Israel Travel Blog


May in Israel - What's Going On?

Springtime in Israel, particularly the month of May, is an absolutely fantastic time to visit the country. The rainy season has long passed, the sunshine is plentiful but it’s not terribly hot yet, in the way it can be in the high summer. With endless opportunities to enjoy the beach, explore the country and eat dinner outdoors on cool, breezy evenings, some would say it’s the perfect month to plan your perfect vacation in Israel.Sunset in the south of Israel. Photo byShai PalonUnsplashVisit Israel in the Spring!It’s also the ideal season for swimming in the Mediterranean Sea (the water is very pleasant), hiking inGalilee or Golan Heights, where flowers are blooming, visiting some boutique vineyards, or spending a few days in Jerusalem. If you’re there, why not wander the narrow alleyways of Nachlaot before grabbing a bite in theMahane Yehuda Market? There are also endless special events in Israel taking place - concerts, exhibitions, festivals, and one-off performances. If you’re down in the party city of Eilat, after a day of jet skiing, hanging out at the Dolphin Reef, or exploring nearby Timna Park, enjoy a cocktail by the Red Sea in Eilat, with breathtaking scenery in the form of desert mountains behind you.Here are a few of our recommendations for things to do in Israel in May - there’s something for everyone, trust us, so take a look at the list and get packing.Gray Dolphin in Eilat, Israel. Photo bySilviu GeorgescuonUnsplashJerusalem events in May 2022Jerusalem is the world’s most holy city for three major religions and a place packed full of historical sites, archaeological digs, and cultural treasures. And there is plenty going on there in May 2022.Jerusalem International Book ForumRunning from 15th to 18th May in the charming neighborhood of Mishkenot Shaananim, a stone’s throw from the Old City, Jerusalem International Book Forum is a week of professional and intellectual gatherings, with people from all different backgrounds across the world showing up in the capital. The forum offers workshops, panel talks, interviews, and social gatherings, looking at subjects such as podcasts, audiobooks, literature for young adults, and how to publish in a post-Covid world. With almost every event held in English, it’s the perfect event for anyone who loves books.Where: YMCA (26 King David Street) and Mishkenot Shaananim Conference Centre Flag of Israel at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byIvan LouisonUnsplashInternational Museum DayInternational Museum Day falls this year on the 19th of May and those participating in Israel (specifically in Jerusalem) and offering free entrance include the Bible Lands Museum, Bloomfield Science Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the world-famous Israel Museum.Established with the intention of exposing the public to the cultural wealth of museums, it’s a great way to raise awareness of the place of the museum in our society, and not just for adults but for children too. The Israel Museum, in particular, is bursting with treasures, including the Model of the Second Temple, the beautiful Sculpture Garden, replicas of ancient synagogues, and the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, housed in a dedicated building.There are also free guided tours that take you through the four wings - Archaeology, Fine Arts, Jewish art and life, and the Youth Wing for Art Education, as well as a chance to see current exhibitions on masks, food, and castles! Fun fact: Did you know that there are more museums, per capita, in Israel than anywhere else in the world?Where: In museums across Israel (check website for details)The Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockJerusalem Day, all across the City of Jerusalem (28th-29th May 2022)Jerusalem Day (‘Yom Yerushalyim’ in Hebrew) begins on the evening of 28th May and ends the following evening. Commemorating the reunification of the city, after the Six-Day War in 1967, today the capital takes center stage. There’s plenty in store for anyone visiting Jerusalem, including Jerusalem tours, tastings, live music, workshops, and an enormous parade (complete with floats, featuring veterans, local Yerushalmis, and Christian supporters of Israel).It’s a wonderful thing to see, with stages set up in city parks, old-time singers belting out the classics (including Naomi Shemer’s ‘Jerusalem of Gold’) and the kids will love it too since there’s plenty of face-painting on offer! And if you want to learn more about the history of Jerusalem, from the time of King David, head down to the Jaffa Gate - the parade always goes past the walls.Where: Across central Jerusalem and outside the walls of the Old City, at the Jaffa GateEntry of a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash“Which Came First? The Story or the Egg?” Exhibition at the Israel Museum, JerusalemRunning at the world-famous Israel Museum in Jerusalem, this exhibition focuses on prize-winning children’s books illustrator Hilla Havkin. Now she’s painting stories - on ostrich eggs! - and more than 20 of them are on display in this exhibition, each one focusing on a different story - including giraffes, bats, balloons, and kites. As the eggs rotate, surprises abound. What a wonderful exhibition!Where: The Israel Museum, Ruppin Boulevard 11, JerusalemSovev Cycling Event, Jerusalem (Friday 13th May 2022)If you love cycling, love Jerusalem, or love both, then Sovev is for you! This May, to celebrate spring, the city’s largest cycling event takes place, with routes that will take you through pastoral scenes, urban landscapes, and astonishing historical sites. There are three routes - 10km, 40km, and 50kms - and thousands of participants will join. Make sure to register early!Where: The gathering point for everyone is at the First Station in the German Colony.A palm tree in Jaffa, Israel. Photo byReiseuhuonUnsplashTel Aviv events in May 2022After a day at thebeach in Tel Aviv, stroll on itspromenade,learn about Bauhaus architecture in the White City or rent a bicycle and cycle toJaffa. You can also join one of the Tel Aviv special events listed below.DocAviv, Tel Aviv (26th May - 5th June 2022)Beginning on 26th May and running for 10 days, Docaviv in Tel Aviv will be showcasing a range of documentaries, many being their world premieres. Whether you’re interested in history, art, language, family, or politics, there’s going to be something there to intrigue you. This year’s opening film is ‘The Devil Speaks; Eichman’s Lost Confession’ which shows reels of footage of the infamous Nazi, talking to a journalist in Argentina, before his celebrated capture by the Mossad.Where: Cinematheque, 5 Ha’arba’a Street, Tel AvivEat Tel Aviv - A Tel Aviv Food Festival(8th May 2022)The ultimate festival for foodies, Eat Tel Aviv brings together many of Israel’s top chefs in one place, all attempting to woo visitors with their creations. For several days, down at Charles Clore Park, close to the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, you can enjoy live music, fantastic food trucks, and innovative dishes. Some of the top restaurants in Tel Aviv participate here, including Manta Ray (seafood), Vicky Cristina (tapas), and Dixie (burgers) as well as plenty of celebrity chefs. Tastings and street food. What’s not to like?Where: Charles Clore Park, Tel AvivJaffa port area. Photo byShai PalonUnsplashRooftop Yoga at City Hall, Tel AvivEvery Thursday beginning at 6 pm, at City Hall, next to Rabin Square, yoga lovers gather together, to enjoy an hour or two of free yoga classes and sessions on the roof of the municipality. Apart from the fact that there are great views over the city, it’s a good way to meet new friends.Where: Tel Aviv City Hall, Rabin Square, 66 Ibn Gvirol StreetWhite City Bauhaus Tours, Tel AvivEvery Friday at 10 am, beginning at the Bauhaus Center on trendy Dizengoff Street, a classic Bauhaus Tour takes place, beginning with an introductory movie and a map. You’ll then set off with your guide, and also armed with stereo headsets, connected to their microphone.You’ll be taken around the oldest boulevards and streets in the city - including Rothschild, Ahad Ha’am, and Nahmani - and learn about the history of the White City’s most prominent buildings in this style, built in the 1930s and ’40s by German Jews, who arrived in Tel Aviv just before World War II. The cost is 80 NIS (25 USD).Deep Purple Concert, Tel Aviv (Sunday 22nd May 2022)Founded in 1968, Deep Purple is truly a pioneer of the heavy metal scene (they also won a Guinness Record award for being the world’s loudest band). Next month, they will be performing at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, to the delight of their many fans in Israel. So get ready for a night out, with a bunch of hard rock lovers.Where: Menora Mivtachim Arena, Tel AvivBlack horse carriage in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo byAvi TheretonUnsplashEvents in Northern Israel in May 2022Whether you’re hiking in Galilee, tasting wines and cheeses on the farms of the Jezreel Valley, or kayaking down theJordan River, the Holy Land is waiting for you!Shivat Roim Dairy, northern IsraelBefore Shavuot arrives (in early June), why not head north to Shirat Roim (‘Shepherds Song’) up in the Galilee. It’s a boutique dairy, making fantastic sheep and goat cheeses, all without preservatives! It’s so good, it’s won prizes in Europe for its fabulous products. At their dairy on Kibbutz Lotem (near Karmiel), you can see the entire process (the making and the ripening), attend a workshop, and taste some samples. The ‘House of Cheese’ which is next door is open to the public on weekends and holidays. Yum! Where: Shirat Roim Dairy, Kibbutz Lotan, Western GalileeKayaking on the Jordan RiverThis is a really good activity for May because the weather is fantastic - not too hot and not too cold. It’s also a great experience for adults and kids - and the Jordan River is perfect for kayaking. Slide over small cascades, as your guide directs you through thick vegetation. Enjoy the fabulous views - the river banks are green and peaceful and if you’re lucky, you might even see a turtle!Where:the Jordan RiverView of the Golan Heights from Mount Bental.Photo credit: © ShutterstockYom Ha’Atzmaut (aka Israel Independence Day)Taking place this year on 4th-5th May, this is one of the most joyful days of the year, with celebrations that kick off at dusk and last through the night, followed by more celebrations the following day, in the form of a traditional Israeli ‘mangal’ (barbeque) at the beach, or in your friend’s back garden.All towns and cities in Israel have festivities, which include fireworks and concerts. In Jerusalem, there is the traditional torch-lighting ceremony atMount Herzl, attended by dignitaries, and in Tel Aviv, there’s a huge gathering atRabin Square(the square named after the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) with dancing and music.The following day, if you’re not a fan of barbeque, you can enjoy free entrance to certain museums, includingYad La Shiryonin Latrun (Israel’s official memorial for fallen soldiers) and theHall of IndependenceonRothschild Boulevard, where David Ben Gurion read out the famous Declaration of Independence in May of 1948.Where: Events all across the countryFireworks at the end of the 70th Independence day ceremony on Mt. Herzl. Photo byLavi PerchikonUnsplashJeep Tours, Golan HeightsThere are plenty of jeep tours you can take in Israel, but one we’d highly recommend is run by the company ‘No Other Land’ up in the Golan Heights, based on Kibbutz Merom Golan. It’s not just a great chance to explore northern Israel but really to see how locals, especially on kibbutzim, live in this part of the country.Guided by Ilan Shurman, who not only served in the IDF as a paratrooper but also holds a degree in Israel and Middle East Studies, he’ll give you plenty of history and geopolitics, with trips out to Qunietra (today a ghost town) and a stop outside one of the Israeli bunkers close to the border with Syria. This is a perfect family attraction and teenagers in particular, tend to love it!Where: Kibbutz Merom Golan,No Other Land Jeep Tours.International Yoga Festival in Israel, May 2022Israelis love yoga (seriously!) and this year, between 12th-14th May 2022 an enormous festival is taking place in the north of the country. Featuring teachers, lecturers, musicians, and workshops, people will gather together to learn and practice their skills for a long weekend, in the most pastoral of environments.A woman doing advanced yoga pose. Photo byARA CHOonUnsplashThe ‘yoga village’ at which it will take place is atGan HaShlosha National Park, one of Israel’s most beautiful nature reserves, which is located close to Mount Gilboa. The surrounding streams and astonishing waterfalls lend themselves to an atmosphere of happiness and tranquillity…and the festival is even promising a special ‘water compound’ with special sessions.The International Yoga Festival, along with all of the usual the ‘yogie’ activities, will feature music shows, a kid’s compound (complete with fun activities and shallow swimming areas), food stands (many of which are promoting vegan food), and a great artist’s fair, where you can purchase jewelry, clothing, and art.Wine Tours in the Carmel MountainsIsrael’s full of fabulouswineriesand what better thing to do than to take a tour of one, whilst enjoying the astonishing scenery? The Carmel Winery was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1892, with the aim of helping farmers earn a long-term living, rather than relying on more simple crops.The Centre For Wine CultureinZichron Yaakovprovides guided tours and this includes a wine shop, restaurant, two specialist-tasting rooms, a small cinema, and a barrel room in an underground cellar. And Zichron itself is a lovely little town, so take a stroll afterwards on its midrachov (main pedestrianized street) or even head off toHaifa, which is just 30 minutes away.Where: Carmel Wintery, 2 Derek Ha Yekev, Zichron YaakovInterested in special events in Israel, private orday tours in Israel?Feel free to contact us!Flam Winery, Eshtaol, Israel.Photo byEli LevitonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Biblical Tours in Israel

Every year, tens of thousands of people come on trips to Israel. Their reasons are varied - pristine beaches on Mediterranean coastlines, endless sunny days with beautiful blue skies, museums and art galleries, hiking trails, boutique vineyards and a foodie scene that’s taken the world by storm.Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashIsrael - Land of the BibleBut, for many visitors, the most important reason to visit is to take a biblical tour of the Holy Land - to see the many beautiful and extraordinary sights connected with the history of the country. Israel is a melting pot, and home to people of many faiths - Jews, Christians, Muslims…and for each, there are places that are incredibly important.Walk in the Footsteps of JesusFor Christians, a tour of biblical Israel is often the trip of a lifetime, giving them a chance, literally, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and visit many of the places mentioned in their holy book. Whether it’s Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, Nazareth, where he spent his early years, Galilee, where he ministered and recruited his twelve disciples, or Jerusalem, where he was arrested, crucified, buried and then resurrected, taking a biblical tour in Israel will not disappoint.Even better, for anyone curious about archaeology, the land of Israel is literally bursting at the seams with fascinating sites, dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Places of worship, fortresses and ancient cities that were built in different eras (Roman and Herodian, Byzantine, Crusader, Arab, Mamluk and Ottoman) are easily accessible and can really bring history to life before your very eyes.The Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor, Israel. Photo byJoshua LanzarinionUnsplashThe History of Christians in IsraelThe history of Christian communities in the Holy Land dates back to the life and times of Jesus. After his death, the Apostolic church - particularly around Jerusalem - remained Judeo-Christian but after 130 CE, when Emperor Hadrian established Jerusalem as the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina, the church changed its composition.Today, when exploring Israel, in particular Jerusalem, it really is possible to see a chain of continuity and survival of the Christian community in the country, despite the war, natural disasters and endless conquests. Many of the churches, convents, shrines and monasteries that pilgrims visit are sites associated with the earliest times of Christianity, back in Herodian and Roman times, and really give the visitor a sense of how Jesus lived.In this article, we’ll be looking at the biblical side of Israel - places of worship dating back thousands of years, their architectural styles, and what their particular traditions were. This will help you understand what different Christian communities exist in Israel today, and how they have not just survived the centuries, but are thriving. We’ll also give you an idea of the ‘must sees’ on your visit, as well as famous archaeological sites in Israel. Direction sign showing the way to the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem. Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashHow Many Christians Live in Israel today?In 2022, Israel’s population stood at just under 9.5 million people. The majority of these are Jews, with a sizeable Muslim community, and then smaller communities, including Christians and Druze. Today, Christians account for about 2% of the country - about 182,000 people.Approximately 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab and Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population. Most of these people live in areas such as Haifa, Nazarethand Jerusalem, so for anyone coming on a biblical tour of Israel, these cities will surely be visited.The Christian community in Israel can be broken down into four basic groups - Orthodox, Catholic (Latin and Uniate), Protestant and Non-Chalcedonian (Monophysite). Apart from the Armenian church, most of these communities use Arabic as their lingua franca and many of them may well be the earliest descendants of Christians born in the Byzantine period.What Places Should I Visit on a Biblical Tour in Israel?Israel is a small country, with very many sites of interest for Christians. However, if you really want to get the most out of your visit, taking an organised day tour or private tour is a good way of seeing a great deal in the shortest time. You’ll also have the services of a professional guide, whose job it is to answer every last question you have. The good news is that it’s easy to take an organised tour of biblical sites in Israel, as well as specific Christian tour packages. They run regularly and in many languages and set off both from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so all you need to do is find one that suits you. Here are a few of the top holy sites in Israel we’d recommend, with links to specific tours you can take…Pilgrims lighting candles in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo byPeter AschoffonUnsplashThe Biblical Sites of JerusalemArguably the holiest city in the world, there is no shortage of sites to see in Jerusalem - in fact, you could spend weeks, if not months, exploring the churches and Christian sites of the Old City of Jerusalem. Divided into quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian), the Christian quarter is the second-largest and most marvellous place to explore, wandering through its narrow alleyways. The Christian quarter of the Old City is most easily entered through the Jaffa Gate and is a huge draw for most visitors, with a wealth of attractions which include: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the most sacred site in the world for Christians, it is filled with magnificent artwork, shrines and altars and can hold up to 8,000 people. The original structure was built by the mother of Constantine the Great, on what she considered to be the hill of Golgotha and the tomb in which he was subsequently placed.Inside, pilgrims can walk up a small staircase to the Place of the Crucifixion, and also see the Stone of the Unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was prepared for burial here. All year round, pilgrims flock here, and in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday the Christian quarter of the Old City takes on a more serious (and subsequently joyful) tone. Jerusalem Biblical garden, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinFun fact: as you explore the church, pay attention to its stone walls, in which you will see inscribed thousands of tiny crosses. These were made by the Crusaders, who took shelter here after making their holy pilgrimage from Europe. Via Dolorosa - in Latin meaning ‘the Path of Sorrow’ in Latin is the traditional path Jesus took en route to his crucifixion, stopping at points along the way which are now known as ‘Stations of the Cross.’ Established in the 18th century, it runs through the Old City, beginning close to the Lions' Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a place of contemplation and prayer, and comes alive particularly on Good Friday, at the annual procession. Temple Mount - this walled compound within the Old City, houses the famous ‘Dome of the Rock’. Whilst the debate usually focuses on Jews versus Muslims, it certainly has religious significance for Christians too, since it was here that Jesus came, studied, learned and argued with the leaders of the Temple at that time (an act which, it is argued, led to his eventual arrest and killing).Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on UnsplashMount of Olives, JerusalemEast of the Old City, Mount of Olives is the place where Christians believe Jesus ascended into heaven. It is a very special place for believers and home to many interesting sights, including the Church of All Nations - also known as the Basilica of the Agony, and built on the ruins of a 4th-century basilica and a 12th century Crusader chapel. The beautiful interior is built on Corinthian columns and a mosaic, portraying Jesus as a mediator between God and man.Dominus Flevit - this Roman Catholic church offers splendid views of the Temple Mount and is the spot at which Jesus stood and foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, before weeping (the church’s name actually means ‘the Lord Wept’). Designed in the shape of a teardrop (representing Jesus’ tears) its impressive western window (which looks out on the Old City) makes for marvellous photographic opportunities.Garden of Gethsemane - at the foot of the Mount of Olives, this is the spot at which Jesus prayed and was later arrested, the night before his crucifixion. Church of the Pater Noster - meaning ‘Our Father’ in Latin, the importance of this church is bound up with Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer here, to his disciples. Indeed, throughout the cloister and church, you can see beautiful ceramic plaques on which this prayer is translated into no fewer than 140 languages. Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Biblical Sites of BethlehemChurch of the Nativity - one of the oldest working churches in the world today, was first built by Emperor Constantine in 4 CE over the grotto where, according to Christian tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Walking down two flights of stairs, a fourteen-point silver star marks the exact spot where the Son of God came into the world.Today, custody of the Nativity Church is shared by three denominations - Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian and - of course, it is a focal point of any tour, Each year, on Christmas Eve, there are celebrations in Bethlehem as well as a public mass, attended by thousands, which is held in Manger Square.Shepherds' Fields- situated in Beit Sahour, about 1km east of Bethlehem, this is the spot where - according to Catholic tradition - angels announced the birth of Christ. Nearby is the Shepherd’s Field Chapel (adorned, inside, with beautiful frescoes depicting the nativity scene) and also the Greek Orthodox chapel of Dar El Rawat.Mar Saba Monastery - dating back to the 5th century, this Greek Orthodox monastery overlooks the Kidron Valley and, to this day, maintains many of its traditions (including forbidden entrance to women, past the main entrance). Its thick walls and small windows are reminiscent of a fortress, and its remote location, around 15 km from Bethlehem, and down a steep road, means it is difficult to reach independently, thus best seen as part of a private tour.The interior of Nativity Church, Bethlehem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Biblical Sites of Jericho, the Dead Sea and MasadaIn biblical times, it was the city of Jericho where Joshua fought his famous battle and, in the words of the song, ‘the walls came tumbling down.” Here also lies the Mount of Temptation which is where Jesus was tempted by the devil. Not too far away lies the ancient fortress of Masada, one of Israel’s top attractions and full of astonishing Herodian excavations. Built as a palace for the King, it stands atop a mountain, overlooking the wilderness of the Judean desert and really takes one’s breath away. From there, it’s an easy journey - by car - to the Dead Sea, where you can float in the salty waters and slather yourself in black mud (which is excellent for the skin!). Because public transport is rather limited in these areas, by far and away the most convenient way to see these places is with a Masada group tour or a private tour. The Biblical Sites ofNazarethChurch of the Annunciation - this is where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she would conceive and bear Jesus, the Son of God. It was founded around the same time as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity and has a splendid basilica, designed by Italian architect, Giovanni Muzio. Outside the courtyard is decorated with beautiful mosaics, donated by communities from across the globe. Church of St. Joseph - close to the Basilica, this Franciscan Roman-Catholic church was built over the remains of much older churches. According to tradition, it stands above what was once the carpentry workshop of Joseph, the husband of Mary.Donkey in Nazareth, Israel. Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashThe Biblical Sites of GalileeAny highlight of an Israeli biblical tour has got to be a trip to the Galilee, in northern Israel. This is where Jesus spent much of his time ministering and performing miracles - turning water into wine, raising the dead, walking on water and transforming two fishes and five loaves of bread into sufficient food to feed a crowd of 500 people.Church of the Beatitudes-- this is the spot at which Jesus gave his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount‘. Built on the site of a 4th century Byzantine church, its octagonal design represents the eight beatitudes (‘blessings’) and, inside, seven virtues - charity, faithy, hope, justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude) are symbolised on the mosaic floor. Yardenit - located at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, on the banks of the River Jordan, this is where Christian pilgrims from around the globe come to be baptised, replicating the baptism that Jesus undertook by John the Baptist, thousands of years earlier. Capernaum, a biblical village in Galilee, Israel. Photo byJoshua LanzarinionUnsplashChurch of Multiplication - located in Tabgha, a church and monastery were built here in the 5th century to commemorate the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Parts of the exquisite mosaic floors (which are rare in Byzantine churches) were unearthed in archaeological excavations, and depict the flora and fauna of Galilee.Megiddo - In the New Testament, Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon and, according to prophecy, it is the spot where a great battle will take place at the ‘end of days’ i.e. before the Second Coming of Jesus. Today it is a splendid national park, full of archaeological finds including an 80- metre long aqueduct that supplied this ancient Canaanite city with spring water. An excellent way to see it is on a private tour of Megiddo and Nazareth.If you are interested in biblical sites in Israel, feel free to join one of our Day Christian Tours or a Christian Israel Package.Mount Precipice, Nazareth, Israel.Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Chol HaMoed and What to Do in Israel over Passover

