Israel Travel Blog


Is it Safe to Travel to Jordan? (2023 UPDATE)

Is Jordan a safe destination for tourists? how about families with young kids? and lone women? How helpful are the local police? Our updated field research has all the answersWhen we’re asked ‘Is travelling to Jordan safe?’ we answer, unequivocally, ‘you bet’. How can we tell? because we don’t just offer day trips to Petrafrom Israel and overnight trips for tourists: many of our staff, friends and family travel across the border too. And if it’s not safe for us, then why would we advise you to travel there?Let’s take a closer look at what travelling in Jordan entails, and why you can feel confident in booking a trip there, whether it’s simply to Petra or a wider tour of the country, taking in Wadi Rum, Amman and Jerash.Is it safe to visit Petra? Sure it isGeneral Safety in JordanFirst of all, we’re happy to say that violent crime is extremely rare when travelling around Jordan. Occasionally, a visitor will have to cope with an incident of petty theft, just like in any other tourist destination around the world. Luckily, there’s a wide police presence in most parts of Jordan; Locals appreciate the safety and they feel you should too.Moreover, the Jordanian police themselves are capable and anxious to help any traveller in trouble. So if you follow some common sense rules (be respectful if you’re near a mosque, choose long pants over shorts if in doubt, and don’t eat food or drink beverages in public when Muslims are fasting during Ramadan), you will be fine.Jordan Police Patrol (by Dickelbers CC BY-SA 3.0)Is it safe for families to travel to Jordan?If we know one thing, it’s that Jordanians love foreign children and will welcome your kids with open arms.Middle Eastern culture is strongly family-oriented and it’s quite normal to take your children everywhere with you, even out to restaurants in the evening. Jordanians (and also Israelis) are no strangers to family-friendly vacation plans and accommodation is bound to be equipped with cots, high-chairs and the like. Moreover, guides, hotel staff and taxi drivers are all consistently helpful when it comes to meeting the needs of the younger members of the trip.Bringing your kids to Jordan is more than a good vacation idea - it’s actually educational. After all, this is a country full of history and archaeology, not to mention the natural beauty of the desert. What better way to capture your child’s imagination than by showing them the Middle East in person, not via a book or laptop screen?You can take the whole bunchIs there a great deal of crime in Jordan?No. There might be incidents of petty theft, and irritating panhandlers - but this is par for the course on any vacation. Attentive Police officers are present in most parts of the country and make sure every visitor will get the best possible service and protection.Crime? Not more than in other countries. And the Camels won't biteIs it safe for women to travel to Jordan?Yes! Many women travel to Jordan each year, both on organised trips and independently, and will tend to tell you that they felt comfortable the entire time. Particularly in more touristy areas, such as Petra and Wadi Rum (did you know Star Wars movies were shot there?), you will see many people on vacation, in all probability quite a lot of them speaking English too! It’s always a good idea, however, for women to dress modestly in Jordan. This doesn’t mean putting on a burka, by the way! Rather, to avoid any unwanted attention, choose clothing that is loose and covers the arms and legs and wear a hat/sunglasses. This isn’t just to ward off intrusive starring either - it will protect you from sunburn! The key, as a woman travelling in the Middle East, is to always be aware of your surroundings and show cultural sensitivity. If you were in Tel Aviv for a day or two, it would be easy to put on a short dress and go out on the town alone. That may not work quite as well elsewhere. Nevertheless, we’re happy to say that, with a little common sense and awareness of local customs, any woman can travel safely in Jordan.Visit Petra worry-freeIs it safe to travel to Jordan solo / independently?An increasing number of people are travelling to Jordan alone, and almost all of them will tell you they had no problems. English is widely spoken in the capital and in tourist areas like Petra and Wadi Rum. Buying a visa for Jordan is usually possible on the border itself and finding a taxi or using a public minibus to get around, once you’ve arrived, is not difficult.What you should bear in mind, however, is that travelling solo in Jordan is not necessarily going to save you time or money. Whilst you can book accommodation online and find local restaurants at which to eat, you won’t have the services of a guide (who knows the area well) and, in the event of a medical mishap, bad weather (which may close roads) or any emergency, you will have to cope alone, which can be frustrating and exhausting.You can do it alone. But why would you?Moreover, travelling alone isn’t much cheaper than booking an organised trip to Jordan, because the company you use will take care of visa requirements, and entry fees to places like Petra and have accommodation lined up for you. Indeed, many people who book a trip to Petra rave about the Bedouin campsites they stay in (which are pretty glamorous, with excellent local food and mink blankets to keep you warm at night).At the end of the day, it’s all about personal preference and whilst we would say that a solo traveller should feel safe travelling around Jordan, the convenience of an airconditioned bus with a knowledgeable guide, and everything is done for you, actually lends a feeling of security to the trip.Enjoy your trip to Jordan - and tag us here at Bein Harim Tours on Instagram, if you would like us to share your photos. Happy travels!
By Sarah Mann

How to travel to Petra from Israel (2023 UPDATE)

Petra is a perfect spot for everyone who wants to make the most of their vacation in Israel. The majestic, ancient city sits right across the border, and getting there is easier than you thinkEverybody knows there are plenty ofattractions in Israel to keep any tourist excited: Sunbathing on white sand beaches, exploring theOld City of Jerusalem, touring the scenic Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights or even hiking down the Ramon Crater in the Negev desert. And that’s just for the opening act!But if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, just take a hop, skip and jump across the country’s southern border, and visit Petrain Jordan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it was voted one of the seven New Wonders of the World in 2007 and its beauty and history are, without a doubt, awe-inspiring.And because it is such a small country, travelling from Tel Aviv to Petra or from Jerusalem to Petra can be much more simple than most people think.Just use one of the following methods, and make the most of your Vacation in Israel.1. The long road: Taking Public TransportHow far is Petra from Israel? Once you've crossed the southern border in Eilat, it's about 2 hours drive.Israel has a cheap and efficient public transport system so if you’re on a budget or want to travel independently, it can be done. Buses to Eilat (on the Red Sea) run several times a day and go from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; they take approximately 5 hours and cost around 80 NIS one way.Israel has a cheap and efficient public transport system so if you’re on a budget or want to travel independently, it can be done. From both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, buses to Eilat (on the Red Sea) run several times a day, take approximately 5 hours and cost around 80 NIS one way.From the Eilat bus station, you can either take a taxi (around 35 NIS) or a public bus (4 NIS) to the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing. It’s a quick 15-minute journey and for most travellers, a visa is necessary, although usually visas can be obtained on the border. Once you’ve crossed over, you can take a taxi to Aqaba (a 10-minute journey) then once in the city find a public bus or minivan that will take you directly to Wadi Musa (about a two-hour ride).You can also negotiate with taxi drivers directly at the Jordanian border, although this will be a more costly option as you have limited bargaining power!2. The easy way: Joining an Organised TourThere are a large number of Petra toursfrom Israel on offer and if you like things being handled for you, want to make the most of the time that you have and don’t want the inconvenience that can come from travelling independently, this is by far and away the most simple and efficient way of travelling.Whether you take an overnight trip, decide to see more of Jordan on a classical tour (which might include a visit to Wadi Rum or Jerash) or don’t have much free time and want to squeeze Petra into one day, the right organised tour will fit your needs.For example, we use only expert, qualified guides - all of whom are experienced and knowledgeable (tours are offered both in English and Spanish) and comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles so you won’t swelter in the hotter months.Moreover, you won't have to worry about paperwork at the border because our Israeli representatives (based in Eilat) will take care of your visa application and be on hand, on the infrequent occasions that problems arise.Accommodation is in comfortable hotels, on a bed and breakfast basis - there are three classes of the hotel (price structured) from which to choose.And if you’re really on a tight schedule, our Petra tours from Israel include day trips to Petra from Eilat, where an awful lot can be squeezed in (though be prepared for an extremely early start!)3. For road hogs: Renting a CarIf you want to travel independently but prefer to do it on your terms, then think about renting a car in Israel to make the journey down to Eilat; the desert views are lovely.Just be aware that youwill not be allowed to drive from Eilat to Aqaba, so once you arrive at the Red Sea port, you will need to hand in your rental and travel by cab to theYitzhak Rabin border. Once across the border, you can either take a taxi directly to Wadi Musa or journey to Aqaba and find transport there (see ‘Taking Public Transport’ above).4. Just sit back: Book a Private TransferIf you want to travel to Petra alone or in a small group, this can also be arranged, using our private transfer service from Jerusalem or from Tel Aviv to Eilat. Bein Harim can also organise a car, driver and private guide for your trip and, of course, all visa requirements will be taken care of for you.Bottom Line: let's Petra!Petra really is an extraordinary destination that everyone should see, when in the Middle East, so consider making it a part of your itinerary if you’re coming to Israel. And remember - it's easy to just add this Gem to your travel plans and just make it a Jerusalem to Petra Tour.
By Sarah Mann

Seven Top Attractions in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv isn’t one of Israel’s top tourist attractions for nothing - it really does have something for everyone - whether you’re looking for a beach holiday, arriving with kids, wanting to explore the nightlife with your friends or visiting to check out the incredible food scene.Like many other Mediterranean cities, many of the top attractions in Tel Aviv are outside, and because the weather is so good most of the year (from May to November you’ll be hard-pressed to see a drop of rain) you won’t have to pack a sweater and umbrella when you leave your hotel in the morning.Kid-Friendly, Gay-Friendly and a Foodie ParadiseFurthermore, Tel Aviv is a city that welcomes kids, which means you won’t necessarily feel limited if you’ve arrived with young ones in two. For those in the LGBTQ community, it’s a fine city to visit because it’s so open and friendly, with a wide array of gay bars and a phenomenal PrideAnd finally, some of the top tourist attractions in Tel Aviv are actually free, which really makes them even more alluring for anyone travelling to Israel on a budget!Want to know where to go, what to do and how to see as much as you can in the City that Never Sleeps? Here are ten ideas for things to do when you arrive in Israel.1. Enjoy some Beach TimeTel Aviv has a fabulous stretch of beaches, all with white sand, clear blue sea, free workout stations and paths along which you can bike, jog or amble. And because the weather is so pleasant for much of the year, you can be sure of grabbing plenty of vitamin D, whether you rent a chair and umbrella or bring your own towel.There are beaches that surfers flock to, where dog lovers bring their pooches, where young Israelis drum in Shabbat (!) and where locals gather every Saturday morning to dance traditional Israeli folk dances. The beaches all have endless amenities, including toilets, showers, cafes and bars, and whether you want to swim in the Mediterranean or just admire it, it’s fabulous and it’s free.Tel Aviv beach stretch. Photo by Daniel Klein on Unsplash2. Laze in Park HayarkonThis ‘green lung of Tel Aviv’ lies in the northern part of the city, close to the Namal Port, and is the perfect place to spend a few hours, whether you feel like a leisurely stroll, are into running, or love cycling along the river that runs through it.Park Hayarkon also boasts a bird sanctuary, mini-golf, the Meymadion water park (perfect for a day out with the kids in the summer) and ‘Sportek’ which includes tennis courts, a climbing wall, baseball courts and a soccer area. You can also rent boats - motor, paddle or rowing - and float down the river, drinking in the view.HaYarkon Park, Tel Aviv3. Spend a Day in JaffaJaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world and is the perfect place to spend a day since it’s a lovely 40-minute walk (or a quick bus ride) from Dizengoff Street (the heart of Tel Aviv).Stroll around the port and enjoy a fish lunch, explore the Artists Quarter, with its charming narrow streets and cobblestones, step inside the beautiful Franciscan church of St, Peter and then head to the famous Jaffa flea market (‘shuk hapishpishim’) where you can hunt out bargains, then sit in one of the many trendy bars in the neighbourhood, drinking an iced coffee or a local craft beer.Old Jaffa Port4. Visit SaronaSarona today is a newly developed complex, popular with locals and tourists alike, full of trendy bars, upscale restaurants and plenty of gourmet food stores, selling all kinds of artisan products. Ten minutes walk north from Tel Aviv’s famous Rothschild Boulevard, It’s a popular place to hang out either by day or at night.Sarona also has an interesting history - it was once the area where the Templars lived, in what was known as the ‘German Colony’. Established in 1871, it was one of the earliest modern villages to appear in Ottoman Palestine - what’s nice is that the buildings there have all been restored and renovated, in line with traditional architecture.Sarona Neighborhood Tel Aviv.Photo by Marsel van Oosten on Sarona5. Explore the Bauhaus SceneNot everyone knows that Tel Aviv is the world UNESCO ‘Bauhaus Capital’ with more than 4,000 of these buildings erected between 1920-1940, by German Jewish architects had fled the Nazis. Today, many of them have been restored and they are absolutely stunning.You can explore them just by walking around Tel Aviv yourself (you’ll see examples of them all around Dizengoff Centre, Bialik and Ahad Ha’am streets and on Rothschild Boulevard). You can also take a Bauhaus tour, where a very informed tour guide will show you the beauty of these buildings - abstract, functional, geometric and with lovely curves. Wow!6. Wander the Carmel MarketThe Carmel Market (‘Shuk ha Carmel’ in Hebrew) is the beating heart of Tel Aviv in many ways - it’s a place you can shop for anything and everything (fruit and vegetables, herbs & spices, beach attire, souvenirs from Israel) and it’s also a place to grab amazing Israeli street food and enjoy a slice of local life whilst sipping at a fresh juice or lemonade with mint!The Shuk ha Carmel lies at the intersection of King Geroge, Allenby and Sheinkin Streets, close to the Yemenite Quarter (’the Kerem’), and is open six days a week. This is the place you should go if you want to get a feel for the Levant and anyone with any interest in cooking should think about taking a Carmel Market Food Tour here.7. Stroll in Neve TzedekNeve Tsedek is, arguably, one of Tel Aviv’s most charming and picturesque neighbourhoods, filled with boutique stores, small cafes, excellent restaurants and the Suzanne Dellal Centre, which is the home of modern dance and the city’s famous ‘Bat Sheva’ dance troupe.It also has a wonderful history - it was the first Jewish neighbourhood to be constructed outside the ancient walls of Jaffa…years ago it was poor and run-down but the tiny houses have been painstakingly restored and today it’s achingly fashionable.Whether you want to grab a pastry at Dallal Bakery, eat some fabulous food at the vegan restaurant Meshek Barzilay, grab an ice cream at the Anita Parlour, or wander down to the Nahum Gutman museum or ‘HaTachana’ (the lively ‘Old Railway Station’ development) it’s all yours for the taking.If you’re thinking of visiting Israel, why not take advantage of our organised tour and day trip service - we offer group and private trips from Jerusalem and the Dead Sea/Masada to northern Israel, where you can explore the Galilee and Golan Heights, and plenty more beside. Feel free to contact us by email or telephone for more information.
By Sarah Mann

