchi worked with a Zen principle in mind and used materials such as water, gravel, and concrete, as well as incorporating many plants indigenous to the Middle East into his design. Completed in 1965, and set against the backdrop of an astonishing and dramatic Jerusalem landscape, visitors can wander the gardens and see works by many famous sculptures, including Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Joel Shapiro, and Menashe Kadishman.Notable pieces include the Indian artist Kapoor Anish’s ‘Turning the World Upside Down’- an hourglass-shaped reflective piece that effectively turns the world on its head. Apparently, it is meant to represent the vision of the former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who saw Jerusalem as a ‘merger’ of heaven and earth.Another piece that is infinitely photo-worthy (and loved by Instagrammers!) is Robert Indiana’s famous ‘Ahava’ sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Ahava, in Hebrew, means ‘love’ and is spelled out in four Hebrew letters (aleph, heh, bet, heh). Visitors can climb inside the huge steel weathered letters and pose for the camera with the Jerusalem hills in the background.Park Sculpture by Eli Ilan, Har HaBanim, Ramat Gan, Israel. Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Tel Aviv Museum of Art Sculpture GardenEstablished in 1999, the Tel Aviv Museum’s sculpture garden gives visitors the opportunity to view over 30 contemporary works by sculptors both from Israel and around the world, in its permanent collection. The Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden in Memory of Dolfi Ebner is a true place of peace and tranquility in busy Tel Aviv. A sunken garden, it is surrounded by eucalyptus trees and the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. Visitors should look out for the Tel Aviv–Yafo Mosaic, created in 1999 by Italian artist Enzo Cucchi. It forms the path linking the upper level to the lower one. Another interesting sculpture is by Israeli artist Yitzhak Danziger in 1963. Close by, in Nata’s Garden, are two other sculptures on permanent display: ‘Sisyphus and Jacob Meet by the Well’ by Sigalit Landau and ‘Wreaths’ by Erez Israeli."Mizpor Shalom" - The Ursula Malbin Sculpture Garden, HaifaSituated in Haifa, this is the first sculpture garden in Israel devoted entirely to a female artist. Here, visitors can view many of Ursula Malbin’s works, created in the last 60 years. Mitzpor Shalom (which in English means ‘Peace Park’) is close to the Bahai Gardens.Tel Aviv Museum of Art.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Omer Open Museum Sculpture GardenThis sculpture garden can be found just outside of Beersheba, the getaway city to Israel’s Negev desert. Omer is a small ‘yishuv’ (a settlement created before the State of Israel was created) and on the grounds of its Open Museum visitors can see a range of artworks from the museum collection. The collection includes sculptures by the following artists: Ilan Averbuch, Shlomo Selinger, Shlomo Schwarzberg, Ofra Zimbalista, Gengiz Çekil. As well as the permanent works, the garden also features temporary sculpture exhibitions. Omer is one of three Open Museums (the other two are Tefen and Tel-Hai, in the north of Israel) and another sculpture garden - Dalton - which have all been established within industrial parks in Israel.Kibbutz Dalia Sculpture Garden, GalileeLocated in Galilee, this sculpture garden was established by kibbutz member Nathan Ezra Yenuka who wanted to focus on art and present it in a way that really represented the spirit of the community. There are 24 works to see and they are made of all kinds of material, including polyester, marble, and even local rocks. Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinVarda Yatom Sculpture Gallery, Upper GalileeLocated in Kibbutz Sasa, in the Upper Galilee, artist Varda Yatom is considered to be one of Israel’s leading ceramic sculpture artists and has a wonderful gallery which you can visit, and meet Varda herself. The kibbutz also boasts a museum of archaeology (free entry) and panoramic views of northern Israel and Lebanon. Our tip: don’t miss their ice cream parlor - the flavors are fantastic!Sculpture Park at Mitzpe Ramon, Negev HillsThe brainchild of Ezra Orion, this sculpture park is located on the edge of the Maktesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater) which was formed over millions of years. It runs for 2 kilometers and was created in 1963 after artists from across the world were invited to arrive and create whatever piece they chose. The only condition - they had to chisel their pieces out of one large rock. Take a trip to the Negev desert, visit Mitzpe Ramon and decide for yourself what some of these weird and wacky creations represent!To explore Israeli sculpture in detail feel free to join our private tours.