Spring has arrived in Israel, in earnest, and with it comes the festival of Passover, one of the most beloved and most celebrated festivals in the Jewish calendar. However, Passover, unlike other festivals, does not last one or two days - it lasts an entire week - only of which two of these days are actually religious holidays! Complicated? Well, maybe, but let’s try and explain it here in terms that don’t have you scratching your head!People praying at the Western Wall. Photo bySnowscatonUnsplashWhen you know it’s spring, you know it’s PassoverAll Jewish festivals begin and end at sundown since the Jewish calendar is lunar. Of the seven days of Passover (in other communities around the world, Passover is celebrated for eight, but that’s another story) only the first and last day in Israel are days where observant Jews obey many aspects of Jewish law. Chol HaMoed - the ‘secular’ days of the festivalThe middle five days are referred to as ‘Chol Ha Moed’ - the ‘weekdays’ of the festival. The literal Hebrew translation is ‘application of the consent’ or ‘the secular part of the occasion’ and these days apply both to the holidays of Passover and Sukkot (which falls every year in the autumn, after the Jewish Day of Atonement).In Israel, Passover is a much loved holiday, celebrated both by secular, traditional, and Orthodox Jews, in different ways. Almost all Israelis attend a ‘seder meal’ on the first night of Passover where, along with friends and family, they celebrate their freedom, telling once more the story of Exodus in the Bible, when the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt and became a free people.A counter with spices at Jerusalem shuk.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHow to celebrate Passover over Chol HaMoedHowever, even though the days that follow are not religious, all schools are closed and many people take time off from work, to be with their children or to travel, in Israel or abroad. Not all work is forbidden, according to Jewish law, but generally, if you are in Israel at this time of the year, you will notice that people are out and about, enjoying themselves and it’s quite common to find that businesses are closed for the entire week.Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the things that are going on in the Holy Land this Passover, over Chol HaMoed. And, trust us, there is plenty to do, and not just for the kids either. The weather is good, everyone wants to be out, taking advantage of the best beaches in Israel, hiking trails, and desert scenery, but there are plenty of cultural attractions too. Best of all, many of them open their doors for free at this time of the year, so a day out won’t necessarily be hard on the pocket. So, pack yourself a matzah sandwich and some fruit, and enjoy yourself, wherever you choose to go… A Jewish man eating matzah. Photo bycottonbroonPexelsWhat’s going on in Jerusalem over Passover?1. Ice Eat Complex Offering food and music and workshops, this is a great place to bring the kids. They can learn to make Passover muffins with a yummy chocolate frosting, enjoy storytime sessions and join in their ‘cooking hour’ with top chef Chen Koren. The entrance is free.2. Passover at Train TheatreClose to Liberty Bell Park and offering all kinds of puppet performances, both in English and Hebrew, there are storytelling sessions with music and daily shows here too, including ‘Goldilocks and the Three Pandas’, ‘Toto and Friends’ and ‘Yuka the Doll’. 3. Bloomfield Science MuseumWith free entrance for kids toBloomfield Science Museum, this is a fantastic day out in Jerusalem, giving the whole family a chance to learn about Leonardo da Vinci, Hypatia the mathematician, electricity, levers, and why buildings don't fall down! What a way to make science fun.4. Passover at the Tower of DavidIf you want to learn more about the history of Jerusalem, you should visit the Tower of David. Take part in a ‘Hide the Afikomen inside the Box’ and crack the riddle or Climb to the top of the tower and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the city. Or come at night for the ‘King David’ performance, and learn - through lights and music - about the boy who became King and founded this amazing city.Bloomfield Science Museum. Photo credit: © Katya Savina5. Passover at the Israel MuseumThe world-famous Israel museum is hosting a special Children’s Exhibition over Passover, as well as ‘Family Tuesday’ photography sessions, recycling workshops, and storytime in the illustration library. You can also enjoy the sculpture gardens, and the Dead Sea Scrolls area and tour the model of the Second Temple.6. Jerusalem Botanical GardensOffering free entry, this wonderful oasis offers a glimpse of plants from around the globe, and the opportunity to learn about biodiversity too. Wander from garden to garden and continent to continent, and escape the hustle and bustle of the capital for a couple of hours in Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. 7. The Bible Lands MuseumThis is the place to go if you want to engage in some ‘Pharoah Mania’. The Bible Lands Museum is hosting a special exhibition for kids called ‘Egypt Here We Go’ where you can unravel the mysteries of Egypt, play online games and puzzles, enjoy crafts workshops and theatre performances and learn about the great Pharaohs!8. Ramparts WalkThe best place to see Jerusalem? From above, on the ramparts of course! Not everyone knows about this tour but it;’s fantastic….and two different routes are included in the admission ticket. From the north side, you’ll go from the Jaffa Gate to the Lion’s Gate, close to the Dome of the Rock. The south side (easier for kids) begins at the Tower of David and ends at the Western Wall. Put on your walking shoes!Ramparts Walk, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWhat’s going on in Tel Aviv over Passover?1. ‘White City’ Architecture TourRun by the Bauhaus Center, and recommended by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, if you’re a fan of this German design style, you can’t miss this. Each Friday, beginning at 10 am at 77 Dizengoff Street, their two-hour tour of the ‘White City’ architecture of historic Tel Aviv takes you through Rothschild Boulevard, Ahad Ha’am, Montefiore Street, giving you a chance to see how many of these classic buildings have been lovingly restored. There are also family tours and private tours available. 2. Yitzhak Rabin CenterAssassinated in 1995 by an Israeli extremist, Rabin’s memory - as a brilliant soldier, much-loved Prime Minister and ‘typical Sabra Israeli’ has been honored at this museum, which is wonderfully designed. As you walk through the passages of Yitzhak Rabin Center, on one side you’ll learn about Rabin’s life, whilst on the other side - concurrently - you’ll see what was going on in Palestine/Israel at the very same time. Moving and emotional. Free entrance.Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, Tel Aviv Museum of Art.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin3. Food Tour of the Carmel MarketThe Carmel Market typifies everything that is Tel Aviv - it’s chaotic, bustling, and sends your senses into overdrive with all of the sounds and smells on offer. Either walk around there alone or take a food tasting tour there, where you’ll mix with locals, learn about the history and the culture of the market and hopefully come away with some goodies for your pantry! 4. Tel Aviv Museum of ArtShowcasing modern art from both Israel and around the world, entrance to Tel Aviv Museum of Art is free this Passover. Not only can you wander their permanent collections, but there are also activities for kids such as ‘kaleidoscope’ (inspired by the Japanese artist Kusama’s work) and Shai Ignatz’s ‘Goldi’ portraits.5. Jaffa Flea MarketJaffa is the kind of place everyone falls in love with - wandering the narrow alleyways of the Artist’s Quarter, wandering down at the historic port, overlooking the Mediterranean, enjoying hummus at local eateries, and, of course, poking around at the flea market. It’s a treasure trove - bric-a-brac, vintage, furniture, second-hand clothes, and piles of toys on the floor. And if you’re really curious about the market’s history, then sign up for a Shuk to Chic tour!Jaffa Flea Market, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat to do in Haifa and Northern Israel over Passover1. Haifa ZooA great day out for the entire family, this lovely little zoo has more than 100 species, including lemurs, meerkats, anacondas, Griffon vultures, camels, and the rare Persian fallow deer (who live almost exclusively in the Upper Galilee). All of the animals are in specially-designed habitats, and once you’ve had your fill of animal watching, you can enjoy their botanical garden and the Prehistory Museum in Haifa.2. Madatech Museum of ScienceA leading science and technology museum in Israel, Mada Tech offers more than 20 interactive science and technology exhibitions to its visitors. Learn about binoculars and microscopes or Leonardo da Vinci. Check out the solar system or discover what green energy is (steam, wind, solar), and don’t miss the exhibition ‘Smile’ where you can learn all about the teeth inside your mouth!Hi-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority3. Carmel National ParkPacked full of walking paths, bicycle lanes, dedicated nature reserves, and endless archaeological sites, Carmel National Park is Israel’s largest national park and you can easily spend an entire day there. There are scenic views both of the Mediterranean and the mountains, and hiking trails of all lengths and difficulties. Look out for jackals and eagles, and enjoy peace and tranquillity, even though you’re very close to Haifa. 4. The Old City of AcreThe extraordinary Crusader City of Acre has much to offer the visitor, including the Knights Halls, Templar's Tunnel, the traditional market, and the historic Acre port. Home, over the years, to Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, Ottomans, and the British, it is steeped in history and actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. After you’ve explored the Turkish baths, mosques, and citadels (all built on top of Crusader ruins), eat lunch by the sea (the fish is excellent), and you can even take a boat ride (for a small fee) and see the city from the water.5. Tour the Sea of GalileeArguably one of the most lovely areas of Israel, Galilee is a large area but a drive around the sea area is a fantastic day out. Explore the historical sites - the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue…then head onto Ein Gev, where your kids can explore the kibbutz on a train and you can eat a good fish lunch, whilst overlooking the sea.The route of the Old Akko walls, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat to do in the Negev Desert and Southern Israel over Passover1. Mitzpe RamonIf you wanted to capture the spirit of beauty and silence in the desert, there’s no better place to do it than in this small town, which is home to an enormous Ramon crater. Here, you can hike, climb, abseil or just sit by the edge and enjoy the stunning views of Mitzpe Ramon. There’s also an Alpaca Farm nearby, which the kids will love, as well as the opportunity to spend the night at a Bedouin camp, complete with a bonfire and traditional dinner.2. Ein Avdat CanyonClose to Kibbutz Sde Boker, the burial place of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, this hidden gem of a hiking trail boasts springs, hiking trails, and a marvelous canyon, with steps carved out of the rock itself. Set within the striking landscape of the Zin Valley, the Ein Avdat canyon stretches for over 60 km and is home to all sorts of flora and fauna. If you’re lucky, you might even see an eagle soaring high above you!3. The Negev Wine RouteDespite all the odds, there are a growing number of wineries in the Negev so why not explore them on this route? These include Nana Estate, Ramon, and Sde Boker wineries, all along Route 40 between Beersheba and Mitzpe Ramon. It’s a great opportunity to meet the owners who, in true pioneer spirit, have overcome the many challenges of working in such an inhospitable climate and are excelling in their trade.Ein Avdat National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana Mats4. Timna National ParkAbout 25kms north of Eilat, in the Arava desert, lies Timna National Park, which affords the visitor extraordinary hiking and biking trails. Once home to a copper mine, dating back to 4500 BCE, it is home to extraordinary rock formations, in hues of pink, orange, red and brown. And if you’re really adventurous, you can actually descend down one of the ancient mine shafts…affording you relief from the heat of the ground!5. Eilat over PassoverIt might be a bit of a cliche, but who can resist Eilat at Passover? It’s a holiday resort, with all kinds of attractions - restaurants, bars, the famed Dolphin Reef, and Underworld Observatory. And because it’s on the Red Sea, you can snorkel, dive, jet ski, swim, or just hire a sun lounger and lie on the beach all day, looking out at the Gulf of Aqaba! Wherever you end up going this Pesach, however, enjoy yourself, both at seder night and on Chol HaMoed and if you’d like to book a day trip in Israel with us, just contact us - we’re here to help. EilatAquapark, Israel. Photo byMichal IcoonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Day Trip to Nazareth and Galilee