The Best Places to eat Sufganiyot in Tel Aviv

Everyone in Israel has their favourite time of the year. It might be spring, when the flowers bloom, summer where you can spend all day (and night) at the beach, fall (when the weather is perfect) or winter (when the rains - and even some snow - finally arrive).And it’s the same with the Jewish holidays - some people love the atmosphere of Passover, and the traditional seder meal. Others love Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), with moving prayers and apples dipped in honey. There are those who enjoy Shavuot, when it’s traditional to eat dairy products and take your kids to visit a kibbutz. And then there’s Hanukkah.Yes, Hanukkah, the festival that falls every December (the month of ‘Kislev’ in the Jewish calendar) which, although a minor festival in the year, is loved by all - the lighting of candles every night for eight nights, children spinning the dreidel and collecting chocolate coins and then the sugary treats no-one wants to miss out on - sufganiyot.Sufganiyot (a cross between a beignet and a jelly donut) are something you’ll see everywhere at this time of the year - not just in bakeries but in supermarkets across the country. Traditionally, sufganiyot were a humble affair - deep-fried in oil, filled with a tiny dollop of strawberry jam, and dusted with powdered sugar.But, today, with the blooming of so many bakeries in Israel there’s an extraordinary range of them - from simple to gourmet. And what better way to celebrate Hanukkah than by indulging? Here are our trips for the best places to eat sufganiyot in Tel Aviv this month…1. RoladinRoladin really sets the tone for sufganiyot in Israel each year, and although they're pretty pricey, they’re definitely worth it. With a seemingly never-ending supply of flavours (think tiramisu, salted caramel, cheesecake and creme brulee) these are truly bites of heaven.The presentation of the donuts is also very ‘wow’. With flakes and sprinkles and little ‘syringes’ where you can ‘inject’ some of the flavour into your donut before biting in, if you have to choose one bakery to hit at Hanukkah, it should be Roladin.Roladin Sufganiyot. Photo credit: roladin.co.il2. LehamimLehamim (which is another good chain in Israel) can always be relied upon to come up with the goods - and whilst they serve very ‘classic’ donuts, they don’t skimp on the quality (like all of their baked goods, they only use the most top-end ingredients).Lehamim’s sufganiyot usually come in three flavours - quality strawberry jam. Belgian chocolate ganache and dulce de leche. And the fact is that when you bite into one you’ll realise that you don’t need bells and whistles to make something like this tasty.Lehamim BakerySufganiyot. Photo credit:Lehamim Bakery Facebook Page3. Cafe XohoFor vegans, finding great sufganiyot in Tel Aviv can sometimes be a challenge but Cafe Xoho won’t let you down. This hipster cafe in the heart of Tel Aviv, and a stone’s throw from Gordon Beach, pushes the envelopeEgg and dairy-free creations, using almond-nut butter, are delicious - in the past, they’ve come up with beetroot-flavoured icing and fruity toppings - their menus in general are creative and few leave this cafe disappointed. Grab one and head down to one of Tel Aviv’s best beaches…4. ShemoShemo was established by the fabulous pastry chef, Miki Shemo, and is renowned for its patisserie and, in true Hanukkah style, always lives up to the challenge.In previous years, their donuts (which are famously light) have grown more ‘ambitious’ in flavour varieties, sprinkles and toppings. White chocolate ganache, pecan and lemon, plus lots of glitter atop their creations, will greet you as you walk through the door and you will be hard-pressed not to buy just one. Yum.Miki Shemo Special Sufganiyot. Photo credit: SHEMO Bakery Facebook Page5. Boutique CentralIf you’re looking for something decadent, then head to Boutique Central (with locations all over Israel). Along with all the classic fillings, they also sell sufganiyot which are styled like brioche and baked (rather than fried) which comes in the shape of a cake!Fillings of the donuts include Nutella, pistachio, lemon, creme patisserie and caramel - and with stores all across the country, they can be counted on to keep you happy. Additionally, they don’t forget the one million Russians who live in the country and last year produced a creation for ‘NovyGod’ (their version of ‘Sylvester’) which is celebrated at this time.Boutique Central Sufganiyot. Photo credit: Boutique Central Facebook Page6. DallalLocated in the beautiful old neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek, the Dallal Bakery is famous for its delicious pastries (particularly their Danishes, which are reputed to be the best in the city).They won’t let you down over the Hannukah season either - in the last few years, they’ve served visitors with creations made of raspberry ganache, coconut and ‘milk jam’. Dallal has an outdoor seating area, perfect for taking a break, and the vibe is always chilled. And if you want to take yours away, the beach is just a couple of minutes walk…
By Sarah Mann

What’s on in Israel in November 2022

As October draws to an end, Israel enters its more ‘wintery’ season, though anyone coming on holiday from North America or northern Europe will most likely find the weather to be quite clement. Whilst it’s not quite warm enough to swim in the Mediterranean, there are still going to be lots of sunny days - particularly in Eilat, on the Red Sea.A tourist on the observation deck in Jerusalem looks at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.Photo byDawid MatyszczykonUnsplashWhat are the events in Israel in November?Actually, November can be a fine time to visit Israel - it’s less crowded and accommodation is more readily available and a little less costly. When it’s not raining (which is much of the time) you can walk on the beaches in Tel Aviv, spend time walking the ancient streets of Jerusalem's Old City, attend cultural events in Israel, or rent a car and head north to Galilee and the Golan.For desert lovers, it’s also a good time of the year to hike - you won’t be wiped out by the scorching temperatures (just remember that it gets very chilly down in the Negev at night). So if you’ve got a penchant for rappelling down the side of the crater at Mitzpe Ramon, hiking in wadis such as Ein Avdat, or exploring Timna National Park and its ancient copper mines, November is the right time for it. In the meantime, if you’re looking for special events in Israel this November 2022, here are a few ideas from us. Enjoy!1. Tel Aviv Run Night - 2nd NovemberThis ten-kilometre race around the White City is a good chance for any runner to dust off their Nikes and hit the ground running. Open to men, women and children over the age of 14, the organisers style it as an ‘adrenaline-filled urban run in Tel Aviv’ and this isn’t far off the mark.Once you’ve registered (which is essential) you’ll get a kit (including a special t-shirt) and you can cover your 10k in your own time, whilst thousands of spectators will cheer you on. And afterwards, if you’re not too tired, you can go out to celebrate - there are many excellent restaurants in Tel Aviv.People running in the city. Photo byFitsum AdmasuonUnsplash2. Red Sea Jazz Festival - 10th to 12th NovemberFor any jazz lover, the Red Sea Jazz Festival - held in Eilat (close to the Israel-Jordanian border, and from there just a two-hour drive to the ancient city of Petra) can’t be missed. For three days, the city will host musicians from both Israel and around the world - this year, it’s featuring the Anat Cohen Quartetinho, Jacob Collier, the Ariel Bart Quintet, Third World Love and quite a few more. Eilat’s a great place to escape to, not just for jazz but also for sunbathing (temperatures are a toasty 25 degrees or so on November days), diving, jet skiing, or just hanging out with happy mammals at the city’s famous Dolphin Reef.3. Achinoam Nini (‘Noa) at the Jerusalem TheatreThe amazing Israeli singer Achinoam Nini - known professionally as Noa - is back and if you manage to pick up a ticket to her concert at the Jerusalem Theatre, consider yourself lucky. Noa has been singing since the 1990s but really put herself on the map with her Eurovision Song Contest entry in 2009, entitled ‘There Must Be Another Way’. She’s performed across the world at venues as spectacular as Rome’s Colosseum, Carnegie Hall and at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Mixing and matching languages and musical styles, to hear her mellifluous tones is a real treat. And if you’re going to be in Jerusalem for the concert, then why not do some exploring beforehand, at the Israel Museum, in the Old City or wandering in the Ein Kerem neighbourhood?Dome of the Rock, over the skyline of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash4. Take a trip to the Golan HeightsThere’s nothing ‘in particular’ going on in the Golan this November but do you really need a reason to travel there? Stunning scenery, beautiful national parks and nature reserves and chestnuts on the ground (it’s the season) make it a great getaway, whether you want to stay a couple of days or hunker down.Nestled in Merom Golan is a fantastic hotel, named after the area, where you’ll get all of your creature comforts as well as extraordinary views of Mount Hermon, and the chance to wander in ancient forests and explore vineyards, orchards and boutique artisan stores in the area. They even have an authentic ‘cowboy restaurant’ named ‘Ha Bokrim’ where you can eat meat that really is farm to table - their farm! All of the animals are reared there and the restaurant also showcases wines local to the region. View from above on the border between Israel and Syria, Mount Bental.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Visit Oded Hirsch’s ‘Inventing the Wheel’ exhibition at the Haifa Museum of ArtRunning until the end of 2022, at the Haifa Museum of Art, Oded Hirsch is a man who likes to invent problems and challenges - and then solve them. His solutions (and scenarios) are sometimes absurd and often hilarious - and give the viewer food for thought. For instance, why is it necessary to pull a tractor out from the ground in which it is buried and then bring it to the museum? Hirsch might argue that it is the action itself. This exhibition boasts video, sculptural and photographic work and is primarily based on people working - digging, carrying, and sweating by their brows. In an age where everything is high-tech, Hirsch argues that the actions of these labourers are real. Haifa is also a fine city to wander around, view the Bahai Gardens, wander around the old neighbourhood of Wadi NisNas or visit the Mount Carmel National Park. 6. Enjoy the ‘Photo Is:Rael International Photography Exhibition’ - 23rd November to 3rd DecemberBack for its 10th year. This fine exhibition - which is being held in Tel Aviv - will be showcasing some of the finest photographers, both in Israel and around the world. Taking place over 10 days, it’s not just exhibitions you can see - there will also be dance, video, art and musical performances. This year’s theme is ‘Action’ - who knows what this will entail? The exhibition is being held at the Einav Centre and City Garden, and there are activities for the entire family as well as guided tours, led by Shichi Aman.Interested in day tours around Israel? Then don't hesitate to book a tour with Bein Harim!Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a festival that comes around, annually in Israel every September/October, depending on the Jewish calendar. And it is a festival like no other. Why? Well, because most biblical festivals for Jews are connected either to historical events or agriculture/nature.Children riding bicycles in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur.Photo byYoav AzizonUnsplashPassover commemorates the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt. Shavuot is a harvest festival and Sukkot reminds us of all the years Jews wandered in the desert, before making it to the Promised Land. But Yom Kippur is about neither of these. Nor does a festive meal take place during this time. On the contrary, it is a time to engage in abstinence, denying themselves small pleasures and looking inside their souls. This day represents the antithesis of excess.Without a doubt, if you ask any Israeli what the holiest day in the year is they will answer ‘Yom Kippur.’ And even if you are not religious, this is a day of calm and quiet in Israel that really is appreciated by many! Curious about what it’s all about? Well, learn a little more here…What does the name Yom Kippur mean in Hebrew? What kind of day is it?The Hebrew phrase stands for ‘Day of Atonement’. Put simply, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish Year. It is a day of reflection, self-examination, and atonement for sins. It is a time for every Jew to stop and think about things that usually pass them by in daily life. What is the meaning behind this day? Yom Kippur falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - and these ten days are often referred to as the ‘Days of Awe’. According to Jewish tradition, it is on these days that God decides the fate of each person - on Rosh Hashanah, Jews are inscribed into the ‘Book of Life’ and on Yom Kippur, our destinies are sealed.White yarmulke/kippah for Yom Kippur/Rosh Hashanah. Photo byJoey DeanonUnsplashWhy do Jews fast on Yom Kippur?Not eating or drinking is one of the five major prohibitions of Kippur - the other four being anointing the body with oil, bathing, sexual relations, and the wearing of leather shoes. This is all to do with the idea of denying oneself comforts - and aiming to be like an angel (because angels do not have worldly needs). When does Yom Kippur fall in 2022?Yom Kippur this year takes place from nightfall to nightfall on Tuesday 4th October until Wednesday 5th October. The approximate times for the beginning and end of this holy day are 18.17 to 19.16 in Israel. What should you say to someone on Yom Kippur?There are two appropriate greetings over Kippur - one is ‘gmar chatimah tovah’ (which literally means ‘good final sealing’ in Hebrew and refers to the God sealing our fate, as explained above. The other is quite simple and is ‘tzom kal’ which means ‘easy fast’ although some orthodox Jews prefer to use the expression ‘meaningful fast’.Yom Kippur shofar final blast. Photo Ri_Ya by via PixabayWhat happens in Israel on Yom Kippur?If you are visiting Israel over this period, you will be struck by what an extraordinary time it is. In fact, nothing we can write here can really describe just how special it is. This is the ONLY day of the year in which everything comes to an entire standstill. All shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars are closed. Ben Gurion airport suspends flights for the duration. Most striking of all, there are no cars on the road (it is a tradition, and respected by all Israelis, not to drive on this day). If you’re in Jerusalem, the atmosphere will be incredibly holy. You will hear no laughter or chatter and all you will see in the streets is people walking to and from the synagogue. However, if you’re in Tel Aviv (which is a more liberal and secular city) you’ll be struck at how many children (and adults) are riding their bikes up and down the main roads and even the highways! Will I be able to buy food anywhere on Yom Kippur or travel?No. It’s very important for anyone on vacation in Israel on this day to know that you will not be able to buy food in supermarkets or restaurants, order delivery, or travel in the country using public transport. You MUST make preparations beforehand so that you aren’t caught off guard.Go to a store well in advance and buy provisions to tide you through the period. It really is imperative that you do this, otherwise, you might end up - inadvertently - not eating yourself for 25 hours! Even if you’re in a hotel, the restaurant will be closed, both for breakfast and lunch.Jewish father and son praying together at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byAnton MislawskyonUnsplashWhat happens in the synagogue on Yom Kippur?There are a number of different services that are held throughout Yom Kippur - beginning at dusk and continuing into the next day. Prayer is intensive and soulful - many people spend the majority of this festival at the synagogue. Kol Nidrei is the first and one of the most moving prayers recited - the liturgy is moving and the melodies are haunting. The prayer - or some would argue ‘statement’ - declares that all vows are ‘absolved, remitted, canceled, and declared null and void. This is less to do with the idea that Jews cannot be trusted (!) and more so with the idea of asking God to forgive us for all public statements made in the previous year that were contrary to Jewish ideals! Kol Nidrei is a prayer recited in Aramaic (an ancient Semitic language) and with great devotion, as are all of the other prayers throughout the 25 hours. There are memorial prayers named ‘Yizkor’ (‘Remember’ in Hebrew), the ‘Viddui’ (Hebrew for ‘confession’) as well as a reading from the Book of Jonah (the biblical figure who, famously, in trying to escape God, fled Jaffa by boat and was swallowed by a whale). Kippur ends with a service called ‘Neilah’ which means ‘Closing of the Gate’.Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur.Photo byYoav AzizonUnsplashWhy do people in the synagogue wear white on Yom Kippur?White symbolizes purity and on Kippur Jews strive to be as good and pure as angels. Also, white is the color in which Jews are traditionally buried, and therefore, if you follow the analogy, we must take the view on Yom Kippur that every moment matters because we live life meaningfully, knowing that death could come to us at any moment.What traditionally happens after the day ends?Once Neilah is over, people will head home, or to the houses of friends, and break their fast. This can involve anything from a cup of tea/coffee and a bowl of soup or a huge meal where people eat until they are sated! After the intensive prayers and not having eaten or drunk for 25 hours, rest assured everyone is grateful for the chance to relax and indulge a little! We hope you’ve found the above interesting and if you’re interested in learning more about Israel or booking a trip, don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer organized tours and day trips all over Israel - from the Dead Sea and Masada to the hills of Galilee and from holy sites in Jerusalem to food tours in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, we promise you a holiday you won’t ever forget.The interior of a synagogue. Photo byLainie BergeronUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Sukkot in Israel