By Sarah Mann

Bedouins in Israel

One of the many incredible things about Israel is its diversity - and not just in landscapes! A first-time visitor to the Holy Land will, most likely, be amazed at how many different kinds of people they see and talk to, whether it’s on the streets of large cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in tiny villages in the Galilee or in the desert areas of the south.Riding Through The Desert, Israel.Photo byRobert ByeonUnsplashBedouin in Israel: FactsAnd if you ask someone “What kind of people make up Israel’s population?” it’s quite likely that they will respond with a number of answers. Most people know that Israel is a country formed in 1948, to represent Jews, and they also know that the land is home to a fair number of Arabs (both Muslim and Christian). But what about other, smaller, minority groups such as the Druze, the Bedouin and the Bahai?Today we’re going to be taking a look at the Bedouin - a nomadic tribe of people who have lived in Israel’s Negev desert for hundreds of years - and explore their history, their culture and lifestyle and how they feel about their lives in Israel today. Who are the Negev Bedouin?The Bedouins in Israel are a small community of nomads, who live in Israel’s Negev Desert, and are part of Israel’s Arab Palestinian minority. The number of Bedouin in Israel today is estimated to be around 200,000-250,000, which accounts for approximately 3% of Israel’s total population. However, in the Negev desert (which is sparsely populated) they actually account for one in four residents. The Bedouin tribes in Israel can be divided into three different groups, depending on their origins. The first are descendants of ancient Arabian nomads, the second hail from certain Bedouin tribes in the Sinai and the third are Palestinians who came from more cultivated areas.Rahat, the cultural capital of Bedouin in the State of Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashHistory of the Bedouin in Israel.From the Spice Route to 1948The majority of the Negev Bedouin can trace their history back to the Hejaz region, located in the north of the Arabian peninsula (in modern terms, between Saudi Arabia and the Sinai area). Between the 14th and 18th centuries they began migrating to the Holy Land - of course, when you consider the history of ancient Israel, this means they are relatively new arrivals! They travelled along the IncenseRoute and, in fact, many became wealthy because of their ability to trade luxurious goods. Historically, the Bedouin were (and still are) nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes. They would wander from place to place, in search of agricultural land where their sheep and goats could be put out to pasture, and after they left an area, it would replenish itself naturally. Since they were highly dependent on water, they moved places according to the climate.In the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither the Ottoman rulers nor the British Mandate had any real interest in the desert part of the country, which meant that Bedouin - for the most part - were free to live and act as they chose. Of course, this all changed after the War of Independence (leading to the creation of the State of Israel, in 1948). After Egypt’s soldiers invaded Israel, the Negev soon resembled a terrible background and, soon after, around 90,000 Bedouin fled to Egypt and Jordan. By the end of the war, only 11,000 remained!Mohamed, part of the Israeli Bedouin community in the Negev. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashBedouin History from 1948 onwardsThose in positions of power in the newly created state quickly realised that much of Israel’s landmass (actually, 60% of it) was desert. Not surprisingly, they regarded the Negev desert as an area where development and growth could take place and, in their haste to settle the land, did not give sufficient thought to the Bedouins already there. Today, many historians argue that this policy has continued, insofar that every Israeli government since 1948 has ignored Bedouin claims to the land in their haste to develop it for their own purposes. (To read more about this subject, take a look at ‘Land Ownership’ below)Where Do Israeli Bedouin Live?Israeli Bedouin live in small villages and ‘townships’ in the southern Negev desert. Essentially, this is a ‘triangle’ located between the outskirts of Beersheba, Israel’s gateway city to the south, and the small cities of Dimona and Arad. You can also see Bedouin walking with their animals, en route from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.Fun fact: it was actually a Bedouin shepherd boy who discovered the Dead Sea Scrollsafter one of his sheep became lost from the flock and he went into the Qumran Caves to look for it. The result? One of the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century (the Dead Sea Scrolls can be seen today, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where they are housed in a building that has been described as an ‘architectural masterpiece.’A camel rests between trips, Negev Desert.Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashBedouin Villages in IsraelAfter the War of Independence, few Bedouin remained in the Negev but as the years passed, they slowly began to return. By 1954, about 11,0000 were recognised by Israel as citizens and between 1968 and 1989, Israel built seven townships for them in the northeast of the Negev. Eventually, it is estimated that about 60% of them relocated to these towns, especially to the largest - Rahat. Indeed, by 1984, the population of the town had grown sufficiently to be recognised as a city by Israel, which means today that it is the largest Bedouin city in the world. The other six townships in the Negev in which Bedouins in Israel live today are Tel as-Sabi (Tel Sheva). Ar-arat an-Naqab (Ar’ara BaNegev), Lakiya, Hura, Shaqib al Salam (Segev Shalom) and Kuseife (Kseife). Having a Bedouin Experience When In IsraelIf you’re travelling in Israel, it’s actually possible to see, first-hand, how this nomadic tribe lives, by taking a day tour (or even, sometimes, an overnight tour) to one of the many Bedouin villages in the Negev desert. The experience itself many report as being extraordinary - and one thing for which the Bedouins are well-known in Israel is their hospitality.There is no one typical trip but almost every ‘Bedouin Experience’ will contain certain components, including food, hiking (or trekking with camels) and an overnight stay. Many trips include travel to off-the-beaten-track locations, up in the Judean Hills, or in