Greetings readers! I’m Sarah Mann, writer, editor, and travel blogger and today I’m on the road, once more, with Bein Harim Tourism. They’re a family-owned and family-run travel company that organizes all kinds of tour packages in Israel, not to mention plenty of day trips around the country too.Capernaum, aerial view.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhilst I write often on their blog (which is a great read, by the way, and you can find it here) I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to group travel since I’m usually on the road solo. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a day trip and - actually - if you don’t have a driver’s license, feel nervous about renting a car in Israel, want to learn more with a professional guide, or simply want to meet new people, this is the chance to do it.Today, I’m giving you the rundown on Bein Harim’s day trip to Nazareth and Galilee, which is the perfect way to get a taste of Israel’s north, not to mention the opportunity to see extraordinary historical sites. People often ask us what to expect on our day trips and it’s a good question. Since I’ve never been on this particular tour before, I arrived at the pick-up point with an open mind…and here’s what I discovered…Tel Aviv Pick-Up for Nazareth and Galilee Tour - 7 amIt’s an early start for us since it’s a reasonably long drive north but everyone seems in good spirits. We climb into our minibus (we’re a group of 12) and all start chatting to each other - it’s a mixed group, with half the participants from the USA (including two kids) and the other half from Latin America.Luckily, our guide Yuval (“Call me Yuvvi”) is a whizz kid with languages - he’s trilingual (Hebrew, English, and Spanish) which means everyone’s happy (and also gets the chance to brush up on their second languages). He tells us to get comfortable and promises us a coffee stop before we reach Nazareth, so we can dose up on caffeine for the trip that lies before us.Nazareth is approximately 105 km north of Tel Aviv, and with the coffee stop, it takes around two hours. We watch urban landscapes give way to fields of spring flowers and, luckily for us, it’s a glorious day, with almost no clouds in the sky. By the time we arrive at our destination, the sun is out!The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, Tabgha, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockExploring NazarethNazareth, as is well-known, is famous for being the city where Jesus spent his early years. Although he was born in Bethlehem, this is where his parents, Mary and Joseph, were from and it is where Jesus was raised, studied, and began attending Temple, astounding the Priests there with his knowledge. The central point of interest is, of course, the Church of Annunciation, the Catholic basilica where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her that she would conceive and bear the Son of God.Tourism is picking up again in Israel but we’re in luck - there’s only one other group with us. We enter the courtyard and gaze at the beautiful artwork outside - there are many mosaics of the Madonna, all donated by Catholic communities from around the world (including one, poignantly, from Ukraine) and also a statue commemorating a Papal visit.Inside, we see that the church is on two levels - the lower part is the holiest, being the cave where Mary was visited by an Angel. Inside there is an altar, on which is inscribed, in Latin, ‘Here the Word was made Flesh’. The first church here was built on the site in 427 CE and others have been built and destroyed since. This building, which is designed in a modern style, is one of the largest and most impressive churches in the Middle East.The basilica takes our breath away. Almost 60 meters high, it is shaped like an inverted lily. Designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, it is decorated with indented dots, and, staring up at it, we realize why it dominates the Nazareth skyline. Glance down at the marble floor to read the names of Popes over the centuries and don’t miss the large mosaic portraying Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter.We then make the short walk to the Church of St. Joseph, where Joseph had his carpentry workshop - in contrast to our first stop, it’s a modest, humble building, run by the Franciscans and was erected in 1914, over the remains of a Crusader church. Walking back to the bus, we stop at a fruit stand nearby, for some pomegranate juice (it’s freshly squeezed and delicious) then it’s onwards and upwards, to our next destination - the Sea of Galilee.Inside the Annunciation Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsOnwards to GalileeIt’s a beautiful drive, with all the flowers in bloom - particularly the cyclamen - and as we continue we pass Cana, where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. Before we know it, we have a fantastic view not just over the Sea of Galilee (or ‘Kinneret’ as it’s known in Hebrew) but also ofMount Hermon in the Golan Heights. We’ve really hit the jackpot in terms of weather…and it’s a stunning sight.The next stop is Yardenit, Israel’s official baptismal site, where Christian pilgrims come from around the globe to be immersed and ‘born again’ in the waters of the River Jordan. This isn’t actually the spot Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - that is down near Jericho in Qasr al Yahud - but it’s set up nicely with a lovely entrance, where the Lord’s Prayer is written in an array of languages.Inside, it’s incredibly tranquil, with Jordan’s waters clear and green. Normally, Yardenit welcomes around 400,000 visitors each year and - at peak time - can be packed but because of Corona, it’s a lot quieter. However, we’re in luck - a group of pilgrims from Brazil is down at the water’s edge, dancing, singing, and being immersed, one by one, by their Priest, and it’s a moving sight, watching it all. For any Christian, being able to partake in a baptism ceremony here is the opportunity of a lifetime and Yardenit obliges, offering white garments for rent and plenty of space for people to stand, sit or wade into the water. Whilst it’s definitely more commercial than the site down by Jericho, it’s well-organized, with clean facilities, a gift store, and even a restaurant. It really is a beautiful spot and we’re all happy to spend 45 minutes there.And now it’s lunchtime - and we head off to a local restaurant, offering classic Middle Eastern fare - either fish, chicken, or a kebab, with plenty of mezze (salads and dips) to enjoy too. We all chat about our reasons for visiting (or in my case living in) Israel and it seems everyone’s having a wonderful vacation in the Holy Land, even the kids (who got a week off school in the US to come here but are learning plenty!). It’s not a long, leisurely affair though because there’s much more to see…after all, this is where much of Jesus’ ministry took place.St. Joseph's Church Franciscan Roman Catholic church in the Old City of Nazareth.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsTabgha and CapernaumWe drive through the regional capital, Tiberias (located on the water’s edge) but don’t stop - we’re heading to the Church of the Multiplication, in Tabgha, on the northwestern shore of the Galilee, the spot where Jesus performed another of his miracles, turning two fishes and five loaves of bread into enough food to feed a crowd of 5,000.The church is maintained by a Benedictine order and rests on the sight where a Byzantine church was erected in the 4th century. It’s a simple and modest structure, constructed out of limestone with black basalt walls. Inside, we’re all captivated by intricate floor mosaics, actually the earliest examples of Christian art in the region. All of them relate to plants and animals found in Galilee, save for a lotus flower. At the altar, there is one more, showing two fish and a basket of bread. Yuval, our ever-knowledgeable guide, fills us in on the history of the area and points out a large stone structure in the courtyard, asking us what we think it is. My guess is closest - I think it’s a wine press. In fact, it’s an olive oil press. Olive oil is what made this community wealthy - used for lighting, soap-making, anointing, cooking and as a medical remedy, you can’t underestimate the importance of the olive trees in this area…Our last stop of the day is to another church, close by in what was once the ancient village of Capernaum. Rediscovered in 1838, it was restored by Franciscan monks, and today it’s known as the ‘House of Peter’. According to Christian tradition, this is where Jesus appeared to his disciples, after being resurrected, as well as appointing Peter as head of this new movement.In fact, it is a compound of three different churches - the Insula Sacra (circa the time of Jesus), Domus Ecclesia (4th century), and the Octagonal Church (5th century). Its location is beautiful - adjacent to the shores of the Sea of Galilee it affords us perfect views across the water. At its entrance, Yuval points out the statue of St. Peter, holding keys (symbolizing the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven) and as we walk inside the building, we notice the stand-architectural feat.Yardenit baptismal site, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe church has been built above the ruins of what is thought to be the centuries-old home of St. Peter. Yes, this is truly a futuristic design - as you look down, you see what was his dwelling, through a glass floor! Now, this really is walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples!Peter’s house, moreover, pre-dates the Constantine era and is the earliest known example of a house/church in the area. Beneath the large glass windows are sculpted icons with scenes from Christian history - including a tabernacle, wooden panels depicting the Virgin and Peter on a boat, and an altar mosaic showing the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the manna was sent by God to the Israelites, whilst they wandered in the desert.Adjacent to the house under the glass floor are the ruins of the synagogue that Jesus himself attended. It was clearly an impressive structure in its day, built of white limestone blocks hewn from the surrounding Galilee. Built on a platform above the houses in the town of its time, its southern facade was decorated, and - of course - it faced Jerusalem since this was (and remains) the direction in which all Jews pray.As I wander around, listening to Yuval captivating me and the rest of the group with all kinds of interesting stories, I try to imagine the courtyard, entrance porch, and staircase that led to the synagogue itself. The prayer area was divided by a row of columns, creating three aisles, and the columns were on high pedestals, with Corinthian capitals. As I shut my eyes, the years fall away…I am transported back to the time of the Bible.Yuval points out engraved motifs - animals (eagles and lions) as well as Jewish motifs such as a seven-branched menorah (today one of the national symbols of Israel and found on every citizen’s passport), bunches of grapes, pomegranates, and what is thought to be the Ark of the Covenant.Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThere are also geometric motifs - stars, pentagons, hexagons, and even tiny rosettes! Finally, he takes us to an area where archaeologists made a fine discovery - evidence that children played games when they were tired of the rabbi’s sermons in the form of ‘tic-tac-toe' engravings in the stone! This is the kind of thing that makes you glad you’re with a guide - their knowledge and passion for the job can really bring this kind of site to life.There’s also time just to sit by the water, in quiet contemplation, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, and hearing the waves lap against the shore. It’s incredibly peaceful and light-years away from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. I think some of us would truly like to stay longer, up here in the north, but time is marching on, the sun is fading and our day is drawing to a close. It’s been another great day out with Bein Harim - my first ‘day tour’ experience was down in Masada and the Dead Sea, last November. This time, I’ve swapped the desert for green hills and floating in the Dead Sea for views of the Golan Heights, but the fact is that this tour held its own, and everyone’s talking about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves. We drive back to Tel Aviv, talking amongst ourselves, swapping phone numbers, and I can’t help thinking to myself that we’ve packed an awful lot into today’s trip. We’re all tired, and our feet ache (I’ve just checked my fitness app, and I’ve clocked up over 13,400 steps today) but no one’s complaining. This is one day out no one will forget in a while.If you are interested in Christian day tours or Christian Tour Packages in Israel, feel free to contact Bein Harim's office.Entrance to Capernaum biblical site, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Passover - A Guide to the Famous Holiday

The Jewish festival of Passover, arguably is one of the most important events in the annual calendar, up at the top of the ‘must celebrate’ with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). One of the three biblically-ordained pilgrimage festivals (along with Shavuot and Sukkot), it is widely celebrated, both in Israel and across the globe, by Jews.The word Passover. Photo byAlex ShuteonUnsplashIt has an extraordinary history too - the backdrop for the festival is centered around the story of God, Moses, and the Pharaoh (as told in the Book of Exodus, in the Hebrew Bible) and the Israelites' miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt - possibly the most monumental event in Jewish history. Passover takes place each year on the 15th day of the month of Nissan which, according to the solar-lunar Jewish calendar, falls between March and April. Etymology of Pesach. What is Passover?The origin of the word Passover can be traced back to the Hebrew term ‘Pesach’ which means to omit or to ‘pass over.’ The word ‘Passover’ also refers to the story in the book of Exodus (see below) where God’s tenth plague killed the firstborn son in every home in Egypt. However, Israelites were exempt from this, with God ‘passing over’ their homes. And how did God know whose homes to ‘pass over?’ Because the night before the Israelites fled Egypt, they sacrificed a paschal lamb, then marked their doorposts with its blood, as a sign to God that he should spare their children.In ancient times, in Jerusalem, an animal would always be sacrificed before Passover (either a lamb or a goat) in the courtyard of the Temple. Only those who were circumcised could take part in the ritual and, once sacrificed, the priest would collect the blood. Modern attempts to revive this tradition in Israel have not been particularly successful, especially because of concern about cruelty to animals.In Latin, Passover means ‘Pascha’, which refers to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and - in fact - the Last Supper, held by Jesus in Jerusalem. As he knew that this was the last meal he would ever share with his disciples, he used elements of the Passover meal, which later became symbols of his death.Matzoh-crusted chicken for Passover. Photo by Sheri SilveronUnsplashThe Story of Passover in the Hebrew BibleThe story of the Passover is recounted in the book of Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew Bible. After Joseph (he of the multi-colored coat) went to Egypt, his father Jacob and his brothers moved there to be close to him. However, once Joseph died and a new Pharaoh came to the throne, distrust of the Israelites grew.The Egyptians’ answer to that was to enslave the Jews, compelling them to carry out backbreaking labor. Still, however, their community continued to grow, which is why Pharaoh commanded all midwives to kill newborn Jewish men. When Moses was born, his mother makes a cradle for him out of bulrushes and placed it in the Nile, where it was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter. The upshot? Moses was raised at the palace.However, as he grew older, he came face to face with oppression when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. In a moment of fury, he kills him, then flees to Midian. Whilst herding a flock of sheep, he stumbled on a burning bush and it was here that God spoke to him, commanding him to go to the Pharaoh and tell him ‘Let My People Go” and promising Moses that, eventually, he and the Jewish people will find themselves in the Promised Land.After Pharoah turned his heart to stone, God sent ten plagues - including frogs, pestilence, locusts, and boils - to smite the Egyptians, but the Israelites are still not freed. Finally, God ​​instructed the Israelites to make an offering - a slaughtered lamb, whose blood should be sprinkled on every one of their doorposts. The tenth plague - killing the firstborn in every home - was enacted, but the Israelites were spared.Finally, Pharoah relented, telling the Jews to leave, and so they did. But because they left in such haste, there was no time for their dough to rise, which is why they took only matzah. Fleeing, with the Pharaoh and his troops still behind them, they were trapped at the Red Sea. At that moment, Moses lifted his staff and the waters parted, letting the Israelites pass through, en route to freedom. As the waters closed over the pursuing Egyptians, drawing them, the Israelites sang a song of gratitude for their deliverance.The Seder table. Photo byPhil GoodwinonUnsplashPassover Today. How long does Passover last?This is an interesting question and, believe it or not, it depends on where you are in the world. In Israel, Passover lasts for 7 days whereas in the diaspora (all of the Jews who live outside the Holy Land) conservative and orthodox Jews add on an extra day. This is because, historically, the Hebrews’ months began with a new moon. In Israel, this was easy to ascertain but communities further away were always a little more uncertain. Therefore, they adopted the practice of adding another day, just in case their calculations were wrong. What are some of the important rituals involved with Passover?Let’s start with the cleaning of one’s house from top to bottom, to ensure that every last particle of leavened food (‘chametz’ in Hebrew) is removed - from the kitchen to the salon to the bedroom. Any substance which has flour in it has to be discarded - this includes bread, flour, baking powder, cereals, dried pasta, etc.The cleaning out of chametz before Passover is often used as an excuse for a big spring clean, in Jewish homes, and may begin a good week before the festival commences. In orthodox Jewish homes, all existing plates, dishes, and cutlery are also packed away, and others specifically designed for Passover are brought out.Discarding and Burning ChametzIt is common for children to get involved in the whole process, especially on the last night before the festival begins, when - according to tradition - the family carries out ‘bdikat chametz’. Using a feather, a spoon, and a candle, they search for any last crumbs - some very observant Jews place ten small pieces of bread around the house so that the search should have a strategic purpose.The next day, all chametz that has not been thrown away is discarded and, in some communities, burned, whilst reciting a blessing. If you are visiting Israel and in Jerusalem, it is possible to observe this ritual in many Jerusalem neighborhoods, especially the ultra-orthodox area of Mea Shearim.Baking matzah on the day before Pesach. Photo byavitalchn on PixabayUsing special utensils and cutlery over PassoverSpecial utensils are used over Passover - plates that are kept packed away the rest of the year. This is because, in daily use throughout the year, regular pots and pans in the kitchen have absorbed chametz through cooking. Observant Jews will also ‘kasher’ their kitchen before the festival, to make it kosher for Passover.Eating MatzahOne of the most important rituals involved in Passover is the eating of matzah and it is fair to say that this unleavened flatbread forms an integral part of the holiday experience! As the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) recounts, God commanded the Israelites to eat only unleavened bread for seven days during the festival. There is also a symbolic reason for the eating of matzah - it represents redemption and freedom. It is also ‘lechem oni’ (poor man’s bread) and so it teaches Jews to remain humble and not forget the pain of their servitude.Matzah and many other goods that are labeled ‘kosher for Passover’ are all easily obtainable in Israel, beforehand. The day before the holiday begins, all bakeries (and some restaurants) will close for a week and, outside of Tel Aviv, restaurants that remain open will only be serving food that is considered kosher for Passover (i.e. nothing made with flour).Haggadah, the Jewish text that determines the order of the Passover Seder. Photo by Ri_YaonPixabayGreetings at PassoverThere are different greetings you can use in Hebrew, at this time of the year. One is ‘chag sameach’ which means ‘happy holidays.’ (and you can use this for any of the Jewish holidays). The second is ‘chag Pesach kasher vesameach” ’ which means ‘have a kosher and joyous Passover.’Ashkenazi Jews whose parents grew up speaking Yiddish may often say ‘Gut yom tov’ (the last word often sounding like ‘yontif’), meaning ‘have a good day’ or ‘a zissen Pesach’ meaning ‘have a sweet Passover.’The Passover SederThe Passover Seder is a ritual that has been taking place in Jewish communities for thousands of years. It is a holiday that is popular with all - including secular Jews - and, indeed, even in Israel, where many Jews do not identify as religious, the proportion of people attending a seder is as high as 96%.The table is set beautifully, with a special ‘seder’ plate in its center. Seder, as mentioned before, means ‘order’ in Hebrew because the evening is always conducted in a certain order, set out in the Haggadah - a book which instructs you how to proceed, and which everyone has a copy beside them. On any seder plate you will find a few essential ingredients. These include:a hardboiled egg (‘beitzah) - this represents both the circle of life and the coming of spring; a shank bone (‘zeroah’) - this represents the Paschal sacrifice before the Jews fled Egypt.Horseradish (‘maror’) symbolizes the bitterness of slavery; a sweet mix of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine (‘charoset’) - when eaten with the maror, it balances out the bitterness and symbolizes optimism; vegetables (‘karpas’) - these should be something other than bitter herbs and represent renewal and hope. They are dipped in saltwater before eating, and this represents the salty tears of slavery.4 cups for Passover.Photo bymonove on FreeimagesFrom Oppression to LiberationThe seder is, literally, the recounting of the story of the Exodus, as told above and concepts such as oppression, slavery, and liberation are at the forefront of the narrative. In fact, the word ‘Haggadah’ in Hebrew means ‘telling’ and, according to Jewish law, Jews are commanded to tell this story. Moreover, they are told that, as they read, they are to imagine that they are slaves themselves, back in Egypt, being liberated from oppression. Throughout the meal, four glasses of wine are drunk (if you want to stay sober, fill yours just half full!) with blessings over them. Although there is always someone knowledgeable who will lead the seder, it is customary to go round the table in the course of the ritual and let everyone read a few verses. There is not just reading in the seder but also singing. Traditionally, the youngest person at the table sings ‘Ma Nishtanah’ which asks why this night is different from all other nights. (Click on the link for a lovely rendition of this song, by the ‘Maccabeats’).Another song that is very popular is ‘Dayenu’ which, literally translated means ‘It would have been enough’ and refers to the ten plagues that God inflicted upon the Egyptians, for not letting the Israelites go. After each plague, Jews explain “if God had stopped there, it would have been enough for us.’ The earliest version of this poem is from a 9th-century Babylonian prayer book!The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible.Photo byBrett JordanonUnsplashA third that is always a big hit is ‘Ehad Mi Yodea’ which means ‘Who Knows One?’ It talks of all the things important to the history of Judaism, including the two tablets given to Moshe on Mount Sinai, the five books of the Torah, and the eight days before a baby’s brit milah (circumcision).After the first part of the reading from the Haggadah, everyone enjoys a festive meal and once, sated, resumes the reading. The last song of the evening is ‘Chad Gadya’ (‘One goat’) which is a playful song that children love, written originally in Aramaic and telling the story of a father who purchased a goat for ‘two zuzim’.One final tradition that we shouldn’t forget is the one that kids love the most - searching for the ‘afikomen’. Early in the seder, a piece of matzah is broken in two and the bigger piece is hidden somewhere in the house. Every child helps search for it and the winner receives something small, like a piece of candy. It’s also a great way of keeping younger attendees interested in what can often be a long evening!Sculpture of Moses at the entrance of Mt. Nebo, Jordan. Photo byLaura SeamanonUnsplashWhat foods are traditionally eaten at the Passover seder?Every home has their own traditional Passover recipes - Ashkenazi Jews often serve gefilte fish, matzah balls, potato kugel, and brisket; in a Sephardic home, you are more likely to be given seared salmon, lamb shank, and rice with vegetables. Desserts in both homes are often fruit salads or macaroons/biscuits made with almond flour.Activities Offered Over Passover in IsraelPassover is a holiday that lasts a week and whether you’re a first-time tourist in Israel or a local with kids, there’s plenty going on all over the country. And because only the first and last days of it are religious holidays, that leaves the intermediary period (‘chol ha moed’ in Hebrew) for enjoying yourself.Many museums in Israel offer free entrance at this time, there are all kinds of performances for children (music and theatre, both indoor and outside) on offer, endless activities set in nature (hiking trails, waterfalls, treks in the Negev desert) and, of course, the beaches and the Mediterranean Sea to take advantage of. In conclusion, Passover isn’t just an opportunity to remember, it’s an opportunity to enjoy - and if you’d like to take any of our organized day trips or book a private tour of Israel with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Passover 2022 falls out at sundown on Friday, April 15. Chag sameach! Happy Passover!Judean Desert, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Roman Ruins in Israel