Welcome to our series of blogs on the Jewish ‘High Holidays’ which, arguably, are the most attended holidays in the Jewish calendar. They last for a period of almost three weeks, and although they do not run consecutively the run-up to them is a very busy time in Israel.A man chooses an etrog in Sukkot, the four species.Photo byEsther WechsleronUnsplashFirst, as we wrote previously, there’s Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - and in Israel this is celebrated for two days, beginning and ending at nightfall. Ten days later, is the most solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur. Also known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a chance for Jews to reflect, pause, and atone for their sins - Orthodox Jews fast for 25 hours and all public life in Israel (including flights, public transport, and even drivers on the road) ceases, even in the usually vibrant city of Tel Aviv.The next, and one that is much-loved, is the one we are looking at today - Sukkot. Unlike Yom Kippur, this is a cheerful holiday, lasting for a week, and is really a chance for Jews to ‘give thanks’ for things often taken for granted, such as shelter and food. Let’s take a closer look at this holiday and what it entails…When does Sukkot begin?What does Sukkot mean?Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur, on the fifteenth day of Tishrei. In the Gregorian calendar, this means it falls sometime between September and October. What does Sukkot mean? ‘Sukkot’ in Hebrew means ‘booths’ and remembers the booths (temporary shelters) that the Israelites built to protect themselves when they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, after their exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery under the Pharaoh.What is the main theme of Sukkot?Sukkot is one of Judaism’s three ‘pilgrimage festivals’ (the other two being Passover and Shavuot). Historically, this was a time when Jews were able made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Temple in Jerusalem. The main ‘theme’ of this holiday is thankfulness and ‘togetherness’, thanking God for the harvest and also for deliverance from Egypt, and spending time with loved ones. The other biblical theme is that Sukkot marks the completion (and new beginning) of the annual Torah reading, of which a portion is read every week in the synagogue.Hasidic Jew at the Western Wall, Jerusalem.Photo byJoshua SukoffonUnsplashWhy do Jews build booths in their home at this time of the year?Yes! It really is. It’s an amazing sight, especially in Israel, where not only do people put up booths (sukkot) in their homes - on balconies usually - but also in the streets, and in restaurants! It’s a great activity for children too - building a ‘sukkah’ (sukkot is plural) is something every youngster looks forward to, because it’s a chance to get creative, not to mention live a bit differently for a week. It is customary to build your sukkah soon after Yom Kippur, even though there are few days remaining before Sukkot begins.What do the booths look like?No sukkah ever looks the same in Israel (which is why this holiday is so special) and no space is too small to build a sukkah in! Even if you don’t have a patio, a balcony will do. The important ‘rule’ when building is that your structure needs to be temporal i.e impermanent. It needs to have at least three walls but - usually - the roof is made out of branches of trees, or reeds. What is Important: all (or at least part) of its roof should be open to the sky - after all, it is a dwelling not meant to last! Many people hang seasonal fruits from the roofs of their sukkah (think apples, grapes, pomegranates) to thank God for nature's gifts. Some children love fairy lights and draw cards and paintings. (Warning: be careful with the fairy lights - you don’t want to inadvertently start a fire!) What do you do in a Sukkah?It’s traditional to eat your meals in the sukkah and some very Orthodox Jews may even sleep in it (although in colder countries this is not advisable, since you could end up with pneumonia!) You can also rest in one, read a book, hang out with friends, and have nightly celebrations with live music.The citrons at the Festival of the Booths, known also as Tabernacle. Photo by al-ex via FreeImagesWhat are the ‘four species’ of Sukkot?Excellent question! If you’re visiting Israel at this time of the year, you’ll see these four species being sold in markets and stores, in the run-up to the holiday. The four species (‘arba’at ha-minim’ in Hebrew) are the lulav, the etrog, the myrtle, and the willow. These are all mentioned in the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) as being associated with Sukkot and the waving of the four of them is considered to be a commandment, by observant Jews. Tell me more about the lulav, etrog, myrtle, and palm… Historically, these four species were all waved in the Temple at Jerusalem for all seven days of the festival. The lulav is a cluster of plants - one palm, two bouts of willow, and three of myrtle. The etrog is a citron (not quite like a lemon, but with some similarities). Together, they make up the four species, and, for ritual purposes, the etrog is held in the left branch and the palm branch (intertwined with the willow and myrtle) in the right.What happens in the synagogue at Sukkot?Sukkot is an incredibly joyous occasion. In stark contrast to the solemnity of Kippur, this is a time of celebration. In synagogues across Israel (and all over the world) the Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark and congregants parade around the sanctuary - men, women, and children alike.There’s great merriment, with singing and dancing and all of this is a reminder that, in life, we should always take a little time each day to be happy and thankful for our wonderful world. After all, every day is precious but life is also fragile and - like the booths in which meals are eaten - temporal. On the seventh day of Sukkot, the four species (talked about above) are carried around the synagogue seven times. During certain Psalms (Hallel), Jews wave them up and down and forward the four points of the compass. This is an indication that God is everywhere - and also omnipotent.Lulav, one of the 4 species of plants for Sukkot. Photo byal-exviaFreeImagesWhat foods are commonly eaten at Sukkot?There’s no one particular food that Jews are commanded to eat (at Passover, there’s a seder plate, and at Shavuot one always eats dairy products) but since Sukkot is a harvest festival, many fruits and vegetables will appear on the table! Expect to see carrots, squash, zucchini, and the like, as well as fruits like apples.Some people, in a symbol associated with the ‘abundance’ of harvest, may serve vegetables that are stuffed - peppers, cabbage, and grape leaves, for instance. Moreover, there will always be ‘traditional’ Jewish foods on the table, such as matzah ball soup, roast chicken, and - of course - the lovely slightly-sweet challah bread that is eaten every Friday night, on the Jewish Shabbat.Is visiting Israel over Sukkot popular?It’s an incredibly popular time of the year for visitors - not just Jews, who want to eat in kosher restaurants with sukkahs, but anyone who wants a beach holiday, because the weather is still so good in Israel. The only thing to note is that it can be very crowded because Israeli children are on holiday this week - this means that families will be traveling around Israel, so national parks, nature reserves, and museums will all be very busy.A religious Jew chooses an etrog for Sukkot.Photo byal-exviaFreeImagesOn the other hand, it’s a great chance to see Israelis out and about and having fun, and - as noted before - weather-wise it is perfect. You can enjoy lots of sun without having to escape the heat of the Israeli summer, and the chances are you will see no rain either - that does not usually arrive until November.Can I take an organized tour around Israel over Sukkot?Absolutely. In fact, because public transport is so crowded, it can be an excellent idea to take an organized tour or day trip around Israel - this means you’ll travel around in a comfortable (and air-conditioned bus) and have the services of a professional guide, as well as entrance fees and tickets for attractions being bought beforehand for you, so you don’t have to waste time standing in line.So if you want to explore the holy sites in Jerusalem or churches of Galilee, float at the lowest point on earth at the Dead Sea or take a food tour at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, get in touch with us - by phone or email. We’ve been in business for over 35 years and guarantee you an experience you’ll never forget. Also, feel free to take a look at our blog, if you want more ideas about where to visit or just to get an overview of life in the Holy Land. Happy holidays to you all!The Judean Desert from the Masada Cable Car, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year

If you’re visiting Israel after the long hot summer months (which, by the way, is a wonderful time of year to be in the country, climate-wise) you may be around for a very special event - the Jewish New Year. Israel is home to three major world religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. All of them have their own festivals and celebrations but for Jews, this is one of the biggest. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is the first of a number of holidays that are often called ‘the High Holy Days’ (‘Yamim Noraim’ in Hebrew).Rosh Hashanah honey bowl with a wooden honey dipper and apples.Photo byIgal NessonUnsplashThis year, the Islamic New Year (which runs according to a Muslim lunar calendar) took place at the end of July. The Christian New Year is always on 1st January. But this Jewish festival always comes about in the Fall. Why that is (and many other questions) we’ll be answering below in a brief guide to the whats, wheres, and hows of this special holiday! The fact is that whatever your background, and whether you believe in God or not, Israel is a fascinating place to be at these times of the year. Christians flock to Israel at Easter, Muslims regard Ramadan as sacred and for Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a chance to catch up with those close to them, as well as enjoy good food, wear some new clothes, and generally look forward instead of back.In case you’re invited to someone’s home, or get chatting with a local, here are a few pointers for you. Enjoy! What is the name of the Jewish New Year in Hebrew? Its name is Rosh Hashanah which, in the Hebrew language, means ‘Head of the Year’ or ‘First of the Year’. Why do Jews celebrate their New Year in September or October?This is a good question and one that is often asked! Well, all Jewish festivals and holidays are set according to the Hebrew calendar. The first day of this calendar is the 1st Tishrei - it begins on the day of the new moon which can be seen around 354 years after the 1st Tishrei of the previous year.This is why the Gregorian date for this Jewish holiday is different every year.Fresh pomegranate isolated on black background. Photo byTamanna RumeeonUnsplashHow old is the world, according to the Jewish faith?If you estimate things according to the Jewish faith, the world is currently in the sixth millennium. Jews and Israelis start counting the beginning of time in the year 3761 BCE. Why? Because of an incredibly important Jewish philosopher named Maimonides, who lived in Egypt hundreds of years ago. Amongst his many writings, he established this as the biblical date of creation.When is the Jewish New Year in 2022? And how long do the celebrations last?This year the Jewish New Year begins on the evening of Sunday 25th September and lasts for two days. In Israel, almost all stores will be closed, as well as street markets. It’s also important to know that public transport will also come to a halt, so if you don’t want to stay in one place for these 48 hours you could look into car rental, which is surprisingly affordable. If you are in Tel Aviv, however, you are in luck because it’s a more liberal and secular city. You’re likely to find coffee shops open during the day and even a few Tel Aviv restaurants open at night.How do I say ‘Happy New Year’ in Hebrew?Traditionally, there are two ways of addressing someone with this greeting. The first is ‘Shanah tovah’ (‘Good year’) but, if you want to be more formal, then you can say ‘L’Shanah tovah tikatevu’ (‘May you be inscribed for a good year’). It’s also popular to say to people in Israel ‘Shanah tova u’metuka’ (‘a good and sweet new year’). In Yiddish, which is a language spoken by some religious Jews, you might hear ‘Gut yontif’ (‘happy holiday’). A headshot of a man blowing a shofar during Rosh Hashanah. Photo via www.freeimages.comWhat foods are customarily eaten at the Jewish New Year?Jews love their food and Rosh Hashanah is no exception - you might want to skip lunch (and breakfast too!) As well as old favorites, such as matzah ball soup, roast chicken and potato kugel, you’ll see certain things on the table that indicate it’s the start of a new year. These include: Apples dipped in honey - this is a tradition (rather than a religious commandment) and involves dipping slices into honey, whilst praying for a sweet and fruitful new year.Challah bread - this yeasty bread is eaten every Shabbat in Israel and the New Year is no exception - just that this time it’s round instead of long - to symbolize the circle of life. Pomegranate seeds - these are symbolic of righteousness in Judaism since it’s said to have 613 seeds (each representing one of the Jewish commandments of the Torah). Tzimmes - made with carrots, or other sweet root vegetables, again it’s eaten because it’s sweet.A group of men/boys praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashWhat is the atmosphere like in Israel around the time of the Jewish New Year?It’s very festive. In the days leading up to it, friends, neighbors, family, shopkeepers (and sometimes even strangers in the street!) will all want to wish you ‘shanah tovah’. If you’re in Jerusalem, the atmosphere will be even more noticeable, since this really is a holy city.The shops and markets will be very busy, because people are stocking up on food for lunches and dinners, and gifts for close family and friends. There’s also a lot of traffic on the roads in the lead-up to the festival, because Israelis will be traveling around the country to meet up with family and friends.Over the two days of this particular Jewish festival, secular Jews might go to the beach, hike in national parks in Northern Israel, meet up with friends, and generally enjoy their time off. Traditional religious Jews will attend services at the synagogue and Orthodox Jews will refrain from work, writing, driving, and using any objects that require electricity.Ceramic pomegranates, symbols of Rosh Hashana, Jerusalem.Photo byNixx StudioonUnsplashWhat happens at the synagogue during the Jewish New Year?For two days, there are services in the synagogue and the liturgy (the form of worship) is incredibly beautiful. Rosh Hashanah remembers the creation of the world and is the start of a ten-day period that culminates in Yom Kippur. These ten days, for religious Jews, are about introspection and eventual atonement - there is a focus on humility as well as rejoicing.The prayer ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (‘Our Father, Our King’) is sung throughout the morning and at the culmination of the service, a shofar is blown. The shofar is a ram’s horn and is blasted out at different intervals. The shofar is a symbol of the Jewish prophets who called on people to improve themselves spiritually - many Jews regard it as a ‘wake-up call’ from God. What is the ritual of tashlich, which is performed at the Jewish New Year?Carried out on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (usually after the lunchtime meal), the ritual of tashlich involves the symbolic ‘casting off’ of sins. Jews walk to a body of flowing water (a stream, river, lake, or sea) and throw crumbs (or sometimes pebbles) into it - as they do this, they recite a prayer asking God to lift their troubles from their shoulders because last year is ‘washed away like crumbs in the current.’If you’re visiting the Holy Land over this period, or at any time for that matter, and are interested in taking a guided tour or day trip around Israel, don’t hesitate to contact us by email or phone or take a look at our blog for more ideas about places to see and things to do. We’ve been in business for over 35 years and with our knowledgeable guides and experienced and friendly staff, we guarantee you a holiday to remember. Shanah tovah!Pomegranates on a tree.Photo byLavi PerchikonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Glatt Kosher Hotels And Restaurants in Israel