arid parts of the Negev. Negev tour, rocky desert on horseback, Israel.Photo byGreta Schölderle MølleronUnsplashIt’s possible, often, to take jeep tours (similar toJudaean Desert Safari Private Tour), partake in the age-old ‘coffee ceremony’ (after which you can try pita that’s just come straight from the fire), visit ‘off the grid’ villages and take night hikes under the starry skies. Bedouin lunches and dinners are usually served in a ‘khan’ which is a large Bedouin tent. Meals often take the form of feasts - visitors sit on traditional mats (not tables) and food is served on platters that serve many people. A typical dinner could include homemade pita, salads, tahini and hummus and eggplant, followed by ‘Maklube’, a traditional Arab-style dish. Maklube is a traditional one-pot dish, filled with rice, roasted vegetables and meat, which is flipped upside down when served (‘maklube’ means ‘upside down’ in Arabic!) And whilst it's not common to be served alcohol at these meals, you will be offered juices and sweet baklava for dessert! An overnight stay in a Bedouin tent is often the highlight of a visit. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but are often large enough to accommodate dozens of people. Woven out of goat hair, in their most basic form they have mattresses for guests and in more luxurious tents the experience is more like ‘glamping’. Don’t worry either - they have thick rugs on the floor and warm blankets, so you won’t catch a cold, even on winter nights.The Negev Desert, Israel.Photo byMatan PerlmuteronUnsplashLand Ownership Issues:The question of land ownership is still a complex one in modern-day Israel - legally, as well as socially and historically. As stated above, Israel built seven townships (one which became a city) but what is also problematic is the number of unrecognised villages in the country, in which basic services - such as electricity and water - are often hard to come by. As a result, these villages are often ‘off the grid’ and their inhabitants suffer as a result.In the meantime, the Negev Bedouin have been claiming ownership of land in the Negev desert that amounts to 12 times the size of Tel Aviv! Since the 1970s, over 3.000 claims have been filed - the Bedouin argument is that these lands were illegally taken from them after 1948. They wish for these lands to be legally returned to them since they argue that they are indigenous people whose rights are continually being violated by the Israeli government. They argue that these lands are theirs as they were to their grandfathers and fathers and that after the state of Israel was declared, they were not allocated adequate space. In contrast, the Israeli authorities have argued that Bedouins are trying to take over many parts of the Negev by building homes on empty land, staking out farming and grazing areas. Since they have no permits to build, the Israeli government argues that they are effectively building on state-owned land, which is illegal...Israel is currently in the process of building a number of new villages or towns for the Negev Bedouin and these townships are intended to meet all of their future needs. The Israel Land Administration (ILA) also says it is doing everything in its power to deal with the problems of the landless Bedouin in the Negev. Clearly, the matter is very complex, since there are thousands of claimants (approximately 15,000) who represent the clans of the original claimants.The Negev Desert from the car window, Israel.Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashIdentity and Culture of Negev BedouinThe Bedouin are extremely tribal in nature and are organised in clans, in which are many extended family members. Bedouin culture is also patriarchal - the head of each family, as well as of each larger unit, which makes up the tribe, is called a sheikh.Each sheikh is aided by an informal tribal council of male elders. Furthermore, polygamy is widely practised in Bedouin society, which means it is quite usual for a Bedouin man to have a number of wives and sometimes even dozens of children. In places such as Egypt and Jordan, the Bedouin are often referred to as Arabs and this is technically correct. However, there is a real distinction - Bedouins are different from other groups because of their extensive kinship networks (giving them a great deal of community support) and rich culture.It is fair to say that the Bedouin have a very traditional (even conservative, by Israeli standards) culture. However, modern-day standards mean that they are far less homogenous a social group than they were, say, 50 years ago and many Bedouin now are pursuing professional and academic careers. In certain instances, they have also been incorporated into the military and police service.For sure, Bedouins are known for their extraordinary hospitality and also resourcefulness (after all, they have managed to survive in harsh climates, with limited resources, for hundreds of years). The Bedouin are also extraordinarily independent - as animal herders, they are used to migrating into the desert during the rainy season and returning to cultivated land in the dry summer months. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many of them have struggled to adapt to ‘urban living’, after moving to towns.A Bedouin man in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo byLukas BeeronUnsplashThe Bedouin Attitude towards IsraelThis is a very interesting question since there is a lot of ambiguity in Bedouin attitudes towards Israel. On the one hand, they are not ardent nationalists and struggle to identify with the concept of Zionism. On the other, many are proud Israelis, who choose to serve in the IDF (service which is mandatory for all Jews).Since Israel is very advanced in terms of education and high-tech, this means that more Bedouin have the opportunity to take advantage of technological progress and gain a university education (particularly women).Still, it is fair to say that the Bedouin community suffers from discrimination in Israeli society (particularly because its towns do not have the level of services and resources that they should have). Many Bedouin are still on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder in Israel and - by moving to townships - they have lost the traditional livelihoods that sustained them for centuries and, for them, that means a loss of ‘freedom’. So their attitude to Israel, essentially, remains ambivalent.If you are interested in Bedouin culture, feel free to book one of our customizable private tours!
By Sarah Mann
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