What do you think when the word ‘Israel’ comes to mind? An exotic, faraway land where the natives ride around on camels? The place Jesus was born, ministered, was crucified and rose again? The land of milk and honey, with plenty of other wonderful produce besides? High-tech companies, housed in gleaming modern glass buildings? Miles and miles of sandy beaches, at which people sun themselves and cool off with a dip in the Mediterranean Sea?Roman ruins in Beit Shean, Israel. Photo byPatrick CampanaleonUnsplashWhy visit Israel?Well, if you mentioned any of the above, you wouldn’t be wrong, because Israel is a small country but it’s just bursting with things to do and see. Whether you’re looking for a chillout vacation at the beach, a hiking holiday in the Galilee, the opportunity to visit boutique vineyards and enjoy gourmet restaurants or simply the chance to wander the cities and countryside, soaking up the sights and sounds of the place, you won’t be disappointed.Archaeological Sites at Every TurnAnd for anyone interested in history, there’s no doubt about it, Israel’s a top destination. The fact is you can barely take a few steps without tripping over an ancient building or Roman ruins in Israel patiently restored by archaeologists. Actually, compared to other countries in the Mediterranean, Israel has an enormous number of archaeological sites - about 35,000 in approximately 22,00 square km! And that’s some serious history.In Israel’s long and chequered past, Roman rule was perhaps one of the most exciting periods in terms of building - particularly when it comes to King Herod, who was - by any standards - a Master Builder. Undertaking all kinds of gigantic building projects, the results of his labours are still visible today, and truly a sight to behold. Today, we’re going to look at some of them - Roman ruins all across the country that tell the remarkable story of their period of rule over the Jews.Herodion National Park (Herodium), Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhen exactly was the Roman Period?Roman rule in Israel began around 63 BCE and did not end for almost 400 years. This period in Israel’s history was, in many respects, extraordinary because not only did it incorporate the crucifixion of Jesus and the destruction of the Second Temple, but it was also a period of prosperity (after all, the Romans were not just organised, but obsessive when it came to infrastructure). For much of these four centuries, Israel (known as ‘Judea’) was an ‘autonomous’ part of the Roman Empire - the Jews paid taxes but had a certain degree of freedom when it came to self-rule. Of course, when disputes arose, the Romans would not hesitate to lay down the law.However, it was King Herod who really upped the ante, building prolifically during his reign, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the maritime port of Caesarea and palaces at Jericho and Masada, to name but a few. In the words of the scholar Vermes: “Without a doubt, he was the greatest builder in the Holy Land, planning and overseeing the execution of palaces, fortresses, theatres, amphitheatres, harbours and the entire city of Caesarea, and to crown them all, he organised the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem".Roman Theatre at Beit Shean National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Roman sites in IsraelToday, all of these sites are easily visited, with many of them ‘must-sees’ in Israel, whether you explore them independently or visit them as part of an organised tour, with an expert guide. Here are a few suggestions, to give you a deeper understanding of how the Romans left their mark in this extraordinary time.1. Roman sites in JerusalemThere’s no better place to begin than in the capital of Israel - Jerusalem - and its breathtaking and captivating Old City. Church of the Holy Sepulchre - one of Christianity’s most holy sites, according to tradition this is where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. It was the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who made Christianity the official religion of his Empire and decided to build a shrine on the spot where Jesus was said to have died. He actually had the Temple of Venus in Jerusalem demolished as a result and, in doing so, a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the burial place of Jesus. Today, it is visited by millions of pilgrims from around the globe and cared for by priests of different denominations, under rules still in place from Ottoman times!Practically razed to the ground in 1009, the Holy Sepulchre Church and wider complex were rebuilt in the centuries that were followed by different groups, including the Byzantines and Crusaders. Evidence of this can be seen in the thousands of crosses carved in its stone wall - they were made by crusaders who had travelled to the Holy Land from Europe. Roman Pillar, Сardo, the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byShraga KopsteinonUnsplashThe Cardo - cardos were ancient Roman cities that ran north to south, filled with merchants’ stores and decorated elaborately with stone columns. Jerusalem’s Cardo was no different, beginning at the Damascus Gate and running south through the Old City, ending at Zion Gate. During excavations inside the Jewish quarter, archaeologists discovered that it had a central open-air passage for both carriages and animals, as well as pedestrian sidewalks. Today, you can still walk its cobblestoned streets and admire the arches, Corinthian columns and stone walls. Second Temple Compound and Western Wall - within this compound lies both Temple Mount (housing the Dome of the Rock) and the Kotel - the last remaining wall of the Second Temple, built by Herod. Complete with pinnacles, inner courts, retaining walls and underground vaults, Jews from across the Roman Empire would travel there (via the port of Jaffa) to ritually cleanse themselves then worship. Today, it remains an extraordinary site - the Western Wall Plaza is open around the clock but it’s likely that whatever time you choose to visit it, you will see Jews close to the wall, singing, praying and placing notes they have written to God in its cracks. You can also take a tour of the Western Wall tunnels, underground, which run for 488 metres and were built to carry water from nearby valleys to the Old City.City of David - actually located just outside of the Old City walls, surrounded by the Kidron Valley, Mount of Olives and Mount Zion. It was after David’s amazing conquest over Goliath that it took his name… and soon after, his son Solomon would erect the first Temple. After the Six-Day war in 1967, extensive excavations were carried out and today you can see treasures dating not just from Roman times, but also Greek, Muslim, Persian and Ottoman eras.Caesarea ruins at the Mediterranean Sea, Israel. Photo byJacques BopponUnsplash2. The Roman site of CaesareaSituated on the Mediterranean coast, about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, this is one of Israel's most impressive archaeological sites. Once a Phoenician port, King Herod built here a magnificent harbour (which could accommodate 300 ships!) and afterwards an aqueduct (bringing water from Mount Carmel), hippodrome, amphitheatre and even a Roman palace. Excavations in recent times have uncovered no end of treasures, including a mosaic floor, synagogue, bathhouse, a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar government buildings, courtyards and a cardo. Caesaria really is a ‘must visit’ on any visit to Israel, not just because of its ruins but also because of the beautiful views from atop the harbour.3. Masada National ParkProbably Israel's most visited site, the astonishing fortress of Masada is situated in the remote and barren Judean desert, close to the Dead Sea. Built by King Herod for use as a private residence, today you can ascend either by cable car or by hiking its long, winding snake path. At the top, as well as marvellous views looking out as far as the Dead Sea, you’ll see the remains of a bathhouse, mosaic floors, thermal baths, storehouses (with clay pots) and a magnificent palace. Masada is also the site at which the famous revolt of the Maccabees against the Romans took place, culminating in a siege by the Romans and mass suicide of the Jews there. In recent years, archaeologists have found coins minted within the time frame of the rebellion, fragments of Torah scrolls and even skeletons. As you wander the complex, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of awe - this was truly a feat of engineering, as well as the last stand of its Jewish patriots.Masada National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Beit Shean/Scythopolis This enormous national park in Beit Shean in northern Israel was once a city named Scypotholis. Built by the Roman statesman Gabinius, it was the only city of its time west of the Jordan river and flourished under the ‘Pax Romana’ (a period generally regarded by scholars as to the ‘golden age’ of Roman rule).Today it is home to one of the best-preserved Roman theatres of its time (it could seat 7,000 people), not to mention Roman temples, cardo, stores, the workshops of artisans, collonaded streets, and a hippodrome. Excavations have uncovered rare mosaics, burial tombs (in which sarcophagi have been found) and other notable treasures, including a bronze incense shovel. As well as these spectacular Roman ruins, you can also wander around buildings from other periods - Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans to name a few. The setting of this park is also wonderful - it’s surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery, which only adds to its grand past. A perfect attraction as part of any trip to Northern Israel.Beit Shean Archeological site, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin5. Winter Palace of JerichoAbout 3 kms from Jericho stands a winter palace constructed by Herod the Great - who, as well as being a master builder, had a taste for the finer things in life. This huge palace complex stretched across the entire Wadi Qelt gorge, not too far from the Monastery of St. George, and was connected at both ends by a bridge.Inside were upmarket amenities, including spacious sunken gardens, swimming pools and courtyards. Excavations beginning in 1973 actually showed the complex was made up of three different palaces and showed just how opulent life in Jericho was. Even the bathhouse was sophisticated - paved with red, white and black geometric tiles, it is one of the earliest mosaic floors uncovered in Israel.Additionally, because this palace was reasonably close to Jerusalem (it could be reached within a day) and had access to a regular water supply, from the nearby springs, it was also a place where dates, spices and aromatic plants were grown. With unobstructed views of incredibly desert scenery, it’s an easy trip from the capital, and can even be visited en route to the Dead Sea.Wadi Qelt Gorge, West Bank.Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplash6. HerodionThis impressive archaeological site is home to yet another palace belonging to King Herod (in case you are wondering, he had 15 of them!) Also known as the ‘Mountain of Paradise’ or ‘Jabal al-Fourdis’ it is only 12 km south of Jerusalem and was commissioned by the king, and built between 23 and 15 BCE. Today, it is believed to be the burial spot of Herod.Archaeologists working at Herodion have uncovered many elaborate buildings, including a synagogue, bathhouse, churches, tunnels, the palace itself and also a Mausoleum in which Herod is believed to have been interred. As you walk around, marvelling at this fortification, look out for the theatre that seated 400 and the escape tunnels (carved out by the rebels during the Bar Kochba rebellion). 7. Apollonia/ArsufEstablished by the Persians, between 5 and 6 BCE, this settlement close to Herzliya, on the Mediterranean coast, was once inhabited by a community famed for a purple dye that they made and exported! During Roman times, the town grew substantially and today you can see the remains of an elegant Roman villa, built around 2 CE using the finest Roman architectural touches.Furthermore, Apollonia is well-known for the remains of a Crusader castle established there in the 13th century. After you’ve explored the villa and castle, walk along the coastal path, looking out for the Sidna Ali Mosque, built in 1481, and the furnace, constructed in the Byzantine period. Archaeologists discovered shards of pottery and glass close by, concluding that the furnace was used to make both clay and glass vessels.Apollonia National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin8. TsiporiOnce the capital of the Galilee, Tsipori was known in Roman times Diocaesaraea lies just a few kilometres from Nazareth and is an archaeologist's delight, containing remains from all kinds of periods, including Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, Crusader and Mamluk. Tsipori, in Hebrew, means ‘little bird’ and this name might refer to the fact that the site is perched on the side of a mountain like its namesake could be.King Herod captured this city in 37 BCE and, today, much of Tsipori has been subject to excavations, which have revealed cobblestoned streets, homes of the Jewish people who lived there and also ritual baths. It’s also home to a Roman theatre, villas (containing elaborate mosaic floors) and a 5th-century synagogue. Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also made a discovery, in recent years, of a winepress that dates back to Byzantine times, found inside a Roman-era reservoir…At Bein Harim, we offer both day trips, private tours andtour packages around Israel, many of which incorporate some (if not all) of the Roman ruins in Israel. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you’d like further information. We know Israel well and our guides are experienced and professional and perfect when it comes to leading groups around these ancient sites. Enjoy your trip - and we hope you get to enjoy some of these extraordinary places…Tsipori National Park.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Jewish Calendar

There are many things that non-Jewish visitors to Israel find fascinating and also perplexing - the list is long but can include kosher dietary laws (why can’t you mix milk and meat?), Shabbat laws (why doesn’t public transport run from Friday night to Saturday night?), Yom Kippur (why does the whole country shut down for 25 hours, even the airport?!) and the nature of the state itself (if the state is ‘Jewish’ then do Christians and Muslims have the same rights as Jews?)Sevivon, a spinning top, played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.Photo byRobert ZunikoffonUnsplashThese are all good questions, and deserving of good answers, but there’s another question too, that many people ask, again and again, which we’re going to discuss today. That question is ‘Why is the Jewish calendar different from calendars used in most of the West today?” Well, let’s take a closer look at the historical events in Israel and the history behind Jewish dates, and why the Hebrew calendar (‘Ha Luah Halvri’) differs in any respect from the Gregorian one.Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll even be able to tell locals what Hebrew month your birthday falls in, and why Jewish holidays such as Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah fall on different ‘Western’ dates each year. Put simply, the date of these Jewish holidays doesn’t change i.e. it's celebrated on the same day of the Jewish calendar each year, but because the Jewish year works on a different basis to that celebrated by most of the world, the date will always shift on the ‘Western’ (civil) calendar.Matzoh-crusted chicken for Passover. Photo bySheri SilveronUnsplashThe Biblical PeriodFrom the earliest of times, peoples and countries in West Asia, including the Israelites, made use of the Babylonian calendar. This was ‘lunisolar’ in nature - it consisted of 12 lunar months, each of which began at sunset on the day a new crescent moon was cited. Additionally, a thirteenth month was added - as needed - by decree (more of this later). The Babylonian calendar took its shape from the Umma calendar of Shulgi, which dates back to around 21 BCE. By 6 BCE, with the Jews in captivity by the Babylonians, the names of their months were incorporated into the Hebrew calendar. By the Tannaitic period (10-220 CE) an additional month was added every 2-3 years to ‘correct’ (or at least account for) the difference between the solar year and the twelve lunar months. This additional month was usually added depending on agriculture events in ancient Israel.By the 12th century, Maimonides - one of Judaism’s greatest sages - addressed the issue in his book ‘Mishneh Torah’. He ruled that the world was created on October 6th, 3761, according to the narrative of creation in the Book of Genesis. All of his rules for this calculated calendar (with its scriptural basis) are used by Jewish communities throughout the world today.Religious Jews against the background of Jerusalem walls. Photo byArno SmitonUnsplashHow the Jewish Calendar WorksEssentially, the Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical events - the Earth rotating on its axis (one day), the moon revolving around the earth (a month), and the revolution of the earth around the sun (a year). On average, it takes 29½ days to make a month and 365¼ days to calculate a year, which comes out at about 12.4 lunar months.Now, the civil calendar (in use in Europe, North America, Africa, etc) has long since abandoned the idea of correlating the moon cycles and months - instead, the lengths of various months have been set (somewhat arbitrarily) at 28,29,30 or 31 months. However, the Jewish calendar coordinates all three of these astronomical phenomena - its months are either 29 or 30 days (in line with the 29½-day lunar cycle) and years are either 12 or 13 months (in line with the 12.4-month solar cycle).Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashWhen does the lunar month begin in the Jewish calendar?This begins when the first ‘sliver’ of the moon becomes visible after the sunsets. Historically, this would be determined just by looking at the sky - when Jews saw the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin (a kind of ‘Supreme Court’, universally acknowledged by Jews). Once two of its members had listened to testimony from two eyewitnesses, who they deemed to be reliable, they would declare ‘First of the Month’ (‘Rosh Chodesh’ in Hebrew).This shows that the Jewish (Hebrew) calendar is lunisolar, as opposed to the Gregorian (Roman) calendar, which is linear and works around the date of Jesus' birth. The Jewish calendar's months start and finish according to the moon - when the crescent’s center leans right and gets bigger every day, it’s the beginning of the month. By the time it is full, it is the middle of the month and when the crescent leans light and becomes slimmer, this shows that the month is concluding.Of course, the problem with this is that the lunar calendar is slightly shorter than the solar calendar, so the year ends up becoming shorter. (Actually, according to the Lunar calendar in Islam, holidays such as Ramadan can be held in winter one year and in summer a couple of years later). However, because the Jewish calendar places great emphasis on nature and agriculture, it is deemed important that the holidays fall in the same seasons each year.The star of David with Blossoms on a fruit tree in spring. Photo byDavid HolifieldonUnsplashThe Months of the Jewish calendarHere are the 12 months of the Jewish calendar: Nissan (March - April), Iyar (April- May), Sivan (May - June), Tammuz (June - July), Av (July - August), Elul (August - September), Tishri (September - October), Cheshvan (October - November), Kislev (November - December), Tevet (December - January), Shv’at (January - February), Adar (February-March), Adar II (every 3 years),February - March.In Jewish leap years (which occur seven times in a 19-year cycle, which amounts to approximately once every 3 years) an additional month of Adar is added (Adar II). This ensures that the lunar months align with the solar year and that the Jewish holidays continue to fall in their proper seasons.When do Jewish days actually begin?In the west, a new day begins at midnight. But that’s not the case in Judaism. According to Jewish law, the day begins with the appearance of three stars in the sky. This is because, in the first book of the Hebrew Bible - Genesis - in the first chapter, which describes the creation of the world, it is said: “And there was evening and there was morning…one day.” Thus, Jews argue, first was evening and only afterward the next day. This is why Jewish holidays always begin at sundown - and why the Jewish Sabbath ‘’Shabbat’) begins Friday evening and ends Saturday evening. According to Western culture, each day begins at midnight.Freshly baked (challah) bread. Photo byshraga kopsteinonUnsplashWhy does the Jewish New Year Begin in September or October?The Jewish (Hebrew) calendar begins with Rosh Hashanah (which means’ First of the Year’) and this always falls on the first day of Tishrei (the seventh month), which is some time in September or October. Fun fact: the Jewish calendar actually has several ‘New Year’. Nissan 1 - for the purpose of counting the reigns of Kings and months), Elul - for the tithing - voluntary contribution/taxing - of animals, Shevat 15 - for trees, determining when the first fruits of the season can be consumed. Tishri 1 - the new year for years. The Jewish Year - Why is it Only in the Five Thousand?The Jewish calendar’s specific year number represents how many years have passed since creation. It’s important to remember that for the most part, Jews do not use the terms ‘AD’ and ‘BC’ to refer to the years in the civil calendar. This is because Jews do not believe Jesus is Lord, ergo would not want to use terms such as ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (Latin for ‘In the Year of our Lord’). This is why Jewish scholars will always use the terms ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ which refer to the Common Era, before and after respectively.An Orthodox Jew against the background of the red wall. Photo byCarmine SavareseonUnsplashSo what year is it in the Jewish calendar?Currently, the Roman year is 2022 because, according to them, Christ was born 2022 years ago. However, because Jews do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, they, therefore, count the years from what they believe was the creation of the world.This means that, according to Jewish calculations, the year 2022 is currently 5782. The years of the Hebrew calendar are always 3,750 or 2,761 greater than the Gregorian calendar - and why this discrepancy? Because the number of the Hebrew New Year always changes at Rosh Hashanah, in the Autumn/Fall, rather than on January 1st.Of course, this leads to a huge debate between theology and science, since most scientists regard the beginning of the universe as commencing with the ‘Big Bang’. Roughly speaking, that is around 13.8 billion years ago! How do Orthodox Jews account for this disparity? It’s a good question and the fact is that many will freely admit that the first ‘six days’ of creation did not necessarily occur in 24-hour periods (particularly because, according to Genesis) the sun was not created until the fourth day!)As a result, they say, these ‘days’ of creation were actually much longer periods of time. They could have been ages or even periods lasting billions of years. As some Jews remark, “A billion years to man might be like a mere day to God.” This is a way, perhaps, to get around the current discrepancy between the Bible and science, although no doubt the debate will continue to rage.Weekly Torah reading. Photo byEran MenashrionUnsplashAre there any other Jewish calendars in use?This is an interesting question and the answer is ‘yes’. Outside of mainstream Judaism, there exist smaller groups who use calendars based on the above practices, but with some differences.The Karaite calendarKaraite Judaism differentiates itself from mainstream Jewish beliefs in that it recognizes only the written Torah as the basis for religious law (Halachah). Karaites believe that all of the commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai were recorded in the written Torah alone. Therefore the Oral Torah (which takes its form in the Talmud) and other interpretations of Jewish law are not considered binding by Karaites.The Karaite calendar uses the lunar month and the solar year, but there are two major differences. The first is that the beginning of a new month - Rosh Chodesh - is contingent on the sighting of a new moon so, if for any reason, it is not sighted, then it will be put back a day. Karaites also differ from the mainstream in that they calculate the leap year - Adar II - by the ripening of barley at a certain stage, which means they can occasionally end up one month ahead of their counterparts.Star of David.Photo byBenny RotlevyonUnsplashThe Samaritan calendarThe Israelite Samaritans trace their lineage back 127 generations within the Holy Land, adhering to the laws of the Torah and reading the scriptures in ancient Hebrew. Rather than a rabbi at their pulpit, they usually have a ‘High Priest.’ Their calendar is similar to the Jewish one, with the main difference being when its starting year is. Traditionally, it was calculated on observations of the moon, as mentioned earlier in this article. However, whilst mainstream Judaism takes the day of creation (as told in Genesis) as its first day, Samaritans count day one as the day the Israelites entered the Promised Land with Yehoshua Bin-Nun. Consequently, they are not completely synchronized, and, as a result, after a cycle of 19 years, the Samaritan festivals take place one month after the mainstream Jewish festivals.The Qumran calendarThe Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered accidentally by a shepherd boy, in Qumran, in 1947) make several references to a calendar used by the people who lived there in ancient times - the Essenes. It seems that they used a Mesopotamian system of twelve 30-day months, and then added on four days at the solstices and equinoxes. This amounted to 364 days in a year, in all, which meant that after a few years their calendar would have been seriously out of sync with the seasons. No one really knows how the Essenes dealt with this - whether they regulated it or simply ignored it!We hope you’ve got something out of this article, and now understand a little more about Jewish festivals and why they fall when they do in Israel. If you’re interested in learning more about Jewish history in Israel, why not consider taking one of our Jewish tours, giving you the chance to see important sites and learn more about the heritage of the Israelites.The Qumran caves, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Bible Archaeology in Israel