It's high season now in Israel and the country is expecting tens of thousands of guests in the next few months, all looking for fun days out, comfortable budget accommodation and great food. And Israel’s really come a long way in the last 20 years - the food scene here is booming, whether you’re a meat eater, a fish-lover, a committed vegetarian or an aspiring vegan.Kosher pizzeria. Photo byNick ClementonUnsplashWhether you’re in the mood for street food (falafel, sabich, shawarma), the great Israeli breakfast - in the form of eggs, jachnun or shakshuka - freshly caught St. Peter’s fish from the Jaffa port or a juicy steak in the Golan Heights, rest assured you’re going to find it in Israel. Jewish dietary laws in the land of IsraelHowever, one thing you should note, if you’re not familiar with Jewish law, is that many hotels and restaurants in Israel operate standards of kashrut - that is, laws that pertain to food. If these hotels and restaurants abide by rules, they will be given a ‘kosher’ classification by the Israeli rabbinate. Not all of these restaurants have this certification but the fact is that Orthodox Jews will always adhere to the Jewish dietary laws which, at their most basic, prohibit the mixing of milk and meat foodstuffs, as well as the prohibition of pork, shellfish and any other animal that does not chew the cud. This means that when looking for somewhere to eat out, they want to be sure the kitchen and foodstuffs are in line with Jewish law, hence this certification.White kippah for Yom Kippur / Rosh Hashanah. Photo byJoey DeanonUnsplashGlatt kosher - what does it actually mean?Just as there are different kinds of Christians, Muslims and Hindus, there are different kinds of Jews. Some Jews in Israel (and in the diaspora) are secular, some are Masorti (traditional) and others are ‘Orthodox,’ ‘modern Orthodox or ‘Haredi.’ Depending on how observant (religious) they are, they may want an even stricter certification than normal, which is where ‘glatt’ comes in.Glatt - more widely referred to as ‘Mehadrin’ in Hebrew and Yiddish - means ‘smooth’. However, when you’re talking about kosher meat, it is an indication that the lungs of the animal are completely unblemished and free of defects - thus adhering to a more stringent level of observance. Do you have to be Jewish to eat at a glatt kosher restaurant?Today we’re looking at glatt hotels in Israel that conform to rigorous standards and display a ‘Mehadrin’ certificate on their premises. If you visit one for lunch or dinner (or to stay) you will probably see a fair number of observant Jews (who live their lives according to the regulations contained in Jewish sacred texts) - from the head covering, to black frock coats and fur hats) there.The good news is that you definitely have to be Jewish (or even a believer in God!) to eat at these restaurants. They are open to the general public - all you need to do is decide, beforehand, if you’re in the mood for meat or dairy, because you will never have both in the same place. Here are a few of our recommendations for glatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Israel…Freshly baked challah bread.Photo byShraga KopsteinonUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in JerusalemOf all the cities in Israel, it’s Jerusalem where you’ll find the kosher hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Northern Israel and thebest restaurants which adhere to the strictest standards. These include (but aren’t limited to):Prima Kings, 60 King George - Close to both the Great Synagogue and the Old City, this 213- room hotel is a comfortable and budget-friendly experience, with chef-prepared kosher meals.Jerusalem Gardens Hotel and Spa, 4 Vilna Street -Located on their 12th floor, this small, intimate restaurant offers both panoramic views of the city and terrific kosher food. Not cheap, but a true ‘Manhattan-style’ meat restaurant, with artful presentation and excellent service.Caesar Premier, 208 Jaffa Street - In the heart of the city, this European-style hotel offers comfortable accommodation and a restaurant that can also cater for large events. They pride themselves on their welcoming family atmosphere and their rooftop swimming pool offers separate hours for men and women. Kosher sandwich. Image byBINYOUSSOFfromPixabayThe Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 26-28 Agron Street - This unabashedly luxurious hotel is just 500 metres from the Jaffa Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City, and offers light bites, afternoon tea and gourmet cuisine, all under the supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate. They also offer a lavish Shabbat buffet lunch (pre-payment necessary).Rimonim Shalom Hotel, 24 Shakhrai Street - Formerly the Rimonim, the Shalom hotel is close to Ein Kerem and the Malka Mall and offers budget-friendly accommodation. Not only does it have a good restaurant, serving buffet meals, but it also boasts a semi-Olympic-sized swimming pool and a convention centre.The Inbal, 2 Jabotinsky Street - This five-star hotel, located in the very heart of Jerusalem, boasts the ‘O2’ - a meat restaurant which specialises in defining and reinventing Israeli cuisine, courtesy of Chef Nimrod Norman.Leonardo Plaza, 1 Rabbi Akiva Street - For gourmet food lovers, visit here and enjoy fabulous cuisine in one of their three restaurants, each inspired by different traditions. ‘Primavera’ is essentially Italian, ‘Cow in the Roof’ gives you a taste of French classics and ‘Cardo’ is where they serve their breakfast treats. They also host Friday night dinners and an enormous Shabbat buffet, along with fine wines. All supervised by the Jerusalem rabbinate.People praying at the Western Wall. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashLittle House in Rechavia, 20 Ibn Ezra - This newly-renovated stone house in a green peaceful neighbourhood offers a Mehadrin Israeli breakfast and also offers a full Friday night kosher dinner and Shabbat lunch (these have to be pre-ordered).Red Heifer Steakhouse, 26 King David Street- Close to the King David hotel, this upscale meat restaurant offers everything from burgers and meat pizzas to high-end cuts and steaks such as filet mignon. All of their beef is hormone-free and steaks are aged for a minimum of 28 days, on-site.Tzuba Hotel, Kibbutz Tzuba, Jerusalem Hills- Nestled in the Judean hills, just 20 minutes from Jerusalem, this kosher kibbutz hotel in central Israel offers guests both rich buffet lunch (quiches, local farm cheeses, pastries and desserts) and also caters to larger events, such as bar mitzvahs. Fun fact: they actually run chocolate workshops!The Four Sephardic Synagogues, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit: ©ShutterstockGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in EilatEilat welcomes tourists from around the globe but particularly at Passover and Sukkot, many religious Jews vacation here, and are looking for ‘glatt’ options within their hotel accommodation and when dining out. These include:Dan Panorama,the Northern Beach, Eilat- At this luxury hotel, world-class chefs will prepare you all kinds of culinary delights, including rich breakfasts, varied salads and tasty barbecue meats. Choose from the Dolphin dining room, Marina lobby or Bambou bar. Herods Palace, theNorthern Beach - Meals are a delight at Herods, with not just wow-factor breakfasts (four omelette stations and a dedicated juice bar) but the ‘Four Winds’ dairy lobby restaurant. For dinner, try their gourmet restaurants Tamarind and Tzaparim, which serve delicious, international fusion food. Hilton Queen of Sheba,8 Antibes Street - You have a choice of three restaurants here - all good. The Ebony is a pool restaurant and bar that serves grilled meats and cocktails. Makeda serves rich and yummy breakfasts. And their fabulous Japanese restaurant Yakimon, on the 12th floor, offers not just top-quality Asian fare but stunning views of the Red Sea.Mosh Beach, Derekh Mitsrayim, Eilat, Israel.Photo byYoad ShejtmanonUnsplashIsrotel King Solomon, the Northern Beach - Choose from three restaurants here - the ‘I Cafe’ which offers salads, pastas and deserts, the ‘King’s Table’ which offers tasty buffets and active preparation stands and Angelina, a wonderful Italian restaurant, serving fabulous focaccia, antipasti and pizza.Toy Bar restaurant, 1 Kamen Street - Dairy fare here includes arancini (Italian fried rice balls), delicious focaccia, a range of pasta dishes and cheesecake for dessert. Friendly, personalised service and diners recommend their themed cocktails.Cafe Cafe at the Ice Mall - This kosher dairy restaurant is great both for snacks and main meals, and diners love their Thai noodles and choice of cakes. This particular branch is right next to an ice rink, so you can stop for a milkshake or pizza after you’ve worked up an appetite, zipping around the rink.Antrikot Steak Houser at the Ice Mall - Well-priced burgers and steaks go down a treat here, and the side dishes (particularly the cauliflower) and tahini are raved about. Tasty food and helpful, friendly owners.Eilat's Dolphin Reef, Israel.Photo byMor ShanionUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Tel Aviv and Central IsraelRegina, HaTachana The Station - Nestled in a 19th-century building, full of original features and beautifully preserved, sits Regina. This kosher meat restaurant, in the heart of HaTachana (the old Train Station), serves tasty and appealing food in a charming setting. Starters include beetroot carpaccio, meat hummus and smoked salmon bruschetta. If you’re in the mood for fish, there is salmon or tilapia (with roasted beans on the side) and carnivores will love the house burger and veal kebab. And fear, not vegans, they have meat-free shawarma and burger made from seitan too. To make the evening go with a swing, order one of their famous cocktails - maybe a ‘Jaffa Special’ or a ‘Regina in the Forest’. Not cheap, but tasty.Lehem Basar, Hanger 14, Tel Aviv Port - This steakhouse is located at the Tel Aviv Port (Namal in north Tel Aviv) close to the sea. Dishes include roasted eggplant, lamb stew, salmon fillet and a range of steaks. Enjoy a delicious sorbet for dessert whilst overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Alter Nativ - 10 Dubnov Street - Under the supervision of the Hatam Sofer, in Petach Tikva, this kosher dairy restaurant is a great place to grab breakfast, tuck into some fresh fish or enjoy a sizzling hot pizza. Even better, they offer free parking to their guests in the evening.HaTachana (the old Train Station) in Tel Aviv.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinPankina, 39 Gordon Street (corner Dizengoff) - In the heart of Tel Aviv, the dairy restaurant Pankina is so good that eaters there say it’s on par with places in Rome. Dishes include tuna tartar, eggplant con mozzarella, Caprese salad and Fettuccia al Porcino e tartufo. The desserts are magnificent - you can’t go wrong with the tiramisu, semifreddo or millefoglie. What’s their secret? Well, apparently, not only do they import many of their ingredients from Italy, but nearly all their staff are Italian too! Don’t miss it.Papagaio - 2 Ha Shunit, Herzilya Pituach - This Brazilian-style table restaurant has an unlimited meat=tasting menu, as well as a regular a-la-carte menu. Located in Herzliya Pituach, inside the Arena mall and close to the boat marina, it’s a good option for those who are staying just outside the White City.Fresh Kitchen - 2 Ha Shunit, Herzliya Pituach - This kosher dairy restaurant is also in the Arena mall. Recommended dishes include salmon, red shakshuka and chocolate cake.People eating at a restaurant in the street in Tel Aviv. Photo byYaroslav LutskyonUnsplashGlatt kosher hotels and restaurants in Northern IsraelAresto, Caesarea Harbour - This upscale dairy restaurant lies next to the Mediterranean and offers spectacular food in beautiful surroundings, overlooking the ruins of Caesaria. Their focaccia - topped with mozzarella and garlic - is delicious, their salads are bountiful and their eggplant roll is to die for. Pasta lovers will adore the lasagna and gnocchi and the red tuna and Denis filet will satisfy any pescatarian. A little costly but worth ditching the diet for.Shaltieli, 6 YohaiBenNun Street, Haifa - The only kosher restaurant on the beach in Haifa, there are plenty of meat dishes on the menu, with a few vegetarian and vegan options besides. The hamburger and chicken come recommended and Shaltiel also screens sports matches and offers hookahs. Despite its casual vibe, you will, however, need a shirt and shoes to gain entry!Nir Etzion Kibbutz Resort, Carmel Mountains - This kosher kibbutz hotel near Mount Carmel has a lobby bar Shirat Hayam, which serves a dairy menu (sandwiches, salads and cakes) and hot, cold and alcoholic beverages. The meat restaurant itself is under the supervision of Rabbi Nachsoni and also boasts a private dining space.A cow in the Mount Carmel National Park, Israel. Photo byYoav NironUnsplashSin Chan, 10 Shimon Dahan, Tiberias - If you’re in the Sea of Galilee area and in the mood for Chinese, then head to Sin Сhan. This excellent Asian restaurant serves great food at prices that are half of what you’d pay in Tel Aviv. The Chicken Szechuan and Pad Thai dishes come highly recommended! Oh, and come with an appetite because the portions are enormous!Kinar Galilee, Moshav Ramot - Boasting plenty of food, breakfast and dinner are buffet style. All meat dishes have the Mehadrin supervision label on them. There are also fish and vegetable options and plenty of healthy food. Lunch is not served here but there is a bar selling light meals and after an enormous breakfast, that may be all you need.Yosko Hummus 23 Ha-Nadiv Street, Zikhron Yaakov - Enormous portions are de rigueur with this family business - order one plate for two people. Try the mushrooms and eggplant varieties!ltos Steakhouse, Golan Heights - With four different meat dishes on offer, as well as plates with grains and vegetables for the non-carnivore, this family-style eatery is close to the Golan’s capital, Katzrin, and a fine place to eat steak. It’s even better if you pair it with one of the local wines on offer.Sea of Galilee, Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana Mats
By Sarah Mann

9 of the Best Boutique Hotels in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is the city that never sleeps (or so they say) But whether you’re a foodie, a culture vulture, a beach summer or a party goer, there’s always going to be a point where you need to sleep! And whether you’re a first-time visitor or returning to the White City, one of the most important questions you’re going to have to ask yourself is where do you want to stay in Tel Aviv?Stand-Up Paddleboarding in the Mediterranean against the background of the Setai Tel Aviv Hotel. Photo bySnowscatonUnsplashTel Aviv is Israel’s cultural capital and with a population of half a million in the city itself, there are all kinds of neighbourhoods to choose from. There are also all kinds of accommodations - from hostels and Airbnbs to budget hotels and high-end places. It’s the last of these four we’re looking at today.Boutique with the Personal TouchIt’s hard to draw up a list because the choices you have are ever-growing, but today we’ve decided to focus less on the chains along the beach and more on the boutique hotels in Tel Aviv that really offer guests a more personalised experience, especially because they are often small and niche.And it’s not just in terms of decor and ambience either - these hotels are all about guest-staff interaction - they pride it as much as the facilities they offer. So whether you want recommendations for dinner, a visit to Masada organised, or need help with practical details concerning your trip to the City that Never Sleeps, you can count on these places to be in the know.OK, prepare to put your hand in your pocket, because none of these will be cheap options. They are, however, all remarkably special and the little touches of elegance, style and luxury will, we are sure, leave you with a huge smile on your face. Enjoy your trip to Israel…Sunset at the Jaffa Port, Israel. Photo byShai PalonUnsplash1. The Norman Tel AvivThe Norman is widely considered to be one of the best hotels in Tel Aviv, with its winning combination of bespoke design, gourmet food and a perfect location. Just a stone’s throw from Rothschild Boulevard, the building sets its tone - actually, it’s two historic (Bauhaus style) buildings, renovated to show off their most beautiful features. And their 1920’s style combined with modern elegance is just one of the reasons it’s held in such high esteem.The Norman’s decor is unusual - antique and vintage matched with contemporary art and high-tech gadgets. The beds are wonderfully comfortable and there are all kinds of little touches such as fresh flowers, fruit plates or chocolates on arrival. Even their bath toiletries stand out, designed by an artisan perfume-maker in the locale.The Norman also boasts two excellent restaurants - Alena offers Mediterranean-themed fare and Dinings serves up top-notch Japanese dishes (although it's currently closed for renovations). The rooftop infinity pool, providing panoramic views of the city, is the perfect place to take a dip or sip at a cocktail before heading downstairs to enjoy a drink in the ‘Library Bar’. This converted reading room is elegant and stylish; perfect for perusing printed matter whilst you sip at a cocktail made by one of their expert mixologists. The mirror-backed bar is also a fine touch, not to mention the bow-tied barmen! Verdict: Contemporary luxury indeed. Address: Nachmani St 23-25,www.thenorman.comTel Aviv summertime, sea and beach. Photo byTetiana SHYSHKINAonUnsplash2. The Jaffa, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Tel AvivHistory seeps from every brick of this building and its dramatic architecture has a chequered past indeed - back in the day, it was both a monastery and a former French hospital. As a result, stained glass windows, stone walls and arched colonnades confront you at every turn, but not without a little minimalist furniture (courtesy of British designer John Pawson) and a Damien Hirst for good measure.All of the 120 rooms are designed with comfort and style in mind, boasting features such as marble bathrooms, balconies with stunning views over the Mediterranean Sea and even fireplaces. For a sophisticated cocktail, head to the beautifully restored ‘Chapel Bar’ Or if you’re in the mood for traditional food, head to their deli ‘Goldas’, where you can feast on bagels and lox, hot dogs and tuna melts. Their lovely outside pool is also perfect for ordering snacks and light bites and as the sun goes down, try the food at their restaurant Don Camillo - flavours of New York, Italy and Mediterranean, all on one plate. Finally, with one of the city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods on your doorstep, find time to wander around the fabled Jaffa Flea Market (‘Shuk HaPishpeshim’), through the narrow alleyways of the Artists' Quarter in Jaffa and along the Jaffa Port area, where local fishermen are reeling in their catch of the day. Verdict: Achingly fashionable.Address: Louis Pasteur St 2,www.thejaffa-hotel.co.ilThe Jaffa, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Tel Aviv. Photo from www.marriott.com3. The VeraHotel, Tel AvivFor design aficionados, who love a chic, contemporary look, there’s no better place to stay than the Vera. Back in the 1950s, the building was office space and the renovation paid homage to that by leaving a few concrete-covered exteriors.Bedrooms are luxurious, with fruit plates, organic bath products and swanky bath robes and 400-thread Egyptian cotton sheets. The hotel amenities don’t disappoint either - there’s exclusive access to a two-level rooftop ‘oasis’ which boasts sun loungers and a beverage machine, from which Israeli wines flow freely you won’t worry about there being no pool. The Vera offers yoga and pilates classes and free bikes too, the perfect way to explore Tel Aviv. Located on Lilienblum Street, it’s a great location for heading to Neve Tzedek, Nahalat Binyamin and Florentin, as well as the Carmel Market and trendy Shenkin Street. Verdict: Utter pleasure.Address: Lilienblum St 27, www.theverahotel.comBreakfast at "The Vera Hotel Tel Aviv". Photo via TheVeraTLV4. The Setai, Tel AvivIf you’re looking for calm in the midst of a city as hectic as Tel Aviv, you could do worse than check into the Setai! This sophisticated five-star hotel is a veritable oasis of tranquillity in busy Jaffa, and the building itself is as historic as the neighbourhood.The Setai actually consists of five buildings that made up an Ottoman police station and prison. Today, it’s been renovated in an eclectic style, part class, part contemporary. There are marble and stone corridors and a tree-lined courtyard inside which you can enjoy breakfast and lunch.Rooms are designed using a palette of red, brown and metallic colours, and the cotton sheets are utterly decadent. Oversized bathtubs and rainforest shower heads, along with bespoke toiletries, all make for a very comfortable experience and if there’s anything you need, room service and the concierge will be delighted to help.In terms of amenities, on the roof of the Setai is an infinity pool (a truly stand-out feature) and renovated Turkish hammam as well as a health and fitness centre. With the help of their excellent sommelier, enjoy a glass of fine wine in the chic bar (designed using custom-made blue Brazilian marble). Verdict: Outstanding.Address: David Razi'el St 22www.thesetaihotels.comThe Setai Hotel, Tel Aviv.Photo viaTheSetaiTelAviv5.The Drisco Hotel Tel AvivThe Drisco markets itself as ‘a superior 5-star hotel’ and many would agree. Located in the heart of the picturesque and pastoral American-German colony in Tel-Aviv, the hotel stands on the spot which was once the Jerusalem hotel, built by the Drisco brothers in 1866.All bedrooms are equipped with comfortable queen or king-sized beds, Nespresso machines and Carrara marble in the bathrooms (a few of which have bathtubs). A nice touch that Drisco offers is complimentary Israeli juices and chocolate bars which are placed in the minibars.Special mention should perhaps be given to their restaurant ‘George and John’, run by chef Tomer Tal, which has won numerous accolades. Offering ‘modern Israeli’ dishes with a Mediterranean influence - customers rave about the sweetbreads, steak tartare, crab pasta and mille-feuille. The Drisco also boasts a lounge, patio, terrace and garden, and its ‘Lobby Bar’ boasts marble columns and plush seats (a shout-out to its heyday). Not too far away by foot is the trendy Noga district (and next to it the Jaffa neighbourhood), the HaTachana (Station) complex and, of course, the beach! Verdict: Lively and inspiring.Address: Auerbach St 6,www.thedrisco.co.ilThe Drisco Hotel Tel Aviv. Photo via Thedrisco6.Lighthouse Hotel By Brown HotelsThis stylish and trendy hotel, operated by the Brown Group, is situated at the crossroads of Ben Yehuda and Allenby Streets, a stone’s throw from the Carmel Market, King George Street and Jerusalem beach. With its central location, modern vibe and high-level amenities, it might not be five-star but it holds its own.All of the Lighthouse’s 209 rooms are quite spacious (by city standards) and boast high-quality linens, Marshall speakers and English Molton Brown bath products. Each has a wonderful view of either the Mediterranean or Tel Aviv skyline. The hotel also offers an excellent spa, with professional and friendly masseuses and special hot stone treatments.For those who like sky bars, head up to the 18th floor where you can eat delicious sushi, drink unique cocktails, dance to pulsating beats and enjoy astonishing skyline views at Haiku. And if you’re not a party animal, just take the elevator down to the 5th floor for dinner - they have a lovely terrace.One last thing - guests comment time and again on how fabulous the breakfast is at this hotel - not just the outstanding produce and how varied the choice is, but the personalised service and how helpful the staff are in taking care of individual requests. Verdict: Hip to a fault.Address: Ben Yehuda St 1, www.brownhotels.comJerusalem Beach, Tel Aviv. Israel. Photo byToa HeftibaonUnsplash7. Hotel Montefiore, Tel AvivHotel Montefiore is the ultimate boutique hotel in Tel Aviv, located just a moment from Rothschild Boulevard in the city centre. Inside a 1920s Art Deco building which has been meticulously restored, you’ll be greeted by sleek design, modern art and exceptionally professional staff. Each of the 12 rooms screams comfort - lots of space, high ceilings, wood floors, Persian rugs, and floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books on art, literature and tourism in many languages. The beds are super comfy, with fantastic linens, and the bathrooms have a black and white theme and are stocked with products made by local artisans and plush robes. The Montefiore also boasts a fine-dining restaurant which is French-Vietnamese fusion style. It’s also considered one of the benchmarks of culinary delight in Tel Aviv and its ambience is delightful; - the dim lighting, chequered floor and mirrors all encourage you to linger for just one more delicious plate of food. Guests also rave about the breakfast and as the writer has partaken of one herself, she must agree - it is spectacular, with buttery croissants, tempting fruit plates, perfect poached eggs and excellent coffee, served in teeny tiny white jugs. The Montefiore is also well-located if you’re a Bauhaus fan - the area is awash with wonderful buildings, many recently renovated, and it’s a short walk both to Neve Tzedek and the Yemenite Quarter. Verdict: a luxurious and intimate experience.Address: Montefiore St 36, Tel Aviv-Yafowww.hotelmontefiore.co.ilHotel Montefiore, Tel Aviv. Photo viaHotelMontefiore8. The Renoma Hotel & ApartmentsThis seaside boutique hotel, located in the lovely Yemenite Quarter, is the perfect place for an urban vacation since it’s in the heart of the city but also just a block from the beach. The Renoma is a historic building, showcasing beautiful 1930s features and stunning aesthetics throughout the interior.All of the rooms are spacious with comfortable beds and elegant furnishings with all the modern touches, including Nespresso machines and Netflix. Their delicious breakfast box will be delivered to your room every morning and is delightful, full of pastries from a local French bakery and you can take the cappuccino they bring to you out to your terrace and drink it in the sun.Renoma also boasts the Bar 51 Restaurant, which specialises in tapas and sharing plates. The dishes are bursting with flavour, the menu changes regularly, according to seasonal produce and the wine list is excellent. It’s an intimate space, with mainly bar seating and a few tables, but the atmosphere is always good.Last but not least, what guests really seem to love about Renoma is this staff. Hardworking and gracious, they are exceptional at anticipating requests and pay enormous attention to detail - truly, nothing is too much trouble for them. Verdict: A hidden gem.Address: HaYarkon St 59, www.renomahotel.comRenoma Hotel & Apartments, Tel Aviv. Photo viahotelrenoma9. Market House Hotel, Tel Aviv-JaffaSituated in Jaffa, a few steps from the historic Clock Tower, the Market House was the first boutique hotel in Jaffa and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of its guests. With just 44 rooms, it’s very much influenced by the neighbourhood in which is set and you see this the moment you walk through the door, in the shape of local art hanging on the walls and - unbelievably - the remains of a Byzantine church at which you can peer through the glass floor in the lobby! The Market House is comfortable and modern, and the bedrooms - whilst not large - are eclectically designed, all paying homage to the locale (especially the local flea market). Guests rave about the exceptional breakfasts (both rich and healthy), the happy hour with wine and nibbles and the free bikes (complete with helmets and locks) offered to explore the area. As well as all the beauty of Jaffa on your doorstep, the Market House is a short stroll from HaTachana, Neve Tzedek and the Suzanne Dellal Center, perfect if you’re curious about food or modern dance! Of course, if you’re feeling lazy you can stroll around the Jaffa Port and Artists' Quarter, or simply sit by their pool and soak up the atmosphere…Verdict: Perfect for a romantic weekend.Address: Beit Eshel St 5,www.atlas.co.ilMarket House Hotel - an Atlas Boutique Hotel. Photo viamarkethousejaffa
By Sarah Mann