There are so many reasons to visit Israel - to sun yourself on sandy beaches, next to the Mediterranean Sea, to hike in the lush greenery of the Galilee and Golan Heights, to explore the still and beautiful Negev desert, and, of course, to visit Jerusalem, arguably the world’s most important city, because of its significance to three major world religions. The Tsipori National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThere’s also the foodie scene (which has really taken Tel Aviv by storm), the museums (especially the world-famous Israel Museum) arts and culture (in the form of small galleries, opera, and modern dance), and music (think pop concerts in the theater of Caesarea, Israeli folk music at Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem or jazz at the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival). But there’s also another reason people show up - their fascination with the history and archaeology of a country that is thousands of years old and, over the ages, has been conquered and ruled by a slew of leaders. When you travel around Israel, you only have to throw a stone to find a site that dates back to the reign of Kings like Herod and Solomon. And that, in part, is how biblical archaeology sprung up in Israel.Mosaic floors at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhat is Bible Archaeology?Essentially, biblical archaeology is an academic school of thought that deals with Levantine archaeology and biblical studies combined. These sites are all over the Ancient Near East but, in particular, in Israel (which was also known as Palestine, the Holy Land, and Canaan, at different periods). Why is it so important, you might ask? Well, because it can provide insights where biblical historiography can't. Looking at archaeological discoveries, in combination with biblical texts, is an excellent means by which to gain a better understanding of Ancient Near Eastern peoples and their cultures.Moreover, compared with other Mediterranean countries, Israel has a much higher concentration of archaeological sites, in a smaller area. Kursi National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Sarit Palachi Miara. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThere are estimated to be around 25,000 archaeological sites in a country of just 22,145 square meters. Jewish history began with the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and these finds show how deep the connection was between Jews and the Land of Israel. Of course, many other peoples ruled here too and excavations indicate just how many of them left a huge imprint on the country. The fact is that nothing helps us better understand the lives of the people who inhabited this land - after all archaeology helps us all gain a better idea of where we came from. Biblical archaeology goes one step further - the artifacts that have been found here in the Holy Land let us piece together the lifestyle of the Jews who lived here many years ago, as well as supporting the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible.Model of Israelite Megiddo (in the Tel Megiddo Museum), Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe History and Stages of Biblical ArchaeologyBiblical archaeology began in the 19th century when European explorers began arriving in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Here are just four examples of the many archaeological sites discovered in Israel, over the years. Biblical ArchaeologyBefore the British Mandate (pre-1917)A fantastic find, in 1867, Hezekiah’s tunnel was discovered close to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, by Charles Warren. Constructed circa the 8th century, it was used to transport water from the Gihon Spring to inside the city walls. An inscription on the wall indicates that the tunnel was dug by men with axes, who started at opposite ends and met in the middle!Tel Hazor National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Yuval Gassar. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityBiblical ArchaeologyDuring the British Mandate (1917-1948)Arguably the find of the century, it was at Qumran, close to the Dead Sea, where a shepherd boy wandered into a cave and stumbled upon what we now know to be the Dead Sea Scrolls. Around two thousand years old (from 3 BCE to 1 CE) and offer insight not just into the Essene sect, who lived at Qumran, but also the wider rituals and belief system of the Jewish people in ancient times.Biblical ArchaeologyAfter the British Mandate (1948 onwards)After the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon led a series of excavations of Jericho and the Ophel Ridge and Mount Zion in Jerusalem where she found grains in jars, broken walls, pottery shards, and destroyed towers. She not only discovered the true age of Jericho but also, controversially, proved that the Battle of Jericho (and the city’s downfall) could not have happened exactly as the Bible says.Masada ruins near the Dead Sea, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockModern, 21st-CenturyOne of the latest archaeological findings in Israel was made just last year, in 2021. Archaeologists working at the City of David discovered an ancient wall, five meters wide, proving that the biblical accounts of Jerusalem being fortified were indeed correct. Today, there are more or less two different schools of thought when it comes to biblical archaeology - minimalism and maximalism. Essentially, these two schools take differing positions as to whether the Bible is a historical and religious document, or not.The most prominent of the ‘Minimalists’ is the Copenhagen School, who argue that the Bible was written in the Persian (or perhaps even Hellenistic period), which was between 5 and 2 BCE, therefore too late to give relevant details about the previous centuries. In stark contrast are those who take the Bible very literally and do not believe the scriptures need to be ‘proved’. The debate no doubt will continue to rage, especially when it comes to Biblical characters, places, and events.Tel Hazor National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityNotable Archaeological Sites in IsraelIf you have more than a passing interest in archaeology and are prepared to veer off the beaten tourist track, we’d recommend visiting any one of these sites:1. Beit Alpha - at the foot of the Gilboa mountains, this ancient synagogue was discovered in 1928. Archaeologists believe it was built in 6 CE and was once the center of a Byzantine Jewish village. Inside the building is an extraordinary mosaic floor, divided into three panels, all depicting different biblical themes, including the famous ‘Akedah’ (Binding of Isaac).2. Beit Shean - first settled 6,000 years ago and continually inhabited since then, today it is one of Israel’s best-preserved archaeological sites. Today a national park, are remains of what was once a bustling Roman city, including baths, a basilica, craftsmen’s stores, and a Roman theater.Synagogue of Katzrin, Golan Heights.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Katzrin - this ancient village in the Golan Heights has, as its highlight, a synagogue, which was originally built in 4 CE and then again in 6 CE. Constructed facing Jerusalem, its entrance is topped by a lintel, featuring decorative carvings. 4. Megiddo - Megiddo lies east of the Carmel Mountains and this ancient city overlooked the Via Maris trade route. Many civilizations came and went, all leaving behind traces of the cities and excavations have uncovered 26 layers of ancient settlements back to 7000 BCE!5. Nimrod Fortress - at the foot of Mount Hermon, in the Golan, this fortress is the largest surviving medieval castle in Israel. It was built in a great rush, in just three years in fact, as a defense against the arrival of Kaiser Frederich II in 1227, as part of the Crusades. Nimrod Fortress. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIsrael’s Top Biblical Sites for TouristsIf you're visiting Israel and want to explore some of the many archaeological sites it has to offer, where should you begin or prioritize? To give you a better idea, take a look at the map of biblical sites in Israel below…And if you’re still stuck, here are a few of the must-see biblical sites which we believe belong at the top of the list, in terms of their beauty and sheer impressiveness.The GalileeCapernaum - the city where Jesus ministered and its synagogue. Archaeological digs have proved that the city was established in 2 BCE, during the Hasmonean period. Today, Capernaum is one of Israel’s most holy Christian sites, where visitors can explore the ancient synagogue where Jesus visited and walk in the same streets that he did. Indeed, the whole area is steeped in history, from Nazareth, where Jesus lived as a child, to the Sea of Galilee, where he gave sermons, healed the sick, and recruited his disciples. Today, you can experience all this for yourself by hiking Israel’s Gospel trail, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.The map of the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel.This image is the copyright of theSociety of Biblical LiteratureBiblical sites in JerichoKing Herod’s Winter Palace - just 3 km from Jericho, this site was chosen by Herod for the building of a grand palace since it was a lush oasis in the desert (therefore had a water supply) but was also just a day’s travel from Jerusalem. Archaeologists discovered evidence of courtyards, swimming pools, and sunken gardens and the entire complex spanned the Wadi Qelt gorge (with a bridge connecting its different sections). Biblical sites in JerusalemTower of David / Citadel Museum - Situated close to the Jaffa Gate, leading into the Old City of Jerusalem, this ancient citadel (also known as the Tower of David) dates back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods and some of its archaeological finds date back 2,500 years. Dan Bahat, an Israeli archaeologist who led excavations in 1971-1972 actually discovered that the citadel’s walls were built on the remains of a tower that protrudes three meters from the line of the wall.The 1:100 scale aluminum model of the Jerusalem Citadel, Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinCity of David - this world-famous site (and probably the most important archaeological site in Israel) can be found southwest of the Old City, under the Arab Village of Silwan. Many excavations have been carried out here, and all kinds of artifacts continue to be discovered on a regular basis. Considered to be the birthplace of Jerusalem, the City of David gives tremendous insight into the lives of people at the time of the First Temple. Ticket admission includes access to walls and fortifications of this holy city, including Hezekiah’s water tunnel. Carved out of rock, it brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool and helped Jerusalemites survive a siege by King Sennacherib of Assyria. A true feat of engineering.Entrance to the City of David, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChurch of the Holy Sepulchre - the oldest and most famous church in the Old City of Jerusalem, this is the place Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. About 50 years ago, as part of a restoration project, excavations were carried out below the foundations, which led archaeologists to reconstruct a plan of the old complex.They realized it had four distinct quarters - the Cardo, the Basilica, the Holy Garden, and the Rotunda.A few years ago, the custodians of the church jointly agreed for renovations to be carried out, the first since 1947 actually. Since it’s such an enormous project, don’t be surprised if you see scaffolding and archaeologists peering at pillars and walls, when you visit there…The Cardo - in ancient times, this was the main street in Ancient Rome, running from north to south and full of stores and craftsmen. Built by Emperor Justinian (527-565) it was a path that linked two main churches in this Byzantine period - the Nea Church and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashActually, historians originally believed the Cardo was constructed by Hadrian, but excavations carried out between 1971-1981 under Nahman Avigad uncovered many architectural features that gave scholars the idea that Hadrian could not have been behind the architecture.The Western Wall Tunnels - the Western Wall of the Temple Mount is one of Jerusalem’s most iconic sights - it’s also the last remnant of the Second Temple, destroyed 2,000 years ago. Many people, however, do not realize what lies beneath - tunnels, which were first excavated in the 19th century and run for 488 meters, where you can see a large part of the wall which is hidden from view when above ground.The real digging, however, began after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall Tunnels are full of extraordinary archaeological findings, including water pits, an ancient aqueduct, and huge stone arches. Painstaking work means you can walk through parts of this original site, which dates back to the first century. Aerial view of Judean Desert, Israel. Photo byDaniel NewmanonUnsplashBiblical sites in the Judean DesertMasada - overlooking the Dead Sea and situated in the Judean desert. Built by King Herod of Judea, Masada is one of Israel’s top tourist attractions. It was excavated extensively between 1963-1965 by a team led by Yigal Yadin, an Israeli archaeologist, and former soldier. Since it was so remote, they concluded that it had remained mainly untouched for two millennia. Today you can walk up its snake path or take a cable car to the top, at which you’ll get an idea of the daily lives of the people who lived there. Rather than discovering luxurious items, the team found cooking pots, urns for collecting wine, bathhouse structures, and even a bakery. Excavations continue even today. If you’re curious about any of these sites and want to delve into their histories, don’t hesitate to contact us - we offer both private tours and tour packages to many of the spots mentioned in this article.Western Wall Tunnels, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Jordan River Border Crossing

After two long years where many countries were hard to visit, and Israel was - to all intents and purposes - closed to visitors and tourists - we’re perhaps seeing a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. COVID rates are down, regulations are being relaxed and, once more, countries are opening to business, including us!North Theater of Jerash, Jordan.Photo byChijui YehonUnsplashHere at Bein Harim, we’re slowly returning to normal with the operation of our many Israel and Jordan tours and it’s a good feeling to see them running again - whether they’re daily, weekly, private, or entail crossing a border. In the case of 3-4 day Jordan packages, which we’re discussing today, even as we go to press, it’s not entirely clear how many different kinds of trips to Petra we’ll be offering in the near future, but rest assured there will be some! For anyone travelling to Jordan (whether in a group or independently), the lost city of Petra, with its feats of Nabatean engineering and beautiful coloured rock formations, has got to be the highlight of a trip. But it’s not the only place worth visiting in Jordan - there’s also the desert of Wadi Rum (made famous by Lawrence of Arabia), the capital Amman and the Greco-Roman city of Jerash.So, to recap, the good news is that if you’re heading to the Levant, it’s now possible to freely travel both in Israel and Jordan. Today, we’re looking at one of the three border crossings between Israel and Jordan - the one furthest north named Sheikh Hussein, which is probably the quietest of the three in Israel but still used on a regular basis.The Treasury, Petra, Jordan. Photo byBrian KairuzonUnsplashWhere is the border crossing of Sheikh Hussain?The border crossing of Sheikh Hussain lies on the outskirts of the city of Beit Shean, in the Jordan Valley in northern Israel. To drive there from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv takes approximately two hours.What hours is the border crossing between Israel and Jordan open?The Jordanian border crossing here is open seven days a week, year-round, save for two days - Yom Kippur (the Jewish people’s most holy day) and the first day of Id El Hijra, the first day of the Muslim New Year. Specific hours are: Sunday - Thursday: 08:00- 18:00ִִ; Friday: 8:00 - 18:00; Saturday: 08:30hrs - 18:00.Do I need a visa to enter Jordan?The answer is yes, a visa is usually required if you want to travel to Jordan. However, the good news is that it is easily obtainable and can be purchased at the border crossing itself. So obtaining a visa for Jordan is really not too difficult. Here’s the lowdown:For most tourists of western countries, conditions to meet are quite simple. You must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the time you are planning to stay, and at least two blank pages in your passport that officials will use for stamps.For citizens of other countries, including South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador and states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), visa-free travel is granted, for periods of time that range from one to three months. The ruins in Jerash, Jordan. Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplashHow much does a visa for Jordan cost?At present, the cost of a single-entry visa to Jordan, valid for one month, is 40 Jordanian dinars (JOD) which comes out at approximately $56. A double-entry visa, which is good for three months, will set you back 60 JOD (approx. $84) and if you need to travel back and forth regularly, then you may want to purchase a multiple-entry visa which costs 120 JOD (approx. $170).How do I travel independently to the Sheikh Hussein border?If you are not travelling to Jordan as part of an organised tour, then - to be honest - this is probably not the best border crossing for you to use, since it is the furthest distance from Petra of the three, and also not easily accessible by public transport. However, it is possible. From Jerusalem, you can take Egged bus 961 from the Central Bus Station, which takes 1 hour 50 minutes. From Tel Aviv, you can catch the 843 bus from the Central Bus Station on Levinsky Street - it is a huge building, and you should head to the 7th floor. The journey will take 1 hour 55 minutes. Arriving from either of these cities, you will be dropped off in the centre of Beit Shean and from there you will have to take a taxi to the border - this should cost you around 50 NIS ($15). If you are driving in your own car, it is possible to leave it at the nearby Kibbutz Maoz Haim, which costs approx. 40 NIS per day in parking fees.There is also a bus service that runs three times each week, from Nazareth to Amman. Operated by Nazarene Tours, it is a cheap way to get to the capital, since it only costs around 80 NIS one way. The bus leaves Nazareth at 08.30 and, traffic and border controls permitting will have you in Amman by 14.00.Beit Shean, not far fromSheikh Hussein Border Crossing, Israel.Photo byBriana TozouronUnsplashWhat Facilities are there at the Sheikh Hussein Border Crossing?Facilities are quite minimal - there is no bank and no major eateries, so come prepared with your own snacks and lunch. There is a small Currency Exchange where you can exchange notes. There is also a Duty-Free at the crossing, on the Israeli side. The terminal is wheelchair accessible and all staff speak good English. If you’ve forgotten snacks, there is a machine where you can purchase sweets, fizzy drinks, water, etc.What is the Procedure for Crossing the Border into Jordan?Whether you are travelling independently or as part of an organised tour, you will have to pay an exit tax to Israeli officials which stands at 107 NIS (about $30). Your passport will then be stamped and you will be free to continue on your way. You will then need to take a shuttle to the Jordanian side (walking is not an option) which costs 5 NIS (just under $2). Make sure you have this money in small change and give it to the driver of the shuttle.The shuttle will take no more than 3 minutes and will leave you on the Jordanian side of the border. There, you will be met by a Jordanian, English-speaking representative that works with your tour company and they will assist you, by taking your passports and organising the processing of your group’s visas. Once this is complete, you will soon be on your way. Please note that if you have dual nationality, between Israel and another country, you must use your Israeli passport to cross the border.If you are not in a group, after formalities have been carried out, you will find yourself in a deserted open space with just a few taxi drivers, all hungry for your business. There are no public buses from the border onto any Jordanian cities (Amman or otherwise) so you are really at their mercy - of course, they also want you to take their car, so it is possible to haggle about the price of a cab to the capital. In general, you should be prepared to pay around 50 JOD ($70) for this 90 km drive.Amman Citadel, Jordan. Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplashDo I need to take a PCR test before leaving Israel for Jordan?Since yesterday, the regulations for COVID testing have been updated, both by Jordan and Israel. As things stand, this is the procedure you must follow:1. You MUST be in possession of valid personal health insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment for the entire period of your visit to Jordan.2. Before arriving at the border, you must visit the Gateway to Jordan platform to register your details online, filling in all the relevant information. Once you have done this, a confirmation will be issued to you by email/cellphone, containing a QR code. It is imperative that you understand that without this QR code confirmation, you will not be allowed to enter Jordan.3. No PCR test is required if you are making a short trip, but if you are staying longer than 72 hours in Jordan you may be required to take a test. Ruins of Amman Citadel, Jordan. Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplashCrossing from Jordan via the Sheikh Hussein Crossing, back into IsraelThe first thing that is worth mentioning is that the longer you’ve stayed in Jordan, the less you will have to pay in departure taxes. No doubt this is to encourage people to book hotels and spend money in restaurants. The departure tax will be around 10 JOD (14 USD), depending on how many nights you’ve stayed in the country. If you have stayed more than three, it will be exempt. Whilst restrictions have been eased substantially since the beginning of the COVID pandemic unless you are an Israeli citizen you will still need to take a PCR test before you leave Jordan and once arriving in Israel. Here is the procedure:1. Two days (48 hours) before your planned arrival, fill out Israel’s entry statement form. In it include your personal information, and sign the health declaration.2. Take a PCR test in Jordan, any time up to 72 hours before your arrival in Israel. This should cost you around 20 JOD (28,5 USD).3. Pay in advance for the PCR test you will be required to take on arrival at the Israel border. This will cost you 80 NIS (25 USD) if you pay in advance, 100 NIS (31 USD) if you pay on the spot with a credit card and 115 NIS (36 USD) if you wish to pay in cash.4. Once you have left Jordan, and arrived in Israel, wait to take your test and then travel directly to your hotel, apartment or place of residence where you should enter isolation. Wait until your result is proven to be negative, or that 24 hours have passed before you venture outside.Please note that these rules and regulations are changing regularly and that they are subject to change at any time. If you are interested in tours to Petra and Jordan, feel free to contact us.
By Sarah Mann