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

There are many things to love about Israel - months of endless sunshine, a beautiful Mediterranean coastline that boasts pristine beaches and clear waters, endless nature reserves and national parks, art galleries and museums, Crusader fortresses, boutique vineyards, and plenty of opportunities for adrenalin lovers, in the form of kayaking, jet-skiing, surfing, and rappelling.The farm of Netiv HaAsara, Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashOf course, Israel is also one of the world’s top destinations for pilgrims. Home to a diverse population that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze, there’s no shortage of places of worship to visit. Jerusalem’s Old City is, in itself, a place you could spend days, if not weeks, exploring.Packed full of historical sites including the Western Wall (the last remaining wall of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built where Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected), and the Dome of the Rock (which Muslims believe Mohammed flew over, en route to Mecca) each step you take is a journey back in time.A Land of HistoryAnd for history lovers, Israel is an incredible holiday destination. Whether you’re curious about the Israelites, Roman, Crusader, Mamluk, or Ottoman period in this country’s history, you won’t run out of things to see. What we’re looking at today is just a tiny part of this history, but something extraordinary in its own right - the story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which is told in the Bible in the form of the extraordinary story of Jacob (son of Isaac, and grandson of the patriarch Abraham).Whilst the time period of this story is ancient - circa 1200 BCE - the impact of it cannot be underestimated because, today, Orthodox Jews still consider themselves to be descendants of these tribes. There are also many other communities across the world, including Christian Assyrians, Afghans, Mormons, Ethiopians, and American Indians who also claim to be descendants of ‘lost tribes’ too. Yes, it’s really quite a story!Mount Arbel, Israel. Photo byDave HerringonUnsplash.The Hebrew Bible and the 12 Tribes of IsraelAccording to the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible, as some Jews call it), the twelve tribes of Israel were the descendants of Jacob, one of the three great patriarchs of the Jewish religion. Jacob who (as we said above) was the grandson of Abraham (‘the father of the faith’ ) bore twelve sons, through his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. It would be these sons who - collectively - formed the tribes.What were the names of the 12 tribes of Israel?The names of the men who formed the twelve tribes of Israel were (in order of age): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Unfortunately, Jacob was known to show favoritism - the most beloved of his sons was - without a doubt - Joseph, and this favoritism would set the scene for the extraordinary family saga that is told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.The Jordan Valley, seen from the top of Mount Sartaba. Photo by Eddie & Carolina Stigson on UnsplashThe 12 Tribes of Israel in the BibleJealous and consumed with rage at the favorable treatment meted out by their father to his second youngest son, things came to a head when Jacob gave Joseph a resplendent coat of many colors. His ten elder brothers could bear it no longer so sold Joseph into slavery, returning home to tell their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. In the meantime, Joseph was taken to Egypt and, after a cruel twist of fate, imprisoned, where there he languished until he became known for his ability to interpret dreams. Summoned by the Pharaoh and able to explain Egypt’s current prosperity (and, furthermore, predict seven upcoming years of famine) he was appointed to a high place in court. From beloved son to slave to prisoner to viceroy, Joseph had survived. Even more astonishing, when his brothers appeared in Egypt, years later, searching (like all of those around them) for grain in the midst of a famine, Joseph chose not to take revenge but to forgive them. Joseph stayed at court (at this time, the Israelites were not in slavery).In Genesis, it is said that when he was about to die he asked those around him to promise him that after God took them out of Egypt, they would take his bones with them and bury them in the Promised Land. Many centuries later, his wish came true when his remains were buried in Shechem (also known as Nablus). It really is one of the most unforgettable stories in the Hebrew Bible. No wonder Andrew Lloyd Webber made a musical out of the story!Mini model of ancient Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashAn Israeli family tree - partitioning out the landAfter the Israelites fled Egypt, were saved by God, who parted the Red Sea, then wandered in the wilderness for decades, they finally arrived in the Promised Land. Each of the twelve tribes (descendants of Joseph) was assigned a section of land by Joshua, who had assumed a leadership role after the death of Moses. The tribe of Judah settled in the area south of Jerusalem and, with time, became the most important and powerful of all the tribes. From Judah would come the great King Solomon and then King David. Moreover, it was also prophesied that the Messiah would come from this tribe. The tribe of Levi also produced some notable descendants, including Moses, his brother Aaron, Miriam, Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. As well as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, some modern Jews are classed as Levites, to indicate their connection with the religious functionaries who, at one time, were High Priests in ancient Israel. Here’s a map of the twelve tribes of Israel to give you an idea of which parts of the land they all inhabited.The Dead Sea aerial view, Israel. Photo bySergey MazhugaonUnsplashThe 12 Tribes of Israel in Jewish and Christian TheologyAs stated above, according to Jewish theology, the Messiah - when he comes - will be descended from the Davidic line and David came from the Tribe of Judah. For Christians, there is no less importance attached to this particular tribe - Jesus was descended from the tribe of Judah and, indeed, is often referred to as ‘the Lion of Judah’.According to the Christian Bible, where the twelve tribes of Israel are referred to in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus anticipated that when the Kingdom of God was established, his disciples would “sit on thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel.” The imagery of the 12 Tribes - The Chagall Windows of JerusalemIf you are in Ein Kerem, a green and leafy part of Jerusalem (which was home to John the Baptist), and curious about art, then it’s worth making a detour to the hospital there, named Hadassah. In the facility’s Abbell synagogue there’s something quite astonishing - and that is twelve stained-glass windows.View of the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byIlanit OhanaonUnsplashDesigned by the acclaimed artist Marc Chagall these windows depict what some consider to be ‘heraldic symbols’ for each of the twelve tribes. According to Jewish Kabbalists (Kabbalah is an esoteric school of Jewish thought, which evolved in Safed in northern Israel, in the 16th century), the prayers of the Israelites will reach the gates of heaven (also 12 in number) according to the original tribe of each worshipper. So, if you hold fast to this mystical theory, Chagall’s stained-glass windows represent these twelve gates and when individuals pray in this synagogue in Jerusalem, this will give them direct access to heaven.After you’ve seen the windows, you can stroll around Ein Kerem itself. Meaning ‘Spring of Vineyard’ in Hebrew, it’s a tranquil oasis, nestled in a valley, which is incredibly beautiful. Visit the Franciscan church of John the Baptist (built on the site where it is thought he was born) and Mary’s Spring, and if you’ve got the energy continue onto Bethlehem, which is just 12 km away (about a 25 minutes drive).Family of religious Jews dressed in black walks through the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byMaayan NemanovonUnsplashANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel AvivTelling the original and ongoing story of the Jewish People, this fantastic museum in Tel Aviv gives visitors access to interactive exhibits, displays of rare artifacts, and cutting-edge history-telling. Established to connect Jewish people with their roots and reinforce not just personal but also collective memory, ANU Museum of the Jewish People presents a 4,000 old story - the story of the Jewish people, told through their faith, culture, deeds, theology, and humanity.Recounting the incredible story of the Jewish people back to ancient times, here you can find out much about the Tribes of Israel. ANU is also an excellent museum to learn more about Jewish migration, centers of Jewish life that sprung up around the world (London, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires), the history of Jewish literature, art, and culture, the rebirth of the Jewish people after the Shoah (Holocaust) and the establishment of the State of Israel.A camel in the Negev Desert. Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashDid the 12 Tribes actually exist? From where did they even originate?The modern scholarship really has no one opinion about the origin - or even the existence of the Twelve Tribes. Many different schools of thought exist, all purporting different theories. That they were a group of independent, nomadic desert tribes, united for political or military reasons? Were they a confederation of Israelites that existed between the period of the Judges and Monarchy? Or were they simply groups of people named after different locations in the Land of Israel? As to their origins, many historians even argue that there is no conclusive proof that any of these tribes, were actually the sons of Jacob and Leah.For sure, It is hard to answer the above questions and no doubt controversy will continue as to how they came to be. And yet, as a concept the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ is very much alive in Jewish and Israeli identity. Religious Jews feel connected to them through the Hebrew Bible. And although secular Jews may not believe in God, many still feel connected to the tribal idea, since it is heavily bound up in Jewish history, folklore, art, literature, politics, and geography.A Jewish boy visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Shabbat in Israel

Shabbat, put simply, is the centrepiece of Jewish life, wherever you live around the globe. It is a day of rest, occuring every week between Friday evening and Saturday evening, and although it is not technically a Jewish festival, it has great importance, because it is considered to be a holy time for religious Jews. For non-religious Jews, shabbat may not be celebrated as strictly, but it is still commonly observed and, for many, a lot of preparations are made to welcome it, especially when it comes to preparing meals.Challah bread for Shabbat.Photo byEvgeni TcherkasskionUnsplashWhat is Shabbat?Actually, some Jewish sages have even argued that the observance of the Jewish sabbath is the most important thing a Jew can do - more important than fasting on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) even. Shabbat literally means, ‘he rested’ in Hebrew and many rabbis have argued that without this ‘enforced’ period of rest each week, no creativity would be possible. And however seriously you take religion, the fact is there is a great purpose to a day of rest - it really makes sure that we don’t burn out.Why is Shabbat such an important day in Jewish law?Shabbat is incredibly important in Judaism because it commemorates God’s creation of the universe, as described in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), one of the most sacred Jewish texts). In the second of these, Exodus, we learn that Shabbat is a reminder of the day God rested, after six days of hard work. “Six days you shall work but on the seventh day you shall rest.” For this reason, Shabbat is considered a day of holiness and peace, hence the term ‘Shabbat shalom’ (‘a peaceful sabbath’) that Jews say to each other, in the lead-up to it. Shabbat also commemorates the events of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery under the cruel Pharoah. Indeed, Shabbat is referred to in holy books as a ‘Queen’ whose presence graces every home on this day. Friday night services include psalms and the haunting melody of ‘Lecha Dodi’ (‘Come my Beloved’) in which Shabbat is referred to as a bride.Shabbat, therefore, is really a chance to stand back from the chaos of daily life and give pause before welcoming this ‘Queen’. And this is why many Jews make such an effort in their preparations for the day - wearing fine clothing, eating special foods, and ensuring that their homes are sparkling clean. After all, who would welcome royalty any other way? According to the Torah, the sabbath is a delight and if Jews observe it diligently, they will surely be afforded a place in the world to come. Entry of a synagogue in Jerusalem.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashWhen does Shabbat begin and end, both in Israel and around the world?The Jewish calendar is not solar, but solar-lunar, which means that all religious holidays/festivals in Israel and around the world begin at sunset. This is also the case with Shabbat, which begins at sunset on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening when three stars in the sky are visible. In terms of the exact time Shabbat begins, religious Jews tend to consult a calendar, according to where they are in the world, which gives the precise time of beginning and end (by the minute).Are there special rituals to welcome and say goodbye to Shabbat?Yes - and the most important is Shabbat candle lighting. Traditionally, it is the woman of the house who does this, around 18-22 minutes before Shabbat officially begins, as a way of ushering in this holy day. After the candles are lit, she will close her eyes, and recite a special prayer. Once this has been done, Shabbat has officially begun and no work can be carried out until its conclusion. (For more about what constitutes work, see below). After a short Friday night service, there will be blessings before dinner begins, made over two loaves of bread and a goblet of wine. The following evening, just before Shabbat ends, many Jews observe the ritual of ‘havdalah’. This means ‘separation’ in the Hebrew language, and is a way of distinguishing the holiness of this day from the rest of the week. Using wine (or grape juice), spices (often kept in a box), and a braided candle, the ritual concludes with the singing of ‘Eliyahu haNavi’ (‘Elijah the Prophet’), who Jews believe will usher in the age of redemption. Finally, everyone wishes each other ‘Shavua tov’ which means “May you have a good week to come.” Take a look at this fun video entitled ‘How to Havdalah’ to get a better idea of what goes on! Family of religious Jews dressed in black walks through the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byMaayan NemanovonUnsplashWhat is a typical ‘Friday night’ Shabbat meal?Whilst there’s not one ‘typical’ food that’s served on Shabbat (because Jews from around the world have different culinary traditions) there are a few ‘tried and tested’ dishes that you might see on a Friday night table. You’ll always see challah (which is a braided semi-sweet bread) and sweet (‘kiddush’) wine, over which blessings are made. In the homes of Ashkenazi Jews (who originated from Eastern European), you’ll often be served delicacies such as chopped liver, gefilte fish, kugel, chicken soup, and cholent (a slow-cooked stew). In Sephardic homes (Jews who came from North Africa/Asia/Spain) you might be served stuffed vegetables, vine leaves, couscous, kibbeh (croquettes filled with lamb or minced beef), and baked cod and tahini cookies for dessert. Because of Jewish dietary laws, if you are served meat at a meal then there will be no dairy on the table…If you are invited to dinner, therefore, it’s good to check ahead to see if your hosts keep kosher (and if they are serving a meat meal, not to bring a dessert made from cream or butter…!) You can also play it safe by bringing flowers or a bottle of wine (most wines served in stores in Israel are kosher but you can always ask beforehand…)Freshly baked challah bread. Photo courtesy of www.freepik.comHow do Jews celebrate Shabbat in Israel?This is a good question and very much depends on how religious the family is. Although Israel is a ‘Jewish state’ and Jews are the majority of its population, not all Jews believe in God. However, it’s fair to say that it’s very traditional to attend a family dinner on Friday night. In a religious home, there will be singing and prayers; in a non-religious home, the kids may eat with their parents and then go out to a cafe or bar for the night! One thing that is for sure, however, is that from Friday night to Saturday night, it’s a time to relax. Religious Jews will attend prayer services at a synagogue on Shabbat morning, eat a lunchtime meal, and then a ‘seudah shlishit’ (third meal). Non-religious Jews may go hiking, meet friends for coffee, go to the beach, or simply chill out with Netflix. To each his own - since Shabbat is a day of relaxation and this means many things. Furthermore, if you spend a Shabbat in Jerusalem and then a second in Tel Aviv, you’ll really notice the difference. The majority of Jews in the capital observe Shabbat, and the majority of those in the ‘Non-Stop City’ don’t. That’s why, in Jerusalem, you’re more likely to see empty roads and families on their way to synagogue in the morning. And in Tel Aviv, you’re more likely to see people in coffee shops and restaurants, meeting friends for brunch, or heading off to swim, sunbathe or even join the folk dancing that goes on every Saturday morning on the promenade.Silver plated Shabbat candle holders. Image byRi ButovfromPixabayAccording to religious law, what activities are forbidden on Shabbat?This is another good question and the ‘list’ or forbidden activities is many. Essentially, there are 39 categories of things that are not permitted, including carrying, cutting, burning, writing, tearing, planting, harvesting, building, and weaving. There are certainly different interpretations of these laws, depending on how religious the Jewish person is, but - for sure - an observant Jew will not use a telephone, travel in a vehicle, watch television, or shop on this day. So is it forbidden to use electricity on Shabbat? To drive a car? To use money?According to the ‘halacha’ (religious Jewish law), all of the above are forbidden. This is why observant Jews will not carry a wallet on the way to synagogue on Shabbat, and always walk to and from prayers. In a religious Jewish home, timers will be set in advance, for lights to be turned on and off (so that there is no need to do so manually). Large water urns are heated beforehand, so tea and coffee can be made, and hot plates are de rigueur, in order to ensure food is not served up cold!The Western Wall in Jerusalem with an Israeli flag in the foreground. Photo byBenjamin RascoeonUnsplashAre there any exceptions to the list of things that are forbidden on Shabbat?Yes, - according to Jewish law (Halachah) it is not just allowed but considered mandatory to ‘break the rules’ on Shabbat if it is for the purposes of saving a life. Without a doubt, it is necessary to call a doctor or drive someone to receive medical attention, if they are taken ill on Shabbat. And, of course, many Orthodox Jews in Israel work as doctors and nurses in hospitals. Of course, whilst they are still giving care to patients, they will still refrain from things such as using their mobile phone (unless necessary) or switching on a light (they may ask someone who is not observant to do this for them).Another extremely interesting (and pertinent) example of violating Shabbat to save a life is of rabbis in Ukraine, recently, who spent Shabbat on the telephone in their offices. Throughout their holy day, they were busy organizing transport that would allow people in their city as quickly as possible (because of the military fighting in the vicinity).Shabbat candles.Image by @al-exfrom FreeImagesWhat kind of activities are encouraged on Shabbat?Shabbat, says the Hebrew Bible, is a time for relaxation, to put aside work and daily worries. It is a time to be with family and friends, to catch up with the week’s events, to read, eat, sleep, and basically wind down. Observant Jews will often take a walk in the afternoon or go and meet friends at their houses nearby. Jews who are traditional (but do not obey all restrictions) may drive to a nature park for a hike or picnic. In Israel, secular Jews flock to the beach for much of the year. The whole point of Shabbat, essentially, is to ‘switch off’ from the world and recharge your batteries, doing whatever you enjoy most.Are there buses and trains running in Israel on Shabbat?Although less than half of Israel’s Jewish population observe Shabbat to the letter of the law, since the establishment of the state there have been arguments about its nature, and if public transport should be allowed on this ‘day of rest.’ In most of the country, it’s not possible to use public transport (particularly in Jerusalem, where not only will there be no buses or light railway, but you may even struggle to find a taxi driving in the main city during the day - this is where phone apps come in handy! A Jewish boy praying by the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashSo if you are planning on making a trip over the Friday-Saturday period and you don’t have your own car, you will have to plan accordingly. However, in recent years, in cities like Tel Aviv, which are much more liberal, new initiatives have come into force, organized by the local municipality. Beginning every Friday evening - around 6 pm - and continuing until Saturday evening - six different bus lines are operational. They run out to different suburbs from the center, all passing through major roads in Tel Aviv, and - even better - they are free of charge.Unlike regular bus services, they are a little less frequent (every 20-30 minutes) but it’s a pretty effective system, for instance, if you are in north Tel Aviv and don’t want to walk all the way to Jaffa on Saturday morning (which would take 50-60 minutes) you can simply hop on a bus on Dizengoff Streetandbe dropped off either at the Jaffa Port or the Clock Tower, close to the Jaffa Flea Market area. The same is true if you’re staying in the suburbs of Ramat Gan and Herzliya - there are buses that will bring you straight into the center of Tel Aviv.Are there any organized tours that run on Shabbat?Absolutely. Whilst there are tours dedicated specifically to Jewish themes (and some of them are built around Shabbat in Israel) you can always find day trips around Israel and tour packages where exploration will continue on Saturdays. Many of our Jerusalem tours (especially walking tours in the Old City) take place every day, not to mention excursions to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Masada, and the Judean desert (where Bein Harim offers jeep tours for the adventurous).Havdalah set with kiddush cup, spice cup, and candle holder. Image by @tovflafromFreeImagesCan I attend a Shabbat service, whilst in Israel?Again, yes. In fact, many synagogues will be happy to invite you along, whether you are Jewish or not. Of course, it might be advisable to call ahead first, just to check on formalities, but it’s quite likely that if you talk to someone in the congregation, you will also, afterward, be invited to a Shabbat meal (Israelis are extremely friendly and hospitable people!) There are many places to attend Kabbalah Shabbat Friday night prayer services, not just in the big cities but also in small communities. Many of the synagogues have websites where you can find email addresses and if you call up, most people have a decent command of English. Also, remember to dress appropriately according to how observant of Jewish law the community is - if it is an orthodox synagogue, a woman might be comfortable wearing a dress instead of pants. Enjoy your Shabbat in Israel and if you’d like more information about our Private Jewish Tours or Jewish tour packages around the Holy Land, don’t hesitate to contact us.Religious Jew with tefillin on his forehead prays in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byMaayan NemanovonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Jerusalem Light Railway

If you ask people around the globe which city they best associate with Israel, chances are they’re going to answer ‘Jerusalem’. And for good reason. Jerusalem is an extraordinary and quite unique city, not just in Israeli terms, or even Middle Eastern terms, but for millions of people across the globe.Picture of the Jerusalem Light Rail on Jaffa Street, Israel.Photo byLaura SiegalonUnsplashJerusalem - A Unique CityHome to three of the world’s most holy religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - it’s a place just oozing history. All around there are reminders of the past - from the Crusaders, Persians, and Byzantines to the Muslims, Ottomans, and British Mandate. Thousands of years of history - just waiting to be discovered.And the other good news is that because Israel is so small, covering ground between cities is incredibly easy and makes day trips a piece of cake. If you’re coming from Tel Aviv, for instance, it’s 38 minutes by train and 40-60 by car. Even journeying from further north - say, Haifa - is relatively stress-free when you look at the number of trains Israeli Railways puts on each day.Cathedral bells, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplashThe Must-Visit CityAlthough Tel Aviv is definitely the nightlife, foodie, and beach capital of Israel, Jerusalem can hold it on in many other ways. It has world-class museums, art galleries, music venues, and places of worship. And, of course, the Old City, which is a must-visit attraction in Jerusalem. There is, however, one small practical matter, to be addressed - what’s the best way to get around? Good question. Well, the answer is simple - the Light Railway. The fact is that bringing your car into Jerusalem is a huge headache - parking is scarce and costly, and you’re likely to get stuck in traffic jams too. Buses are frequent and definitely an option, but they are also subject to the terrible traffic that builds up at certain times of the day (particularly in the city center). Nor is Jerusalem a city for biking in the way Tel Aviv is - it’s way too hilly! Electric scooters have caught on either (we’ve no idea why) and because the city is quite spread out, walking from, say, the Damascus Gate to Ein Kerem is a very long journey!Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byStacey FrancoonUnsplashUrban Transport for a 21st century JerusalemSo - yes - that leaves just one option…the light railway. And to tell you the truth, there are few people (either Israelis or visitors) that don’t love it. It’s convenient, fast, reasonably priced, runs long hours, and comes every few minutes. A combination of train and metro features, it’s taken the capital by storm - so much so that a similar system is now being built in Tel Aviv.It wasn’t long back that Yerushalmis (the name for the locals) would complain bitterly at having to make car journeys within the city - it could be very miserable, and however long you thought it would take, it always took longer. Not that building it was a piece of cake either - the disruption, noise, and pollution caused many headaches. But all good things come to pass - and the Light Railway was one of them. Today it’s ‘the’ way to travel in Jerusalem - cheap, efficient, and clean, all you need to do is hop on with your ticket and be whizzed away to whatever place you’re visiting - the Old City, Mahane Yehuda Market, Yad Vashem or the downtown shopping area.Today, we’re going to delve a bit deeper into the history of the light railway and its practicalities today - where it runs, what it costs, when it operates…so that by the time you arrive in the capital, you’ll be in the know and ready to start exploring. Let’s begin.Shop in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplashHistory of the Railway in JerusalemDiscussion about building a light railway in Jerusalem went on for decades before a plan was actually enacted! Indeed, Theodor Herzl, who was the first real visionary of the establishment of a state for Jews, even imagined the project. The Ottomans looked into the idea, as did the British, but it took more than fifty years after Israel was created for work to begin on the project.Construction began in 2002 and lasted for eight years, in which time there was notable disruption to the roads, particularly Jaffa Street, which runs through the city center. Establishing a light railway also entailed the building of a bridge (see below) as well as quite a few other renovation projects. Not only was it hoped that the project would ease conjunction, as trams glided smoothly around the city, but it also envisaged the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and railway station next door being easily accessible to the line. View of the Western Wall and of Temple Mount. Photo credit:©Dmitry MishinThe Chords Bridge, JerusalemThe Chords Bridge (which also goes by the name of the Bridge of Strings) was built in order to accommodate the Light Railway’s red line; today, it is one of Jerusalem’s most notable landmarks. Easily observed from many parts of the city, it’s the first thing you see when approaching the capital by road since it is located at the entrance to the city.Designed by renowned Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the Bridge of Chords is a cantilever bridge, consisting of 66 steel cables. Designed not just for transport purposes (easing the enormous road congestion the city was grappling with) it was also envisaged, by Calatrava, as a way to enhance the ‘skyline’ and to encourage discussion about modern design.Indeed it has. Today, it’s a structure you either love or hate. Calatrava designed it to resemble the Biblical King David’s harp, with the cables as the instrument's strings, although if you look at it from afar, it could also be regarded as a ship’s sail or a tent in the desert! Its striking design, for sure, has made it a major tourist attraction. And on a practical note, the Spaniard kept pedestrians in mind every step of the way - next to the bridge, across which the Light Railway runs, is a glass-sided pedestrian walkway, allowing you to cross easily from one side to the other, particularly convenient if you’re heading towards the Central Bus Station.Light rail captured in the Chords Bridge, Jerusalem. Photo byShraga KopsteinonUnsplashRoute and lines of Jerusalem Light RailAt the moment, there is only one route currently running through the city - the red line. Nevertheless, other lines are envisaged (blue and green) and construction plans are in the works, in an attempt to connect the entire city to the network. Furthermore, a project to extend the red line out to Haaddash hospital has already begun.The current line is almost 14 km long and has 23 stops along the route. It begins at Mount Herzl (where the famous Israel Defense Forces Cemeteryis located) and runs to Pisgat Zeev, running all of the way through the city center (on the Jaffa Road).From one end to another, it stops close by many places of interest for tourists, including Yad Vashem (Israel’s Memorial to the Holocaust), the Central Bus Station (where buses and trains to all parts of the country leave from), the Mahane Yehuda Market, downtown Jerusalem, the Old City (both at the Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate) and close to the Hebrew University.Byzantine Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit:©Dmitry MishinHow Much Does it Cost and How Do I Buy a Ticket?The cost of a ride on the light railway is 5.90 NIS, whether you travel just a couple of stops or the entire route. Your ticket is valid for 90 minutes from the time you but, unlike the buses in Jerusalem, it is not transferable. There are three ways you can buy a ticket - through the machines, next to the tracks, via a green Rav Kav card, or through an app on your smartphone.Machines - at every tram stop you will see machines and this is where you can buy a paper ticket. Instructions are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English and you can pay either with cash or a credit card. Please note that the screens are not a touchscreen - this means that to operate them you have to press the buttons at the side! Machines accept both coins and notes (usually!) Rav Kav Card - purchasing one of these little green cards when arriving in Israel is really a smart idea. The Rav Kav card is both magnetic and electronic and can be purchased at many places, including all bus and train stations around Israel. Once you have one (either with your name on it, if you're staying in Israel for a while and can provide the appropriate documentation) or an anonymous card, you can load it up with money whenever you choose. Aerial view of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Photo byRobert ByeonUnsplashYou can buy in denominations of 30 NIS, 50 NIS, or higher amounts and it’s also possible to buy a monthly ticket, whereby you can make unlimited rides. Just ensure that your card is loaded up before you board the light railway because, once you are on the tram, you cannot purchase credit.Smartphone - since 2021, it’s been possible to pay for a ticket using your phone and this has become an incredibly popular option (especially for younger people, who live and die by this instrument!). The advantage of the Moovit app is that you don’t have to commit in advance to what kind of ticket you’d like (single, day pass, week pass, or month pass).You simply put in your credit card details beforehand and the app will calculate what you are due (so, for instance, if you take 5 rides in a day, the app will place a ‘cap’ on how much you pay).Simply upload the app to your smartphone then sign up, and put in your card details. This will let you launch the app when you board the tram.Your phone’s camera will be notified and you can hold it up to the QR sticker close to the door or the tram (or bus, if you are using a bus). Once you have scanned it, you will receive validation (and often hear a beep and see a green light). It is your responsibility to scan your phone and, by law, the driver or ticket inspector can ask to see proof that you have paid.Сloseup of ceramic pomegranates in the Jerusalem market. Photo byNixx StudioonUnsplashLight Railway PracticalitiesThe Jerusalem Light Railway runs every few minutes, which means that you won’t have to boil or freeze, whilst waiting on a platform for the next tram to show up. As stated above, you must buy a ticket before boarding and validate it once you board. Ticket inspectors patrol the line’s route on a regular basis and if you are stopped and do not have a valid ticket you will be fined on the spot.Don’t risk jumping on if you’re in a hurry - just buy your ticket and wait a few minutes - it could save you a hefty fine! Many Israelis are not skilled at waiting patiently, so don’t be surprised, when you are trying to alight, that crowds will attempt to board whilst you’re still trying to step down. Stand your ground!What Hours Does the Light Railway Operate?The Light Railway operates from early in the morning until late at night, in Jerusalem. The first trains set off at 5.45 am and the last at midnight. These times are valid for Sunday to Thursday. Between Friday afternoon (1-2 hours before sundown) and Saturday evening (an hour after sundown), the light railway does not operate.This is because it is Shabbat and no public transport operates in Israel on the Jewish Sabbath(that is the light railway, Egged public buses, and the rail service). The same is true for religious holidays (which, like Shabbat, begin at dusk and run until the following day at dusk). Make sure you check the timetable online, beforehand, if you are unsure, otherwise you will end up having to hail a cab (which could end up rather costly). Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byStacey FrancoonUnsplashPicking Up the Light Railway on Arrival in JerusalemIf you're coming by bus or rail from another part of the country then you’re in luck - the tracks are a stone’s throw from both the central bus station and the Yitzchak Navon Train Station (which are next door to each other). When you alight, you will see escalators that will either take you up or down to the ground floor. The complex also has stores, a pharmacy and coffee shops, a bakery, and fast food stands), as well as a number of spots at which you can pick up a Rav Kav card. Simply walk outside the main entrance and head to Jaffa Road - which is adjacent to and actually in sight of the station. It’s really just a 1-2 minute walk. The result is a seamless transport experience.In conclusion, the Jerusalem Light Railway has revolutionized travel in the capital, not to mention making it easier for visitors arriving in the city to connect quickly and without fuss to trams that can whisk them around the city in no time at all. Our view? Leave your car at home and take advantage of 21st-century public transport. And enjoy Jerusalem! Of course, if you wish to travel hassle-free, it's better to join one of the organized Jerusalem day tours or book Jerusalem tour packages.Views of the light rail at Yekutiel Adam station in Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Israel’s Best Family Hotels