Entering Jordan From Israel: COVID Updates

The latest wave of Corona is waning and after two long years, borders are finally beginning to open around the world. The Middle East is no exception and as of this month, restrictions are easing considerably if you want to travel to Israel and Jordan.Moreover, travelling between Israel and Jordan - which was almost impossible in the last 24 months - is quickly becoming easier, whether you want to make the trip independently or as part of an organised tour to Petra from Eilat.The ruins in Jerash, Jordan.Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplashEven better, the political situation is quite stable. We are often asked ‘Is it safe to travel in Israel and Jordan?’ and at this moment we can say, without equivocation, ‘yes!’Today we’ll be looking at the basics concerned with entering Jordan from Israel and also returning to Israel from Jordan. These will include visa requirements, new COVID regulations when entering and exiting both states, and also how to tourPetra and Jordan from Israel.How Can I Get to Jordan?Essentially you have two options - air or land. There was once a train from Damascus to Amman, running over part of the famous Hedjaz Railway lines, but it has not operated since 2006. So it’s up to you whether you choose to fly in, internationally, or cross at one of the three Israel and Jordan border crossings (Allenby Bridge, Wadi Araba and Sheikh Hussein border).What are the latest Covid 19 Procedures for entering Jordan?The good news is that travel restrictions have eased considerably. That being said, there are still requirements that you must adhere to if you want to travel to Jordan or make a specific trip to Petra. These include:Piper in Petra, Jordan.Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplash1. Ensuring that you have valid personal health insurance that covers any COVID-19 treatment you might need for the entire period of your planned trip to Jordan.2. Before departing for Jordan, ensure that you register online at the Visit Jordan platform. Fill in all of the details that are asked of you. You will then be issued a confirmation, continuing a QR code. Do not lose this QR code. Without it, you will not be allowed to enter the country. (For your information, children under the age of 5 do not need to have a form filled out for them).3. As of March 2022, no pre-departure test is required for a trip to Jordan.4. When you arrive in Jordan, you will be asked to hand over your confirmation, along with the QR code that was sent to you by the Visit Jordan platform. As of this moment, no PCR or Antigen test is required on arrival.Woman tourist in Petra, Jordan. Photo byAlex VaseyonUnsplashWhere do visitors fly into, when travelling to Jordan?The airport that almost everyone flies into when visiting Jordan, is the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, the capital of the country. It is a modern facility and you can either take a taxi or public bus from it to the city centre. If you have come to Jordan specifically to visit Petra, and don’t want to spend time in the capital, then there are several ways to make the journey:1. Private transfer - the most comfortable way to make the journey is with a driver, and rather than negotiate with cab drivers at the airport, it is advisable to book a private transfer in advance. 2. JETT bus - this is a decent option if you don’t want the expense of a private taxi but want a little comfort. The buses are air-conditioned and run on a schedule - they leave at 6.30 am from the capital and take about 3.5 hours (including a toilet stop). The return bus leaves Petra at 5 pm. You can book a ticket online or in-person at the JETT office.3. Local minibuses - this is the cheapest way to make the journey. These are 10-seater vans and leave from central Amman, but they only depart when the van is full, so be prepared to wait a while!4. Car rental from the airport - expect to pay about 25-30 JOD (35-43 USD) per day for a new model car with insurance and air conditioning. 5. There is also a smaller airport located in Aqaba (on the Red Sea), named the King Hussein International Airport. This operates flights to tourist destinations such as Milan, Geneva, London, Athens and Berlin. From there, you can take a private transfer directly to Petra or a local minibus (see above) from the Aqaba city centre.Walking in Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan. Photo byAndrea LeopardionUnsplashWhat is the best way to get to Jordan?Choosing your method of transport when travelling from Israel to Jordan involves a few considerations. If time is of the essence, and you are arriving from Europe, then taking a flight to Amman or Aqaba is a good option. However, if you have a little more time and energy to expend, and want to go directly from Israel to Petra, it’s quite simple to travel overland from Israel, using one of the three border crossings. We would recommend the southernmost one - Wadi Araba - because it is the most modern, takes the least time to cross and is close to the city of Aqaba, from which you can continue on easily either toPetra,Wadi Rumor Amman.Can anyone visit Jordan?Jordan entry requirements are reasonably liberal, compared to some countries in the Middle East, and although they tightened up during the pandemic, they are easing significantly now. Citizens of almost every nation are allowed to visit Jordan, although not all of them can enter visa-free. That’s where the visa part (below) comes in…Jerash, Jordan. Photo byHisham ZayadnhonUnsplashDo I need a visa to enter Jordan?The answer is yes, a visa is usually required if you want to travel to Jordan. However, the good news is that it is easily obtainable and can be purchased at the border crossing itself. So obtaining a visa for Jordan is really not too difficult. For most tourists of western countries, all this entails is ensuring you have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the time you are planning to stay, and at least two blank pages in your passport that officials will be able to use for stamps. For citizens of other countries, including South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador, and also states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), visa-free travel is granted from anywhere between one and three months. How much does a visa for Jordan cost?At the current moment, the cost of a single-entry visa for Jordan, valid for one month, is 40 Jordanian dinars (JOD) which works out at approximately 56 USD. A double-entry visa, which is valid for three months, will cost you 60 JOD (approx. 84 USD) and multiple-entry visas cost 120 JOD (approx. 170 USD ). Visas can be purchased on arrival at the airport or at two of the three border crossings - Sheikh Hussein(in Israel’s north) and Wadi Arava (in Eilat). If you want to cross into Jordan from the Allenby Bridge border, you will need to arrange your visa beforehand, preferably in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.Petra at night, Jordan.Photo byGabor KoszegionUnsplashHow many hours does it take to get to Jordan from Israel?This depends on which part of Israel you are leaving from. If you are in the north of the country, you can cross at the Sheikh Hussein border near Beit Shean then make your way south via Irbid to Amman (and then onto Petra or Wadi Rum). You will need to allow at least 7-8 hours for this journey and maybe even longer if you are venturing beyond the capital. If you leave Nazareth on the Nazarene Express at 8 am, you should hopefully be in Amman by 3 pm.If you are travelling from Tel Aviv, you will need to head south to Eilat, which you can do either by domestic flight, rental car or Egged bus. A flight with Arkia or Israir takes around 50 minutes and will take you to the Eilat Ramon Airport, just 15 minutes drive to Eilat or a straight 20 minutes drive to the Wadi Arava border.If you are renting a car in Israel and driving from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to Eilat, it should take about 4 hours without traffic. However, please note that you cannot take a rental car into Jordan, so you will have to leave it either in Eilat or at the car parking lot close to the border terminal (a daily fee applies).If you are travelling by Egged bus, allow 5 hours or so for the journey from the country’s centre. Once you have arrived at the Eilat Central Bus Station, either take a taxi to the border (around 40 NIS / 12,5 USD) or the hourly public bus, which is 5 NIS (1,5 USD) and drops you about 1 km from the border (if you have heavy luggage or it is the height of summer, we don’t advise doing this!)Petra, Wadi Musa, Jordan.Photo byJorge Fernández SalasonUnsplashWhen travelling between Israel and Jordan and using this most southern crossing, please check the current opening hours. At present, you are not able to use the Wadi Araba/Yitzhak Rabin border all seven days a week. At the time of writing this, its opening hours are: Sunday to Thursday (8.00 - 15.30), Friday and Saturday (Closed). Because of the time, it takes to travel between Aqaba and Petra, this means that day trips to Petra from Eilat are currently not available. We hope this will change towards the end of this month, hopefully on 22nd March 2022. However, if you have a little more time at your disposal, then it’s certainly possible to visit Petra straightaway, in which case we would suggest a 3 or 4 day trip to Jordan, giving you a chance not just to see one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World but also take in the magnificent desert scenery of Wadi Rum (made famous by Lawrence of Arabia) with optional jeep tour and Bedouin campfire dinners.Petra Treasury, Jordan.Photo byMichael StarkieonUnsplashTravelling from Eilat to PetraThe easiest and most stress-free way to visit Petra is undoubtedly with an organised tour. When you travel in a group, you will have an Arabic/English-speaking guide on hand at all times, who can help with any queries or any problems that arise.Your guide to the site itself, and transport between Israel and Petra will all be taken care of so you can get on with the business of enjoying yourself.This includes being picked up from your hotel in Eilat, helped with all of the formalities in crossing the border at Wadi Araba and then ensuring you have a smooth journey directly to Wadi Musa, where Petra is situated. Before Corona struck, there were a number of options if you wanted to visit the Rose-Coloured City, including day trips, two-day trips to Petra, and trips directly from Tel Aviv to Petra and these are now being booked again - don’t hesitate to contact us for more information about them.The ruins of the Gerasa outside the modern city of Jerash, Jordan.Photo byHannah WerneckeonUnsplashReturning to/Entering Israel from JordanIf you are returning to Israel from Jordan (after a trip, say, to Petra or Wadi Rum) or simply entering Israel for the first time, there are certain procedures you are going to need to follow, in accordance with the current Israeli COVID-19 regulations. These are as follows:1. You will need to take a PCR test no more than 72 hours before you fly or cross over. Antigen tests are not acceptable.2. Passengers returning to Israel after a 3-day Jordan tour do not require a PCR test prior to departure from Jordan, as they will have a PCR test which was performed on arrival to Jordan which will be valid for their return within 72 hours.3. Passengers returning to Israel after a 4-day Jordan tour require a PCR test prior to departure from Jordan, which can be conducted at their own expense. We will assist passengers to arrange for the test to take place in time for their departure. (Cost = 20 Jordanian Dinar (approx. US$30) per person to be paid on site.4. After you have taken your test, you must complete the Online Entry Statement at the Israeli Health Ministry's website, not more than 48 hours before you plan to arrive in Israel. Once this has been completed, as long as the Israeli government permits you to enter, you will be issued an electronic confirmation. 5. When you arrive in Israel, you must take a PCR test at your own expense. (This test is in addition to the Pre-Departure PCR test that you must take in Jordan, before departing to Israel). This requirement currently applies to all tourists arriving in Israel. Once you have completed the online Entry Statement (see above) you will receive a link at which you can order and pre-pay for this PCR test. If you do not pay for it in advance, you can take it either at Ben Gurion Airport or at the Wadi Arava border on the Israeli side (where you will probably be crossing, if you have come from Petra).A tourist at the Treasury in Petra, Jordan. Photo byJorge Fernández SalasonUnsplash6. After taking this arrival PCR test, you should then travel directly to your hotel/private accommodation and stay there, in isolation, until you receive confirmation that the test is negative, or for 24 hours (whichever is earlier).Finally, please bear in mind that all the details in this article are correct as of 8th March 2022. Of course, the situation with COVID-19 is in constant flux, and so these regulations are subject to change at any moment, without prior notice.We advise that you check these regulations with the Israeli and Jordanian government websites respectively, before travelling, and if you are taking a day tour or overnight tour to Petra, stay in regular touch with your tour operator in the days before you are due to depart.Two camels look on as they wait in front of the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre in Petra, Jordan.Photo byCallie JosephonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Entering Israel: Updated COVID Guidelines

It’s been two long years - two long years of masks, social distancing, isolating, not seeing friends and - of course, not travelling. Corona has made it so hard for us to take a vacation, even in our own countries, let alone abroad. And Israel, which was one of the first countries in the world to shut its border, when things first became alarming, has been closed for business for what seems like forever.Heart shape hands.Photo byAntononUnsplashBruchim Habaim - Welcome to Israel!The good news is that it seems we’re slowly getting back to our routines, and whilst it’s not ‘normal’, the ‘new normal’ means that at least we can take a trip. Before the pandemic, Israel was an incredibly popular destination for travelers from around the world - whether you’re a family with young kids, a foodie, a Christian pilgrim, an intrepid backpacker, an archaeologist or historian who’s looking for a private tour, or someone who wants to lie on the beach day after day, Israel can help.Traveling in the Holy LandAnd because it’s so small, it’s an easy country to travel within - base yourself in Tel Aviv and make day tours to Jerusalem, the Galilee,or even Acre. Roman amphitheaters, boutique vineyards, and the Golan Heights are all within easy distance of the center too, if you want an overnight trip. Or what about heading off to the desert or the Red Sea for a few days of R&R? After all, from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, you’ll be there in no more than a few hours. Yes, there’s no shortage of places to visit in the Holy Land.Bedouin village in Israel.Photo credit: ©ShutterstockWe’ve been giving regular COVID updates throughout the last two years, and now Israel’s borders have started opening (albeit slowly), we want to bring you up-to-date on current regulations and how they are going to change again on 1st March. Of course, everything’s subject to change, but - if all goes well - Israel will be fully open for business very soon - in time both for Passover and Easter in Jerusalem when thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the globe fly to Israel to commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life.Below, we’re going to try and give some information to make planning your trip here as easy as possible. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning Israel-aficionado, they may help answer your questions, and give you a renewed vigor for dusting off your passport and taking a long-overdue holiday!Ein Avdat Canyon, Israel. Photo byCallie JosephonUnsplashCurrent Entry Requirements for IsraelA question we’re often asked, here at Bein Harim, is what are the requirements to enter Israel as things stand? Well, at the current time, you can only enter Israel if you have been vaccinated or can show proof of having recovered from Covid. Essentially, if you have been vaccinated twice, you may enter Israel, provided that six months have not passed since the second vaccine. Any vaccine recognized by the World Health Organisation is acceptable for entry to Israel (including the new, single Johnson & Johnson jab, as long as it has been administered within the last 180 days). In terms of recovery, if you are from the EU, the UK, Switzerland and have digital proof of recovery in the last six months, you are eligible for a visa to Israel. However, recovery from the US, Canada, and other non-EU countries will NOT be considered acceptable at this point.Eilat coastline, Israel.Photo credit: ©ShutterstockAdditionally, you must submit an Online Entry Form within 48 hours of your flight to Israel, showing details of your vaccination or recovery. Once completed and declared successful, you will be given an entry declaration and a Green Pass (sent to you by email) which you must show your flight attendant before boarding. Before you fly, you must be able to show a negative test result - either a PCR test taken 72 hours beforehand or a supervised antigen test taken within 24 hours of your flight time.When you land at Ben Gurion airport, you will have to take a test at the airport, administered by Femi/Test & Go. This can be ordered online, at a cost of 80 NIS, or 100 NIS if you don’t pre-register. Once you have taken the test, you should travel (preferably not using public transport) to your destination and quarantine there until your test result is confirmed to be negative. This usually takes between 12-24 hours. You are then free to travel around Israel, without hindrance.Signpost in Israel.Photo byBenjamin RascoeonUnsplashFrom 1st March 2022, who is allowed to enter Israel?From 1st March 2022, Israel is substantially downgrading its list of requirements for entry, and whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, you will now be allowed entry.Taking a Covid test both before boarding and upon arrival to IsraelThe only condition of entry is that all visitors take a PCR test (which must be negative before boarding) and then submit to a second PCR once they land. Please note that, unlike at present, there is no option for using an Antigen test. The test you take before leaving your destination must be a PCR test. You will also need to fill out an Online Entry Form (see above), no more than 28 hours before your departure.Arriving at Ben Gurion AirportWhen you arrive in Israel by air, as stated above, your next test will be carried out at Ben Gurion Airport by ‘Test & Go’ and can be ordered beforehand, online, or simply paid for on arrival. You will then be required to stay in quarantine at your hotel/apartment until either the test comes back negative or 24 hours have passed.Sunset in the south of Israel.Photo byShai PalonUnsplashDo I need a visa to enter Israel?Israel entry requirements are pretty straightforward for almost 100 nations - on arrival, you will be given an automatic visa (which is free) for 90 days. That’s usually enough for most people, although it is sometimes possible to extend it (if you don’t mind dealing with Israeli bureaucracy!) The conditions of this are quite standard - that you have a passport that has at least 6 months validity, proof of sufficient funds, and an onward/return airline ticket. You’ll then be given a slip of paper by officials, which is known as a ‘B2’ visa and which you should keep for the duration of your stay.Countries that grant an automatic visa include (but aren’t limited to) the US and Canada, most of Europe and South America, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. More recently, the UAE joined the list, so it’s easier than ever to travel between Tel Aviv and Dubai.Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCan I enter Israel from Jordan?The good news is yes! There are three points at which you can cross over from Jordan to Israel - in the north, center, and south, though most people use the one in the south. This is called the Wadi Araba/Yitzhak Rabin crossing, and it’s on the Red Sea(in Eilat), bordering the neighboring Jordanian port city of Aqaba. It’s a new and modern terminal, and probably the fastest of the three crossings at which to cross.Additionally, it’s the ideal border to use if you want to make a trip to Petra, the wondrous ‘lost city’ of the Nabateans, just a two-hour drive from the Israeli border. You can even make the trip in a single day, although if you really want to get the most out of a visit, we recommend two or three days. As above, follow the PCR guidelines (obtain a test in Jordan, which you can present at the border crossing and then submit to an additional test when you arrive at the Israeli terminal). From there, you can take a taxi into Eilat (there is a taxi rank there, and you can usually agree on a price of around 50 NIS) or walk just over 1km and catch the local bus into town/the central bus station, which will be a fraction of the cost of a cab. The Wadi Araba/Aqaba crossing is open from 06.00 -20.00 seven days a week, at present, but closes for significant Jewish holidays and Muslim festivals or in times of political turbulence (it is advisable to check ahead of time, to ensure you do not have a wasted journey).An Orthodox Jew at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on UnsplashCan I enter Israel from Egypt?You can also enter Israel from Egypt - if you are coming overland, the southern border between Eilat/Taba is where you will arrive. This is a popular crossing for those who have been diving in the Sinai or exploring the country but not wanting to fly out of Cairo.As with Jordan, you will have to take a PCR test before leaving Egypt and a second on the Israeli side. You can then take a taxi (between 40-50 NIS) or a public bus (number 15 - around 5 NIS) to Eilat. Please note that the Taba border is open every day from 08.00-20.00, except for Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement) and the first day of the Muslim New Year.We hope this information has been of use to you and that whether you’re coming for Easter in Israel, Tel Aviv Fashion Week, Gay Pride, a summer holiday or to see friends and relatives, you’ll have a wonderful time. And if you would like to book a day tour or hire a private guide, don’t hesitate to contact us - we’re here to make your stay a fantastic one.See you soon…Looking through an ancient stone wall opening at the Masada ruins in Israel.Photo byCraig VodnikonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Budget Hotels in Eilat

Israel’s opening up for tourism again and as well as the obvious ‘hotspots’ - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Galilee - Eilat is gearing up to start welcoming back visitors. Located in the far south of the country, with wonderful views of both the Red Sea and the mountains, it’s the perfect place for a vacation, a romantic weekend or just a few well-deserved days of R&R.Eilat restaurant with a view, Israel. Photo credit: ©ShutterstockEilat may not be a big city, but with warm temperatures year-round, and situated slap bang on the Red Sea it’s a resort that’s perfect for eating, drinking, shopping, swimming, snorkelling and diving. Its lively bars and nightlife make it popular with young people andtop attractions suchas the Underwater Observatory and Dolphin Reef mean it’s a big draw for those with young children. Eilat is also close to the Wadi Araba Border Crossingconnecting Israel andJordan which means that making a trip to Petra is extremely easy. And if your passion is hiking, then it’s a short drive up to Timna Park, with its copper mines, rock formations and manmade lake…you can take jeep tours and camel treks in the area too!In the last 20 years, Eilat has developed significantly and as that happened, many luxury hotels sprung up. And whilst they boast all kinds of facilities, they come with a steep price tag - indeed, a weekend vacation down at the Red Sea can really be tough on the wallet. So are there any options for the dollar-conscious traveller?The good news is, yes, you can visit the Red Sea and not break the bank, particularly when it comes to finding a place to sleep. We’ve looked around and found more than a few budget hotels in Eilat, where you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars each night but still get clean, comfortable facilities. What are you waiting for? Eilat Promenade by night.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. Custo Club, EilatThis down-to-earth guesthouse is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a place to swim and/or diving lessons. A little further away from the beach than many hotels, it’s still within walking distance, but the area it’s situated in is a quiet and peaceful neighbourhood.Custo offers free Wi-Fi throughout the space as well as air-conditioning and LCD TVs in all the rooms. Some of the rooms have balconies and private bathrooms, whereas cheaper options mean you’ll have to share. There is also a big kitchen where you can cook and there’s a relaxed atmosphere in the place at all hours.Custo’s outdoor pool has sun loungers and a ping pong table nearby. They also have a space within the villa where a diving club operates. Here you can rent equipment, take introductory SCUBA lessons and if you’re staying at Custo you’ll even get a discount!Custo is a good choice, price-wise, because although things need a bit of modernisation, it’s clean and the owner is a friendly and reliable person. You can walk there easily from the central bus station and they also offer an airport shuttle service, if you’re leaving from Eilat Ramon.Custo Club. Mish'ol Shoshan 2, Eilat. Tel: 050-887-7989.Villa Custo Club in Eilat, Eilat. Photo from Custo Club Facebook page2. Flintstone Guesthouse, EilatLocated just over 1km from Dekel, Mosh and Papaya beaches, the Flintstone Guesthouse offers guests non-smoking rooms, free Wi-Fi throughout the property and an outdoor heated swimming pool. All of the rooms come with private bathrooms (with showers, not baths) and free toiletries. There is air-conditioning in every room and some family options also provide a kitchenette with a microwave. Visitors rave about the hospitality and talk about how helpful and kind the owners are. This place also has a good reputation for cleanliness. In short, Flintstone’s is really good value for money.Flintstone Guest House., 2 Mishol Egoz, Eilat. Tel: 08 630-3777 A tour on a glass-bottom boat on the Red Sea in Eilat, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. La Villa EilatLocated in a quiet, residential part of the city, which is ideal for anyone arriving by car, La Villa offers guests cosy accommodation with spacious common areas. Nearby is an excellent pizzeria and there are several supermarkets where you can buy food to cook, in their well-equipped kitchen. Indeed, many guests talk about how nice it is to eat breakfast outside in the garden.La Villa boasts spacious clean rooms, some with kitchenette facilities, and the beds are very comfortable. It also has a swimming pool, hot tub and barbeque area and the rooms are comfortable and clean (with the showers boasting good water pressure). Guests talk about how accommodating and friendly the owner David is. This is a great find and incredible value for money.La Villa Eilat, Mish'ol Habushim 1, Eilat. Tel: 054-808-8084Acruiseboat in Eilat, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Blue Hotel, EilatThe Blue Hotel is not far from the central bus station and so close to banks, supermarkets and a few cheap eats. Offering affordable prices, it has 30 rooms which can suit a range of people - individuals, families and groups of travellers. The hotel offers air-conditioned rooms, a terrace and a shady garden. The rooms are all non-smoking and come with flatscreen TVs, private bathrooms and the owners can arrange for you to have breakfast at a nearby cafe if you don’t want to make your own arrangements. Tea, coffee and water are complimentary. Blue Hotel is owned by the Marina Divers Club and so if you want to don your SCUBA equipment, they’ll be happy to help and give you a nice discount too. Walking to the beach will take you about 15 minutes.The Blue Hotel, Ofarim St 123, Eilat. Tel: 053-2321656Blue Hotel, Eilat, Israel.Photo from Blue Hotel Facebook page5. Americana Hotel, EilatThe Americana regards itself as ‘Eilat’s most popular, moderately priced resort hotel’ and many would agree. Situated on the north beach of Eilat, it’s close to many entertainment spots in town and prides itself on its professional service, personal touches, excellent location and friendly atmosphere. The Americana has free wi-fi, modern rooms (all with cable TV and kettle), two restaurants, a pool with hot tub and a smaller pool for kids. Rooms all have private bathrooms and air-conditioning and on site there is also a supermarket and gift shop.Guests love the buffet breakfast (with up to 20 dishes to choose from) and the place is clean and has friendly staff. As a value for money, it can be highly recommended…it’s not five stars but it’s a great budget option in Eilat. The Americana, Kaman Street, Eilat. Tel: 08 630-0777The Americana Hotel, Eilat, Israel.Photo from Americana Hotel Facebook page6. Comfort Hotel, EilatA five-minute walk from the Central Bus Station, and 12 minutes by foot from the shores of the Red Sea, the Comfort Hotel is strategically located (close to everything) and offers simple but pleasant accommodation. All of the rooms are air-conditioned, with LCD TVs and private bathrooms, and come with a kettle, tea and coffee and a safe. Some rooms also have a view over the Gulf of Aqaba.The Comfort has an outdoor pool and you can also book paid sessions at their spa (which has a steam room, hot tub and dry sauna). The beds are comfortable, the place is clean and if you’re not hankering after a luxury resort, this hotel is the perfect option. Comfort Hotel, Sderot Hativat HaNegev 14. Tel: 08 636-3222Comfort Hotel, Eilat, Israel.Photo from Comfort Hotel Facebook page7. Hotel Adi, EilatSituated in the centre of Eilat, not too far a walk from the beach, Hotel Adi is close to restaurants, pubs and a big shopping mall. It boasts 111 rooms, and the suites have either a private jacuzzi or two adjoining rooms. With air-conditioning throughout, safety deposit boxes and cable tv, it’s ideal for families. The Adi hotel also has a lobby, bar and large dining room with a diverse menu and guests talk about the good breakfast which is included in the price. This is a simple hotel but it’s friendly and the staff are very efficient. Its location is also great - you can get everywhere on foot, and quickly. The Adi is a good choice if you don’t want to pay the high prices of big Eilat hotels. Hotel Adi, Topaz St 6, Eilat. Tel: 08 638-8111Palms at Eilat beach, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock8. Sunset Inn, EilatThe Sunset Inn is located just two minutes walk from the Central Bus Station, and another 15-20 minutes walk from the seashore and the town’s promenade. All rooms are air-conditioned, have flat-screen TVs with cable options and free Wi-Fi. All of the rooms come with kitchenette facilities, including a minibar, electric kettle (with tea and coffee) and a microwave, so it’s ideal if you want to prepare food. If you’re not arriving by air or bus, take advantage of their free private parking. This is a no-frills place, not fancy but very clean and is definitely good value for money. Guests comment on how accommodating the staff are and how much they enjoy the outside space, which they say is good for reading and relaxing.Sunset Inn, Retamim St 130, Eilat. Tel: 050-270-8795Sunset Inn, Eilat, Israel.Photo from Sunset Inn Hotel Facebook page9. Palms Hotel, EilatMarketing itself as an ‘urban resort’ this recently renovated hotel, with its trendy modern decor, is the most costly option on our ‘budget hotel in Eilat’ list but still a steal when you consider what it offers. With a range of comfortable rooms, suitable for couples and families, the Palms features a sun terrace, two swimming pools - one for adults and the other for children - a video games room, a jacuzzi and a Kids Club. The Palms Hotel is located about 10 minutes walk from the shopping centre and beach, in the city centre. The 152 rooms are elegant, spacious and all include black-out curtains, LED TV, air conditioning and mini-fridge. Some suites have private jacuzzis and sun terraces and there is free parking for guests, close by. Guests are particularly impressed with the comfortable beds and rich, diverse Israeli breakfast. For a mid-price, three-star hotel in Eilat, you can’t go wrong.Sderot HaTmarim 2, Eilat. Tel: 08-651-6000.Palms Hotel, Eilat, Israel.Photo from Palms Hotel Facebook page10. Red Sea Hotel, Eilat.Offering guests a central location, the Red Sea Hotel is a good choice for anyone looking for accommodation with a number of facilities, but at a reasonable price. The spacious rooms all come with LCD TV and cable TV, air-conditioning, minibars and private bathrooms and downstairs there is a 24/7 reception.The Red Sea Hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and there is a private beach, ten minutes walk away, with free sun loungers there. On the beach is the Mamam restaurant and guests of the hotel can receive a discount when eating there. The hotel is small but clean and tidy and offers guests a decent breakfast, with a good quality and variety of food. It’s located close to the central bus station, so you’re close to money changers and supermarkets. Fair prices for what you get.The Red Sea Hotel, Tamarim 12, Eilat. Tel: 08 637-2171Israel's Red Sea coastline.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

What is an Orthodox Jew?

Visitors who come to Israel (especially for the first time) are fascinated by many things about the country - the landscapes, the food, the warmth and hospitality of locals…the list goes on. Something else they’re also fascinated by is the fact that Israel is a country based on Jewish traditions, customs, and laws.People praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplash"You Don't Need to Believe in God to be a Jew…"The calendar is based around Jewish festivals, the main language spoken is Hebrew and half the world’s Jewish population lives here. Visiting holy Jewish sites in Israel, it’s hard not to feel it. But what many don’t understand is that Judaism in Israel (and the world) means different things to different Jews. Some believe in God, and others don’t (“I’m a Jewish atheist” they’ll tell you). Some are essentially traditional, taking comfort in the rituals they learned as children.One Size Doesn’t Fit AllOf those who do believe, there’s a wide spectrum, in terms of their practices…ranging from traditional “candle lighting” on Friday evening and celebrating Jewish holidays to strict adherence to Jewish law in every single aspect of their daily lives. Today, we’re looking at Orthodox Jews, which is an umbrella term for the many sub-groups within it. We’ll try and answer the most popular questions asked, such as “What do Orthodox Jews believe?, “Why do Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs?”, “Why do Orthodox Jews only eat certain foods?” and a few more. Besides, we’ll look at their history, traditions, and even the way they are coping with change in the modern world. In short, we’ll try and make this very complicated subject a little bit easier to grasp. Interested? Then read on…Chanukah candles.Photo by Menachem Weinreb on UnsplashWhat Do Orthodox Jews Believe?Orthodox Jews believe in a strict interpretation of Jewish law (‘halacha’ in Hebrew) which they think is grounded in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), both oral and written, and the revelation made to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Something that’s important to state here is that Orthodox Jews are not one group - rather many sub-groups. Arguments rage between them at times, as to how strict interpretation of Jewish law should be. However, they do all adhere to certain core beliefs. As said before, there is a central belief that the Torah was revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai who, in turn, transmitted it to Joshua and the Elders. Since then, they believe, the Torah has been passed down in an unbroken chain to the present day. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people entered into a covenantal relationship with God. This meant, effectively, that God was promising protection to the Israelites if they obeyed the Ten Commandments he had given them. ‘Torah min HaShamayim’ - they believe that this revelation to Moses was a divine event and that the entire text is the literal word of God. God is one and indivisible, the sole creator, first and last (according to the Principles of Maimonides, a 12th-century rabbi and scholar who wrote ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’).The bimah in a synagogue. Photo byLainie BergeronUnsplashGod cannot be subdivided - Jews do not believe in the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) and this is something that sets them apart from Christians, theologically speaking. They do believe in a future Messiah, who will be from the line of King David and will restore the Third Temple. Jews do not believe Jesus was the Messiah - their monotheistic outlook means that they cannot accept Jesus as a deity. Of course, Jews do believe Jesus existed - they just do not believe he was the Son of God, and that he died to save the world. However, more modern Orthodox interpretations of Jesus are a little more positive - especially from rabbis such as Irving Greenberg and Jonathan Sacks. Indeed, Rabbi Greenberg theorised that Jesus could be a Messiah, just not the Messiah. Jews do not believe in the concept of salvation because they do not believe people are born in a state of sin. Judaism should be practiced within a community. For example, Jewish sacred texts and prayer books often use ‘we’ and ‘our’ and Jews pray in groups of not less than ten (a minyan). On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, Jews repeat verses that ask for forgiveness as a people, not as individuals.Judaism is a faith of action rather than belief - deeds count far more than words. For many Jews, this includes a belief in ‘tikkun olam’ (in Hebrew 'repairing the world’) which involves contributing to the betterment of your surroundings and fellow humans. This may well be why Jews focus far more on the here-and-now than other religious groups. Jews believe in World to Come (Ha Olam Haba in Hebrew) but have no clear idea, theologically, of what it might entail.Photographer at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.Photo byTim MossholderonUnsplashThe History of Orthodox JudaismOrthodox Judaism began in Eastern Europe, in the early 18th century, primarily as a reaction to Reform Judaism. It leaned towards a more traditional approach to Jewish law (as opposed to the Jewish liberalism of the time, which rejected the divine origins of the Torah and argued that obligatory ritual observance was unnecessary). As a result, the term ‘Orthodox’ was taken up by Jews who wanted to show that they were faithful to ritual and tradition, and unwilling to ‘modernize’ their beliefs. That idea still remains true today, with arguments continuing to rage between Orthodox Jews (both in Israel and the diaspora) and traditional/reform Jews, who argue that Judaism needs to be more flexible and adaptable, to deal with the challenges of the secular world. Some of the biggest disputes revolve around ancient Jewish customs - such as circumcision of infant boys, dietary laws, and the biblical prohibition against intermarriage. For Orthodox Jews, these laws are non-negotiable - they are the cornerstone of their faith.Laws, Customs and TraditionsKashrut - keeping kosher is an essential part of an orthodox Jew’s daily life. The dietary laws prohibit the mixing of milk and meat (quoting a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy) and other foods such as pork and shellfish are strictly forbidden. Orthodox Jews also use two sets of plates and cutlery in the home (some even insist on two sinks and two ovens!) Shabbat - one of the central tenets of the Orthodox Jewish faith is keeping Shabbat. This means that from Friday at dusk until Saturday night, no form of work can be undertaken. There is a prohibition on using electricity (phones, TVs, computers are switched off and cars sit idle in the garage), making Friday night blessings throughout the evening, and attending prayer services.A Jewish man choosing etrog (citron) for the holiday of Sukkot.Photo byEsther WechsleronUnsplashPrayer and study - many Orthodox Jews pray 3 times each day (morning, afternoon, and evening) and all Orthodox Jews place great value on religious learning. They will study the Hebrew Bible (to varying levels) and the rabbinical commentaries that accompany them, as well as send their children to Jewish day schools and, if living in the diaspora, on summer trips to Israel.Dress - modern Orthodox Jews cannot be easily differentiated from the general public (apart from the ‘kippah’ that they wear on their head) but ultra-Orthodox Jews are easily identifiable in their attire. Men wear large fur hats (‘shtreimels’) and long black overcoats (‘kapoteh”). This dress was worn by their forefathers, in Eastern Europe, long ago and they continue to wear it as a sign of humility and respect. Women are expected to dress modestly, with no bare arms and skirts below the knee. Some Orthodox women also choose not to wear jeans/pants).Fun fact: shtreimels come in all shapes and sizes, according to the particular sub-sect e.g. wide and velvet indicates a Hungarian Hassid; a rounded felt hat denotes a Gur Hasid and a fedora usually sits on top of a Chabad devotee.A Jewish man holding Canon.Photo byFotozonUnsplashModesty and Purity“Why do Orthodox women wear wigs?” is a question often asked, and the answer is that they consider it to be an act of tremendous modesty (‘tzniut’). The ‘sheitel’ as it is called, is worn by married women, who believe that their hair is a beautiful and special part of themselves that only their husband should see.Married women also attend a ritual bath each month (‘mikvah’) which is designed specifically so that they can purify themselves. In the two weeks before immersion in the mikvah, the man and wife do not have sexual relations but after she has visited the ritual bath, marital relations can resume.In mainstream Orthodox Judaism, men and women will mix both in daily life and at communal Jewish events (although not at prayer, where they sit separately). However, the more Orthodox sects generally discourage such mingling (whether it be separate school systems, segregated musical concerts, and even no mixed dancing at weddings). In some instances, a girl and boy will only have met two or three times before their marriage is arranged by their families - which means that on their wedding day they may not have ever held hands or kissed, let alone had sex.Haredim walk toward the Jaffa Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashDifferent Kinds of Orthodox JudaismModern Orthodox - Modern Orthodox Judaism is a philosophy that strives to combine adherence to Jewish law with life in a modern, secular world. Modern Orthodox Jews (both in Israel and abroad) keep biblical commandments (observing Shabbat, the dietary laws, praying regularly at synagogue ) and usually raise their children with this kind of identity, as a way of continuing their heritage.However, modern Orthodox Jews are also a part of the 21st century and enjoy many of its benefits. They will use the latest technology, watch Netflix, socialize with people from other religions and cultures, and travel widely. Whilst they are knowledgeable in matters of Jewish history and law, they also partake in secular education, embracing both the humanities and sciences. The result is that they are well represented in today’s professions - from law and medicine to business and the arts. Open Orthodox - in recent years, the term ‘Open Orthodox’ has become a point of interest, essentially referring to a less ‘rigid’ kind of Orthodoxy. Whilst open Orthodox Jews, like modern Jews, believe that the Torah was given to Moses, by God, on Mount Sinai, they support a greater role for women in synagogues/prayer and aim to be inclusive, non-judgmental, and intellectually rigorous. Religious Zionists - referred to as ‘dati leumi’ (religious nationalists) are Orthodox Jews in Israel who keep ritual Jewish law but are also strong proponents of Zionism. A Jewish man at the Tower of David, Jerusalem. Photo byJoshua SukoffonUnsplashHaredim - in a nutshell, this term refers to Jews who are more strict about their observance than most Orthodox Jews. Also referred to as ‘ultra Orthodox’ (by other Jews) their motto is ‘change nothing’ and this goes for almost every aspect of their lives! As a result of this isolationist approach, Haredi Jews have very little contact with the outside world.In Israel, many Haredi Jews live in tight-knit communities such as Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak (close to Tel Aviv). Most of them speak Yiddish instead of Hebrew (Yiddish was, historically, the language of the Jews in Poland), wear clothes that modern people find strange (see ‘customs’ above), and generally do not mix either with non-Jews or Jews they feel are not sufficiently pious.Haredi Jews do not have televisions in their home, the internet is always forbidden to children, and cellphones are discouraged. They have large families - often as many as 12 children - and birth control is often forbidden by their rabbis. Because they have had no secular education, they do not work in professions but are more likely to be found in business and the diamond industry. Most Haredi men consider Torah study to be their primary purpose (many regard it as more important than earning money) and the majority do not recognize the establishment of the state of Israel, since it was established by pioneers and not God). Some even openly describe themselves as ‘anti-Zionist’, whilst living in Israel! Some of the many Haredi sub-sects include Bobov, Satmar, Chabad Lubavitch, and Spinka. Three of the most well-known are: Jewish men praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem.Photo byThomas VogelonUnsplashHasidic - broadly speaking, Hasidic Jews are a subset of Haredi Jews. They place a unique emphasis on the traditions of their forefathers in Eastern Europe (the ‘Ashkenazim’) and are extremely fraternal - men and boys spend a great deal of time together at synagogue. They have a reputation for emotional and spontaneous singing and dancing at public Jewish gatherings (taking the view that Judaism should be about joy) and adhere to their leaders (Rebbes) at all times. Litvaks - Litvaks hail from Lithuania and make up about a third of the ultra-orthodox population in Israel. Historically, they were recognized for their intellectual prowess and today they are truly dedicated to Torah study. The stereotypical ‘Litvak’ is stubborn, skeptical, and critical! Even today, the popular conception of a Litvak is one who is well-educated but a bit of a cold fish!Sephardim - In Israel, the Sephardic ultra-orthodox are a growing community. Of Middle Eastern origin, they are represented by their own political party, Shas (a Hebrew acronym for Sephardi Torah Guardians) and the main difference between them and the Ashkenazi Haredim is that they follow the rulings of their own rabbis, which are rooted in the traditions of Jews who once lived in the Islamic world. When it comes to support for the state of Israel, they are definitely less hostile than their counterparts.Orthodox Judaism TodayToday, Orthodox Jews live not just in Israel but in Europe, both North and South America, Australia, and South Africa. The majority would call themselves ‘modern orthodox’ (see above) but there are small communities of ultra-orthodox Jews, the most prominent of which are in parts of Israel, Crown Heights, and Borough Park in New York and Stamford Hill, in London. We hope this brief introduction has made things a bit clearer for you and if you’re interested in seeing an area such as Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, why not book a private Jerusalem tour with us, which can be customized to your needs? Looking for a Jewish Tour package, or a Private Jewish Tour? Then feel free to contact us.Kippahs on sale in Safed, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

10 Top Restaurants in Tel Aviv

Two or three decades ago, when you came to Israel the chances are that you’d be ordering ‘typical Israeli fare’ if you went out to eat. This could be traditional Eastern European food, such as gefilte fish, chicken soup, borscht and cholent (beef stew). Or it might be something more Moroccan - spicy peas, baked cod and orange cake. And then there was ‘Israeli street food’ - falafel, sabich, shawarma, jachnun and malawach. It was all good - but it wasn’t too adventurous.Restaurants in Tel Aviv by night. Photo byYaroslav LutskyonUnsplashThings sure have changed. Israel now has a thriving food scene and, without a doubt, Tel Aviv is at its epicentre. This lively Mediterranean city, with its non-stop nightlife, has, in recent years, become a foodie paradise, with fantastic restaurants springing up in every neighbourhood. Indeed, there have been so many that it’s hard to know how to pick ten for this piece.But pick ten we will. Now we’re not saying that they’re necessarily “the best restaurants in Tel Aviv” - after all, that would be way too bold a statement to make. But in their own way, they all stand out - for their cuisine, their service, their style and their flair. Some are ‘fine dining’ establishments and others more casual, with a very easygoing atmosphere. Here, we give you a taste of the city - from meat and fish to vegan and gluten-free, from tasting menus to tapas and from fine wines to unusual cocktails. Pick one and try it for yourself. And then pick another. In fact, extend your vacation in Israel - because once you’ve started eating in Tel Aviv, you might never want to stop.Tel Aviv perfectly combines the past and the future. Photo byShai PalonUnsplash1. Shila - Sharon Cohen Kitchen & Bar, Tel AvivStarting in the city’s north, we have Shila and for many locals and visitors to Israel alike, there’s no doubt about it - it’s the best seafood restaurant in Tel Aviv. Described by many as gastronomic heaven, it’s a great place not just to eat but also to have fun. Admittedly, the food is not cheap here but the dishes are very creative and it’s fair to say some of them are really gourmet quality. Dishes that are consistently rated highly include the blue swimmer crab, octopus carpaccio and scallops with bacon. (Note - this is a seafood-heavy menu and very much not kosher). For dessert, do try the pistachio turron - mousse, financier and raspberry sorbet; it’s delectable! They also have a superb wine list. With its lively atmosphere and efficient service, Shila is definitely a fine dining establishment. But it’s also one of the city’s trendiest places - both for couples on romantic dates and groups, who love the closed outdoor seating. And because it’s open late, it’s great for Night Owls. Shila, Ben Yehuda Street 182. Tel: 02 522-1224Shila - Sharon Cohen Kitchen & Bar, Tel Aviv. Photo from Shila by Chef Sharon Cohen Facebook page2. Nina Hachi, Tel AvivThis kosher sushi and Asian-inspired restaurant has both a modern and relaxed atmosphere and is a firm favourite with locals and visitors to Israel who observe the Jewish dietary laws. With its warm wooden decor and arty presentation, you can be sure of generous portions and top-quality fresh sushi.Vegetarians will love the gyoza, spicy fried tofu, sweet potato maki and the wonderful coconut curry. f you like raw fish, the tataki (beef/tuna) or salmon caterpillar sushi rolls are a great choice. If you’re a meat-lover, try the Teppan Yaki chicken and if you have a sweet tooth, there’s tapioca in coconut or be adventurous and order some mochi! And one last thing - they actually have special fish dishes for pregnant women! A great kosher eatery.Nina Hachi, Ben Yehuda Street 228. Tel: 02 624-9228Nina Hachi sushi restaurant, Tel Aviv. Photo fromNini Hachi Facebook page3. Alena Restaurant at the Norman Hotel, Tel AvivThe Norman Hotel is one of Tel Aviv’s most luxurious establishments and so it’s no surprise that their in-house dining options are rather classy too. In the words of Alena themselves, guests can partake of an ‘exciting menu that enhances European-inspired favourites with a Mediterranean and Galician flourish’. Intrigued? You should be. Their menu includes tortellini with hyssop butter, drumfish with toasted fennel, a charred octopus skewer and calamari with crystal shrimps. They also pair their desserts with wines (a nice touch!) - we recommend the olive oil chocolate tart, accompanied by a Port. And if you’re not exhausted at the meal’s conclusion, head to the Norman’s Library Bar, which is incredibly elegant and full of charm - their gin martinis are to die for too! Then walk it off with a stroll on Rothschild Boulevard, which is two minutes away…The Norman, Nachmani 25. Tel: 03 543-5555.Alena Restaurant at the Norman Hotel, Tel Aviv. Photo fromThe Norman Tel Aviv Facebook page4. OCD, Tel Aviv“Does Tel Aviv have a restaurant with a Michelin star?” visitors often ask. Well, not yet, but if there’s any establishment worthy of one then we think it’s OCD. Under the watchful eye of chef Raz Rahav, a select few diners around a bar (19 per sitting) get to partake of a 19-course degustation menu, using local food from artisan producers. OCD is open exclusively for dinner, with two seatings per evening - and you may well have to book many months ahead, to be assured of a reservation. A fusion of eastern Mediterranean and haute-cuisine, diners have no idea what will be on the tasting menu when they arrive but can choose from different categories of food beforehand (vegetarian, fish and seafood, meat, vegan etc). As you sit around the bar, the open kitchen is in the background, so you can watch the sous chefs preparing each plate, quite meticulously. Indeed, it can be quite mesmerising, watching them put so much effort into every small detail.From black caviar and trout sashimi to cauliflower pancakes and beet chutney, people continually rave about the unique textures and tastes of the gourmet food. Very pricey - but this kind of meal really does come at a price! Our tip: Order a Moscow Mule cocktail to really make the evening special.OCD, Tirtsa 17, Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 556-6774.A sandwich byOCD, Tel Aviv. Photo from OCD TLV Facebook page5. Taizu, Tel AvivOpened in 2013, by the acclaimed chef Yuval Ben Neriah, this is probably one of Tel Aviv’s best Asian restaurants. Inspired by Ben Neriah’s travels through Southeast Asia, dishes served are a twist on authentic street food from Cambodia, Vietnam, India, China and Thailand.Taizu’s food is inspired by the five Chinese elements - fire, water, wood, metal and earth and his shareable plates reflect this theme well. Chilli crab, tiger shrimp dumplings, steamed buns and Szechuan wontons are all favourites with diners and every Sunday evening they serve a specially-themed Indian dinner, with extraordinary creations such as octopus tandoori. The desserts don’t disappoint either - we recommend the ‘mango sphere’ - mango mousse, carrot curry cream, saffron and white chocolate. Excellent service, original recipes and a wonderful atmosphere - Taizu is simply splendid, which probably accounts for the several awards it has won in the last 5 years. Prepare to open your wallet! Taizu, Derech Menachem Begin 23. Tel: 03 522 5005.Sesame-covered fish tartare by Taizu, Tel Aviv. Photo fromTaizu Restaurant Facebook page6. MESSA, Tel AvivMessa, which means ‘table’ in Spanish, is a chef restaurant established in 2004 and its menu is based on ingredients and recipes from around the globe. Combining French, Mediterranean, Italian and Asian influences, the dishes are colourful and creative. They also take decor very seriously - everything is designed to make you feel comfortable, from the restaurant area (painted entirely white) to the bar area (decked out entirely in black). Lamb pate with brandy sauce, foie gras, beef tartare, caramelised salmon with Asian dumplings (stuffed with mushrooms, peanuts and ginger), gnocchi with pumpkin and cheek meat ravioli in a garlic cream are some of the delectable creations they serve up. Semifreddo brulée, double cheesecake with fondue and vegan tahini parfait with raisins and pistachios are all perfect for those with a sweet tooth. This is not an everyday dining experience, and it really is expensive, but it’s worth it if you want to splurge. Messa is located in the Sarona neighbourhood, so if you’ve energy after dinner, you can stroll around the area and admire the restored houses which were once part of the German Templar Village, built in 1871.MESSA, HaArba’a 19. Tel: 03 685-6859A dish from Messa's menu, Tel Aviv. Photo from Messa Restaurant Facebook page7. West Side TLVManaged by chef Omri Cohen, this upscale establishment is arguably one of the best kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. Located inside the high-end Royal Beach Hotel, it’s made a name for itself, serving fine Mediterranean fish and meat dishes, as well as plenty of salads and vegetarian options. Red tuna tartar, Nebraska sirloin with Jerusalem artichoke, oxtail gnocchi, mushroom risotto, tomato salad with citrus dressing are some of the menu’s offerings, and plates are beautifully balanced, with flavours that are both intense but fresh. They also have a version of the British dessert ‘Eton Mess’ - with strawberries, meringue and cream - but, since the restaurant is kosher meat, the ‘cream’ is actually non-dairy, although very tasty! (They also have dark chocolate creations, which are excellent). Diners rave about the excellent service at the West Side, and how polite, attentive and professional the servers are. Overlooking the sea, it’s designed in ‘NYC style’ - spacious, comfortable and contemporary. If you’re observing Jewish dietary laws, this is a great choice for dinner.West Side, Hayarkon 19. Tel: 03 740-5054.A dish with Za'atar and mint,West Side TLV Kosher Restaurant. Photo fromWest Side TLV Facebook page8. Meshek Barzilai, Tel AvivNestled in the heart of the charming Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, Meshek Barzilay is by far and away one of Tel Aviv’s best vegan restaurants, and a real trailblazer when it comes to sourcing local produce. Placing their emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce, they’ve definitely proved in the last few years that food can be tasty and creative without using meat, fish or dairy produce.Their tempting appetisers include tempura vegetables, avocado Panjabi and Indonesian salad. Mains don’t disappoint either - the artichoke and cashew cheese pizza is excellent, as are the Masala Dosa and sweet and sour tofu. And if you thought vegan desserts were boring, think again. Their ‘drunken pear’, lemon tart, ‘Chocoluz’ and ‘Wild Thing’ are all worth trying, and visitors rave about their ‘chocolate leaves.’Service is friendly and professional and there’s both an indoor area and terrace. Meshek Barzilay also offers a separate kid’s menu and a set price dinner each Sunday night. Trust us, if you eat here, you will leave, asking yourself “How can vegan and gluten-free food be this good?”Meshek Barzilay, Ahad Ha’am 6. Tel: 03 516-6329.Various soups byMeshek Barzilay, Tel Aviv. Photo from Meshek Barzilay Facebook page9. Vicky Cristina, Tel AvivIf you’re a fan of tapas, then head in the direction of Vicky Cristina, which offers original and authentic Spanish dishes with all kinds of colours and flavours. Located in HaTachana (the old railway station in Tel-Aviv/Jaffa), it’s a great place for a fun night out, with its bar area with high stools, courtyard and garden with mosaic-covered sculptures.Some say the atmosphere is more reminiscent of Barcelona and Madrid than the Levant and as you dig into the plates, with a pitcher of sangria next to you, you could well feel that way. There are all the dishes you’d expect - patatas bravas, fried calamari, Spanish omelette, garlic shrimp…and the menu changes throughout the year, according to what seasonal produce is available.Our tip: sit outside on the patio, next to one of the city’s oldest ficus trees, and let yourself be swept away by the live music and (if you’re lucky) flamenco dancing performances. Not cheap but a fun night out.Vicky Cristina, Hatachana (The Station), Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 736-7272Sashimi byVicky Cristina, Tel Aviv. Photo fromVicky Cristina Facebook page10. Rustico, Tel AvivWe think it’s fair to say that whilst Rustico is not super expensive, or gourmet, it’s still one of the best Italian restaurants in Tel Aviv. In their own words, they serve classic fare - salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, pizzas and pasta, lasagnas, risottos and seafood, all with typical Italian warmth and informality.The dishes are flavourful, well-presented and generous in their portions and there’s a huge terrace outside, which is perfect for warm days. Inside, the atmosphere is cosy but the wait staff are still alert, attentive and professional.Dishes that never disappoint are the gnocchi with mascarpone and chestnuts, chicken liver with black pepper, sherry butter shrimp linguine, mushroom risotto and sea bream fillet. The pizzas are fantastic and vegan cheese is available for three of the options. Their classic - ‘the Rustico’ - with tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula and parmesan is, frankly, out of this world.Rustico has a good wine list, the bartenders can whip up excellent cocktails and there are a few nice little touches - like serving patrons a shot of limoncello, whilst they’re deciding on dessert or ordering espresso. And if you have a sweet tooth, you could do worse than try their tiramisu or créme brûlée... Whether you’re seated at a table, around the bar or outside on the terrace, this is the closest thing you’ll get to sitting in Piazza Navona in Rome, with a 6 pm aperitif. Rustico, Rothschild Boulevard 15. Tel: 03 510-0039Dinner at Rustico, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: ©Asaf Karela, from Rustico Facebook pageWe hope your taste buds have been tickled with this list of wonderful restaurants, and that you’re tempted to book a table. Finally, if you’d like to take one of our tours of Tel Aviv (including the Jaffa Port and flea market, or a Food Tour of the Carmel Market) don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.
By Sarah Mann