Taking a vacation in Israel never disappoints, but there’s a big difference between touring Israel alone or with a partner/friend and bringing the kids. When you’ve got little ones in tow, not only are you going to be constantly looking for activities to keep them busy, but you’re also going to want to find accommodation that’s family-friendly.A little boy swimming in the hotel pool.Photo byAlexandr PodvalnyonUnsplashIsrael - the ultimate family-friendly vacation spotLuckily, Israel is a country that’s not just set up for kids' activities but it has a culture that actively embraces families. Israelis love children and the family is at the heart of everything in this country, so chances are it’s not going to be too difficult for you to find accommodation and family attractions in Israel that are geared towards the little ones.Accommodations for all budgets in IsraelWe won’t deny it - Israel’s not a cheap country to visit, and the fact is that finding somewhere to sleep each night is a huge chunk of your holiday cash. The good news is that, in recent years, hotels have become more aware of the budget-conscious family, and many of them are really making an effort to keep their prices reasonable, as well as offering plenty of activities to keep kids entertained.Of course, if you do want to splash the cash, there’s no shortage of classy joints to book, that will - along with the ‘regular’ features of a pool, cable TV, and free wifi - offer other special services, particularly babysitting and kids clubs, so that you can have a holiday too! Doing a bit of research to find out the best family hotels in Israel can take time, so we thought we’d make it easier for you and give you a few suggestions.Below, we’re setting out plenty of options in all of the major Israeli cities - from budget to mid-level to luxury - because we know one size doesn’t fit all and that price is often important. And before you take the plunge, don’t be afraid to shop around, online or by giving them a call. You never know when you’ll be able to pick up a special deal, which will make your vacation even more pleasant…A boat with three people at Jaffa Port, Israel. Photo byFaruk KaymakonUnsplashFamily-friendly hotels in Jerusalem1.YMCA Three Arches Hotel - This Jerusalem landmark, famous the world over for its bell tower, is a tried and tested favorite when it comes to accommodating families. It’s a fusion of old-world charm and modern conveniences, with lots of friendly staff and a wonderful garden, complete with stone pathways, around which you can stroll.This hotel is considered ‘three-star superior’ with rooms featuring views of the garden and King David Street (named after the biblical king). There is free wifi and cable TV and a fitness center complete with a pool and jacuzzi. Breakfast can be eaten on the outside patio and guests are also welcome to climb the bell tower, for extraordinary views over Eternal City.Address: YMCA, 26 King David Street, Jerusalem. Tel: 02 569-2692.2.Hillel 11 Hotel, Jerusalem -A stone’s throw from King George Street, in the heart of West Jerusalem, this is a good value-for-money option, particularly if you’ve got two more kids, since Hillel 11 offers larger rooms which contain one or two sofa beds, along with a double bed. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby, and both Mahane Yehuda Market and the Old City are within easy walking distance. Some of the rooms have fridges in them (which is a nice touch, since breakfast is not available in the hotel). Convenient and budget-friendly.Address: Hillel 11, 11 Hillel Street, Jerusalem. Tel: 02 540-2225.3.Leonardo Plaza Hotel, Jerusalem- Located on King George Street, close to the Great Synagogue, this is the place to come for some luxury. Leonardo Plaza is a five-star hotel with 270 rooms, all tastefully designed. Facilities include a large pool, a fitness center, a dining room (serving a fabulous Israeli breakfast), and the kosher chef restaurant Primavera for lunch and dinner options. There’s even a library, where you can sit and read to your heart’s content, whilst your offspring are in kids' clubs (board games for the youngsters and games consoles for the teenagers!)Address: King George St. 47, Jerusalem. Tel: 02 629-8666.View of the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byIvan LouisonUnsplash4.Ramat Rachel Resort, Jerusalem- Located near Talpiot and just a fifteen-minute drive from the center of Jerusalem (as well as public buses outside, that run every 20 minutes), the Ramat Rachel resort offers comfortable accommodation in pastoral kibbutz surroundings which are guaranteed to put you in a relaxed holiday mood.The landscaped gardens have shady pine trees, and the kids can enjoy tennis courts, a playground, and a pool (complete with snack bar), whilst adults can sneak off to the spa, for some relaxing treatments. Rooms are spacious with lovely views and the kibbutz restaurant serves an excellent breakfast (full of fresh ingredients) as well as child-friendly buffet lunches and dinner. They also offer a packed lunch service, if you’re going out for the day.Address:Ramat Rachel, Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, Jerusalem. Tel: 02 670-2555.5.St. George Hotel, Jerusalem- This upscale hotel is just a four-minute walk from the Shivtei Israel light railway station and a ten-minute walk from the Old City, which makes it perfect if you want to exploreJerusalem’s holy sitessuch as theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre, theVia Dolorosa,Temple Mount, and theWestern Wall.The staff are very helpful and speak excellent English (and French!) and the family rooms here are comfortable and contemporary. One of the best features of the hotel is its rooftop pool, which offers incredible views of Jerusalem. The upstairs restaurant also has local live music, periodically, which kids may enjoy!Address:St. George Hotel, Amr Ibn Al A’as Street 6, Jerusalem. Tel: 02 627-7232.Family relaxing in the hotel room. Photo byJonathan BorbaonUnsplashFamily-friendly hotels in Tel Aviv1. The Royal Beach Hotel, Tel Aviv - Whilst this is by no means a cheap option, this five-star hotel isn’t just luxurious but goes out of its way to accommodate families, especially with its suites (which range from between 50 to 90 square meters). The hotel has a contemporary and urban feel and prides itself on its service.Not only is the Royal Beach a stone’s throw from the beach, as well as endless other attractions in Tel Aviv but it also has a fantastic pool and a kid’s club that is run by both professional and caring staff. Finally, the breakfast is raved about by everyone who comes to visit - in the vein of ‘it could feed an army.’Address: HaYarkon Street 19, Tel Aviv. Tel: 02 627-7232.2. Arbel Suites Hotel, Tel Aviv - This pleasant and low-key three-star aparthotel sits just behind the famous Dizengoff Street and, just a few minutes walk from Gordon Beach, is very family friendly - actually they are a family business themselves. View of Tel Aviv seaside from Jaffa. Photo byAdam JangonUnsplashEach apartment has free wifi, air conditioning, a fully-equipped kitchen, and both high chairs and baby bathtubs are available upon request. Bikes are free for guests so you can take your kids on a city tour! Some of the suites have both a double bed and two sofa beds, so they really are accommodating. Oh, and the breakfast is terrific! Great value for money.Address: 11 Hulda Street Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 522-5450. 3. The Spot Hostel, Tel Aviv-With a tagline of "offering something for everyone" the Spot Hostel is a lot more comfortable than your average hostel, and with its fantastic location, close to both the Namal Port and Park Hayarkon, and a short bus ride to Jaffa is a great choice for families looking for clean, comfortable accommodation at a price that won’t break the bank.The Spot offers family accommodation (two rooms that interconnect) and their facilities are enviable, including a fully-stocked kitchen, laundry room, screening room (keeping both kids and adults happy), and their famous ‘Lager & Ale’ bar which serves drinks, snacks, and traditional pub grub. Oh, and if there’s a budding musician or comedian in your group, look out for their ‘open mic’ nights.Address:HaTa'arucha Street 3, Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 790-7477.Aerial view of Tel Aviv Old Port. Photo byShai PalonUnsplashFamily-friendly hotels inGalileeThe Lake House Kinneret - If you’re in Nazareth or Galilee and looking for family-friendly accommodation, then this could be a good choice for you. They’ve recently had a complete renovation, so the decor is very new and modern, and their suites can accommodate between 4-5 people - great if you’re a family. A pool and a big breakfast are also part of the deal, plus a spa if you want to pamper yourself.The Lake House Kinneret is directly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, affording wonderful views and its location is good too - the Hamat Tiberias National Park (with the famous hot springs) is just an 8-minute drive, and if you want to look at religious sites in the area, it’s less than an eight-minute drive to Church of the Primacy of St. Peter or the Tomb of Maimonides.Address: Ha'Marchatzaot Road, Tiberias. Tel: 04 672-8500.Family-friendly hotels in Eilat1.U Coral Beach Club, Eilat - All Inclusive - Even though there are so many things to do in Eilat, if you want a relaxed holiday where you don’t have to plan activities, this all-inclusive hotel is a fantastic choice. Close to the beach and also the Underwater Observatory, there’s everything here you need, if you’re not in the mood to leave the complex!U Coral Beach offers comfortable and spacious ‘junior family’, excellent and varied food options (you can eat as much as you want), an open bar (with alcoholic and soft drinks) as well as nightly entertainment. As for the kids, there’s a separate heated pool for the youngsters, complete with slides, a kids club, table tennis, and a private beach with volleyball, archery, and snorkeling equipment.Address: Almog Beach Marina, Eilat. Tel: 08 635-0000. Eilat, Aquapark.Photo byMichal IcoonUnsplash2. City Apartments, Eilat - These apartments are both clean and well-equipped, offering great value for money in Eilat. The location is excellent (very close to the beach), the management is very helpful and there’s a reasonably-priced supermarket nearby if you want to prepare light meals or breakfast for yourself, rather than eating out every day.The apartments come in different sizes, and all are equipped with bed linen, towels, and the basics in the kitchen. They are also close to the shopping mall and the owners are happy to help with information regarding food and drink (since they do not have a restaurant on the premises).Address:Neviot Street 23, Eilat. Tel: 08 633-8361.Family-friendly hotels in BethlehemGrand Hotel, Bethlehem - If you're visiting Bethlehem, then the Grand Hotel is a good choice, offering family-friendly hospitality as well as a warm welcome and lots of help with getting around town. They have family rooms, all of which have air conditioning and a minibar, free wifi and a refrigerator and there’s a 24-hour front desk and a comfortable lounge.The Grand Hotel also offers a Mexican Mariachi restaurant, the first of its kind in Palestine actually! And if you want to sit and relax with the kids, their cafe serves delicious salads and cakes, made on the premises. The Grand Hotel is a short walk from the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and Manger Square.Address: St. Paul VI Street 69, Bethlehem. Tel: 02 274-1440.Magi Bethlehem Scene Christmas ball ornament.Photo byRobert ThiemannonUnsplashFamily-friendly hotels at the Dead SeaThe Daniel Hotel at the Ein Bokek stretch of the Dead Sea is a very comfortable hotel if you’re in the neighborhood, and has plenty of facilities to keep the kids happy. One of the best Dead Sea beaches is three minutes walk away and the pool has both indoor and outdoor pools, as well as a wellness area with a hot tub, sauna, and gym.The family rooms are spacious and clean, with comfy beds, and overlook either the Dead Sea itself or the Edom Mountains. The food (both breakfast and buffet lunches and dinners) is consistently good and the hotel offers nightly performances and shows. The staff really do their best to make you feel welcome. Our tip: Get to the pools early - they are popular and the sun loungers are often taken by 11 am! Incidentally, whilst the Dead Sea is one of those must-see places in Israel, for adults and kids alike, the good news is that there’s not just salty water to float in when you’re in this area - with a car, it’s a quick drive to the ancient fortress of Masada and the beautiful nature reserve of Ein Gedi, where you can hike and splash around in waterfalls.Address: Ein Bokek, Tamar, Dead Sea. Tel: 08 668-9999.The Dead Sea Shore from above. Photo byArtem BelinskyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann